Author’s Note: I am preaching through Genesis on Wednesday nights. Here I will present edited notes in blog form. You can listen to the sermon below and download it here. May God be glorified and His people edified. Comments below if you like.
In Genesis 9 we have previously seenGod addressing Noah after he and his family came off the ark. God blessed Noah. He restated, in large part, the command He originally gave Adam — be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth. And He also gave Noah every animal for food. Obedience to God would no longer require a fruit and veggie diet. Noah could now eat meat.
We also saw God as the just God He is, and now His justice would be reflected through mankind. Before the Flood, in Genesis 6:8, the earth was filled with violence. But after the Flood God instituted human government to restrain evil, specifically through capitol punishment in cases of murder. God is pro-life, beloved. He is the Creator of life, the Sustainer of life. Life matters to God. Life is precious to God. Thus, Noah, his family, and those who came after them were also to treasure life.
That brings us to verses 8-17, which is a very important passage in the history of redemption… a passage of God’s grace, God’s promise, God’s faithfulness… to sinners like you and me.
Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying, “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. 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.” 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. It shall come about, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow will be seen in the cloud, and I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” And God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth.”
What we have here, beloved, is the establishment of the first covenant. The first covenant in the word of God. The first covenant in Scripture. And that makes this pretty important considering how important covenants are in the rest of redemptive history — and when I say redemptive history I’m referring to the unfolding of God’s revelation of how He saves, redeems, sinners.
Before we get into this covenant, though, it should be noted that some biblical scholars — some of the most faithful preachers and theologians throughout church history — have asserted there were multiple covenants before this. For instance, there is a covenant of works where God places Adam in a kind of probationary period whereby perfect obedience to Him would guarantee eternal life. Then there’s the covenant of grace whereby God promises eternal life to all who have faith in Christ. The covenant of grace, then, becomes the basis for all the rest of the covenants in the Bible.
Yet, while we can look at what these so-called covenants are and find theological truths in them, it’s a mistake in my opinion to call them covenants. And why? Because the Bible doesn’t refer to any of these covenants. Even when the Bible teaches some of the truths of these supposed covenants, they aren’t called covenants. And yet, the assertion of these covenants we don’t find in the Bible are the basis of what is appropriately called Covenant Theology. And one of these days we’ll delve more into that. Covenant Theology gets into a lot of trouble, as I understand it, in how the Bible is to be interpreted. They have a tendency to read into the Bible what’s not there.
For the record, many who don’t subscribe to Covenant Theology can have the same problems, but because of our subject matter tonight I bring up Covenant Theology specifically, because it’s a problem, in my opinion, in that system of theology.
Now there is one biblical covenant which occurred before Noah. It occurred before creation, and I’m talking about the Eternal Covenant. And it’s a covenant because the Bible calls it a covenant. In Hebrews 13:20-21 we read, “Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good things to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
This is describing a covenant between the Trinity, made in eternity past, by which God the Father would send God the Son to take on flesh, become a man, and shed His blood on behalf of a people whom He would save. That blood would bring peace for sinners with the God of peace. That is a covenant, specifically called a covenant, and actually all of creation history is a history of God dealing with humanity in relation to this covenant, with His revelation of Himself and His plan increasing the further in history we get. We can certainly look at the covenant with Noah in light of that today. All of that has been revealed. But in terms of the unfolding of biblical revelation, of God revealing Himself to man, the covenant with Noah comes first. So…
Verse eight… “Then God spoke to Noah,” and note that Noah’s sons are also the audience here. “God spoke to Noah and his sons with him, saying,” verse nine…
“Now behold, I Myself do establish My covenant with you, and with your descendants after you;
God establishes His covenant… Let’s talk first about the definition of a covenant… the definition of a covenant.
When we think of a covenant I want you to, right away, get out of your mind the idea of a contract. In recent days many professional basketball players have been signing contracts to play for various teams in the upcoming season. Those contracts stipulate length (how many seasons), money (how much the player is going to get paid), and then there are other things that factor into those basketball contracts depending on the situation. There was even one case where a highly sought after free agent came to verbal agreement with one team, that team then making other choices based on that verbal contract, only to have the player back out and go to his old team, leaving the new team in a lurch.
