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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
Genesis 9

 

 

Verses 1-7

At this new beginning of the human family, God again commanded Noah and his sons to fill the earth with their descendants ( Genesis 9:1; cf. Genesis 1:28; Genesis 9:7). [Note: See Bernhard W. Anderson, "Creation and Ecology," American Journal of Theology and Philosophy4:1 (January1983):14-30; and Waltke, Genesis , pp155-56.] As with Adam, He also gave them dominion over the animals and permission to eat food with only one prohibition (cf. Genesis 1:26; Genesis 1:28-29; Genesis 2:16-17).

God gave Noah permission to eat animals ( Genesis 9:3). Until now, evidently people had eaten only plants (cf. Genesis 1:29). Now humanity received the power of life and death over the animal kingdom.

"God did not expressly prohibit the eating of meat in the initial stipulation at creation, but by inference Genesis 9:3"s provision for flesh is used as a dividing mark between the antediluvian and postdiluvian periods. Whether or not early man could eat meat by permission from the beginning, now it is stated formally in the Noahic covenant." [Note: Mathews, p401.]

God did, however, prohibit the eating of animal blood to instill respect for the sacredness of life, since blood is a symbol of life (cf. Leviticus 3:17; Leviticus 7:2-27; Leviticus 19:26; Deuteronomy 12:1-24; 1 Samuel 14:32-34).

Until the Mosaic Law, God made no distinction between clean and unclean animals with regard to human consumption. Under the Mosaic Law, the Israelites could not eat certain foods. Under the law of Christ ( Galatians 6:2), we may again eat any foods ( Romans 14:14; 1 Timothy 4:3). These changes illustrate the fact that God has changed some of the rules for human conduct at various strategic times in history. These changes are significant features that help us identify the various dispensations (economies) by which God has ruled historically. [Note: See Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, pp22-64; or idem, Dispensationalism, pp23-59.]

God not only reasserted the cultural mandate to reproduce and modified the food law, but He also reasserted the sanctity of human life (cf. ch4). The reason for capital punishment ( Genesis 9:6) is that God made man in His own image. This is one reason, therefore, that murder is so serious. A person extinguishes a revelation of God when he or she murders someone. [Note: See Elmer L. Gray, "Capital Punishment in the Ancient Near East," Biblical Illustrator13:1 (Fall1986):65-67; Charles C. Ryrie, "The Doctrine of Capital Punishment," Bibliotheca Sacra129:515 (July-September1972):211-17; Marshall Shelley, "The Death Penalty: Two Sides of a Growing Issue," Christianity Today (March2 , 1984), pp14-17; James A. Stahr, "The Death Penalty," Interest (March1984), pp2-3; Duane C. Caylor, "Capital Punishment, a different Christian perspective," Reformed Journal36:7 (July1986):10-12; Bruce W. Ballard, "The Death Penalty: God"s Timeless Standard for the Nations?" Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society43:3 (September2000):471-87; Hamilton, p315; and Mathews, pp403-6.] Later the writing prophets announced that God would judge certain foreign nations because they shed human blood without divine authorization (e.g, Amos 1:3; Amos 1:11; Amos 1:13; Amos 2:1). God has never countermanded this command, so it is still in force. Before the Flood the lack of capital punishment led to bloody vendettas (cf. ch4).

"This command laid the foundation for all civil government." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 1:153. See Waltke, Genesis , pp157-58.]

"The human government and the governors that existed previously-as in the city which Cain established ( Genesis 4:17), or in the case of the mighty men ( Genesis 6:4)-existed solely on human authority. Now, however, divine authority was conferred on human government to exercise oversight over those who lived under its jurisdiction." [Note: Pentecost, p46.]

"I sometimes feel that often the hue and cry against capital punishment today does not so much rest upon humanitarian interest or even an interest in justice, but rather in a failure to understand that man is unique. The simple fact is that Genesis 9:6 is a sociological statement: The reason that the punishment for murder can be so severe is that man, being created in the image of God, has a particular value-not just a theoretical value at some time before the Fall, but such a value yet today." [Note: Schaeffer, pp50-51.]


Verses 1-17

2. The Noahic Covenant9:1-17

Following the Flood, God established human life anew on the earth showing His high regard for it. He promised to bless humanity with faithfulness, and He prohibited murder. He also promised with a sign that He would not destroy His creation again with a flood.

"The Noahic covenant"s common allusions to Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 2:3 show that Noah is the second Adam who heads the new family of humanity, indicating that the blessing continues through the progeny of the Sethite line. Also Genesis 8:20 to Genesis 9:17 possesses lexical and thematic connections with the ratification of the Sinai covenant by Moses and the elders ( Exodus 24:4-18)." [Note: Ibid, p398. See also Kenneth Mulzac, " Genesis 9:1-7: Its Theological Connections with the Creation Motif," Journal of the Adventist Theological Society12:1 (Spring2001):65-77.]


Verses 8-17

The Noahic Covenant was a suzerainty treaty that God made with humankind through Noah. [Note: See note on6:18.] In it He promised never to destroy all flesh with a flood of water again ( Genesis 9:11). The sign God appointed to remind people of this promise and to guarantee its veracity was the rainbow ( Genesis 9:12-15; cf. Genesis 6:12). There may have been rainbows before this pronouncement, but now God attached significance to the rainbow.

