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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 9

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary

Verses 1-7

God’s Detailed Instruction to Noah and His Sons (Genesis 9:1-7 )

In this whole passage God is Elohim, the Creator, for He is as it were beginning again, and reinstating man as His representatives on earth. Here God includes Noah’s sons in His instructions. This is different from Genesis 8:21 and previously, demonstrating that this is His official dealings with the whole of mankind. So God gives instructions to Noah, and to ‘his sons with him’. These instructions are important. The destruction of man might have been seen as annulling his position as God’s representative. Thus God as Creator renews the commission He first gave to man:

1). Man is commanded to be fruitful and repopulate the world (Genesis 9:1 compare Genesis 1:28 a)

2). Man is to have authority over creation (Genesis 9:2 compare Genesis 1:28 b)

3). Man is given the right to eat of the flesh of living creatures and of plants but not of their blood (Genesis 9:3-4 compare and contrast Genesis 1:29)

4). Man’s life is sacred because he is made in the image of God, and to take that life is to merit death (Genesis 9:5-6)

5). The further command to repopulate the world (the double mention stressing that this is the vital instruction to which the others are secondary).

Genesis 9:1

‘And God (elohim) blessed Noah and his sons with him and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” ’

We note that now the sons of Noah are included in God’s words for the first time. This is a step forward and demonstrates that God now sees them as part of what is to be. They share his relationship with, and responsibility before, God. They represent the whole of mankind.

God is here speaking as the Creator (elohim) as in Genesis 1:28, and repeats the words there spoken to man. Again man is ‘blessed’. He again has the seal of God’s approval on him. Yet the females are excluded, unlike in Genesis 1:0. This was, of course, the result of the Fall and the subsequent subjection of the woman. So this is written with an awareness of the material found in Genesis 2-3.

Genesis 9:2-5

‘And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every animal on the earth and every bird of the air, along with everything with which creeps on the ground, and all the fishes of the sea, all are delivered into your hand. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you, and as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat the flesh with its life, that is, its blood.’

Man’s authority over the animals is again stressed and he is now given express permission to eat them as food. This is almost certainly a confirmation of what man has already been doing as we have seen.

But one thing is forbidden, the eating of the blood. That is because the blood is the life. Man must recognise that what he eats, he eats as a gift from God. But he must still recognise God’s overlordship. Part therefore is forbidden him, the part that symbolises the life God gave them, the life which He created on top of the initial creation, which belongs to God. The blood replaces the tree of knowing good and evil as the test of man’s obedience. He is not to eat the blood, whether it is in order to try to absorb the soul of the animal or its ‘power’, to share in its life, or simply through careless disregard. Rather the animal’s flesh alone is to be for food.

Here God is stressing that man and animal are distinct. They are not to be intermingled. Man is not like the beast, he is different, for he shares the nature of the heavenly. Thus he should look to Heaven for his ‘power’ and for his ‘life’. Properly observed this prohibition against eating the blood would have saved mankind from many diseases.

Genesis 9:6

‘For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning, of every creature I will require it, and at the hand of every man, and at the hand of every man’s brother I will require it. Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.’

Man stands on earth as God’s representative and shares something of the heavenly, therefore to take man’s life is to rebel against the Creator. Whoever therefore takes that life shall have his own life forfeit. Man’s life is sacred to God.

The reference to every man’s brother has in mind Cain and Abel, and the thought there that every man is his ‘brother’s’ guardian. This sacredness again stresses the distinction between man and animal on the very grounds that man is made in the image of the heavenly. But the forfeiture of the murderer’s life is, under God, in the hands of man. Here then God is stressing again man’s sovereignty over the world He has given him. It is man who must carry out this jurisdiction. Man must take responsibility to act as judge under God’s instruction. It is an awesome task that He requires of man.

Genesis 9:7

‘And as for you, be fruitful and multiply, bring forth abundantly on the earth and multiply in it.’