I think of that and I thank God a covenant is much more than a contract.
A covenant, beloved, has to do more with solemn promises that are made. It’s not simply a contract which is entered into by two parties because both parties will benefit from it. A covenant, as we understand it in the Bible, is something tied to the very core of those who are a part of that covenant.
Let me use our church’s covenant as an example. You have, if you are a member of Bethlehem Baptist Church, in accordance with our church’s Constitution, “solemnly and joyfully” entered into covenant with all other members of this church, to “engage… by the aid of the Holy Spirit, to walk together in Christian love; to strive for the advancement of this church in knowledge, holiness, and comfortHaving been led, as we believe, by the Spirit of God, to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, and on the profession of our faith, having been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, we do now, in the presence of God, angels, and this assembly, most solemnly and joyfully enter into covenant with one another, as one body in Christ… and engage to watch over one another in brotherly love.” And there’s more to that.
We should probably, as a church, spend more time thinking and praying about ourselves with regard to the covenant we’ve entered into with one another. The point being, beloved, that a covenant ties two parties at the core of their being. In marriage, the two become one flesh. In other covenants, two parties are joined together based on specific promises made within the covenant.
The importance of a covenant, beloved, being one big reason why we ought to be very careful about where and how we assign that language to what we see in Scripture. It’s why I only call a covenant what the Bible calls a covenant.
Let’s see, then, the parties of the Noahic Covenant… the parties of the Noahic Covenant. Verse nine again, “Now behold, I Myself do establish My covenant with you [you being Noah and his sons… remember: his sons were with him], and with your descendants after you.” Now make note of that. There will be future covenants — in fact we are coming up on another one not too long in Genesis — future covenants which are made with specific individuals, or specific groups of people, specific entities. But here, first of all, we see God is a party to this covenant. He is the One doing the speaking. He is the I here. And who does He say He is establishing this covenant with? Noah, his sons, and with your descendants after you.
And who are they?
They are everyone. Every single person who has ever lived, is living, or will live after this covenant was made. Because we are all… all… descendants of Noah. Today we define ourselves by nationality. Still more define themselves, at least in part, by the color of their skin. We are witnessing a lot of animosity based on the color of one’s skin in recent weeks and months, the past couple of years, in our nation. But really, there is only one human race. Some of us just have more or less melanin in our skin than others. There is only one human race, though. We are all descendants of Adam. And beyond that, all descendants of Noah, and then, one of Noah’s three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
I’m so sick, beloved, of seeing Christians identify themselves by race. I’m convinced God will judge our nation, in part, on our propensity to have white churches and black churches and this kind of church and that kind of church — all which foster artificial divisions within the body of Christ — divisions which did not exist at Pentecost… divisions which should not exist in the body of Christ.
We need to remember, beloved, that we all have some things in common that go a lot deeper than skin color. Like… we are all created in God’s image… we are all sinners who fall short of the glory of God… we are all, those who are saved, saved only by the grace of God through faith in His Son Jesus Christ… and here in Genesis 9, we are all recipients, beneficiaries, of the Noahic Covenant. In a real way, we are all parties to this covenant.
And it should be noted… look at verse ten… even the living creatures are a part of this covenant. That’s part of what makes this covenant unique to the rest of Scripture. Even the animals on the ark with Noah and his family… God is making a promise regarding them as well. So the covenant, the Noahic Covenant, is all-inclusive. Noah, his wife, his sons, their wives, and every descendant and every living creature that would come after them. This covenant is for all.
Which leads us to the content of the Noahic Covenant… the content of the Noahic Covenant. What did God promise? Verse 11…
“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.”
Notice again God says He was establishing His covenant. There is quite a bit of repetition in this passage, magnifying its importance… magnifying our need to pay attention to what’s being said here.
