The “rest of the story”

Do you like to read biographies or autobiographies? Many people do. You can learn a lot about people this way. However, maybe you’ve had this experience: You’re reading a biography when all of a sudden you turn the page and discover a grinning skeleton lurking in the closet of someone you admire. American columnist Russell Baker said, “The biographer’s problem is that he never knows enough. The autobiographer’s problem is that he knows too much.” But when God writes a story, He knows everything about everybody and always tells the truth. He does this for our own good (Romans 15:4).

 

In Genesis 9:18-29, the history of Noah and his family moves from rainbows (9:12-17) to shadows. Paul Harvey would say, “Here, we learn ‘the rest of the story.’” Yet, one of many reasons I am convinced the Bible is God’s Word is because its authors never covers up the sins of the saints. They refuse to pull punches; instead, they flat-out tell it like it is! This reality should encourage you and me. If great men and women of God committed sin and God still used them, He can use you and me as well. We need to be honest and acknowledge that Christians are far from perfect but God always uses us in spite of ourselves. In the verses that follow, God gives us three warnings. If we heed these warnings, we will be grateful that we listened. But if we ignore these warnings, we will live to regret our negligence.

[The first warning is found in 9:18-21…]

1. Beware of failure after great victory (9:18-21). In 9:18a, Moses again (cf. 5:32; 6:10; 7:13) lists Noah’s three sons (“Shem and Ham and Japheth”) because the narrative is now especially concerned with them. Then we come to a parenthetical clause in 9:18b. Moses writes, “…and Ham was the father of Canaan.” This phrase was not haphazardly thrown in. On the contrary, it has great relevance because it anticipates the rest of the story. Verse 19 states that the whole earth was populated from Noah’s three sons. [They are carrying out God’s commission to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth,” 9:1.]

Everything seems to be going along just fine when all of a sudden in 9:20-21, we read these tragic words: “Then Noah began farming and planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent.” Sometime after leaving the ark, Noah took up farming like his father Lamech (5:28-29). He then planted a vineyard and made some fine wine. Now as you may know, this process does not occur overnight. After planting his vineyard, Noah had to wait until the grapes were ready for fruit bearing, which usually takes three to five years. He then had to harvest a crop, gather it, and extract the juice from the grapes. Finally, he had to allow the grape juice time to ferment into wine. This reminds me of an unforgettable commercial I used to see when I was a little boy.

 

The legendary Orson Welles is endorsing Paul Masson’s Emerald Dry. On this particular commercial, he turns down a stereo, and then compares a good wine to a Beethoven symphony. At the end, he intones, “We shall sell no wine before its time.” Whenever I think of this episode, I imagine Noah as an Orson Welles like character knocking back his own fine wine. The point that I’m trying to make is this: There were quite a few steps that led to Noah’s drunken stupor.

 

Some scholars make a gracious but desperate attempt to excuse Noah’s behavior. It is argued that Noah did not really know what would happen to him by drinking all this wine. This is special pleading. Noah was a wise and discerning man. Undoubtedly, before the flood, plenty of people got drunk (cf. 6:5). Noah was far from naïve. On the contrary, this great man of God sinned with his eyes wide open.

This leads to an important excurse on the subject of alcohol. Before I begin to discuss this topic, it is important to acknowledge that most people have strong opinions on the use of alcohol. But the real issue is not what you think or what I think. The issue is what does God think? Ultimately, His opinion is the only one that matters. So I will limit our discussion to, what does the Bible have to say about alcohol?

Surprisingly, the Bible speaks a whole lot about alcohol. The word “wine” occurs over 200 times in our English translations. Even more surprisingly to some of you is the fact that the Bible holds alcohol in high regard. The following list provides the biblical basis for alcohol.

 

o   Wine is viewed as one of God’s gifts to humankind (Ps 104:15).

o   Every burnt offering and peace offering was accompanied by a libation of wine (Num 15:5-10).

o   Moses implies that it is a good thing to drink wine and strong drink to the Lord (Deut 14:26).

o   Joy in the Lord is compared to the abundance of wine (Ps 4:7).

o   Honoring the Lord with one’s wealth is rewarded with the blessings of abundant stores of wine (Prov 3:9-10).

o   Love is compared to wine repeatedly in the Song of Songs, as though good wine were similarly sweet (1:2, 4; 4:10; 7:9).

o   One of the symbols for Israel was the vine (Isa 5:1-7Mark 12:1-11).

o   Wine is symbolic of great blessing (Isa 25:6).

o   The lack of wine is viewed as a judgment from God (Jer 48:33Lam 2:12Hos 2:9Joel 1:10Hag 2:16); and, conversely, its provision is viewed as a blessing from the Lord (cf. Gen 27:28Deut 7:13; 11:14Joel 2:19, 24; 3:18Amos 9:13-14).

o   Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine (John 2:9-10).

o   Jesus drank wine (Matthew 11:18-19; 15:11Luke 7:33-35).

o   Jesus used wine in the Lord’s Supper (Matt 26:29Mark 14:25Luke 22:18).

o   Paul tells Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach’s sake (1 Tim 5:23; cf. Prov 31:6).

But the Bible also warns about the dangers of wine. The following list demonstrates this.

o   Nazirites were to abstain from all alcohol and wine (Num 6:3-4).

o   Priests were forbidden to drink prior to officiating in the sanctuary, lest they die (Lev 10:9).

o   In Proverbs 20:1 we are told that “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.”

o   Drinking too much wine was dangerous to people and offensive to God (Prov 21:17; 23:20-21, 29-35; Isa 5:22).

o   Drunkenness was especially reprehensible when it led to self-exposure (Hab 2:15Lam 4:21). The exposure of one’s nakedness was not only publicly demeaning but also incompatible with the presence of the living God (Exod 20:26Deut 23:12-14).

o   The Bible does speak very harshly about becoming enslaved to alcohol or allowing it to control a person, especially to the point of drunkenness (Eph 5:18; cf. Deut 21:20Eccl 10:17Luke 12:45; 21:34Rom 13:131 Cor 5:111 Pet 4:3).