This repeats the charge in verse 1 in order to stress its importance. Man has the responsibility and privilege of peopling the earth so that he can carry out his task of controlling and watching over it, and this is his first responsibility.

Verses 1-29

“The Histories of the Sons of Noah” - The Flood (Genesis 6:9 b - Genesis 10:1 a) - TABLET IV

It has been common practise among a large number of scholars to seek to split the flood narrative into different so-called ‘documents’. This has partly resulted from not comparing them closely enough with ancient writings as a whole and partly from over-enthusiasm for a theory. There is little real justification for it. Repetitiveness was endemic among ancient writings, and is therefore not a hint of combined narratives, and the intermixture of statistical material, such as dating, with story type is known elsewhere. The interchanging of the divine names Yahweh and Elohim has already been noted as occurring for good reasons (Genesis 4:25-26; Genesis 5:29).

The whole account is a clear unity, and is formulated on a 7 day - 40 day - 150 day - 150 day - 40 day - 7 day pattern (the numbers partly inclusive), taking us from when God commanded Noah to enter the ark to the return of the dove with the olive leaf which showed the Flood was over. The causes of, and purposes for, the Flood are consistent throughout, as are its final aims. There is certainly expansion in thought, but there is no contradiction. (Alternately we may see it as a 7 - 40 - 150 - 40 - 7 pattern depending on how we read Genesis 8:3).

The Flood

The word for flood is ‘mabbul’ which only occurs outside Genesis 6-11 in Psalms 29:10, where its meaning is disputed. In Psalms 29:0 its use follows the description of an extremely devastating storm ‘caused’ by Yahweh which strips the trees bare, and ‘Yahweh sits enthroned over the flood’ may well therefore mean that He causes, and takes responsibility for, even the subsequent cataclysmic flood. But it may alternatively mean that ‘Yahweh sits enthroned over the cataclysm’, the storm we have just read about. (The writer sees all natural phenomena as under God’s control and is using a massive storm and cataclysm as a picture of Jahweh’s great power. If the word does mean flood he may well have had Noah’s flood in mind). In the New Testament and in the Septuagint mabbul is ‘translated’ as kataklysmos (Matthew 24:38-39; Luke 17:27; 2 Peter 2:5). It therefore can be taken with some confidence as meaning in this context a ‘cataclysmic flood’ with the emphasis on the cataclysm.

The basis of the account consistently throughout is that man will be destroyed because of his extreme sinfulness (Genesis 6:5-7; Genesis 6:11-13; Genesis 7:4; Genesis 7:21-23; Genesis 8:21). This contrasts strongly with Mesopotamian flood myths where the innocent admittedly die with the guilty, and the flood is the consequence of the anger of gods over some particular thing which annoys them.

How Extensive Was the Flood?

The question must again be raised as to what the writer is describing. There is no question but that it is a huge flood of a type never known before or since, but how far did it in fact reach?

In Hebrew the word translated ‘earth’ (eretz) even more often means ‘land’. This latter fact derived from the fact that ‘the earth’ (our world) as compared with the heavens (Genesis 1:1), became ‘the earth’ (dry land) as opposed to the sea (Genesis 1:10), became ‘the earth’ (their land) on which men lived (Genesis 12:1). It is thus quite in accordance with the Hebrew that what is described in this passage occurred in just one part of what we would call the earth, occurring in ‘Noah’s earth’ where Noah was living with his family.

This is not just a matter of choosing between two alternative translations. The reason eretz could be so used was because of how the ancients saw things and applied language to them. To them there was their known ‘earth’, their land, and then their land with the surrounding peoples, and then the rather hazy world on the fringes and then beyond that who knew what? Thus to them ‘the earth’ could mean different things in different contexts.

