The Noahic Covenant | Genesis 9:1-17

Within these verses is one of the major covenants established in the Bible. God’s covenant with Noah comes on the heels of the most cataclysmic event that humanity has seen. God, wrathful at the people’s constant sins, destroyed the entire earth with the exception of only eight people. Through the floodwaters, God reverted creation back to the watery conditions of Genesis 1:2 and then separated them to unveil a renewed creation. Thus, as Noah became a second Adam of sort, he also receives a covenant with God similar to the one made with Adam. Though the Noahic covenant bears much similarity to the Adamic covenant, it is through the terms of this covenant that the narrative of the Bible begins to resemble more closely our present society.

BE FRUITFUL // VERSE 1

Once more, we see the theme of blessing within Genesis. This reveals the general trajectory of the next section of text. As noted in earlier chapters, the blessing of God is always an outpouring of his grace. The previous three chapters focused predominately upon the wrathful vengeance of God, but now He turns to Noah to bless him with grace and love. God did not simply save Noah for the sake of survival. He spared Noah so that Noah could be shown the abundant and covenantal love God.

Take notice to the command that God gives to Noah and his sons within this verse. It bears striking resemblance to the God’s words given to Adam in verse 28 of chapter one. God gave to Adam the first cultural mandate, or commission, to be fruitful and fill the earth. By God’s grace, Adam did so; however, because of sin, the result was less than astounding. When sinful men filled the earth, the earth became full of violence. Even though Noah was saved from the flood, he was no less a sinner than anyone else. Thus, without new regulations for conduct, what would stop humanity from descending once more to their antediluvian condition?

This is where the Noahic covenant differs from the Adamic covenant. Though the principle was the same (Noah was to populate the earth as Adam did), the conditions in which he would do so were quite different. God gave to Adam four primary commandments: be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. However, God only reissues the first three to Noah. I believe this is because Adam’s pre-fallen rule would be just and good. His dominion over the earth would be exercised in righteousness. This was not so after the Fall. Thus, God will establish new principles for man’s dominion over the earth within the context of a sin-filled world.

OF MAN & BEAST // VERSES 2-4

The peaceful submission that was once known to exist between man and animal was now marked by fear. Respectful obedience gives way to dread and terror. This shows that there is something fundamentally wrong with human and animal relations. If I were to guess, I would imagine that the nearest imaginable similarity to pre-fallen conditions today is man’s relationship with dogs, or perhaps horses. There is a clear reason that dogs are known as man’s best friend. For centuries, they have served faithfully and selflessly beside humans. We demonstrate dominion over them, but in the end, our companionship is a sufficient reward. I cannot help imagining that the pre-fallen world was much like that, in regards to humans and animals. However, this is simply not the case today. Even dogs are known to commit horrendous attacks upon people. The world is simply not as it was supposed to be.

Nevertheless, in God’s provision, a fear was established within animals. This is a good thing on our part. A few hours spent watching the Discovery channel will reveal that many animals are much more physically powerful than we are. There is simply no way for us to compete barehanded with the might of lions, elephants, or elk. By God’s mercy, an aspect of our dominion is able to remain upon humanity. Evidence of this is displayed by the fact that nearly all animals would rather flee from a human than attack.

Every meat-lover should have verse three memorized by heart. In the Adamic covenant, God only gave to humans the plants for food; thus, pre-fallen humans must have been vegetarian. However, before vegetarians can rebuke those of a more carnivorous nature, God gives to Noah the animals as food. Therefore, we do well in remembering that we are only free to eat meat because God has given it first to us. There is no good thing of which we delight that does not proceed from the hand of God. May we then resolve to eat steak, ribs, and bacon to the glory of God, as we are to do with all other things.

Throughout the ages, numerous people have sighted these verses as justification for the mindless consumption of nature. They have assumed that we are meant to give reason for the animals to fear us, so they resolved to exercise a domineering reign over all the earth with little regard for anything other than their own desires. Such is not the intent of the text. God has not placed the earth under our dominion so that we may do whatever we like with it. Instead, the earth and the animals upon it have been given to us in stewardship. This means that God is still the ultimate ruler over the earth, and we are merely his representatives. Thus, we are to treat the creation around us as God would treat it. I find it sorrowful that Christians are often depicted as being anti-ecological because we believe that humans have dominion over the earth. If anything, our dominion in stewardship should give us more of a reason to care for creation because we see everything as being God-created and inherently valuable. Thus, where many environmentalists want to save the earth for the sake of future generations or because they view nature as good and humanity as evil, Christians ought to care for the earth simply because God made it.

I believe that this thought helps explain the meaning of verse four. After God declares that humanity is now free to eat meat, He         makes a prohibition: He forbids the eating of blood. Most commentators take this verse to mean live blood, or flowing blood, which can be understood that we are not to eat alive or uncooked animals. The reasoning for this may be for sanitary purposes; however, I think that it is also pointing toward something else. I believe that God forbade the eating of animals alive because He wanted to convey the sanctity of life. Though we will see that there is a much higher value to the human life, we must never view the rest of creation nonchalantly. If anything, there ought to be a respect between humans and the rest of creation because they were not the ones who rebelled against God. Though we do not believe that animal life is equal to human life, the Christian should have a level of respect for all of God’s creation.

OF LIFE’S VALUE // VERSES 5-7

These three verses focus upon the sanctity of human life. Though God informs us that all life is valuable, there is a distinct uniqueness when it comes to human life. God shows this by declaring that any man or animal that takes the life of a man will be held to account.