 

We must understand that alcohol is a problem in our culture but we must understand what the Bible teaches. The Christian faith is about tension. Most of us would like for the world to be black and white. Clear-cut. No gray. But gray is a biblical color. Let me ask you a few questions: Is money evil? Is food evil? Is travel evil? Is exercise evil? Of course, the answer to all of these questions is, “NO!” It’s all a matter of how these gifts from God are used. With alcohol and all of these other areas, the Bible calls for moderation. As many have said, “Moderation in all things.” If we do not use moderation, it is too easy for any good thing to gain control over us, which will be detrimental to our life, our family, and our ministry.

So what is the conclusion in this matter? Three important principles should suffice.

o   Everything is a gift of God (1 Tim 4:4).

o   Obey government (Rom 13:1-7).

o   Allow differing opinions (Rom 14:1-23).

 

Now back to our story. After Noah became drunk he “uncovered himself inside his tent.” The Hebrew word translated “uncovered” (galah) means “to be disgracefully exposed.” Now this certainly complicates matters. Noah evidently felt warm because of the effect of the alcohol, took off his clothes, and then passed out in his tent. Alcohol is a depressant. It “loosens” people up because it depresses their self-control, their wisdom, their balance, and judgment. Noah became drunk and careless. He did the normal pass-out routine for drunkenness and in the process discarded his robe. So he is lying in his own room sprawled out naked on the floor or possibly on his sleeping area.

 

Moses is drawing our attention back to the first few chapters of Genesis. In 2:8, God planted a garden for man to enjoy. Here, Noah plants a vineyard (9:20). Moses also establishes parallels between Noah’s disgrace (he took of the fruit of his orchard and became naked) and that of Adam and Eve (who took of the fruit of the garden and saw that they were naked). In pointing out the similarities of Noah and Adam, Moses wants to show us that even after being saved from the flood, man’s enjoyment of God’s good gifts could not be sustained. Noah, like Adam, sinned, and the effects of that sin were to be felt in the generations of sons and daughters to follow. As in Genesis 3, the effect of Noah’s sin is seen in his “nakedness” (9:22; cf. 2:25; 3:7).

 

When Noah and his family were introduced for the first time, Moses wrote, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God” (Gen 6:9). In the New Testament, Noah was called a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Pet 2:5). He is also included in the hall of faith of Hebrews 11. Noah was a great man of God. If Noah can sin, anyone can sin. This includes you and me. But the point of this story and the whole of Genesis is not merely that anyone can fall but that everybody does (Rom 3:10-12).

 

The time when most Christians fall is on the heels of a great victory. Man’s tendency is to ease up when the conflict lessens. If it happened to Noah, it could happen to you. Whenever you feel like things are going especially well, beware. Stay humble. The apostle Paul says, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Cor 10:12). We are very vulnerable people. Every Christian is capable of committing even the most heinous of sins. This is why we so desperately require the accountability of a local church and a small group of believers.

 

This account also serves as a reminder that it is possible for seasoned saints to stumble in the sunset years of their lives. Moses sinned late in his life by striking a rock and taking some of God’s glory to Himself; as a result, he was not permitted to enter to Promised Land. David sinned with Bathsheeba when he was in his fifties. Solomon departed from the will of God when he was old. Past successes do not provide power for future victory. The Bible teaches again and again that godly people can be tripped up before the finish line. Someone once said, “The enemy will wait forty years, if necessary, to set a trap for you.” I confess this scares the daylights out of me!

 

This means we must recognize that the greatest of all believers have weaknesses. The Christian is not a super saint. He is an ordinary person saved by grace. The people of God are upheld by God’s grace. If we are different it is because of the powerful support of God. If we are not upheld we can fall away at any moment. The only thing that makes us different is that we are sustained by God’s mercy. If God should let us go we could slip badly. Who can say what we would do if God lets us go?

 

Noah’s sin reminds us that anyone can stumble into sin. But it also illustrates that when we fall, we usually take someone else with us. Remember those three-legged races at picnics? When you fall down, your partner does too—there’s no such thing as sinning alone. No man lives unto himself and no man dies unto himself—and no man sins unto himself.

[God warns us to beware of failure after great victory. Now he warns us to…]

2. Beware of gloating over the misfortune of others (9:22-23). In 9:22, we read that “Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside.” Apparently Ham’s gaze was not a mere harmless notice or an accidental glance. The verb “saw” has such force that some say it means “he gazed with satisfaction.” After observing his father’s nakedness, Ham told his brothers outside. The word “told” means “to boldly announce with delight.” Ham gloated over his father’s shame. Ham’s heart was intent on mocking his father and undermining his authority as a man of God. He did nothing to preserve his father’s dignity. To the contrary, Ham probably encouraged Shem and Japheth to go into the tent to see this spectacle for themselves.

 

How do you respond to the sins and failings of others? With delight? With a sense of superiority? By spreading the story (see Prov 17:9Gal 6:1-2)? Sadly, most people are far-sighted when it comes to sin—they see others’, not their own! Many of us love to hear about the demise of others. Now we would never be so brazen to admit it, but it’s true. The flesh loves to hear about the latest scandal (e.g., a marriage on the rocks, an affair, a fallen Christian). Yet, the Lord wants us to grieve when other believers fall into sin. How people respond to the sin and embarrassment of others is an indication of their own character.

