As autumn weather comes to our beautiful State of Alaska, September typically brings rain. With the rain, we sometimes see amazing rainbows emerge as the clouds break and the sun’s rays pierce through from the heavens to earth. The physics of light never fails to amaze when we take a moment to stop, observe, and ponder.
What do you think of when you see a rainbow? Certainly, the phenomenon is miraculous and wondrous, but how often do you respond to the rainbow's magnificence in the way God desires? The Old Testament Book of Genesis instructs the faithful that the rainbow is a symbol that should trigger a vitally important remembrance. We’re to remember the rainbow as the sign of the covenant that God made with Noah after wrath-inspired flood waters destroyed all but a remnant of life on earth. Do you remember and affirm in your heart this Noahic Covenant when you witness a rainbow, or are you pulled to some counterfeit idea? In a sense, God trademarked the rainbow. Still, sinful men continue not only to fail to honor the rainbow’s rightful purpose of remembrance, but some seem intent even to use rainbow symbology to blaspheme God. It is a tragic and wrongful hi-jacking of what is true and right and good.
I’ve been thinking about covenants because men basically cannot keep them. This observation seems especially true as we approach election season. We'll hear promise after promise from those seeking power, but rarely will we ever see the power holder come through as promised. In the starkest of contrasts, we should observe that there is but one promise-keeper in the universe, and that is the God of the Bible. So, I desire to use my blog space over the next couple of weeks to talk about five covenants, the Noahic, the Abrahamic, the Mosaic, the Davidic, and the New. I want to do this to show you how God is the gracious, perfect promise-keeper, who is incomparably good and faithful, and utterly worthy of our wholehearted love and trust. So here we go…..
The eternal God of the Universe chose covenant as His means to relate to men. God’s covenants are binding agreements between Himself and man, sealed with a sworn oath. The covenants in Genesis enabled God to pursue His high purpose for man, which was to subdue the earth and rule over it as the one made in His image. Yet, through the covenant instrument, God also revealed His attributes, expressed His heart and character, affirmed and blessed man’s faith and obedience, and demonstrated consequences of opposition to Him. For the believer, understanding the concept of covenant is fundamental to achieving sound theology and spiritual growth.
God began His covenantal work in Genesis, first in the form of the Noahic Covenant, and later, with the Abrahamic Covenant. Genesis 1–11 narrates primeval history, revealing God's attributes and intent for creation. Through descriptions of the origins of the universe and key firsts in human experience—marriage, sin, the Fall, judgment, family, covenant, redemption, and the nations' beginnings—the text frames the unique relationship between God and man. On the one hand, this relationship is characterized by man's soaring potential. He is the only being created in God’s image who, through faith and obedience, can experience purpose, peace, and harmony as God intends. On the other hand, man proves, again and again, bent on doubting God and disobeying Him in unbelief.
The Noahic Covenant, found in Genesis 9:8–17, marks this juxtaposed hope and tragedy pattern. Human rebellion, rooted in unbelief, led to a holy wrath-induced flood wherein God destroyed the world. Yet, God saved a remnant for His purposes and made a covenant with this remnant to advance His plan.
Three observations emerge regarding God's intent in the Noahic Covenant. First, it is an unconditional covenant that remains in effect today. God's promise in Genesis 9:11 that "never again" shall there be an earth-destroying flood. This commitment does not depend upon anything Noah or his descendants must do. The promise is based upon God's faithfulness alone. And, because of God's vow to "remember" (Genesis 9:15), there will never again be a worldwide flood.
Second, God intended this covenant to be everlasting (Genesis 9:16). God's promise was made to Noah and all his descendants and "every living creature" and the earth in general (Genesis 9:8-10). There was no nullifying condition or potential, a reality revealing God’s ongoing, unwavering commitment to His ultimate purposes that man subdue the earth and rule over it when in right relationship to Him,
Third, God sealed the Noahic Covenant with a sign, the rainbow. The importance God places on establishing perpetual, symbolic reminders of His covenantal promises and expectations on man began with the rainbow-in-the-clouds image offered to Noah. Signs continue with follow-on covenants in scripture.
Although we see no binding conditions on man and his seed in the Noahic Covenant, we do see clear post-flood instructions. In Genesis 9:1, Noah and sons were commissioned as Adam was to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth,” again, indicating God’s commitment to achieving His original and ultimate purposes for earth and man.
Genesis 9:2–4 stipulates man's post-flood relationship with animal life in that humans would be feared and were also permissioned to eat animals as food provided raw blood was not included in the consumption. This limitation was vital because it marked God's valuation of blood as life, foreshadowing the blood sacrifice system to come later in the Torah. More critically, it was a prelude to the mystery and majesty of Christ's shed blood on the cross.
Finally, in Genesis 9:5–6, God declared a reckoning requirement for sinfully spilling human blood—death—accenting the uniquely important place and role for humanity in God's heart and mind: "for God made man in His own image." (Genesis 9:6) The Noahic covenant elements reveal a Holy, all-powerful God whose wrath is terrifying but whose grace is astonishing, concepts that are prologue to the follow-on Abrahamic Covenant.
Next Monday, look for a blog on the Abrahamic Covenant. In the meantime, Think rightly about rainbows! Also, think rightly about faithful promise-keeping. I’ll end with some wisdom from C.S. Lewis, who said:
“Always prefer the plain, direct word to the long, vague one. Don't implement promises, but keep them.” – C. S. Lewis