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The Sign in the Clouds

The Flood (The Life of Noah)

Part V

Series: Genesis: The Foundations of the Faith

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Oct 18, 1998

Genesis 9:1-17

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Genesis 9:1-17

The Flood (The Life of Noah) Part 5: The Sign in the Clouds

If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Genesis, chapter 9. As we have reviewed the early chapters of the book of Genesis, we have seen the work of creation recounted in Genesis 1, we've seen the special favor of God toward man highlighted in Genesis 2. In Genesis 3, we've seen the fall of our first parent. In Genesis 4, we've seen examples of the sin and grace which co-existed in the human family descending from Adam and Eve. In Genesis 5 we see Moses recount again to us the original creation, and then talk to us about the godly line from Seth to Noah. In Genesis 6 through 9, we see the story of Noah and of the flood and in particular we saw in Genesis 6, verses 1 through 8, a picture of the way the world was prior to God's judgement in the flood of Noah. In Genesis 6, verses 9 through 22, we see a picture of God's judgment and grace on the last generation of the old Adamic world. In Genesis 7 we saw the deluge itself, and last week when we looked at Genesis 8, we saw more of the duration of the flood and the things which happened immediately after the end of the flood.

So tonight we come to Genesis, chapter 9. We’ll concentrate on the first 17 verses of Genesis 9 and see how Moses here recounts for us the gracious providence of God towards Noah, His confirmation of the covenant of grace with Noah and the sign of that covenant which he granted for our reassurance. Let's hear then God's holy and inspired word in Genesis 9:

Genesis 9:1-17

Our Heavenly Father, we do pray that You would teach us that we might be able to teach, that we might behold wonderful things from Your word. We ask that the Spirit would apply the truth of Your word to your hearts as we contemplate the covenant, and the reassurances that you give to us in it. We pray that we would be moved to gratitude because of the grace which is ours in Jesus Christ. We ask these things in His name, Amen.

We have in this great passage tonight a three-fold message. First of all, Moses reminds us again in the first seven verses about the sanctity of life. And then in verses 8 through 11, Moses reiterates to us the rich provisions of the covenant of grace. The covenant had already been spoken of in Genesis 6:18. Now those provisions are going to be emphasized, reiterated and expanded. And then from verse 12 to verse 17 we see the covenant sign which God has appointed for Noah and for His sons. Indeed, for all of the earth to see as a sign of reassurance confirming His promises. I'd like to look at those three things with you very briefly tonight.

I. The gracious provisions and stipulations of the covenant.

First of all, I direct your attention to verses 1 through 7 where we see the original creation ordinances that have been given to Adam recounted in some measure with Noah as he steps into this new world. And where we also see God set forth a very specific teaching designed to uphold the sanctity of life. And we learn here about the gracious provision and the stipulations of the covenant of grace. First of all you’ll notice in verses 1 and 2 and then again at the end of verse 6 and in verse 7 that the creation ordinances of Genesis 1 are recounted. The ordinances of procreation and dominion and the creation privilege and responsibility of us being in the image of God is restated in verse 1, verse 2, the end of verse 6 and in verse 7. In fact, Genesis 1, verses 26 through 29, is recounted in some measure. I invite you to turn back to that passage because you will recognize the language of Genesis 1, 26 through 29, when you look again at Genesis 9, verses 1 and 2 and then verses 6 and 7. Here's the language of Genesis 1:26: "Then God said let us make man in our image according to our likeness and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle, and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female. He created them. And God blessed them and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’ And then God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seeds that is on surface of all the earth and every tree which has fruit yielding seed. It shall be food for you.’" And so again we see that language here in Genesis 9. "And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and the fear of You and the terror of You shall 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.’" You see the language there of God speaking as it were to this second Adam. As he enters into this new world which has been cleansed by the judgment of water. As He enters into this new world, the old creation ordinances, the old creation order is reiterated in both terms of blessing and command to Noah as He begins to rebuild in this new world. There is a deliberate echo of that earlier passage here in Genesis, chapter 9.

Now verse 3 seems to offer to us a change from that original creation order. If you’ll again look back in Genesis, chapter 1 and especially verse 29, we see this. Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of the earth and every tree which has fruit yielding seed. It shall be food to you. And at that point, it is in verse 30 also reiterated that to the beasts of the ground, also the vegetation of the earth has been given. But here in Genesis chapter 9, verse 3, we read: "Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you. I give all to you, as I gave the green plant." Now some commentators argue that this is simply the first time that this is noted, that in fact there have been animal deaths previous to Genesis, chapter 9, and therefore we ought to assume from that that man had already been eating of the animals. I simply mention that in Genesis 3:21 animals are used for clothing and in Genesis, chapter 4, verse 4 animals are used for sacrifice, but there is no example of animals being eaten prior to Genesis, chapter 9, verse 3. So now man is specifically authorized to kill animals for food. And this seems to be a new aspect of man's supremacy in the order of creation as it exists in a fallen world.