 

In 9:23, we read of a contrast: “But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it upon both their shoulders and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were turned away, so that they did not see their father’s nakedness.” Contrary to Ham, Shem and Japheth covered Noah’s nakedness. They laid “a garment” across their shoulders. They walked in backward and covered Noah. They turned their faces from his nakedness. They honored their father and won the approval and blessing of God. The significance of the contrast between the actions of the sons is seen from the author’s account of the fall in Genesis 3. In covering their father’s nakedness, Shem and Japheth were like Adam and Eve (3:7) and God (3:21) who did not look on man’s nakedness but covered it with coats of skin (cf. 2:25). They are a living illustration of 1 Peter 4:8, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (cf. Prov 10:12; 12:16; 17:9).

 

How did Noah feel when he awoke from his drunken stupor and realized what he had done? Did he sit on the edge of his bed, head in his hands, retching with nausea and guilt? As his mind raced back over the last few hours and how he could have gotten into such a condition, did the words of God’s covenant come back to his mind (9:9)? What else could he do but just trust in the compassion of a gracious and merciful God?

 

[We are warned by God to beware of failure after great victory and gloating over the misfortune of others. We are also warned to…]

 

3. Beware of the long-term consequences of sin (9:24-29). In 9:24, Moses writes: “When Noah awoke from his wine, he knew what his youngest son had done to him.” Noah was no doubt ashamed of what he had done. He was also likely surprised to find himself covered with a garment. Naturally, he must have wondered what happened in the tent while he was asleep. The logical thing would be to speak to Japheth, his firstborn; and he and Shem must have told him what Ham had done.

In response to what he learned, Noah said, “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants He shall be to his brothers.” Now this is bizarre. Who is “Canaan”? Canaan is the son of Ham, Noah’s grandson (9:18b). Why does the curse fall on Canaan? It seems that Noah is prophesying that Canaan is already cursed because he is Ham’s son. He is saying, Canaan, you are cursed because Ham is your dad. It is also a warning to Ham that his son is going to treat him like he treated his father. Ham dishonored Noah, and fatherhood in general, so Canaan is cursed by having Ham as his father. The story of history is pretty stunning: One day one son dishonored his dad; as a result, our society has been obliterated with rebellion.

 

Many are cursed because of their fathers and many men turn out like their fathers. Yet, a little boy wants more than anything to be just like his dad. In our day and age, that’s either a good thing or a bad thing. Men love your children and esteem fatherhood. Be a godly example they can look to.

As the youngest son wrongs his father, so the curse will fall on his youngest son, who presumably inherits his moral decadence (Lev 18:3Deut 9:3). In addition to the Canaanites, Ham’s descendants include some if Israel’s most bitter enemies: Egypt, Philistia, Assyria, and Babylon (see 10:6-13). Ham’s indiscretion towards his father may easily be seen as a type of the later behavior of the Egyptians and Canaanites. Noah’s curse on Canaan thus represents God’s sentence on the sins of the Canaanites, which their forefather Ham had exemplified.

 

When God says that He “visits the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me” (Exod 20:5b), He means it! For example, Abraham lied to Pharaoh about Sarah. Isaac ended up in the same circumstances and told a lie about his wife, Rebecca; Jacob ended up being a liar and had twelve sons, ten of whom deceived him with lies. There you have it: four generations are affected because of the sin of one of the parents.

 

In 9:26-27, Noah says, “He also said, ‘Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth and let him dwell in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant.’” Noah is given a conviction that salvation and blessing will come through the line of Shem. In due course, Jesus would be a Jew, a Semite, and a descendant in the line of Shem through whom the entire human race will be blessed. Japheth is to have extended territory. His line will not lead to the Messiah but there is a blessing in store for him. He had protected Noah and will find protection himself. The language is picturesque. Japheth lives in the tents of Shem. One person is pictured as taking shelter with another. In the course of history salvation would come through a Semite—Jesus. Then an abundance of Gentiles would come to salvation through a Jewish Savior. The people of Japheth were enlarged in their population and in their territory, but there was more involved here than territorial expansion. The Gospel would come through a Semitic Savior, and when He came salvation would be for all people everywhere. Many of the people of Japheth around the Mediterranean area would “take shelter” in this Semitic Savior. The Semitic people will be the channel—the cradle, as it were—the conduit out of which the whole of mankind will have a blessing.

 

Genesis 9 ends with a summary of Noah’s subsequent life. Like his forebears in chapter 5, Noah lived to an advanced age (950). Like Enoch, he had “walked with God” (5:21, 23; 6:9) earlier in his life. If Noah had not fallen away after the flood, perhaps God would have taken him away as he did Enoch (5:24). But in Noah’s case that was not to be. Like his other ancestors in Genesis 5, Noah died (9:29). And though the sin was never repeated, the memory must have cast a cloud to the end.

 

As I close I want to talk to those that may feel like Noah or Ham. If Satan has won a battle in your life, don’t let him win a second battle. Don’t buy into the lie that it’s too late for you to repent. Satan has three lies that he pawns off on gullible believers. The first is that sin doesn’t really matter. “Just do it once, and God will forgive you, and you can control the consequences.” Then, when we have fallen, he comes up with a second lie, “You’ve blown it so badly there’s no use standing up. In fact, if you receive forgiveness today you might commit the same sin tomorrow, so why bother?” And once he has you there, he has a third lie too: “Now look what you’ve done. You’ve gone too far. You’ve committed too many sins and hurt too many people. Just learn to cope with your sins because God doesn’t want to hear from you anymore; you’re too wretched to be forgiven.” And when the Devil has convinced you that there is no way back, you are stuck with the curse, and so are your children. But God wants to bring you back today so that He can minimize the consequences of sin you have already committed. He says to you, “I want to put My arms around you again. I will blot out your sin. You can walk before Me in purity and holiness.”