Even in its wider meaning it meant what was indeed a reasonably large area, and yet from our point of view would be seen as a fairly localised area, and ‘the whole earth’ to them was what to us would still be limited horizons. We can compare Genesis 41:57 where ‘the whole earth’ come to Egypt to buy food and 1 Kings 10:24 where ‘the whole earth’ come to hear the wisdom of Solomon. Compare also how the Roman world and its fringes were ‘the world’ in the New Testament (Luke 2:1; Acts 24:5; Romans 1:8; Colossians 1:6).

Thus there are three possible answers to the question as to how far the flood stretched, looking at it from the writer’s point of view.

1). That all mankind was involved and that the Flood was global. However, it could not strictly mean this to the writer, or to Noah, for both were unaware of such a concept. All they could think of was ‘the world’ according to their conception of it. What the writer could have meant was ‘all that there is’. But was he not rather concerned with the world of man?

2). That all mankind was involved, but that they were still living within a certain limited area and were therefore all destroyed in a huge flood, which was not, however, global, as it would not need to involve lands which were uninhabited.

The fact of the worldwide prevalence of Flood myths might be seen as supporting one of these two views. So also might the argument that had the area been too limited Noah could have been instructed to move with his family outside the area, however large. Against this latter, however, it could be argued that God was seen as having a lesson to teach to future generations, and that He had in view the preservation of animal life as part of Noah’s environment.

3). That it was only mankind in the large area affected by the demonic activity (Noah’s ‘earth’ or ‘world’) that were to be destroyed, and that the Flood was therefore vast, but not necessarily destroying those of mankind unaffected by the situation described.

What cannot be avoided is the idea that the Flood was huge beyond anything known since. It was remembered in Mesopotamia, an area which had known great floods, as ‘the Flood’which divided all that came before it from all that followed (see, for example, the Sumerian king lists) . They too had a memory of how their king Zius-udra survived the Flood by entering a boat and living through it, although in his case others, apart from his family, were seen as surviving with him in the boat. Alternative suggestions offered have been the consequences of the ice age ceasing, raising water levels and causing huge floods, or the falling of a huge asteroid into the sea.

Verses 8-17

God’s Covenant with Man and with All Living Creatures (Genesis 9:8-17 )

Now we come to the primary covenant around which the whole history is written. This covenant, made with Noah and his sons, is distinctive. It is not a covenant of relationship but of direct fiat from God. It is not dependent on any response from man, which is why it is given by God as Creator (Elohim) and not as Yahweh.

The covenant was important to man’s sense of security. The Flood had demonstrated what could happen to the world and without this covenant man would henceforth live in fear of a repetition. Every gathering of clouds, every storm at sea, would be seen as a portent. Thus God gives man the assurance that he need not fear. God will not allow it to happen again. He will keep the elements in bounds.

Genesis 9:8

‘And God spoke to Noah, and his sons with him.’

Only since the Flood has this stress been laid on the inclusion of the sons. There is now joint responsibility. All mankind is included in the covenant, as are the living creatures. Notice, however, that although the covenant is with all creation it is communicated to Noah and his sons. They stand in the place of God for His creation.

Genesis 9:9-10

‘Saying, “I, behold I, establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domesticated animals, the wild creatures, those who are with you, as many as came out of the ark, even every creature of the earth (land)”.’

Note how all creatures are included in the covenant. This is the covenant of the Creator with His creation. It is thus not dependent on man’s obedience. It is absolute.

Genesis 9:11

‘And I establish my covenant with you that never again shall all flesh be cut of by the waters of a cataclysm, nor shall there ever again be a cataclysm to destroy the earth.’

God gives His guarantee that never again will there be a cataclysm of such devastating proportions. The repetition of ‘I establish My covenant’ is a double guarantee, a double confirmation for the purpose of stress, as well as a means of reinforcing the words to a listener.

Genesis 9:12-16

‘And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you through all future generations. I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be as a sign of a covenant between me and the earth. And it shall be that when I bring a cloud over the earth, the bow will be seen in the cloud, and I will remember my covenant which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh, and the waters shall no more become a cataclysm to destroy all flesh, and the bow will be in the cloud, and I will consider it that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth”.’