Now in verse 4, that provision that man can now eat of the animals is immediately restricted. Notice God's words there. "Only you shall not eat flesh with it's life, that is, it's blood. Because the blood is symbolic of life and because life belongs to God, we are not to eat of animals still with their blood in it.

Now pagans often drank blood in connection with both magical rights and with fertility rights. It was part of the ceremony. Often the pagan world also recognized the power of blood in connection with the power of life, and they often sought to gain the power of that life force by the drinking of the blood. But here that kind of action is specifically forbidden to Noah under the creation ordinances. God here is preparing man for understanding the connection between blood sacrifice and atonement in the mosaic ritual. And you will remember that that connection is made many times. Turn with me to Leviticus, if you would. Turn forward to the book of Leviticus in chapter 17. There is discussion in that chapter about the meaning of blood in the ritual sacrifice and it is directly connected to the things that are said here in Genesis 9, verse 4. In Leviticus 17, verse 11 for instance, we read, "For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls. For it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement." And again you see in verse 14, "For as for the life of all flesh, it's blood is identified with its life. Therefore, I said to the sons of Israel, you are not to eat the blood of any flesh for the life of all flesh is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off." And the same thing is reiterated in the book of Deuteronomy. Turn with me there to Deuteronomy, chapter 12. In Deuteronomy 12:16, for instance, in the context of the slaughter of meat for the sacrifice, we read in verse 16: "Only you shall not eat the blood. You are to pour it out on the ground like water." And then again if you’ll look at verse 23: "Only be sure not to eat the blood, for the blood is the life, and you shall not eat the life with the flesh." In each of these passages, the connection of blood and life and atonement are made. And, therefore, we see the ground of that connection here in Genesis 9, verse 4. Now having said that about Genesis 9, verse 4. The argument continues in verse 5.

Verse 5 emphasizes the accountability of all creatures to God for the taking of human life. Human life is immediately zeroed in on in Genesis 9, verse 5. Your life blood. Human life blood, He's talking about. And He says that both animals and men will be held accountable for the taking of human life.

Indeed, the principle of capital punishment is instituted in verse 6 in direct connection with this idea of the life blood. And, of course this idea of capital punishment is grounded in the doctrine of man made in the image of God. Look again at the first phrases of Genesis 9:6. "Whoever sheds man's blood by man his blood shall be shed." In this passage that shedding of blood is stated, not simply as a fact. It's not that well, if you kill you may be killed. The statement is a statement of directive. If man takes man's life, the one who is the taker of life, must forfeit his own. This is a directive to establish order in the creation after the flood.

By the way, this verse, verse 6, also indicates that even post-fall, man is still in the image of God. What is the rationale given? Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed or in the image of God he made man. What things do we learn from this brief passage here in Genesis chapter 9, verses 1 through 7. Well, there are several that I’ll share with you as we look at it tonight.

First of all, do you notice how God graciously reorders the creation ordinances given in the pre-fall world here in this post-flood world. And He provides for the protection of man by stating what He does in Genesis, chapter 9, verse 6 in order to establish the sanctity of life in the post-flood world. We know that the world prior to Noah and the flood had been a violent world. It is a violent world that is described in Genesis 4 and 5, and God is already making provisions in Genesis 8 after the flood for the protection of human life in a violent world by establishing definite penal sanctions against those who would take human life lightly.

We also see here that God, because He takes human life seriously, institutes capital punishment. So often we hear this argument. If you really were consistently pro-life, you would be against war and you would be against the death penalty. If you have been in college perhaps you have had Christian friends who wanted to argue that particular point with you. That is not the logic of Genesis 9:6. The logic of Genesis 9:6 is the one who has the high view of human life, is the one ready to bring the sanctions of death against the one who unlawfully takes human life precisely because of a high view of life. Life must be given for life when life is unlawfully taken.

I might also mention in passing that the stipulations of Genesis 9 and especially these first few verses are appealed to again in the New Testament. Do you remember where? In Acts, chapter 15, when the question is before the council in Jerusalem, do the Gentile converts to Christianity have to follow the ceremonial law of Moses, and in particular circumcision in order to be incorporated in the new covenant community? The answer as you remember was emphatically no. We will put no obligation on Gentile converts to Christianity to follow the old Jewish ceremonial law, but in Acts, chapter 15, verse 20 and in verse 29, the council asks for Paul and for his affiliates as they go back into the churches to say there's only one burden we’d like to put on you. Turn with me there, and you’ll see the language. Acts, chapter 15, and you can direct your attention especially to verse 29. Verse 28 says, "For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials. That you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication. If you keep yourselves free from such things, you do well. Farewell." Isn't it interesting that the Apostolic church takes these Gentile converts back to the provision of the covenant of Noah which was part of the covenant of grace which occurred prior to the institution of the people of Israel. Prior to the covenant with Abraham there was no such thing as Israel when the covenant of Noah was made. So the Apostolic church says you follow the ordinances that God established for the whole world, including not eating meat with the life blood still in it. And so these stipulations are appealed to in the New Testament.