 Some of the commentators have interpreted the action of Ham (Gen 9:22-23) as a homosexual act for two reasons. In the first place, it is claimed that the expression “to see the nakedness” is a euphemistic term for a sexual act (cf. Lev 18:6-19). And, second, it is said in 9:24 that Noah knew what his youngest son “had done to him,” and the verb seems to refer to an act, not simply a look. However, 9:22 does not say Ham “uncovered” the nakedness of his father. According to the text, Noah “uncovered himself”; Ham merely “saw” his father naked. Furthermore, the Hebrew verb asah (“to do”) carries too general a sense to draw the conclusion that Ham had to have done more than look on his father’s nakedness and tell his brothers. The point of the text is that Ham had no respect for his father. Rather than covering his father up, he told his brothers. Noah then gave an oracle that Ham’s descendants, who would be characterized by the same moral abandonment, would be cursed.

 

A new beginning

In a Peanuts cartoon strip Lucy and Linus are staring out the window, watching it rain. The conversation goes like this: Lucy: “Boy! Look at it pour. What if it floods the whole world?” Linus: “It won’t. In Genesis 9, God promised Noah that would never happen again. The sign of that promise is the rainbow.” Lucy, turning back to the window with a big smile: “You’ve taken a great load off my mind.” Linus: “Sound theology has a way of doing that.”

 

We laugh at that cartoon but my man Linus was on to something. Sound theology not only takes a load off our minds; it also teaches us what God is like and what He expects of us. Theology is not dry, dull, and boring. Nor is it just for biblical scholars who sit in ivory tower libraries. Theology is meant to alter the way we live life. As we look at Genesis 9:1-17, we are going to learn how a strong theology guides us through this life.

[In the first seven verses, we learn that a strong theology helps us to…]

1. Appreciate the value of life (9:1-7). Moses begins with these words: “And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth’” (9:1). This verse is a renewal of God’s first blessing and commission to Adam (1:28). Like Adam, Noah and his sons were blessed and commanded to reproduce and fill the earth. The word “blessed” is the key word in Genesis. It is a reminder that the God of the Bible has always been a God that blesses His people (cf. James 1:17). This is such a good word for us to hear. It is so easy to be restless and discontent. We always want more. We are never satisfied. Yet, God’s will for us is to express gratitude for His every blessing. A strong theology appreciates God’s many blessings.

 

Additional blessings are found in 9:2-4: “The fear of you and the terror of you will be on every beast of the earth and on every bird of the sky; with everything that creeps on the ground, and all the fish of the sea, into your hand they are given. Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant. Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” Why did God put this fear and terror of man in all creatures? For two reasons: (1) For the protection of animals who will no longer be at peace with man, and (2) for the protection of man who will no longer be at peace with animals. Moses writes that God gave the animals into Noah’s hands (Jeremiah 27:5). This means humans have been given authority over animals. The Lord then informs Noah and his boys that meat is to be a normal part of the human diet. The only restriction is that they must not eat meat with the blood in it. Humans are not to devour animals the way animals devour one another, while the blood is pulsating in the flesh. The reason for this is respect for life and the giver of life. In Leviticus 17:11, Moses teaches that life is in the blood and God is the giver of life Disregard for the gift of life is an affront to the giver of life.

 

Moses continues to record the Lord’s words in 9:5: “Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man’s brother I will require the life of man.” God will demand an accounting of any animal that sheds man’s blood (see Exodus 21:28). So valuable is human life that a compensation of life will even be exacted from animals. The last phrase of 9:5 is a bit confusing. The literal translation is “from the hand of a man, his brother.” The point is that God will require the blood of someone who kills, since the person killed is a relative (“brother”) of the killer. The language reflects Noah’s situation (after the flood everyone would be part of Noah’s extended family), but also supports the concept of the brotherhood of mankind. According to the Genesis account the entire human race descended from Noah.

 

In 9:6, the Lord puts His law in a compelling poetic stanza, which declares: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.” As we look at this controversial verse, it is important to note two things.

 

First, it is clear that this verse is giving us a command and not just a suggestion or permission. Verse 5 states that God demands a punishment: “from every man, from every man’s brother I will require the life of man.” Three times in 9:5, the Lord Himself says, “I will require” blood for blood. This is what I would call putting emphasis on a command with an exclamation point! It is also important to note that God has never countermanded this command. Consequently, it is still in force.

 

Second, the reason given for this action is one that remains in force for as long as men and women are made in the image of God. In 1:26, when God created man, He created him in the image of God. Until human history ends, all men and women will be created in the image of God. Into the eternal realm, man will continue to bear the image of God.

 

These two observations help us to conclude that God instituted capital punishment. Of course, the natural question is: why? The Bible provides four very important reasons:

1. Human life is so precious and sacred to God that when murder is committed, the death penalty is in order (Lev 24:17-18). When a person murders another human being, he or she extinguishes a revelation of God. God takes this very seriously.

 

2. The person who murders another being made in God’s image shows contempt for God as well. To kill another person usurps God’s sovereign authority over life and death. When a man or woman murders another person he or she assumes the role of God.

3. Capital punishment provides appropriate justice. The Scriptures teach there is a divine validity to punishment for crime. Before the flood, the lack of capital punishment led to blood vendettas.

 

4. Capital punishment is intended to serve as a deterrent. Any society that loses its reverence for life cannot long endure. For this reason, God instituted capital punishment as a gracious restraint upon man’s sinful tendency toward violence. Some people raise the issue of Christian love and forgiveness. Undoubtedly, these expressions are very important but they do not necessarily negate the consequences of one’s actions.

