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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 9

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-29

Genesis 9:4. But the blood ye shall not eat. This prohibition of blood is repeated. Leviticus 17:0. Deuteronomy 12:0. And being connected with murder in the following verse, we are taught to abstain from imitating the ferocity of wild beasts, which lick the blood of their prey. Blood is also the life of the sacrifices offered up for sin; and our having been redeemed with the precious blood of Christ, the apostles have forbidden the use of blood to christians. Acts 15:29. A third reason assigned by Moses is, that we must not join in the sacrifice of devils. David says of idolaters, Their drink- offerings of blood will I not offer. The huge idol of Juggernaut in India is said to smile when they offer him a libation of human blood. The South-sea islanders drink the blood of enemies slain in battle. These are strong reasons which justify the precept to abstain from blood.

Genesis 9:13. My bow, the iris, the rainbow. In Mr. Maurice’s history of Indostan, we find a quotation from the mythology of the Chinese, in which they make FOHI, their deity, to proceed from a rainbow. Here is a plain reference to the iris; the symbol of the Noahical covenant. By consequence, the boasted antiquity of Chinese and Egyptian chronology above that of Moses could be but years of moons, as Diodorus Siculus has hinted, and as the American Indians still reckon time.

The rainbow is seen in the drops of the falling shower opposite to the sun. Its colours are seven, red, orange, yellow, green, violet, purple, and blue. In the second bow, or water gall, seen when the clouds are large, the colours are reversed: so in the third and fourth bow, which are rarely seen. The rainbow is beautifully seen also in the ascension of vapours from the glacis of Switzerland; in the vapours which ascend from the sea in times of hurricane; and fainter in the lunar rainbows during showers in the night. So the bow must have existed from the creation of the sun, and God here was pleased to take it for a perpetual witness of his covenant: and as the rainbow is full of light, so the covenant is full of grace.

Mons. Cuvier, professor of anatomy in Paris, in one of his early lectures on the natural sciences delivered in 1829, takes particular notice of the coincidence of tradition among all nations respecting the Deluge. “The Hebrew text of Genesis fixes it 2349 years before the birth of Christ; and the Chinese place it 2384, leaving but a variation of 35 years. Confucius represents their first king, Yao, employed in carrying off the waters of the ocean, which had reached the summit of the mountains, and in repairing the damages they had sustained.” These traditions of the Chinese strongly corroborate the truth of the Mosaic account of the deluge.

Genesis 9:25. Cursed be Canaan. The blessings were connected with fidelity to the law and covenant of the Lord; and the curses were consequences of disobedience. The patriarchs were the priests and prophets of the Lord, whose right it was to pronounce the benediction. But they could neither bless nor curse but by the Spirit of God. Hence God said to Abraham, “I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee;” and Isaac said to Esau, “I have blessed him, (Jacob) yea, and he shall be blessed;” for he felt that the Spirit accompanied his benedictions. It is just so with regard to those most base and atrocious crimes which merit the execrations of heaven. No such anathemas can be inflicted but in the Lord, for which reason Balaam could neither curse Jacob, nor defy Israel. He was, on the contrary, constrained to bless them. This curse on Canaan came upon his posterity by the sword of Joshua; and on Ham’s race it seems to have fallen in the sentence on Egypt, to be “the basest of all kingdoms;” on the black population of Africa, whose hordes have been oppressed with tyranny, almost destitute of literature and of arts, and very much exposed to the cruelties of slavery. The curse of Joshua on the rebuilder of Jericho, came on the presumptuous Hiel. Joshua 6:26. 1 Kings 16:34. The curse of Chryses, priest of Apollo, came on the Greeks by a plague in the camp for carrying away his daughter. Iliad 1. Tacitus reports that when the Romans attacked Anglesey, the grand seat of druidism in this country, both the druids and druidesses entered the combat; the latter with dishevelled hair, and torches in their hands, pouring anathemas on the invaders. Rome was indeed cursed on all sides for her cruelties and slaughters, and in the end those curses fell most heavily upon her when her own civil wars preyed on her vitals, and when the christian Goths stormed the imperial city in the year of Christ 435. A good man has nothing to fear from the curses of the wicked. The imprecations of Shimei fell not on David, but on his own head. Hence the superior doctrine of the christian religion: Bless, and curse not.

A servant of servants. The Hebrew idiom differs here from the English, in forming the superlative degree, which requires to be read, “The most servile of servants.” Slavery in all parts of Africa, and slavery out of Africa seems to attend the race of Ham. Lord shorten those days, and hear the prayers of thy people.


When the whole world was corrupted, did God in this extraordinary way preserve the one righteous family? Then the multitude of the wicked shall not contribute to their safety, nor shall the small number of the righteous expose them to the least danger; and if piety is so dear to God, let us value it above every other consideration.

Noah built an altar to the Lord; hence we should, after deliverance from afflictions and troubles, as a first duty, kneel down and give glory to God. Devotion on these occasions is warmed and animated by fresh tokens of providence, and becomes peculiarly acceptable to God.

The Lord renewed his covenant with this patriarch, and modified it according to the existing circumstances. He does not indeed repeat the promise of the Woman’s Seed to bruise the serpent’s head; that stood like a rock through all succeeding ages, and was implied in the sacrifices; but he enforced anew the moral precepts, because it was proper to secure his own glory, and to restrain the depravity of man by awarding death to crimes; these precepts, the Jews affirm, were seven in number.

God promised Noah seedtime and harvest to the end of the world; and what is better, these temporal promises were shadows of spiritual and eternal good to those who sincerely embraced the covenant. Hence we see the faithfulness of God. He has not destroyed us by water, nor has the harvest at any time failed, except in cases of temporary famine, which he sends to remind us of our sins: hence also we should look for a double portion, a little of earth and a little of heaven.

But did Noah after all plant a vineyard, and was he once overtaken with intoxication; though from his long life of nine hundred and fifty years, and from the high favours of God towards him, we may infer that he was a patriarch of the strictest temperance; then let aged christians and aged ministers learn to preserve in old age the glory of early piety. This one sin was complicated: it led to Ham’s sin, and brought the curse of servitude on his posterity. Dr. Jenkins, in his Reasonableness of the Christian religion, has brought sufficient evidence from the scriptures and from pagan authors to prove, that the Africans, whom all nations have afflicted with slavery, are the descendants of Ham, or of Cush, his eldest son. Whenever we have the calamity to hear of a defect in a father, or an elder, let us, animated with the filial piety of Shem and Japhet, take a mantle of love, and cover it for once, that a blessing may come upon us, and that the silent and secret tears of repentance may so far purge it that it shall never be repeated.

Was the bow fixed in the clouds from the beginning, though now adopted as the pledge of the covenant, just as circumcision, and as bread and wine in the Lord’s supper were afterwards adopted as signs of the same covenant; then objects of sense, when divinely appointed, may aid our faith. Yea all nature should remind us of the fidelity of God, and prompt us to constancy in religion, and unshaken confidence in the dark and cloudy day.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Genesis 9". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/genesis-9.html. 1835.
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