Noahic Covenant; Dispensation of Human Gov't; Gen. 9:1-17
One thing that is confusing to some people is where reference is made to something called covenant theology. Covenant theology does not have anything to do with the biblical covenants, it is a form of replacement theology. There are, generally speaking, two overall systems of theology: replacement theology and dispensationalism. In replacement theology what is being replaced is Israel. In replacement theology Israel failed when they rejected Jesus as their Messiah, and so they are out. God is no longer going to fulfill any of his promises to Israel, they no longer matter, they are no longer significant, they are not God's people any more, God doesn't have a future for Israel, they've lost the land, lost all then promises, it is over with and they have been replaced by the Church. This is prevalent in two systems of prophecy called amillennialism which teaches there is no literal millennium, and post-millennialism which teaches the Jesus Christ comes back at the end of the Millennium. Replacement theology is manifest in Roman Catholic theology and in Protestant theology—Lutheran theology, Presbyterian theology for the most part, Methodist, etc. Only dispensationalism realizes that God temporarily set aside Israel and that during this age He is working through a unique group of people called the Church. The Church will be raptured to be with the Lord in the air at the end of the present age and then the last seven years of Israel will come to pass in what is called the time of Jacob's trouble or the Tribulation. This ends with the second coming of Christ. In covenant theology is not on the biblical covenants—the Noahic covenant, the Abrahamic covenant, the land covenant, the Davidic covenant, the New covenant—they have two, sometimes three, theological covenants. These theological covenants aren't mentioned anywhere in the Bible, but in their theological system they have deduced these covenants and they use this as the overall interpretive umbrella for understanding the Bible. In covenant theology you have two, sometimes three covenants, the covenant of works, the covenant of redemption, and sometimes a third called the covenant of grace, depending on the system. But these are never mentioned in the Bible. They are not biblical covenants at all, they are simply theological deductions that are then superimposed back on the Scripture to give an interpretive framework for Scripture.
Observations about the word "covenant"
1) In Genesis 6:18 we have this first mention of the word "covenant." And in this passage God says, "I will establish my covenant with you." That is very important terminology because normally what you find in the Hebrew is the verb which means to cut. And usually the idiom is to cut a covenant, and where that comes from is that in the ancient world in order establish a covenant its sealing was an animal sacrifice, and the animal's throat was cut. We see the picture on the Abrahamic covenant where God has Abraham brings the animals, cut them in half, and lay them on the altars on each side. He causes a deep sleep to come upon Abraham and then God Himself passes between these animals, showing that He is binding Himself to this covenant unconditionally. Abraham is not part of it; it is not a conditional covenant based on Abraham, God is saying He is doing this on His own. So there is this idiom of cutting a covenant. That is not the language we find here. What we find here is the hiphil stem of the Hebrew verb qum, which means to set in place or to establish. In the hiphil stem it means to cause to be in place and it has the idea here of confirming something that is already in existence. When we look at this verse in the English, "I will establish," it future tense. It makes it look as if God is going to do something in the future, that he is going to begin this, inaugurate this, that this is something new. But the use of this word has the idea that God is going to reestablish something that is already in existence. What covenant is that? The word "covenant" has never been mentioned before but there is a reference in Hosea 6:7 which says that Adam violated a covenant. All this is important because we realize that the God of the Bible deals with men on the basis of legal contracts. He binds Himself to specifically articulated legal conditions. In Genesis chapter nine we have the same verbiage as Genesis 1:27, 28, so that means it must have been a covenant. The ends with the fall and there is a revision in 3:14-19 when God talks about the impact that the fall has had on relations in creation. We call that revision the Adamic covenant. Then man fails again and there is the judgment of God at the universal flood, and God reestablishes that covenant is what we call the Noahic covenant. The first covenant has been traditionally called the Edenic covenant, but there is preference for calling it the creation covenant because it is God establishing the way He is going to interact with man and man's responsibilities at the every beginning. A covenant implies that there are responsibilities on the part of man as a covenant partner. That is what is seen played out all through Genesis. The Noahic covenant is still in effect as indicated by the presence of the rainbow. Whenever we see a rainbow we know that that covenant is still in effect.
