A Bible Lesson on Genesis 9

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Genesis 9:1 And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.

This is a second beginning, a second chance for humanity.  One of the things that good commentators do concerning this passage is to lay out and stress the similarities between Adam and Noah and between their situations.  Adam fell and following from him humanity became more and more wicked until God has judged the world and only Noah and his family of 7 others have been spared.  Now they are sent to repopulate the earth and to act as God’s stewards/caretakers of the earth.

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.

God gave Adam dominion over the animals, and that authority is renewed to Noah and his family.  In particular, humans are given both plants and animals for food.

3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.

But this power over the earth and the animals that live on it is not indiscriminant.

4 But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.

There is declaration and reaffirmation here that life is God’s.  He gives it.  It is not to be treated lightly.  Blood, in particular, has from the first been tied by God to sacrifice and the forgiveness of our sin.  Adam and Eve sinned and animal skins were given by God to cover their nakedness.  Blood will be part of Old Testament sacrifices instituted by God for human sin.  The blood of Christ, God’s own Son will be spilled as the final and complete provision for our sin.

5 And 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.

Bible scholars see here the first delegation to man by God of the responsibility for human government.  And the nature of it is that in light of the fundamental fact that human life is in the very image of God, it is to be protected and the taking of it is to be punished by force.  If we understand that human beings bear the likeness of their Maker, to kill one is to spit in the face of God.  And not because He isn’t capable of defending His own honor, but that we would be brought to recognize the seriousness of the offense, humans are given the responsibility to punish the taking of human life with death.  The misery of having the responsibility to impose capital punishment is an unmistakable reminder to society of the sacredness of human life.

7 And you, be fruitful and multiply, teem on the earth and multiply in it.”

God, who in Genesis 1 gathered the waters into one place to make dry ground, and who in punishment of man’s wickedness has had to come close to undoing that good act in the flood, sends Noah forth with the commission to try again.  Recall Genesis 1:26-31.

Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.

30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.

31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

God sends Noah forth with a gracious promise.

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,

This is wholly on God’s gracious part.  It is God who establishes this promise, absolutely independent of Noah’s ability to bring anything to the table.  And, knowing who we are and that in and of ourselves we have nothing to bring, that is a very good thing.

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.

You and I are made in the image of God.  But this verse reminds us that we err if we presume that we are “the whole show” as regards God’s concern and love for His creation.  He repeatedly looked at creation on the first 5 days (before He made our first parents) and called it good.  Now God speaks to Noah and tells him that the promise is not only for humanity, but all of earthly life.  Tree-hugging environmentalism that ends up worshipping the creation instead of the Creator is horribly wrong.  But so is a callous indifference to the beauty and worth and wonder of what God has made.  To unnecessarily trash God’s creation would be to show contempt for Him and His work, to show contempt for that which He values.

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.”

In truth, we take this for granted.  But consider what one would be thinking upon emerging from months on the ark, knowing that the rest of humanity has died.  This is a promise that it’s not futile to carry on, to obey and go forth and repopulate the earth.  No matter what, the steadfast mercy of God guarantees that He’s not going to give up on humanity and next time wipe us out.

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:

“The sign …”  It is not necessary or even probable that this is the first time a rainbow has been seen.  Biblical signs are more often than not more or less “ordinary” things that are given holy significance.  This sign is a thing of great beauty, befitting its significance as the sign of God’s promise to preserve His glorious creation.  It marks a promise that is wholly on God’s part.  Noah has not made a deal with God here.  God has promised in His own great mercy.  Humans no more have a part in making rainbows than they have in the provision of God’s mercy.

13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and 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.

16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”

The Hebrew word rendered “bow” here is the one ordinarily used for the weapon.  The obvious symbolism is that God has laid down His weapon and is graciously bearing with us.  He will always remember His promise to humanity and all that lives.  Kidner does a nice job of reminding of the “glory of the rainbow … against the gloom of the clouds” as a wonderful picture and “token of grace.”

The reformed folks have it right in saying that in this picture is not only a promise for the preservation of humanity on earth, but a shadow of God’s gracious provision for the eternal care of our souls.  God won’t destroy all humans from physical earth and He won’t allow all made in His image to suffer eternal death from sin.  It’s no accident that when John recounts his vision of heaven in Revelation 4, there is

Rev 4:2  At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne.

3 And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.

17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

It would be convenient if the chapter (and indeed the Genesis revelation of the state of humanity) ended here.  It might appear that all is well.  God is gracious, the family of one of the most righteous men of all time is going forth to repopulate and act as caretakers for the earth.  Surely this is a promising second beginning.  We’ll get it right this time, won’t we?  But here is the real “inconvenient truth” about humanity.  We aren’t equipped to get it right on our own.  This is life in God’s world post-Genesis 3.  There is Genesis 6:9b … Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.  But there is also this.  We’re not in the garden here; we’re in a fallen world that is both God’s good creation and remains presently abnormal.

18 The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.)

19 These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the people of the whole earth were dispersed.

20 Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard.

21 He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent.

Apparently the wording here is such that Noah’s “laying uncovered” is not just accidental.  Noah is drunk as a skunk and is behaving badly.  This “preacher of righteousness” finds himself in a sordid compromised state.  In the garden, Adam’s sin resulted in the necessity of God covering him with animal skins.  Here is Noah drunk and naked, in and of himself frail and unable to hold it together across a short time, let alone a lifetime.

22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside.

It seems that one of the four kids who survived the flood with his parents has contempt toward his dad.  Rather than cover him and try to minimize his dad’s failing, he prefers to blab what he’s seen to his brothers.  People with some sense of their own lack/frailty/need of God’s grace take no pleasure in broadcasting the failings of others.  Ham, it seems, has none of that humility in him.

23 Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness.

Shem and Japheth do their best to minimize dad’s failing.  They act with respect and love.

24 When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him,

25 he said, “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”

“he said” is as much prophetic as it is judicial.  Canaan is the youngest of Ham’s sons.  How this curse comes to him is not completely clear.  Some commentators reason that if Ham is the kind of disrespectful person he seems to be, that has consequences, and that one of his kids winds up being worthy of this kind of curse is not completely surprising.  There is a reality in the sins of the fathers finding their way to their sons.  On the other hand, the families of Shem and Japheth are blessed.

26 He also said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant.

27 May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant.”

28 After the flood Noah lived 350 years.

29 All the days of Noah were 950 years, and he died.

And he died.  The fall has its effect.  God’s steadfast love for His world and Noah are absolutely true and inviolable.  But eternal life comes only through Christ.  There is death waiting for every human being until the 2nd coming and the complete fulfillment of Christ’s kingdom rule.

For purposes of reminding ourselves of the whole flow of Scripture and the veracity of the accounts it provides, note carefully that Noah lives at least right up to and possibly extending 50 years or so into (by Calvin’s calculation) the life of Abraham.  There is solid continuity provided by overlap in these early generations of mankind.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

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