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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Genesis 9

 

 

Verse 1

THE COVENANT WITH NOAH, Genesis 1:1-17.

1. God blessed Noah — Noah, as the second founder of the race, receives a renewal of the blessing and the promise given to Adam, (Genesis 1:28-29,) but modified by the altered relations which had been introduced by sin. Had man never fallen, the beasts of the field would willingly and naturally have owned his dominion; but the fallen king must struggle for his sceptre, and can govern only by fear and dread. Genesis 9:2.


Verse 3

3. Meat for you — Animal food is here granted to man. It may have been used before, but is now for the first time expressly permitted. Man is permitted freely to eat whatever he desires in the vegetable and animal creation.


Verse 4

4. Flesh with the life thereof — Literally, Only flesh in its life, its blood, ye shall not eat — a humane restriction, the necessity of which is seen in the barbarous and gluttonous cruelty of some heathen nations. The animal is not to be used for food until life has become wholly extinct. The restriction forbidding the eating or cooking of an animal while capable of suffering pain is in that benevolent spirit which pervades all the Bible, and has a care for the sparrow that falls. Another reason for this prohibition is, that blood is considered as typical of expiation and atonement. This is assigned in the Mosaic law, (Leviticus 17:10-11,) “for the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls.” By this legislation the way was prepared for the reception of the great gospel doctrine that without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins, and that Christ is the propitiation for our sins.


Verse 5

5. And surely — In the original, Genesis 9:4-5 both commence with the particle, אךְ, except, or but, which introduces two stringent prohibitions supplementary to the liberty granted in Genesis 9:2; Genesis 3:1) The life, or blood of the animal, is never to be used as food. 2) The life of man is to be held sacred,

Blood of your lives — Rather Your blood, for your lives, (in requital for them,) will I require, (seek for, demand.) A command sternly guarding the life of man.

At the hand of every beast — Beasts should be killed that endanger the life of man, (Exodus 21:28,) for the animal creation exists for man. By this precept the sacredness of human life is impressively declared.

At the hand of every man’s brother — The brotherhood of man is the foundation of this precept. The beast is man’s servant — made for him — but man, wherever met, of whatever race or condition, is his brother. How completely this strikes at the root of national pride, at the aristocracy of family or race! Man’s life is to be sacred simply because he is a man, a brother, God’s image. The Noachian precept is the germ of the Pauline declaration uttered in the ears of the proud Athenians, amid the very glories of Greek civilization, God “hath made of one blood all nations of men.” Acts 17:26.


Verse 6

6. Whoso sheddeth — The command is here repeated and enforced more explicitly. The beast that endangered human life should be slain, (Genesis 9:5;) so it shall be man’s duty to take the life of the murderer, for murder is a crime against the divine majesty, which is imaged in man. These words are the divinely granted charter of civil government. The means by which this precept is to be carried out in the details of human government are left to human wisdom and experience, but man is here authorized and commanded to form institutions for the protection and welfare of society, and to defend them, if need be, at the sacrifice of life. Civil government is of God; “The powers that be are ordained of God.” Romans 13:1. So the heathens regarded the magistrate as God’s vicegerent. (Iliad, 1:239.) Luther remarks: “If God here grants to man the power over life and death, much more does he also grant him power over inferior things, such as fortune, family, wife, children, servants, lands. God intends that all these should be placed under the authority of certain men, whose duty is to punish the guilty.” The rulers, as God’s representatives, were designated Elohim among the Hebrews. Psalms 82:1. “He judgeth among the Elohim” — magistrates. From these commands the Jewish synagogue drew what they styled the seven Noachic precepts, which were obligatory upon all proselytes. These are seven prohibitions forbidding, 1) idolatry, 2) blasphemy, 3) murder, 4) incest, 5) theft, 6) eating blood, 7) disobedience to magistrates. Civil government has its authority, not from expediency, not from any primeval social compact, but from the ordinance of God. It is not founded on the shifting sands of popular opinion, but on the eternal rock of the divine justice. Obedience to magistrates is enjoined, not because of its expediency, not because of a social covenant, but because “whosoever resisteth the power, (of the magistrate,) resisteth the ordinance of God.” Romans 13:2.

