Many, even with little Bible knowledge, have heard of Noah and the ark, but they probably relegate it to the realms of myth, a story fit only for children. This record, however, is presented in the Bible as historical fact (see Hebrews 11:7). How does this episode fit into the unfolding of God’s saving purpose? It seems to relate more to the material creation. In The Bible’s Covenant Story, we consider 4. Genesis 9:1-17 The Covenant with Noah.
1. The Lord shows grace
The context of the flood is clear – the pervasive sinfulness of the human race (6:5). In response the Lord wipes out most of the human race in cataclysmic judgment. The crucial verse is 6:8 ‘But Noah found favour (or ‘grace’) in the eyes of the Lord’. It is not suggesting that Noah earned God’s favour. In 6:9 we have the description of a godly life that is the result of grace. Noah was the recipient of the undeserved favour/grace of the Lord. It is the fruit of God’s gracious election and as a consequence, ‘By faith Noah…in holy fear built an ark’ (Hebrews 11:7). Noah stood in the line of believers in the covenant promise (Genesis 3:15).
2. The Lord preserves life
By means of the ark the Lord preserves the covenant line that will lead ultimately to the Messiah. Sin and judgment do not frustrate God’s plan to save a covenant people for himself. The Lord preserves the covenant seed through the flood, indeed by means of the flood that bears the ark aloft. Peter speaks of this in 1 Peter 3:20-21 – it is God’s grace, not the water, that saves. The Lord also preserves creation through the catastrophe to provide a suitable dwelling for Noah and his descendants. The Lord is faithful, as 8:22 shows us.
3. The Lord confers dominion
In 9:1 the Lord repeats the mandate given to Adam and Eve (1:28). The call to exercise dominion to God’s glory has not been silenced. In the Covenant of Works Adam was to demonstrate covenant love for the Lord by obediently carrying out that mandate. Now in the Covenant of Grace Noah and his descendants are again called to such obedience. Sin and judgment have not destroyed the covenant and the dominion. This is post-fall, however, and so there is ‘fear and dread’ on the part of the animals, and they are given now as food (v9). The penalty for murder is also spelled out (v6). The Lord continues to work out his covenant purpose through imperfect people like Noah, and all the glory is his.
4. The Lord makes covenant
Note v9 ‘I now establish my covenant…’. The Lord is repeating his covenant in the particular circumstances of Noah’s day. That is the pattern in the biblical covenants – the details may differ, but the fundamental provisions are the same. In the covenant with Noah, all of life is mentioned (v10). Provision is made for the preservation of creation, an aspect of God’s common grace. The focus, however, is the covenant line through Noah, with the rainbow now designated as ‘the sign of the covenant’ (v12), indicating his gracious work.