God’s Covenant With Noah, 1-17

Gen 9:1 Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.”

Kidner notes that there are similarities with the opening of Genesis, but also differences. The charge given to Noah is similar to that given to Adam, 1:7, but sin now encroaches. God’s image remains, v6, and man is still God’s viceroy, but his dominion will be largely one of fear, v2, and his fellow-creatures are now his food, v3, and there will be a need to restrain violence and bloodshed, v5f.

‘The story of God’s covenant with Noah after the Flood reminds us that God’s covenant blessing is given, and his law provided, in the setting of a disordered and fallen world. Many times in this section of the Bible, we have seen how the life of faith is lived in a world of ambiguity and tension. Genesis 3 comes after Genesis 2: the created world is fallen. Adam is expelled from the Garden, but life goes on. Cain is punished by God, yet protected by God. The story of the Flood itself is a story of mercy and rescue in the very place of judgement and destruction. And now, perhaps more clearly still, in chapter 9, Noah is given God’s blessing, but God’s low is, so to speak, an “accommodation” of God’s perfect will to the conditions of a very-far-from-perfect world…The Genesis author has no illusions about the ambiguity of the world, and the struggles even for men of faith in living for God. In that context the word of blessing, the provision of God’s guiding law, and the reassurance of the rainbow are even more clearly evidences of God’s gracious covenanted love and care.’ (Atkinson)

‘It was a self-humiliation on God’s part when he lent his divine image to a clod of earth. But how much more God lowered himself after the Flood, in the renewal of his blessing!’ (Moltmann)

Noah and his sons covers all the human beings that were alive after the flood. God blessing applies to all humanity. ‘Life in the fallen world after the Flood is a life which is intened to be expressed in a corporate and shared commitment to show in our relationships and in out mutually acepted responsibilities for the world, that we are “in the divine image.” We are to be a community of creation.’ (Atkinson) Even in our wickedness, we are accorded the dignity of God’s image, and are given the responsibility of being his ‘estate manager’ (Atkinson again). We can avoid this responsibility through despair, through a cosmic fatalism.: the world is headed for self-destruction, let’s eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. What is the use of my poor contribution when the problems of the world are so great? But to argue thus is to diminish our humanity.

Gen 9:2 The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands.

Here, the Lord re-establishes man’s dominion over the other creatures. Man has knowledge, and knowledge is power. ‘This dominion, as granted anew to Noah, though expressed in stronger terms than to Adam, probably to inspire him and his family with confidence to spread over the earth, was restored only in the imperfect degree in which it was possessed after the fall, when, through his own fierce passions and cruel tyranny, man’s supremacy over the inferior creation was much impaired. Still it continues great. But the coercive rule which he now exercises, and which is often successfully resisted, is not to be confounded with that benign and complete dominion which was his critical prerogative, and which having been conferred on Christ, (Ps 8:6-8 1 Cor 15:27 Eph 1:22 Heb 2:7-8) will in due time be the imparted privilege of his people in the restored condition of humanity.’ (JFB)

This verse reminds us of the creation story in ch 1, but the tone is now very different. Before, all is said to be ‘very good’, but now the world is full of fear and dread. We ourselves cannot go back to the Garden; we live this side of the Flood, and with the tensions of a fallen world. God still speaks, but in a manner suited to needs of that fallen world. The fact that all life comes from God is reflected in provisions covering bloodshed, vv3-6.

Gen 9:3 Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.

Gen 9:4 “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.”

The blood of the animal was seen as its life force, Deut 12:23. Draining the blood signified a returning of the life force of the animal to the God who gave it life.

Gen 9:5 And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.

Gen 9:6 “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.”

“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed” – ‘Pre-flood history was characterized by violence: (Gen 6:11) Abel’s murder went unavenged, whereas Lamech overreacted. (Gen 4:23-24) Now a law of strict retribution was introduced: Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed (6). The idea that punishment must match the crime is fundamental in OT law (Ex 21:23-25) and modern notions of justice and fairness too.’ (NBC)

‘God’s law is now a law for an abnormal world. His law comes, as it were, refracted through the disordered relationships which mark even this start.’ (Atkinson)

“In the image of God has God made man” – Commenting on Gen 3:1, Calvin says that God’s image in man has been ‘obliterated’.  Here, however, he writes that ‘no one can be injurious to his brother without wounding God himself. Were this doctrine deeply fixed in our minds, we should be much more reluctant than we are to inflict injuries. Should any one object, that this divine image has been obliterated, the solution is easy; first, there yet exists some remnant of it, so that man is possessed of no small dignity; and, secondly, the Celestial Creator himself, however corrupted man may be, still keeps in view the end of his original creation; and according to his example, we ought to consider for what end he created men, and what excellence he has bestowed upon them above the rest of living beings.’ (My emphasis)

Gen 9:7 “As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.”

