By Sam E. Stone
God created Adam and Eve and placed them in the Garden of Eden. Everything was perfect. All too quickly, however, the first humans sinned (Genesis 3). Soon their son Cain sinned too (Genesis 4). The next chapter of Genesis records the genealogy from Adam to Noah. Chapter 5 concludes, “After Noah was 500 years old, he became the father of Shem, Ham and Japheth” (v. 32). Genesis 6-8 describes the construction of the ark, the gathering of the animals along with his family, and the flood itself. After the waters finally receded (more than a year later), the passengers were able to put their feet on dry land once more. The first thing Noah did was to build an altar and worship the Lord (8:20-22).
Genesis 9:1, 3-6
Following the flood, God made a covenant with Noah. This was not an agreement between equals, but was more like the generous settlement a benefactor might offer his beneficiaries. God blessed Noah and his sons. That blessing renewed and expanded what God had said to Adam after the creation (Genesis 1:28-30). “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.” In Noah, mankind had a second beginning.
Once again God affirmed mankind’s domination over all other forms of life (v. 2; see Genesis 1:26). He desired that man function in this capacity (Psalm 8:6-8). The Lord also added to the types of food humans may eat—”Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you.” Meat would now be an acceptable choice. One restriction was given, however. “You must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.” Later in the Mosaic Law this was explained more fully (Leviticus 17:10-14; Deuteronomy 12:16, 23-25). Blood has sacred significance.
God requires an accounting when blood is shed (Exodus 21:28-32). If an animal takes a human life, the animal is held responsible. If one person kills another, such action is very serious. God will hold a person responsible for the blood he sheds (Romans 13:1-7). Martin Luther declared, “This was the first command having reference to the temporal sword. By these words temporal government was established and the sword placed in its hand by God.” Scripture confirms the validity of capital punishment (Romans 13:4; Acts 25:11).
God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him. When God makes a covenant it is usually with a family or group of people, not just with one individual. Note that the initiative for it came from God. I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature . . . on earth. Just as the flood was universal, affecting both the entire human race and the entire animal kingdom, so this covenant insured that neither group will ever face extinction by a flood again (Genesis 8:21, 22). The next destruction of the earth will be caused by fire, not water (2 Peter 3:6-12).
As a sign confirming the covenant, God placed a rainbow in the sky. Bible scholars debate whether or not there had been a rainbow before this time. It may be that it had existed previously. Even if it had, from now on it would hold a special significance for God’s people, reminding them of his promise.
The rainbow provided both a sign and visible seal for Noah, just as circumcision was the sign and seal for Abraham (Genesis 17:11). The Sabbath would also be a sign and seal of the covenant with Israel at Sinai (Exodus 31:16, 17).
“Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures.” Rainstorms will come. When they do and the rainbow appears, God will be reminded of his gracious promise. Mankind will be too. This covenant shall extend through all the ages, even to the end of the world.
God knows that we are prone to forget. This is one reason he gave the Lord’s Supper as a weekly visible reminder of Christ’s sacrificial death for our sins. The rainbow, too, should help us remember both the Lord’s judgment and his mercy. Earlier God told Noah how corrupt the earth had become (Genesis 6:13). “Noah did everything just as God commanded him” (v. 22). Now he is rewarded with the Lord’s assurance through his new covenant.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.