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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 9

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-7

Genesis 9:1-7

God blessed Noah and his sons

The Divine benediction on the new humanity


PROVISION FOR THE CONTINUANCE OF ITS PHYSICAL LIFE. This divinely appointed provision for the continuance of man upon the earth--

1. Raises the relation between the sexes above all degrading associations.

2. Tends to promote the stability of society.

3. Promotes the tender charities of life.

PROVISION FOR ITS SUSTENANCE. The physical life of man must be preserved by the ministry of other lives--animal, vegetable. For this end God has given man dominion over the earth, and especially over all other lives in it. We may regard this sustenance which God has provided for man’s lower wants--

1. As a reason for gratitude. Our physical necessities are the most immediate, the most intimate to us. We should acknowledge the hand that provides for them. We may regard God’s provision herein--

2. As an example of the law of mediation. Man’s life is preserved by the instrumentality of others. God’s natural government of the world is carried on by means of mediation, from which we may infer that such is the principle of His moral government. That “bread of life” by which our souls are sustained comes to us through a Mediator. Thus God’s provisions for our common wants may be made a means of educating us in higher things. Nature has the symbols and suggestions of spiritual truths.

3. As a ground for expecting greater blessings. If God made so rich and varied a provision to supply the necessities of the body, it was reasonable to expect that He would care and provide for the deeper necessities of the soul.


1. From the ferocity of animals.

2. From the violence of evil men.



1. Mankind were to be educated to the idea of sacrifice.

2. Mankind were to be impressed with the true dignity of human nature.

3. Mankind must be taught to refer all authority and rule ultimately to God. (T. H. Leale.)

Noah a representative person

1. In the earliest fauna and flora of the earth, one class stood for many. The earliest families combined the character of several families afterwards separately introduced. This is true, for instance, of ferns, which belong to the oldest races of vegetation. Of them it has been well said that there is hardly a single feature or quality possessed by flowering plants of which we do not find a hint or prefiguration in ferns. It is thus most interesting to notice in the earliest productions of our earth the same laws and processes which we observe in the latest and most highly-developed flowers and trees.

2. At the successive periods of the unfolding of God’s great promise, we find one individual representing the history of the race, and foreshadowing in brief the essential character of large phases and long periods of human development. Hence it is that here Noah becomes the representative of the patriarchal families in covenant with God. He is the individual with whom God enters into covenant, in relation to the successive generations of the human race.

3. And in this respect Noah is a retrospective type of Him who, in the eternal ages, consented to be the representative of redeemed humanity, and with whom the Father made an everlasting covenant; and a prospective type of that same Representative who, in the fulness of time, received the Divine assurance that in Him should all nations of the earth be blessed. (W. Adamson.)

The new world and its inheritors--the men of faith

1. The first is the new condition of the earth itself, which immediately appears in the freedom allowed and practised in regard to the external worship of God. This was no longer confined to any single region, as seems to have been the case in the age subsequent to the Fall. The cherubim were located in a particular spot, on the east of the garden of Eden; and as the symbols of God’s presence were there, it was only natural that the celebration of Divine worship should there also have found its common centre. But with the Flood the reason for any such restriction vanished. Noah, therefore, reared his altar, and presented his sacrifice to the Lord where the ark rested. There immediately he got the blessing, and entered into covenant with God--proving that, in a sense, old things had passed away, and all had become new. But this again indicated that, in the estimation of Heaven, the earth had now assumed a new position; that by the action of God’s judgment upon it, it had become hallowed in His sight, and was in a condition to receive tokens of the Divine favour, which had formerly been withheld from it.

2. The second point to be noticed here is the heirship given of this new world to Noah and his seed--given to them expressly as the children of faith. A change, however, appears in the relative position of things, when the flood had swept with its purifying waters over the earth. Here, then, the righteousness of faith received direct from the grace of God the dowry that had been originally bestowed upon the righteousness of nature--not a blessing merely, but a blessing coupled with the heirship and dominion of the world. There was nothing strange or arbitrary in such a proceeding; it was in perfect accordance with the great principles of the Divine administration. Adam was too closely connected with the sin that destroyed the world, to be reinvested, even when he had through faith become a partaker of grace, with the restored heirship of the world. Nor had the world itself passed through such an ordeal of purification, as to fit it, in the personal lifetime of Adam, or of his more immediate offspring, for being at all represented in the light of an inheritance of blessing.

3. The remaining point to be noticed in respect to this new order of things is the pledge of continuance, notwithstanding all appearances or threatenings to the contrary, given in the covenant made with Noah, and confirmed by a fixed sign in the heavens. There can be no doubt that the natural impression produced by this passage in respect to the sign of the covenant is, that it nowfor the first time appeared in the lower heavens. The Lord might, no doubt, then, or at any future time, have taken an existing phenomenon in nature, and by a special appointment made it the instrument of conveying some new and higher meaning to the subjects of His revelation. But in a matter like the present, when the specific object contemplated was to allay men’s fears of the possible recurrence of the deluge, and give them a kind of visible pledge in nature for the permanence of her existing order and constitution, one cannot perceive how a natural phenomenon, common alike to the antediluvian and the postdiluvian world, could have fitly served the purpose. In that case, so far as the external sign was concerned, matters stood precisely where they were; and it was not properly the sign, but the covenant itself, which formed the guarantee of safety for the future. We incline, therefore, to the opinion that, in the announcement here made, intimation is given of a change in the physical relations or temperature of at least that portion of the earth where the original inhabitants had their abode; by reason of which the descent of moisture in showers of rain came to take the place of distillation by dew, or other modes of operation different from the present. The supposition is favoured by the mention only of dew before in connection with the moistening of the ground (Genesis 2:6); and when rain does come to be mentioned, it is rain in such flowing torrents as seems rather to betoken the outpouring of a continuous stream, than the gentle dropping which we are wont to understand by the term, and to associate with the rainbow. (P. Fairbairn, D. D.)

Verse 6

Genesis 9:6

Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.

Death for murder a Divine decree

First, I ASSERT THAT THE PUNISHMENT OF DEATH FOR MURDER IS A DIVINE DECREE. As some persons are opposed to the execution of any murderer, it is well to examine both the objections they urge and the command by which this law is asserted. Death for murder is recognized from the beginning of the world. It seems to be written on the conscience of man by God that such a doom rightly awaits a murderer. The case of Cain--the strong case of the opposers of death for murder--is, when rightly understood, a strong case against them. Cain declared that the first person that met him would slay him. Who but God had written this in the tables of his heart? who save He could have engraven this on his conscience? It was a recognized principle from the beginning that the murderer should not live. But it is objected, “God interfered and saved his life.” Quite true. But then, if God had not interfered, his life would have been justly taken in obedience to the general laws of God implanted in the consciences of all men; and therefore, unless God similarly interferes now by a special and marked revelation, the original rule holds good, and the murderer is put to death. Observe, in order to save Cain, “God set a mark upon” the man. Why? Because without this he was liable to death. The exception in this case clearly proves the rule! Again: you cannot but be struck with the remarkable care which God manifests in His laws to Israel concerning blood. He warns them against suffering their “land to become polluted with blood.” The law of inquest is founded upon one part of the Jewish law; and the humane provisions which rendered the owner of any infuriated animal a loser of a vast fine if the animal caused the death of any person not only commends itself for its justice, but again shows the value which is set upon human life. And with a view, I deem, yet further to impress this truth upon mankind, the blood even of the animal, since “it is the life thereof,” is distinctly ordered to be in nowise eaten, but to be “poured upon the ground like water.” You may say that these were laws to the Jewish nation, and it is true; but I am persuaded that the polity of the Jewish nation is given as a specimen for all nations to follow. It involves a very great principle, namely, the care which is to be taken over life. It is important also on physiological grounds, or rather physiology supports the great wisdom of this command, for it is known that disobedience to it produces pernicious results on the body and the mind of man.

And now, secondly, WE HAVE TO INQUIRE INTO THE REASON WHY THIS COMMAND OF DEATH FOR MURDER IS GIVEN. It might suffice indeed for our guidance to know what God had decreed, and in some instances we have His direction given without any reason being added; yet it is not so here. God, in giving this universal law, has added a reason equally universal. Man is to put the murderer to death because in the image of God man was made. I have heard men contend, “Oh! let the murderer live, for life will be more miserable to him than death; and if he is so unfit to live, surely he is unfit to die; why, therefore, put him to death?” There is here a strange fallacy, however; for the argument presumes, in the first place, that the sparing of the man aggravates his woe, while the concluding sentence intimates a desire to prevent this agony. Others, again, contend that the murderer being locked up in perpetual prison, society is as safe as though he were executed. This also may be true as far as the individual felon is concerned, but is incorrect probably so far as the example to others is regarded. But the truth of the matter simply is, you have nothing at all to do with it. God has decreed it, and God has assigned a reason for that decree. It is no question about society, or policy, or necessity at all--it is a matter of revelation. God asserts that man was made by Him in His own glorious image; and “therefore,” and without any other reason, you are to execute death upon every murderer. And mark you, God watches to see that this is done.

And, in the third place, I must ask you to observe A REMARKABLY IMPORTANT PRINCIPLE WHICH IS INVOLVED IN THE REASON WHICH GOD ASSIGNS TO ORDERING DEATH AS THE PUNISHMENT FOR MURDER. To those who have been accustomed to view this matter as a simple act of the community in defence of social safety, the principle which I am about to allude to cannot, of course, have presented itself; but to the attentive student of the reason appended in the text, it will follow, I think, as a matter of necessity. It is there plainly enough commanded that death shall by man be inflicted upon the murderer, because man was made in the image of God; so that death is thus inflicted because that which was made in the likeness of God had been destroyed. Now, you need not be reminded that the great destroyer of man as the image and glory of God is sin. I will not detain you on a subject which you all agree upon. “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin.” What then follows? Sin must be destroyed. It is the thing which brought destruction upon man; it is the defiler of that which was the temple of the Holy Ghost; it is the murderer of man, both body and soul. How shall it be destroyed? By one man it entered: can it be by one Man punished and removed? God Himself has, in the text, announced a principle on earth to man. This principle on earth is only a material image of that which is true in the spiritual kingdom. How shall it be made manifest? Behold, then, slowly toiling up the ascent to Golgotha, One whom the Eternal has singled out as “the Man that was His Fellow,” and who Himself had said, “Lo, I come.” The sin which ruined us all and secured our destruction is there borne by Him. “God made Him,” though sinless, “to be sin for us”; and when at that hour “it pleased the Father to bruise Him, to put Him to grief,” and to “lay on Him the iniquities of us all”--when thus bearing that on Him in our stead, which would murder us, He suffered the penalty, and was “cursed” as He “hung upon the tree.” He was at once thus suffering that we might have the means of escape, and was as a personal Being, on whom all sin was placed in its highest and most spiritual meaning, undergoing the penalty of that law which enacts, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made He man.” All nature, every physical law, and every revealed law of God on earth, is but a material image of the spiritual; “as we have borne the image of the earthly, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.” The heavenly laws are presented to us in our earthly state in an earthly form, and are images to us of the spiritual truths which we shall recognize in our heavenly condition. Sin destroyed the image and glory of God in man. Christ undertook to restore all, and in doing so must bear sin away. It is man’s destroyer. Christ takes it; and with it His blood was shed. (G. Venables, S. C. L.)

Capital punishment

“Whoso sheddeth blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” “A prediction,” say some, “not a command.” Nay, we reply, not so; for what says God in the preceding verse? “Your blood of your lives will I require.” Yes; and so sacred is human life, that even the unreasoning beast who kills a man is to be put to death, and no use made of his carcass. “At the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man.” It is, then, a distinct command.

Now notice THE GROUND UPON WHICH THE COMMAND IS BASED; and notice also, in passing, how completely applicable it is to present as well as former times.

1. In the first place, murder is a sin against human brotherhood. God made men members of one family, and this particular offence strikes at the very root of the tie which binds us together. “At the hand of every man’s brother”--he is brother to the man he has slain--“will I require the life of man.”

2. God made man in His own image; and though man has fallen, he still retains something of the heavenly resemblance. Murder, in its essence, if you trace it far enough, is not merely an injury inflicted on our fellow--not merely an act by which pain and deprivation are caused to the individual, and loss to society. It is all this, of course; but it is also more than this--it is a striking at God in the person of him who was made in the image of God. Now it is obvious that these two reasons assigned for the treatment of the murderer are of universal and permanent application. Men are brethren now, men are made in the image of God now; and therefore our conclusion is that this commandment given to Noah in the days when God was making a covenant with the whole human race, centred and represented in those eight persons, stands unrepealed on the statute book of heaven, and will stand there so long as there are men to be murdered, and other men who for gain or lust or hatred or malice are willing to murder them.

IT IS IDLE TO OBJECT, as some do, that Christianity forbids revenge. It is worse than idle--it is a blundering confusion of thought. Revenge is the gratification of personal feeling, a desire to inflict upon another the suffering which he has inflicted on you; whilst the act which God here commands is the carrying out of a solemn, judicial sentence, the assertion of Divine justice, the practical announcement of God’s eternal wrath against unrighteousness. More idle still is it to say, as some do, that the murderer too is made in the image of God, and is therefore to be spared. Accept this view, and the Divine command before us becomes a nullity. God says expressly that he is not to be spared; God demands his life in return for the life he has taken; God affirms that the offence committed will not be expiated except by the murderer’s death, that the land in which such a thing is done will remain under the curse of pollution, and that “it cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it.” Now, if the view thus placed before you be really correct, it follows that there is no room really left for much of the discussion upon the subject of capital punishment which occasionally goes on about us. Let me say that we speak only of the crime of murder. We see no warrant in the Word of God for taking human life for any other offence. But if the view be right, a people, a nation, professing to serve and obey the God revealed to us in the Scripture, has really no option in the matter. It is useless to heap up statistics, to accumulate precedents, to construct elaborate arguments, to make tender and touching appeals--God has spoken, not to Noah only, but to the whole human race; not to one generation only, but to the whole of the successive ages of mankind; and from His authoritative decision there is, and there can be, no possible appeal. And let me say, in conclusion, that I dread these humanitarian views, for this reason, among others--because they seem to shift the basis on which human society rests, and on which alone it can permanently stand. They go upon the assumption that what men decide shall be right, thus ignoring God’s eternal laws of right and wrong. But you must go up to God ultimately for the decision of such a question as this. (G. Calthrop, M. A.)