For in the image of God made he man — This is the reason for the stern and stringent command. He who slays a man slays God’s image, and God demands blood for blood. The murderer’s life is forfeited, and it is not only the right, but the duty, of the magistrate, who “bears the sword,” to fulfil the ordinance of God. This was the universal sentiment, or rather instinct, of antiquity, as shown in heathen poetry and law. This, let it be noted, is not a Mosaic precept given to the Hebrew people, but one enjoined upon the race as it goes forth from its cradle upon the renewed earth. Hence in the infancy of society, before judicial processes became regular and methodical, those nearest the scene of a murder felt called upon to avenge it. This is the origin of the institution of Goelism, which, in the patriarchal times, provided for the punishment of the murderer. By the Goel ( גואל) is to be understood the nearest relative of the murdered man, whose duty it was to avenge his death, and who is, therefore, called “the avenger,” or rather, the “redeemer, of blood;” that is, one who pays for blood with blood. Goel thus came to mean simply the nearest blood relative. Ruth 4:1; Ruth 4:6; Ruth 4:8, etc. Hence the word is transferred, with great tenderness and power, to the divine Redeemer, the Goel of the race. Christ is our nearest kinsman, our elder brother, who redeems us by giving blood for blood, and who will avenge our spiritual murder upon Satan, that archetypal murderer in the spiritual world. Hebrews 2:14.


Verse 8

8. God spake unto Noah — The Elohistic narrative here describes more fully the covenant with Noah, briefly mentioned before in the Jehovistic narrative. Genesis 8:20-22. The covenant promised (Genesis 6:18) is now consummated. But there is no inconsistency, as Knobel and others have alleged, between the two narratives. They may have been appropriated by the author of Genesis from different ancient documents, but, if so, the compiler saw, as every candid reader must now see, that these verses (8-17) are supplementary, and supply most interesting information not previously given.


Verse 10

10. With every living creature — The covenant is made, first, with all creatures which went forth from the ark, and then, with all flesh; “with every living creature… from all that go out of the ark, to every beast of the earth.” In the words which relate the establishment of the covenant with the animal creation, Keil remarks, “The prepositions are accumulated, first, ב, embracing the whole, then the partitive, מן, restricting the enumeration to those which went out of the ark, and, lastly, ל, with regard to extending it again to every individual.”


Verse 13

13. Do set my bow נתתי, I have set. The verb is in the perfect tense, but the perfect is often used with reference to future events in promises and assurances, where the speaker wishes to represent the event as so absolutely certain that it may be regarded as having already taken place. Especially is this the case in prophecies. Comp. Genesis 15:18; Genesis 7:16, the promises to Abraham; Jeremiah 31:33 : “I will put my law in their inward parts,” (lit., I have put.) Kimchi remarks of this usage in the prophecies: “The thing is as certain as though already performed, it having been long determined on.” (Comp. Ges., Hebrews Gr., 126, 4.) Some (Knobel, Del., Keil, Bush, Jac.) understand the text as teaching that there had been no rainbow before the flood, perhaps from the lack of the atmospheric conditions which the phenomenon is now observed to follow. Others, following Maimonides and the most celebrated Jewish scholars, as well as Chrysostom, understand that a phenomenon which had existed from the beginning, was now made a sign of this covenant. They accordingly render נתן, “appoint, constitute,” as in 1 Kings 2:35. But if the rainbow were familiar to the antediluvians, in what sense could it be a token to Noah and his family that the human race should not again be destroyed by a deluge of water? This is the question that has always perplexed expositors, especially since the natural causes of the rainbow were unfolded by the discoveries of Newton. Of course there is no difficulty to the Christian expositor in assuming, with Bush and Delitzsch, that the peculiar atmospheric conditions which now precede the rainbow did not exist before the deluge, being providentially prevented, from a foresight of the moral uses to which it was hereafter to be applied. Yet assumptions of this character are obviously to be avoided. We are decidedly of the opinion that science has increased rather than diminished the lustre of this promise, and that no unwarrantable assumption or meddlesome softening away of the express statements of the text is required by modern discoveries. After the terrible deluge storm, the sun bursts through the retiring clouds, and the glorious arch appears. It is a sign that the storm is vanquished by the sun, a beautiful trophy woven by the sunbeams and water-drops on the skirts of the retreating tempest. God points it out to Noah as a symbol of peace restored after the fierce elemental war, and science now shows us how completely it is such a symbol, it being the first flashing glance of the victorious sun through the discomfited clouds as they discharge their last shower upon the air. And Jehovah says, “I have set my bow in the cloud;” “set” is the emphatic word. He has bound the bow, wherein is the essence of the promise, to the stormy heavens; that is, the bow, or in other words, by immutable laws, the causes that produce the bow, shall never fail. The sun shall always burst through the clouds. There was a storm which, to the antediluvian world, had no end; to that doomed race no bow appeared; but man hereafter shall always see the bow in the heavens. God has set, established, it there by an immutable decree. Nature is so constituted, its forces so adjusted, that another similar convulsion can never occur. Thus is the bow set in the heavens.


