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The Covenant with Noah

In 1776, the signers of the Declaration of Independence formed a new government around a set of fundamental beliefs: the existence of God, a set of God-given laws of Nature, and certain “self-evident” truths and “inalienable rights” belonging to all.

Our Founding Fathers did not cite Genesis 9, but they could have, for in our reading today God granted humanity both the responsibility of governing the world and protecting the value of human life made in the image of God. Just as God had commanded Adam and Eve, who were made in God’s image, to increase and rule over the earth, after the Flood God commanded Noah and his family to increase, rule, and protect human life made in His image.

But God’s word to Noah was not just about human authority and responsibility. God also issued His own responsibilities and promises in the form of a covenant. In fact, God’s covenant was so important that He mentioned it eight times in nine verses. What did that covenant entail?

First, it was God’s promise to never again destroy the earth with a flood. Second, the sign of the covenant was the “bow” set in the sky. Judgment was over and God’s “weapon” of punishment was put to rest. Third, God’s covenant was not temporary, but an “everlasting” promise for all generations (vv. 12, 16). Despite the sin of Ham to follow (vv. 18–27), and its consequent curses, God would not recant His promises. Finally, this covenant was not just between God and humanity. It included all of creation. God established His covenant with “every living creature” and “all the life of the earth” (vv. 10, 12, 15–17). He called it a covenant “between me and the earth” (v. 13). Nothing was outside the scope of God’s promised love.

Apply the Word

How often do we think about God’s creation as part of His covenant? Find time today to take a walk in the woods or a local park. As you stroll, be attentive to the sights, sounds, and scents of the natural world around you. With all your senses, take in God’s created world in a new way, recognizing that all of this is part of God’s covenantal love.

BY Bryan Stewart

Bryan A. Stewart is associate professor of religion at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas. His particular interests are the history of Christian thought and the way that early Christians interpreted the biblical canon. He is the editor of a volume on the Gospel of John in The Church’s Bible series (Eerdmans), and he has done extensive research on the ways that the early Church preached on this Gospel. He is an ordained minister. 

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