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Introduction to the Bible

by Rev. Ralph Allan Smith

Chapter Eight

The Noahic Covenant

The covenant with Noah marks a new beginning. As is clear from the commission given him by God, Noah is regarded as a new Adam: "And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth" (Gen. 9:1). The destruction of the world by the flood brought an end to the Edenic era and to the worship system centered in the Garden of Eden. But just as God gave man a new covenant after the fall, God graciously gave man another new covenant after the flood. This new covenant, like all the covenants of the old covenant era, was an extension of the Edenic covenant. Like later covenants, the Noahic covenant added new revelation which further amplified the promise of the new covenant. As in the pre-flood era, each "new covenant" in the old covenant era ended with God's judgment on man's sin, because "in Adam" man cannot escape his sin. At the same time, however, the judgments of God in history were never merely negative. Each judgment furthered God's kingdom purpose by leading history unto Christ, the Second Adam who saves man.


The Kingdom

The world changed radically after the flood. This probably included the geographical changes that caused the drift of the continents. If theories of a "water canopy" are correct -- the idea that the pre-flood world was "covered" by a cloud layer that produced a greenhouse effect, keeping the whole planet warm -- radical changes in climate and in the surface of the earth would have been evident. In any event, Noah and his family would have been quite conscious of the fact that they lived in a new world.

The greatest change, however, was the loss of the Garden of Eden. The sanctuary of God was no longer with men. No more was there a divinely ordained world-center to which men come to meet God, and no holy land close to the sanctuary. In these terms, the post-flood world is a world without God. In a sense this means that the re-creation of the world is incomplete, for it lacked two of the three parts of the Edenic world. In the original creation God created the world (Gen. 1:1), then the land of Eden, and last of all the Garden (Gen. 2:8). After the flood there is a new world, but there is no new holy land. The new holy land is not re-created until Israel conquers Canaan. The sanctuary is not really completed until Solomon's temple, the new Eden. This means that the re-creation of the world begun after the flood continues for centuries until in the days of Solomon when there is a Garden-Temple at the covenantal center of the world, surrounded by the holy land.

Incomplete as the Noahic situation was, Noah was a new Adam, the covenant head of the new race. In this new world, however, Noah was not alone with his wife. (We don't even know his wife's name.) His three sons, Japheth, Shem, and Ham, and their wives (again, we do not know their names) were also with Noah in the new world. Instead of a family of two, the new world began with an extended family of eight individuals, which was really four families.


The Five Points of the Covenant

The covenant with Noah is referred to explicitly as a covenant (Gen. 6:18), but there was no explanation of what a covenant is. In other words, covenant does not at all appear to be a new idea to Noah. The language of the covenant in Genesis 9, furthermore, makes it clear beyond reasonable doubt that the covenant with Noah was simply a continuation of the arrangement with Adam. Now, however, the covenant was given to a new race that was sinful from the beginning.

1. God as Creator, Redeemer and Judge of the world gives the covenant to Noah and his family. The divine initiative and grace is everywhere prominent. God's blessing establishes the covenant and gives man a new start. It is important to note that every covenant begins, as did the covenant in the Garden, with God blessing man (cf. Gn. 1:28). The covenant is never "neutral," nor is it ever based upon man's works.

2. Man as prophet, priest, and king is given new responsibilities. Noah was clearly the ultimate human authority in the new world and was the "king" of the race. He functions as a priest in offering sacrifices (Gen. 8:20) and as a prophet in pronouncing blessings and curses on his sons (Gen. 9:25ff.). But the primary difference in man's authority is judicial. Before the flood man's judicial authority was confined to cases other than capital punishment (Gen. 4:14-15). But with the Noahic covenant came authority to execute murderers (Gen. 9:6). This was not mere permission to execute, God commanded it. Just as in the flood God Himself executed the whole race for their violence (Gen. 6:11-13), He commanded Noah to execute the wickedly violent man. Ultimately this is merciful because the execution of individual murderers stops violence before it spreads to the point that it mandates the judgment of a whole society. This also represents historical growth -- the Seed of the woman, as God's image, was given a share in God's judicial authority in order to protect the world from violence so that the man's historical mission could be accomplished.