 

Although the Bible teaches the death penalty for deliberate and premeditated murder, it is important to remember that this responsibility is the sole prerogative of human government; because government is a “minister” of God (Romans 13:1-4) Of course, the death penalty must be applied with such reluctance that where “reasonable doubt” exists, we err on the side of mercy and waive the death penalty. In an imperfect judicial system not all defendants will be treated equally or fairly because economic status, social standing, race, or political and legal connections will place some “above the law.” However, we will warn that such cheating does not escape God’s notice, nor does it change His laws. It only becomes another divine indictment on that society that dares to exercise unevenly the divinely ordained demand for justice. That nation is going to be judged for such a cavalier attitude toward God’s mission.

 

The Lord closes this section in 9:7 with a strong contrast by reiterating what he said in 9:1: “As for you, be fruitful and multiply; populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it.” Against the backdrop of the warnings about taking life, God now again reminds His people to produce life.

[Sound theology helps us to appreciate the value of life. It also enables us to…]

2. Celebrate God’s Covenant (9:8-17). In 9:8-17, God told Noah and his sons that He would preserve life by not flooding the entire earth ever again (see 9:11, 15). Moses writes, “Now behold, I Myself do establish My covenant with you, and with your descendants after you; and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you; of all that comes out of the ark, even every beast of the earth. I establish My covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth. This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations; I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth. It shall come about, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow will be seen in the cloud, and I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth. And God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth.’”

 

This passage reveals three important aspects to God’s covenant. This “covenant” is unconditional (9:9), universal (9:9-10, 17), and eternal (9:12, 16). Several clues bear this out:

1. The recurrence of “I,” “Myself,” and “My” demonstrates the unconditional nature of this covenant. God Himself will ensure that this covenant is carried out. It is not dependent upon man’s work or faithfulness. This is how God typically works. There is nothing man can do to earn His favor.

 

2. The replication of the phrase “every living creature” (9:10a, 10b; 12b) and its equivalents, “all flesh” (9:11b; 15b; 17b), and “every living creature of all flesh” (9:15a; 16b)—a total of eight times, affirms God’s passionate concern for, and certain commitment to, the preservation and care of all living species on the earth. Since God appreciates both animal and human life, so should we.

 

3. God clearly states that this is an “eternal covenant” (9:16), “for all successive generations” (9:12). Since God is the eternal God who dwells outside of space and time, He can maintain His covenants as long as He sovereignly chooses. The Bible teaches that God fulfills His covenants and promises. If He failed to fulfill even one covenant or promise, He would cease to be God. Furthermore, if He failed, or fails sometime in the future, how could we know with any degree of confidence that the Gospel is trustworthy? Those that suggest the Scripture has errors often overlook this point. Yet, God’s Word must be free of inaccuracies or God is not God and the rest of His Word is suspect, at best.

 

A biblical covenant usually involved three things: parties, terms, and promises. Suppose that you were a painter and I wanted my house painted. We could make a covenant together. You and I would be the two parties involved and the terms would include what areas were to be painted, what color, and when the job should be completed. The promise I made to you would be in the amount of money I was going to pay you when the job was finished. Your promise to me would be that the job would be completed as originally agreed. The agreement that we make concerning these elements: parties, terms, and promises, would be the covenant that we made with each other.

When God makes a covenant with us, it normally involves these three elements. The difference is that God alone determines the terms of the agreement, and that God always comes through on His end of the deal.

If God is willing to make a covenant with us, and He is willing to bind Himself to that covenant no matter what, what does that say about the relationship God wants to have with us? It says that we can be hopeful about the future, because we worship a God that not only desires our companionship, but who is willing to take the steps necessary to obligate Himself to that relationship.

In 9:12-17, God also attaches significance to the rainbow as a “sign” of His covenant. The Hebrew word for rainbow (qeset) is also the word for a battle bow. The point seems to be that the bow is now “put away,” hung in place by the clouds, suggesting that the “battle,” the storm, is over. Thus the rainbow speaks of peace. As a result, whenever clouds appear over the earth and a rainbow appears, God will “remember” His covenant with man. God said that the rainbow would cause Him to remember His unconditional covenant with man. God is a faithful God!

 

I hope you have seen that a sound theology helps us to appreciate the value of life and celebrate God’s covenant. My prayer for you today is that you are living with gratitude to God for His gift of life and that you are enjoying your relationship with God who is a covenant keeper.

When it rains, God pours

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel awoke one morning to read his own obituary in the local newspaper: “Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, who died yesterday, devised a way for more people to be killed in a war than ever before, and he died a very rich man.” There was only one problem; Alfred Nobel had not died. Actually, it was his older brother who had died, but a newspaper reporter had somehow gotten it wrong. Regardless of how it happened, the account had a profound effect on Alfred Nobel. He decided he wanted to be known for something other than developing the means to kill people efficiently and for amassing a fortune in the process. So he initiated the Nobel Peace Prize, the award for scientists and writers who foster peace. Nobel said, “Every man ought to have the chance to correct his epitaph in midstream and write a new one.”

 

How will you be remembered when your time on earth is over? When you are gone, how will others describe your faith in God? Are you preparing for God’s judgment? The story of Noah will challenge us to answer these questions. Today, we will be looking at the better part of three chapters because the narrative treats these paragraphs as one long section. We will read through this section because we value learning God’s Word but some portions will be given more attention.

  1. Write your epitaph(6:9-12). Moses writes, “These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God. Noah became the father of three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth” (6:9-10). In 6:8, Noah “found favor” or “grace” through faith. Then in 6:9-10, we learn four important things about Noah.

First, Noah was a “righteous man.” The word translated “righteous” (tsaddiq) connotes “conformity to the standard.” In the case of Noah, he conformed to the standard set by God. He was able to do so because God granted him grace. This reminds us that God’s grace always comes before anything. It’s easy to think that God loves us for what we are intrinsically, for what we have done, or can become. But God does not love us because of that, nor is He gracious to us because of that. On the contrary, He loves us solely because He loves us. He is gracious to us only because He is (cf. Deut 7:7-8). This is a crucial truth for us to understand. We do not earn God’s grace or favor (Eph 2:8-9); He bestows it upon us for His own good pleasure (Eph 1:4-6).

