Sunday, February 21, 2016

Genesis 8:20-9:17 "God's Covenant with Noah and the Earth"

As we speak,  the Fiji islands are being hammered by a tropical cyclone  called “Winston” by wind speeds  of up to 325 km/h. Such devastating wind power accompanied by torrential rain and flooding (between 200 – 400mm) has never before  been experienced by this chain of islands in  the Pacific ocean. Most of the 900 000 residents of these islands  had to flee to  storm shelters built  for this purpose.  This tropical cyclone is said to be the result of the El Ninõ phenomenon which is  currently  producing unusually warm water surfaces in the Pacific ocean.

In our morning expositions we are currently considering the biblical  account of Noah  and the  universal flood, which was  caused  by the sin phenomenon, that  stirs up  and heats up the minds, hearts and  emotions  of  fallen human to such an extent that  they not only begin to destroy one another, but that nothing short of the judgement of  the God  who made them is needed  to call them to a halt.  The consequence of Adam and Eve’s  sin and disobedience  has indeed had  devastating  effects  upon mankind. 

Soon after the fall, in  Genesis 6:5  we read: "The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually…" and in vv. 11&12  we take note of the  fact  that  "… the earth was corrupt in God's sight and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth."  God  responds  to this  by  pouring out His wrath  upon the whole earth in terms of the  worst weather ever experienced. There is no shelter  upon the whole  face of the earth  apart from the ark.  Why such  excessive  punishment, you may ask? The answer is that God’s wrath is  a necessary response to His holiness.  In the Bible, God  is revealed to us   not only as the Creator (and thus the rightful owner) of this world, but He is also revealed as a  pure, perfectly moral  Being, untainted by any form of sin. God is "glorious in holiness" (Ex. 15:11). John says : "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all" (1 Jn. 1:5). Habakkuk says : "You are  of purer eyes than to see evil, and cannot look  at wrong" (Hab. 1:13).  
Although God has promised, as we shall see, never  to send   a universal climatic devastation  ever again upon the earth, we  ought to recognise that  the current patterns of  flood and  drought   are perpetual reminders  to us that a day is coming  when the earth will be finally judged  and  when all evil will finally be banished from  God’s sight.  In the mean time the people of this earth are afraid… very afraid.   CNN reported this past week  that   Russia is  planning  to modify some of its intercontinental ballistic missiles to destroy asteroids before they hit Earth [1].

The fact of the matter is that God’s purpose will stand (Isa. 46:10; Jer. 51:12). No one will escape  from the coming wrath of  God and the Lamb  if they have not  found shelter  in God’s provision. Jesus  ALONE is our ark of salvation, and the righteous run into the name of the Lord.  It is shocking to see how few  did take God at His word in Noah’s day. Of all the people  on earth in their day,   only Noah and his family  escaped the  universal  flood  judgement of God. The writer to the Hebrews explains:  “being warned  by God concerning events yet as unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the  saving of his household. By this he condemned the  world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” (Hebr. 11: 7). The story of Noah  and the flood and the ark is certainly  not  a cute  children’s story. It is a terrifying account of the wrath of God  upon sin[2], BUT at the same time it is  also  a wonderful  account of the love of God for those people who do trust in God and in His Word  in the midst of a mocking  generation.   God, who always has the last word  made an end of that generation.

After  the universal flood judgment  had taken its course, God  caused the waters to recede and the earth to dry up and God commanded  Noah to get out of the ark. Noah’s first  response upon setting foot ondry land   was  to  worship God:  “Noah built an altar to the Lord[3] and took some of every clean  animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings non the altar…” (8:20)  and we read  that  God was pleased with the offering, and  God  promised  that he would never  again  curse the earth in this way (8:20-22).  We shall see in a moment that the Bible  confirms  this  later in 9:12-17.  But don’t miss the significance  of Noah’s  first  act on the first day  of the existence of the new world: Noah worshipped! Can you make the connection  between  this and the fact that you too  are called to worship  God on every first day of the week?  I remind you that the early church took the first day of the week as the day of worship , since on this day the Lord   Jesus rose from the dead, confirming the fact , “Behold I make all things new!”   (Rev.21:5)

Having  considered the perfect holiness of God  and the  universal fact and nature of human sin  we must ask,   “if all have sinned,  what was the difference between  Noah and those that perished in  the ancient world?”
The first   answer is  that  Noah  found  favour (or grace) in the eyes of the Lord (6:8).  Noah was not without sin. He too was a son of Adam, but He was given grace  to  see himself from God’s perspective. It takes grace to see ourselves for who we  truly are! So, Noah was given grace  to  see himself  for who he was before a holy God  and  therefore    turned from  his  sin and  believed God.  It is on this account that God justifies him and declares him righteous.[4]  How was this grace manifested in the life of Noah? The  next verse  indicates  that  he  was  a righteous man[5], blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God (6:9) when no one else did.  And then we read  of God saying  to Noah  in  6:18 “…but I will establish my covenant with you…”.

This is a key word  in the Bible. In fact, it  describes the message  of the  Bible. It explains the way in which God deals with  fallen people. May I remind you again that the Bible is  a book of  Covenants –  Old and New Covenant.  In  6:18   the word  ‘covenant’ (Hebr. berith; Gr. diatheke)  appears  for the first time, although the   idea  exists  already in earlier chapters of Genesis[6]. And now  the word covenant  appears again here in 9:9.  A covenant is essentially  a legal agreement between two parties, but in the case of God’s covenant it is always God who takes the initiative , and God who sticks to the  terms  of the covenant. People  break the terms of the covenant  repeatedly.    It is this word  covenant  that governs   the story of Noah’s great escape  from the wrath of God.  It is  by way of a covenant that God  currently preserves and sustains the earth.  Horrendous storms may  strike islands in the Pacific  but never again shall the whole earth be swallowed up by a flood.    So let  us learn from this text concerning  the nature  and  outworking  of the covenant, particularly as we consider ongoing  story of Noah in   9:1-17  in terms of (i) a gracious provision and protection vv 1-7 (ii) a gracious promise  vv. 8-11 (iii) a gracious sign  vv. 12-17

1.Covenant : God’s gracious  provisions   ( 1-7)

Here then we have the second "beginning" of Genesis. In the first  place God repeats  to Noah the original creation commands  that had been given to Adam, (procreation, dominion,  bearing God’s image).  Noah almost looks like a second Adam.    