Verse 16

16. And I will look upon it — A tender and beautiful anthropomorphism. God remembers us in every earthly storm. The bow is a symbol of his tender look upon frail, sinning man. The fragment of a vast and glorious circle, formed from the sunshine and storm, it typifies eternal mercy blended with justice, as seen from earth; binding earth to heaven, it typifies God’s perpetual covenant. We hear scattered echoes of this promise from the heathen poetry and mythology. Homer calls the rainbow a sign, ( τερας.) Iliad, 2:324. The Latin poets make Iris, or the rainbow, the messenger of the gods. Virgil, AEn., 4:694; Ovid, Met., 1,270. The ancient Germans considered the bow as the bridge of the demigods, by which they went to and fro between heaven and earth; and the Indians, according to Kuhn, had a similar tradition. Compare Delitzsch.


Verse 18

18. Sons of Noah — Japheth was the eldest and Ham the youngest. See note on Genesis 5:32.

Father of Canaan — This clause is added in this place, and in Genesis 9:22, because Noah’s prophetic curse lighted on the Canaanites, with whom the Hebrews were so familiar as a people accursed of God. It is, perhaps, a Mosaic addition to the original document.


Verses 18-29

PROPHECY OF NOAH, Genesis 9:18-29.

The historical occasion of the remarkable prophecy uttered by Noah in regard to his sons is now given. The sin or error of Noah brings out the character of his sons, and gives rise to predictions which concern the whole family of mankind. This prediction, in style and occasion, is a fair sample of some Scripture prophecies. It has an historic cause, and relates first to immediate events. Compare, in these respects, the remarkable Messianic prophesies in Isaiah 7, 9. The immediate events, which concern the individuals involved in the transaction, are there regarded as typical of far more momentous events, involving their descendants in distant ages. The material and transitory are regarded as typical of the spiritual and eternal. The deep and wide spread correspondencies between the natural and supernatural, between the near and the distant, are so clear to the prophetic insight that the present and the future, the seen and unseen, seemed blended into a single picture. The prophet ever sees in the earthly, patterns of the heavenly.


Verse 20

20. Began to be a husbandman — Or, Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. That is, began to cultivate the vine, which probably had grown only spontaneously hitherto, and perhaps its intoxicating properties had not yet been discovered.


Verse 21

21. Was drunken — Here is the first recorded instance of drunkenness, and its revolting consequences. It is probable that in this case it was a sin of ignorance, for Noah’s character as a “perfect” man, who “walked with God,” seems to warrant this assumption.


Verse 22

22. Saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without — Ham displays immodesty and sensuality, as well as an unfilial glorying in his father’s shame.


Verse 23

23. Took a garment — Hebrews, the garment; that is, the loose mantle with which he would naturally have covered himself on going to sleep. The Mosaic law was specially stringent in enjoining filial reverence, and in prohibiting such moral uncleanness as seems to have given pleasure to Ham. Compare Leviticus 18:7, etc. Sensuality, with its attendant abominations, were the great sins which brought such terrible judgment upon the Canaanites, so that the land “vomited them out.” Comp. Leviticus 18:24-28.


Verse 24

24. Awoke… and knew — His stupor was not so deep as to prevent his being conscious of Ham’s shameful conduct.


Verse 25

25. And he said — Render the whole prophecy thus:

Cursed be Canaan,

A servant of servants let him be unto his brethren.

And he said:

Blessed be Jehovah, God of Shem;

And let Canaan be a servant unto them.

Let God enlarge Japheth,

And let him dwell in the tents of Shem,

And let Canaan be a servant unto them.

