A Verse by Verse Study of Genesis 9:1-17
Genesis 9:1-17 is all about God’s covenant with Noah and his descendants. If you are new to the Bible or have never noticed this common theme woven throughout the Old and New Testaments, God is a God of covenants. What does this mean for Christianity? It means that Christianity is not a religion. Christianity is a covenant with God.
God’s Covenant with Noah
The word covenant is used seven times in Genesis 9:1-17, and it is used by God alone, in which he declares it as “my covenant” and “the covenant I am confirming (or establishing) with you.”
What is the meaning of the word covenant? If you consider the context in which God uses the word covenant throughout the Bible (there are 7 covenants recorded in the Bible), you get a clear picture of its meaning.
Covenants are essential. It is the way in which God forms relationships. In fact, every core relationship in your own life requires a covenant. Marriages, friendships, even employment, are based on covenants. A covenant is a vow of commitment, one to another, which establishes the bond of that relationship.
When Christians say, “Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship”, this is what we mean. Christianity is not a belief system. It is a relationship bound by a covenant established by God.
God’s Covenant with Us
If you consider yourself a Christian, do you know your covenant with God? Do you know the promises he has made to you? Do you know the promises you have made to him, or at least what his expectations are?
I have written a post called 7 Covenants of the Bible, which describes all the promises God has made to us, as well as our requirements within those covenants and the amazing way God has fulfilled all those requirements through his Son, Jesus Christ!
God laid out the foundation for his final rescue plan in the Old Testament. His covenant with Noah is but one piece of that puzzle. Let’s take a closer look at what this covenant entails.
A Covenant Relationship with God: A Blessing
Genesis 9:1 begins with a blessing. The world Noah was about to live in was significantly different from the world he knew before. God blessed Noah the same way he blessed Adam in Genesis 1:28, “to be fruitful and multiply” because Noah was essentially starting all over again.
In Genesis 9:2-3, God blessed Noah and his descendants with a new food source. This might have been necessary because it would take a long time for Noah and his family to grow new vegetation. God was providing them food.
But notice the strange way this verse is worded, all the animals “will look on you with fear and terror. I have placed them in your power” (NLT). Animal rights activists often have a problem with this verse because it seems to reflect cruelty towards animals. They argue that animals should not fear and be in terror of humans.
But this verse is a demonstration of God’s goodness. There must have been a different kind of relationship between animals and humans before the flood. A peaceful relationship. But now that God was giving mankind permission to include animals as a food source, God also wanted to protect the animals. If animals did not fear humans, many of them would be caught and killed unnecessarily, at the risk of extinction. An instinct to fear man protects the animal.
A Covenant Relationship with God: A Command
In Genesis 9:4 God gives Noah the command, that if animals were killed and eaten, there must be a proper respect for the blood which represents the life of the being. The importance of the idea of blood is shown by how often the word is used. It is used 424 times in the Bible and each time it represents significant meaning.
- Blood was a sign of mercy for Israel at the first Passover (Exodus 12:13)
- Blood sealed God’s covenant with Israel (Exodus 24:8)
- Blood purified the alter (Exodus 29:12)
- Blood made atonement for God’s people(Exodus 30:10)
- Blood sealed the new covenant (Matthew 26:28)
- Blood justifies us before God (Romans 5:9)
Though we are no longer required to obey Old Testament law (Jesus fulfilled the law on our behalf) the principle still stands. Blood is just as important for us, as Christians, to respect and understand its meaning and significance in the Christian life.
A Covenant Relationship with God: A Responsibility
Genesis 9:5-6 calls for the responsibility of a reckoning for the lifeblood of mankind. God holds each of us responsible for the life of our fellow man. We are responsible not to harm or kill, and we are responsible to bring justice to the one who does harm or kill. Capital punishment is instilled, and this is viewed by many people as the very first establishment of human government with a firm foundation in justice.
Why does God give this responsibility to mankind? Because every human is made in the image of God. We are called to do justly and love mercy to honor God’s image.
For those who might object to the idea of capital punishment, “an eye for an eye”, the Bible consistently teaches that punishment of the guilty is the role of human government (Romans 13:1-4) and the reason God appoints this authority is to restrain man’s wickedness.
In Genesis 9:7, God repeats his command and blessing to “be fruitful and multiply”. This point was repeated because it needed emphasis. The earth badly needed repopulation.
A Covenant Relationship with God: A Promise
In Genesis 9:8-11, God now makes his promise, and he makes this promise to mankind and animals – every living creature. God promised that he would never again destroy all living things by flood. This was a repetition and clarification of Genesis 8:21-22. It’s not a promise to never destroy the earth again, but to never destroy the earth again by flood.
This promise of God was a one-way promise. It wasn’t dependent on mankind keeping up their end of the covenant. It was made to all living creatures regardless of their faith in God.
Some people have wondered if, by making this promise, God regretted destroying the earth, or thought his punishment was too harsh. But God made this promise because he did things in the post-flood world that would guarantee that the specific evil conditions of the pre-flood world would never happen again.
In Jude 6 we find out that God imprisoned the angels who sinned with human women, and he shortened man’s lifespan.
But as a friend reminded me in a recent email, when things become like the days of Noah, Jesus will return and will destroy the earth again (Matthew 24:37-39) – though by fire not by flood (2 Peter 3:6-7).
The Sign of God’s Covenant: A Rainbow
In Genesis 9:12-17, God gives Noah a sign of his covenant. It was given to all mankind, but it was also given to every living thing. Because the water vapors in the firmament were released during the flood, the water cycle of the earth changed. It is thought that this was the occurrence of the first rainbow.
God used the rainbow as a sign to Noah and all generations that he would be faithful to his covenant. Every time we see a rainbow, we should remember God’s faithfulness to keep his promises.
In Isaiah 54:9-10, God said that just as sure as his promise is to Noah, his covenant of peace with us is also sure.
Christianity is Not a Religion
Our faith is not a belief system. It is a covenant with God. That covenant is based on our beliefs, but belief alone is nothing more than philosophy or ideology. Your life in Jesus is not founded on ideology. It is founded on a mutual commitment of love and a promise forged in Jesus’ blood and sealed in the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is our rainbow. He is our sign of the New Covenant in Christ.
Becoming a Christian does happen when we believe in Jesus, but soon after making the decision to believe, we must come to the altar and make a covenant with God – a promise to trust in him.
When we are in a covenant with God, we receive blessings, rights, and privileges, but we also receive responsibilities and commands. A life of trusting in God is a life requiring both faith and obedience.
Intimacy with God by Randy Clark. Renew your knowledge of God’s deep love for you and how fervently God desires a life of intimate friendship.