|The Covenants with Noah and Abraham|
Kingdom Living (11)
After the flood, then what?
Things went from bad to worse once Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. Shortly thereafter, Cain murdered Abel (Gen. 4:1-15), and Cain’s wicked descendents established the first secular, humanistic civilization characterized by pride, idolatry, and immorality (Gen. 4:16-24). Eventually, under the influence of this runaway culture, the whole human race fell away from God in total apostasy. As a result, God was both sad and mad. He grieved over the pitiful spiritual condition of His creatures. He also resolved in His righteous anger to bring judgment upon these evildoers through the waters of the flood. In Genesis 6:5-7 we read these words:
Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. And the Lord said, "I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them."
Now here is the “reader’s digest” version of what happened next. Noah, in stark contrast to his surrounding culture, was a righteous man, blameless in his time. He walked with God. So God chose him and his family (eight people total) as the means by which He would save the human race and animal kingdom from the deadly judgment of the forthcoming flood. The instrument of deliverance, of course, was a big boat, better known as the “ark!”
Now once the ark was complete, God commanded Noah and his family, along with the entire animal kingdom, to enter the ark, and they did. A forty-day flood was about to begin (Gen. 7:1-5). And came it did! The waters rose higher and higher, and eventually the whole earth was covered and all its occupants drowned (Gen. 7:6-24). But God remember Noah and the entire animal kingdom that was with him on the ark (Gen. 8:1)! He caused the waters to recede steadily from the earth and dry land appeared once again (Gen. 8:2-12). At the proper time, Noah and company disembarked and this righteous man offered a sacrifice that satisfied God and turned away His wrath (Gen. 8:13-22).
Because of the flood, however, the earth underwent radical geological, climactic, and meteorological alterations. The total human population only numbered eight, and there were more animals than people! A colossal judgment occurred! Things changed. So what’s next for humanity, the animals, and the earth? Will God continue His creation purposes, change them somehow, or give up on them all together? The answer is found in the covenant with Noah!
The covenant with Noah
God’s original plans will continue on the other side of the deluge! His covenant with creation will be maintained through Noah, who along with his family and the animals, will be preserved alive in the midst of God’s perfect storm. Genesis 6:17-19 makes this clear, even before the flood occurs.
"And behold, I, even I am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall perish. "But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall enter the ark-- you and your sons and your wife, and your sons' wives with you. "And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female (emphasis added).
Now the best way to understand this covenant that God is establishing with Noah is that it is a renewal of His covenant with creation, with only a couple of modifications! In fact, the basic pattern of life with which God began in Genesis 1 and 2 is reestablished in Genesis 8-9 after the flood has run its course. The world that emerged from the flood is new creation! Let’s see how things are restored in these two chapters.
First of all, we see that the animal kingdom was to flourish in the world once again, just as it had done in the original creation (Gen. 1:22). When the earth had dried up, God commanded His non-human creatures to emerge from the ark, and fill the earth lavishly! The zoo-like character of the earth is restored! In Genesis 8: 17 we read:
Bring out with you every living thing of all flesh that is with you, birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, that they may breed abundantly on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.
Second, the rhythms of nature are renewed. After disembarking from the ark, Noah built an altar and offered a propitiatory sacrifice to God. He was well pleased with this burnt offering, and promised never to curse the ground or destroy every living thing as He had just done (Gen. 8:20-21). Consequently, the earth’s agricultural, climactic, seasonal, and daily cycles would endure, just as God had originally intended. In Genesis 8:22 we read:
"While the earth remains,
Seedtime and harvest,
And cold and heat,
And summer and winter,
And day and night
Shall not cease."
Third, human beings also resume their reproductive roles and dominion-having tasks, just as God designed in the beginning (Gen. 1:26-28). In an echo of Genesis 1:28, we read that in Genesis 9:1 that “God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.’” This command is repeated again just five verses later: “And as for you, be fruitful and multiply; populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it (Gen. 9:6). As people increase, they are to continue domesticating the animal kingdom, as before (Gen. 1:26, 28). According to Genesis 9:2, however, a fear factor now gives humanity a decided advantage in exercising dominion over the lower creatures:
And the fear of you and the terror of you shall be on every beast of the earth and on every bird of the sky; with everything that creeps on the ground, and all the fish of the sea, into your hand they are given.