Our relationships

The terms of the passage are too general to make any narrowing of them down within family limits legitimate. They contain the very advanced truth that every man belongs to every other man; that there is but one great human family; and that our action is not according to the will of God when it is conducted on lines of exclusion. Whether we see it or not, the fact is everywhere assumed in Scripture that that which is good for the whole humanity is good for each member of it. Our policy is to be broadly sympathetic. In Church, in State, religiously, politically, everywhere. The charge is put upon us to preserve human life, not simply our own individual life, but to do all we can to preserve human life everywhere. And this is every man’s duty. “The life of man,” what is it?
The true human life, what is it? That which is fitting and proper to you and me and all men, what is it? Because that is the life we have to preserve. We are not allowed to live in the front of great human problems we never so much as touch with the tip of our finger. Almighty God will not have that. It is contrary to His idea of man and his responsibility. But how many, how very many, even now, in these Christian times, live on a very much lower plane than that! How often do we find ourselves saying, “It’s no concern of mine whether people are this, that, and the other; if only I can be let alone to do my own business and enjoy my own life, that is all I ask.” But that is not all that God asks; it is not all of which our nature is capable; and every man is accountable to God for the capability within him. We live in a world indefinitely improvable. In a right condition of society we live in a world capable of supporting an almost countless population. Now, in this movement the Christian Church has a very important place to fill, and for this simple reason, that it is the trustee of the truth which is to leaven the mass of human opinion and feeling. No life ever yields comfort to its possessor until it is conformed to the idea which He had for it who originally gave it. Everything has its state of fixity, and there is no content and no satisfaction until that state is reached. This is specially and emphatically true of the life of man. We are members of a great human race, in every one of whom there is the feeling of something attainable which has not yet been attained. As to what the something is there is endless diversity of opinion. Now, the Church has something more to do than to take care of itself. Very little good can it do on the principle of simply caring for itself. It has to sound in the ear of humanity, of men everywhere, the truth that is in these words, “At the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man.” It has to illustrate by its spirit and temper and by its deeds this fact, that all men belong to all other men. Missionary it must be or die. It has to declare God’s ideas, God’s favour, God’s will to the world, as these have come to us in Jesus. It has to live those ideas before the world, and thus gradually but surely renew the world. It has to be the leaven in the meal. It must be that every man is accountable for the right use of the noblest ideas which ever come into his soul. Quench them he must not. Stifle them he must not. He must nourish them into growth, or his soul will be a graveyard in which are buried the murdered innocents which would have grown into manhood but for the strangling hand of his scepticism. And so, while I speak of the Church as the collective of all God-inspired souls, I beseech you to note that in our text there is no absorption of the individual into the mass. “At the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man.” The whole life of man concerns each of us--all of us. That is the truth at the base of universal suffrage. We are responsible for the high or low tone of the life of man in the community in which we live, in the town, in the city, in the state, in the nation. “At the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man.” Why, says one, should I be punished for what another man does? Because we are all partakers of one life, and are related, and are a family, and the law is that if one member suffer, all the members shall suffer with it. And so, if there be small-pox in the poor streets, you who live in the better streets begin to be concerned. You don’t ask, What have I to do with that man’s small-pox? You say to the authorities, “Get the man off to the hospital; disinfect his house. Go in and do it.” But what right have you to enter that man’s house and haul him away to the hospital? What right have you to send the health officer with his disinfectant? You see, your doctrine of individualism breaks down in presence of a contagious and desolating disease, and very properly so. But is it not a miserable confession to make, that we have to learn the doctrine of our relationship to others on the lowest side of it, because we will not recognize it on its highest side? Soul and body are so closely married in this life that no one can divorce them. They act and react on each other. Organization does not produce life; life produces organization. We cannot separate the material and the spiritual. The life of a man is too much of a unit to allow us to do that. And, says the Almighty One, “At the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man.” We are part of a nation’s life. All its questions are our questions; all its struggles are our struggles; all its failures are our failures; all its triumphs are our triumphs. Not till the regenerated brotherhood of the Church rises above its sectisms and boldly puts itself in the fore-front of the nation’s life as the truth teller, the evangelizer, claiming the life of man for Christ, and testing everything by the principles of life He has given us, does it do its duty or fulfil its mission. (R. Thomas.)

Verses 8-11

Genesis 9:8-11

I establish My covenant with you

God’s covenant with Noah


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.

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. (C. Kingsley, M. A.)

The covenant with Noah


THE TRANSMISSION OF PARENTAL BLESSINGS TO CHILDREN. Verse 9. Dispositions of good or evil are almost sure to transmit themselves to succeeding generations. The descendants of a single vicious man and his wife, in the state of New York, numbered by scores, have been paupers and criminals. Put against this another illustration. The grandfather of Mary Lyon, the devoted principal of Mount Holyoke Seminary, was accustomed to pray daily for the blessing of God upon his children and the generations that should follow. Nearly all his descendants have been earnest Christians. In one graveyard lie fifty who died in the Lord. So when God covenants with Noah, it is with his children also. Here was the ground of circumcision in the Jewish Church. But it was because of this Divine principle that Peter said, “The promise is unto you and to your children.” We ought to expect that our children will grow up Christians, and labour for it.

THE ADVANTAGE ENJOYED BY OTHER CREATED BEINGS IN THE BLESSINGS GIVEN TO GOD’S PEOPLE. Verse 10. Men often enjoy privileges that are solely due to a Christianity at which they scoff. Certain scientific unbelievers, who deride prayer and declare man an automaton, and seek to prove the blight of Christian influence on society in the Middle Ages, would find no market for their books but for the quickened intellect that Christianity has induced. They are basking in the gospel’s sunlight. There are heathen nations that are pierced through and through with Divine rays of light. Japan will illustrate this fact. A while since an embassy from Japan was in this country (United States of America), studying our national characteristics. It carried back for use in its own land our systems of education, of railroading, of manufacturing, of newspaper publication, of post office management, and what not beside. In doing this, it carried back Christian influences, for as Joseph Neesima, himself a Japanese, assured the embassy, our civilization is built upon the Bible. Today every prison warden in Japan has been studying a book furnished him for his guidance by the Japanese Government. That book was written by a missionary and contains a chapter on Christianity as an influence in managing prisons. Thus do the Divine shafts of the gospel fling themselves into the most inaccessible places. Even the animals are blessed through our religion. To be sure, some heathen nations have considered certain animals to be gods, and cared for them in consequence. But the tenderness of Christian people toward the inferior creation extends to all forms of sentient life and springs from reverence to God and a religious desire to spare His creatures suffering.

GOD’S PROMISE OF CARE AND PROTECTION. Verse 11. We distrust God when the lightning affrights us, or when we tremble in a storm at sea. Let us seek the spirit of the Christian sailor, who, when asked, as the waves were raging, how he could have so little fear, replied, “Though I sink, I shall only drop into my heavenly Father’s hand, for He holds all these waters there.”

NATURE APPEARS IN THE NARRATIVE AS A TEACHER OF MORALS AND RELIGION. Verses 12-14. God designs that we should learn spiritual truths from the open pages of creation. His power and wisdom, His plans for man’s good, are manifest in sky and earth and sea. The world is a most elaborate and perfect machine, fashioned by the hand of a Master. It is as manifestly fitted for man’s needs as is a mansion furnished with the luxurious contrivances of modern ingenuity. (A. P. Foster.)

God’s covenant with the new humanity


1. Men have no right to dictate to God.

2. God reserves the power to bestow goodness.

3. The character of God leads us to expect the advances of His goodness towards men.

4. When God enters into covenant with His creatures, He binds



1. This was an act of pure grace.

2. Human history is a long comment upon the forbearance of God. Acts 14:15; Romans 3:26.)

3. This forbearance of God was unconditional. It was not a command relating to conduct, but a statement of God’s gracious will towards mankind.

4. This forbearance throws some light upon the permission of evil. We ask, why does God permit evil to exert its terrible power through all ages? Our only answer is that His mercy triumphs over judgment.

IT WAS A COVENANT WHICH, IN THE FORM AND SIGN OF IT, WAS GRACIOUSLY ADAPTED TO MAN’S CONDITION. Man was weak and helpless, his sense of spiritual things blunted and impaired by sin. He was not able to appreciate Divine truth in its pure and native form. God must speak to him by signs and symbols, and encourage him by promises of temporal blessing. In this way alone he can rise from sensible things to spiritual, and from earthly good to the enduring treasures of heaven.

1. The terms of the covenant refer to the averting of temporal punishment, but suggest the promise of higher things.

2. The sign of the covenant was outward, but full of deep and precious meaning. Covenants were certified by signs or tokens, such as a heap or pillar, or a gift (Genesis 31:52; Genesis 21:30). The starry night was the sign of the promise to Abraham (Genesis 15:1-21). Here, the sign of the covenant was the rainbow; a sign beautiful in itself, calculated to attract attention, and most fitting to teach the fact of God’s constancy, and to encourage the largest hopes from His love. All this was an education for man, so that he might adore and hope for the Divine mercy.

(1) Mankind were to be educated through the beautiful. The beauty of the rainbow helped men to thoughts of heaven.

(2) Mankind were to be taught the symbolic meaning of nature. All nature is a mighty parable of spiritual truth.

(3) Mankind were to be taught that God is greater than nature. The creature, however beautiful, or capable of inspiring awe and grandeur, must not be deified. This was God’s bow, not Himself. God is separate from nature, and greater than it; a living personality above all things created. If we could pursue nature to its furthest verge, we should find that we could not thus enclose and limit God; He would still retire into the habitation of eternity!

(4) Mankind were to be taught to recognize a presiding mind in all the phenomena of nature. “My bow.” God calls it His own, as designed and appointed by Him. There is no resting place for our mind and heart in second causes; we must come at last to a spiritual and intellectual subsistence--to a living personality. Nature without this view becomes a ruthless machine.

(5) Man was to be assured that the mercy of God is equal to his extremity. He will remember men for good in their greatest calamities and dangers. (T. H.Leale.)

Divine covenants

God’s covenants show--

1. That He is willing to contract duties towards man. Man can therefore hope for and obtain that which he cannot claim as a right. Thus “Mercy rejoiceth against judgment” (James 2:13).

2. That man’s duty has relation to a personal Lawgiver. There is no independent morality. All human conduct must ultimately be viewed in the light of God’s requirements.

3. That man needs a special revelation of God’s love. The light of nature is not sufficient to satisfy the longings of the soul and encourage hope. We require a distinct utterance--a sign from heaven. The vague sublimities of created things around us are unsatisfying, we need the assurance that behind all there is a heart of infinite compassion.

4. That every new revelation of God’s character implies corresponding duties on the part of man. The progress of revelation has refined and exalted the principle of duty, until man herein is equal unto the angels, and learns to do “all for love, and nothing for reward.” (T. H. Leale.)

The covenant with Noah


1. The all-loving and everlasting God.

(1) The time when God makes this covenant is instructive.

(2) The Divine motive which prompted this covenant is encouraging.

(3) The Divine power to fulfil the terms of this covenant is all- sufficient.

2. Noah and his sons and their posterity, and every living thing.

(1) Its comprehensiveness.

(2) Its duration.


1. The regularity of the seasons is guaranteed.

2. Food for man and beast.


1. The beauty of the token is suggestive.

(1) Its arched form, whose apex touches the sky, and whose base is on earth, and suggests that it is God’s covenant that connects heaven with earth, and is the crown of human hope.

(2) Its colours suggest both the infinite variety and immaculate glory of God’s covenant blessings.

2. The permanency of the token is suggestive.

(1) That God never forgets His covenant with us.

(2) That He would have our faith in His promises as constantly exercised as His memory of His covenant is unfailing.

3. Its heavenly sphere is suggestive.


1. God’s most endearing title: our covenant-God.

2. As covenant-God He is full of grace and truth.

3. The centre of both grace and truth is He whose blood is the blood of the covenant. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)

God’s covenant with Noah

We see here--

1. The mercy and goodness of God, in proceeding with us in a way of covenant. He might have exempted the world from this calamity, and yet not have told them He would do so. The remembrance of the flood might have been a sword hanging over their heads in terrorem. But He will set their minds at rest on this score, and therefore promises, and that with an oath, that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth. Thus also

He deals with us in His Son. Being willing that the heirs of promise should have strong consolation, He confirms His word by an oath.

2. The importance of living under the light of revelation. Noah’s posterity by degrees sank into idolatry, and became “strangers to the covenants of promise.” Such were our fathers for many ages, and such are great numbers to this day. So far as respects them, God might as well have made no promise: to them all is lost.

3. The importance of being believers. Without this, it will be worse for us than if we had never been favoured with a revelation.

4. We see here the kind of life which it was God’s design to encourage--a life of faith. “The just shall live by faith.” If He had made no revelation of Himself, no covenants, and no promises, there would be no ground for faith; and we must have gone through life feeling after Him, without being able to find Him: but having made known His mind, there is light in all our dwellings, and a sure ground forbelieving not only in our exemption from another flood, but in things of far greater importance. (A. Fuller.)

The scheme of Providence--the promise and pledge of the Divine forbearance

The scheme of Providence, in the world after the flood, is of the nature of a dispensation of forbearance, subservient to a dispensation of grace, and preparatory to a dispensation of judgment; and of this forbearance, on the part of God, Noah receives a promise and a pledge.

