Bible Studies on Genesis 1–11 – Lesson 15: Creation Preserved by Covenant (Part One)

READ GENESIS 8

The closing verses of Genesis 7 describe in sobering words the extent of the flood and its deadly effects: all the earth was covered with water for 150 days so that all life died. “Only Noah was left and those who were with him in the ark” (7:23c). The population of the earth was radically reduced, and the circle of the church was a mere remnant of humanity, a humanity that had been wiped out by the floodwaters of death. Yet in His wrath, God remembered His mercy and preserved a remnant for His own glory.

“l will never forget you” (8:1)

The opening words of Genesis 8 might strike us initially with some surprise: “But God remembered Noah.” Had God forgotten this righteous man, his family, and all the forms of life that were with him on the ark? In the text, the last time we heard from the LORD was in Genesis 7:1–4, and the last mention of His actions was in 1:16. Then the text goes into the description of the flood without speaking of the LORD God explicitly.

But God did not forget Noah. The idea of forgetfulness suggests among humans the notion of our frailty, a mental lapse that we do not want to occur, but it often does. When life gets too busy and we become distracted with many things, we forget things both important and not so important. To forget is a flaw that belongs to us human beings in our fallen state.

God is not like that. The verb “to remember” is used on other significant occasions in the Bible. When God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, He “remembered Abraham” (Gen. 19:29), and so He brought Lot out of the catastrophe. When Rachel was barren yet desirous of children, God listened to her prayers: “God remembered Rachel” (Gen. 30:22), and He enabled her to have a son. An important point of the LORD’s remembrance occurs in Exodus 2:24–25, “God heard their groaning and He remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.” The very next chapter (Exodus 3) recounts the call of Moses in the wilderness to go and deliver God’s people out of slavery.

Thus for God to “remember” is for Him to bring to special consideration of His promises to His people in moments when they are in need. His thoughts toward us are in anticipation of His taking the kinds of actions that will meet our need and bring deliverance. Noah is in the ark, and the flood has accomplished the purpose of divine judgment. Now God thinks about the next step of saving Noah by undoing the flood.

Creation re-emerging (8:2ff)

We noted in a previous lesson that when the flood destroyed the world the firmament was “undone” in the sense that the waters above came down through forty days and nights of rain while the waters below came up through the springs of the earth. That is how God brought about the deluge on the earth. But now God takes steps that restore the creation to a status of habitability. There are several parallels (or literary “echoes”) to Genesis 1–2 in thischapter. Notice the following:

Genesis 1

The Spirit hovers over the deep (1:2).

The water above and the water below are separated by a firmament (1:7).

The waters are gathered together into seas (1:9).

Birds are created to occupy the sky (1:20).

God blesses various creatures so that they may multiply and fill the earth (1:22).

God blesses humanity so that they may be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (1:28a).

God assigns mankind to a kingly role in the creation-kingdom (1:28b).

God provides all vegetation for man’s food (1 :30).

Genesis 8

A divine wind blows over the floodwaters (8:1).

The springs are stopped and the heavenly floodgates are closed (8:2).

The waters recede steadily from the earth (8:3a, 5).

Noah sends out a raven and a dove to search for dry land (8:6–12).

God commands Noah to bring out the various creatures from the ark so that they can multiply on the earth (8:17).

God blesses Noah and his sons so that they may fill the earth (9:1).

God says that the fear of man will be upon all creatures (9:2).

God provides meat to supplement the vegetation diet of man (9:3).

All of this suggests that God has started over again with the creation, and Noah is cast into the role of a person like Adam. Genesis 1–2 portrays for us the original beginning of God’s creation-kingdom, while Genesis 8–9 will show mankind and all creation with mankind in a kind of new beginning. Despite all the parallels between Adam and Noah, it is not really proper to say that Noah is a “second Adam,” because that distinction properly belongs to Jesus Christ alone.

Genesis 8:13 says that the waters had dried up on the earth by “the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year.” Truly this is a new beginning and a fresh (re)start! But this restart after the flood is secured by God’s covenant promise. In this way we must notice the very close relationship between the covenant of creation and now the covenant of grace in redemption. God’s elect are the objects of His saving grace, but that grace always comes to man-in-God’s-world. Christians are not saved souls to the exclusion of their bodies and the rest of the creation. The fresh restart is a new chapter for everything in the grand dramatic story of God’s reclamation of His creation-kingdom through the Mediator, the true second Adam, Jesus Christ.

