I Will Make a Covenant with You Back to all sermons
Date: May 20, 2011
Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen
Series: In the Beginning
Scripture: Genesis 9:1–9:28
Genesis chapter 9 is a very significant chapter in the unfolding of God’s revelation to man. As we have said before, Genesis is a book of beginnings. In Genesis 9, a number of very basic building blocks of life and the universe as we know it are set securely in place. They are found in the commands, instructions and promises which God gave to Noah and his family as they emerged from the ark.
I do wish Noah had possessed a video camera. I am very curious to know what he and his family saw as they opened the doors and looked out over the earth. I have two contrasting images in my mind. One is a scene of utter devastation, like the aftermath of a tsunami, but on a global scale, with twisted, broken trees and dead, decaying bodies spread in all directions. The other is a scene of a world washed clean, the old world swept away or buried under layers of mud, and a new earth already emerging with green leaves and fresh, clean air. I must admit, I do not know which imagined scene is accurate. We are not given any description of the earth that faced them as they descended from the ark.
I also wonder what Noah and his family were feeling as they stepped onto this new earth. I imagine it was a tumultuous mix of emotions: sadness for all who had been destroyed, gratitude for their survival, fear battling with hope as they faced an uncertain future.
If you will excuse the pun, the Flood described in Genesis 6-8 was truly a water-shed event in the history of the earth and of the human race. In Genesis 9, God speaks to Noah and his family, and gives them a number of commands and instructions and makes them some promises. As we study these, we find much that is familiar; much that we recognize in life as it is today; life as we know it. What is interesting is to look at these commands and statements and ask: What was new? As we look back through the prism of Genesis 9, what can we learn about the earth before the flood? There are a number of things that are either mentioned for the first time, or they are clearly different after the Flood.
For one thing, the human life span has become considerably shorter. In the genealogies before the Flood, life spans of over 900 years are common. After the flood, Noah himself emerged at the age of 600 years and lived for another 350 years, for a total of 950 years. But after that, according to the genealogy in Genesis 11, there is a sharp drop off. Shem, Noah’s son lived 600 years. The next few generations attained ages of 400 plus, but then the life spans dropped to around 250 years for a few generations, and by the time of Abraham they were in the 100’s. Clearly, something has changed.
Some things are mentioned for the first time. There is a clear delineation and marking out of seasons and changing weather. We read it in Genesis 8:22-23:
“As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”
This is the first mention of these seasons of climate and weather. Genesis 1 does speak of the stars as signs to mark seasons, but makes no reference to changing weather. A specific time for planting and a specific time for harvest; cold and heat, summer and winter are all mentioned here for the first time. It does not prove that they were not in place before the flood, but it does raise that question.
The next thing that is expressed differently is the relationship between humans and animals. Look at Genesis 9:2: The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands.
In Genesis 1, man was told to rule over the creatures, but this is the first time that such fear and terror are mentioned. The reason for this fear is probably related to the next new instruction we find in verse 3: Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. This verse, taken with God’s words in Genesis 1:29-30 leads me to conclude that before the Flood, humans were vegetarians, eating only the produce of the earth. So this is the first clear instruction that man’s diet could include meat.
There is something else significant that is presented here as something new. Before the Flood, you may recall that one of the things that God saw when he looked down upon the earth was that it was filled with violence. We have the story of Cain who murdered Abel. We also have the first human poem by Lamech, who celebrated his own violence and vengeance. In contrast to that, we read these words in Genesis 9:5-6: And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.”
Many scholars believe that in these verses, we have the first institution of human government. There is a clear prohibition against murder, and a clear penalty spelled out for the crime. This is not a right of private vengeance, but a divinely authorized penalty to be carried out by men, but under God’s authority. If this is new, and I think there is a strong case that it is, this is a significant new development in the human story.
What else is new? This is the first mention of a rainbow in verse 13: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. I would point out that this is also the first mention of clouds in the Bible. We will come back to the significance of the rainbow a little later, but for now I am simply observing that it is the first mention of either one. Now, I admit that the fact that this is the first mention does not, in fact, prove that rainbows and clouds did not exist before the Flood. However, the fact that God used the rainbow as the sign of his post-Flood covenant with the human race strongly suggests that this was a new phenomenon. It would lack any kind of dramatic impact to take an already common, everyday phenomenon and simply declare that “now this is the sign of my new promise.”
