Adam Clarke Commentary
God blesses Noah and his sons, Genesis 9:1. The brute creation to be subject to them through fear, Genesis 9:2. The first grant of animal food, Genesis 9:3. Eating of blood forbidden, Genesis 9:4. Cruelty to animals forbidden, Genesis 9:5. A man-slayer to forfeit his life, Genesis 9:6. The covenant of God established between him and Noah and the whole brute creation, Genesis 9:8-11. The rainbow given as the sign and pledge of this covenant, Genesis 9:12-17. The three sons of Noah people the whole earth, Genesis 9:18, Genesis 9:19. Noah plants a vineyard, drinks of the wine, is intoxicated, and lies exposed in his tent, Genesis 9:20, Genesis 9:21. The reprehensible conduct of Ham, Genesis 9:22. The laudable carriage of Shem and Japheth, Genesis 9:23. Noah prophetically declares the servitude of the posterity of Ham, Genesis 9:24, Genesis 9:25; and the dignity and increase of Shem and Japheth, Genesis 9:26, Genesis 9:27. The age and death of Noah, Genesis 9:28, Genesis 9:29.
God blessed Noah - Even the increase of families, which appears to depend on merely natural means, and sometimes fortuitous circumstances, is all of God. It is by his power and wisdom that the human being is formed, and it is by his providence alone that man is supported and preserved.
The fear of you and the dread, etc. - Prior to the fall, man ruled the inferior animals by love and kindness, for then gentleness and docility were their principal characteristics. After the fall, untractableness, with savage ferocity, prevailed among almost all orders of the brute creation; enmity to man seems particularly to prevail; and had not God in his mercy impressed their minds with the fear and terror of man, so that some submit to his will while others flee from his residence, the human race would long ere this have been totally destroyed by the beasts of the field. Did the horse know his own strength, and the weakness of the miserable wretch who unmercifully rides, drives, whips, goads, and oppresses him, would he not with one stroke of his hoof destroy his tyrant possessor? But while God hides these things from him he impresses his mind with the fear of his owner, so that either by cheerful or sullen submission he is trained up for, and employed in, the most useful and important purposes; and even willingly submits, when tortured for the sport and amusement of his more brutish oppressor. Tigers, wolves, lions, and hyenas, the determinate foes of man, incapable of being tamed or domesticated, flee, through the principle of terror, from the dwelling of man, and thus he is providentially safe. Hence, by fear and by dread man rules every beast of the earth, every fowl of the air, and every fish of the sea. How wise and gracious is this order of the Divine providence! and with what thankfulness should it be considered by every human being!
Every moving thing - shall be meat - There is no positive evidence that animal food was ever used before the flood. Noah had the first grant of this kind, and it has been continued to all his posterity ever since. It is not likely that this grant would have been now made if some extraordinary alteration had not taken place in the vegetable world, so as to render its productions less nutritive than they were before; and probably such a change in the constitution of man as to render a grosser and higher diet necessary. We may therefore safely infer that the earth was less productive after the flood than it was before, and that the human constitution was greatly impaired by the alterations which had taken place through the whole economy of nature. Morbid debility, induced by an often unfriendly state of the atmosphere, with sore and long-continued labor, would necessarily require a higher nutriment than vegetables could supply. That this was the case appears sufficiently clear from the grant of animal food, which, had it not been indispensably necessary, had not been made. That the constitution of man was then much altered appears in the greatly contracted lives of the postdiluvians; yet from the deluge to the day of Abraham the lives of several of the patriarchs amounted to some hundreds of years; but this was the effect of a peculiar providence, that the new world might be the more speedily repeopled.
