“God’s Covenant With Creation
In Genesis 8:21-22 we get to listen in on God’s response to Noah’s sacrifice. After blessing Noah and his family, God repeats in 9:11 his pledge from 8:21. He follows up by establishing a physical sign to remind people forever of his everlasting promise.
“God responded to Noah’s burn offerings by covenanting with Noah, his descendants, and every living creature in a divine oath to sustain and preserve creation,” comments stewardship theologian Ronald E. Vallet. “God’s covenant with Noah had a universal dimension; it was unconditional, unilateral, and everlastingÉand it included all people. Because it was made apart from or before Israel, it is upheld independent of the community of faith, Israel. God’s covenant with Noah made other covenants possible.”
Veteran Bible expositor J. Alec Motyer reflects on the covenant and its sign:
If in the world as constituted before the Flood, there had been such a thing as a rainbow, the Lord here took the familiar and filled it with new meaning–just as later, he would do, with bread and wine. But the word translated “rainbow” is actually “bow”–the weapon. It is as if the Lord were saying, “See, the war is over; I have hung up my bow.” And ever after, as soon as a threat loomed, Noah saw too the “sign” that no ultimate threat could again touch him: the Lord had promised.
Only twice in my life have I seen a complete double rainbow, unbroken from horizon to horizonÉThe two rainbows have taken on a new meaning for me. The primary rainbow is to remind God of the promise of care and concern. The secondary rainbow, subdued and inevitably related to the primary rainbow, speaks to me of our human responsibility as God’s stewards. TheÉearth needs human care, and humans have a responsibility toward nonhuman recipients of God’s promise of care for the earth and all its inhabitants (see Ge1; 2 and Hos 2:18).
As an addendum to this Genesis account, Motyer notes that in Noah humanity had a new start, a second chance. This is why Genesis 9:1,7 echoes the account of Eden (cf. Ge 1:28). But sadly, Noah, notwithstanding grace, was still a sinner, the founder of a new humanity; and like his father Adam, he was only able to have sons in his own likeness (cf. Ge 5:3). And as Milton writes in Paradise Lost, so it would remain “till one Greater Man Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat” (see Isa 11:1-9; Rev 22:1-5).”
GEN 8:21-22 NKJV
And the Lord smelled a soothing aroma. Then the Lord said in His heart, “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done. “While the earth remains, Seedtime and harvest, Cold and heat, Winter and summer, And day and night Shall not cease.”
GEN 9:1-17 NKJV
So 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 dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth, on every bird of the air, on all that move on the earth, and on all the fish of the sea. They are given into your hand. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man. “Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man. And as for you, be fruitful and multiply; Bring forth abundantly in the earth And multiply in it.” Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying: “And as for Me, behold, I 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 go out of the ark, every beast of the earth. Thus I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God said: “This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. It shall be, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow shall be seen in the cloud; and I will remember My covenant which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. The rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on 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.”
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