by Paul George
We live in a society where long-term commitments have become obsolete. The covenant of marriage is nothing more than a few words spoken before a minister, priest, or rabbi. The vows made in today’s society lack the permanence and commitment of former days. Guarantees are not worth the paper they are written on. Contracts vaguely worded or undermined by loopholes and fine print. There are Christians who believe contractual agreements are somehow unspiritual, especially between two believers. ‘A man should be as good as his word,’ we are told and he should be.
What is interesting the infinite, all-powerful, changeless God of the universe has chosen to deal with men in the form of covenants. The Noahic Covenant of Genesis chapter 9 is important to us for a number of reasons. If the Noahic Covenant were not still in effect, you and I would be greatly concerned. The Noahic Covenant, in addition to the fact that it is still in force today, also provides us with a pattern for all of the other biblical covenants. As we come to understand this covenant, we will more fully appreciate the significance of all of the covenants, and especially the New Covenant instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Noahic Covenant lays down the foundation for the existence of human government.
In Genesis chapters 8 and 9 the eternal purpose of God to save men was made long before the days of Noah (Ephesians 1:4; 3:11; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Timothy 1:9). What we find in Genesis 8:20-22 is not the creation of God’s purpose to save men, but the confirmation of that purpose in history. Just as God reaffirmed His purpose here, such recommitment is often good for men as well (Philippians 3:8-16).
God said he would never again destroy the earth by a flood ( 9:11). The reason for God saying He would never again destroy the earth by a flood, is based upon the nature of man, “For the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21).
Righteous Noah (6:9) will soon be found naked in a drunken stupor (9:21). No matter how many times the earth is cleansed by a flood, the problem will remain if but one man exists. The problem is within man, it is his sinful nature. His predisposition toward sin is not learned, it is innate, he is “evil from his youth.” As a result, a full restoration must begin with a new man. This is what God historically purposed to accomplish.
When God completed His creative works, He pronounced them very good. The world of Noah’s day received no such commendation, for the men who possessed it were sinful (8:21). Adam was charged to subdue the earth and to rule over the animal kingdom (1:28). Noah was given no such command. Instead, God placed in the animals a fear of man by which man could achieve a measure of control over them. While Adam and his contemporaries seem to have been vegetarians (Genesis 1:29-30; 9:3), Noah and his descendants could eat flesh (9:3-4). There was, however, one stipulation. They could not eat the blood of the animal, for the life of the animal was in its blood. This was to teach man not only that God values life, but that He owns it. God allows man to take the life of animals in order to survive, but they must not eat the blood.
Why could flesh be eaten after the flood, but not before? It may be that conditions on the earth so changed that man must be brought to the realization that, because of his sin, he could only live by the death of another. Man lives by the death of animals. Most important of all, man is taught to reverence life. Men before the fall were obviously men of violence (Genesis 6:11) who, like Cain (Genesis 4:8), and Lamech (Genesis 4:23-24), had no regard for human life.
The life of man is precious and belongs to God. It was God’s to give and His alone to take. Animals which shed man’s blood must be put to death (v 5; Exodus 21:28, 29). Men who willfully take the life of another must be put to death ‘by man’ (v6; Numbers 35:33). In addition to murder, suicide is prohibited by God’s command in these verses. Life belongs to God, not only the life of animals and of others, but our own as well. We must realize that suicide is taking our life into our own hands when God says it belongs to Him. In the words of Job, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away” (Job 1:21).
This passage seems to shed light on the controversial subject of abortion also. Man is not to shed the blood of man. The life of man is in the blood (Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 17:11). Aside from many other considerations, must we not conclude that at the time an unborn child has blood, it has life? Must we not also acknowledge that to shed this blood, to destroy this unborn child is to violate God’s command and to be subject to the death penalty? Man is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27; 9:6). In view of this fact, murder is much more than an act of hostility against man; it is an affront to God. To attack man is to attack God in whose image he was created.
In this passage murder is identified as sin because life belongs to God. We have also been shown that murder must be severely dealt with because the victim is a person created in the image of God. One further reason for capital punishment remains in this passage: man must shed the blood of the murderer because he is also a part of God’s image. “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man” (v 6).
We must ask why didn’t God take the life of Cain when he killed his brother. Could it be He wanted Cain to live so that we could see the consequences of allowing the murderer to go free. Lamech could kill a young lad for what may have been a mere insult and boast of it (Genesis 4:23-24). The men who died in the flood were men of violence (6:11). God did punish sin, but He delayed the execution until the days of the flood so that we could learn the high price of allowing the murderer to go free.
Now that all mankind had perished because of his sin, God could require society to take the life of the murderer. In this act of capital punishment, man would act on behalf of God, he would reflect the moral image of God, namely, His indignation and sentence upon the murderer. Society and its governmental agency is required to execute the murderer to reflect the moral purity of His Creator. Government acts in God’s behalf in punishing the evildoer and rewarding those who do good. In his letter to the Romans the apostle Paul wrote, “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behaviors but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of Gods an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil” (Romans 13:1-4).
The ‘sword’ that Paul mentions in verse 4 is the sword used by the executioner to carry out capital punishment. Our Lord Himself gave testimony to the fact that government had been given the task of executing law-breakers, “Pilate therefore said to Him ‘You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?’ Jesus answered, ‘You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason, he who delivered Me up to you has the greater sin’” (John 19:10-11).
