Bible Studies on Genesis 1–11 – Lesson 16: Creation Preserved by Covenant (Part Two)

READ GENESIS 9:1–17

There is much in this passage that builds upon what is said in Genesis 8, especially 8:21 ,22. Genesis 9:1–17 elaborates on the blessing of God upon the whole of His creation-kingdom, particularly upon the race that would arise from Noah and his three sons. The passage under our consideration in this lesson is nicely divided into two portions: 9:1–7 and 9:8–17. In the first section, verse 1 and verse 7 both record God’s statement of blessing, particularly in terms of fruitfulness and increase in numbers. Genesis 9:1 and 9:8 both note God’s speech to Noah (thus marking opening sections). Finally, 9:9 and 9:17 both mention God's establishment of His covenant. In this way the reader notes the concerns of the passages under study.

Blessing for dominion-again (9:1–3,7)

In the previous lesson we noted several of God's actions in restoring the world to livable conditions after the flood, actions that parallel what He did during the creation week. Especially noteworthy are the statements of blessing given to mankind in Genesis 1:28 and now again in Genesis 9:1–3. The slight differences in the wording need not keep us from seeing the principal point: mankind was created to serve in office before God, working as prophet, priest and king in His creation-kingdom. For that end we were created in God's holy and divine image, with righteousness. holiness and true knowledge of God.

God pronounced a benediction (blessing) upon mankind in the beginning so that there might be an increase in number, to fill the earth. to rule and subdue it. Here again comes the divine blessing. Before the rebellion of our first parents. there was perfect harmony throughout creation, a peaceable atmosphere that had the animals and birds under man but not afraid of man. Sin has changed all this in a very radical way. So God instills “fear and dread” of human beings into the animals and birds of the creation. This points out the hierarchy, so to speak, that a God-ordained creation contains. Mankind is over the rest of creation, even in his fallen, sinful state. God says, “They are given into your hands” (9:3c).

The repetition of the dominion mandate takes away from Christians all excuses that might be raised to keep us from active involvement in the full range of living in this creation and in every legitimate area of human society. If one were to say that God is speaking here about agricultural pursuits alone, the immediate response is to point out that even there, agriculture today necessitates the following: machinery necessary for productive labor, economic planning. proper land use policies and practices. division of labor, good national infrastructure (roads, rails), and so much more. God did not cleanse the world physically of sinners, and then bless the family of righteous Noah in order for them to hide their light under a bushel, to retreat to the comfort zones of the creation. Divine benediction is for worldwide dominion.

Life is in the blood (9:4–6)

God now, in the post-flood situation, allows mankind to eat meat. Apparently the human body always could accommodate the consummation of meat. but in the beginning God had restricted the human diet to the earth’s vegetation. Yet even now He places some restrictions upon the eating of meat. This parallels the diet statements of Genesis 1–2. All plant life was available to our first parents, but not that of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Now, all became available for man to eat. but not the blood of the animal. The blood had to be separated from the meat so that the blood not be consumed. Why was this the case?

We should not think of the blood as containing a ghost or spirit. The Bible must not be unQerstood to teach a primitive kind of animism (the belief that everything has a spirit in it). Very simply, blood carries the important nutrients, sugars, oxygen and diseasefighting ceHs that all together make physical life possible. When blood is separated from the flesh, death results. Blood is absolutely necessary for life, and life is a gift of God. That is why the shedding of blood is so central in the sacrificial system of the covenant (see Heb. 9:22b). The animal dies; its blood is shed on behalf of the worshiper. Blood thus comes to represent life, and life belongs to God. All of this points to Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for our forgiveness and cleansing from sin.

God so values human life, even in its sinful state, that He prescribes the death penalty for any human being and even for any animal (9:5b; Exodus 21:28–32) that takes a human life. The first sin recorded after the rebellion of our first parents was fratricide, that is, the murder of a brother. Cain was worthy of death, but God showed undeserved mercy on Cain when he “threw himself on the mercy of the (divine) court.” No other creature-only man-is made in the image of God, and God reveals here again His desire to defend life by means of the severest penalty and sanctions. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man” (9:6).

Later on in history the LORD God established the cities of refuge when any blood was shed in the land of Canaan (see Numbers 35:6ff). Even if the death were an accident. the avenger (i.e., the relative who pursued the killer) sought to require the life of the killer in order to maintain justice. We read in Numbers 35:33: “Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it.” If the death were accidental. the accused could stay in the safety of the city of refuge until the death of the high priest. But if the death were intentional. the killer was himself executed. God is very serious about this. Count how many times in Genesis 9:5 we read this phrase: “I will demand an accounting.”