And what He says, essentially, is He will never again destroy the world and all life by means of water. In other words, there will never be The Flood Part II. There will never be another global, catastrophic flood by which all life will be blotted out, as it was in the first Flood, save for those on the ark.
Now that isn’t to say the earth will never be destroyed. We know it will be. Why? Because this world is corrupted by sin. I’ve cited 2 Peter 3:6 several times in this Genesis study: “The word at that time was destroyed [by water].” Well what about verse 7? “But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.” There is coming a day, beloved, when the entire cosmos will be consumed by intense heat, making way for a better and eternal new heavens and new earth.
But never again by water. Never again by Flood. Now, of course there are floods [plural]. Local, regional floods. And when there are floods we can witness the destruction they leave in their wake, water being one of the most powerful forces on this planet God created. We’ve seen here in North Carolina what floods can do after hurricanes. We saw what happened in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina came through a few years ago. Those are floods, but they weren’t the Flood. God is saying here He will never bring the Flood again. What happened in Genesis 6-8 was a one time, one of a kind event in all of creation history.
God will never destroy the whole earth by Flood again. That is the content of the covenant.
Which brings us to the duration of the Noahic Covenant… the duration of the Noahic Covenant. And this one doesn’t take long to see. Verse twelve…
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;
All successive generations. All successive generations. This covenant is still in force, beloved. This covenant isn’t going away. You and I can claim these promises from God just as boldly, just as clearly, as could Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. The duration of the Noahic Covenant is for all successive generations. And lest we find that hard to believe…
Then there’s the sign of the Noahic Covenant… the sign.
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. It shall come about, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow will be seen in the cloud, and I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” And God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth.”
Notice the repetition of the word covenant in these ten verses we’re looking at, coming from the mouth of God Himself. It is as if He Himself wants to stress in this first revealed covenant how important the very concept of covenant is. But as to the sign…
God set His bow in the cloud. Beloved, just as we can look down into the fossil-bearing rocks in the earth and they bear witness as a constant reminder of the Flood, of the fact God once destroyed the earth with a Flood, God set His bow in the clouds. He gave us the rainbow, whereby when storms come we can look up and be reminded of God’s promise to Noah, his sons, to all successive generations, and even the living creatures. He will never destroy the world by water again. We have this promise, going back to the end of Genesis 8, verse 22, “While the earth remains.”
But I want you to realize something else about this. Notice how personal this is to God. Not only does He call the rainbow My bow, but look again at verse 14: “It shall come about, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow will be seen in the cloud,” verse 15, “and I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh. Skip down to 16: “When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant”
It’s not just that we can look to the rainbow and remember what God has promised. This is personal to God, too. He will see the bow in the cloud, He will look upon it, He will remember the everlasting covenant. Not that God has or will ever forget His covenant. But recall Genesis 8:1, where God “remembered Noah,” not meaning He forgot Noah, but that He turned His attention to Noah in a special way. The same kind of thing is going on here, I believe. The same kind of remembrance. God’s rainbow is not merely a reminder there will be no second Flood, but of God’s unique, special, and continuing relationship with that which He has created.
And the thing is… God is not saying any of this to Noah for His own benefit, but for Noah’s benefit, and his sons’ benefit, and our benefit. God repeats — over and over in this passage — His covenant with all flesh. And for Noah’s sake it was probably a great comfort to hear God say this over and over again. It probably provided Noah with assurance, and his sons with assurance, that those they had been through the most traumatic of events, being in that ark for over a year while everything died around them, God was with them, and God would be with them for the future. They would not have to live apart from God’s promise. The same God who saw them safely through the waters of judgment would in the months and years and millennia to come protect and provide for them as well.
The rainbow, then, is not a symbol of sexual freedom. It is not a beacon of pride for those who would revel in their sexual immorality. No matter how often it might be plastered about these days on bumper sticks, flags, lights on the White House, or Facebook profiles.