 

Not only was Noah a righteous man but 2 Peter 2:5 tells us that he was also a “preacher of righteousness.” Noah preached righteousness in the same way that his great-grandfather Enoch had done before him (Jude 1:14-15). The reason he could do this is that he himself was righteous. The reason that we do not have more preaching of righteousness in our day is that those who profess Christ are often not living righteous lives.  Are you living with “right-ness”? Does your life match your convictions?

 

Second, Noah was “blameless.” The word “blameless” (tamim) involves the idea of completeness. Noah conformed to the standard set by God and his life was “complete,” with no essential quality missing. The modifying phrase “in his time” indicates all the more clearly that Noah’s righteousness and blamelessness stood out against his contemporaries’ sinfulness. Noah was not only righteous in the sight of God; he also had a credible reputation among the people of his day. They could not pin a single wrong action on him. He was blameless. Arthur Friedman once said, “Men of genius are admired. Men of wealth are envied. Men of power are feared. But only men of character are trusted.” Does your character demand the trust of those people in your life?

 

Third, Noah “walked with God.” This means he had daily, step-by-step fellowship with God. He had God as his companion as he walked through life. This type of imitate fellowship does not happen by osmosis; it must be cultivated. It takes work to be godly. Is your walk with God vibrant?

 

Lastly, Noah walked with God before his family. Noah’s godliness was the godliness of a man who was involved in ordinary life. He did not withdraw from society. Real godliness is not like that. Noah was out and about in God’s world. He provided for his family. The linking of the names of his sons with his faithful life surely indicates that Noah influenced his family in spiritual matters. Apparently, Noah instructed his family to believe in God…and they did! More often than not, when a husband and father exert spiritual leadership in the home, the entire family responds and follows his lead.

 

It is interesting to note, however, that Noah’s only converts were his wife, his sons, and their wives (6:18). Apparently, not a single person outside his family paid the slightest attention to what he had to say. He preached for the better part of 120 years and won no converts other than his own family. Nevertheless, by God’s grace, Noah won those that mattered most. Sadly, I have known men and women that have been so absorbed in winning their world for Christ that they have failed to win their own home. This is a travesty! Our top priority must always be to influence our family members for Christ. This is one of the top requirements of leadership; to have children that believe and to manage one’s own household well (1Tim 3:4-5, 12; Titus 1:6). Is this your conviction? Are you investing well in your family?

 

I need to go even further. I believe an important principle is illustrated here: Noah’s faith and obedience resulted in the salvation and obedience of his family. This principle can also bear fruit in our lives as parents and grandparents. Unfortunately, many of us wonder why our children and grandchildren aren’t turning out the way that we would like. Often, we don’t stop to immediately ask what role we have played in their lack of spiritual development. How can we expect our children to be obedient if we aren’t obedient? When Christian parents grieve over a lost child who has rebelled against God, His Word, His Son, and His church, they wonder where he learned to rebel. Quite often a child learns at home, from parents who have been rebellious is some area of life. Parents, we must live up to the standard that God has set for us if we hope our children will be fruitful disciples.

 

In 6:11-12, Moses goes on to write, “Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.” Three times in 6:11-12 we are told how “corrupt” the earth had become (contra 1:31). The word for “violence” is used of robbery, taking wives by force, and murder. The entire social fabric had disintegrated and human life was no longer sacred or respected (see Isa 59:6-8). The two words “corrupt” and “violence” (Ps 14:1-3) give us respectively the character and expression of the sin, the cause, and the effect. The corruption has led to violence, for badness always leads to cruelty in one form or another. A life that is wrong with God necessarily becomes wrong with its fellows.

 

It is critical to recognize that Noah lived in terrible days. The world around him was degraded and depraved; yet Noah lived an above reproach life. When all the people around him were immersing themselves in evil and earning the wrath and judgment of God, Noah set his heart to follow the path found in the person and character of God. He stood his ground and remained uninfluenced by all that was happening around him. If Noah was, so can you. God has given us everything “pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Pet 1:3).

 

  1. Obey God’s Word(6:13-22). In 6:13, Moses writes, “Then God said to Noah, ‘The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth.’” For the second time in three verses, the Lord mentions the “violence” of mankind (see 6:11; cf. 49:5). He then tells Noah that He is about to “destroy” these violent people “with the earth.” This section demonstrates that the earth and nature suffer because of human sin (cf. 3:17-19; 4:12; Rom 8:20-21).

 

In 6:14-16, Noah received detailed instructions that he was to follow in building the ark. The ingredients were “gopher wood” (or “cypress wood”) and “pitch.” The dimensions are as follows:

 

Dimensions Noah’s Ark22 Contemporary Equivalent23
Length 450 feet 1½ American football fields
Width 75 feet 7 parking spaces
Height 45 feet 3 stories
Cubic Feet 1.5 million 800 railroad boxcars
Capacity 14,000 gross tons Princess of the Orient

 

As best we can tell, the ark was shaped like a shallow rectangular box topped with a roof, with an 18 inch space under the roof, interrupted only by roof supports, so light could get into the vessel from every side. This design uses space very efficiently. The ark would have been very stable in the water. What a monster this ark was! Noah had more than enough work to keep him occupied for a century.

Remember, there were no trucks, no chain saws, and no cranes.

 

A question that is asked is: How could Noah’s ark hold between one-half billion to over a billion species of animals?