God enthroned over the flood

The reader of Scripture should not miss the several statements that make it clear that both the coming of the flood as well as the recession of the waters are completely orchestrated by God. The text builds up the story in terms of the coming inundation throughout Genesis 7 as God said would happen. Then the story reaches a genuine turning point in 8:1a “God remembered Noah”), and afterward comes the reversal of all the story elements throughout Genesis 8 as God causes the waters to recede. Sometimes we speak today of “freak” disasters in the creation as “acts ofGod.” Insurance companies even use this as a category of description. But they are right in this sense: everything that happens in this world is under the plan and ultimate control of a sovereign God.

It is God who sends the wind that begins to drive back the waters and dry them up. The word in the original for wind is the same word for Spirit/spirit (d. Gen. 1:2). It is God who directed Noah to build the ark, enter it with the various pairs of creatures, and now God again directs Noah’s steps and all those with him out of the ark at the conclusion of the flood (Gen. 8:15ff). God has directed and controlled both the destruction of the wicked and the preservation of believing Noah and all those with him. There are no “freak” occurrences in nature when there is a sovereign God that exists. Nothing happens by chance or through blind fate. God's hands control all that happens in this world (d. Heidelberg Catechism, Lord's Day 10). God’s throne is fixed in the heavens. Below Him was a mighty flood. but He sat unshaken in sovereign splendor over that flood. What a great King we have!

Worship in the creation-temple (8:20)

Noah emerged from the ark with the creation hosts of animals, birds, and the rest. And the first activity of man following the flood was an act of worship. The rest of life—its time and space—was sanctified by bringing it before the sovereign LORD in worship. The altar was a miniature mountain upon which the substitutes for the sinner were placed and there consumed by fire. Now it became very obvious why God directed Noah in his preparations to take aboard the ark enough of the clean animals and birds. They were now presented before God in worship to Him.

Genesis 8:20 tells us that these were sacrificed as burnt offerings. Leviticus 1 (also 6:8–13; 8:18–21; and 16:24) would later give the fuller description of what was involved in burnt offerings for the people of Israel. Admittedly, the elaborate prescriptions for the various offerings in early Leviticus are not “exciting” reading for most Christians. Yet here too there is something of our salvation spelled out in symbolic representation. The burnt offering was primarily a dedication offering, although making atonement for sin also belonged to its purposes. Normally one offered a flawless male animal (bull or ram) or a male bird (dove or pigeon) if one were poor. The sacrificial animal was completely consumed by the fire on that altar (although the valuable hides could be preserved (Lev. 7:8). 

What did this all mean? Because God is so holy that He cannot even look upon sin, and yet we must appear before Him with the gifts of our service. sacrifice becomes absolutely necessary. The worshiper must be without blemish (no sins). Therefore, the animal without any defect represented the worshiper as he should have been (mankind as originally created). When the worshiper placed his hands on the animal (Lev. 1:3–4). he was identifying with the animal (his substitute),but now in such a way that the sins were symbolically transferred to the animal. The animal, originally “knowing no sin,” now became sin and subject to its penalty, namely, death. The animal was then slaughtered, and its blood was shed.

By sacrificing burnt offerings in worship following the flood, Noah was declaring to God that he was a sinner saved only by God’s grace and undeserved mercy. But more than that, Noah was saying that this burnt offering represented the total dedication of his life in service to God. Romans 12:1ff says that very same thing to the Christian believer today. In the light of such marvelous mercy, we offer our very selves, body and soul, in living sacrifice to the Lord. That is part of our comfort-offering ourselves readily and willingly to a faithful Savior, body and soul, in life and in death.

Saved, yet sinners (8:21)

The LORD’s reaction to the sacrifice of Noah was very positive. Our God does not need our worship, but as a covenant partner to His people, He does want it. God is pleased to enter into union and communion with those who trust Him and love Him. But it is not the smell of the burnt animal flesh that pleases Him, but it is the heart of the worshiper that draws His favorable response. Psalms 50 and 51 make this clear. In the pagan myths we read that the gods swarmed around the sacrifices of man like flies on dead meat. In Hinduism even today, the pious Hindu will put out food and water in order to feed his demonic gods (after all, even gods have to eat!). But our God is never hungry, and if He were, He would not tell us (Ps. 50:12). Indeed, the cattle on a thousand hills are His (Ps. 50:10).

It is in connection with the sacrifice offered by this human mediator that the LORD made the statement that He will never again curse the ground because of man. The LORD God had cursed the ground in Genesis 3:17 in His statement to the man following the man’s disobedience in eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Initially we might think that this is the curse that is lifted here in Genesis 8:21. More likely, our interpretation must see the statement regarding no more curse to be in parallel with the other statement in verse 21: “Never again willi destroy all living creatures, as I have done.” In other words, God is saying that His wrath and curse will never be manifested again in the manner of a flood (as Genesis 9 will say in elaboration). There will be another judgment, but the next universal judgment will be with fire that will dissolve the created elements and purge away all sin (d. II Peter 3:7,10).