What does all this lead to? I admit I am venturing into speculative territory, but I believe the evidence adds up to the conclusion that the world after the Flood was a very different place than the world before the Flood. We know what the post-Flood world looks like. We live in it. We recognize it in the words of Genesis 9. I am less sure of what the pre-Flood world looked like. But I believe that the Flood was a truly cataclysmic, earth shaking, earth shaping, climate and weather-altering event unlike anything the world has seen before or since. I believe this is hinted at in the comparison that Peter makes in 2 Peter 3:5: But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. Just as there were powerful and supernatural elements in the initial creation of the earth “out of water and by water”, there were also powerful, supernatural elements in the Flood as God not only cleansed it, but reshaped it and placed it, as it were, under a new constitution of commands and responsibilities.
Let me come back to that word “constitution”. I have used a relatively modern word. The text uses another word: an ancient one. It is the word “covenant”. The first use of that word in the Biblical text is found back in Genesis 6:18, where God spoke to Noah before the Flood and said to him: But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you.
The word “covenant” is a very significant one, both Biblically and theologically. Everyone agrees on that. But there is a wide diversity of opinions among Bible scholars on how many covenants there are, and how they all fit together. Many see the concept of a covenant going back even further into the instructions of God in the Garden of Eden. But this is the first use of the term itself. Covenants were a common feature of life in the ancient world. They were a means of establishing boundaries and relationships between individuals, between tribes, between cities and empires. A covenant was a cross between a treaty and a constitution and a contract. It was a set of promises made and obligations and responsibilities agreed to.
As I mentioned, this is the first covenant explicitly mentioned in the Bible. It is sometimes referred to as the Noahic Covenant, because God gave it to Noah. But it is, in fact, a covenant with all of Noah’s descendants, and the creatures of the earth as well. In fact, it is a covenant with the entire earth. Look at Genesis 9:8-10.
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.
The comprehensiveness of this covenant is restated in Genesis 9:12-13: 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: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.
So this is not just God’s covenant with Noah, but with all of Noah’s descendants and all the creatures of the earth, and the earth itself, and it is a permanent covenant. That means you and I are still living under and beneficiaries of this covenant. Under this covenant, we have certain responsibilities and certain privileges. God instructs Noah and his descendant to procreate. This is found in Genesis 9:1: Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.” He summarizes it again in Genesis 9:8: As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.” Under the covenant, abundant provision for food is made as God expanded man’s diet to include meat as well as the fruit of the earth as we saw earlier. And he also provided for the protection of human life by the institution of human government.
While man is given certain responsibilities and privileges under the Noahic Covenant, it is also clear that this covenant is an unconditional covenant. God makes an absolute, unalterable promise to the whole earth that does not appear in any way conditioned upon man’s obedience. It starts in Genesis 8:21b -22: And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. 22 “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”
It is reiterated in Genesis 9:11: I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God says it again in verse15: 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.
This is a triple repeat for emphasis. No doubt we can understand the need for such reassurance. After living through the events of the previous year, there would have been a natural start of terror every time a cloud appeared and it started to rain. Will it ever stop? Is it happening again? God makes this clear and permanent promise. “Never again.”
This covenant God made with Noah is sometimes referred to as a “covenant of common grace.” We talked last week about grace. There is a special grace which God offers and which must be received by faith. All do not enter in or enjoy the benefits of such grace, even as Noah and his family entered the ark and were saved, but others remained outside the ark and were destroyed. But common grace is for all who live in the world that God has made. There are no conditions for receiving it. It is just there. Jesus talked about this grace when he spoke of the “rain that falls on the just and the unjust.” The rain, the seasons, the provision of food, the promise that God will not destroy the earth again with a flood are all examples of common grace.
In fact, this promise is made in direct contrast to man and his response to God’s grace. Look at Genesis 8:21: The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.
This common grace of God is for all men, all God’s creatures, all the earth. No more Flood. Never again. But that brings me to another line of thought. We have been talking about what was new after the Flood. New conditions, new provisions, new promises. But now I want to ask the question: What was the same? What had not changed?
And here is the simple answer to that question. Mankind had not changed. Let me say it again: Mankind had not changed. Now, this is a truth with two sides to it. There is a positive side. We find this referred to in the prohibition against murder in Genesis 9:6: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.”
Here God reiterates a fundamental truth tracing back to the Creation. God made man in his own image. That reality has not changed. And it is the image of God in man that gives man his value, and that places the value of human life above the value of other forms of life. It is for this reason that God puts a particular seal of protection on human life. Human beings are valuable. Human life matters. This has not changed. We are made in the image of God.