Fourth, people are still the image and likeness of God. Though defaced, the image of God in men and women has not been erased. Even after the fall and flood, people retain their essential identity as imago Dei, enjoying the uniqueness and dignity that this designation supplies. It even serves as a basis for capital punishment in the case of murder. As Genesis 9:6 says,
“Whoever sheds man's blood,
By man his blood shall be shed,
For in the image of God
He made man.”
Fifth and finally, in re-establishing his creation purposes with Noah, God promises never to flood the earth with water again. The sign of this covenant with the cosmos is, of course, the rainbow! We read about it in Genesis 9:9-13.
"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. "And I establish My covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth." And God said, "This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations; I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth.
So, after the flood, the animals again flourish. The cycles of nature are restored. Human beings are still God’s image. People continue to propagate and rule over the animals and the earth. And God promises to never flood the earth again. The only basic changes are in humanity’s diet which now includes meat (Gen. 9:3-4), and in humanity’s duty to put murderers to death (Gen. 9:6). Despite the ravages of sin and the flood, God’s covenant with creation continues through Noah.
The explicit repetition of these creation mandates in the context of the covenant of redemption expands the vistas of redemption’s horizons. Redeemed man must not internalize his salvation so that he thinks narrowly in terms of “soul-saving” deliverance. To the contrary, redemption involves his total life-style as a social, cultural creature. Rather than withdrawing narrowly into a restricted form of “spiritual” existence, redeemed man must move out with a total world-and-life perspective.
O. Palmer Robertson, Christ of the Covenants
After Babel, then what?
However, Noah celebrated just a bit too much. As soon as he got off the ark, he planted a vineyard, harvested the grapes, made some wine, got drunk, and uncovered himself in his tent! His son Ham committed an indiscretion toward him (no one really knows what he did), but his sons Japheth and Shem treated their father respectfully, despite his pitiful condition (Gen. 9:18-23).
Now Noah was the new Adam in this recently renovated world. But just like his predecessor, he failed in his moral mission and led the human race into a second fall. This time, however, the sin took place in a vineyard rather than in a garden.
Sin spread rampantly among Noah’s three sons and their descendents. Their spiritual rebellion culminated at the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. Once again, God was forced to administer a judgment on this unfortunate display of human pride and independence. This time, however, His method was not water, but words: He confused their language and scattered them to the four corners of the earth. This marks the beginning of the linguistic, geographical, racial, and linguistic divisions in the human race (see the Table of Nations in Genesis 10). Only Christ can reverse such divisions among us (see Gal. 3; 28).
God’s creatures had fallen away from Him yet a second time, and we are not even twelve chapters deep into the Bible! What will He do now . . . after Babel? As one Old Testament theologian asks, “Is God's relationship to the nations now finally broken; is God's forbearance now exhausted; has God rejected the nations in wrath forever?”
The covenant that God establishes with Noah and all humanity in Genesis 9:1-17 is an affirmation of God’s creation of humankind in his image (Gen. 1:26-28; 9:1, 6). Thus murder is forbidden because it destroys the divine image and capital punishment for murder is commanded (Gen. 9:6). Further, the symbol of all animal life, its blood, must not be consumed. However, Noah receives permission to eat meat. God declares explicitly that animals as well as people are the recipients of the covenant (Gen. 9:10). This, and the command to be fruitful and multiply, link the covenant with the creation account of Genesis 1 and identify it as a renewal of God’s creation. The appearance of the rainbow is a sign that the covenant and its promises are to last forever.
R. S. Hess, The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, s. v. “Noah”
The covenant with Abraham
Like the Noahic covenant, the Abrahamic covenant is also a renewal of the covenant with creation. There is a difference, however, and it is an important one. As we have seen, the covenant with Noah renewed God’s original purposes on a global scale after the flood for the whole earth and the entire human race. In the covenant with Abraham, however, this restoration is limited to the nation that will come forth from him, namely, Israel. At this point in the Bible, God lets the other nations go, and focuses His redemptive work on the people who spring forth from this venerable patriarch who was also known as the friend of God (James 2:23).
Abraham was certainly the right man for the job. His genealogy was very impressive. In reverse, it goes back from Terah his father to Nahor to Serug to Rue to Peleg to Eber to Shelah to Arpachshad to Shem to Noah to Lamech to Methuselah to Enoch to Jared to Mahalalel to Kenan to Enosh to Seth to Abel to Adam and to Eve (see the genealogies in Genesis 11, 10, 5)! Abraham, in other words, stands in the line of the offspring of the woman who will bring redemption to the world! So, what does God promise to Abraham and how does this covenant renew His creation purposes? The covenant itself is found in Genesis 12:1-3.