Looking, then, to the original purpose, of which we read as existing in the mind of God (Genesis 8:21-22), HIS DETERMINATION TO SPARE THE EARTH IS EXPLAINED ON TWO PRINCIPLES, WHICH IT IS IMPORTANT TO OBSERVE. The first of these principles is the inveterate and desperate depravity of man. “Why should ye be stricken any more?” is the indignant voice of God to Israel by His servant Isaiah;--ye will but increase revolt, “ye will revolt more and more.” “The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness at all; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores” (chap. 1:5, 6). Why, then, should ye be stricken any more? There is no sound part in you on which the stroke can take effect; discipline, correction, chastisement, is thrown away upon you; ye are beyond the influence of its salutary efficacy; ye become worse and worse under its infliction; I will strike no more, for ye are too far gone to be thus reclaimed. So also the Lord says in His heart respecting the world after the flood;--I will not again curse the earth--I will not again visit it with so desolating a judgment. Why should I? What good purpose would it serve? Thus considered, this Divine reasoning is, in many views, deeply affecting. It rebukes the presumptuous security of unbelief (Ecclesiastes 8:11). Again, this argument, as thus used by God, places in the clearest light the extreme depravity of man. The disorder of his nature is too inveterate, inborn, and inbred, to be remedied by a discipline of correction and chastisement. Undoubtedly there is an efficacy in the chastisements which God ordains, to amend, to purify, and sanctify the soul; but this efficacy depends upon there being some health and soundness, some principle of life, in those to whom such chastisements are applied. Therefore the Lord chastens and corrects His own people. But on the heart of man, as it is by nature, the Lord here emphatically testifies that the warnings and visitations of judgment will never effectually tell. Why should I smite the earth any more The imagination of man’s heart is so thoroughly evil from his youth, that My smiting is altogether in vain. There is a tremendous truth involved in this argument;--it shuts forever the door of mercy on the impenitent and unbelieving. But while this saying of God presents on one side a dark and ominous aspect, on the other side it reflects a blessed gleam of light. It indicates the purpose of God, that in His treatment of the world, during the remainder of its allotted time, He is not to deal with its inhabitants according to their sins, nor to reward them after their iniquities. His providence over the earth is to be conducted, not on the principle of penal or judicial retribution--the human race being too corrupt to be thus reclaimed or amended--but on another principle altogether, irrespective of the merits or the works of man. What that other principle is, appears from the relation which the Lord’s decree bears to the sacrifices offered by Noah, by which He is said to be propitiated (Genesis 8:20-21). These sacrifices undoubtedly derive their efficacy from the all-sufficient sacrifice of atonement which they prefigured. And it is that sacrifice, offered once for all, in the end of the world--the sacrifice of the Lamb virtually slain from the foundation of the world--which alone satisfactorily explains the Lord’s determination to spare the earth. It does so in two ways. In the first place, the interposition of that sacrifice vindicates and justifies the righteous God in passing by the sins of men (Romans 3:25)--in exercising forbearance, and suspending judgment. It is this alone which renders His long suffering consistent with His justice;--otherwise as the righteous Judge, He could not spare the guilty for a single hour. Secondly, that sacrifice of Christ reaches beyond mere forbearance, and is effectual to save. The very design of it--its direct and proper object--is not merely to provide that the barren tree may be let alone, but to secure that it shall be cultured and revived, so as to become fruitful. Therefore God spares the earth on account of the sacrifice of Christ, that those for whom it is offered may be saved, and that in them Christ may see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied.

Afterwards, in its announcement or publication to the human family Genesis 9:8-17), THIS DECREE IS EMBODIED IN THE FORM OF A COVENANT AND RATIFIED BY A SIGNIFICANT SEAL. In the first place, the Lord establishes a covenant on the earth. “My covenant,” saith the Lord. And what covenant can that be, but the covenant of grace? “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He sayeth us.” This, and this alone, is preeminently His covenant; always the same in its character and terms, whatever may be the kind of salvation meant. In the present instance, it is exemption, or deliverance from the temporal judgment of a flood. But still this is secured to the earth, and to all the dwellers on the earth, by the very same covenant in which the higher blessings of life eternal are comprehended. Then again, secondly, the covenant, as usual, has a, seal, or an outward token and pledge; designed, as it were, to put the Lord in remembrance of His promise, and to settle and confirm the confidence of men. It is God’s proof of His faithfulness to the children of men--the pledge that He is keeping, and will keep, His covenant. He looks on the bow, that He may remember the covenant. And as the covenant, being made by sacrifice, not only secures a season of forbearance to the earth, but looks to an end infinitely more important, to which that forbearance is subordinate and subservient;--as it is the covenant of grace or the covenant of redemption, of which the promise of exemption from the judgment of another flood forms a part;--so the rainbow becomes the seal of the covenant in this higher view of it also--and is the token and pledge of its spiritual and eternal blessings. Hence, among the ensigns and emblems of redeeming glory, the rainbow holds a conspicuous place (Ezekiel 1:28; Revelation 4:3; Revelation 10:1); and hence, moreover, the covenant which it seals, respecting the days and seasons of the earth’s period of long suffering, gives to God’s faithful people an argument of confidence, not for time only, but for eternity. He is true to His covenant, in sparing the world; will He not much more be true to the same covenant, in saving those for whose sake the world is spared? Isaiah 54:9-10; Jeremiah 33:20-25). (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)

Verses 12-17

Genesis 9:12-17

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: I do set My bow in the cloud

The rainbow the type of the covenant


Among the many deep truths which the early chapters of the Book of Genesis enforce, there is none which strikes the thoughtful inquirer more forcibly than does THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE DISORDER OCCASIONED BY MAN’S SIN AND THE REMEDY ORDAINED BY THE WISDOM AND THE MERCY OF GOD. This connection may be traced in a very remarkable manner in the appointment of the rainbow as sign and pledge of the covenant. Rainbow equally dependent for its existence upon storm and upon sunshine. Marvellously adapted, therefore, to serve as type of mercy following upon judgment--as sign of connection between man’s sin and God’s free and unmerited grace. Connected gloomy recollections of past with bright expectations of future. Taught by anticipation the great lesson which it was reserved for Christ’s Gospel fully to reveal, that as sin had abounded, so grace should “much more abound.”

Further, not only is the rainbow, as offspring equally of storm and sunshine, a fitting emblem of covenant of grace, it is also type of that 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. Other religions have enforced lessons of patience and of submission beneath the pressure of irremediable ill. It is the Gospel of Christ Jesus alone which converts sorrow and suffering into instruments for the attainment of higher and more enduring blessings. In all God’s dealings with His people, when He brings a cloud upon the earth, He sets His bow in that cloud, insomuch that they cease to fear when they enter into it by reason of the presence of Him whose glory inhabits it (Isaiah 54:9-10).

For the full comprehension of the bow, given as a sign of the covenant to Noah and beheld in vision by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:4; Ezekiel 1:28), we must turn to the New Testament. There we read of One in the midst of a throne, round about which “there was a rainbow, in sight like unto an emerald” Revelation 4:3). And in close conjunction with this we must have regard to the “mighty angel” beheld by the same seer, “clothed with a cloud and a rainbow upon his head” (Revelation 10:1). Here we seem to find the explanation which is needed of the close and inseparable connection between the cloud and the rainbow--i.e., between judgment and mercy; between the darkness of the one and the brightness of the other. In the person and work of the atoning Mediator we find the only solution of that marvellous combination of judgment and of mercy which is the distinctive characteristic of the whole of the Divine economy. As the rainbow spans the vault of the sky and becomes a link between earth and heaven, so, in the person and work of Christ, is beheld the unchangeableness and perpetuity of that covenant of grace which, like Jacob’s ladder, maintains the communication between earth and heaven, and thus, by bringing God very near to man, ushers man into the presence chamber of God.

NECESSARY IMPERFECTION IN ALL EARTHLY TYPES OF HEAVENLY THINGS. In nature continued appearance of rainbow is dependent on continued existence of cloud. In heaven, the rainbow will ever continue to point backward to man’s fall, and 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. (E. B. Elliot, M. A.)

The flood and the rainbow

GOD SENT A FLOOD ON THE EARTH; God set the rainbow in the cloud for a token. The important thing is to know that the flood did not come of itself, that the rainbow did not come of itself, and therefore that no flood comes of itself, no rainbow comes of itself, but all comes straight and immediately from one living Lord God. The flood and the rainbow were sent for a moral purpose: to punish sinners; to preserve the righteous; to teach Noah and his children after him a moral lesson concerning righteousness and sin concerning the wrath of God against sin--concerning God, that He governs the world and all in it, and does not leave the world or mankind to go on of themselves and by themselves.

THE FLOOD AND THE RAINBOW TELL US THAT IT IS GOD’S WILL TO LOVE, TO BLESS, TO MAKE HIS CREATURES HAPPY, IF THEY WILL ALLOW HIM. They tell us that His anger is not a capricious, revengeful, proud, selfish anger, such as that of the heathen gods; but that it is an orderly anger, and therefore an anger which in its wrath can remember mercy. Out of God’s wrath shines love, as the rainbow out of the storm. If it repenteth Him that He hath made man, it is only because man is spoiling and ruining himself, and wasting the gifts of the good world by his wickedness. If God sends a flood to destroy all living things, He will show, by putting the rainbow in the cloud, that floods and destruction and anger are not His rule; that His rule is sunshine and peace and order.

The Bible account of the flood will teach us HOW TO LOOK AT THE MANY ACCIDENTS WHICH STILL HAPPEN UPON THE EARTH. These disasters do not come of themselves, do not come by accident or chance or blind necessity; God sends them, and they fulfil His will and word. He may send them in anger, but in His anger He remembers mercy, and His very wrath to some is part and parcel of His love to the rest. Therefore these disasters must be meant to do good, and will do good to mankind. (C. Kingsley, M. A.)

The sign of the covenant

The appointment of the sign of the covenant, or of the rainbow as God’s bow of peace, whereby there is at the same time expressed--

1. The elevation of men above the deification of the creature (since the rainbow is not a divinity, but a sign of God, an appointment which even idolatrous nations appear not to have wholly forgotten, when they denote it God’s bridge, or God’s messenger).

2. Their introduction to the symbolic comprehension and interpretation of natural phenomena, even to the symbolizing of forms and colours.

3. That God’s compassion remembers men in their dangers. 4 The setting up of a sign of light and fire, which, along with its assurance that the earth will never be drowned again in water, indicates at the same time its future transformation through light and fire. (J. P. Lange, D. D.)

The bow in the cloud


1. Because they imply the existence of evil.

2. Because suffering is connected with them.

3. Because they are the last means employed to humble the proud and impenitent.


1. By removing every cause of fear.

2. By giving us perfect liberty of action.


1. By giving us a ground for trust in Him.

2. By the comprehensiveness of the covenant

3. By giving us visible evidence of His faithfulness.


1. Because they are freely given.

2. Because there is power to perform them.

3. Because the honour of His government is pledged in their performance. (Homilist.)

The bow of promise

THE SACRIFICE. A token of--

1. Gratitude.

2. Penitence.

3. Good resolve. Dedication of himself and family to God’s service.


1. A renewal of the primal blessing.

2. Animal food permitted to be used, with a particular restriction.

3. A strict law is given against murder, implying that men are responsible both to God and to their fellow men, for any violence done.

4. A promise is given by God, that there shall be no more a flood to destroy the earth.

THE TOKEN OF THE COVENANT. The rainbow: the light of sunshine on a departing storm. A cheering, gladdening sight. Fit symbol of mercy, and of hope. LEARN:

1. From the sacrifice, self-consecration to God our Saviour.

2. From the covenant, obedience to God, and love to our fellow men.

3. From the beautiful token of God’s faithfulness, an undying hope in His mercy which endureth forever. (W. S. Smith, B. D.)

The bow in the cloud

How often after that terrible flood must Noah and his sons have felt anxious when a time of heavy rain set in, and the rivers Euphrates and Tigris rose over their banks and submerged the low level land! But if for a while their hearts misgave them, they had a cheering sign to reassure them, for in the heaviest purple storm cloud stood the rainbow, recalling to their minds the promise of God.

If it be true that God’s rainbow stands as a pledge to the earth that it shall never again be overwhelmed, is it not also true that HE HAS SET HIS BOW IN EVERY CLOUD THAT RISES AND TROUBLES MAN’S MENTAL SKY? Beautiful prismatic colours in the rainbow that shines in every cloud--in the cloud of sorrow, in the cloud of spiritual famine, in the cloud of wrong-doing.

We are too apt in troubles to settle down into sullen despair, TO LOOK TO THE WORST, INSTEAD OF WAITING FOR THE BOW. There are many strange-shaped clouds that rise above man’s horizon and make his heavens black with wind and rain. But each has its bow shining on it. Only wait, endure God’s time, and the sun will look out on the rolling masses of vapour, on the rain, and paint thereon its token of God’s love. (S. Baring-Gould, M. A.)

Lessons from the rainbow

Whenever we see a rainbow, let us--

(1) Call to mind that it is God’s bow seen in the cloud.

(2) Conclude, that in His darkest dispensations, there is ever a gracious purpose towards us.

(3) Consider that all warnings of wrath to come are accompanied with offers of pardon to the penitent. (W. Adamson.)

The bow in the cloud


1. The cloud turns our attention to God who sends it.

2. The bow kindles again our faith and love.

IN THE NATURE OF THINGS, WHERE THERE IS NO CLOUD THERE CAN BE NO BOW. The clouds of suffering make the promises precious.



THE CLOUD AND THE BOW BELONG NOT MERELY TO THE TIME WHEN WE ARE UNDER THEM, BUT TO ALL TIME. When Noah first saw the bow after the deluge, he would be delighted; many storms, and many bows, and many deliverances, would go to perfect faith and to establish love. So our trials and testings on Divine words and deliverances consolidate themselves into our life and become part of our permanent manhood.


1. Affliction, when it comes personally, will force the attention and thought of the most stoical. But suffering is not necessarily sanctifying, or devils might exceed the angels ill holiness.

2. Many from various causes, and with various motives, read the Scriptures. The true beauty of the Divine words can only be beheld in the light of Him who spake them. (F. G. Marchant)

The bow in the cloud





The covenant connection between the cloud and the bow

IN A WORLD LIKE THIS IT IS TO BE EXPECTED, AS A THING OF COURSE, THAT CLOUDS SHOULD ARISE. It is a matter inseparable from the constitution of things here existing. And just so it is in the world of Providence, with those trims and afflictions of which we may consider the clouds of heaven as an illustration. We are here in a vale of tears, in which “it must needs be that afflictions will come.” There are causes at work here which must as necessarily lead to this result, as in the world of nature the operation of the sun’s heat on the water’s surface must give rise to clouds.

WHENEVER THESE CLOUDS ARISE, AND WHATEVER COURSE THEY TAKE, THEY ARE ALWAYS UNDER DIVINE GUIDANCE. How much like a thing of chance it seems when the moisture arises, almost imperceptibly to human vision, and floats away into the air of heaven! But there is nothing casual or chanceful about it. God is as truly present in that silent operation as He was when the world was made. The language of the text is true of every cloud that forms in the air--“I do bring it.” And as He brings it, so He guides it. “Doubtless the sailing of a cloud hath Providence for its pilot.” The hand which forms them as they rise is never removed from them while they exist. They go where God directs: they do what God designs; and when God wills, they dissolve and disappear. And just so it is with the clouds of trial and affliction which rise and float in the Providential firmament. From whatever source they come; whatever character they assume; or whatever instrumentality is employed to produce them, still, we are to look beyond all these, and to consider that it is God alone who brings them.


1. What is needed in order that the bow should appear in the heavens? The cloud, the sun and the rain must exist, and that, too, in a certain relation with each other. The cloud is needed as the canvas on which the bow of beauty shall be painted. The sun is needed to give the light, the colours, of which the painting is composed; and the drops of falling rain are needed, as the pencil by which those colours are applied--the medium required to decompose the rays of light, and spread out their varying hues in blended loveliness. And in the spiritual world, to which we are applying the subject, there must be that which answers to these three requirements. There must be cloud, a ground work of human guilt and sorrow, on which the bow can be projected. There must be a Sun of Righteousness--a Divine Saviour causing the beams of His favour to shine forth; and there must be the descending showers of Divine grace to refract those glorious rays, and illumine with their brightness the dark horizon of man’s prospects.