The rainbow, beloved, in its intended purpose — the purpose given it by our Creator, the One whose bow it is, God… the rainbow is a demonstration, a perpetual testimony, of the glorious grace of God. As one commentator puts it, “The pure white light from the unapproachable holiness of His throne is refracted, as it were, through the glory clouds surrounding His presence, breaking into all the glorious colors of God’s creation. In wrath, He remembers mercy. The glory follows the sufferings; and where sin abounded, grace did much more abound!” That goes for Noah after the Flood, and that goes for all who trust in God’s Son, Jesus, through the gospel.
Three other times in the Bible we see the rainbow. Only three. In Ezekiel 1:28, where the prophet Ezekiel is seeing his vision of the LORD, he describes the radiance of the glory of God, “As the appearance of the rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the surrounding radiance. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of YHWH.” And Ezekiel follows that by saying, “And when I saw it, I fell on my face and heard a voice speaking.”
Now we don’t hear the audible voice of God like Ezekiel did that time, but I do believe we’d do well to emulate His reaction to the glory of God, even displayed through the rainbow. He fell on his face. Beloved, the rainbow being a testimony of God’s promise to us, His faithfulness to us… it ought to drive us to our knees, figuratively if not literally. It ought to humble us and drive us to thank God, to worship God, our covenant-making, covenant-keeping God.
The two other times we see the rainbow are in Revelation. In Revelation 4:3 there is a rainbow around the throne of Jesus as He is about to pronounce judgment upon the world. Then, in Revelation 10:1 John writes, “I saw another strong angel coming down out of heaven, clothed with a cloud; and the rainbow was upon his head, and his face was like the sun, and his feet like pillars of fire. That passage makes reference to seven peals of thunder uttering their voices, which is a reference to Psalm 29, where the God of glory thunders and the LORD sat as King at the flood. “Yes, YHWH sits as King forever.”
If the link between Psalm 29 and Revelation 10 is correct, and I believe it is, that would make the strong angel (or messenger) in Revelation 10 Jesus Himself. And instead of a crown of thorns, there a rainbow adorns His head. So the sign of the Noahic covenant is one first of promise, but as we see Scripture unfolding, we also see that the promise is being upheld and will be fulfilled, making the rainbow not just a sign of promise, but one of coming glory in salvation through judgment.
Finally… lastly, I want you to notice the conditions of the Noahic covenant… the conditions of the Noahic covenant. What have we seen? Well in verse nine, it’s God who established His covenant with all flesh. Again in verse 11, God speaking, “I establish My covenant.” Verse 12: “This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you.” I set My bow in the cloud… I will remember My covenant. And so on and so on.
What we see here, beloved, is God makes this covenant with Noah, and by proxy with us, since we’re a successive generation… God makes this covenant unilaterally. This covenant is not at all dependent upon anything we do. It’s all of God, yet we receive the benefits, which in turn should drive us to worship God.
And so in this way the Noahic Covenant, just to back up to something I said a minute ago, is a picture of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s a picture of God’s grace in salvation. For what do we do to be saved? We are dead in our trespasses and sins, just as the whole world was destroyed, and yet God makes us alive together with Christ. Those who will be saved will only be saved by His amazing grace. Dead men can’t make themselves alive, but it is only God’s sovereign grace which raises the dead sinner to set their eyes upon Jesus.
Just as Jonah, in somewhat of an ark of his own, surrounded by water in the belly of the great fish, said, “Salvation is of the LORD,” so does the rainbow recall to us the sovereignty of God over His creation, and the sovereignty of God in salvation. And whereas Noah was hopeless to survive the Flood, and whereas not one of us is sufficient to do anything about our own sins, God establishes His covenant. And as Scripture unfolds He will make more covenants — with Abraham, with a couple of different kinds of covenants with Israel, with David, and then the New Covenant. And all, like with this first, with Noah, it points us to who God is — the One who has made an Eternal Covenant to save sinners.
May that reality… may our understanding of the glory of God… cause us to do the same as Noah did as soon as he got off the ark, or as Ezekiel when he saw the radiance of the glory of God in the rainbow… may we humble ourselves, bow down, and worship God. And then live to glorify Him, through faith in Him, obedience to Him.