First, the modern concept of “species” is not the same as a “kind” in the Bible. There are probably only several hundred different “kinds” of land animals that would have to be taken into the ark. The sea animals stayed in the sea, and many species could have survived in egg form.

Second, Noah could have taken younger varieties of some larger animals. Third, as I have already said, the ark was not small; it was a huge structure—the size of a modern ocean liner. Furthermore, it had three stories (6:16), which tripled its space to a total of over 1.5 million cubic feet! Given all these factors, there was plenty of room for all the animals, food for the trip, and the eight humans aboard.

 

After giving the dimensions, in 6:17, God authoritatively speaks: “Behold, I, even I am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall perish.” This verse places significant emphasis on the personal role of God in the ensuing storm. The phrase “I, even I” reminds us that God is responsible for natural disasters. Ultimately, He is the sovereign Controller of the universe. Therefore, we can trust in Him and what He brings into our lives and the lives of others.

Yet, in the midst of the flood’s promise, there is good news. In 6:18, God says to Noah, “But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.” This is the first occurrence of the word “covenant” (berith) in the Old Testament. Here, in the midst of judgment, the Lord stooped down to meet the needs of His servant (Ps 40:1; 113:6).

 

In the wake of our tragedies and trials, God wants to do the same for us. He longs to speak to us through His Word. He wants to draw us close to Him. Are you running to Him or away from Him? This verse also illustrates another important biblical principle. While God bestows His saving grace and love on individuals, He is concerned about their families as well. Acts 16:31 summarizes this principle: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” God loves to save families.

 

Chapter 6 concludes with these words: ‘“And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. Of the birds after their kind, and of the animals after their kind, of every creeping thing of the ground after its kind, two of every kind will come to you to keep them alive. As for you, take for yourself some of all food which is edible, and gather it to yourself; and it shall be for food for you and for them.’ Thus Noah did; according to all that God had commanded him, so he did” (6:19-22).

Apparently, all of the animals would “come to” Noah voluntarily (6:20). It would seem that he would not have to hunt them down or look for them in remote places. Their natural instinct for self-preservation, energized by a special act of God, would bring them unerringly to Noah’s ark.

 

The key to understanding biblical narratives is what is repeated in the context. In 6:22, Moses records this very important statement: “Thus Noah did; according to all that God had commanded him, so he did.” In chapter 7, he then repeats this phrase three more times (7:5, 9, 16). This informs us that God must be obeyed in all His instructions if His people expect to enjoy the fruit of life and blessing (e.g., Deut 26:16-19; 28:1-14).

Before we move into chapter 7, we must quickly put ourselves in Noah’s sandals. Though he was thrust onto the front pages of his day’s newspaper as a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Pet 2:5), he did not flinch when the criticism came. No doubt he was called a fool and worse. Just imagine how many Noah jokes people came up with over a century! But he went on believing and working. Noah remained obedient, doing exactly what God said for 25, 50, 75, 100 years…until the ark lay like a huge coffin on the land. What a powerful reminder that God sometimes calls His servants to obey Him even when it seems nonsensical. In these situations, all that we can do is trust in the promises of God’s Word.

 

This section also reminds us that it is possible to be right with God, even amidst surrounding iniquity. God is the same today as He was to Noah, and if only we are willing to fulfill the conditions we too shall walk with God and please Him.

 

  1. Trust in God’s Provision(7:1-16). Moses writes, “Then the LORD said to Noah, ‘Enter the ark, you and all your household, for you alone I have seen to be righteous before Me in this time. You shall take with you of every clean animal by sevens, a male and his female; and of the animals that are not clean two, a male and his female; also of the birds of the sky, by sevens, male and female, to keep offspring alive on the face of all the earth. For after seven more days, I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights; and I will blot out from the face of the land every living thing that I have made.’ Noah did according to all that the LORD had commanded him.” How many animals went into the ark? The truth is that there is no inherent incompatibility between the two texts as they presently stand.

 

Genesis 7:2-3 is just more precise than 6:19-20 on the question of the types and numbers of animals and birds that would board the ark. Noah’s first instruction was to admit pairs of all kinds of creatures on the ark to preserve their lives (6:19-20). That was the basic formula. Then he was given more specific instructions about admitting seven pairs of each of the clean animals and seven pairs of each kind of bird. The purpose of this measure was to become clear only after the flood. Birds would be needed to scout out the earth (8:7-12), and the clean animals and birds would be offered in sacrifice to the Lord (8:20). If Noah had taken only one pair of each and then offered each of these pairs in sacrifice, these species would have become completely extinct.

God is still a holy God. He still hates sin. He still is slow to judge. He watches the sin of man and warns that it will not be allowed to go on and on forever. God tells that world what He will do. Our world will also come to an end (2 Pet 3:1-13). We have prior notice that the judgment of God is on its way. In His grace, God warns His people. He tells us in advance that sinful men do not deserve to live on God’s earth. This is the basic message of the Genesis flood.

 

In 7:6-16, Moses writes, “Now Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of water came upon the earth. Then Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him entered the ark because of the water of the flood. Of clean animals and animals that are not clean and birds and everything that creeps on the ground, there went into the ark to Noah by twos, male and female, as God had commanded Noah. It came about after the seven days, that the water of the flood came upon the earth. In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on the same day all the fountains of the great deep burst open, and the floodgates of the sky were opened. The rain fell upon the earth for forty days and forty nights. On the very same day Noah and Shem and Ham and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them, entered the ark, they and every beast after its kind, and all the cattle after their kind, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth after its kind, and every bird after its kind, all sorts of birds. So they went into the ark to Noah, by twos of all flesh in which was the breath of life. Those that entered, male and female of all flesh, entered as God had commanded him; and the LORD closed it behind him.” The account of the floodwater inundating the earth is both majestic and terrible. Moses was careful to describe the flood in terms reminiscent of the creation. Like Genesis 1, the account of the flood is structured by a careful counting of the days (371 total days).