"Shining upon a dark ground, . . . it represents the victory of the light of love over the fiery darkness of wrath. Originating from the effect of the sun upon a dark cloud, it typifies the willingness of the heavenly to penetrate the earthly. Stretched between heaven and earth, it is as a bond of peace between both, and, spanning the horizon, it points to the all-embracing universality of the Divine mercy." [Note: Franz Delitzsch, A New Commentary on Genesis , 1:289-90.]

"The rainbow arcs like a battle bow hung against the clouds. (The Hebrew word for rainbow, qeset, is also the word for a battle bow.) ...

"The bow is now "put away," hung in place by the clouds, suggesting that the "battle," the storm, is over. Thus the rainbow speaks of peace." [Note: Ross, " Genesis ," p40.]

This covenant would remain for "all successive generations" ( Genesis 9:12). People have no responsibility to guarantee the perpetuity of this covenant; God will do all that He promised ( Genesis 9:9). Observe the recurrence of "I," "Myself," and "My" in these verses. Thus, this covenant is unconditional ( Genesis 9:9), universal ( Genesis 9:11), and everlasting ( Genesis 9:12). [Note: See Thomas, pp89-93.]

"What distinguishes the Noahic [Covenant] from the patriarchal one and for that matter all others recounted in the Old Testament is its truly universal perspective. It is God"s commitment to the whole of humanity and all terrestrial creation-including the surviving animal population." [Note: Mathews, p62.]

"The covenant with Noah [ Genesis 6:18; Genesis 9:9-16] is entirely unconditional rather than a conditional covenant, as in the Edenic situation. The certainty of the fulfillment of the covenant with Noah rested entirely with God and not with Noah. As this point is somewhat obscured in current discussion on the covenants of Scripture, it is important to distinguish covenants that are conditional from those that are unconditional. Conditional covenants depend on the recipients meeting the conditions imposed by God. Unconditional covenants declare that God"s purpose will be fulfilled regardless of an individual"s response. The fact that the covenant is one-sided-from God to humankind-does not mean that there is no response on the part of humankind. But the point is that the response is anticipated and does not leave the fulfillment of the covenant in doubt." [Note: Walvoord, pp188-89.]

The elements of the Noahic Covenant are the following. God held man responsible for protecting the sanctity of human life by orderly governmental rule even specifying the use of capital punishment ( Genesis 9:5-6; cf. Romans 13:1-7). God promised not to judge humanity again with a universal flood ( Genesis 8:21; Genesis 9:11-16), and He confirmed the established order of nature ( Genesis 8:22; Genesis 9:2). God now permitted people to eat animal flesh, evidently for the first time ( Genesis 9:3-4). God announced that Canaan"s descendants would be servants to their brethren ( Genesis 9:25-26), Shem"s descendants would enjoy a special relationship to the Lord ( Genesis 9:26-27), and Japheth"s descendants would become enlarged races ( Genesis 9:27).

". . . the author is intentionally drawing out the similarities between God"s covenant with Noah and the covenant at Sinai. Why? The answer that best fits with the author"s purposes is that he wants to show that God"s covenant at Sinai is not a new act of God. The covenant is rather a return to God"s original promises. Once again at Sinai, as he had done in the past, God is at work restoring his fellowship with man and bringing man back to himself. The covenant with Noah plays an important role in the author"s development of God"s restoration of blessing. It lies midway between God"s original blessing of all mankind ( Genesis 1:28) and God"s promise to bless "all peoples on the earth" through Abraham ( Genesis 12:1-3)." [Note: Sailhamer, " Genesis ," p93.]


Verses 18-24

Evidently Noah became so drunk that he took off all his clothes and then passed out naked in his tent. There is no explicit indication that Ham disrobed his father or committed some homosexual act. [Note: See Mathews, pp417 , 419.] However, because the expression "to see one"s nakedness" is sometimes used of sexual intercourse, it is possible that sexual immorality was involved. [Note: Wolf, pp106-7.] Noah"s shame was not that he drank wine but that he drank to excess and thereby lost self-control that resulted in immodesty (cf. Ephesians 5:18). Certainly this incident should warn the reader of the potential harm of drunkenness both for the drinker and for his or her family. The stumbling block for Adam and Eve had also been food.

"Whatever the actual nature of his [Noah"s] conduct might have been [in becoming drunk and uncovering himself in his tent] ..., the author presents his deed as one of disgrace and shame ("nakedness," as in Genesis 3), and he seems intent on depicting the scene in such a way as to establish parallels between Noah"s disgrace (he took of the fruit of his orchard and became naked) and that of Adam and Eve (who took of the fruit of the Garden and saw that they were naked)." [Note: Sailhaver, The Pentateuch . . ., p120. See also Mathews, p418.]

Ham"s gazing on Noah"s nakedness represents an early step in the abandonment of the moral code after the Flood. Ham dishonored Noah not by seeing him naked but by his outspoken delight in his father"s condition (cf. Genesis 19:26; Exodus 33:20; Judges 13:22; 1 Samuel 6:19).