And these verses, I might add, especially verse 7, also remind us again as Christians of the importance of family. In Genesis 9, verse 7, it's reiterated. As for you be fruitful and multiply. Populate the earth abundantly and multiply it. Being fruitful and multiplying. Having a family, having children for the next generation is something which is a pleasing thing in the Lord's eyes. And we live in a day and age where children are often looked upon as an inconvenience and actually is something that are undesirable. It's something that's blocked you from being able to have true self-fulfillment and self-satisfaction. It's a radically different view than the scriptures of the Old and the New Testaments. And here again it's reiterated that as God gives you the capacity, it is a good thing to have children. Children are a heritage from the Lord and Genesis 9:1 and 9:7 reiterate that particular truth. I might also add in passing that the Rabbi's looked at this passage and found seven commandments. They believe that Genesis 9, verses 1 through 7, contains the basic laws of nature that were established for everyone, even apart from the laws of Moses given in Exodus, chapter 20 and in Deuteronomy, chapter 5. Rabbinic teaching found seven Gentile commandments, or laws of nature here in Genesis 9, especially 4 through 6. And these are the commands that they found there. First of all they said, out of this passage we see the requirement to recognize the government and the system of justice. Because God had established standards of punishment and standards of penalty in this passage, they imply a government in a system of justice. Secondly, they say that in this passage we see a forbidding against blasphemy of God's name. Thirdly, the Rabbi said that this passage clearly forbids idolatry. Fourthly, it forbids consanguinity, or marriage within bloodline. Fifthly, they said it forbids murder. Sixthly, it forbids stealing and robbery and seventh, it forbids the eating of flesh taken from a living animal. Now I won't go through how the Rabbis came up with that particular listing of commands from this particular passage. But it is interesting in light of what the apostles do in Acts, chapter 15, that they go back to these particular stipulations as they order the Gentiles with regard to the type of living that they are to follow in the context of the Christian church.

II. The gracious promise of the covenant.

In Genesis, chapter 9, verses 8 through 11, the second section of the chapter, we see the confirmation of the original covenant of grace with Noah and his sons. And here we see the gracious promise of the covenant. If we see the provisions of the covenant and the requirements of the covenant in Genesis 9, verses 1 through 7, we see the promise of the covenant here in Genesis 9, verses 8 through 11. Look again at these words. "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."

Now here in verse 8 the covenant is confirmed with Noah and his sons. Here the phrase to establish doesn't mean to start something that has never existed before, but it means to make firm or to confirm what God has already promised. In this case what He has already promised in Genesis, chapter 6, verse 18.

But this covenant confirmation is broader than Noah, and it's broader than his sons, and it's broader than their descendants. This covenant confirmation is made not only to all men, but it is made to every animal and even to the earth itself. Look at the language. "This is my covenant. With every living creature, with every beast of the earth that comes out of the ark, even every beast of the earth." And you’ll see this language again if you look down to verse 13. "I set my bow in the cloud, and it will be a sign of a covenant between me and the earth." This covenant which is confirmed here, is exceedingly broad.

And in verse 11 God pledges Himself not to destroy the world again by water. You remember if you look back at Genesis 8, verses 20 through 22, that in the context of Noah offering his sacrifice, God had said to Himself that He would never again destroy the earth by water on account of man's sin. Now, God tells Noah that. In this covenant, in verse 11, He says, "This is my covenant. All flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there be a flood to destroy the earth." And here we see the universal design and range of this covenant provision. Every one in the world benefits from this covenant. God's gracious provision touches the life of everybody in the world because of His covenant with Noah. God's goodness extends to all creation. That does not contradict God's particularity in this covenant. This doesn't mean that everyone in the world is saved, but it does mean that there is no one who has ever walked the face of this planet who has not received of the goodness of God. And that simply makes our condemnation greater if we have not embraced Him by faith. And so we see both the universal aspect of God's covenant here as well as the particular aspect of it with Noah and his sons. This covenant is universal. Every living creature is the language. It's permanent. Over and over it said it's perpetual. It's everlasting and it's generous. It's undeserved. No one did anything to deserve this particular judgment which the Lord has rendered. It's a gracious judgment. It's a gracious promise, and it confirms the original promises that the Lord had made with Noah. That's the second thing we see in this passage. First, the gracious provisions of this covenant; secondly, the gracious promise.