2. But what is necessary to the seeing of this bow when it does appear? A man must be led to see himself a ruined sinner; he must turn, under a sense of this ruin, in true penitence to Christ; he must submit himself, without reserve, to Him; he must seek pardon through His blood, and acceptance in His merits; he must be led to the exercise of heart-felt living faith in Him and His precious word; he must have a personal and saving interest in the blessings of His covenant, and then he will be occupying the proper point of view from which to see distinctly the bow of the covenant, and feel the covenant and delight which that view can give.

3. But what is implied in seeing this bow? It denotes a thorough, inwrought, abiding conviction, that God’s hand is in every rising, threatening cloud, and that it is there for good. It denotes a lively, vigorous hope, entering within the vail, trod keeping the soul steady in her heavenward course, whatever storms may burst and beat around it. (R. Newton, D. D.)

The token of the covenant


1. A time of desolation. A father runs to the comfort of a frightened child; so our heavenly Father is never so ready to come to our comfort, as when the soul is filled to the full with a trembling fear of Him. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him, and He will show them His covenant.”

2. In confirmation of this, observe again, the Lord made this covenant with Noah, when Noah was humbling himself as a sinner before Him.

BUT WHAT WAS THIS COVENANT THAT THE LORD ENTERED INTO WITH NOAH AT THIS TIME? It is remarkable that, though detailed in this chapter with much minuteness, it relates only to temporal blessings. Not one spiritual promise does it contain. All it stipulates is, that there shall never again be a general flood or famine on the earth. And yet, notwithstanding this, it bears in many particulars so close a resemblance to that everlasting covenant established in Christ between Jehovah and His Church, that we cannot look at the one without thinking of the other; we see the same God acting in both on the same principles; making in fact the one almost a type or counterpart of the other.

1. This covenant had God alone as its author.

2. This covenant was a disclosure to Noah of God’s secret thoughts and purposes. The history describes it as such, for it traces it not simply to God, but to the heart and mind of God.

3. This covenant with Noah was connected with a sacrifice; it was, indeed, founded on one.

Let us pass on now to THE APPOINTED TOKEN OF THIS COVENANT. Now, what is there resembling this in the Christian covenant? We may turn to the sacrament of the Lord’s supper. It is of the same character. It is a memorial to us of our sinfulness and danger, and of the promises God has given us in our crucified Lord of security from that sinfulness and danger. It is, too, like the rainbow, a memorial of God’s own appointment; and being such, we may safely look on it in the same light in which He holds up this shining bow to us, as a memorial to God Himself of His promises. On our part, it is a reminding Him of them, a pleading of them before Him; and it is like an assuring of us on His part, that He will never forget them. Hence we sometimes call it a seal of God’s covenant of grace. Every time it is celebrated among us, it confirms and ratifies anew that covenant, as a seal ratifies the earthly contract to which it is affixed. And hence our Church tells us that our Lord “instituted and ordained these holy mysteries as pledges of His love, as well as for a continual remembrance of His death.” (C. Bradley, M. A.)

The bow in the cloud


1. God does not display the bow upon a blue and cloudless sky, but when there are clouds, and there is rain. The bow does not remove the clouds, but beautifies and illumines them. So the promises of God do not remove, but beautify and illumine, the darkness and mysteries of earth. The cloud of guilt is arched with the bow of pardon. The cloud of sorrow has the promise of support and relief; for bereavement, there shall be reunion; for cross bearing, crown wearing; for conflict, victory; for labour, rest; for pilgrimage, home. The cloud of mystery has the bow of providence arching it. The cloud of death has the bow of hope.

2. The bow can be seen only when the sun is shining. So the promises of God which arch the clouds of sin, sorrow, death, are produced by the light of the benign countenance of God, who is a sun and shield, and gives both grace and glory.

3. The bow can only be seen when the beholder looks up.


1. To remind God of His covenant.

2. To remind man of his comfort.

(1) That God accepts human worship when associated with

Divinely appointed sacrifice.

(2) That God is slow to anger.

(3) That God is great in power.

(4) That God is faithful to His promises. (F. W. Brown.)

The rainbow

We have to talk of two things--first, the tenor of the covenant, and secondly, the token of it--running parallel all the way through between the two covenants.

First, then, the covenant itself: WHAT IS ITS TENOR?

1. We reply that it is a covenant of pure grace. There was nothing in Noah why God should make a covenant with him.

2. The covenant, we note, in the next place, was all of promise. You will be struck, if you read these verses, how it runs over and over again: “I establish”--“it shall come to pass”--“I will”--“it shall”--“I will.” “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean; from all your iniquities will I save you.”

3. There is this about Noah’s covenant, and about the covenant of grace, that it does not depend in any degree at all upon man; for, if you will notice, the bow is put in the cloud, but it does not say, “And when ye shall look upon the bow, and ye shall remember My covenant, then I will not destroy the earth,” but it is gloriously put not upon our memory, which is fickle and frail, but upon God’s memory, which is infinite and immutable. “The bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant.” Oh! it is not my remembering God, it is God’s remembering me; it is not my laying hold of His covenant, but His covenant laying hold on me.

4. And hence--for all these reasons it is an everlasting covenant. For ever has God established this covenant in heaven. Even so the covenant of grace is not intended to be fleeting and temporary. “Forever, O Lord, Thy word is settled in heaven.” “He hath made with us an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure.” “He will ever be mindful of His covenant.”

THE TOKEN OF THE COVENANT. The covenant needs no token, as far as God is concerned; tokens are given for us, because of our littleness of heart, our unbelief, our constant forgetfulness of God’s promise. The rainbow is the symbol of Noah’s covenant; and Jesus Christ, who is the covenant, is also the symbol of that covenant to us. He is the Faithful Witness in heaven.

1. Briefly, upon this part of the subject let us notice when we may expect to see the token of the covenant.

(1) The rainbow is only to be seen painted upon a cloud. Expect no tokens, except when thou needest them.

(2) Nor does a cloud alone give a rainbow. So, beloved, our sorrows must not only threaten, but they must really fall upon us.

(3) But, then, there must be a sun; for clouds and drops of rain make not rainbows, unless the sun shineth.

2. What do we see in our covenant witness in heaven? We see in Him what we see in the rainbow.

(1) In the rainbow we see transcendent glory and beauty. As one of the works of God, it is worthy to be sought out by them that have pleasure therein.

(2) Again: in the rainbow, and in Christ, I see vengeance satisfied. Is not the bow the symbol of the warrior’s power?

(3) The rainbow, yet again, is a token that vengeance itself has become on our side. You see, it is an unbroken “bow.” Vengeance is there, justice is there; but which way is it pointed? It is turned upward; not to shoot arrows down on us, but for us, if we have faith enough to string it, and to make it our glorious bow--to draw it with all our might, to send our prayers, our praises, our desires, up to the bright throne of God.

3. How ought we to act with regard to this rainbow, and Jesus Christ as the symbol of the covenant?

(1) First, let us act like little children. Little children run in clapping their hands with glee: “Father, there’s a rainbow!” Out they run to look at it; and they wonder whether they could find the end of it; they wish you would let them run till they could catch it. Whenever we think of Christ let us be little children, and look, and look, and look again; and let us long to get at Him, for, unlike the rainbow, we can get at Him.

(2) While we gaze, ought we not to praise and admire? One or two of the nations of antiquity had it as a part of their religion always to sing hymns when they saw the rainbow. Should not we whenever we see Christ?

(3) And again, when we see Christ, we ought to confess our sin with humiliation. An old writer says that the Jews confess their sins when they see the rainbow. I am sure, whenever we see Christ, we ought to remember the deluge of wrath from which He has delivered us, the flames of hell from which He has saved us; and so, humbly bowing ourselves in the dust, let us love, and praise, and bless His name. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The bow in the cloud


1. Whoever may claim exemption from afflictions personal and relative, it is not the Christian, for, “whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.”

2. Believers, in a peculiar manner, like their Lord, are exposed to temptations from the great adversary.

3. And frequently are they exposed to persecution from the world.

THERE IS A BOW TO BE SEEN IN THE CLOUDS. God’s promises Zechariah 13:9; James 1:12; Matthew 5:10; Isaiah 50:10).


1. Have not the clouds of affliction ever proved to be big with blessings in the experience of all true children of God?

2. Temptation has proved a blessing when it has been met with in the path of duty, and when it has been combated with the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.

3. Persecution, when it has come upon the Church, has always purified it, and in like manner its effect has been, in the case of all sincere Christians, to make them more earnest than ever in the Divine life.

4. Clouds of spiritual darkness are not permitted to come upon the believer in vain. (The Evangelical Preacher.)

God’s covenant and its token


THE TOKEN. The rainbow. “My bow.”

1. An old thing invested with a new meaning. To the Christian common things are remembrancers of higher truths. The vine, the sun, etc., speak of Christ. Birds and flowers speak of Providence. They are silent on these matters to the worldly man.

2. Conspicuous. The rainbow, an object vast and visible. Spanning the heavens.

3. Attractive. Beautiful in shape and colour. Though often seen, always looked upon with a new delight.

4. Universal. Wherever the falling rain could bring the flood to mind, there the rainbow preaches of the mercy and faithfulness of God. LEARN:

The condescension of a covenant making God.

The faithfulness of a covenant keeping God.

The obligation we are under of covenanting to serve God, and of keeping that covenant.

To see in natural objects remembrancers of Divine thoughts and truths. (J. C. Gray.)

The bow in the cloud

1. The cloud of speculative doubt.

2. The cloud caused by secular occupation.

3. The cloud of social distress.

4. The cloud caused by spiritual depression--“Cast thy burden on the Lord.” (A. F. Barfield.)

The bow in the cloud

How many spiritual lessons concerning the covenant itself are shadowed forth in this beautiful emblem. I would we never looked on it without remembering them.

1. “The bow shall be seen in the cloud.” We make too much of clouds: the prophet tells us “the clouds are the dust of His feet” (Nahum 1:3); and the Psalmist tells us He maketh the clouds His chariot oftentimes, as He once came to His disciples walking upon the waters; the clouds are the way by which He comes down to people’s hearts, or brings them up to Him. It may be a cloud in our families, a cloud impending over our circumstances, a cloud in our experience, some conflict, some temptation it may be; but if God has brought the cloud, do not fear; the bow shall be seen in the cloud. And we cannot have the bow if we have not the cloud. We make too much of clouds; welcome the cloud, if the bow of your God is seen there.

2. Again observe, the bow surrounds the cloud, encompasses it; it is crowned with the bow; the bow is coloured rain, the edge of the cloud gilded.

3. Again, it is not from earth that bow comes, but from the heavens. The clouds all arise from the earth, the sun made by God shines down upon them, and they reflect its beauty; and so it is the Sun of Righteousness that gilds the clouds arising from our own murky hearts; the promise of a time to come, when rain and clouds shall be over and gone.

4. We may learn another lesson from the bow. Some people are puzzled with regard to the doctrine of the Trinity; they wonder very much if so difficult and seemingly contradictory a doctrine can be true. Why, God has hung up in the heavens a natural trinity to remind us of the covenant of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, for the sinner’s salvation. See how the three primal colours blend in that arch in all the varieties of beauty. There are three in one in that beautiful arch. Whenever you are puzzled as to the Trinity, look at the rainbow, God’s natural emblem of the fulness of the Father, the fulness of the Son, and the fulness of the Holy Ghost, pledged for the salvation of poor sinners.

5. Yet again, look at the rainbow. It is a gateway without gates between heaven and earth. The beautiful arch lies open; no bolted gates hang there on golden hinges; it is a doorway without a door; for the rent veil has made a new and living way, and God has come down to us that He might have fellowship with us. “Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it.”

6. And again, consider the rainbow. It is a bow not bent towards us, but bent from us heavenwards, a bow without an arrow, a window in heaven, that our prayers may go up and enter in, and be presented by Him who stands before the throne, that we and they may be accepted.

7. Once again, the earth hides half of that beauteous bow. If you were above the earth, away beyond its mists, beyond its clouds and darkness, and beyond its hills and vales, the bow would appear a circle to you; now earth hides half of it, but by-and-by, when we are in heaven, the rainbow will be seen all round the throne. Now we see in part, we understand in part, we know in part; the mists of earth, and the earthliness of earth, hide much of the splendour and of the glory that our God has pledged Himself to bestow, but we shall see as we are seen, and know as we are known, where the rainbow is about the throne, and round about the head of Him who sits upon the throne.

8. Lastly, we read of another circle round about the throne, the company of the redeemed! There they are under the shadow of the rainbow, which was to them the pledge of the love and care of the God in whom they trusted. (M. Rainsford, B. A.)

The rainbow

Well may we adopt the language of the author of the book of Ecclesiasticus, and say, “Look upon the rainbow and praise Him who made it. It compasseth the heaven about with a glorious circle: and the hands of the Most High have bended it” (Genesis 43:11-12). The prophet Isaiah has also a very remarkable reference to the rainbow, when speaking of the strength and perpetuity of the Church (Isaiah 54:7, etc.). Never more shall calamities overspread the whole Church, and threaten its complete destruction. Times of trial and persecution must, indeed, come, but Zion will always be safe. As the rainbow is only to be seen painted upon a cloud, so when the conscience is covered with thickest, darkest gloom, at the remembrance of many and grievous sins, Christ Jesus is revealed as the covenant rainbow, displaying all the loveliest attributes of the Divine character, and betokening peace. The bow in the cloud is not a mere general assurance that God will keep His promises with His people, but it is a special token of His grace; and as we gaze upon the beautiful iris arching the eastern horizon, and resting on its dark background of clouds, our thoughts reach far beyond the covenant made with Noah, to a more glorious covenant of grace, and we may read in its glorious colourings, as in an illuminated Bible, a pledge of the provisions of mercy secured to us by His death and sacrifice. “Many years ago,” says a pastor in his sketch book, “I was intimately acquainted with a man of uncommon intellectual powers and social qualities, which endeared him to a large circle of friends. He had keen wit; was a close observer of character; courteous in his manner: he was without a personal enemy in the world. His parents were people of simple but fervent piety, and he was accustomed from childhood to attend public worship, and continued the practice--though not regularly--when he became a man. A lawyer by profession, his circumstances were so easy that he had no occasion to apply himself to business, and his social qualities proved a snare, and led to his ruin. In the meridian of life he was seized with a fatal disease, and slowly sank into the grave. His minister was attentive in visiting him, but the sick man seemed in good spirits, and even made a jest of the emaciation of his limbs. As death drew nearer, however, this careless state of mind gave place to a horror of great darkness. His Christian friends watched with sleepless anxiety, and prayed with earnest importunity for some token of mercy, but the sick man still wandered in the wilderness where there was no way. A sister’s gentle voice inquired if he felt no relief; his uniform reply, given in broken and despairing accents, was, ‘Not a ray of hope yet! Not a ray of hope!’ Among his near relatives was an aged Christian who lived in a distant city, and, on one occasion, the silence of the chamber was disturbed by an exclamation from the sick man, who seemed to have been musing upon the dreary hopelessness of his condition: ‘I used to laugh at uncle’s prayers: but I would give the world for an interest in them now.’ In this state of fearful apprehension and despair, the poor man went down to the grave, his last intelligible words being but a repetition of his oft-repeated complaint, ‘Not a ray of hope yet!’” God has set His bow in the cloud as a token of His covenant of grace, and the most undeserving of us may now find acceptance in the Beloved. Aye, even amidst the awful scenes of the judgment, we shall not be disappointed of our hope, when we behold the Redeemer in whom we have trusted, coming with power and great glory; for there shall be “a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald!” (J. N. Norton, D. D.)