V.3 however deviates from the original creation order. In Gen. 1:29  we read: ”Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of the earth and every tree which has fruit yielding seed. It shall be food to you.  This is incidentally also true for  the beasts and the birds. Everyone was a vegetarian at that point!  But now  in Gen. 9:3 we read: "Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you.  And as I  gave you the green plants ,I give  you everything !” Man is here specifically authorized to use  animals for food.  This appears to be a  new  dimension to man’s life  on the earth after the flood. 
Note however  that  in v.4   there is  a restriction:   "But  you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.”  Why is that? We shall learn  that blood is symbolic of life and because life belongs to God,  man  is  not allowed  to eat  that which symbolises  life. A specific explanation is given  in Leviticus 17:11:  "For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls.” The life of a clean  animal, under the sacrificial system, was required  to make atonement  for  every sinner. The blood  of the animal was sprinkled against the altar , and this  act of faith dealt  with man’s guilt under the terms of the Old  covenant.
The  subject of blood continues in v. 5.  But with respect to another matter – the shedding of blood as a result of murder . God holds  anyone , whether an animal or a man  accountable  for the taking of human life.
In v.6  the principle of capital punishment is instituted  with  respect  to  murder. The  principle  of capital punishment is linked  to  the doctrine of man who is  made in the image of God.  V.6 incidentally also indicates that man is still considered  being made  in the image of God after the fall! What is God doing here? He  is making provision for the protection of man by establishing  the rule of  the sanctity of life in the post-flood world. The world prior to the flood had been a violent world, and God is here  making provisions for the protection of human life in in the post-flood world. This too is a gracious covenant provision.
V.7. This was the renewal of God’s word to Adam (Gen. 1:28). The human family was starting out afresh. There was a new beginning. Noah like Adam  became  the head of the human race now of only eight people  (1 Pet. 3:20).Verse 7 reminds us of the blessing of family. Having a family, having children for the next generation is something which is a pleasing thing in the Lord's eyes. We live in a time where children are often looked upon as an inconvenience.   Children are a heritage from the Lord- a covenant blessing,  and Genesis 9:1 and 9:7 reiterate that particular truth.

2. Covenant : a  gracious promise  (8-11)

“…behold I establish my covenant with you and  your  offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you , as many  as  came out of the ark ; it is for  every beast of the earth." 
Here we see the confirmation of the original covenant of grace with Noah and his sons  in 6:18.  This covenant confirmation   however includes  every animal and even  the earth itself.  In v. 11 God promises  not to destroy the world  ever again by a flood.  Right  now God's goodness extends to all creation in terms of regular seasons. That does not contradict God's particular  covenant with Noah. This also does not  mean that everyone in the world is saved, but it does mean that God's providential care and common grace currently reaches every  man  and woman and child on the face of the earth. And that simply makes our condemnation greater if we  do not embrace  Christ by faith in this era of grace.So, understand then that  this  covenant  is  a gracious promise to Noah , and  this entire world. 

3. Covenant : a gracious sign  (vv. 12-17)

This sign is a sign of reassurance given to assure  Noah and us of God's mercy. He refers here to the sign of the rainbow.  V. 13-15. "I have  set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. When  I bring  clouds over the earth,  and  the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember My covenant that is between me  and you and every  living creature of flesh."  
Consider  the language here. It is not,  “Noah, when you see the rainbow  you will remember my covenant”, but  “when I see the rainbow , I will remember my covenant.”   And today every rainbow reminds us that God spared  us  and the whole  earth from such a great catastrophe  as which Noah and the world of his day experienced. It is due to God’s covenantal faithfulness  that  this earth is not destroyed . It remains a day of grace until the final judgement.    

I remind you then  that we live in a  vast  but very  sensitive universe. Our earth is precariously balanced  in our solar system  surrounded by  forces of gravity, meteoric missiles  and black holes.  Don’t presume on the fact that things will always continue as they have.  While this is a day  where God holds out His hands to a  stubborn and rebellious people, remember that  there will come a day in which will judge the earth again with a final judgement.
Let the word of  2 Peter  3:1-13  speak to us now as we close.

[2] Rom 1:18ff
[3] First mention of ‘ altar’ and  ‘ burnt offerings’.
[4]  See  also the   testimony Abraham
[5]  Gen. 6:9, 7:1
[6]  Some see 7 covenants referred to in Scripture. (i)  the Adamic which concerned man’s continued enjoyment of Eden on the condition that he refrained from eating the fruit of the forbidden tree. (ii)  the Noahic -Genesis 9.  (iii)  the Abrahamic -Genesis 15:18  (iv)  the Mosaic - Exodus 24:7, 8; Exodus 34:27. (v)  the Levitic - Numbers 25:12, 13; Malachi 2:4, 5; Ezekiel 44:15 . (vi) the Davidic - 2 Samuel 23:5; 2 Chronicles 13:5. (vii)  the New Covenant - Jeremiah 31:31-34. Covenant theologians  interpret the Scriptures  generally on the basis of two covenants: the covenant of works and the covenant of grace.

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