Gen 9:8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him:

Gen 9:9 “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you”

‘A covenant is a formal agreement between two parties. The principal section of a covenant is the stipulations section, which may include requirements for either party or both. In this covenant God takes stipulations upon himself, rather than imposing them on Noah and his family. Unlike the later covenant with Abraham, and those that build on the covenant with Abraham, this covenant does not entail election or a new phase of revelation. It is also made with every living creature, not just people.’ (OT Background Commentary)

Gen 9:10 and with every living creature that was with you-the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you-every living creature on earth.

“And with every living creature that was with you” – ‘We are taught in Scripture that the most ordinary of God’s creatures are always the objects of his watchful providence, and that not even a sparrow can fall to the ground without our heavenly Father knowing about it. So far is this merciful regard of the lower animals carried, that in the covenant with Noah they are specially mentioned. This passage, and others of a similar import, open new views of the divine government undiscoverable by reason. (Ps 113:4,6) Such considerations may hurt the pride of man; but no one who believes the Bible to be a true revelation of the will of God can reflect on the fact without acquiring higher views of the duties of that relation in which he stands to the lower animals, and being inspired with the benevolence which is thus widely diffused over the creation.’ (JFB)

‘What we begin to see in this story is a recognition that the Fall of man has to some extent changed the way God deals with us. No longer is his command straightforward, as it was in the Garden. It is accommodated to the needs of a fallen world…God’s word comes to us now with this double aspect: there is the divine command expressed often as the covenant rule, that we should be holy as he is holy; and there is a provision of God’s law for the restraint of evil in a world that is disordered…The law is occasioned by and relevant to a fallen world. It is, as it were, an “emergency” provision of God’s grace, necessary because of sin.’ (Atkinson) The distinction between God’s creation intention and his ‘emergency provision’ is seen in the Ten Commandments, which summon his people to worship him, but also recognise the temptation to make graven images; to honour God’s name and Day, but acknowledge that both may be dishonoured. The distinction is seen in the teaching of Christ, who upholds the creational sanctity of marriage while acknowledging divine permission for divorce, Mt 19:8 (note the references to “your hardness of heart” and “in the beginning it was not so”). Then, again, we see the distinction in the teaching of Paul, who teaches that we are new creatures in Christ and rejoice in the power of his resurrection, but also that we are subject to the downward pull of sin, and must fight the fight of faith, protected by the armour of God. To concentrate on the first aspect leads to complacency and even triumphalism; to focus on the second aspect would be to deny the new life that is ours in Christ: we need both emphases, and to realise that we live for the time being in the overlap between two worlds, with all the tensions and uncertainties that brings.

Gen 9:11 “I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

‘The promise never again to destroy all flesh because of its wickedness is an uncnoditional promise on God’a part. It is God’s indestructible “Yes” to his creation. The history of nature, with its changes and chances, and the uncertain history of humanity, both rest on the foundation of God’s unconditional will. Natural catastrophes and the human catastrophes of history cannot annul this divine “Yes” to creation and to the human person. Not even human wickedness can thwart the creator’s will towards his creation. God remains true to the earth, for God remains true to himself. He cannot deny himself.’ (Moltmann) Atkinson adds, ‘For God, this means the suffering of divine love, awaiting the Prodigal’s return. for us, it means the confidence that despite all the chances and changes in this uncertain life, God “has the whole world in his hands.” In a world in which so many of our contemporaries are given over to a cosmic fatalism…we need to find ways of making known the fact that, despite all appearances, God has not and will not give us up.’

Gen 9:12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come:”

Gen 9:13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

“I have set my rainbow in the clouds” – The Heb. has no special word for rainbow. The word for the weapon is used. ‘The meaning seems to be that what was ordinarily an instrument of war, and a symbol of vengeance, became a symbol of peace and mercy by virtue of its now being set in the clouds. Against the black storm clouds God’s war-bow is transformed into a rainbow by the sunlight of his mercy and grace. God is at peace with his covenant people.’ (NBD) Developing this imagery, JFB notes that the bow is pointing away from the earth and its inhabitants, and that it has no string.

