“An Everlasting Covenant”
Lesson Text: Genesis 9:8-17
Background Scripture: Genesis 6:9-9:29
Devotional Reading: Isaiah 54:9-14
Genesis 9:8-17 (KJV)
9And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you;
10And with every living creature that is with you, of the fowl, of the cattle, and of every beast of the earth with you; from all that go out of the ark, to every beast of the earth.
11And I will establish my covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth.
12And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations:
13I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.
14And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud:
15And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh.
16And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.
17And God said unto Noah, This is the token of the covenant, which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth.
To understand what God said about the sacredness of human life in His covenant with Noah and his descendants, and all living creatures, after the flood.
To recognize that God keeps His promises to man.
To faithfully live each day knowing that God always keeps His promises!
Judgment Day was supposed to occur on May 21, 2011, according to radio preacher Harold Camping. Many of Camping’s followers purchased space on billboards throughout the U.S., encouraging people to "save the date" and prepare for the end.
Of course, the date came and went with no judgment except the predictable one that Camping was foolish for having made such a prediction. He was scorned by non-Christians and Christians alike, the latter citing Jesus’ clear teaching that no one except God the Father knows the day or the hour of Jesus’ return (Mark 13:32). Camping’s adjusted prediction for Judgment Day to occur on October 21, 2011, only added to the scorn. Camping turned out to be just another in a long line of “date setters” whose failures proved they were not speaking for God.
Noah, by contrast, received a direct communication from the Lord about a day of judgment—a judgment that was to be carried out by means of a flood. Noah was also told how to prepare for that day, eventually being given an exact timetable as to when God's judgment would be carried out (Genesis 7:4). What made Noah worthy of this honor was the fact that he “was a just man and perfect in his generations, and ... walked with God” (6:9). Noah obeyed God's commands fully (6:22; 7:5).
While we do not know the time of the coming, final Judgment Day (and we should be extremely suspicious of anyone who claims to know), we do know what God’s expectations of us are. They are essentially what He has required from His people since day one and what He required from Noah: obedience.
Place: Mountains of Ararat
Last week’s lesson text focused on the aftermath of the first sin, committed by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Today's Scripture brings us to the aftermath of God’s judgment by means of the great flood. God brought the flood on the world because of the level of corruption and depravity that those made in His image had reached (Genesis 6:5). The exception to this spiritual quagmire was Noah, who “found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (v. 8). God commanded Noah to build an ark, which provided deliverance from the flood for him, his sons, their wives (1 Peter 3:20), and those creatures that Noah was told to take aboard.
The subsequent rains lasted 40 days and nights (Genesis 7:12). Over a year passed from the time the rains began until the earth dried out after the waters receded (comparing 7:11 with 8:13, 14). The Lord then brought forth from the ark Noah, his family, and the living creatures that had been given refuge there. Noah built an altar to the Lord and offered sacrifices (8:20). The Lord responded with a promise that He would never again destroy all living creatures as He had done by means of the flood (vs. 21, 22). The Lord's next words are the study of today’s printed text.
A Covenant Established (Genesis 9:8-11)
1. How was the covenant God made with Noah identified as an unconditional one (Genesis 9:8, 9, 11)?
God has already told Noah “with thee will I establish my covenant” (Genesis 6:18), the first time the word covenant appears in the Bible. Following the great flood, God addresses not only Noah but also his three sons (see 5:32; 6:10; 7:13; and 9:18).
This section is what theologians call “The Noahic Covenant.” Though God spoke especially to Noah and his sons, this covenant includes all of Noah's descendants (v. 9) and “for perpetual generations” (v. 12). The covenant doesn’t stop there, however, for it also includes every living creature (vs. 10, 12) and “every living creature of all flesh” (v. 15). Humans, birds, beasts, and wild animals are encompassed in this wonderful covenant. In this covenant, God promised unconditionally that He would never send another flood to destroy all life on the earth. As though to make it emphatic, three times He said “any [no] more” (vs. 11, 15). He didn’t lay down any conditions that men and women had to obey; He simply stated the fact that there would be no more universal floods.
2. How do we know God has a concern for animal life (Genesis 9:10)?
At least four times in this covenant, the Lord mentioned “every living creature.” He was speaking about the animals and birds that Noah had kept safe in the ark during the Flood (v. 10). Once again, we're reminded of God’s special concern for animal life.
When the Apostle John beheld the throne room of heaven, he saw four unusual “living creatures” worshiping before God’s throne, each one having a different face (Rev. 4:6-7). The first had a face like a lion, the second like a calf, the third like a man, and the fourth like an eagle. These four faces parallel the four kinds of creatures with whom God made this covenant: wild beasts, cattle, humans, and birds (see Gen. 9:9-10). These creatures are represented perpetually before the throne of God, because the Lord is concerned about His creation. They remind us that all creation worships and praises the God who provides for His creatures and rejoices in their worship.
A Sign of the Covenant (Genesis 9:12-17)
3. Why did God reassure Noah’s family of His promise? What does the appearance of a “bow in the cloud” signify (Genesis 9:12-13)?
In these verses, the Lord seems to be repeating, in various ways, His great promise and covenant with all flesh. This repetition was no doubt of great comfort and assurance to those who had been through the traumatic experience of the flood. Noah’s family needed the reassurance the Creator gave them. Without it, every time rain began to fall, they would have wondered about the possibility of another catastrophic deluge. God reassured Noah’s family about the future of the human race, which would consist of their descendants (Gen. 9:12). Apart from God's promise they would have had little hope for the future. But the same Lord who had seen them safely through the Flood would protect and provide for them in the future.