III. The gracious sign of the covenant.

And then in verses 12 through 17 we see the gracious sign of the covenant that God gives to Noah. This sign is a sign of reassurance given to bolster Noah and our assurance of God's mercy. In the context of confirming this covenant, God gives Noah a sign. The Lord gives a sign between Him and the earth and it's inhabitants. And God says that the sign will be a bow in the cloud. He refers here to the rainbow. But God uses very interesting language throughout this passage.

Notice verse 13. " I will set my bow in the cloud, it's His bow, and it will be a sign for a covenant between Me and the earth, and it will come about that when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow will be seen in the cloud, and I will remember My covenant." It's very interesting. The language is not Noah when you see the cloud, you will remember My covenant. That when I see the cloud, I will remember my covenant. Now that language itself is designed to reassure Noah just like the bow is designed to reassure Noah. God knows that Noah is going to look at that bow in the cloud and say, that's the sign of God's promise, but in addition to that, Noah is going to remember that God has said when My bow appears in the cloud, Noah, I want you to remember that I remember My covenant.

So every time you see the bow, it's not just that Noah sees the bow and remembers the covenant. He says, "Noah, I want you to look at that bow in the cloud, and I want you to remember that I remember my covenant."

And so the whole language, the whole tone of this passage is designed to reassure Noah of God's mercy. Now that's very important because this is the first explicit extended passage in which covenant signs are discussed in the Bible. Covenant signs occur frequently in the scriptures. We’re going to see one in the covenant of God with Abraham. We’re going to see one in the covenant of God with Moses. We’re going to see covenant signs in the new covenant. Covenant signs often are given by God, but this passage reminds us why they are given. They are given to reassure us of the promises that God makes in the covenant itself. The prime function of a covenant sign, and we call them sacraments sometimes. The prime function of a covenant sign is to reassure us. Notice that the bow in the cloud does not bring about the blessing, it confirms the reality of the blessing. The bow in the cloud didn't spare Noah, the bow in the cloud reminds Noah that God spared Noah by his faithfulness to his covenant promises.

So the covenant sign doesn't bring about the reality to which it points. It confirms the reality of the covenant. And that's why when you hear Presbyterian preachers talking about sacraments as signs and seals, they mean it is a sign, that is, is it an outward sign of an inward reality. It's something external and tangible, something that you can see and touch and it points to an internal, spiritual reality, so it's a sign, it's a seal, that is, its a mark, it's a confirmation of the reality that is set forth. So it's both a sign and a seal. The sign is its symbolic part. The seal is it's confirming part and is connected to assurance.

The whole purpose of covenant signs is that we would be assured of God's mercy towards us in the covenant. The rainbow is later in scripture as a symbol of God's glory. Let me turn you to a few passages. If you turn to Ezekiel chapter 1. The rainbow appears in Ezekiel's great vision. Ezekial 1, verse 28: "As the appearance of the rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the surrounding radiance. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face and heard a voice speaking. This is Ezekial's vision of the divine glory, and he's grasping for words to describe it. But one of words that comes to mind when he describes the glory of the radiance which surrounded the Lord, was what? A rainbow. It won't be the last time that that occurs in the scripture. If you turn forward to Revelation to chapter 10, the same thing happens to John. John is looking at a strong angel, a strong angel coming down from heaven. Revelation, chapter 10, verse 1. "And I saw another strong angel coming down out of the heaven, closed with a cloud and the rainbow was upon his head and his face was like the sun, and his feet like pillars of fire." And again, the symbol of the rainbow as part of the reflective glory of God is seen. But even more specifically than this, if you’ll turn with me back to Revelation, chapter 4, beginning in verse 1, we read this: "After these things I look and behold, a door standing open in heaven and the first voice which I had heard like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me said come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things. Immediately, I was in the spirit, and behold a throne was standing in heaven and one sitting on the throne, and He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne like an emerald in appearance." And so the rainbow again appears in the throne of glory in the vision of Revelation as a sign, as an element of God's glory.

In this passage tonight, we have seen the gracious provision of the second Adam, as he goes into this new world, post-flood. And we've seen the sanctity of life which God surrounded His very image with. We've seen the promises of the covenant as God confirms what He had promised Noah in Genesis, chapter 6:18. And here, we've seen the reason for His giving of the sign of the covenant in order to reassure Noah of His purposes. That's important for us as we partake of the sacraments as we see baptism administered. As we partake ourselves of the Lord's Supper, those covenant signs are there to reassure us of the certainty of God's mercy promised us in the gospel covenant. Let's look to the Lord in prayer.

Our Heavenly Father, we thank You for this great passage. We thank You for Your promises to Noah. We know that they were undeserved, and we all taste of the benefits of these promises. More than that we thank You for the signs of the covenant to reassure our weak faith. Help us, O Lord, to appropriate those promises by faith, to trust in Your word, to be confirmed by the sealing power of the Holy Spirit in them. We ask these things in Jesus' name, Amen.

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