This informs us of a basic principle of human government: protection of life, innocent life, from everyone and from everything that would unjustly take life away. The principle of “life for life,” spelled out even more in the laws of God for Israel. reveal to us that the LORD is profoundly “pro-life.” We should note that this prohibition of murder is given many years before the laws come to us at Mt. Sinai. This law belongs to all mankind, not just to the people of God. Romans 13:1–7 reminds us that the servants who lead in government have a God-given task, one for which they must give an account someday. 

All creatures great and small (9:8–11)

God created us to rule all things and have dominion over all creatures. This is both mankind’s glory and responsibility. But all things suffered and groaned when. mankind fell into sin. Thus the creation also died in the flood while a remnant of the creation was brought through the flood and preserved with Noah. Together with righteous Noah, the animals, birds, and every other creature came forth from the ark to proliferate over the whole earth. These creatures remain under mankind’s rule and dominion, fearful of man and defensive, occasionally showing the effects of sin in this world when they take human life. Yet they benefit from God’s grace as well.

Psalm 104 celebrates in worshipful song the regularities and the patterns that are interwoven throughout the whole of creation. The LORD “set the earth on its foundation; it can never be moved...The birds of the air nest by the waters; they sing among the branches...The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God” (Ps. 104:5,12,21). God takes care of the birds (Matt. 6:26). He dresses the lilies of the field with beauty that even outshines the splendor of Solomon (Matt. 6:28–30). When we pursue things in our high anxiety. then the creation groans because of us (Rom. 8:19ff), but it rejoices at the prospect of the coming of the LORD (Ps. 96:11–13; 98:7–9).

A covenant promise, signed and sealed (9:12–16)

When God makes a covenant. He gives a sign to serve as a reminder to one or both of the parties of what is promised and obligated in the covenant. By the observance of this sign-either by seeing it or using itthe covenant is kept before the minds and hearts of the covenant parties. The tree of life represented God’s promise of everlasting life to those who obey Him. Later on, the sign of circumcision was the sign that God’s people cannot live unless sinfulness is cut away (Gen. 17:11). The Sabbath (Lord’s Day) was and is a sign that Old Testament Israel and New Testament (spiritual) Israel (Gal. 3:29) are God’s own people (Exodus 31:16–17). The bread and the cup of the Lord’s Supper remind believers that they have life only by consuming Christ. i.e., by believing in Him, heart and soul (d. John 6:35ff).

The Noahic covenant also had a sign and a seal. God designated the rainbow as a perpetual reminder that He will never again destroy the world with a flood. If we may think of the flood as God’s battle against the sinful world, a battle He has won, then after the battle He hangs up His battle bow (same word used for rainbow). Peace and prosperity can now follow. This is His sovereign promise, given to benefit not just the human race, but also all the earth (9:12–17). What is striking is that God puts the rainbow to this use, not merely for our comfort, but also as a reminder to Himself. Notice these words: “I will remember My covenant” (9:15)...“Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant” (9:16). God can never become forgetful. But the text portrays God this way: He has filled the road of redemptive history with those significant markers that hold our God to His covenant promises to His earth, and especially to His covenant people.

Is this covenant of grace “common”?

There are those who speak of this passage in terms of “common grace.” It is said that the whole of the human race and creation with mankind receives undeserved mercy (i.e., grace) from God in the covenant made with Noah, who serves as the mediator. But using terminology such as “common grace” is rather misleading and confusing. Grace, if defined as that undeserved mercy and saving power that God gives to His elect, is never common. Saving grace is given to, and made effectuaL only in God's elect. But let us explain this further. 

What God is doing here by establishing a covenant with Noah, his seed, and all of creation, does not serve as an end in itself. Read Jeremiah 31:31–37; 33:19–21 ,25–26. These verses come in that portion of Jeremiah called his “book of consolation.” Jeremiah did not always thunder judgment against God’s people! In particular, Jeremiah 31:31–34 is the promise of the new covenant, one written upon the hearts of God’s people and not upon stone tablets. In the new covenant there would be forgiveness secured through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The covenant written upon the hearts of God’s people is in essence the Mosaic covenant, the covenant that God gave when He brought them out of Egypt (Jer. 31 :32) but which they broke (repeatedly, in fact. because of the wickedness of man’s heart).

