Here’s where we have been so far on our walk through Genesis: man and woman, made in God’s image, are given a home on this earth, a beautiful garden, with everything that they need. They are given the good work of tending to the garden, the animals, and becoming fruitful themselves. They live in God’s presence, walking with Him in the cool of the evenings. This is the pattern God set for them…it would belong to Adam and Eve as long as they obeyed the command given to not eat fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. But, as we have seen, they did eat of the fruit, not fulfilling their part in the relationship God had established.
So they lost their place in the garden, but not in God’s heart. We saw that – even though they disobeyed – His compassion for Adam and Eve remained. He wanted to restore their communion with Him. He promised that one of their descendants would defeat the enemy that had deceived them.
Sin and death had entered the world, changing the course of mankind. Adam and Eve’s firstborn started a family line that turned away from God, filling up the world with violence. God’s heart was broken and He knew the constant chaos had to be stopped, but He did not forget the promises He had made. There was still one righteous man, a son in the line of Seth (Adam’s third son), and God did not forget him. When the floods came, Noah and his family were safely on the ark they’d built just as God had commanded. They waited, along with all of the animals and foods God had instructed them to gather, for the day that dry land would appear.
So this is where we are now: Noah and his family, after so many long days, have left the boat. Their feet are again on solid ground and Noah’s first act is to build an altar.
I want to pause Noah’s story here to talk about a word that is woven through Scripture, a word that is a foundation of all that we have in God even now: covenant.
Stanley Grenz’s Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms defines it like this: Covenant refers to the act of God in freely establishing a mutually binding relationship with humankind. Through the covenant God bestows blessings on human in conditional and unconditional terms. Conditionally, God blesses humans as they obey the terms of the covenant. Unconditionally, God bestows blessings on humans regardless of their obedience or disobedience to the terms of the covenant.
In other words, a covenant is a commitment made between God and man. It is His promise to us. The unconditional covenant will be carried through no matter how we respond; the conditional covenant requires a certain action from us in order to be fulfilled on God’s part.
Whether unconditional or conditional, the idea that the God of heaven and earth would bind Himself to us – to you and to me – fills me with wonder. I don’t want us to miss the beauty of this — because this is the theme that began when He formed Adam from dust, the theme that we will see in every book from Genesis to Revelation, the theme that is the thread that reaches into this moment right now — God initiates and pursues this relationship with us because He loves us. He chooses us.
Has He ever been obligated or forced to make promises to us? No…but we will see, again and again, that He does. He chooses to redeem us from the curse of sin and death. He chooses to give us life. And we will see, again and again, that even while we fail Him, He does not ever fail us.
An article from the Christian Worldview Journal puts it like this:
God is unshakably committed to His creation, to His human creatures, and to His plans for both…He is lovingly-loyal and loyally-loving to the works of His hands. He loves what He is committed to; He is committed to what He loves! So, when it all fell into trouble, God’s desire was not to annihilate and destroy it, but to save and restore it.
God, in other words, has a covenant with creation from which He will never turn back! His dedication to His world is irrevocable.
I feel sure that Noah, his wife, and their sons with their wives wondered about the future – God had rescued them, He had remembered them…but now what? Would He help them make their way in this world that was, in essence, starting over?
God does not leave them wondering for long. He speaks to them, reestablishing the pattern He had first set in the garden of Eden. He tells them to be fruitful and multiply. He tells them that they have power over all of the animals. He provides what they need.
He makes it clear that mankind – despite the sin that has broken into their hearts – is precious to Him, made in His image. He makes it clear that the life of every man and woman matters to Him.
And with Noah, with all the living creatures on the earth — and with all of us, too — He establishes a covenant — an unconditional covenant in which He promises that He will never again destroy all of life on earth with floodwaters. So that we cannot forget His promise, He places a rainbow in the sky as a sign of this commitment to us. We are given an eternal promise and He asks nothing of us in return. It’s His grace, freely given.
This is not the first time His grace makes a way for our future and it is not the last time, either. God has provided this new beginning, restored the earth, but the enemy has not yet been defeated…the unbroken and perfect communion between God and man has not yet been fully restored.
So with the rainbow as a clear reminder of God’s love toward them, Noah and his family step into the future, trusting that the One who has already rescued them will fulfill every promise He has made.
Genesis 9: 1-17
Then God blessed Noah and his sons and told them, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth. All the animals of the earth, all the birds of the sky, all the small animals that scurry along the ground, and all the fish in the sea will look on you with fear and terror. I have placed them in your power. I have given them to you for food, just as I have given you grain and vegetables. But you must never eat any meat that still has the lifeblood in it.
And I will require the blood of anyone who takes another person’s life. If a wild animal kills a person, it must die. And anyone who murders a fellow human must die. If anyone takes a human life, that person’s life will also be taken by human hands. For God made human beings in his own image. Now be fruitful and multiply, and repopulate the earth.”
Then God told Noah and his sons, “I hereby confirm my covenant with you and your descendants, and with all the animals that were on the boat with you—the birds, the livestock, and all the wild animals—every living creature on earth. Yes, I am confirming my covenant with you. Never again will floodwaters kill all living creatures; never again will a flood destroy the earth.”
Then God said, “I am giving you a sign of my covenant with you and with all living creatures, for all generations to come. I have placed my rainbow in the clouds. It is the sign of my covenant with you and with all the earth. When I send clouds over the earth, the rainbow will appear in the clouds, and I will remember my covenant with you and with all living creatures. Never again will the floodwaters destroy all life. When I see the rainbow in the clouds, I will remember the eternal covenant between God and every living creature on earth.” Then God said to Noah, “Yes, this rainbow is the sign of the covenant I am confirming with all the creatures on earth.”
PS — I would love to hear any experiences of how God has kept His promises to you…please feel free to share in the comments! 🙂