Genesis 6-9: The Other Covenant
Five covenants God made with man: The first, with Adam. The last, with Jesus Christ. The most reiterated, with Abraham. The most famous (but now defunct), with Moses. The most overlooked, with Noah.
Now, chances are you’ve heard of Noah. Young, old, church-going or homebody, Bible-believing, agnostic or atheist, most everyone knows the story of Noah. The boat, the flood, the family, the animals two-by-two, and, of course, the rainbow.
But not so many are well-versed in its covenant:
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” (Genesis 9:8-16, NIV)
Thanks to a little boldface type, you most likely see what I’m getting at. God’s covenant was not just with Noah, or his family, or the generations after him, but with the earth and all living creatures on it.
Five times He says it; seven if you count its paraphrase. Grace, perfect grace. God has a habit of repeating Himself when what He’s saying has special importance.
When God put Adam in charge of the garden, he gave him a great gift and a great responsibility. Tend it; keep it, He said. But man’s sin unleashed the undoing of it all.
The land was cursed along with the serpent, and now it was filled with man’s violence. The Lord was grieved that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.
So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:7, NIV)
But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.
Just as a man was the trigger for earth’s destruction, Noah became the agent of its rescue, and when he and his family and all the inhabitants of the floating zoo exited the ark, the Lord made them a promise: never again would the earth be destroyed by flood.
God’s blessing on the land called for its restoration; He remade it as He had made it at the first. No plan B. Just a reset.
He still considered it “good.”
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made. (Romans 1:20, NIV)
Most often, I think of God’s instructions to Adam for the good of mankind: tend it, eat it; less often, for the good of the land: tend it, keep it. I’ve often taught that God made the earth for man; less often have I taught that God made man for the land. I’ve chiefly considered the record of Scripture as the history of man yet overlooked God’s commitment to all He has made, and I’ve celebrated Jesus’ claim on the Kingdom for the sake of us all, but forgotten that it’s all of creation He holds together. (See Colossians 1:15-20)
I may have forgotten, but creation has not:
For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:19-20, NIV)
And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. (Genesis 9:12-13, NIV)
As long as rainbows appear in the sky, God’s covenant with the land and its creatures continues. And just as He made man its steward in the beginning, He tasks mankind to steward it still.
The rainbow is more than a thing of beauty; it’s a reminder that the land and all that is in it has its place in the Kingdom of God, revealing the beauty of all He’s called good.
Tend it; keep it.
And now a treat for you who have read to the end: