Monday, November 23, 2015

Genesis 6: 9-22 : " God’s covenant with Noah"

When  Noah was born  his father Lamech  said a remarkable thing :  “ Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed, this one will  bring us  relief (rest)  from our work  and from the painful toil of our hands (5:29).  Clearly, there was an expectation  associated with  the birth of Noah. He   would bring relief  or rest  to this sin cursed world. But  in which way?  Did Lamech really understand what he was saying   prophetically  about his son Noah? The next few chapters   tell the story  of  Noah and of the  way in which  God created  relief and  a rest for the world, but not in the way  in which would have  expected.

Let us review what has happened so far.  Ever since the fall in Genesis 3  there is trouble in the world.  Adam’s disobedience  has  horrific ramifications for the world. These are foretold in Genesis 3 and specifically  in  3:15.  It is the story of two different kinds of people, emerging  from the union of Adam and Eve. They are respectively identified as  the offspring of the serpent   and the offspring of the woman.   Cain, the prototype   of the evil offspring   kills  his own brother Abel, the prototype  of the godly offspring (Genesis 4).  Cain  walks away from the presence of the Lord.   By God’s grace a remnant is preserved through the line of Seth, born to Adam and Eve  after the murder of Abel. He  becomes the father of a long line of faithful men, a godly seed,  mentioned  in  Genesis  5. These men  are  incidentally,  also  part of the  human genealogy    of our Lord Jesus (Luke 4). 
Then  something  tragic  happens  in Genesis 6. The  sons of God  choose to  disregard their godly heritage and  they  choose  to intermarry with the daughters of man. We have previously seen that the sons of God are  the descendants of the godly line of Seth, while the daughters of man  are descended from the man, Cain.   Again,  we see that the  results  are  catastrophic  (Gen. 6:5-7;  11-13). The whole world of that day  becomes  an offense  to God … except  Noah, born in the line of  the  godly men  found in Chapter 5. Of him it was said that he   had found grace in the eyes of the Lord  (6:8). The grace of God was  seen in Noah’s  life. He was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. He walked with God  (6:9)  

All this   forms the background to the story of Noah , which now becomes the focus of  chapters 6  to 9. Remember   now  again  the first word  about Noah : “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed, this one will  bring us  relief (rest)  from our work  and from the painful toil of our hands” (5:29).  What sort  of rest was his father Lamech speaking about ?  
The story unfolds  to become  one of the most terrifying  accounts  of God's wrath in the Bible. The rest  that is spoken about  here is nothing less  than a rest  for the earth from the perpetual wickedness  of man. God is going to send a flood that will   rid the earth of  everyone and everything,   except  Noah  and his family and  the entire range  of  animals  that were brought aboard  the ark. This is  not a cute children’s  story. This is  a foretaste  of the final judgement! God is angry and He is determined  to  give the world  rest from  mankind !

Which brings us to the purpose of this  biblical account. 
The  story of Noah   is not primarily  about a big  flood. It is not primarily about  a boat called  “the Ark”. It is not primarily about  the Noah family  and all the animals  that came in ‘ two by two’. This is the story  of  God’s wrath and  judgement  upon the ungodly,  creating a  time of rest for this good world that God has created.  Any  presentation of this story without  this fact is   a half- truth. In this regard  I am reminded of a famous quote by the Reformed Anglican scholar  Jim Packer: “A half-truth  treated  as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth”.[1]  Preachers  and   Sunday school teachers tend to  abuse this story  when   they focus  on  the secondary matters instead of the  crucial  story line ! 
Children  and adults must hear  that   God is angry  with sin. He hates wickedness. 
Children and adults must hear  that   God's patience does come to an end. 
Children and adults  must hear   that  God  will judge  unrepentant sinners. “God is a righteous Judge, and  a God who feels indignation  every day[2]. If  a man does not repent, God will whet His sword…” (Psalm 7:11:12).  
And then, children and adults must also  hear  that  in spite of everything  we have heard , God does not surrender His purpose in creating man. Even in judgment God does not abandon  His plan  to call out a people for Himself . His counsel shall stand and He shall accomplish all His purpose: "But as truly as live…all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord" (Num. 14:21; Hab. 2:14).  So,  the  judgement of God  is real and it  will be terrible, but it will not be the last word. 
The  last word is  grace! 
We have met that word before in  Gen. 6:8  and  now  also in v. 18 and here  that same word is called   “covenant”. Observe  that  both,  verses 8 and 18 start with a great “BUT” .  There is  man and there is God  and that great BUT is always between them.

V.18 : But I will establish my covenant  with you, and you shall come into the ark, you , your sons, your wife and your sons wives with you.”

Noah was spared was because he found favour / grace in the eyes of the Lord. Noah  had experienced what the Old Testament calls the "circumcision of the heart" (Deut. 30:6) and what the New Testament calls the “new birth” (Jn. 3:1-8 ; 1 Pet. 1:23).   This points to  the work of  God in the soul of man.  This is the grace of God that  gives rise to faith and repentance.   Apart from  the new birth and the  faith  and repentance that follow, it may be said of all men and women and children that "every intention of the thoughts of their heart is only evil continually" (6:5).  The doctrine of the total depravity of man is    firmly established in the Bible , and particularly in Romans 3. So the point is that  if God had not chosen to intervene  by grace and by a covenant, no  man would be live today.