"It is difficult for someone living in the modern world to understand the modesty and discretion of privacy called for in ancient morality. Nakedness in the OT was from the beginning a thing of shame for fallen man [ Genesis 3:7] . . . the state of nakedness was both undignified and vulnerable. . . . To see someone uncovered was to bring dishonor and to gain advantage for potential exploitation." [Note: Allen P. Ross, "The Curse of Canaan," Bibliotheca Sacra137:547 (July-September1980):230.]

"The sons of Noah are here shown to belong to two groups of humankind, those who like Adam and Eve hide the shame of their nakedness and those who like Ham, or rather the Canaanites, have no sense of their shame before God. The one group, the line of Shem, will be blessed ( Genesis 9:26); but the other, the Canaanites (not the Hamites), can only be cursed ( Genesis 9:25)." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p130.]

"Shem, the father of Abraham, is the paradigm of later Israel; and Ham of their archenemies, Egypt and Canaan ( Genesis 10:6). Lying behind this is the ancient concept of corporate personality. Because of this unity of father- Song of Solomon , the character of the father is anticipated in the deeds of the sons. Hebrew theology recognized that due to parental influence future generations usually committed the same acts as their fathers whether for ill or good. In this case the curse is directed at Ham"s son as Ham"s just deserts for the disrespect he had toward his own father, Noah." [Note: Mathews, p421.]

Ham"s action also may have involved an attempt to take leadership of the family from Noah. [Note: See Jordan, pp47-52.] Shem and Japheth"s act of covering their father"s nakedness, however, imitated God who covered Adam and Eve"s nakedness in the garden ( Genesis 3:21).


Verses 18-29

3. The curse on Canaan9:18-29

This pericope presents the characteristics of the three branches of the human family that grew out of Noah. Moses stressed the themes of blessing and cursing. God cursed Canaan with slavery because Ham showed disrespect toward Noah whereas He blessed Shem and Japheth for their regard for their father"s vulnerable condition.

"The world seems all set for a new start. The slate has been wiped clean, and we hope that the mistakes of the antediluvians will not be repeated. But no sooner is the blessing pronounced and the eternal covenant confirmed than man lapses again." [Note: Wenham, Genesis 1-15 , p206.]


Verses 25-27

This oracle, the first time Moses recorded a human uttering a curse, is a prophecy announcing divine judgment on Canaan"s descendants for their sin that had its seed in Ham"s act. Noah, as a prophet, announced the future of this grandson"s descendants (cf. Genesis 49; Deuteronomy 33; et al.).

"For his breach of the family, his [Ham"s] own family would falter." [Note: Kidner, p104.]

The Canaanites became known for their shameless depravity in sexual matters. [Note: See Charles Pfeiffer, Ras Shamra and the Bible.] When Joshua invaded their land he proved to be God"s instrument of punishment for the Canaanites.

"With the defeat of Tyre by Nebuchadnezzar in572 B.C. the Canaanites/Phoenicians ceased to be of importance in biblical history." [Note: The Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, 1975 ed, s.v. "Canaan, Canaanite," by A. K. Helmbold, 1:297. See also The New Bible Dictionary, 1962ed, s.v. "Canaan, Canaanites," by Kenneth A. Kitchen; and Unger"s Bible Dictionary, 1957 ed, s.v. "Canaan, Canaanites," by Merrill F. Unger.]

There is no basis for the popular notion that this oracle doomed the Hamites, who were mainly Africans, to a position of inferiority or slavery among the other peoples of the world. Canaan and his branch of the family are the subject of this prophecy, not Ham and all his descendants.

"There are no grounds in our passage for an ethnic reading of the "curse" as some have done, supposing that some peoples are inferior to others. Here Genesis looks only to the social and religious life of Israel"s ancient rival Canaan, whose immorality defiled their land and threatened Israel"s religious fidelity (cf. Leviticus 18:28; Joshua 23). It was not an issue of ethnicity but of the wicked practices that characterized Canaanite culture." [Note: Mathews, p423. See also Charles C. Ryrie, You Mean the Bible Teaches That ..., p60; Thomas Figart, A Biblical Perspective on the Race Problem, p55; and O. Palmer Robertson, "Current Critical Questions Concerning the "Curse of Ham" ( Genesis 9:20-27)," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society41:2 (June1998):177-88.]

The general lesson of the passage is that God blesses those who behave righteously but curses those who abandon moral restraint.

"Instructively, the first three heroes of faith listed in Hebrews are from Genesis 4-6 : Abel, Enoch, and Noah. All believed God, but their destinies were significantly different. Abel believed God and died. Enoch believed God and did not die. Noah believed God, and everyone else died in the Flood; eventually he died a natural death at the good old age of950 years. We cannot dictate where faith will lead. The human tendency is to see only Enoch as the example of faith, but Abel is also given as our example. What all three have in common is that they walked by faith and pleased God. That faith is an example to us." [Note: Waltke, Genesis , p155.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Genesis 9:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/genesis-9.html. 2012.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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