Jeremiah goes on to say that God’s covenant with creation, specifically with day and night (representative of the whole creationai order of things), holds and holds firm. If that were to be broken, then God would break His covenant with Israel, with David, and with the Levites. But the covenant with creation will hold secure until the end of time. The assurance that the believer has because of God’s solemn covenant promise with His creation can be carried over into an assurance that God will fulfill all His electing, gracious purposes in Christ, the One for whom Israel. David, and the Levites were raised up in the first place. This is an important point.

In the second place, if God were to destroy the world again so soon after the flood, He would have every right to do so because of the wickedness of our hearts (Gen. 6:5; 8:21). But then Christ would not come, the elect would not come into existence, let alone come to saving faith and transformation of life by God's grace. To put it another way, if God destroys His creation-kingdom, then there is no history. If there is no history, then there is no stage for all the players of history to come upon and answer to their calling. This covenant secures the rest of history, both redemptive and non-redemptive. These two histories are not fully separate, although we may distinguish them.

After a destruction that was so devastating, the human race following Noah might well have wondered if God would ever do something like that again. After all. mankind continues to give ample evidence of wickedness! This is why God went to such great lengths to say in His promises and to show in the sign of the rainbow that we need not live in fear ever again about a worldwide flood. The rest of God’s dealings in history are even more clearly based along the lines of a covenant.

Noah in the service of Christ

But in making this promise regarding the creation, notice the effects: if God were to destroy the earth for all the sin that may arise, then the world would be under constant destruction. In order to save His elect people, those who are brought to saving faith, God will maintain the creation, its laws, patterns and structures even though the world in its present arrangement is under judgment, a judgment that will be executed at the end of time. This “covenant of preservation” therefore provides benefits felt by all. the righteous and the wicked alike. The elect and the reprobate experience many wonderful benefits of living in this world now. The Lord Jesus makes this explicit statement in the Sermon on the Mount: “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45). This is said in a larger context in which the Lord calls upon us to show love for our enemies. In this way we reflect in a greater way the nature of the God who has adopted us to be His children. The reprobate may not acknowledge the gracious Source of the sun and the rain, and thus they only compound their guilt. But God’s nature is just and righteous, never demonic. He leaves abundant evidence in this world of the kind of wonderful God that He is. No excuses, O man!

God’s ways are not always fully discerned by our feeble understanding. But it is dear that this covenant with Noah and all creation is established so that the fulness of redemptive history may unfold. Noah exists both because of Jesus Christ and for the sake of the coming of Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ all things cohere and hold together (Col. 1:17). Therefore. all within this vast creation-kingdom must submit to Him and yield their allegiance. In this light we may think of the covenant of preservation with Noah as truly gracious and wholly undeserved by us. Every day becomes a day filled with evidence of God's gracious covenantal favor to all His creatures. No more excuses (cf. Rom. 1:18ff). May we never take this for granted!

POINTS TO PONDER AND DISCUSS

1. Noah, his three sons, and their wives were the only human beings in the post~flood situation. What tasks, practically speaking, did they face? How could they ever accomplish the various work projects? Can we even imagine what it was like to reconstruct human society after such a dramatic event as the flood?

2. Some religious groups (e.g., the Seventh-Day Adventists) do not permit their members to eat meat. Others prefer not to eat meat because it is wrong to kill animals, they say. Still others say that meat consumption is not healthy for us. What is the Christian’s response to these various practices and their reasons?

3. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not allow their members to receive blood transfusions from other people. The “soul” of the person is in the blood, they say. How would you respond to those who would refuse this medical procedure? Does the Bible allow Christians to receive blood transfusions?

4. Some appeal to Genesis 9:5,6 in support of capital punishment by the state. Others say that the ethics of love in the New Testament require us to end capital punishment. How should Christians view this issue of capital punishment? If capital punishment is Biblically permissible, then for what crimes should it be implemented? Are there special circumstances where a criminal guilty of a capital offense could receive a different sentence?

5. Romans 13:1–7 assigns the sword (symbol of power to defend the good and punish evil) to the governing authorities. What happens in society when those authorities are no longer honest nor concerned about justice? What happens when government lacks the power or the resources to execute justice?

6. Read Colossians 1:15–20. Christ is the Mediator of creation and redemption. As the Redeemer and Savior, Christ’s work is known and embraced by believers. But what do Christians understand about Christ as “Mediator of creation,” or, “the Lord of all of life”? What should our thinking be in regard to “sacred” and “secular” areas of life? Is this even a valid distinction?

7. The teaching about common grace has occasioned sharp divisions among some Reformed believers, even leading to church splits in some instances. What do you understand this teaching to be? What elements are included and not included in this teaching? What better terminology can be used to avoid misunderstanding and even real errors in this area?

Mark D. Vander Hart

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