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Bible Commentaries

The Church Pulpit Commentary

Genesis 9

Verses 8-9

THE NOAHIC COVENANT

‘And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying, And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you.’

Genesis 9:8-9

To understand this covenant, consider what thoughts would have been likely to grow up in the minds of Noah’s children after the Flood. Would they not have been something of this kind? ‘God does not love men. He has drowned all but us, and we are men of like passions with the world that perished; may we not expect the like ruin at any moment? Then what use to plough and sow, and build and plant, and work for those who shall come after us? Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.’

I. The covenant God made with Noah was intended to remedy every one of the temptations into which Noah’s children’s children would have been certain to fall, and into which so many of them did fall.—They might have become reckless from fear of a flood at any moment. God promises them, and confirms it with the sign of the rainbow, never again to destroy the earth by water. They would have been likely to take to praying to the rain and thunder, the sun and the stars. God declares in this covenant that it is He alone who sends the rain and thunder, that He brings the clouds over the earth, that He rules the great awful world; that men are to look up and believe in God as a loving and thinking Person, who has a will of His own, and that a faithful and true and loving and merciful will; that their lives and safety depend not on blind chance or the stern necessity of certain laws of nature, but on the covenant of an almighty and all-loving Person.

II. This covenant tells us that we are made in God’s likeness, and therefore that all sin is unworthy of us and unnatural to us.—It tells us that God means us bravely and industriously to subdue the earth and the living things upon it; that we are to be the masters of the pleasant things about us, and not their slaves, as sots and idlers are; that we are stewards or tenants of this world for the great God who made it, to whom we are to look up in confidence for help and protection.

Canon Kingsley.

Illustration

‘This is the first mention in the Bible of a covenant made by God with man. It has been pointed out recently, in an able paper, that we must be careful not to lay too much stress on the human side in the covenants which God is represented as making with man; the predominant idea being rather the divine side, the promises and gifts of God. We need only to peruse Genesis 9:8-17 to see how remarkably this idea holds good here. The emphasis laid on the personal pronoun I: “I, for my part, establish,” etc., does indeed point back to certain obligations enforced on men, but the account given of the covenant is an account of a promise. “Speaking generally, the word covenant is the standing designation of a friendly relation between God and men, originating in God’s loving kindness.” The animals, domesticated (= cattle) and wild (= beasts of the earth), have shared in man’s overthrow. The covenant, therefore, which is made with man is, through him, made with them (cf. Romans 8:19-22). The Greek Bible omits “every beast of the earth,” as though there were something unfitting in the inclusion of wild animals in the covenant, but Holy Scripture never fails to represent the whole creation as His care. It is to be remembered that the word rendered ark does not mean a ship but a chest, as, in fact, ark itself does, for it is but our way of spelling the Latin arca, a chest or box. And we must also note that the phrase I will establish My covenant “denotes the perpetuation of a covenant already, at least in idea, existing, rather than the formation of one altogether new.” ’

Verses 12-15

‘THE BOW IN THE CLOUD’

‘And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between Me and you and every living creature that is with you for perpetual generations,’ etc.

Genesis 9:12-15

I. Among the many deep truths which the early chapters of Genesis enforce, there is none which strikes the thoughtful inquirer more forcibly than the connection between the disorder occasioned by man’s sin and the remedy ordained by the wisdom and mercy of God. This connection may be traced in a very remarkable manner in the appointment of the rainbow as a sign and pledge of the covenant.

II. Not only is the rainbow, as an offspring equally of storm and sunshine, a fitting emblem of the covenant of grace; it is also a type of the equally distinctive peculiarity of Christ’s Gospel—that sorrow and suffering have their appointed sphere of exercise, both generally in the providential administration of the world and individually in the growth and development of personal holiness.

III. For the full comprehension of the bow we must turn to the New Testament.—In the Person and work of the atoning Mediator we find the only solution of that marvellous combination of judgment and mercy which is the distinctive characteristic of the whole of the Divine economy.