God takes a natural phenomenon and turns it into a sign. ‘I do set my bow in the cloud’. The word for ‘bow’ is the same as later used for a ‘war bow’. Are we to see in this a suggestion that God is ceasing His adversarial position? That He has magnanimously ‘laid down His arms’? Every time man sees the rainbow he will recognise that God has ‘put down His bow’.

The use of the rainbow as a sign does not mean that it has never appeared before, only that it is being given a new significance. Thus every rainbow will be a reminder of God’s covenant. ‘I will remember --’. It is not of course that there is any danger that God would forget. It is man who will see the bow in the clouds and will be assured that God will ‘remember’ His covenant. Note that the bow is mentioned three times. This is a guarantee of the completeness of the protection it provides.

And the guarantee is that never again will such a flood come on the earth. Never again need they fear inundations of water of such magnitude. It has been a once for all occurrence.

“The everlasting covenant”. This covenant is permanent and unchangeable. It is for ever.

Genesis 9:17

‘And God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between me and all flesh that is on earth.”

This final repetition sums up the whole and gives final confirmation to the hearers of the sign and its significance. It is God’s unconditional guarantee.

This no doubt is where the original account ended in its use at the feast for which it was considered appropriate when it would be recited as a ‘reminder’ to God of His covenant. It is followed by a further covenant history which was probably tacked on, as also applying to the sons of Noah, when the tablet on which the two accounts is found was written, with the purpose of leading on to the next account, the spread of the nations. It is quite remarkable how the compiler has gathered together disparate covenant records and combined them into one united whole, each leading on to the next.

Verse 18

‘And the sons of Noah that went out from the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth, and Ham became the father of Canaan. These three were the sons of Noah and of these three was the world populated.’

These sentences are preparing for the next sections. Firstly they are explaining that Ham has produced a son called Canaan (see next section) and secondly they are preparing for chapter 10, the table of nations. From the sons of Noah, the writer emphasises, the known world was populated. Thus extensive was the Flood and its effects.

Verse 20

‘Noah, a man of the soil (ish ha adamah), began and planted vineyard.’

There is possibly a reference here back to words of Lamech at Noah’s birth (Genesis 5:29). The man who came from the adamah, which had been cursed, now from that adamah produces a source of comfort for man. Compare Psalms 104:15 where wine is described as gladdening men’s hearts.

But sadly the tale of woe continues, for Noah misuses that which God has given. To suggest that this is inconsistent with the earlier picture of the ‘perfect man’ is true, but this brings out not that the two are contradictory, but that even the best of men can fall into temptation and sin. The horror with which Noah views his fall and its consequences comes out in his final words.

Verse 21

‘And he drank of the wine and became drunk, and was uncovered within his tent.’

In a drunken state Noah lies naked in his tent, unaware of the impropriety of his situation. In his right mind he would never have done this for he knew men might enter the tent, and to be seen naked was a shameful thing ever since man’s first sin. There may be a suggestion in this that Noah once more reveals sinful man’s ‘nakedness’ by his weakness in misusing the wine, another sign of disobedience to God. And there is certainly a warning here of what carelessness with wine can do even to the ‘perfect’ man.

Verse 22

‘And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness, and told his brothers outside.’

The continual stress on Ham as the father of Canaan shows that by this time Canaan has been born. This event is thus some time after the end of the Flood. The phrase ‘saw his father’s nakedness’ may be a euphemism for something worse, and this may be the first recorded homosexual act (see Genesis 9:24). This would certainly help to explain the seriousness of the punishment. However the difference in attitude between Ham and his brothers is also drawn out. Ham was not to blame for finding his father naked, but he was to blame for not being discreet and dealing quietly with the situation. Instead he made a big thing of it. There was clearly something very unpleasant about his behaviour.

