Last time we considered God’s Covenant with Noah, which extends to this very day. God did not only enter into a covenant with Noah in his day, but we noted that God also entered into an everlasting covenant with the earth and all its inhabitants (Gen. 9:8-17). In this covenant God assured the offspring of Noah and every living creature on the earth that He would never destroy the earth by water again. For this, God provided a sign for Himself – the rainbow! Every time you see a rainbow, be assured that God remembers His covenant!
And so Noah and his family are given the chance of a new start for humanity. In some ways the new start contains elements of the Adamic covenant. Noah is commanded to be fruitful and to multiply and fill the earth (Gen. 1:28 à Gen. 9:1)
But there are also aspects in which this new start differs from the Adamic covenant. Adam was told that he would have dominion over all fish, birds and animals, and it appears that Adam lived in harmony with all these. These also were not food for Adam, for in Gen 1:29 he is told: “Behold , I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.”
Under the Noahic covenant however things are different in this regard. The relationship between man and animals, birds and fish has changed. God says to Noah: “The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hands they are delivered”(9:2). We see that this is true today. No wild animals, birds, fish are naturally tame. They all fear man.
There is also another new dimension attached to this in Genesis 9. God permits man to eat the flesh of animals in addition to plants (9:3). The only proviso in this regard is that man is not allowed to eat the blood of animals (9:4).
And then we find a significant addition to the new world under Noah. Law is introduced! Life in a sinful, fallen world requires regulation. Following the fall of Adam,one of the earliest sins is murder. Cain killed Abel (Gen.4:8). Murder becomes a frequent occurrence from there on. So God makes a law concerning this in the new world under Noah: “And for your lifeblood I require a reckoning… whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed , for God made man in His image.” Laws for the ordering of civil society, laws that protect us from murder and violence are introduced to make life possible in a fallen world. Please note that every civilisation in which law and order are ignored are also societies in which respect for human life collapses. Such societies are subjected to a drastic increase in civil wars, riots, murder, abortions, rape , violence etc. So then, Noah was given help from God to order his new world.
But now we must face another sad reality in Genesis 9 : 18 – 21. After such a merciful deliverance from the flood, and after witnessing such a solemn demonstration of God’s holy wrath against sin, and having received such a great covenant filled with assurance, one might have thought that these lone survivors of the human race might have learned from their past!
The very next thing we read is quite discouraging: "Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent" (9:20, 21). The Hebrew word translated here as "uncovered" (Hebr. galah) when referring to a human being most often refers to sexual promiscuity. Whether this was so is difficult to tell. A.W. Pink says, “ The sins of intemperance (drunkenness) and impurity are twin sisters“. In the case of the story of Lot later in Gen. 19:30-38, drunkenness or alcohol abuse becomes the means by which he enters into an incestuous relationship with his daughters, having far reaching effects on his descendants.
We may be surprised, having developed such a high esteem of Noah from the testimony of the Scripture itself, and that Noah having faithfully served God for 120 years, should now be found in such an uncontrolled state. We shall see that this seemingly small thing has enormous consequences on his descendants. And a puzzling prophecy is made in 9:25 with far reaching consequences. We learn this often from the Scriptures : the sins that we think of as private have public consequences. No one sins in isolation. Private sins have effects on our families, and if on our families , then on our societies, and if on our societies , then on the world.
But should we really be surprised that Noah sinned? Have we not yet learned that the best among fallen human beings are capable of disappointing us? As someone said, “The best of men are men at best!” Are we still looking for the perfect Adam, apart from Jesus?
We may be shocked and grieved and disappointed, but we should not be surprised to find Noah failing. It reminds us all too much of the sin of the first Adam, who ignored God’s clear directives in Gen. 2:17, and who was inclined to listen to the devil rather than to God (Gen. 3:1-7)!
There is an uncanny resemblance in the history of Noah with that of Adam.
A comparison of Adam with Noah :
1. Adam was placed upon an earth which had been newly created by God ; so also, Noah after the flood, was placed onto a newly created earth.
2. Adam was made lord of creation (Gen. 1:28); a similar promise is given to Noah (9:3)
3. Adam was "blessed" by God and told to "be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth" (Gen. 1:28); in like manner, Noah was "blessed" and told, "be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth" (Gen. 9:1).
4. Adam was placed by God in a garden to "work it and take care of it " (Gen. 2:15) ; similarly Noah, " a man of the soil …planted a vineyard" (Gen. 9:20).
5. In this garden Adam sinned and fell, and similarly the product of Noah’s garden, the vineyard, caused Noah’s sin and fall.
6. The sin of Adam resulted in the exposure of his nakedness (Gen. 3:7), and similarly we read that "Noah… was uncovered in his tent" (Gen. 9:21).
7. Adam’s nakedness was covered by another (Gen. 3:21); and so it was with Noah (Gen. 9:23).
8. Adam’s sin brought a terrible curse upon his offspring. In Rom. 5:12 we read, “Therefore as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” . Noah’s sin ( though linked to Adam’s) is similar in that his sin caused a curse to be spoken over his offspring. (Gen.9:24, 25).