But there is another side to this truth that mankind had not changed. As Noah and his family emerged from the ark, they had a chance for a new beginning; a chance to start over without the contaminating effects of a corrupt society. But there was a problem, wasn’t there? Noah and his family carried within them the seeds of sin. God declares this reality and potential in that verse we read a few moments ago in Genesis 8:21: Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood.
God knew that the problem of sin in the human heart had not been eradicated. This sinfulness does not take long to rear its ugly head. In the last half of Genesis 9 we have a sad story. It tells how Noah, in enjoying the wine from his vineyard overindulged and became drunk. Under the influence of the wine, he disrobed and lay naked in his tent. It is a sad picture of this godly man of faith. But there is worse to come. His youngest son discovers him in this state. And his response is to go and invite his two older brothers to come and see this sight. It is a sad and serious breach of culture and common decency and the importance of honoring one’s father. Fortunately, the other two brothers responded differently. With great care they entered the tent backwards, with their eyes turned aside and gently covered their father with a cloak.
We will look at the outcome which followed when Noah awoke next time. But I just use the story to highlight the fact that the seeds of sinful behavior were not eradicated by the Flood. Mankind had not changed. Nor has mankind changed today. We are still sinners. We enjoy God’s common grace in spite of our sin.
Let me close with three applications from Genesis 9.
The first pertains to the source of sin and sin’s corruption. There is a constant debate: does sin come from without or from within? Jesus entered into this debate with the Pharisees. The Pharisees were constantly trying to keep themselves pure by avoiding external sources of contamination. But Jesus pointed out the fallacy of this thinking. It is not what goes into a man that makes him unclean (in the form of unclean foods and influences) but that which comes out of him; out of his heart and mouth. The source of contamination is within.
I believe the story of Noah illustrates this reality. The earth was wiped clean. There was no longer any corrupt society to contaminate Noah and his family. But that did not prevent them from falling into sin, did it? They carried this deadly contagion of sin with them on the ark. They carried it in their hearts. And they emerged to sin again. I say this simply to give us all warning. We sometimes think that if we could only go somewhere else, somewhere new; if we could only start all over again, things would be different. Here is the problem with that thinking. It is a truth that I have come to realize to my sorrow. It is the basic dilemma of my life. It is the reality that wherever I go, there I am. And my greatest problems are not the sins of other people, but the sin that dwells within my own heart.
The second application I would make is simple: Gratefully enjoy the common grace of God. You see, the word “common” does not mean it is ordinary or something we should take for granted. It means it is available for all to enjoy. But like all good gifts, it should be gratefully and joyfully received. Enjoy the sun and the wind and the rain. Enjoy the fruit of the earth. Enjoy the taste of a good steak. Enjoy the blessings of family and children and relationships. Accept them joyfully and give thanks. And demonstrate to others your grateful spirit and give God glory.
The third and final application: Trust the promises of God.
To seal the promise of the Noahic Covenant, God gave us a sign, a reassurance of his promise.
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.”
I have always loved rainbows. Growing up in Africa, we used to get some particularly brilliant ones in the rainy season; so vivid they seemed solid, so close it seemed one could almost reach out a hand to touch them. We don’t get many rainbows here in Abu Dhabi, and I miss them. I miss them because they serve as such a beautiful reminder of our God, who not only makes promises, but keeps them. When you see your next rainbow, think of this passage. And think of the rainbow not only as a reminder of the promise of God to never again destroy the world with a flood, but as a reminder of all God’s promises. Especially the ones he has fulfilled through Jesus Christ.
QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
- In the message, Pastor Cam referred to the Noahic Covenant in Genesis 9 as a “covenant of common grace”. What is your understanding of “common grace”? What examples of common grace do you find in the instructions and promises of Genesis 8:20 – 9:17? What other examples of common grace can you identify in the universe and the world around us?
- What should our response be to common grace?
- Pastor Cam stated that his biggest difficulties lie in the fact that “Everywhere I go, there I am.” What do you think he meant by that? How does the story of Noah illustrate this reality? What did Jesus mean when he said that “it is what comes out of a man that makes him unclean”?
- Describe the most brilliant rainbow you have ever seen. Pastor Cam challenged us to use the next rainbow we see as a reminder of God’s promises. Make a list of promises God has made that you want to remember. These can be promises of common grace or of “special grace” (made specifically to believers).