First, God establishes that a price must be paid for the killing of a human, and the price is another life. It is here that we must recall the first murder. When Cain killed his brother, God did not execute Cain nor did He allow anyone else to do so. This indicated that God does not primarily wish to return killing with killing. However, the pre-flood violence upon the earth displays the need for a system of preserving human life in a sinful world. Thus, God establishes the principle of life-for-a-life, which could be considered one of the first concepts of human government. Though the world is still full of violence, apparently it has not reached the level of that pre-flood society.  It is impossible to know the number of murders that have been stopped simply because of the punishment that the killer would face.

The ultimate reason that all human life is sacred is because we are all created in the image of God. To kill a person is to defile an image of the Most High God. Every man and woman, by the common grace of God, reflects characteristics of the Creator that other forms of creation do not. There is inherent value and worth to each human because we are image-bearers.

A GLOBAL COVENANT // VERSES 8-10

These verses signal the beginning of the second part of God’s covenant. While the first seven verses dealt with human-animal and human-human relationships, these final verses will concern God relationship to humanity and the rest of creation. I would like to mention two things from these three verses.

First, God explicitly states that He is establishing a covenant. The concept of covenants is one of the most important terms within the entire Bible. To put it simply, a covenant is a promise made between two parties. Biblically, the most significant uses are between God and humans. During these covenants, God makes a mainly unilateral pledge to the party involved. This means that God does the primary promising. He knows that as sinful, created beings we do not have anything to offer Him, so it is a pure act of grace that He would make covenant with us.[1]

Second, within the context of this covenant, God includes everything upon the earth. God makes a global covenant in order to declare a sort of new world order. The reference to Noah’s offspring includes even us today. This global covenant ultimately points toward the new covenant in Christ that ushers in the process of recreation. God establishes His covenant with all the earth because God will one day redeem all of creation.[2]

NEVER AGAIN // VERSE 11

This is the basic premise of God’s covenant with the earth: He will not use a flood again to destroy the earth. At once, we are able to behold grace. How good is it to know that God will not annihilate the earth in the manner of the great flood again! This must have been glorious news for Noah and his family of survivors. Surely, without this promise, there would have been some post-traumatic stress associated with each rainfall. But they were to fear not because God would never use the great deluge again.

However, we also should notice a brooding undertone of foreboding. God only states that He will never again destroy the earth with a flood. This does not mean that God will never again destroy the earth; instead, He simply promises that a flood will not be His vehicle for doing so. Indeed, we can read in the third chapter of 2 Peter that God will destroy the earth again, but this time He will use fire.

A SIGN OF THE COVENANT // VERSES 12-17

Most of the divine covenants within the Bible carry with them a sign. The sign of the Abrahamic covenant was circumcision. The Mosaic covenant had the written law of God. The New Covenant in Christ has the Lord’s Supper and baptism observed in remembrance of the covenantal conditions. Likewise, the Noahic covenant is sealed with a God’s bow within the clouds.  There are many important thoughts that we can derive from God’s use of a bow.

First, though the text does not say explicitly rainbow, we can reasonably understand that God is referencing it. Yes, the actual word is simply bow, the same word used for a warrior’s bow. Thus, after the outpouring of His wrath, God has symbolically set His bow in the sky in the same way that a warrior would place the bow in its place following a battle. Every rain that would bring fear and recollection of judgment to Noah, now also brought a sign of God’s mercy. Furthermore, notice the direction of the bow. The bow of God’s wrath is no longer facing toward the earth but rather toward God Himself. Christian, we have been spared the wrath of God only because the entirety of it fell upon Christ, in our place.

Second, take note of the rainbow’s timing. It will only appear in the sky following a storm. Often the greatest expressions of God’s mercy, grace, and love follow the clearest depictions of His anger and wrath. God’s grace always appears at the conjunction between the storm of God’s wrath and the sun of God’s love. Like the rainbow, the sacrifice of Christ came in this way, the meeting of wrath and love. We no longer need to fear the storm of God’s wrath because it has all been absorbed in His Son.

Third, does all of this mean that God no longer has use for His wrath? Is God now displaying His grace to Noah in anticipation of never needing again His wrath? No, we saw in verses five and six that God already made provisions for the inevitable murders. God knows that the sinful human condition will not improve with Noah. Nevertheless, God resolves to show grace and mercy upon humanity. The unilaterality of the covenant is evident through the repeated use of I have or I will or I have established. God is doing all the work within this covenant. He is the one performing it. Likewise, the sign is not primarily for our remembrance but for God’s. Once again, we understand that God is not forgetful; instead, it is the same principle as seen in verse one of chapter eight. God’s remembrance always leads to His intervention. I believe that Spurgeon says it best in one of his meditations upon this verse:

Oh! it is not my remembering God, it is God’s remembering me which is the ground of my safety; it is not my laying hold of his covenant, but his covenant’s laying hold on me. Glory be to God! It is not of man, neither by man, but of the Lord alone. We should remember the covenant, and we shall do it, through divine grace; but the hinge of our safety does not hang there-it is God’s remembering us, not our remembering him; and hence the covenant is an everlasting covenant.[3]


[1] For more general information on covenants, see the Doctrines in View section at the end of this chapter.

[2] Romans 8:21

[3] Spurgeon, Charles. Morning & Evening. August 13, evening.

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