9. Adam had three sons—Cain, Abel and Seth. The promised seed/ Messiah was to come through Seth; and here again the analogy holds - for Noah also had three sons—Japheth, Ham and Shem, and it was Shem through whom the promised seed, the Messianic line continued.
10. Almost immediately after Adam’s fall a wonderful prophecy was given containing in seed form concerning the history of redemption (Gen. 3:15), and so too after Noah’s fall, a remarkable prophecy was uttered containing in outline the history of the great nations of the earth and God’s redemptive plan in it all. Abraham, the friend of God would become the father of many nations . The NT applies this in a particular way, namely that Abraham’s true offspring will not be measured by nationality but by their faith relationship to God.
So, we take a step back. What do we see? We see the devastating consequences of sin. We learn that even small sins can have great effects. Sin’s deceitfulness fuelled by Satan’ snares trip us up, time and again! We see that history does repeat itself. The problem is that due to our stubborn pride we fail to learn from history.
Now Romans 15:4 says… “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope…”. If this is so, then what are the lessons to be learned here, and what hope can we draw from these lessons?
Lessons learned from Noah’s fall :
1. We learn from Noah’s fall that the Bible presents human nature in its true colours: the characters of our Bible heroes are faithfully depicted. Where they do well, we are told that God is pleased with them. But this does not mean that our Bible heroes are sinless. The sins of our Bible heroes are never covered up in the Bible. Normally, we try to cover up the faults of those whom we admire, and from this perspective we may be assured that if the Bible had been a human production, we might have never known the truth about Adam, Noah, Abraham, David and many others. We might never have known about the grave defects of our leading Bible characters. But God caused this Bible to tell us the absolute truth about ourselves. We have illustrated before our very eyes the doctrine of the utter and total depravity of human nature. Man by himself and unaided just cannot be righteous by God’s standard. And so we learn that God’s dealings with us in history are not determined by the faithfulness of man. God deals with us on the basis of his faithful love (Hebr. hesed) – His covenant love, which is fulfilled in Christ and His work on the cross. The reason why I can go to heaven is not rooted in myself. It lies in the covenant faithfulness of God, which was supremely shown in the blood shed on the cross.
2. We learn from Noah’s fall to beware of ancient stumbling blocks … in this case , the danger of using alcohol in an unguarded way! Drunkenness is an evil! It is solemnly warned against from the very first chapters of our Bible! The Bible has strong words to say about alcohol abuse! Drunkenness is a sin against God, for it makes the image of God in man look foolish; it is coming under the influence of the wrong spirit, and it leads to further sinagainst our fellowman - as we well understand in our country, for most crimes committed in Namibia are connected to alcohol abuse, and very frequently alcohol abuse is also linked to sexual sins! Drunkenness leads to other evils. Noah’s sin gave occasion for his son Ham to sin.
3. From Noah’s sin we learn our need for constant watchfulness and prayer. A believer is never immune from falling. We are children of Adam and of Noah. We are fallen beings, and evil dwells in us and beside us. Nothing but constant dependency upon God will help us to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Let us be humble in this regard, and let us never think that we cannot be tempted by evil. Listen to the word of God in 1 Cor. 10:12: So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! The apostle Paul wrote this to the Corinthian Christians who had become complacent in so many things. They were not carefully guarding their lives. Paul drew an analogy for them from the history of Israel in Numbers 25:1-9, where as the result of careless interaction with the people of Moab, Israel began to indulge in idolatry, as well as unrestrained eating and drinking, which ended in sexual immorality. On that occasion God put to death 24 000 of them.
Back to Noah. Here was a man who had withstood the temptations of an evil world for so long and yet, he now, in an unguarded moment gives into the uncontrolled behaviour associated with drunkenness, and the results are devastating. This is one of the things which is written for "our instruction (warning)on whom the end of the ages has come" (1 Cor. 10:11). One thing we must not do! We must not sit in judgment upon Noah with pharisaical complacency. Instead “…we need to watch ourselves, or we also may be tempted “ (Gal. 6:1).
4. Noah’s fall issues a solemn warning to every servant of God. It is deeply significant that following this prophecy, recorded in the closing verses of Genesis 9, nothing whatsoever, except his death, is recorded about Noah after his fall. The last three hundred years of his life are a blank! Brothers and sisters , make it your aim to end well. Guard your lives. In this matter take counsel from Paul who wrote to the Corinthians, “…I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. “ (1 Cor. 9:27).
It is one thing to start well; it is quite another to end well. To start well, does not mean that we will end well. Oh, to be able to say with the apostle Paul , who could say in his last days in 2 Tim. 4: 7 : “I have finished the good fight , I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
Now, we are not saying at all that Noah lost his faith. His picture hangs after all in that great gallery of the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11. But we may be assured of this: Noah is there in heaven by grace alone.
We want to end well and in order to end well we need to be guarded and disciplined and humble before God and man. Let us learn this lesson, and live circumspectly, and go to heaven, as far as it depends on us, without regrets. May the Lord Jesus be glorified in our lives, and may no one be given cause to blaspheme the Name of God because of our erratic Christian behaviour.