The concept of covenant is  found  throughout the  Bible - thee Old and the New Covenant  (or Testament).  The Bible in its essence is a book  of  God’s  covenants.   
There is  the  covenant between God and Adam (Gen. 2:16,17).  
Here in our text  we find  the covenant  between  GOD and Noah.  It will be dealt with more fully in  Gen. 8:20-9:17.   
God also made a covenant  with  Abraham  (Gen. 15), and  with Moses and Israel at Sinai  (Ex. 19 -24). 
There is  the  Davidic covenant  (2 Sam 7), and then there is   the New Covenant   of God in Christ  which is  mediated by the Holy Spirit   to  every believer.  

God deals  with us  today by way of  that  blood of the eternal covenant[3].  The church  is established by way of a covenant.  Every true believer  finds  grace in the eyes of the Lord  by way of the New Covenant.

Let us try to understand   the nature and essence of  the covenant .
Covenants were common  features  in  OT days. The essence  of covenant  is  a binding agreement  between two parties. There  were various types of covenant made between people  in terms of a business agreement, an agreement  between two nations,  or in terms of a marriage agreement.  Now God  has chosen  to deal with fallen people by way of a covenant, and this covenant is based on the same principles of contract, or   a treaty, or  a marriage  commitment.   

From God’s perspective the making of a covenant  is associated   with  His steadfast love, a term  repeatedly  found  in the Bible.  Practically speaking this means that  God  means what He says  when He commits  Himself to someone.   From God’s perspective  a covenant  is an unbreakable  union.  It is based on an oath, and  in NT  terms  such  a covenant between God and man  has been established by the shedding of blood  of  Christ. God gives His Son by way of a sacrifice  as an assurance that  He  will not  go back on His Word. Are you now beginning to see how serious the concept of covenant is? Can you see that it is   important to be in the covenant of grace with God? Without  His covenant , without the shedding of  the blood of His Son , there is no forgiveness of sins , and if there  is  such a covenant  between you and God  then it is utterly  inviolable.

The benefits of the divine covenant come into operation the moment you  become a Christian. Every true  Christian is in a new covenant with God through the blood of  Jesus Christ, and so all the blessings of the new covenant become mine when  I receive God’s grace..  Do you know what that means?  It means that all  your sins are pardoned. The righteousness of Christ is imputed  to  you . You are adopted into the family of God. I become a son/daughter  of God  and a  a joint heir with Christ.

The covenant is the foundation for  our eternal  security.  The whole doctrine of the perseverance of the  believer  rests in this fact that God has made a covenant with them. Nothing will  separate the believer from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom 8:39). Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord by way of  God’s covenant, by which   he  and his  family would not perish in the flood.  This is a picture  of what happens to the Christian.   To be  in Christ (note the preposition)  means  for us what it meant  for Noah to be in the ark! Being  in covenant  with God through and in  Christ  is our guarantee that we will not perish but  have everlasting life.   This  testimony of Scripture about Noah  is therefore an illustration,  an example , an encouragement  for you and me . It helps us  to understand on what basis God  deals with us. It shows us that the nature of our salvation is grounded  in something very firm. It is a trustworthy and everlasting covenant because it is rooted  in God’s  wonderful sovereign grace! Thank God for that!

Now notice another significant truth concerning the covenant. The initiator of this covenant is not Noah. It is God ! Remember the context . The whole earth is in trouble with God. God is determined to  make an end of all flesh,  for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God [4], BUT then comes   this  surprising  word to Noah: “But I will establish my covenant with you…”.  In  His wrath God remembers mercy. (Hab.  3:2)  

What is God’s decision based on?  Sheer sovereign grace and mercy.   There has to be a reason why God can love us, and the reason is not found in ourselves. Jesus  is the reason. The Father  deeply loves  His  Son, and therefore He loves all those that belong to the Son,  those whom  He has purchased  with His blood.    Thank God that the covenant  does  depend  on my human responsiveness, but that it hangs on Christ’s covenantal love  to me.  Thank God that He in Christ  loves me first, otherwise I would never have been able to love Him. (1 Jn. 4:19). So, God does not say,  “Noah,  because you are such a good man, I will establish a covenant with you.”   Noah does come from a line of godly men,  but remember that  they are  what they are by the grace of God!  In and of himself,  Noah, like all of us,  is  a weak man.   We shall yet discover the truth about Noah. Thank God  for the  covenant love of God that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).

There are certainly implications and responsibilities  for Noah in terms of keeping the covenant. He has to build the ark. This  demanded much  labour  and much  perseverance  and faith. Cutting  all those trees down, shaping the planks for the ark, was  an enormous  task .  And then has to get into the Ark with his family. He has   to get the animals into the ark and he has to ensure that they have enough  food.  The greater truth is that  Noah  can do this BECAUSE   he  has received grace from God.  The apostle Paul says  the same thing about himself : ”By the grace of God I am what I am …” (1 Cor. 15:10).  So too  for us this means that we must persevere through many trying  times when we have to  take up our cross and deny ourselves  and follow Christ. But it also means that we can persevere because the grace of God is able to make us persevere. 

All this is possible because the  grace of God is made manifest to us through the Lord Jesus Christ by whose blood   we have entered into the new covenant.  

Have you found grace in the eyes of the Lord? 
Have you by grace been able to enter into God’s new covenant  through the blood of Jesus?    
Will you escape the coming wrath  by being  entering into your promised rest in Christ  who is  the ultimate ark of God?  

[1] J.I. Packer : Fundamentalism and the Word of God, p. 18
[2] KJV  “God is angry with the wicked every day”
[3] Hebrews 13:20
[4] Rom 3:23;  Psalm 14:1-3; Psalm 53:1-3 

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