God’s Covenant with Noah
9 Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. 2 The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. 3 Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.
4 “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. 5 And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.
sheds human blood,
by humans shall their blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made mankind.
7 As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.”
8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: 9 “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”
17 So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”
The Sons of Noah
18 The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) 19 These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the whole earth.
20 Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. 21 When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. 22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. 23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked.
24 When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said,
The lowest of slaves
will he be to his brothers.”
26 He also said,
be to the Lord, the God of
May Canaan be the slave of Shem.
27 May God extend Japheth’s territory;
may Japheth live in the tents of Shem,
and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth.”
the flood Noah lived 350 years. 29 Noah lived a
total of 950 years, and then he died.
So far in Genesis we have seen the good creation of God and that God made the world for the benefit of people, who were made to be his people in his image and to rule the world under God. In Genesis 3 we saw sin enter the world and infect every single human afterwards. In Genesis 6 and 7 God judges the world for the evil which has consumed all of his creation and the participation of every human being. But in his mercy, he saves Noah, making a promise that if Noah is faithful, God will be faithful to his promises. In Genesis 8 we see that God faithfully fulfils his promises and we saw that Noah waited faithfully on God and then rightly thanked God, offering sacrifices in response to God’s goodness to them. God promises to restrain his judgement and not to wipe out humanity until the earth passes away.
And we are left asking plenty of question as we enter into Genesis 9: How will things be different after the flood? Will humans restrain their sin like God restrains his judgement? How will God relate to Noah, his family and ongoingly to humanity?
Genesis 9 begins with God reaffirming the instructions of Genesis 2 which he gave to humanity: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (and again it is repeated in verse 7, demarcating this section). However the next instruction is new. God permits humans to eat animals. Now this firstly needs to be seen as the blessing of God – God is doing good to his people by providing for them new delicious things (read: bacon). It also further serves to demonstrate the distinctive dominion of humanity over the animals of the earth under God’s ultimate authority. It brings with it a changed relationship with animals. Where the animals considered Noah friendly on the ark, now there is fear, because they are food.
Additionally, there is a prohibition against eating blood (4-5) and against killing other humans (5b-6). The prohibition against eating blood is to do with the blood being understood as the essence of life. Many neighbouring cultures (who rejected God after Genesis 11) had blood festivals and the drinking of blood was considered valuable as it gave you the life of the creature whose blood was spilled. This was not to be so for God’s people, even right back at the point of Noah. Life was to be valued. Animals could be eaten, but life was given dignity.
And this is especially so for humanity. Again we see the reaffirmation that humanity is made in the image of God and therefore to kill a human was a statement against God. (side comment: some in your group who are particularly persuaded, might attempt to draw a bow to make statements like ‘all killing of humans in all circumstances is evil’; I would press against this to say that this should formulate a key foundation of our ethic around killing of others, but that there are other things within the bible to grasp also is drawing together our ethics on this topic)
But also importantly here, humanity are required to given an account of themselves. How will God’s restrained judgement work? Well, it will work as people stand before God and are held to account for their actions (v5).
And having reaffirmed the instructions to humanity – God then offers a new covenant. This covenant is different to what we saw prior to the ark. Humanity is not expected to do anything – it is a 1 sided covenant – and so it functions more like a promise from God. And it is a promise which is to Humanity, but also to all living things. And the promise is that God will not destroy life on earth as he did so in the flood. God is not saying he made a mistake in the flood – he made clear the point that sin deserves judgement. But God is promising that he will not wipe out humanity in such a way – that he will actively preserve life.
And the sign that he gave to affirm this promise is the rainbow.
But, like so many times in the Old Testament, the crescendo of Noah’s faithfulness and the reaffirmation of the promises of God is followed by abject failure on the part of God’s people. Noah plants a vineyard and gets drunk – a behaviour deserving of shame. Ham (aptly named after the joyfulness of verse 2) tells his brothers with the implication being that he failed to honour his father and instead humiliated him. Shem and Japheth respond by honourably covering up their father.
When Noah finds out about this – he responds angrily and curses Canaan, the son of Ham. This might strike us as odd – we are used to thinking about individual responsibility. But in this period of time, you are considered to be representative of your Father and your Father representative of you. That is, the line of Cain inherited the name of Cain and the reputed wrongdoing he did. In the same way, the line of Ham inherits the name of Ham and the reputation of how he treated his Father.
The curse of Ham and the subsequent blessings of Japheth and Shem (and the naming of Canaan – whom Israel would be soon to invade if this was all written in the time of Moses) gives us clarity about where we might find the continuity of the promises from: Shem and Japheth.
But it also leaves us with a sour note. Sin continues – in the heart of Noah, and in the heart of his sons. And the chapter concludes… finishing off the story from chapter 5. Noah lived for 950 years and then he died. Even after the flood, death is still the present reality for all of humanity.
Application (in Jesus) Options:
- The cross and the lifeblood of Christ. (Matthew 26:27-29)
As we see the significance of blood in Genesis 9 – how does that impact how we understand the last supper? In what way are we given ‘the life’ of Jesus as he was killed on the cross?
2. Salvation and the restraint of God. (Romans 3:21-26)
In Genesis 9 – God makes a covenant to withhold his judgement of humanity until the final day. How does Romans 3:21-26 help us to see how God’s restraint of sin’ judgement, enables salvation?
Additional option: how does the restraint of God help us to better understand the ‘fruit of the Spirit attribute: gentleness’?