3. Just as God had forbidden the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden, so now God forbade the eating of blood (Gen. 9:4). For the first time, however, it was specified that man is permitted to eat the flesh of animals (Gen. 9:3), though not, apparently, the animal sacrifices. The sacrifices offered by Noah were "whole burnt offerings" in which the entire animal was offered to God on the altar. Noah not only knew to sacrifice, he also understood the distinction between clean and unclean animals (Gen. 7:2-3). Beyond these few points, however, we do not know much more about how he led the worship of God. Speaking of ethics more broadly, the commandments of God were the same as they were for Adam and Eve. Noah and his sons were to fill the earth (Gen. 9:1), and rule over it (Gen. 9:2) so that the kingdom of God could be realized in history.

4. The blessing of the covenant is stressed when God gives the covenant to Noah: "And 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" (Gen. 9:11). The sign of the covenant, the rainbow, was placed in the sky to remind God -- not man -- of the covenant promise (Gen. 9:13-16). God promised that He would never again curse the whole globe (Gen. 8:21). He would preserve the regular patterns of creation so that man can know how to live and build the kingdom of God (Gen. 8:22). This promise of regularity in creation is the foundation for science.

But the new race in Noah was a continuation of the old race in Adam. Man continues to rebel against God inviting the covenant curse on the race for their apostasy.

5. Noah and his children were given a new world to inherit. God's grace was upon them. If they had keep his covenant, the blessing would have only grown. Rejoicing in God, Noah planted a vineyard. He seems to have been the first man to discover wine. At any rate, he drank the wine, a symbol of blessing and rest in the Bible. It was perfectly legitimate for Noah to drink wine and rest in his tent because his work was done. It was the proper time to enjoy God's blessing. The Bible never condemns Noah for his drinking here. His son, Canaan, who attempted to steal authority and blessing, symbolized in the robe of Noah, was condemned. His rebellion, however, was only a foretaste of what Noah's descendents would do later.


Man's Covenantal Response

Sinful man was not content to inherit the blessing of the covenant and labor patiently for God's glory. Rather than seek from God a temple or a place of worship, man attempted to build his own Eden, the tower of Babel (Gen. 11:4). The new race wanted a world center to preserve religious and political unity among themselves. More that this, man wanted the new world center to glorify himself. The tower of Babel, thus, was a declaration of independence from God. Now man himself would determine the way to heaven. In essence, the tower of Babel was the whole race of Noah's descendents imitating the sin of Canaan, which may be described as plotting to steal his father's authority and set up himself as king. Canaan's true heir, Nimrod, the great hunter, led men in a rebellion against the heavenly Father, seeking to "steal His robe" and set up a rival kingdom.


God's Covenantal Judgment

God "visited" the tower of Babel. He saw that men were unified, but that it was a unity that worked against the kingdom of God. The Babel system allowed wicked men like Nimrod to establish a political tyranny upon the basis of a false religion from which it would have been difficult for anyone to escape. The result could have only been a repetition of the days before the flood, an age of universal corruption. To preserve a remnant and confound the rebellious purpose of men, God confused man's language so that men not only used different words for the same objects, but had a different perspective on things. This led to mutual distrust and the breakdown of the Babel establishment.

Men scattered to all parts of the earth. But everywhere they went their leaders imitated Nimrod, building their own little Babels, each of which was supposed to be the true center of the world. Every tribal group claimed that it was the true heir of man's glory. Here is the starting point for the false religions of the ancient world, all of which were variations of "Babelism." Each tribe built its own towers, ziggurats, and pyramids. Each had its own priesthood which supposedly could communicate with the gods and were often declared to be descendents of the gods. The similarities and differences of archaic societies and their religions all stem from Babel.

The dispersion of men meant that those who rebelled against God also hated one another, so that Satan's imitation kingdom could not succeed even superficially. The judgment of God on the tower of Babel set up the world for a new covenant administration in which God would choose a special people to be His priestly representatives among men. Once again, judgement prepared the way for a new manifestation of grace.

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