Verse 23

‘And Shem and Japheth took a robe (shimlah - which acted as a blanket at night and a robe during the day - see Exodus 22:26) and laid it over their shoulders, and went in backwards and covered their father’s nakedness, and their faces were backwards and they did not look on their father’s nakedness.’

In contrast to Ham, Shem and Japheth act with consideration towards their drunken father and preserve his dignity, thus also avoiding any unpleasant thoughts that might arise. This is a good example of the importance of taking steps to avoid temptation.

Verse 24

‘And Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him.’

After Noah’s careless abandon he has to face the unpleasant consequences. This is always the case with sin. It is quite clear that whatever Ham had done was looked on with the utmost seriousness.

“Had done to him”. It was not the discovery of his father’s condition which was his sin, but his consequent behaviour. We note that Ham is said to be his youngest son. Thus the order in which sons are given is not necessarily that of seniority. See 10:21 which also suggests that Japheth was the second oldest.

Verse 25

‘And he said, “cursed be Canaan . A servant of servants shall he be to his brothers”.’

It is possible that Noah kept what Ham had done in his heart and that this series of curse and blessing was given some time after the event, possibly even on Noah’s death bed. Thus Ham may by then have died and this would explain why the curse is levelled at Canaan. Alternately it may be that Noah wanted Ham to see the consequences he had brought, not only on himself but on his children. Perhaps he saw something in Canaan he did not like, inherited from his father, and knew what the consequences would be for Canaan’s children with regard to their future sexual behaviour. Certainly the Canaanites would later be renowned for their sexual depravity. Curses and blessings were thought to have a powerful effect on the lives of descendants, especially when given on the deathbed. Ham was to be punished through the consequences which resulted to his son who would be ‘a servant of servants’, the lowest of the low.

Verse 26

‘Blessed be Yahweh, the God of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant.’

This is an unusual phrase as we expect to read ‘blessed be Shem’. It arises from the fact that Noah sees the greatness of the blessing that is to be Shem’s and is consequently filled with wonder and praise to Yahweh. The purpose is to draw out that Shem is to be blessed because of his relationship to Yahweh rather than just because of his own status. Shem’s descendants will be especially blessed, they will include the race through which God’s revelation will come to men. But this will be of God’s unmerited favour and goodness, and beyond anything that Shem deserves. (Compare Genesis 24:27 where a blessing on Yahweh includes a blessing on the servant of Yahweh).

Verse 27

‘God enlarge (yaphth) Japheth and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant.’

The word ‘enlarge’ is a play on Japheth’s name. In 1 Chronicles 5:10 ‘dwell in the tents of’ suggests being subjugated. However here it more probably refers to them receiving benefits from ‘Shem’. The ‘enlargement’ suggests blessing but also looks forward to the increase of the nations in the next chapter, which is of course part of that blessing.

Note that Canaan is to be servant to both. His servitude is mentioned three times to stress its completeness. But it must not be overlooked that the curse is primarily on Canaan’s descendants and not on Ham’s. Ham’s would themselves become great nations. These ideas have been widely distorted to defend an indefensible racism.

We note again how the divine names are used. In blessing Shem He is Yahweh. In blessing Japheth He is Elohim. The descendants of Shem are to be the people of the covenant.

Ham receives no blessing. All that is offered to him is the curse on Canaan. In this there is both mercy - the curse is limited - and judgment - he is excluded from the blessings. Noah could never forget what Ham had done to him.

Verses 28-29

‘And after the flood Noah lived 350 years . All the days of Noah were 950 years, and he died.’

This directly connects back with Genesis 5:0 showing the unity of the whole section. The separate covenants have been deftly combined into one whole. It is possible that ‘three hundred years and fifty years’ was intended to depict a full life (three is the number of completeness) and a life of faithfulness to the covenant (five is the number of covenant). To the early readers and hearers numbers were full of significance.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Genesis 9". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/genesis-9.html. 2013.
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