November 26, 2013
Commentary on the Book of Genesis
By: Tom Lowe
Lesson I.E.2: God Makes a Covenant with Noah. Gen. 9:8-17
Genesis 9.8-17 (KJV)
8 And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying,
9 And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you;
10 And with every living creature that is with you, of the fowl, of the cattle, and of every beast of the earth with you; from all that go out of the ark, to every beast of the earth.
11 And I will establish my covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth.
12 And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations:
13 I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.
14 And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud:
15 And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh.
16 And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.
17 And God said unto Noah, This is the token of the covenant, which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth.
This section is what theologians call “The Noahic Covenant.” Though God spoke these words to Noah and his family, this covenant includes all of Noah’s descendants (v. 9, “with your seed after you”) and “all generations to come” (v. 12). The covenant doesn’t stop here, however, for it also includes every living creature (vv. 10, 12) and “all living creatures of every kind” (v. 15). Humans, birds, beasts, and wild animals are included in this wonderful covenant.
In this covenant, which is the first covenant that God made with man, God promised unconditionally that He would never send another flood to destroy all life on earth. As if he wanted to make it emphatic, three times He said, “Never again” (vv. 11, 15). He didn’t lay down any conditions that men and women had to obey; He simply stated the fact that there would be no more universal floods. From that day on, Noah and his family could enjoy life and not worry every time it began to rain.
A Covenant with Creation
At least four times in this covenant, the Lord mentioned “every living creature.” He was speaking about the animals and birds Noah kept safe in the ark during the flood (v. 10). Once again, we are reminded of God’s special concern for animal life.
When the apostle John beheld the throne room in heaven, he saw four unusual “living creatures” worshiping before God’s throne, each one having a different face (Rev. 4.6, 7[i]). The first had a face like a lion, the second like a calf, the third like a man, and the fourth like an eagle. These four faces parallel the four kinds of creatures with whom God made this covenant: wild beasts, cattle, humans and birds (vv. 9, 10). These creatures are represented perpetually before the throne of God, because the Lord is concerned about His creations. They remind us that all creation worships and praises the God who provides for His creatures and rejoices in their worship[ii].
The forming of a covenant involves the solemn binding together of two parties, who were previously free from obligation to each other. God’s binding Himself to this one family group was a voluntary act of free grace. Noah and his family had done nothing to merit the covenant relationship, and God was not obligated to them. A covenant agreement may contain sanctions in case of “non-compliance”; but that is not mentioned here. God acted unilaterally as sovereign Lord, and He demanded only that they accept the covenant.
A Covenant Sign
To help His people remember His covenants, God would give them a visible sign. His covenant with Abraham was sealed with the sign of circumcision (Ge. 17.11[iii]; Rom. 4.9-12[iv]), And the Mosaic covenant at Sinai with the sign of the weekly Sabbath (Ex. 31.16, 17[v]). God’s covenant with Noah and the animal creation was sealed with the sign of the rainbow. Whenever people saw the rainbow, they would remember God’s promise that no future storm would ever become a worldwide flood that would destroy humanity. This covenant, however, does not rule out God sending other disasters to inflict punishment upon mankind. He may choose to destroy particular places and countries through what we call “natural disasters”;--floods, drought, earthquakes, typhoons, tornados, monsoons, cyclones, hurricanes, volcanos, etc. Neither will the destruction of the world at the last day by fire (2 Pe. 3.10[vi]) be a breach of this promise.
Mark Twain and his friend William Dean Howells stepped out of church just as a violent rainstorm began. Howells said, “I wonder if it will stop”; and Mark Twain replied, “It always has.” Why? Because God made a covenant and He always keeps His Word.
God spoke of the rainbow as if Noah and his family was familiar with it, so it must have existed before the Flood. Rainbows are caused by the sunlight filtering through the water in the air, each drop becoming a prism to release the colors hidden in the white light of the sun. Rainbows are fragile but beautiful, and nobody has to pay to see them. Their lovely colors speak to us of what Peter called “the manifold grace of God” (1 Pe. 4.10). The Greek word translated “manifold” means “various, many-colored, variegated.” The rainbow reminds of God’s gracious covenant and the “many-colored” grace of God. We are told in Genesis 2.5 that no rain fell before the Flood, but in the next verse it says, “Streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground” (Ge. 2.6). And in Genesis 1, God created oceans and rivers. There was plenty of water around to produce rainbows before the Flood.