The rainbow and its lessons

Well might a reflecting mind look with wonder at the marvellous arch, which in magic swiftness, and in more magic colours, encompasses the still cloud covered part of heaven; whilst the radiant sun sends his glorious beams from the other part, already restored to its usual serenity. Its beauty delights the eye, whilst its grandeur elevates the mind; it teaches the omnipotence of God, but still more His love; when the flashes of lightning have ceased, and the roaring of the tempest is silent, its chaste brilliancy falls like morning dew on the desponding heart; admiration and gratitude mingle in the breast; and when the pearly bow then appears, like an eternal bridge, to connect heaven and earth, the soul rises on the soft wings of veneration, disturbed by no doubt, and awed by no fear, to those regions where love and beauty never cease. Almost all ancient nations, therefore, have connected religious ideas with the appearance of the rainbow. The Greeks considered it generally as the path on which Iris, the messenger of the king and queen of Olympus, travelled from heaven to earth; Homer describes it as fixed in the clouds to be a sign to man, either of war or of icy winter. But Iris herself was very frequently identified with the rainbow, and she was considered to be the daughter of Thaumas (Wonder)

, by Electra (Brightness)

, the daughter of Oceanus, which parentage describes appropriately the nature and origin of the rainbow. Her usual epithets are “swift-footed,” and “gold-winged”; and the probable etymology of her name points either to the external, or, perhaps, to the internal connection between earth and heaven, between man and the deity; and thus she is the conciliating, the peace-restoring goddess, and is represented with the herald staff in her left hand. The Persians seem likewise to have connected the office of divine messenger with that phenomenon; for an old picture represents a winged boy on a rainbow, and before him kneels an old man in a posture of worship. The Hindoos describe the rainbow as a weapon in the hands of Indras, with which he hurls flashing darts upon the impious giants, and the Chinese consider it as foreboding troubles and misfortunes on earth; but the former regard it as also the symbol of peace, which appears to man when the combat of the heavens is silenced. These analogies are sufficient to prove the generality with which higher notions were attached to the rainbow; they account for its application in the Pentateuch to a very remarkable purpose; they explain why the New Testament represented the rainbow as an attribute of the Divine throne (Revelation 4:3), or of angels sent as messengers upon the earth (Revelation 10:1); but they are likewise clear enough to manifest in this point also the great superiority of Biblical conceptions. In the Mosaic narrative every superstitious element is banished; it serves no other end but to remind God of His merciful promise never again to destroy the earth and its inhabitants; it is, indeed, appointed more for God than for the sake of man; God sees it, and remembers thus the everlasting covenant with the earth; and if the men are rejoiced at the sight of that beautiful phenomenon, it is merely because it gives them the certainty that the covenant is not forgotten; when torrents of rain begin to inundate the earth, and the thunder rolls through the heavy air, when lowering clouds conceal the light of the orb of day, and the heart of man begins to despond and to tremble, the rainbow appears suddenly like a thought from a better world; it announces the peace of nature, and the renewal of the eternal promise. And this implies another proof that the Noachian covenant imposed no obligations upon man, and that it was a pure act of mercy. (M. M. Kalisch, Ph. D.)

The bow in the cloud

The bow, which cheers us in the first pages of our Bible, shines brightly to the last. We read in the Revelation that John was in the Spirit; a door was opened before him in heaven; and, behold, a throne was set. But what encircled it? The rainbow (Revelation 4:3; Revelation 10:1). Thus in the fullest blaze of the Gospel, the bow continued the chosen emblem of the grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ. Let a few eases from the diary of experience illustrate this. In our journey through the wilderness, the horizon is often obscured by storms like these; terrors of conscience--absence of peace--harassing perplexities--crushing burdens of difficulties. But from behind these dusky curtains, the bow strides forth in its strength. It is indeed a cheerless day, when errors of conscience pour down pitiless peltings. Spectres of past sins start up. A grim array of bygone iniquities burst their tombs; and each terrifies by hideous form, and each points to eternal death as its due. The light of life seems excluded by She dread, Can there be hope, when sins have been so many and so grievous, and against the clearest knowledge, and after such tender pardons, and such healings of mercy? Wild is this tempest’s roar; but in its midst faith can still look upwards, and see Jesus with outstretched arms before the throne of God. There is a rainbow upon His head, and the bright colours write, “Father, forgive them.” “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.” The darkness vanishes, and clear joy returns. Absence of peace, too, is a heavy cloud. Many a cross of spiritual distress lies in the believer’s path. Today he may recline joyously on the sunny slopes of the Gospel; tomorrow the thunders of Sinai affright. Today David sits high at the banquet of the king; tomorrow he is an outcast in the cave of Adullam. But in these dreary hours the gladdening bow, which crowns the Redeemer’s head, will suddenly appear. In letters of light the truth is emblazoned, “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” “I change not; therefore are ye not consumed.” “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” Again the darkness vanishes, and clear joy returns. Perplexities are often as a mass of clouds. The pilgrim would climb the hill of Zion, but impassable rocks are on either side: the sea is in the front; the Egyptians in the rear. He sighs, as the lepers of Samaria, “If we say, we will enter into the city, then the famine is in the city, and we shall die there. And if we sit still here, we die 2 Kings 7:4). He is in the straits of David. The enemy has left him desolate; his friends are ready to stone him (1 Samuel 30:6). But he looks aloft to Jesus, and the bow is bright. The “faithful and true Witness” cheers him onward: “This is the way, walk in it.” “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shelf go, I will guide thee with Mine eye.” So, also, burdens of difficulties often oppress. The believer is ready to sink beneath the weight. Moses felt this when he said, “Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel?” But a bow was in the cloud, and it sparkled with the promise, “Certainly I will be with thee.” He went and prospered. The women on the way to the sepulchre were in gloom: “Who,” said they, “will roll us away the stone?” But a bow was in the cloud. Hoping against hope, they advanced, and the stone was gone. Paul trembled when he was to stand alone before the tyrant and his court. But a bow was in the cloud, and he took courage: “At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me. Notwithstanding, the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me, and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.” (Dean Law.)

The Rainbow

Let us contemplate the INTERESTING BEAUTY OF THE RAINBOW. The rainbow is an object with which all are familiar. This beautiful rainbow could not be overlooked by the ancient heathens. They saw it, and were rapt in admiration. They thought it must be something Divine. They consecrated it--they fell prostrate and adored it--they called it Iris, whom they imagined to be the messenger of the gods. It is worthy of remembrance that, in this undoubted fact, we have another convincing evidence of the strength of ancient tradition; and of the importance of revelation being considered as the basis of a great portion of the heathen mythology. But how beautifully consonant with Divine truth is the idea embodied in this pagan mystery! The rainbow is, truly, a “messenger” of God--a messenger of peace and joy--a herald of truth, security, and love.

It may be desirable, in furtherance of our design, to examine the NATURE OF THIS PHENOMENON; and to explain its formation and physical properties. The rainbow is produced by rays of light falling upon drops of water.

1. There must be rain descending the whole breadth of the rainbow.

2. The sun must shine exactly opposite to the falling shower.

3. The spectator must stand with his back to the sun, placing himself thus opposite the rainbow. Then the following phenomenon will be observed:--If the sun shines upon the drops of rain as they are falling, the rayswhich come from those drops to the eye of the spectator will cause the appearance of the primary or strongly-coloured rainbow. And the reason of the colours being exhibited is, that every drop of rain, being globular and transparent, receives the pencil of light, which, as soon as it touches the outside of the higher part of the drop, is refracted or bent; it then passes on through the drop to the inside of the globule at the opposite or back part of it, where the inner surface acts like a concave mirror, and reflects or throws back the incident pencil of light to the outer or lower surface, through which it passes, and so is refracted a second time; and then it comes down to the eye of the spectator. But, as the rays emerge from the drop, they proceed each in a divergent line; therefore, one ray only of that pencil can reach the eye, giving the perception of one of the seven prismatic colours. Those rays which are contiguous and parallel produce the same colour; and its strength or vividness will depend upon the number of rays which, being contiguous and parallel, reach the eye. But, in the rainbow we observe the seven prismatic colours--red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet; and always in the same order of arrangement. And this appearance of seven colours, in order, one above another, is caused by the drops being disposed in the same manner; and, as each drop makes a different angle with the eye, the different colours will be perceived in succession; and thus the whole bow will be presented to view.

Our subject especially requires that we should advance from this general view of the nature of this phenomenon, to the NOVELTY OF THE SPECTACLE AT THE ERA OF THE DELUGE.

Our serious reflections are now demanded for the consideration of THE DESIGN AND UTILITY OF THIS PHENOMENON. This is expressed by the sacred historian: it is “set” as a sign--the token of a covenant between God and the earth. All the works of God praise Him--they show His eternal power and Godhead. In some of His works, Jehovah utters a more significant voice. The bush burns unconsumed; the pillar of fire goes before the people; the sea makes a pathway through its disparted waves; the rock send forth its stream in the desert; the manna descends from the skies; the star guides the magi to Bethlehem; the sun refuses to shine upon the hour of the Saviour’s crucifixion. So, in the present instance, we behold a sublime and beautiful phenomenon--a lecture printed in golden letters, on the tablet of the skies.

1. The rainbow is the memento of a dispensation of mercy and judgment. To creatures of sense, simple revelation seems insufficient for the purposes of faith. Feeble and faltering man “seeks after a sign.” He requires something to impress his organs of perception as well as to convince his judgment. And He who made man, and considers his frame and constitution--his wants and fears--gives him sign upon sign, as well as precept upon precept. Hence, the great value of sacramental symbols. The bow of earth is the emblem of hostility; and is joined, in martial regalia, with the shield and the sword and the battle: but the celestial bow has no array of vengeance--no shaft of perdition. It reminds, most powerfully, of the storm retiring, and the deluge past to return no more.

2. It is an illustration of the meeting of mercy and judgment. Behold the glorious arch! it rises heavenward; it descends to earth; it spans the concave of the skies; it thus brings heaven and earth together. It beams, like a bond of glory, between the accursed soil and the propitious heaven.

3. It is a demonstration of the triumph of mercy over judgment. To the spectator, the prismatic bow presents its brightest aspect--its dark side leans upon the storm--it tells the shelter-seeking husbandman that the sun hath pierced the clouds, and the winds are driving off the tempest. Its beaming is the radiance of love.

4. The rainbow is a striking symbol of our glorious Mediator. Come and behold how heaven and earth are made one in Christ Jesus: yea, believe, for yourselves, that God is in Christ reconciling you unto Himself, and not imputing your trespasses unto you! (C. Burton, LL. D.)

The rainbow

A pledge more appropriate or significant it is not possible to conceive. The theory of the rainbow, physically considered, can be minutely worked out only by the intricate processes of calculus. Every time the arch is formed, there comes into harmonious play a multitude of laws; for example, laws of gravitation, which determine the position of the cloud and the curve of the descending rain and the size and the shape of each molecule; laws of light, according to which the solar rays are absorbed and transmitted and reflected and refracted and polarized, and this, too, in every variety of angle and direction and velocity; laws of geometry, which determine all the angles of incidence and reflection and refraction and interference and polarization; laws of vision and consciousness, by which the beholder perceives on his own retina the image of the beautiful phenomenon, and recognizes it as a rainbow. In other words, the bow in the cloud and our perception of it is the natural result of a perfect adjustment in space and in time of all these multitudinous, complicated, delicatest processes. What a peculiar appropriateness, then, in God’s selecting this phenomenon of exquisite beauty as the pledge of His veracity in respect be the constancy of nature, when we remember that the rainbow, involving as it does every time it is formed the perfect adjustment of countless contingencies, is nevertheless of frequent recurrence! What a sublime testimony each recurrence of the rainbow through the ages that have gone before us has been to the infinite regularity with which the Lord of nature has administered His own manifold laws! Had the bow in the cloud never been seen except when Noah and his family gazed on it, we should have ranked it, like the flood, among supernatural events. But the frequent recurrence of the phenomenon, ever and anon spanning our horizon, brings it down within the plane of the natural. Thus the natural becomes itself a sign of the supernatural. (G. D. Boardman, D. D.)

Everlasting covenant

The rainbow of the covenant of grace lasts forever; it never melts. The one on which Noah gazed soon lost its brilliancy. Fainter and fainter still it grew, until, like a coloured haze, it just quivered in the air, and then faded from the vision. Ten thousand rainbows since have arched our earth, and then melted in the clouds; but the rainbow of God’s mercy in Christ abides forever. It shines with undiminished splendour from all eternity, and its brilliancy will dazzle the eyes of redeemed humanity through the countless cycles of the same eternity. As has been said by Guthrie, it gleams in heaven tonight, yea, it beams sweetly on earth with harmonious hues, mellowed and blended into each other as fresh as ever. And when the sun has run his course and given place unto eternity, that bow of grace will still remain forever, and be the theme of the ceaseless songs of spirits glorified in heaven, as, wrapt in the radiance of that sinless, sunless land, they realize that the darkness of earth was but the shadow of God’s wing sheltering them from earth’s too scorching sun. (W. Adamson.)

Was there a rainbow before?