The Scripture’s description of the LORD’s reaction to Noah’s sacrifice contains a truly striking statement. He promises never to curse the ground because of man, but then He adds, “Even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood.” A similar statement occurs in Genesis 6:5 before God sent the flood. In fact, the earlier reference is made in a context that describes God seeing the tremendous wickedness of the human race, and then His great grief because of what had happened to the creature made in His image, namely, mankind. This painful reality of man, constantly indined toward evil from his youth (actually, from conception itself; Ps. 51:3; d. 58:3). explains the reason for God’s holy judgment. His holy wrath against sin required judgment, in one form or another. If someone sins, someone is going to pay.

But now, after the flood, God evaluated man’s heart as being still sinful, every thought throughout his lifetime. Therefore, we might well ask, “What then was gained by the flood? What really has changed, if Noah and his family are still sinful? Was it actually necessary to kill the vast majority of the human race-admittedly sinful—if the ones saved in the ark are no better?” The thoughtful reader has to wonder from time to time in reading the story of God’s dealings with His own people (to say nothing about His patience with the whole world), namely, “Why does God even bother?” Why, indeed?

We are almost faced with a paradox here: man continues to be a sinner from his childhood. Yet in the face of sacrifice and worship by the righteous, God holds back that universal fire judgment until the end of all time, and He certainly will never again destroy the whole world with a flood. Even the righteous are sinners (as Genesis 9 will clearly show). yet God’s grace and salvation are revealed to them. The God of Noah is patient and longsuffering, abounding in mercy. That God is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, and because of Christ. He is our Father. “Why does God bother?” It is because of Jesus Christ, His vicarious death and resurrection for us. The covenant of grace again emerges before us in this story.

Seasons fixed by wisdom divine (8:22)

God’s mercy is not only shown to sinners who come to Him through worship and sacrifice, but God’s mercy now establishes the creation and all its diversities of working and functioning. Genesis 8:22 mentions the various opposites that we experience in time, both on a daily basis but also on a yearly basis. The regular cycles of time move us through a day’s routine. then added together. they bring us through each passing year. Consider what this means for this promise of God to be true. The spinning of the earth on its axis must continue-under divine power and wisdom. Then this planet must move through an orbit around the sun, neither spinning out of control nor hurtling into the sun. The time of planting presupposes that we have fields for planting and the seed to put into the ground. To gather a harvest means that the Lord has sent sufficient rainfall and enough sunshine and warmth to allow the crops to grow. In this way God’s Word of providence and daily care shows His Fatherly goodness to all creatures. Psalm 145:9 rings true for God's saints. “The LORD is good to all; He has compassion on all He has made.”

POINTS TO PONDER AND DISCUSS

1. Read Psalm 42:9, Psalm 77:9, and Isaiah 49:14. Can the LORD ever forget His own people? Yet why do believers from time to time feel that they have been forgotten? What are such moments like in a Christian's life? What causes these periods in our Christian experience, often described in the Psalms? What is a Biblical understanding of such experiences in which it seems that God has forgotten us?

2. In 1993 there was severe flooding throughout much of the central areas of North America. Many people sought scientific causes for the rain and flooding, while many others would not talk about God being behind the weather phenomena of that year. Why not? What role do scientific reasons have in our discussion of these weather events (or earthquakes, droughts and so on.)? Does God speak to us in these events? If so, how can we discern what He wants us to hear? See Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 10.

3. Those who died in the flood were sinful. But Noah and his family were also sinful. Is God being fair to save some while condemning others to hell, when the whole human race is sinful? What should our perspective be with regard to God's grace and His justice? What do we say to those who accuse God of being unjust?

4. Read Romans 12. For Noah,surviving the great flood was a spectacular thing. Worship and dedication to God followed that salvation. Why is that so? What is the relationship (or, the connection) between salvation (grace) and service (gratitude)? How vigorous are Christians in their service to the Lord as described in Romans 12? What can we do to encourage (or stimulate) each other to love and good works (d. Luke 7:47; Hebrews 10:24,25)?

5. God is a God of order and not disorder (d. I Cor. 14:33,40). This allows for the study of science and various laws in the natural order. Two plus two equals four, is a fact that is “true” for the Christian and the non-Christian alike. How do a Christian and a non-Christian approach this reality, that there are laws and observable patterns in the world around us? Does this strengthen or weaken the cause of Christian education and instruction?

6. Romans 1:18ff says that all people know God exists from what they see and experience in the world. What does it mean that people are without excuse? Do we need to “prove” God’s existence to unbelievers? Is it possible to prove God exists?

Mark D. Vander Hart

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