The command concerning capital punishment is, the cornerstone of any society of sinful men. The animal kingdom is to be controlled, to a great extent, by means of their fear of man (9:2). Man’s sinful tendencies, also, are kept in check by his fear of the consequences. Any society that loses its reverence for life cannot endure long. For this reason, God instituted capital punishment as a gracious restraint upon man’s sinful tendency toward violence. Because of this, mankind can live in relative peace and security until God’s Messiah has dealt the death blow to sin.
I know this is contrary to the slanted view of murder in the twenty-first century.
God initiated the covenant as an outward expression of His purpose revealed in Genesis 3:20-22. God dictated the terms of the covenant to Noah, and there was no discussion.
This covenant will remain in force until the time when our Lord returns to the earth to cleanse it by fire (2 Peter 3:10).
While some covenants involve a small number, this particular covenant includes “all flesh.” That is, all living creatures, including man and animals,
“Now behold, I Myself do establish My covenant with you, and with your descendants after you; and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you; of all that comes out of the ark, even every beast of the earth” (Genesis 9:9, 10).
Some covenants were contingent upon both parties carrying out certain stipulations. Such was the case of the Mosaic covenant. If Israel kept the law of God, they would experience the blessings and prosperity of God. If not, they would be expelled from the land (Deuteronomy 28). The blessings of the Noahic covenant were not conditional. God would give regularity of seasons and would not destroy the earth by a flood simply because He said so. While certain commands were given to mankind in verses 1-7, these are not viewed as conditions to the covenant.
God will destroy the earth by fire (2 Peter 3:10), but only after salvation has been purchased by the Messiah and the true church is removed from the earth, even as Noah was protected from the wrath of God.
The Sign of the Covenant.
“I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth. And it shall come about, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shalt be seen in the cloud and I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh” (Genesis 9:13-15).
Every covenant has its accompanying sign. The sign of the Abrahamic Covenant is circumcision (Genesis 17:15-27); that of the Mosaic Covenant is the observance of the Sabbath day (Exodus 20:8-11; 31:12-17). The sign of the Noahic the rainbow.
The “sign” of the rainbow is appropriate. It consists of the reflection of the rays of the sun in the particles of moisture in the clouds. The water that destroyed the earth causes the rainbow. In addition, the rainbow appears at the end of a storm. Therefore, this sign assures man that God will never destroy all things as He did in the days of Noah. The rainbow is not designed so much for man’s benefit but for God’s. God said that the rainbow would cause Him to remember His covenant with man. What a comfort to know that God’s faithfulness is our guarantee.
For the Israelites who first received this revelation from God, the Noahic Covenant gave reasons for a number of the rules laid down in the Mosaic Law. The prophets of old referred to the Noahic Covenant as well. Isaiah reminded the nation, Israel, of God’s faithfulness in keeping the Noahic Covenant. Jeremiah also spoke of God’s future blessings by reminding men of God’s faithfulness in keeping the Noahic Covenant:
“Thus says the Lord, Who gives the sun for light by day, and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; the Lord of hosts is His name: ‘If this fixed order departs from before Me,’ declares the Lord, ‘then the offspring of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before Me forever.’ Thus says the Lord, ‘If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out below, then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done,’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:35-37).
The Israelites could look forward to the salvation that God would bring to pass. We can look backward to that which God has accomplished by the death and resurrection of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. His Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. While Israel awaits the complete fulfillment of God’s covenant in the Millennium, they may do so with confidence in the God Who keeps His commitments. We, too, as Christians can be fully assured of God’s faithfulness.
The Noahic Covenant in many ways foreshadowed the New Covenant. Consequently, the New Covenant fulfilled much that the Noahic Covenant anticipated. The shedding of blood took on new meaning in the Noahic Covenant. The shedding of Christ’s blood at Calvary suddenly brought the ninth chapter of Genesis into full focus.
The New Covenant is promised in Jeremiah 31:30-34,
“But every one will die for his own iniquity; each man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth will be set on edge. ‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,’ declares the Lord. ‘But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,’ declares the Lord, ‘for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more’” (Jeremiah 31:30-34).
Our Lord instituted this covenant by His death on the cross of Calvary. The sign of the New Covenant is the Lord’s table,
And while they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ And He took a cup and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is to be shed on behalf of many for forgiveness of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom’” (Matthew 26:26-29).
The writer to the Hebrews stressed that the New Covenant superseded the Old Covenant and is a better covenant.
God initiated the New Covenant, like the Noahic, and he accomplished it. While all flesh benefit from the common grace of God promised in the Noahic Covenant, only those who are ‘in Christ’ benefit from the blessings of the New Covenant. It is the New Covenant ‘in His blood,’ that is experienced by those who have trusted in the shed blood of Christ, the Lamb of God, for the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life. Jesus told His disciples, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life; and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink” (John 6:53-55).
By this He meant that one must not only acknowledge Christ’s deity and the death that He died for sinners, but must also make this a vital part of his life by trusting only in Christ for salvation.
The only condition for entering into the blessings of the New Covenant is personal faith in Jesus Christ. The apostle John tells us, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12).
“And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life” (I John 5:11-12).
Like the Noahic Covenant, those who are under the New Covenant have no need to fear the wrath of God that is coming upon the earth. While the Noahic Covenant guaranteed all flesh that God would never again destroy all life by a flood, the New Covenant assures man that he will not face the outpouring of God’s wrath through other means, such as fire (2 Peter 3:10).
The covenants permit man to know exactly where he stands with God. The terms that God has laid down for salvation are very clear. Have you surrendered to Him?