When God makes a covenant we must give attention to it, study it, understand why God has made the covenant and ask for the implications of it. The Covenant with Noah in Genesis 8:20-9:17 is one of the most over looked covenants in Scripture. When we remember the magnitude of the trauma that all of humanity and creation experienced in the Flood, we understand the significance of the Noahic Covenant. In the Noahic Covenant, God speaks a word of promise and comfort.
There are a number of Reformed works that discuss the Noah Covenant and its significance. I believe David VanDrunen in his book Living in God’s Two Kingdoms provides a perspective of the Noahic Covenant that is helpful. In a general sense, God has guaranteed in the Noahic Covenant that there will now be a normal order for all of humanity and creation till the end. It won’t be a redemptive covenant but it is made to ensure the establishment of law in order in the relationships between creation and humanity. Here are some of the particulars of the Noahic Covenant
- Establishes a sense of commonality.
The first of the commands that God gives Noah (and in him all of humanity) is the command from God gives to Adam in the garden, “be fruitful and multiply”.
Gen 9:1 And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Gen 9:7 And you,be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.
All animals and plants are given for food
Gen 9:3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. Gen 9:4 But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.
And a general law of justice for unlawfully killing a person is set in place.
Gen 9:5 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. Gen 9:6 “Whoever sheds the blood of man,by man shall his blood be shed,for God made man in his own image.
The original creation mandate in the garden contains these commands given to Noah. Adam was commanded to be fruitful and multiply, exercise dominion and subdue the earth.
Gen 1:28 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.”
Yet the difference is that there is no promise of life through obedience like there was for Adam. There is no redemptive aspect to the covenant like there is with Abraham or David for example. We would can say there is no “works principle involved” where Noah and his sons are told “Do this and live.” The commands are general in nature because they are reiterating commands from Genesis 1 with the creation of Adam.
2. It is a covenant with all humanity
The second is closely tied to the first but the distinction is important to recognize. This covenant is not made with a distinct ethnic group, tribe, nation, or sect. It is made with all of humanity. It is for the offspring of Noah and all the future generations of his children.
Gen 9:9 “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you,
Gen 9:12 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:
3. Makes rules of preservation
There will be a natural order restored. God promises that there will be order in creation and the relationship humanity has with each other and the animals. Seasons will continue with regularity, the animals will not rule over humanity, and marriage will continue (Gen 9:1, 7).
Gen 8:22 While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”
Gen 9:2 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.
An important part of maintaining the relationship among humanity is social justice. God therefore provides that protection in 9:6 by decreeing “whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed…”
Here we are reminded what is lacking in this covenant…forgiveness. There is no provision for the forgiveness of sins but that’s because there is no promise for eternal life. And the sign of the Noahic Covenant (the rainbow) is not a sign of righteousness, regeneration, washing of sins, etc. We see see those in the covenant signs of circumcision, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper but not here. The rainbow is a sign of the bow of God that is in a position of peace and not war. He not sending divine wrath, turmoil and chaos in judgment but has promised to never again destroy by water.
4. It is not an eternal covenant
This covenant is not meant to be an eternal covenant. It will not last forever. The promise God makes is that he will never destroy by water. In 2 Peter 3 we are told God will destroy the world by fire
2 Pet 3:10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
2 Pet 3:11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness,
2 Pet 3:12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!
What is the take away? There is not a part of creation that is without the rule or authority of God. There is no place. Creation includes humanity, who is not autonomous and operating apart from the sovereign rule of God. We as Christians however know there is more to the story. Just as Peter exhorts us, we are to put our hopes into those things that will be eternal and not that which is temporary.