But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood - Though animal food was granted, yet the blood was most solemnly forbidden, because it was the life of the beast, and this life was to be offered to God as an atonement for sin. Hence the blood was ever held sacred, because it was the grand instrument of expiation, and because it was typical of that blood by which we enter into the holiest. 1. Before the deluge it was not eaten, because animal food was not in use. 2. After the deluge it was prohibited, as we find above; and, being one of the seven Noahic precepts, it was not eaten previously to the publication of the Mosaic law. 3. At the giving of the law, and at several times during the ministry of Moses, the prohibition was most solemnly, and with awful penalties renewed. Hence we may rest assured that no blood was eaten previously to the Christian era, nor indeed ever since by the Jewish people. 4. That the prohibition has been renewed under the Christian dispensation, can admit of little doubt by any man who dispassionately reads Acts 15:20, Acts 15:29; Acts 21:25, where even the Gentile converts are charged to abstain from it on the authority, not only of the apostles, but of the Holy Ghost, who gave them there and then especial direction concerning this point; see Acts 15:28; not for fear of stumbling the converted Jews, the gloss of theologians, but because it was one των επαναγκες τουτων , of those necessary points, from the burden ( βαρος ) of obedience to which they could not be excused. 5. This command is still scrupulously obeyed by the oriental Christians, and by the whole Greek Church; and why? because the reasons still subsist. No blood was eaten under the law, because it pointed out the blood that was to be shed for the sin of the world; and under the Gospel it should not be eaten, because it should ever be considered as representing the blood which has been shed for the remission of sins. If the eaters of blood in general knew that it affords a very crude, almost indigestible, and unwholesome ailment, they certainly would not on these physical reasons, leaving moral considerations out of the question, be so much attached to the consumption of that from which they could expect no wholesome nutriment, and which, to render it even pleasing to the palate, requires all the skill of the cook. See Leviticus 17:10.
Surely your blood - will I require; at the hand of every beast - This is very obscure, but if taken literally it seems to be an awful warning against cruelty to the brute creation; and from it we may conclude that horse-racers, hare-hunters, bull-baiters, and cock-fighters shall be obliged to give an account to God for every creature they have wantonly destroyed. Instead of חיה (chaiyah), “beast,” the Samaritan reads (Yod Kaph) (chai), “living,” any “living creature or person;” this makes a very good sense, and equally forbids cruelty either to men or brutes.
Whoso sheddeth man‘s blood, by man shall his blood - Hence it appears that whoever kills a man, unless unwittingly, as the Scripture expresses it, shall forfeit his own life.
I do set my bow in the cloud - On the origin and nature of the rainbow there had been a great variety of conjectures, till Anthony de Dominis, bishop of Spalatro, in a treatise of his published by Bartholus in 1611, partly suggested the true cause of this phenomenon, which was afterwards fully explained and demonstrated by Sir Isaac Newton. To enter into this subject here in detail would be improper; and therefore the less informed reader must have recourse to treatises on Optics for its full explanation. To readers in general it may be sufficient to say that the rainbow is a mere natural effect of a natural cause:
1.It is never seen but in showery weather.
2.Nor then unless the sun shines.
The formation of the primary and secondary rainbow depends on the two following propositions;
1.When the sun shines on the drops of rain as they are falling, the rays that come from those drops to the eye of the spectator, after One reflection and Two refractions, produce the primary rainbow.
The illustration of these propositions must be sought in treatises on Optics, assisted by plates. From the well-known cause of this phenomenon It cannot be rationally supposed that there was no rainbow in the heavens before the time mentioned in the text, for as the rainbow is the natural effect of the sun‘s rays falling on drops of water, and of their being refracted and reflected by them, it must have appeared at different times from the creation of the sun and the atmosphere. Nor does the text intimate that the bow was now created for a sign to Noah and his posterity; but that what was formerly created, or rather that which was the necessary effect, in certain cases, of the creation of the sun and atmosphere, should now be considered by them as an unfailing token of their continual preservation from the waters of a deluge; therefore the text speaks of what had already been done, and not of what was now done, קשתי נתתי (kashti nathatti), “My bow I have given, or put in the cloud;” as if he said: As surely as the rainbow is a necessary effect of sunshine in rain, and must continue such as long as the sun and atmosphere endure, so surely shall this earth be preserved from destruction by water; and its preservation shall be as necessary an effect of my promise as the rainbow is of the shining of the sun during a shower of rain.
This is the token - אות (oth), The Divine sign or portent: The bow shall be in the cloud. For the reasons above specified it must be there, when the circumstances already mentioned occur; if therefore it cannot fail because of the reasons before assigned, no more shall my promise; and the bow shall be the proof of its perpetuity.
- - ιρισσιν εοικοτες, ἁς τε Κρονων .