The futures in this passage have an imperative sense, the prediction taking the form of blessing and imprecation. It will be noted, that in reference to both Shem and Japheth the plural pronoun them is used, showing that each patriarch’s name is used in a collective sense, embracing his posterity. The preposition and suffix למוis incorrectly rendered his in our version, although the margin gives the real meaning. Comp. Ges., Gr., §103, 2, note. There is a play upon words, after the favourite method of the Old Testament writers and speakers, which cannot be well shown in translation. Japheth signifies enlargement, and Noah uses, in the blessing, the verb from which the name is derived. The predictions touched the individuals addressed only as they were interested in their posterity. The sin of Ham and the etymology of the names, furnish starting points for prophecies of world-wide interest. Noah is now, for the first time, made to understand the prophetic significance of the names which, under divine guidance, he had given his children, as Lamech, his father, saw that Noah would be Noah, or Rest, to mankind. The filial piety of Shem and Japheth was the means by which the revealing Spirit lifted the curtain of the future, and showed Noah how the knowledge of Jehovah should make the children of Shem illustrious ( שׁם, name, a great name), how the descendants of Japheth should be spread over vast continents yet unknown, while the sensual impiety of Ham typified the degradation of the children of Canaan, his son, who should be enslaved or exterminated by the Shemites, as the reward of their dreadful iniquities. But this foresight had no causative power, and in no sense necessitated the sin or holiness of those far-off generations; for necessary sin or holiness is an impossibility. Their actions were foreseen, not foreordained.

Cursed be Canaan — Not Ham, as might be expected. The prediction begins with the youngest, as his sin was its immediate cause, (compare the order in Genesis 3:14-16,) and as certainly would have been the case had Noah been left to vent a natural ebullition of wrath upon his unnatural son. The curse lights only upon the descendants of Canaan, the youngest son of Ham, and father of the nations who dwelt in Canaan in the time of Abraham, and down to the era of its conquest by Joshua. It is, then, pure assumption to apply the prediction to the African families who descended from the other children of Ham. Shem and Japheth are mentioned by name, but the curse of Ham is expressly limited to Canaan. It is true that in modern times slavery has mostly fallen to the African race, but it is only in extremely modern times; and this slavery is not to be compared in universality or in severity to that which prevailed in ancient times and involved the children of Shem and Japheth as much as those of Ham. Slavery was the normal condition of the masses in the Greek and Roman world. It was a fundamental characteristic of all ancient society. Aristotle, the greatest political philosopher of antiquity, lays it down as an indispensable condition of civilization. (Polit., i, cap. 3, 6.) Greeks enslaved Greeks, and Roman fathers, at the time of Christ, enslaved their own children.


Verse 26

26. Blessed — The blessing of Shem is an ejaculation of praise, as the patriarch sees that Jehovah, the one only God, will be the God of his children, the Hebrew people. This made them a nation, and gave them an historic position grander than was ever occupied by any other people, making the Hebrew character, ritual, and literature the channels of the sublimest moral and religious truths to the world. Thus has the world learned, or rather remembered, the momentous truths of the unity, spirituality, and holiness of God, and the unity, spirituality, and depravity of man.


Verse 27

27. God — Elohim, the generic, not the covenant name, as used with Shem.

Shall — Rather, let.

Enlarge Japheth — Japheth goes forth to conquer worlds of matter and worlds of thought. The Shemitic nations are spiritual and contemplative, preferring a pastoral or agricultural life; the Japhetic nations are intellectual, enterprising, nomadic. Intellectual activity characterizes them, as spiritual insight characterizes the descendants of Shem. The conquests of Xerxes, Alexander, the Cesars, and Napoleon — the logic and philosophy of the Sanscrit, the Greek, the German, the English — the vast migrations of the Tartars and Goths — the colonies and the commerce of the Greeks, the Romans, and the English, show how deeply prophetic is the name of Japheth.

He shall dwell in the tents of Shem Let him dwell in the tents of Shem. Many commentators, following the Targum of Onkelos, make Elohim the subject here, but most follow the Targum of Jonathan, and consider Japheth the subject. The first interpretation destroys the unity of the prophecy, and is harsh and forced. As Japheth and Shem had united in this work of filial piety, so should their children be united in participating in world-wide blessings. The aggressive, intellectual Japheth shall dwell in the tents of the quiet, spiritual Shem, and share in the wondrous promises which he inherits. Each shall share the strength and glory of the other. The Hebrew religion was poured upon the world through the languages, the logic, and rhetoric of the Greek and Roman. The words of Jesus (who bore the “NAME above every name,” typified by Shem) come to us in a language of Japheth. Paul, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, preached and wrote in Greek, yet was protected in his work as a Roman citizen, and carried the glad tidings over Roman roads and in Roman ships.


Verse 28

28. Noah lived after the flood — The narrative up to this verse may have been composed during the life of Noah, and in all probability the details of the deluge, the covenant, and these wondrous predictions, minute and graphic as they are, were written by Noah or by Shem, not in the present form, for the Hebrew did not then exist, but in a more primitive tongue, from which they were afterward translated by some one of their descendants, probably before the time of Moses.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Genesis 9:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/genesis-9.html. 1874-1909.

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Sunday, October 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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