2) A covenant is essentially a legal contract. That implies several things. First, there are two parties involved. There is God who is the party of the first part, and man or a group of men, who are parties of the second part. This implies that for there to be a legal contract that both parties are persons. You can't have a covenant between a thing or an impersonal force or a non-person. So this implies that the God who gives this covenant or contract is a personal entity, an individual. The Bible clearly implies that there is a Person out there who is capable of relationships. Secondly, a covenant or contract implies that the person who establishes the contract is able to guarantee what he promises in the contract. He is able to control the situation and circumstances and all of the details of history to be able to fulfill what He, God, has promised. That tells us things about God's character. It implies that one who makes this contract is sovereign; He is ultimately in charge. It relates to His immutability. If God is not immutable, if He is going to change His mind tomorrow, then is that contract any good? It implies His love. One of the key words that we find over and over in the Old Testament is the Hebrew word chesed, a word that is a little difficult to translate into English, but it is usually translated "loving kindness." But it means much more than that, it has to do with loyalty, faithfulness. It is love that is faithful to a free, established contract. God honors His obligations even when we don't.
3) The giving of a covenant is the expression of God's grace to fallen man and provides the guidelines for the relationship.
4) The very fact that God enters into a covenant with us shows that man's relationship with God is always based on immutable legal principles that are articulated in specific written regulations. That has implications for understanding the inerrancy of the Bible. This is the old covenant and the new covenant. God writes down and signs the contract. The terms aren't going to change, they are inviolable.
The parties involved in the Noahic covenant are God as party of the first part, and as party of the second part is Noah and his family, and all of the animals. Verse 9, "And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you." Every single person on the planet is a descendant of Noah, so that means that God enters into this contract with Noah and with every single individual. Then verse 10, "And with every living creature that is with you, of the fowl, of the cattle, and of every beast of the earth with you; from all that go out of the ark, to every beast of the earth." Notice He doesn't mention the fish of the sea. The implication is uncertain but it is interesting. Verse 11, "And I will establish my covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth."
The provisions in the Noahic covenant
1) There is the mandate to be fruitful and multiply and to fill the earth, vv. 1, 7. This is the same command that was given to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:26-28, but one thing that is not repeated here is the concept of subduing the earth. It is implied by another stipulation at the end of verse 2 where it says "they are given into your hand." The hand is where your power is, so this is an idiom that implies power over them, but that is different from the kind of ruling and subduing that is mentioned in Genesis 1:26-28. That ruling and subduing is related to man as God's representative. That changed because of the fall, so man loses a certain amount of authority and ability to ultimately rule and exercise dominion over the planet, and this will not ultimately be fulfilled until the second Adam comes at the second coming.
2) God says, "The fear of you will be on all the animals." In the original mandates in the creation and Adamic covenants this was no so. Man was still ruling over the animals and there was some level of affinity between man and the animals. But now there is universal fear in the animal kingdom toward man.
3) God says all the animals, the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, "are given into your hand." This is an idiom for power and strength. It may even be abused power and strength, it is not the same concept of ruling with authority, with prestige, with respect, with responsibility; this can be irresponsible, tyrannical oppression. So it is an idiom for being placed under power.
4) There is an authorization to eat meat. Up to this time man did not eat meat. Verse 3, "Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things." This really undercuts the whole vegetarian argument.
5) There is a prohibition of eating blood. Verse 4, "But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat."
6) Death is required of every beast or man who takes a human life in a prohibited manner. This is the authorization for capital punishment. There are valid ways and reasons to take another human life; there are wrong ways and reasons to take another human life. But God clearly authorizes the taking of human life under certain conditions and following certain regulations. Verse 5, "And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man." The Hebrew word here, repeated three times, is darash, means to ask, to enquire, investigate, search. What that verb demonstrates is that God is going to search out the requirement that He has placed upon man to execute justice in these manners. That is how serious God takes this capital punishment provision. He is going to investigate to make sure man is doing this. Verse 6, "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man." The Hebrew word for "shed" is shaphak, which means literally to pour something out, or to spill something, or to shed something.
7) This covenant is made with Noah, all of his descendants, and the animals that came off the ark.
8) God promises to never again destroy the world in the same way. He will destroy it through fire at the end of the Millennium, but He is never again going to destroy the world through a watery world-wide cataclysm. This again, is proof of a world-wide flood. If it had been a local flood, then every time there is a local flood God would be breaking His promise.
9) The sign of the promise is the rainbow. The rainbow has special significance in Scripture. One of these is that it is a reminder of God's presence. If we look at the first chapter of Ezekiel and verse 28 there is the appearance of a rainbow around the throne of God, the same as is seen in Isaiah chapter six and Revelation 4:3. So what we see is that God created a lot of meteorological circumstances on the earth whereby we would be reminded of who He is and His presence every time we see a rainbow. It is His personal signature in the clouds that he will never again destroy the earth by water.