The Noah Narrative: Government & Covenant

Government (vv1-7)

The politics of the post-flood world were about to change. Previously, God had only spoken to Noah, but now his sons were addressed (v1), signalling a transition in leadership. Shem, Ham and Japheth would overspread the whole earth (v19); the generation of Noah (6:9) was giving way to the generation of his sons (10:1), and the dispensation of human government was about to commence.

The Lord addressed Noah and his sons as the heads of a new world (notice the plural “you” in v7). The heads of the nations needed to obey the creation mandate for the prospering of society: “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (9:1).1 This mandate is still binding on us all today. Dominion language continued as God said, “Into your hand are they [the created world] delivered” (9:2). Adam was the head of the old world, but a new administration had begun.

Since God addressed Noah and his sons, and not their wives, we see that male headship applies to the civil realm. This is a truth seen throughout the Bible (Gen 3:16-17; Isa 3:12; 1Ti 2:13-15).

The old world was filled with violence as Lamech-like vigilantism filled the globe. Man could not be governed by his own conscience, meaning God established government to punish violence. God demanded payment from any that shed blood. Blood is the most valuable substance in the world because it represents the principle of life (9:4). Requiring payment from the hand of the criminal dominates verse 5 (“require” and “hand” are each mentioned three times). Sin is primarily against God, meaning the murderer has taken what belongs to God, and He demands payment. The debt must be settled and justice must be satisfied.

Murdering man, who is made in the image of God (v6), is an assault on the divine reality behind the image. When a terrorist burns an effigy, he is signalling his intent towards the reality behind the effigy. To take a human life that uniquely resembles God is a heinous sin and deserves capital punishment. The time for mercy has passed for a murderer; justice is punitive – “thine eye shall not pity him, but thou shalt put away the guilt of innocent blood” (Deu 19:13). Justice is also proportional and preventive; “those which remain shall hear, and fear, and shall henceforth commit no more any such evil … life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (vv20-21).

God personally intervened when Cain killed Abel, but now delegates that work to man; “whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed” (Gen 9:6). Since God is not addressing private citizens but human government, He is commanding capital punishment, not vigilantism.

Human government wields the sword of justice. “If thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil” (Rom 13:4).

Since our rulers have been ordained by God, we should show them the utmost respect and hold them in high regard. God has instituted government to punish vice and reward virtue. This is government’s most basic and vital function. In an anarchical age, we must remember that authority, hierarchy and rule are positive blessings.

While we ought to render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, the government has been given the sword over the civil realm only. Since the government does not preside over the domestic and ecclesiastical realms, there may arise a limited number of times when we have to obey God rather than man. Across the western world, the government has encroached upon the domestic realm by passing anti-chastisement laws that clearly contradict the words of God (Pro 13:24; 22:15). Similarly, in the normal course of civil life, the government cannot tell assemblies when to gather, how to gather, or whether to sing or not. Christ is the Head of the Church – not the UN or WHO. Pastors, not politicians, rule in the assembly. There are overlaps in these spheres, and emergency situations arise, but we must not render to Caesar what belongs alone to God.

This chapter introduces human government and foreshadows the rule of the Lord Jesus in the Millennium. Just as Noah ruled over a new world after the tribulation of the flood, Christ will rule in millennial glory after the great tribulation. The replenishing of the world (Gen 9:1,7) anticipates the times of the restitution of all things (Act 3:21), the regeneration when the Son of Man sits in the throne of His glory (Mat 19:28).

Noah’s dominion extended over the birds (heaven), beasts (earth) and fish (under the earth), prefiguring every knee in these spheres bowing to Christ in a future day (Php 2:10). Just as Noah ruled with his sons (Gen 9:2) after the curse was reversed (8:21), we, as the sons of God, will appear and rule with Christ at the same time creation is redeemed from the curse of sin (Rom 8:19).

Every government needs to punish sin, and Noah was charged with avenging the blood of his fellow man: “From the hand of every man’s brother [kinsman] I will require the life of man” (9:5 NKJV). Similarly, in the future Christ will be Israel’s kinsman avenger: “Who is this that cometh from Edom, with deep-red garments from Bozrah? … their blood is sprinkled upon my garments … the day of vengeance was in my heart, and the year of my redeemed [redemption by the kinsman avenger] had come” (Isa 63:1-4 JND).

Noah could not eat blood (Gen 9:4), since it was reserved for God on the altar (Lev 17:11). In Noah’s day the religious and political spheres were separated. In the future, the offices of king and priest will combine in Christ, and the blood of sacrifice will be used to remember Calvary (Isa 56:7).

Covenant (vv8-17)

The second speech to Noah and his sons relates to the Noahic Covenant. As with many of the great Bible covenants, this one is based on a sacrifice (8:20), God’s Word (9:9,11,17), and rests wholly on God (meaning the covenant is unilateral) – “I, behold, I establish my covenant with you” (v9). The covenant also has a specific, commemorative sign (vv12-16).

Most major Bible covenants follow this pattern: sacrifice, word, unilateralism (in contrast to the bilateralism of the Old Covenant) and a sign. The New Covenant, which is particularly precious to us, is based on the sacrifice of Christ and the promise of God to never remember our sins; it rests on Him and not on our performance, and has the blood of Christ as the commemorative sign. The blood as a sign of the covenant is mainly for God and is ever before Him in the holiest in heaven (Heb 9:12; 10:19,29). The symbol of the cup of the New Covenant reminds us of the heavenly reality on the first day of each week. Our salvation is contractually secure. It has been signed and sealed by the God that cannot lie. Our sins are gone forever – hallelujah!

The parties of the covenant are listed in descending value (man – animal – planet): “you, your seed … every living creature … [and] the earth” (Gen 9:9-11). Man is higher than the rest of creation. The terms of the contract are simply stated: the people and the planet will never be drowned in a flood again (v11). The Noahic Covenant shatters the false religion of climate change and global warming. The creation and preservation of the globe is a divine work (8:22). God, not carbon regulations, maintains planet earth. He, not icebergs, determines sea levels, saying to the seas, “[You] shall not pass …” (Jer 5:22 JND).

God also spells out the duration of the contract: “your seed after you … perpetual generations … everlasting covenant” (Gen 9:9,12,16). Climate predictions come and go, but the promises of God endure forever.

God cannot lie, His word is sufficient, and He could have delivered the contract after declaring its terms (vv9-11), but He proceeded to sign off the contract with a token signature – a rainbow (vv12-16), called “my bow.” “My covenant” and “my bow” show that the establishment and maintenance of the Noahic Covenant are all on God. Man is a passive bystander. God ties Himself into all the obligations and man gets all the blessing.

God states anthropomorphically, “The bow shall be in the cloud … that I may remember.” It is as if the bow is always before God: “I do set my bow … and it shall be for [me] … the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it” (vv13,16). God always sees the bow, but it only appears occasionally to assure man – “when I bring a cloud over the earth … the bow shall be seen in the cloud” (v14). Clouds that once brought the deluge are now the means of displaying God’s grace. In wrath He remembers mercy.

God’s covenant programme (Noahic, Abrahamic, Davidic) is like a pyramid structure. The Noahic Covenant sits at the base, since the earth will be the stage upon which Christ rules. The next block in the pyramid is the Abrahamic Covenant, where the land of Israel sits on planet earth, and the seed of Abraham inherit the land. The head of the pyramid is where David’s Son sits in Zion, over His people Israel, in the promised land, on a renewed planet. Every promise of God in Christ is “Yea, and Amen.” God will head up all things in Christ.

1 Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.