Let’s pursue that thought. If the rainbow reminds us of God’s faithfulness and grace, then why do we fret and worry? God hasn’t promised that we will never experience storms, but He has promised that the storms won’t destroy us. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you” (Isa. 43.2). When the clouds appear and the sun is hidden, we have nothing to fear.
Let’s think about the bow. A bow is an instrument of war, but God has transformed it into a picture of His faithfulness and grace, a guarantee of peace. God could certainly turn the bow of judgment upon us, because we have broken His Law and deserve judgment. But He has turned the bow toward heaven and taken the punishment for us Himself! When Jesus died on the cross, it was the Just One suffering for the unjust (1 Pe. 3.18[vii]), and bearing the suffering that rightly belonged to us.
Rainbows are universal; you see them all over the world. God’s many-colored grace is sufficient for the whole world and needs to be announced to the whole world. After all, God loves the world (John 3.16[viii]), and Christ died for the sins of the world (1 John 4.10, 14[ix]).
But the rainbow isn’t only for us to see, for the Lord said, “I will look upon it” (Ge. 9.16). Certainly, God doesn’t forget His covenants with his people, but this is just another way of assuring us that we don’t need to be afraid because God is committed to keeping all His covenants. When we look at the rainbow, we know that our Father is also looking at the rainbow; and therefore it becomes a bridge that brings us together.
This covenant is the first of five divinely originated covenants in Scripture explicitly described as “everlasting.” The other four include:
1. Abrahamic—Ge. 17.7
2. Priestly—Num. 25.10-13
3. Davidic—2 Sam. 23.5
4. New—Jer. 32.40
The term “everlasting” can mean either (1) to the end of time and/or (2) through eternity future. It never looks back to eternity past. Of the five explicitly mentioned covenants of this kind in Scripture, only the Mosaic or old covenant was nullified.
Three men in Scripture saw significant rainbows. Noah saw the rainbow after the storm, just as God’s people see it today. But the prophet Ezekiel saw the rainbow in the midst of the storm when he had that remarkable vision of the wheels and the throne (Eze, 1.28[x]). Ezekiel also saw living creatures and each one had four faces! One was like a man, one like a lion, one like an ox, and one like an eagle—the same faces John saw (Rev. 4.6, 7[xi]). Of course, the apostle John saw the rainbow before the storm of judgment broke loose (v. 3). In fact, John saw the complete rainbow around the throne of God! On earth, we see “in part”; but one day in heaven we will see things fully as they are (1 Cor. 3.12[xii]).
The personal lesson for God’s people is simply this; in the storms of life, always look for the rainbow of God’s covenant promise. Like John, you may see the rainbow before the storm; like Ezekiel, you may see it in the midst of the storm; or like Noah, you may have to wait until after the storm. But you will always see the rainbow of God’s promise if you look by faith. That’s the Old Testament of Romans 8.28[xiii].
God’s covenant with creation affects every living creature on earth. Without it, there would be no assured continuity of nature from day to day and from season to season. We would never know when the next storm was coming and whether it would be our last.
God wants us to enjoy the blessings of natural life and spiritual life, because He “gives to us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6.17). When you know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, the world of nature around you becomes more wonderful, because the Creator has become your Father.
When in later years the American evangelist D.L. Moody talked about his conversion as a teenager, he said, “I was in a new world. The next morning the sun shone brighter and the birds sang sweeter . . . the old elms waved their branches for joy, and all Nature was at peace. [It] was the most delicious joy that I had ever known.”
The God of creation is the God of salvation. Trust Jesus Christ and you can then truly sing, “This is my Father’s world.”
[i] And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind. And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.
[ii] Psalm 104 emphasizes that all creation depends on God and worships God, including the beasts of the field, (vv.11, 21), the foul (vv. 12, 17), the cattle (v. 14), and mankind (vv. 14, 23).
[iii] And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.
[iv] Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham's faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but has not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
[v] The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and rested.' "
[vi] But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
[vii] For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit,
[viii] "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
[ix] This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.
[x] Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking.
[xi] Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, and the fourth was like a flying eagle.
[xii] Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
[xiii] And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.