IV. There is a necessary imperfection in all earthly types of heavenly things.—In nature the continued appearance of the rainbow is dependent on the continued existence of the cloud. In heaven the rainbow will continue to point backward to man’s fall, onward to the perpetuity of a covenant which is ordered in all things and sure. But the work of judgment will then be accomplished, and therefore the cloud will have no more place in heaven.

Canon E. B. Elliott.

Verse 14

THE BOW OF HOPE

‘It shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud.’

Genesis 9:14

We have before us, in this record, a memorable example of the adaptation of Prophecy—another word for Revelation—to the circumstances and wants of mankind. And what is this but to speak of the thoughtfulness of God Himself towards the family which he has brought into being, and which, for all its sins and backslidings, He has never disowned and never forsaken?

If the terms of the charter of restoration are so many examples and evidences of the Divine consideration, how much more the sanction with which the text closes it!

I. It has been suggested that the idea which has been supposed to lie in the words, and which has been a stumbling-block to many—that of the postdiluvian creation of the rainbow—is no part of the record. The statement before us is quite consistent with the supposition that God for the first time consecrates to a spiritual use a natural phenomenon already existing. Like the consecration of the element of water into a type of spiritual regeneration—like the consecration of bread, the support of natural life, into a type of Him who came down from heaven to be the food and nutriment of souls—may be the conversion of the loveliest feature of the natural sky into a token and sacrament of Divine mercy towards those who have been troubled and chastened by reason of their sins. That ‘clear shining after rain’—that special brilliancy which cannot be without the foregoing darkness—that wonderful contrast of light and cloud which seems to shape itself into a mystic bridge between earth and heaven, between the sinner and the sinless—who shall say, in the silence of Scripture—‘I do set,’ or rather ‘I have set, my bow in the cloud’—whether it was, or was not, a phenomenon of the antediluvian sky? Who shall speculate upon the possible changes wrought in Nature herself by that stupendous judgment, or take count of such matters as affecting at all the truth and the significance of this record, which consecrates one of creation’s glories into a perpetual monument of the Creator’s love?

II. ‘It shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud.’ Who has not had experience of the thing signified? Who amongst us, as he looks back upon the history of a life and of a soul, cannot bear witness to that union of mercy and judgment—more especially to that development of mercy out of judgment—which is the very point of the similitude? No cloud, no bow—no darkened sky, then no lustrous reflection. Is it not thus always? Who that knows himself, who that knows God, would dwell always in mirth and gladness? Who shall not rather, if not at the moment, yet in the retrospect, rejoice and praise God for bringing the cloud over the sky, in which alone He doth set His bow?

III. What shall heaven itself be, but the interpretation of the parable? ‘There was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.’ They who shall be ‘counted worthy to obtain that world,’ shall enter it after storm and tempest, after the submerging of earthly joys and the extinction of human lights, not to forget the past, but to see it and feel it forgiven, the bow illuminating the cloud and transforming it into a memorial at once of love and light.

And therefore it is, that the moments on earth most like to heaven are those spent before the Cross of the great sacrifice, there to behold sin not overlooked but atoned for—there to behold the cloud charged with judgment irradiated by a mercy ‘rejoicing against’ it, telling of a redemption mighty to save, and a love which sin itself could not overwhelm nor do away.

—Dean Vaughan.

Illustration

‘Perhaps the rainbow in the cloud, the element of comfort in the darkness of trial, is a promise of Scripture, which never seems to speak home to my heart until I need it most. Perhaps it is the worship of the Lord’s House, bringing soothing and succour and calm into my tempestuous days. Perhaps it is the potency of a little time spent in secret prayer. Perhaps it is the grasp of a neighbour’s hand, or a word in season spoken to me by a brother in the household of faith, or the friendliness of a young child letting me know that I am not forsaken. All these, and other things as well, are remembrancers that my God thinks on me.

You recollect the twenty-ninth Psalm? It is the Psalm of the thunderstorm. From north to south, over the whole land, the storm sweeps in its tremendous march. But how soft and musical is the closing word!—“ The Lord will bless His people with peace.” Yes, before the tumult, and during the tumult, and after the tumult, and by means of the tumult, God will do me good. “I see the rainbow in the rain.” ’

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Genesis 9". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/genesis-9.html. 1876.