“like to the rainbow which the son of Saturn has placed in the cloud as a Sign to mankind,” or to men of various languages, for so the μεροπων ανθρωπων of the poet has been understood. Some have thought that the ancient Greek writers give this epithet to man from some tradition of the confusion and multiplication of tongues at Babel; hence in this place the words may be understood as implying mankind at large, the whole human race; God having given the rainbow for a sign to all the descendants of Noah, by whom the whole earth was peopled after the flood. Thus the celestial bow speaks a universal language, understood by all the sons and daughters of Adam. Virgil, from some disguised traditionary figure of the truth, considers the rainbow as a messenger of the gods. Aen. v., ver. 606:
It is worthy of remark that both these poets understood the rainbow to be a sign, warning, or portent from heaven.”
Noah began to be a husbandman - איש האדמה (ish haadamah), A man of the ground, a farmer; by his beginning to be a husbandman we are to understand his recommencing his agricultural operations, which undoubtedly he had carried on for six hundred years before, but this had been interrupted by the flood. And the transaction here mentioned might have occurred many years posterior to the deluge, even after Canaan was born and grown up, for the date of it is not fixed in the text.
He drank of the wine, etc. - It is very probable that this was the first time the wine was cultivated; and it is as probable that the strength or intoxicating power of the expressed juice was never before known. Noah, therefore, might have drunk it at this time without the least blame, as he knew not till this trial the effects it would produce. I once knew a case which I believe to be perfectly parallel. A person who had scarcely ever heard of cider, and whose beverage through his whole life had been only milk or water, coming wet and very much fatigued to a farmer‘s house in Somersetshire, begged for a little water or milk. The good woman of the house, seeing him very much exhausted, kindly said, “I will give you a little cider, which will do you more good.” The honest man, understanding no more of cider than merely that it was the simple juice of apples, after some hesitation drank about a half pint of it; the consequence was, that in less than half an hour he was perfectly intoxicated, and could neither speak plain nor walk! This case I myself witnessed. A stranger to the circumstances, seeing this person, would pronounce him drunk; and perhaps at a third hand he might be represented as a drunkard, and thus his character be blasted; while of the crime of drunkenness he was as innocent as an infant.
And Ham, the father of Canaan, etc. - There is no occasion to enter into any detail here; the sacred text is circumstantial enough. Ham, and very probably his son Canaan, had treated their father on this occasion with contempt or reprehensible levity. Had Noah not been innocent, as my exposition supposes him, God would not have endued him with the spirit of prophecy on this occasion, and testified such marked disapprobation of their conduct. The conduct of Shem and Japheth was such as became pious and affectionate children, who appear to have been in the habit of treating their father with decency, reverence, and obedient respect. On the one the spirit of prophecy (not the incensed father) pronounces a curse: on the others the same spirit (not parental tenderness) pronounces a blessing. These things had been just as they afterwards occurred had Noah never spoken. God had wise and powerful reasons to induce him to sentence the one to perpetual servitude, and to allot to the others prosperity and dominion. Besides, the curse pronounced on Canaan neither fell immediately upon himself nor on his worthless father, but upon the Canaanites; and from the history we have of this people, in Leviticus 18:6, Leviticus 18:7, Leviticus 18:24, Leviticus 18:29, Leviticus 18:30, Leviticus 20:9, Leviticus 20:22-24, Leviticus 20:26; and Deuteronomy 9:4; Deuteronomy 12:31, we may ask, Could the curse of God fall more deservedly on any people than on these? Their profligacy was great, but it was not the effect of the curse; but, being foreseen by the Lord, the curse was the effect of their conduct. But even this curse does not exclude them from the possibility of obtaining salvation; it extends not to the soul and to eternity, but merely to their bodies and to time; though, if they continued to abuse their liberty, resist the Holy Ghost, and refuse to be saved on God‘s terms, then the wrath of Divine justice must come upon them to the uttermost. How many, even of these, repented, we cannot tell.
Cursed be Canaan - See on the preceding verses. In the 25th, 26th, and 27th verses, instead of Canaan simply, the Arabic version has Ham the father of Canaan; but this is acknowledged by none of the other versions, and seems to be merely a gloss.
The days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years - The oldest patriarch on record, except Methuselah and Jared. This, according to the common reckoning, was A. M. 2006, but according to Dr. Hales, 3505.
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