 

o   7 days of waiting for the waters to come (7:4, 10),

o   40 days of water rising (7:12, 17),

o   150 days of waters prevailing (7:24; 8:3),

o   40 days of water receding (8:6),

o   7 days of waiting for the waters to recede (8:10), and

o   7 more days of waiting for the waters to recede completely (8:12).

  1. Remember God’s power(7:17-24). Moses writes, “Then the flood came upon the earth for forty days, and the water increased and lifted up the ark, so that it rose above the earth. The water prevailed and increased greatly upon the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. The water prevailed more and more upon the earth, so that all the high mountains everywhere under the heavens were covered. The water prevailed fifteen cubits higher, and the mountains were covered. All flesh that moved on the earth perished, birds and cattle and beasts and every swarming thing that swarms upon the earth, and all mankind; of all that was on the dry land, all in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, died. Thus He blotted out every living thing that was upon the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky, and they were blotted out from the earth; and only Noah was left, together with those that were with him in the ark. The water prevailed upon the earth one hundred and fifty days.” The flood is to be a reminder to us of the reality of final judgment (Matt 24:38-39Luke 17:272 Pet 2:5; 3:5-6).

 

God holds the world accountable for its behavior. It tells us that God is grieved over our sin and the harm it does to others. He will not put up with it forever. We live in a moral universe, and to go against the moral laws which God has built into the world invites disaster. Sin affects our personal lives, our families, our church, our community, our nation, and ultimately, our world. The Bible says that every mouth will be silenced and that the whole world will be held accountable to God (Rom 3:19). We cannot escape the fact that we are responsible to God for our behavior and that a future judgment is coming when we will answer for the way in which we have lived. That simple fact should dramatically affect our perspective in life and make us desire to be faithful to the God who has been faithful to us.

There is a great debate on whether the flood was universal or local. It seems to be universal. In the first place, the universalist language favors it, with such terms being used numerous times. With forty days of rain over the land, how could it be otherwise? In addition, if one wanted to describe a universal flood, how would such a description differ from the one given in these chapters? In the second place, the depth of water favors a universal flood. Mt. Ararat, on which the ark came to rest, is over 17,000 feet in altitude, and the waters were over twenty feet higher than all the mountains (notice the language of 7:19 with its “all’s”).

In the third place, God’s promises of never allowing another such flood favor a universal one, for there have been many devastating local floods since then (cf. 8:21; 9:11, 15; 2 Pet 3:6). The New Testament authors seem to favor this view also.

 

  1. Rejoice in God’s grace(8:1-22). In 8:1-5, Moses writes, “But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark; and God caused a wind to pass over the earth, and the water subsided. Also the fountains of the deep and the floodgates of the sky were closed, and the rain from the sky was restrained; and the water receded steadily from the earth, and at the end of one hundred and fifty days the water decreased. In the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark rested upon the mountains of Ararat. The water decreased steadily until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains became visible.” The word “remember” (8:1) is the high point of this story. It refers to God acting toward someone because of a previous commitment. God remembers His children.

 

During the eleventh to twelfth centuries A.D., Mt. Ararat became the traditional site known as the place of Noah’s landing. Verse 4, however, does not specify a peak and refers generally to its location as the “mountains of Ararat.” The search for the ark’s artifacts has been both a medieval and a modern occupation; but to the skeptic, such evidence is not convincing, and to the believer, while not irrelevant, it is not necessary to faith. Modern Mt. Ararat lies on the border between Turkey and Armenia and encompasses Turkey, Russia, and Iran—the center of the ancient world. Sadly, the Armenian people worship Mt. Ararat today. The creature worships the creation instead of the Creator (Rom 1:21-23). From this region Noah’s descendants spread out over the earth.

 

In 8:6-17, Moses writes, “Then it came about at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made; and he sent out a raven, and it flew here and there until the water was dried up from the earth. Then he sent out a dove from him, to see if the water was abated from the face of the land; but the dove found no resting place for the sole of her foot, so she returned to him into the ark, for the water was on the surface of all the earth. Then he put out his hand and took her, and brought her into the ark to himself. So he waited yet another seven days; and again he sent out the dove from the ark. The dove came to him toward evening, and behold, in her beak was a freshly picked olive leaf. So Noah knew that the water was abated from the earth. Then he waited yet another seven days, and sent out the dove; but she did not return to him again. Now it came about in the six hundred and first year, in the first month, on the first of the month, the water was dried up from the earth. Then Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and behold, the surface of the ground was dried up. In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry. Then God spoke to Noah, saying, ‘Go out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. Bring out with you every living thing of all flesh that is with you, birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, that they may breed abundantly on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.’” We can almost hear the “Hallelujah Chorus” playing in the background! What a day of rejoicing that must have been! God had been faithful to see Noah through.

 

In 8:18-19, Moses writes, “So Noah went out, and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him. Every beast, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out by their families from the ark.” Verses 18 and 19 may seem like needless repetition to the modern reader, but they document Noah’s obedience to God’s words, which Moses stressed in the entire flood narrative.

 

Our section closes in 8:20-22 with these words: “Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. The LORD smelled the soothing aroma; and the LORD said to Himself, ‘I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.’” What is the first thing that Noah does when he gets off the ark? Does he tend for food, find water, and create shelter? The first thing that Noah did when he left the ark was to build an altar and offer God a sacrifice (8:20). This demonstrates his dedication and gratitude to God. Noah’s “altar” is the first mentioned in the Bible. His “burnt offerings” were for worship. As the head of the new humanity, Noah’s sacrifice represented all mankind. God may judge the wicked catastrophically and begin a new era of existence with faithful believers.