The Noahic Covenant. Studying Genesis 8:20-9:17

God formally establishes a covenant with Noah. 

In Genesis 6:18 we see the word covenant used for the first time in the Bible. 

I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. 

Between Genesis 6 and Genesis 9, a lot has happened. God has flooded the earth, he’s killed all people and inhabitants of the earth, save for Noah, his family, and the animals on the ark. 

We see more covenant language at the end of Genesis 8. After the flood, Noah builds an altar to the Lord in Genesis 8:20. Sacrifice is an important aspect of Biblical covenants. And it is here where Noah is able to make sacrifices in a newly cleansed creation after the flood. 

Genesis 8:20: 

20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar

The altar Noah builds is the first time we see an altar mentioned in the Book of Genesis. The altars represent locations where man could make sacrifices to the Lord and it prefigures the later temple which is also an important aspect of covenantal theology. 

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would all build altars at times of great significance in Genesis. With the Mosaic covenant, there would be the tabernacle which was the portable structure which symbolized God’s presence with the Israelites and the place where the sacrifices were made. In 2 Samuel 7, when David is told to construct the temple, the thing to which the tabernacle was pointing, God also makes a promise to him in another covenant where the Lord promised a Son from David’s line who would have a kingdom that would never end. 

2 Samuel 7:12-13: 

 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever

And in Christ, we see the true temple, the true presence of God with the people where the true sacrifice is made who establishes a new covenant in his own blood and with his own body. 

Luke 22:19-20: 

19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood

Back in Genesis 8, Noah builds the altar to make the sacrifices. 

We see the Lord make a promise. He will restate it in chapter 9, but it’s the same thing the Lord will promise in his covenant with Noah. 

Genesis 8:21-22:

21 And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. 22 While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” 

Coming into chapter 9, we see all sorts of language both of covenant and creation. God has spared Noah, his family, and the animals on the ark because he is making a new creation through them. As in creation, when the Lord gives the mandate to Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply, he will give that same command to Noah and his family. 

Genesis 9:1: 

And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.

But while there are creation themes, this world after the creation is not perfect. There is animosity within the creation itself. Genesis 9:2-3:

 2 The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered.  3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.

While man can eat meat, there are still stipulations on how we can eat it. The lifeblood of the animal is something which is sacred, as is the life of our fellow man. For any who unjustly takes the life of another, the just penalty for that is death. As man is created in the image of God, so man has inherent value and worth. 

Genesis 9:5-6: 

 for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. 

6 “Whoever sheds the blood of man, 

by man shall his blood be shed, 

for God made man in his own image. 

In Genesis 9:7, we see the repetition of the command for humanity to be fruitful and multiply. Once again, the language harkens back to creation. 

While the passage has already been steeped in the language and ideas of covenants, it is verse 8 when the Lord formally ratifies his covenant. 

It’s striking in itself that God makes a covenant with a humanity that he knows is sinful and that he knows will continue to sin. 

The Noahic Covenant

Genesis 9:8-10:

8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth.

God’s covenant doesn’t begin by focusing on the sinfulness of man. This covenant is universal. As Noah, his family, and the animals who come off the boat represent all of the life on earth, the covenant promise is made to all of them and applies to all of mankind and to all of the animal kingdom. 

It is the only covenant in the Bible that does this. Where it’s universal and applies to everyone and every living creature in the world. 

Later covenants will have more specific application. Abraham’s covenant is a promise for a people who will come from Abraham. The Mosaic covenant is given to Israel. The New Covenant is given to the faithful in Christ. 

The Noahic covenant applies to all, regardless if someone knows and honors the Lord, regardless if someone considers themselves to be part of this covenant. 

So first, we see to whom the covenant applies. Next, we see what the covenant promises. 

Covenant promises

Genesis 9:11: 

11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth

The Lord will never again destroy the earth. 

But what’s amazing is that he could. 

Again, it is purely out of his grace that he makes the promise to a sinful humanity that he won’t do this again. The only thing that God is bound by is his own character and righteousness. We can’t stop him from doing whatever he wants. 

The covenant is made by God based in the character of God. The text continues to use possessive language. The Lord keeps calling it my covenant. I will establish my covenant with you. 

It’s not like humanity can negotiate with God. All that we have is from him. 

The flood will be a unique event in human history. That’s not to say that local floods can’t happen. But God will never repeat the flood that he brought as his great judgment on the world. Again, not that the world doesn’t deserve that but because God is gracious and has promised not to. 

It can be easy to be frustrated with the state of our world. So much sin. So much darkness. Wars, killings, violents, drugs. 

The flood reminds us that God once did away with all of creation save for one family and a set of each of the animals. As Thomas Schreiner notes in his biblical theology of covenants, that the flood reminds us that the fundamental nature of humanity hasn’t changed. 

Noah’s covenant does show God’s grace to humanity but it does not bring salvation in itself. It instead points to the preservation of humanity and the continuation of the world. Based on other covenants and promises, we know that this will continue until Christ returns. And the ultimate hope of the world is to be remade once again as a new heaven, a new earth, and a new creation at the end of the age. 

Covenant sign

In addition to his promise, the Lord also makes a covenant sign. 

Genesis 9:12-13:

12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

The rainbow is a sign of God’s covenant. Other covenants will have signs of their own. With Abraham, the sign of the covenant is circumcision. With the new covenant, communion would be a sign of that covenant which Christ instituted. 

From th foreboding clouds of a thunderstorm, we can see a rainbow. 

In a dark world, we still have a good God who is faithful. 

Genesis 9:14-15, the Lord restates his promise not to flood the earth. 

14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.

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