Now the Lord said to Abram, "Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father's house, To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
At the heart of this covenant are three key provisions. First of all, God promises Abraham a land. This is a reference to the promise land, to the land flowing with milk and honey, to that land that has the Tigris-Euphrates and Nile Rivers as its primary borders.
Second, God promises Abraham a great nation. This is a guarantee of many descendents or offspring who will become the nation of Israel.
Finally, God promises Abraham blessing. Not only will Abraham be blessed, but he would also be a blessing. Through Abraham and the nation that comes forth from him, God will extend His blessing to all the families on the earth. He will be the mediator of blessing to the entire human family.
Now notice carefully how each of these provisions renews God’s covenant with creation. It includes a land to rule and subdue. It requires being fruitful and multiplying to produce a great nation. It entails the blessing of life through the presence of God! So essentially, the cultural, social, and spiritual purposes that God had planned for humanity in the beginning are renewed in this covenant with Abraham! The land, the nation, and the blessing are the recovery of Eden!
Now this covenant that God makes with Abraham is continued and confirmed with his son Isaac (Gen. 17:15-22; 21:8-14; 26:1-5) and with his grandson Jacob (Gen. 27; 28:13-15). Here is how Psalm 105:8-11 summarizes this covenant continuity:
He has remembered His covenant forever,
The word which He commanded to a thousand generations,
The covenant which He made with Abraham,
And His oath to Isaac.
Then He confirmed it to Jacob for a statute,
To Israel as an everlasting covenant,
Saying, "To you I will give the land of Canaan
As the portion of your inheritance."
Now the New Testament sheds some interesting light on each of these provisions of the Abrahamic covenant. It shows that there is more to them than meets the eye in the Old Testament. For example, Romans 4:13 indicates that the land promised to Abraham was actually the whole earth to be inherited by his true offspring (see also Matt. 5:5; Rev. 21-22). Galatians 3:29 indicates that the nation promised to Abraham pertains not so much to his physical descendents but to his spiritual descendents through faith in Christ Jesus (see also Rom. 4:13-17). Galatians 3:13-14 indicates the blessing of life in God has been obtained through Jesus Christ who bore the curse of sin through his death on the cross. For these reasons, the New Testament understands Christians to be new Israel in Christ who have been restored to God’s creational intent — redeemed from the curse, blessed with the divine presence, included among the people of God, the inheritors of the earth!
The call of Abraham in this passage [Gen. 12:1-3] is a redemptive response to the human dilemma which the spread of sin narratives of Genesis 3-11 have posed. ... [For example], the name to be given to Abram, the fame which he is to acquire, the reputation which his posterity will achieve, is a counter to the influence sought by the Babel builders. ... Also the call of Abram in Gen. 12:1-3 contains in it an allusive reference to Genesis 1, and that therefore the redemptive purposes which are being expressed through the call of Abram are virtually couched in the language of a ‘New Creation.’ ... The continuity between Gen. 1 and Gen. 12 seems thus established. It will be therefore by the call of Abram that the general structure of the covenant which God has confirmed with Noah, will be carried forward. Gen. 1-11 has left us in no doubt that God’s purposes for creation will be sustained.
William J. Dumbrell, Covenant and Creation
After the flood and Babel, then what? Will God continue His creation purposes after these apostasies and His devastating judgments? Heavens yes! How do we know? The answer is the redemptive covenants with Noah and Abraham! Each is designed to restore what sin and judgment had spoiled so that God’s glorious plan can be renewed on the earth. There is, therefore, a continuity of purpose between Genesis 1 (Creation covenant), Genesis 9 (Noahic covenant for restoration on a global scale) and Genesis 12 (Abrahamic covenant for restoration at a local scale). This covenantal system, however, is not yet complete. We must understand how God consolidates His redemptive purposes through Israel by the Sinai, Davidic and New covenants.
Coming up next: The Sinai, Davidic, and New Covenants
For more information on this topic, get the book, The Christ of the Covenants, by O. Palmer Robertson, from our online store. Or read the article, “The Works of God and His Covenant” by T. M. Moore.
Gerhard von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary, trans. John H. Marks, The Old Testament Library (Philadelphia:
Westminster, 1972), p. 153.