The covenant is that there shall not be any more a flood to destroy the earth, and the token of the covenant is bow in the cloud. But was there not a rainbow before there was a flood? Of course there was. You do not suppose that the rainbow was made on purpose? There were rainbows, it may be, thousands of ages before man was created, certainly from the time that the sun and the rain first knew each other. But old forms may be put to new uses. Physical objects may be clothed with moral meanings. The stars in heaven and the sand by the seashore may come to be unto Abraham as a family register. One day common bread may be turned into sacramental food, and ordinary wine may become as the blood of atonement! The rainbow which was once nothing but a thing of evanescent beauty, created by the sun and the rain, henceforward became the token of a covenant and was sacred as a revelation from heaven. When you lived in a rich English county the song of the lark was nothing to you, it was so familiar; you had heard the dinning trill of a hundred larks in the morning air: but when you went out to the far-away colony, and for years did not hear the voice of a single home bird, you suddenly caught the note of a lark just brought, to the land, and the tears of boyhood streamed down your cheeks as you listened to the little messenger from home. To hear it was like hearing a gospel. From that day the lark was to you as the token of a covenant! In speaking to Noah, God did not then create the bow; He turned it into the sign of a holy bond. The fear is that we may have the bond and not the oath. We may see physical causes producing physical effects, and yet may see no moral significations passing through the common scenery of earth and sky. Cultivate the spirit of moral interpretation if you would be wise and restful: then the rainhow will keep away the flood; the fowls of the air will save you from anxiety; and the lilies of the field will give you an assurance of tender care. Why, everything is yours! The daisy you trod upon just now was telling you that if God so clothe the grass of the field, He will much more clothe the child that bears His own image. Very beautiful is this idea of God giving us something to look at, in order to keep our faith steady. He knows that we need pictures, and rests, and voices, and signs, and these He has well supplied. We might have forgotten the word, but we cannot fail to see the bow; every child sees it, and exclaims at the sight with glad surprise. If anyone would tell the child the sweet meaning of the bow, it might move his soul to a still higher ecstasy! And so with all other things God has given us as signs and tokens: the sacred Book, the water of baptism, the bread and wine, the quiet Sabbath, the house of prayer; all these have deeper meanings than are written in their names; search for those meanings, keep them, and you will be rich. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The rainbow like God’s promises

The rainbow arches the sky. A summer or two since, standing on a hilltop and looking eastward, I saw a wondrous sight. A fierce shower had just ended, and yonder, arching the heavens from extreme north to extreme south, was a magnificent rainbow. Each end of it rested on a mountain top, while under its very centre, in a deep valley between the mountains, nestled a city whose spires and windows glistened in the reflection of the setting sun. Not more sublime was this than that which it symbolized. God’s promises span the universe; they cover all the needs of man. Not a community exists which might not look up and see the jewels of Divine love arching the sky above them. (A. P. Foster.)

The bow of the covenant

“Oh,” cries an impassioned lover of nature, “that I, on my deathbed, may behold a rainbow!” And let every Christian echo the voice, and say, “Oh, that on my deathbed I may behold the rainbow of the covenant.” (G. Gilfillan.)

The covenant sign

The native account of the last martyrdom in Madagascar concludes in these touching words:--“Then they prayed, ‘Oh Lord, receive our spirits, for Thy love to us hath caused this to come to us; and lay not this sin to their charge.’ Thus prayed they as long as they had any life, and then they died--softly, gently; and there was at the time a rainbow in the heavens which seemed to touch the place of the burning.” (Old Testament Anecdotes.)

I will look upon it

God looking at the rainbow

While we are looking at the objects of nature, as well as at the events of Providence and the mysteries of grace, from below, God is looking at them from above. While we are gazing at the thundercloud with terror, and cowering under it, God sees it from a serene sky, and cast far beneath His feet. While the shadow of eclipse is darkening whole continents, the sun seems as bright a mote as ever it did to the eye of God. When a world or a system of worlds has ceased to shine, it appears to God as the melting of a little patch of snow on a spring mountain does to us. But while this is true in one view, it is also in another true; that often what seems little to us is great in the sight of God. The common order of men see no beauty in the rainbow; the man of science thinks little of it except as a complete analysis of light; the poet sings its splendour; the Christian, even while admiring, seldom thinks of it as a God built bulwark against the return of the waters of Noah; but the Almighty never rears again its arch, or looks upon it when reared, without remembering His promise; it is to Him His original oath, cast in aerial architecture, transcribed in letters of gold. And so, too, with things of a moral kind. The difference between the famous contradictory conclusions of the two knights in reference to the golden and silver sides of the shield, is only a type of the difference between the estimates formed of various subjects by God and by man; only a type, because both these were right, and right equally; whereas God’s thoughts are not only not as our thoughts, but are ineffably nearer the truth. How solemn and how humbling to remember that, whatever we are looking at or thinking on, whether in the physical or moral world, God is looking at, and judging of too, from a far superior point of view; that our notions of things differ from His now by exaggeration, now by diminution, and now by distortion, but are never exactly the same; and that, even if they differ by a single iota, they are so far wrong. This consideration might indeed well drive us to despair, for how can we tell what are God’s views, were it not that in the Bible, echoing too the voice of conscience, the “God within the breast,” we are not altogether left to conjecture as to the Divine “thoughts,” and all its writers justly can boast that they have the mind of God. (G. Gilfillan.)

Verses 18-19

Genesis 9:18-19

The sons of Noah, that went forth of the ark, were Shem, and Ham, and Japheth

The factors of human culture

Mankind have a common calling as human beings, to which we give the name of culture.

This comprehends all influences from without that form the human character and create history. The world of mankind is a complex product which several elements have helped to form. The names of these progenitors of the new race are significant of great principles of thought and action, which have guided the progress and shaped the destinies of mankind. We have here those effective powers which have been at work throughout the whole course of history.

RELIGION. This is represented by Shorn, which signifies “the name,” i.e. the name of God with all its fulness of meaning for man. The knowledge of that name was to be preserved through Shem, for without it the race must fail to reach its highest perfection. Shem is mentioned first because religion is the chief glory of man, the only source of his true greatness, and the only worthy end of his life. Consider religion:

1. As a system of thought. It has certain truths addressed to the intellect, heart, and conscience. Religion comprises--

(1) The knowledge of God;

(2) the knowledge of man;

(3) the knowledge of things.

2. As a rule of life.

3. As a remedy for sin.

THE SPIRIT OF WORK AND ENTERPRISE. This is another factor which enters into the culture of the human race. It is represented by Japheth, which signifies “enlargement.” There was in him an energy by which he could overcome obstacles and expand his empire over the world. This spirit of work and enterprise has given birth to civilization. The union of external activity with mental power is the source of man’s greatness and superiority in the world.

1. It is necessary to material progress. In the division of human labour the thinkers stand first of all. Mind must survey the work and plan the means by which it is to be accomplished. But for the practical work of life, there must be energy to carry out the thoughts of the mind, and render them effective in those labours which minister to prosperity and happiness.

2. It is necessary to mental progress. By far the larger proportion of human knowledge has been acquired by the actual struggle with the difficulties of our present existence. The battle of life has drawn out the powers of the mind.

3. It is necessary to religious progress, The knowledge of spiritual truth must be expressed in duty, or man can have no religion. Doctrines are only valuable as they teach us how to live. Activity without contemplation has many evils, but united with it is the perfection of spiritual life. True thoughts of God and ourselves must be manifested in that energy by which we contend with evil, and perform our duty.

THE POWER OF EVIL. This is represented by Ham, who is the picture of moral inability--of one who knows his duty, but is unable to perform it. A large portion of the energy of mankind is spent in contention with evil, in neutralizing the labours of one another, and but a poor remainder issues in useful work. This power of evil accounts for--

1. The slow education of the race.

2. The monstrous forms of vice. These are developed even in the midst of the best influences and restraints.

3. The limited diffusion of religion.

4. The imperfection of the best. Still, our great hope for the race is that evil is not the strongest power in it. (T. H. Leale.)

Verses 20-27

Genesis 9:20-27

Noah began to be an husbandman and he planted a vineyard; and he drank of the wine and was drunken

The lessons of Noah’s fall



1. Increased temptations to sensual indulgence.

2. It exercises a tyranny over us.

3. It tends to make us satisfied with the present.

THE SPREADING POWER OF EVIL. He who once allows evil to gain the mastery over him, cannot tell to what degrading depths he may descend.



1. The sins of others give occasion for fresh sins in ourselves.

2. The sins of others may give occasion for some high moral action.

THE APPARENT DEPENDENCE OF PROPHECY UPON THE ACCIDENTS OF HUMAN CONDUCT. The words of Noah take too wide a range and are too awful in their import to warrant the interpretation that they were the expression of a private feeling. They are a sketch of the future history of the world. The language is prophetic of the fate of nations. It may seem strange that so important an utterance should arise out of the accident of one man’s transgression. The same account, too, must be given of the greater part of the structure of Scripture. Some portions were written at the request of private persons, some to refute certain heresies which had sprung up in the Church. Many of the books in the New Testament owe their origin to the needs and disorders of the time. But this does not destroy the authority or Divine origin of the Scripture, for the following reasons:

1. The Bible has thus imparted to it a human character and interest.

2. The Bible is unfolded by an inner law.

3. The Bible shows the advance of history towards an end. (T. H.Leale.)

Noah drunk


1. That sin-stricken humanity cannot reach perfection in the present life.

2. That a man is not invariably influenced by society. Noah stood firm as a rock against the multitude, but now in his own tent falls.

3. That witnessing the greatest judgments, and experiencing the tenderest mercies of God, will not preserve us from sin.


1. This act is an index of a debased mind.

2. It shows an indifference as to the means of gratifying his sinful propensity.

3. The punishment is degrading to himself and to his descendants.


1. The commendation of their own conscience.

2. The blessing of an aged father.

3. The approbation of God. (Homilist.)

Noah’s sin

Noah’s sin brings before us two facts about sin. First, that the smaller temptations are often the most effectual. The man who is invulnerable on the field of battle amidst declared and strong ememies, falls an easy prey to the assassin in his own home. The temptations Noah had before known were mainly from without; he now learnt that those from within are more serious. Many of us find it comparatively easy to carry clean hands before the public, or to demean ourselves with tolerable seemliness in circumstances where the temptation may be very strong but is also very patent; but how careless are we often in our domestic life, and how little strain do we put upon ourselves in the company of those whom we can trust. What petulance and irritability, what angry and slanderous words, what sensuality and indolence could our own homes witness to! Secondly, we see here how a man may fall into new forms of sin, and are reminded especially of one of the most distressing facts to be observed in the world, viz., that men in their prime and even in their old age are sometimes overtaken in sins of sensuality from which hitherto they have kept themselves pure. We are very ready to think we know the full extent of wickedness to which we may go; that by certain sins we shall never be much tempted. And in some of our predictions we may be correct; our temperament or our circumstances may absolutely preclude some sins from mastering us. Yet who has made but a slight alteration in his circumstances, added a little to his business, made some new family arrangements, or changed his residence, without being astonished to find how many new sources of evil seem to have been opened within him? While therefore you rejoice over sins defeated, beware of thinking your work is nearly done. (M. Dods, D. D.)

Noah’s husbandry and excess

1. The best and holiest of men upon God’s seating them here below, must undertake some honest calling. So Noah is for husbandry.

2. Man’s labour and planting must serve God’s providence to bring the fruits of the earth unto their due use and end (Genesis 9:20).

3. Feeding or drinking on a man’s own labours is a privilege not denied to man.

4. The best of men may be apt to exceed in the use of creature comforts.

5. Wine is a mocker, and may deceive the holiest men that are not watchful Proverbs 20:1). God hath not spared to discover the worst as the best of his saints (verse 20).

(1) To humble them.

(2) To warn others.

(3) To glorify grace, that their righteousness is of Him only (verse 21). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Drink and drunkenness

It is related of a converted Armenian on the Harpoot mission field, that he was a strong temperance man. On one occasion, disputing with a drinker of the native wine, he was met with the rejoinder, “Did not God make grapes?” To this, with native warmth, the Armenian replied: “God made dogs; do you eat them? God made poisons; do you suck them?” While not prepared to argue after this fashion, all must admit the appalling follies of excessive drinking. Thomas Watson says that there is no sin which more defaces God’s image than drunkenness. And sadly as it mars and blots the face and form of the body, its deleterious and destructive influences upon the mental powers and moral principles are more distressing. “Alcohol is a good creature of God, and I enjoy it,” said a drinker to James Mowatt. To this he replied, “I dare say that rattlesnakes, boa constrictors, and alligators are good creatures of God, but you do not enjoy swallowing them by the half dozen.” As Guthrie says, “No doubt, in one sense, it is a creature of God; and so are arsenic, oil of vitriol, and prussic acid. People do not toss off glasses of prussic acid, and call it a creature of God.”

The sin of drunkenness

Noah, as soon as he could get settled, betook himself to the employment of husbandry; and the first thing he did in this way was to plant a vineyard. So far all was right; man, as we have seen, was formed originally for an active, and not an idle life. Adam was ordered to keep the garden and to dress it; and when fallen, to till the ground from whence he was taken, which now required much labour. Perhaps there is no occupation more free from snares. But in the most lawful employments and enjoyments, we must not reckon ourselves out of danger. It was very lawful for Noah to partake of the fruits of his labour; but Noah sinned in drinking to excess. He might not be aware of the strength of the wine, or his age might render him sooner influenced by it: at any rate, we have reason to conclude from his general character that it was a fault in which he was overtaken. But let us not think lightly of the sin of drunkenness. “Who hath woe; who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine.” Times of festivity require a double guard. Neither age nor character are any security in the hour of temptation. Who would have thought that a man who had walked with God, perhaps more than five hundred years, and who had withstood the temptations of a world, should fall alone? This was like a ship which had gone round the world, being overset in sailing into port. What need for watchfulness and prayer! One heedless hour may stain the fairest life, and undo much of the good which we have been doing for a course of years! Drunkenness is a sin which involves in it the breach of the whole law, which requires love to God, our neighbours and ourselves. The first as abusing His mercies; the second as depriving those who are in want of them of necessary support, as well as setting an ill example; and the last as depriving ourselves of reason, self-government, and common decency. It also commonly leads on to other evils. It has been said, and justly, that the name of this sin is Gad--a troop cometh! (A. Fuller.)

