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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Genesis 9

 

 

Verses 1-17

Genesis 9:1-17. From P. The links between Genesis 9:1-7 and P's creation story are very close; the command to multiply, the dominion of man over the animals, the regulations as to food may be specially mentioned, as well as identities and similarities of phrase and style. A change, however, is made in recognition of the innate qualities of creation which have come to light in the interval. It had not been God's original intention that food should be obtained by slaughter; there is no provision in Genesis 1:29 f. for carnivorous men or beasts. But in the light of history the failure of this ideal is recognised, and now slaughter is permitted for food and the animal creation is inspired with a new dread of man. And at this stage no selection is made of those who are eligible for the purpose; in the widest way every moving thing that has life is permitted as freely as "the greenness of herbs" in Genesis 1:30. According to P's theory as already noted (Genesis 7:1-5*) the distinction between clean and unclean was first introduced in the Sinaitic legislation. But he did not regard the sanctity of blood as one of the novelties of the Mosaic Law. While all animals and fish, and all winged and all crawling things were permitted for food, Noah was strictly enjoined that flesh must not be eaten with the blood still in it (Genesis 9:4). It is not definitely stated, but a fortiori implied, that blood must not be drunk. The reason for this prohibition is given in the words "the life thereof." The life or vital principle (Heb. nephesh) was supposed to be resident in the blood. When a victim was killed the blood drained from its veins still held within it the life of which it was the vehicle, the blood soul. The blood might be quick after the body was dead. This created in some cases a disposition to partake of it. By drinking the blood of an animal (or man) its qualities, most intensely present in the blood, might be acquired. A covenant was often formed by mutual participation of the parties in each other's blood (Exodus 24:6-8*). There was accordingly a tendency to partake of blood, especially that of a sacrificial victim, since the communion between man and the deity seemed thus best to be secured. The feeling grew up, however, that the blood was too sacred a thing to be drunk, too instinct with mysterious potencies, too dangerous since invasion by a parasitic soul of undesirable qualities was possible. And along with this there grew up the feeling that it belonged exclusively to God. Hence it was considered a grave sin to partake of it. In Israel this feeling was present probably from the first. We find it in the time of Saul (1 Samuel 14:32-34) and frequently in the later legislation (Leviticus 3:17; Leviticus 7:26 f; Leviticus 17:10-16*, Leviticus 19:26, Deuteronomy 12:16; Deuteronomy 12:23 f., Deuteronomy 15:23). Ezekiel classes this offence with moral transgressions (Ezekiel 33:25 and probably Ezekiel 18:6; Ezekiel 18:11; Ezekiel 18:15 in original text). Hence the blood was given to God at the altar, or after the centralisation of worship, when the only legitimate sanctuary was too far away, poured upon the ground. As a second prohibition, the shedding of human blood is forbidden. Man is made in God's image, human life is therefore sacred; the violation of its sanctity will be punished by death, be the offender man or beast, and is also opposed to the Divine purpose that man should multiply in the earth.

God then makes a covenant with all living creatures that He will not repeat the destruction by water. The covenant is not in this instance an agreement between God and man but a promise, and therefore the sign of it is not, as in the case of the covenant with Abraham, something to be performed by man; God sets His bow in the cloud; when He brings clouds over the earth and the bow appears in the clouds, then He will remember His covenant. The rainbow is the battle-bow of God, just as the lightning flashes are His arrows (Habakkuk 3:9-11, Psalms 7:13; Psalms 18:14); when the clouds become threatening, God looks and sees the bow He has laid aside and hung there, and is reminded of His pledge. The passage naturally, though not necessarily, implies that the bow is now, for the first time, hung in the clouds. P was hardly aware of the physical laws which determine its appearance. It is not certain whether J contained an account of the rainbow; if it did, we are the losers by the omission of a treatment doubtless much more poetical. It is absent from the Babylonian story.

Genesis 9:5. The Heb. is difficult and rather obscure, but the general sense is clear.

Genesis 9:15 f. Translate, "and the bow . . . that I will remember."