To help His people remember His covenant, God would give them a visible sign. A “bow in the cloud” Whenever people saw the rainbow, they would remember God’s promise that no future storm would ever become a worldwide flood that would destroy humanity.
Mark Twain and his friend William Dean Howells stepped out of church just as a violent rainstorm began. Howells said, “I wonder if it will stop”; and Mark Twain replied, “It always has.” He was right; it always has! Why? Because God made a covenant and He always keeps His word.
God spoke of the rainbow as though Noah and his family were familiar with it, so it must have existed before the Flood. Rainbows are caused by the sunlight filtering through the water in the air, each drop becoming a prism to release the colors hidden in the white light of the sun. Rainbows are fragile but beautiful, and nobody has to pay to see them! Their lovely colors speak to us of what Peter called “the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10). The Greek word translated “manifold” means “various, many-colored, variegated.” The rainbow reminds us of God's gracious covenant and the “many-colored” grace of God.
Let’s pursue that thought. If the rainbow reminds us of God’s faithfulness and grace, then why do we fret and worry? God hasn’t promised that we’ll never experience storms, but He has promised that the storms won’t destroy us. “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee” (Isa. 43:2). When the clouds appear and the sun is hidden, we have nothing to fear.
Let’s think about the bow. A bow is an instrument of war, but God has transformed it into a picture of His grace and faithfulness, a guarantee of peace. God could certainly turn the bow of judgment upon us, because we’ve broken His law and deserve judgment. But He has turned the bow toward heaven and taken the punishment for us Himself! When Jesus died on the cross, it was the Just One suffering for the unjust (1 Peter 3:18) and bearing the suffering that rightfully belonged to us.
Rainbows are universal; you see them all over the world. God’s many-colored grace is sufficient for the whole world and needs to be announced to the whole world. After all, God loves the world (John 3:16), and Christ died for the sins of the world (1 John 4:10, 14).
What Do You Think?
How are modern covenants and contracts different from the covenant in today’s text? Why is it important to grasp these distinctions?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Regarding wedding vows | Regarding business deals | Regarding product warranties
4. Why did God say He will “remember” His covenant (Genesis 9:14-15)?
God's memory never fails, of course. His nature makes it impossible for Him to forget. So the phrase “I will remember” does not imply that God might somehow forget certain details and needs a rainbow to be reminded of them. In a passage such as this, the phrase I will remember carries with it the idea that God is about to act to fulfill a promise He has made. A similar usage is found in Exodus 2:24, where God hears the cries of the Israelites in bondage in Egypt and “remembered his covenant.” God's response in Exodus 3 is to call Moses to be Israel’s deliverer. In the case at hand, God takes personal charge of being the deliverer as He continuously ensures that “the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh.”
When we look at the rainbow, we know that our Father is also looking at the rainbow; for the Lord said, “I will look upon it” (Gen. 9:16). Therefore, it (the bow) becomes a bridge that brings us together.
5. Why did God reaffirm His intentions to Noah (Genesis 9:17)?
A final reaffirmation of the rainbow’s importance is given to Noah himself. This is only fitting since this account of the flood began with God’s message to Noah about how corrupt the earth had become (Genesis 6:13) and of God's intention to establish His covenant with Noah (6:18).
When Noah is first introduced in Scripture, he is called “a just man and perfect in his generations” (Genesis 6:9). Because Noah faithfully did “according to all that God commanded him” (6:22), he is now given the privilege to witness God's “re-creative” activity and to hear God announce the terms of a covenant with all flesh that is upon the earth. It is still true that those who faithfully obey and serve God receive numerous blessings, privileges, and insights that remain only mysteries to those who, like the vast majority in Noah’s day, remain entrenched in their wickedness (Matthew 13:10-16; Colossians 1:26).
POINT TO PONDER
Just as it was in Noah’s day, God’s grace will preserve all who trust in Him! In the same way, by grace through faith in Christ, we can realize new beginnings in all areas of life. And this is possible because of God’s faithfulness to His promises!
Living for Christ in a Fallen World
Living in a fallen world—a world still under the curse of sin—can present followers of the Lord Jesus Christ with some very challenging questions. We know that ultimately God will bring about “new heavens and a new earth” (2 Peter 3:13). But at times we may wonder why He doesn't step in and fix some of what's wrong with the earth we live in now.
An important part of our witness occurs in the midst of the tragedies that are an inescapable part of life in a fallen world. We are able in such circumstances to show the difference our faith in Christ makes. This is not because we are exempt from tragedies or because life automatically gets better by turning to Jesus. Rather, it is because Christian faith gives us a unique perspective on the tragedies of this present world. The cross of Christ becomes our “token” or sign by which we view life (especially the difficult side) in a fallen world. Just as God used the tragedy of the cross to accomplish His purpose of providing salvation from sin, so He can use the disasters of this life for a higher, eternal purpose (Romans 8:28).
We must remember that current floods (and other disasters) can be situations in which we demonstrate in tangible ways the love of Christ to others. When we do, we allow these circumstances to testify to God's grace rather than His judgment.
Heavenly Father, the covenant You made with Noah is just one example of Your faithfulness. Thank You for the many precious promises found in Your Word. May we find strength and endurance in them whenever life in this sinful world makes us especially weary. In Jesus’ name, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
God is a covenant maker and a covenant keeper