Drunkenness the way to ruin

One fine summer evening as the sun was going down, a man was seen trying to make his way through the lanes and crossroads that led to his village home. His unsteady, staggering way of walking showed that he had been drinking; and though he had lived in the village over thirty years, he was now so drunk that it was impossible for him to find his way home. Quite unable to tell where he was, at last he uttered a dreadful oath, and said to a person going by, “I’ve lost my way. Where am I going?” The man thus addressed was an earnest Christian. He knew the poor drunkard very well, and pitied him greatly. When he heard the inquiry, “Where am I going?” in a quiet, sad, solemn way he answered: “To ruin.” The poor staggering man stared at him wildly for a moment, and then murmured, with a groan, “That’s so.” “Come with me” said the other, kindly, “and I’ll take you home.” The next day came. The effect of the drink had passed away, but those two little words, tenderly and lovingly spoken to him, did not pass away. “To ruin! to ruin!” he kept whispering to himself. “It’s true, I’m going to ruin! Oh, God, help me and save me!”
Thus he was stopped on his way to ruin. By earnest prayer to God he sought the grace which made him a true Christian. His feet were established on the rock. It was a rock broad enough to reach that poor, miserable drunkard, and it lifted him up from his wretchedness, and made a useful, happy man of him.

Saints’ sins

1. As the photographic art will not make the homely beautiful, nor catch a landscape without catching the shadow of deformity as readily as the shadow of beauty; so, says Swing, the historic genius of the Bible gathers up all virtue and vice equally, and transfers it to the record--the one for human as Divine commendation--the other for human as Divine condemnation. And thus it comes to pass that we do not see a Hebrew nation adorned in the gay robes of a modern fresco, but one that sinned against God: a beacon tower of warning to all future nations of the earth that the Merciful and All-gracious will by no means clear the guilty.

2. When the painters of the last century painted the great heroes of that age, they threw upon their subjects the costumes of that day; and now, when in our days their dresses seem ridiculous and create a smile, we rise above the dress--fasten our eye upon the firm-set lips, the chiselled nose and noble forehead, and bless God that we have such portraits of such giants. Just so in the Bible, its great heroes are all represented in the clothes they wore--from Noah, in the cloak of drunkenness, to Peter, in the robe of equivocation: and it is for us to let those garments alone, and admire the matchless contour of their spiritual countenances. (W. Adamson.)

The original home and diffusion of the vine

The early history of the vine cannot be traced with any certainty. It is first introduced to our notice, in the above passage, as the cause of Noah’s shameful drunkenness, and as one of the articles of provision hospitably offered by Melchizedek to Abraham. It was, in all probability, a native of the hilly region on the southern shores of the Caspian Sea, and of the Persian province of Ghilan. The tradition of the Jews is that the vine was first planted by God’s own hand on the fertile slopes of Hebron. It has been gradually introduced into other countries, and it has been said that the great revolutions of society may be traced in its gradual distribution over the surface of the globe; for wherever man has penetrated, in that spirit of change and activity which precedes or accompanies civilization, he has assisted in the dissemination of this useful plant, much more surely and rapidly than the ordinary agencies of nature. Now, the range of the vine extends from the shores of the New World to the utmost boundaries of the Old; its profitable cultivation in the open air, however, being still confined to a zone about two thousand miles in breadth, and reaching in length from Portugal to India. (Things Not Generally Known.)

Shem and Japheth took a garment

Piety in children

1. Piety in children hastens to cover that which impiety discloseth to reproach.

2. Some gracious seed is vouchsafed to the saints for their comfort, as wicked for their grief.

3. Piety to parents will use lawful means to cover their shame.

4. Piety turns its back to the discovery of parents’ evils, as unnatural.

5. It is piety in children to cover the infirmities or nakedness of parents. Yet this is no rule for all to hide wilful sinners.

6. Piety turns the face away, and would not willingly see the shame of parents. A sweet pattern. (G. Hughes, B. D.)

On covering the sins of others

Charity is the prime grace enjoined upon us, and charity covers a multitude of sins. And whatever excuses for exposing others we may make, however we may say it is only a love of truth and fair play that makes us drag to light the infirmities of a man whom others are praising, we may be very sure that if all evil motives were absent, this kind of evil-speaking would cease amoung us. But there is a malignity in sin that leaves its bitter root in us all, and causes us to be glad when those whom we have been regarding as our superiors are reduced to our poor level. And there is a cowardliness in sin which cannot bear to be alone, and eagerly hails every symptom of others being in the same condemnation. Before exposing another, think first whether your own conduct could bear a similar treatment, whether you have never done the thing you desire to conceal, said the thing you would blush to hear repeated, or thought the thought you could not bear another to read. And if you be a Christian, does it not become you to remember what you yourself have learnt of the slipperiness of this world’s ways, of your liability to fall, of your sudden exposure to sin from some physical disorder, or some slight mistake which greatly extenuates your sin, but which you could not plead before another? And do you know nothing of the difficulty of conquering one sin that is rooted in your constitution, and the strife that goes on in a man’s own soul and in secret though he show little immediate fruit of it in his life before men? Surely, it becomes us to give a man credit for much good resolution and much sore self-denial and endeavour, even when he fails and sins still, because such we know to be our own case, and if we disbelieve in others until they can walk with perfect rectitude, if we condemn them for one or two flaws and blemishes, we shall be tempted to show the same want of charity towards ourselves, and fall at length into that miserable and hopeless condition that believes in no regenerating spirit nor in any holiness attainable by us. (M. Dods, D. D.)

Filial reverence

1. Lettice would quietly watch for her father, and as quietly lead him home, that none of the neighbours might see his shame as a drunkard. With what tenderness she led the reeling form within doors; and when he had flung himself upon his poor bed, how tenderly she covered him, ere she herself retired to rest. She could not bear the thought of friends around knowing that her father lived to drink.

2. Joe Swayne, the street Arab, had been lured to Sunday school by a teacher on her way. In conversation he had mocked over his mother’s propensity for drink, and jocosely described her words and ways when she returned to their wretched garret after a deep debauch. At school, God’s word taught, and God’s grace trained him to think otherwise. Child could not be kinder to his mother than he was. No one ever heard him mention his mother’s shame. (W. Adamson.)

Verses 25-27

Genesis 9:25-27

Cursed be Canaan

The sons of Noah


The curse of Canaan was SERVITUDE. Noah saw in Ham and his son some traits of character that showed a moral inferiority, which he foresaw would have an effect upon their descendants, and would be visited by God with chastisement and disapproval.

The blessing of Shem was RELIGIOUS PRIVILEGE. Israel was “alone among the nations” in respect of their superior knowledge of God. From this “Shemitic” people was in future days to go forth the “Law” and the “Word” of God (Isaiah 2:3), which were to bring all other nations to God.

The blessing of Japheth was ENLARGEMENT. His name means “widely-extending”; and his descendants were great colonizers, spreading over Europe in one direction, over Persia and India in another. LESSONS:--

1. That the Lord is King ruling over all, and that He judges among the nations.

2. That the Lord is Saviour, and provides for the way in which His truth shall be preserved amid the wickedness of men, and shall finally subdue and renovate the world.

3. That all nations, whether subjected to others, or widely extending their power, should learn to serve and praise “Jehovah, God of Shem.” (W. S. Smith, B. D.)


1. Gracious souls may sleep awhile in sin, but they awake again.

2. Awaking saints sadly resent their fails, and depart from evil.

3. God brings to light the wicked practices of ungracious ones against His saints, and sheweth it to His prophets (Genesis 9:28).

4. Cognisance taken by God and His prophets of wicked practices foreruns a curse.

5. A father may be a minister of a curse from God upon his own children, and he must not spare, as here in Noah, and in Jacob.

6. The curse of God on body and soul finds men in their impieties against Him and their parents.

7. God’s curse pursueth the children that go on in their fathers’ steps (Canaan).

8. Such as abuse sonship in the Church, may justly look to be made slaves unto it. The vilest of slavery is their portion. Such is the curse of Ham. (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Scripture predictions

The manner of Scripture here is worthy of particular remark.

1. The prediction takes its rise from a characteristic incident. The conduct of the brothers was of comparatively slight importance in itself, but in the disposition which it betrayed it was highly significant.

2. The prediction refers in terms to the near future and to the outward condition of the parties concerned.

3. It foreshadows under these familiar phrases the distant future, and the inward, as well as the outward, state of the family of man.

4. It lays out the destiny of the whole race from its very starting point. These simple laws will be found to characterize the main body of the predictions of Scripture. (Prof. J. G. Murphy.)

The curse of Canaan, and its fulfilment

Canaan is under a curse of servitude to both Shem and Japheth: the former was fulfilled in the conquest of the seven nations of Israel; and the latter in the subjugation of the Tyrians and Carthaginians, who were the remainder of the old Canaanites, by the Greeks and Romans. So far as the curse had reference to the other descendants of Ham, it was a long time, as I have said, ere it came upon them. In the early ages of the world they flourished. They were the first who set up for empire; and so far from being subject to the descendants of Shem or Japheth, the latter were often invaded and driven into corners by them. It was Nimrod, a descendant of Ham, who founded the imperial city of Babylon; and Mizraim, another of his descendants, who first established the kingdom of Egypt. These, it is well known, were for many ages two of the greatest empires in the world. About the time of the Captivity, however, God began to cut short their power. Both Egypt and Babylon within a century sank into a state of subjection, first to the Persians, who descended from Shem, and afterwards to the Greeks and Romans, who were the children of Japheth. Nor have they ever been able to recover themselves: for to the dominion of the Romans succeeded that of the Saraeens, and to theirs that of the Turks, under watch they with a great part of Africa, which is peopled by the children of Ham, have lived and still live in the most degraded state of subjection. To all this may be added that the inhabitants of Africa seem to be marked out as objects of slavery by the European nations. Though these things are far from excusing the conduct of their oppressors, yet they establish the fact, and prove the fulfilment of prophecy. (A. Fuller.)

The question of a curse upon children to remote periods

Let us proceed to offer a remark or two on the justice of the Divine proceeding in denouncing a curse upon children, even to remote periods, for the iniquity of their parents. It is worthy of notice that the God of Israel thought it no dishonour to His character to declare that He would “visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children in those that hated Him, any more than that He would show mercy to those that loved Him,” which He did in an eminent degree to the posterity of Abram. And should any object to this, and to the Bible on this account, we might appeal to universal fact. None can deny that children are the better or the worse for the conduct of their parents. If any man insist that neither good nor evil shall befal him but what is the immediate consequence of his own conduct, he must go out of the world; for no such state of existence is known in it.

1. There is, however, an important difference between the sin of a parent being the occasion of the prediction of a curse upon his posterity, who were considered by Him who knew the end from the beginning as walking in His steps, and its being the formal cause of their punishment. The sin of Ham was the occasion of the prediction against the Canaanites, and the antecedent to the evil predicted; but it was not the cause of it. Its formal procuring cause may be seen in the eighteenth chapter of Leviticus. To Ham, and perhaps to Canaan, the prediction of the servitude of their descendants was a punishment: but the fulfilment of that prediction on the parties was no farther such than as it was connected with their own sin.

2. There is also an important difference between the providential dispensations of God towards families and nations in the present world, and the administration of distributive justice towards individuals with respect to the world to come. In the last judgment, “everyone shall give an account of himself to God, and be judged according to the deeds done in the body”: but while we are in this world we stand in various relations, in which it is impossible that we should be dealt with merely as individuals. God deals with families and nations as such; and in the course of His providence visits them with good and evil, not according to the conduct of individuals, but as far as conduct is concerned, that of the general body. To insist that we should in all cases be treated as individuals, is to renounce the social character. (A. Fuller.)

Predictions respecting the sons of Noah

WE RETRACE SACRED HISTORY TO FIND WHEN GOD SPOKE, AND TO KNOW WHAT GOD HAS SPOKEN OF A PREDICTIVE CHARACTER. Noah “began to be an husbandman.” Upon partaking of the wine produced from the first full ripe grape, unaccustomed to such a beverage, and indulging too incautiously in its use, “he was drunken”! Yes, in the most lawful duties and pleasures we are liable to temptation. Neither age nor character afford perfect security from spiritual harm. Connected with this evil of excessive drinking, was the loss of self-government. Shamelessness and drunkenness are common associates. “He lies uncovered within his tent.” And as the sins of Israel rarely escape the eyes of the Canaanites, so Ham observed his father, and, “fool-like,” made “a mock of his sin.” It is a terrible mark of a vitiated mind when men “not only do evil, but take pleasure in them that do the same”! Shem and Japheth, displeased at the conduct of their brother, and concerned for their father’s reputation, “took a garment and laid it upon their shoulders, and went backward, and cavered the nakedness of their father.”

We shall now proceed to make some remarks relating to THE MEANING OF THESE PREDICTIONS, and thus prepare the way for marking their agreements with history.

1. The order of names is not the order of the age of the sons of Noah, but rather of the development of the truth of the predictions relating to them.

2. These predictions relate to the nations originating in these sons of Noah, and not to the sons of Noah themselves.

3. These predictions wear a general aspect. Here in some six or seven sentences we have an epitome of the world’s history. There is no room for detail. Here are portrayed certain commanding features.

4. In tracing the fulfilment of these predictions we must have assistance from the geography of the world, over which these descendants of Noah were scattered. We must see these nations separate; or if together, we must see some strong physical or philological affinities between the families issuing from these several parent sources.

5. In tracing the settlement of these descendants of Noah, we must remember that their first division only embraced a small portion of the earth’s surface. Now, here is wisdom; as these separate tribes enlarged, they went on to occupy regions more and more remote from each other.


1. Adopting the order before us, we shall first notice the descendants of Ham and their servitude. “Cursed be Canaan: a servant of servants--a slave--shall he be unto his brethren.” Looking at the early history of his descendants, we see that Nimrod, one of that number, founded the Babylonian, and some think the Assyrian states. Reading the eleventh verse of the eighteenth chapter thus: “Out of that land he went forth to Assyria and built Nineveh”: a reading the more probable, because the historian is there relating the exploits of “the mighty hunter.” Mizraim established the kingdom of Egypt. Indeed, Egypt is called, in Scripture, the “land of Mizraim”; and the Easterns designate it in the same way. My brethren, you are familiar with the names of Egypt and Babylon. You know that the Hebrews, the seed of Shorn, were subdued and oppressed for a season by both of these powers. And yet the method of their deliverance from this servitude afforded a brilliant discovery of God’s mindfulness of His covenant. What terrible judgments were inflicted upon Egypt, in order to effect the exodus of the Israelites! How many curses fell upon the children of Ham, because they oppressed the seed of Shem! The people that once tyrannized over the Israelites are now under despotic power, taxed in their produce almost beyond endurance, inflicting injuries upon their own persons to unfit them for the service of their proud governor: they tell us that “the sceptre of Mizraim has passed away,” that “Egypt is the basest of kingdoms.” They serve as slaves, and are wasted by the hands of strangers. May “He who smote Egypt, heal it.” May they “return to the Lord, and He shall be entreated of them and shall heal them” (Isaiah 19:1-25). Look at Africa I See how its better portions have been subjected by the Romans, the Saraceus, the Turks. It was on her coast that a colony of emigrants from Tyre--Phoenicians, descendants of Ham, and a people distinguished for navigation and commerce--sought to make to themselves a name and a kingdom, by founding the famed city of Carthage. But the proud city was destroyed by the Romans, and a consul was directed to preside over the province as the deputy of a Japhetic power. Numbers survived the terrible massacre and ruin. And numbers still survive these and kindred calamities, and people the interior of that mighty continent. Still the children of Ham dwell upon Afric’s burning sands; but what curses follow them.