‘The designation of the rainbow as a sign of the covenant does not suggest that this was the first rainbow ever seen. The function of a sign is connected to the significance attached to it. In like manner, circumcision is designated as a sign of the covenant with Abraham, yet that was an ancient practice, not new with Abraham and his family.’ (Old Testament Background Commentary)

‘No external sign could have been chosen for this purpose more suitable, from its natural properties, than the rainbow; because its elevated position renders it visible to all; and it never appears but when there is a gentle rain with the sun shining-which kind of rain is never known to do any harm, but much good.’ (JFB)

‘The hostility is over: God hangs up his bow!…In its spectral beauty, it tells us only of the Creator – and that the light of his beauty shines through even the reminders of his watery judgement. The weapon of war itself is transformed into a delight. Here is the Creator’s overarching care: the Creator God is the Covenant God. He who made us still loves us.’ (Atkinson)


Gen 9:14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds,

Gen 9:15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.

Gen 9:16 “Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

Gen 9:17 So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”

An ideal symbol

The rainbow is the ideal symbol for this promise, isn’t it?

  1. God made this promise to the whole earth – to every living creature. The rainbow arches over the whole earth, from horizon to horizon. All earth is under its protecting arc. It is seen by all because it’s a sign for all.
  2. When does a rainbow appear? It appears at the moment of crisis – when the dark stormclouds gather and the rain starts to fall. What a comfort this must have been to Noah and his family. Can you imagine how terrifying it must have been for them the first time a storm came after the Flood?! There they are out in the fields, when suddenly the sky darkens, the clouds gather, the thunder crashes and the rain starts to pour down. ‘Is it another Flood? We don’t have an ark this time! We’re not ready! There’s nowhere to run!’ But then they see the rainbow in the sky and they remember and they are reassured: ‘God has promised he will not destroy the world’. The light of grace shines out of the darkness of judgment.
  3. The Bible doesn’t actually use the word ‘rainbow’. God simply calls it his ‘bow’. It’s the word for a weapon – a warrior’s bow. God says he has set his bow in the clouds. But which way is the bow pointing? Away from the earth! Think about that the next time you see a rainbow – God’s great lethal bow isn’t pointing down at the earth. He has hung it up.

(Warren Peel, emphasis added)

The Sons of Noah, 18-29

Gen 9:18 The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.)

Gen 9:19 These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the earth.

Gen 9:20 Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard.

Gen 9:21 When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent.

‘Prosperity is no friend to a sanctified memory, and therefore we are cautioned, when we are full, lest we forget God. Noah, who had seen the whole world drowned in water, was no sooner safe on shore, and in the enjoyment of plenty, than he forgot God, and drowned himself in wine.’ (William Gurnall)

Gen 9:22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers outside.

Ungodly Children of Godly Parents

In the family of:-

  • Adam, there was murderous Cain, Gen 4:8.
  • Noah, there was immoral Ham, Gen 9:22ff.
  • Abraham, there was persecuting Ishmael, Gal 4:22ff.
  • Lot, there were adulterous daughters, Gen 19:32.
  • Isaac, there was profane Esau, Heb 12:16.
  • Jacob, there were treacherous sons, Gen 37:11ff.
  • Eli, there were ungodly sons, 1 Sam 2:12,22ff.
  • David, there was rebellious Absolom, 2 Sam 15:6.
  • Ahab, there was an ungodly wife, 1 Ki 16:29ff; 21:1ff.
  • Hezekiah, there was an idolatrous Manaseeh, 2 Ki 21:1ff.
  • Christ, there were unbelieving relatives, Jn 7:5.

(after R.T.Boyd, Bible Handbook)

‘The statement that Ham “saw his father’s nakedness” may be a euphemism for rape. There may be a connection here to two additional references to sexual sins involving one’s father, (Le 18:7 Deut 23:1) since Ham is the father of Canaan, the nation traditionally associated with same-gender sex and whose impure practices are condemned in detail in the context of these references.’ (EDBT)

Gen 9:23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backwards and covered their father’s nakedness. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father’s nakedness.

Gen 9:24 When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him,

Gen 9:25 he said, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.”

“Cursed be Canaan!” – To Peter Enns (The Bible Tells Me So) this looks like an attempt to justify, not explain, hatred of the Canaanites.  ‘Israel’s later sworn enemies, the Canaanites, are set up as failures from the beginning, and no treatment – not even extermination – is too harsh for these people who ancestor’s father saw his father drunk and naked.’

Gen 9:26 he also said, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem.”

Gen 9:27 “May God extend the territory of Japheth; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be his slave.”

Gen 9:28 After the flood Noah lived 350 years.

Gen 9:29 Altogether, Noah lived 950 years, and then he died.