Verses 18-29

Genesis 9:18-29. The Drunkenness of Noah; his Curse and his Blessings.—In this section Genesis 9:28 f. belongs to P. If Genesis 5:32, Genesis 7:6, Genesis 9:28 f. are read together, we have an account of Noah similar to the rest of the genealogy in Genesis 5. Genesis 9:18-27 is from J, but not entirely from the same stratum. Genesis 9:18 f. belongs to J's genealogical table in Genesis 10. Genesis 9:20-27 has close points of contact with Genesis 4:17-24; Noah, like Jabal, Jubal, and Tubal-Cain, is represented as a culture-hero, the first to cultivate the vine and make wine, thus vindicating Lamech's prophecy and the name he gave his son. And it similarly regards the history of the race as unbroken by the Flood. The representations of Noah as in the one case a husbandman, the discoverer of the vine, and in the other as the one man worthy for his piety to be saved from the destruction of the sinful race, do not necessarily conflict. But here he is represented as the ancestor of three distinct peoples, in the Flood story he is the ancestor of all nations. It is not easy to fit this narrative either into the period before or that after the Flood. If before the Flood, why should any accursed have been spared? When the Flood took place, Noah's sons were grown up and married; here they live with their father, and the offence is that of a boy rather than a man. Further, Noah's sons were originally Shem, Japheth, and Canaan, the last being guilty of the offence. Otherwise it is inexplicable that Canaan and not Ham was cursed. Genesis 9:24 describes the offender as the youngest son, and Japheth as the second son, whereas in the Flood story, Ham is the second son and Japheth the youngest. A comparison of Genesis 9:25 with Genesis 9:26 f. shows that Canaan's brethren were Shem and Japheth. "Ham the father of" in Genesis 9:22 is, accordingly, a gloss, and similarly "and Ham is the father of Canaan" in Genesis 9:18. As to the identity of the peoples there is some dispute. Canaan probably represents the Canaanites, Shem the Hebrews, with kindred peoples, and Japheth the Hittites, rather than the Phœnicians or Philistines; though possibly the reference is to prehistoric peoples. Ham is a larger unity of which Canaan forms a part.

Genesis 9:18 f. Here the population of the whole world is derived from Noah through three sons whose names are given as Shem, Ham, and Japheth, the order being that of age.

Genesis 9:20-27. While the discovery of wine is regarded as a blessing, since it refreshes and comforts man after his toil (Genesis 5:29*), the narrator also saw its moral dangers. The description of Noah's posture and Canaan's shameless and unfilial act expresses the recoil of the hardy Hebrews from the filthy indecencies of the enervated Canaanites, to which the conduct of the two elder brothers is an emphatic rebuke. On learning of his son's deed, the father utters a curse upon him, followed by blessings on the culprit's brothers. In antiquity a curse was much more solemn than it is to-day. When the modern man curses, it is to give vent to his feelings, the only effect is the reflex one on himself. For the ancients (and among peoples of lower culture to-day) a curse was potent to achieve its own fulfilment. Once uttered, it could not be withdrawn. Aylwin supplies an excellent example in modern literature. So, too, with a blessing; it also had an inherent power of self-fulfilment, and could not be taken back (cf. Genesis 27:33). The curse dooms Canaan to be the slave of his brothers, i.e. the Canaanites are put in subjection to Shem and Japheth. It was infamous exegesis to find in this passage a justification for the enslavement of negroes. In MT of Genesis 9:26 not Shem, but Yahweh his God, is blessed. Probably we should read "Bless, Yahweh, the tents of Shem" (bârçk for bârûk and 'ohŏle for ĕlôhç). This is confirmed by the reference to "the tents of Shem" in Genesis 9:27. God (not Yahweh here) is entreated to expand (Yapht—notice the play on the name) Japheth, and grant him to dwell in the tents of Shem, i.e. in friendly intercourse (not conquest).

Genesis 9:20. Translate: "And Noah the husbandman began and planted."

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Genesis 9:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/genesis-9.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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