2. We pass on to notice the descendants of Shem and their privileged connection with Jehovah. “Blessed be the Lord God of Shorn, and Canaan shall be his servant.” As there is a special line of descent referred to in the tenth chapter of Genesis, we shall confine our remarks to the prediction before us as agreeing with certain facts in the history of the Jewish people. Now, the prediction refers us not so much to their temporal importance, or to the extent of their territory, as to certain moral and religious advantages. “Blessed be the Lord God of Shem.” Some critics render it, “Blessed of Jehovah my God be Shorn.” Following our oxen version, it amounts to the same; for “blessed is that people whose God is the Lord.” But there is a difference in the form of “cursing” and “blessing.” The prophetic patriarch says, “Cursed be Canaan,” for all evil is from men themselves; and you will remember that the children of Ham were first wicked and then wretched. But when he speaks of “blessing,” he ascribes all the praise to that Being “from whom cometh every perfect gift.” The holiness of Shem must be traced to the free grace of God. And had the holiest Hebrew been dealt with according to his desert, he would have lost “the blessing.” “Not unto them, O Lord, but unto Thy name be all the praise, for Thy mercy and Thy truth salve.” The facts of Jewish history, which we think at agreement with the prediction before us, are these. The knowledge of the true religion, the knowledge of God, and covenant relationship to Jehovah as a visible Church, were confined, from Noah to Christ, two thousand years, almost entirely to the descendants of Shem, and especially to the Hebrews. It appears that Eber was living, and bad two sons at the time the earth was divided (Genesis 10:25); and upon the supposition that his name gave rise to that of the Hebrew language and people, it is likely that by him and by his posterity the original Adamic and Noahic language (supposing that the Hebrew) was preserved uncorrupt; that he was the follower of Shem, his pious ancestor, and that from him proceeded that visible Church which has remained in “the midst of a crooked and perverse generation” a “witness” for Jehovah. The sacred historian having told us of “the children of Eber,” informs us that “then was the earth divided,” and henceforward the genealogy of Noah’s descendants is confined to the line of Shem. Reading on in the eleventh chapter of Genesis, we arrive at the Abrahamic era; whence Matthew, the New Testament historian, traces the ancestry of Messias. As a pledge to Abram that his seed should possess the land of promise, and to intimate their religious distinction, we find the patriarch leaving Ur, entering Canaan, and there “building an altar unto the Lord who appeared unto him.” It would be easy to show you how God entered into covenant with Abraham, and renewed the same with the other ancestors of the Jewish people. How He at length conducted their posterity out of Egypt, established a system of religion amongst them, caused them to rear a tabernacle and then a temple for His worship, sanctuaries consecrated by a visible and luminous cloud, the symbol and token of His peculiar presence. How He raised up prophets for their instruction, and how “the lively oracles” of His word were preserved amongst them notwithstanding all their difficulties and dispersions. Brethren, compared with this favoured nation, all the other nations were “without God.” “Darkness covered the earth, and gross darkness the people.” Think of their religious peculiarities; think of the unusual and miraculous interpositions of “the Most High” so often made for their rescue and supply; think how subservient all the vicissitudes of surrounding nations were made to their well-being; and say, Did not Jehovah dwell in Zion, and was not her King in her? And then, when you remember, “how oft they provoked the Most High, and lightly esteemed the rock of their salvation,” will you not unite with Noah in the language of adoration, the ascription of praise, “Blessed be the Lord God of Shem”! Nor is this all. After the lapse of two thousand years, and “in the fulness of time, God sent forth His Son as the spiritual Deliverer of a fallen world.” “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.” “God was manifest in the flesh.” But “to them is He sent first.” And do you ask His genealogy? He is “the Son of David, the Seed of Abraham, the Descendant of Shem.” Yes; “of him, as concerning the flesh, Christ came, who is God over all, and blessed forever.” “Blessed be the God of Shorn, who remembered us in our low estate, for His mercy endureth forever.” Let the seed of Abraham, on whose nature He took hold, say so; for “His mercy endureth for over.”

3. It remains for us to notice the descendants of Japheth, and their enlargement. The prediction concerning Japheth is, as his name imports, “enlargement” or “persuasion.” Some expositors prefer the latter rendering. Then it may be said to have been accomplished in the accession of the Gentiles to the Church of God. It is an important fact, that Christianity has prevailed chiefly in the countries of Japheth. Japheth “dwells in the tents of Shem.” Shem laboured, and Japheth enters into his labours. But few of the descendants of Ham or Shem have as yet professed the Christian faith in its purity, whilst multitudes of Japheth’s posterity, in Asia, America, and Europe, “bless the God of Shem,” and enjoy His former distinction. But as the word, when meaning “to persuade,” usually has a bad sense; we incline to our version: “God shall enlarge Japheth.” And we ask you if history is not at agreement with this ancient prediction? Understand it as referring to multitude, territory, or dominion, Japheth is enlarged. It appears that Ham had four sons, Shem had five, and Japheth had seven. We cannot think of the Germanic and northern nations, without associating the idea of multitude: the invasion of the barbarian hordes! The northern hive has always been remarkable for its fecundity, sending forth swarms to colonize the more southern parts both of Europe and Asia. Consider the nations of Japhetic origin--Median, Grecian, Roman, Turkish, and many others, and ask whether multitude, if that be the meaning of the prediction, is not traceable in the history of Japheth’s posterity. We attach importance to the ideas of territory and influence--dominion. Possibly, in the early ages of the world, this prediction appeared obscure and its truth doubtful. Ham and Shem put on strength, and the former was subjected to the latter, when Canaan was gained for a possession. But where is Japheth? Where is his enlarged territory or extended sway? I said it might have appeared obscure, but, possibly, we have not well considered its meaning. God “shall enlarge.” Then the early, as well as later, history may yet accord with the prediction. It may, by subsequent enlargement, imply original straitness. God is “wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working,” but we must sometimes “wait to see”! Well, since “upon us the ends of the world are come,” let us now look abroad. Where does Japheth dwell? Take the map in your hand, divide the hemisphere you tenant pretty nearly equally north and south: the northern half is Japheth’s home; yes, his alone. Then turn to the new world, the western hemisphere. The Aborigines seem to be of Shemitic origin; but the civilized parts, the United States, these acknowledge Japheth. I know not how to avoid anticipating the closing part of my subject. These “tents of Shem” are the “dwellings of Japheth,” and so are Australia and Canada and Newfoundland. Finally, the sacred text intimates one direction of Japheth’s enlargement. “He shall dwell in the tents of Shorn.”


1. From this subject we should learn to dread sin and to repose implicit confidence in the Word of God. “It is a bitter thing to sin!” See it in the history of nations, and let Britons not be high-minded, but fear.

2. And learn to trust in God’s Word. Look at these predictions. Think when they were uttered and how they have been fulfilled; and dare you think Moses an impostor, or can you suppose that Noah spake these words except as “moved by the Holy Ghost”?

3. Let us seek the establishment of the kingdom of Christ. He alone is fit to be “King over all the earth.” (B. S. Hollis.)

Blessed be the Lord God of Shem


1. God by His prophets speaks good unto the pious, as well as evil to the wicked seed.

2. Noah and the prophets spake of some good to the Church, which themselves saw not. As here to Shem’s seed.

3. Prophecies of good unto the Church are best given and received with blessing unto God.

4. The promise of Jehovah’s being the God of His Church is the great blessing (Psalms 144:15).

5. Jehovah is more peculiarly the God of some men than of others, as here in Shem.

6. Where God is truly Lord of His people, all adversaries are made servants to them.

7. The Church shall in its appointed seasons triumph in God, and all enemies be laid under her foot. (G. Hughes, B. D.)

God shall enlarge Japheth.--


1. God hath made known that some in the Church to the last times shall divide from it.

2. All divisions from the Church are not irreconcileable.

3. God Almighty alone is the cause of making up the breaches of such as divide from His Church.

4. Prophecy of good to any, as it is by promise, so it is brought about by prayer.

5. Blessing of posterity in abundance may be to such as divide from the Church.

6. Heart enlargement toward the ways of God in His promise and work.

7. Souls divided are only persuadable by God to have communion with His Church.

8. God’s persuasion upon souls is effectual to bring them to the Church’s tents.

9. The Gentiles’ succession of, and communion with the Jewish Church, is foretold of God.

10. A tent habitation hath God allotted to His Church below.

11. The world’s palaces will be changed for the Church’s tents when God works.

12. Subjection of all enemies is surely prophesied to them who join with the Church of God. (G. Hughes, B. D.)

God shall enlarge Japheth

There is in the original a play upon the word Japheth, which itself signifies “enlargement.” This enlargement is the most striking point in the history of Japheth, who is the progenitor of the inhabitants of Europe, Asia, and America, except the region between the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, the Mediterranean, the Euxine, the Caspian, and the mountains beyond the Tigris, which was the main seat of the Shemites. This expansive power refers not only to the territory and the multitude of the Japhethites, but also to their intellectual and active faculties. The metaphysics of the Hindoos, the philosophy of the Greeks, the military prowess of the Romans, and the modern science and civilization of the world, are due to the race of Japheth. And though the moral and the spiritual were first developed among the Shemites, yet the Japhethites have proved themselves capable of rising to the heights of these lofty themes, and have elaborated that noble form of human speech which was adopted, in the providence of God, as best fitted to convey to mankind that farther development of Old Testament truth which is furnished in the New. (Prof. J. G. Murphy.)

And he shall dwell, in the tents of Shem

We regard Japheth as the subject of this sentence; because, if God were its subject, the meaning would be substantially the same as that of the blessing of Shem, already given, and because this would intermingle the blessing of Shem with that of Japheth, without any important addition to our information. Whereas, when Japheth is the subject of the sentence, we learn that he shall dwell in the tents of Ahem, an altogether new proposition. This form of expression does not indicate a direct invasion and conquest of the land of Shem, which would not be in keeping with the blessing pronounced on him in the previous sentence. It rather implies that this dwelling together would be a benefit to Japheth, and no injury to Shorn. Accordingly we find that, when the Persians conquered the Babylonian empire, they restored the Jews to their native land. When Alexander the Great conquered the Persians, he gave protection to the Jews. And when the Romans subdued the Greek monarchy, they befriended the chosen nation, and allowed them a large measure of self-government. In their time came the Messiah, and instituted that new form of the Church of the Old Testament, which not only retained the best part of the ancient people of God, but extended itself over the whole of Europe, the chief seat of Japheth; went with him wherever he went, and is at this day, through God’s blessing, penetrating into the moral darkness of Ham as well as the remainder of Shem and Japheth himself. (Prof. J. G. Murphy.)

Verses 28-29

Genesis 9:28-29

And all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years: and he died

The years of Noah: their solemn lessons

Here is a brief record of a noble life.

There is little besides the simple numeration of years--merely a reference to the great event of Noah’s history, and his falling at length under the common fate of all the race. This record, short as it is, teaches us some important lessons.

THE SLOW MOVEMENTS OF DIVINE JUSTICE. Before the flood the wickedness of man had grown so great that God threatened to cut short his appointed time upon the earth. His days were to be contracted to one hundred and twenty years--a terrible reduction of the energy of human life when man lived nearly one thousand years (Genesis 6:3). But, from the instance of Noah, we find that this threat was not executed at once. Divine justice is stern and keen, but it is slow to punish.

THE ENERGY OF THE DIVINE BLESSING. God blessed man at the first, and endowed him with abundant measures of the spirit of life. Even when human iniquity required to be checked and punished by the curtailing of this sift, the energy of the old blessing suffered little abatement. God causes the power of that blessing still to linger among mankind. The hand of Divine goodness slackens but slowly in the bestowal of gifts to man. How often are the favours of Providence long continued to doomed nations and men! Underlying all God’s dealings with men there is the strong power of redemption, which is the life of every blessing. That power will yet overcome the world’s evil and subdue all things.

GOD’S PROVISION FOR THE EDUCATION OF THE RACE. When men depended entirely upon verbal instruction, and teachers were few, the long duration of human life contributed to the preservation and the extending of knowledge. But as the education of the world advanced, new sources of knowledge were opened and teachers multiplied, the necessity for long life in the instructors of mankind grew less. The provisions of God are wonderfully adjusted to human necessity.

AN ENCOURAGEMENT TO PATIENT ENDURANCE. Here is one who bore the cross for the long space of nine hundred and fifty years. What a discipline in suffering as well as in doing the will of God! Time is the chief component among the forces that try patience, for patience is rather borne away by long trials than overwhelmed by the rolling wave. If tempted to murmur in affliction, or at our protracted contest with temptation and sin, let us think of those who have endured longer than we. (T. H. Leale.)

Noah’s life and death

1. He lived accepted of God, promoted by Him, testifying against sin, preaching righteousness, giving laws from God to the generation wherein he was; and sometimes slipping into sin, and falling into bitter afflictions.

2. He died a death beseeming such a man; he died a saint, a believer, a glorious instrument in Christ’s Church, and so died in hope when by faith he had seen the promises. (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Review of the Chapter

GOD IS ALWAYS FAITHFUL to His promises, and mindful of those who trust in Him.

THE GOODNESS AND FAITHFULNESS OF GOD are further seen in His care for all His creatures, and in the steadfast order of nature. (Genesis 8:1-22; Genesis 9:9-10.)

NOAH’S SIN is a most solemn warning. (1 Corinthians 10:12; Eph 5:18; 1 Peter 5:8.) It is a sad finish to the history of so eminent a saint; an ominous beginning to the history of a new world. The first recorded sin after the Fall was a sin of violence; the first recorded sin after the flood was a sin of self-indulgence and sensuality. It is hard to say which of these two classes of sin has been, and is, the greatest curse to mankind. (The Congregational Pulpit.)


1. Chronology is given by God’s Spirit. Special uses of it are in the Church.

2. Times and conditions of His Church God would have us know.

3. In the greatest desolations God hath raised some for His

Church’s good.

4. God extends the life of His saints as He bath use of them (Genesis 9:28).

5. The longest life of saints wades through various conditions (Genesis 9:29).

6. The longest living saint must die, yet like a saint, not fall as the wicked. (G. Hughes, B. D.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Genesis 9". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/genesis-9.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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