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The Covenants: The Noahic Covenant

The Depravity of Humanity in the Time of Noah:

The context of the Noahic covenant is clothed amid the pervasiveness of sin and death. The disobedience of Adam in the covenant of works sets the stage for the moral breakdown and deterioration of the created order. The reign of death becomes apparent amid the genealogical discord found in Genesis 5. As one author contends, “The roll call of death . . . verifies that sin and death had come to reign.”[1] Thus, the central theme from generation to generation is the dismal reality that “he died” (Gen. 5:5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 27, 31). To this point, the flood account is preceded by the predicament of human depravity and is further evidenced in the immediate context of Genesis 6:5-7.

5 The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.

Notice that the descriptive term used by Moses is “wickedness.” This is not merely a single act nor an accidental engagement in the volatile-ness of sin. Rather, “every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (6:5; italics mine); that is, the disposition or posture of the human heart—due to the fall of man—is bent toward perversion and corruption. Yet, by examining this isolated passage, the question is begged to be asked: what is wickedness? Or rather, what does wickedness look like? How did/does wickedness express itself in tangible and palpable ways?


Upon further examination, Genesis 6:11-12 grants access into a more comprehensive understanding of the term “wickedness.” The idea of corruption is mentioned three times in the respective two verses. The phrase “corrupt” presupposes a moral and creational drift from the Edenic state, an objective standard. One author contends that such language “shows that a beautiful and good situation is now ruined, spoiled, and twisted.”[2] The immediate context gives us, then, a glimpse into the broader outworking of the term “wickedness.” In Genesis 6:11 (italics mine) the text reads, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and the earth was filled with violence.” This expression, violence (Heb. hamas), gives further credence in understanding the term “wickedness.” The act of violence and, hence, the idea of corruption corresponds with the progression found in the Genesis narrative in two ways.


First, the narrative of Cain and Abel is the first major sin post-Edenic fall. Such a sin was not minor in its contempt against God and, in turn, its impact upon the practice of worship which ended in the murder of Abel (Gen. 4:8-9; cf. Matt. 5:21-26). Secondly, violence and corruption coincide with perversion in and through the image of God; that is, in humanity’s rebellion against the Creator God, they seek to dismantle His image by killing and stealing from their fellow image bearers. Thus, the wickedness that is done toward humanity is first and foremost a treasonous attack against God Himself.


Thus, the implication of the fall is the realization that humanity has moved from a God-centeredness—a stable identity that does not fixate upon the self, but rather finds fullness, satisfaction, and purpose in the Creator God Himself—to a self-centeredness that seeks to satisfy the inner longings of the heart with created things that will not and does not suffice. Sin, then, recalibrates the purpose of humanity from magnifying God through imaging His glory to the never satisfying lure of making much of the self. Yet, what is wrong with autonomy? What is wrong with loving the self? The error of loving the self without the context of God is idolatry! Genesis 3:5 (italics mine), “5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” God is the arbiter of truth; God is truth! Therefore, the sin that was presented to Adam and Eve was not the sheer will nor desire for intellect, but rather to have the authority themselves to dictate and govern truth apart from God. Simply put, Adam and Eve was not satisfied in being like God; they wanted to be God. Thus, murder, violence, and destruction flow from the perversion of imaging forth the self as god rather than embracing God as God; that is, the reason humanity steals, kills, and destroys is because we seek to build our own kingdom rather than the kingdom of God. Sheer subjectivism, then, does not consider God’s thoughts or His objective principles, but sees the self as the arbiter and adjudicator of truth. Thus, as each individual seeks for themselves, war and violence erupt in the name of the self.


Therefore, the mark of “wickedness” that has stained the generation of Noah is characterized by a self-centeredness that expresses itself in violence, bigotry, and murder. The just-wrath of God, then, is demonstrated in the flood to cleanse the world of unrighteousness. Yet, two questions linger amid such novelties. First, are there any institutional safeguards to protect humanity from himself? Or put another way, if the “wickedness” of man impacts his volition to take human life for the benefit of self-gain, is there provision by God to account for such acts? Examine Genesis 9:5-6,

5 And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.6 ‘Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.’”

The term “shed” (Heb. shaphak) means “to pour out in large amount, causing death.”[3] The violent and unjustified act of taking an innocent life, according to this passage, gives warrant for the idea of capital punishment. The motivating factor behind such a stance is mounted upon God Himself. The preposition “for” conveys the purpose or reason; that is, it signifies the undergirding principle cementing the argument: “for God made man in his own image” (Gen. 9:6).


Secondly, how will the messianic seed make His way toward His redemptive telos? What will happen to the promise, i.e., protoevangelium, amid the darkness of the fall (cf. Gen. 3:15)?


The Righteousness of the One:


The corruption, wickedness, and violence grounded in the context of Genesis 6 finds contrast in the one man, Noah. The bible describes him as blameless, righteous, and one who “walked with God” (Gen. 6:9). The text deliberately says, “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen. 6:8). What would generate such favor from the Lord? Were these benefits based upon an inner righteousness derived from Noah himself? Did he merit right standing before God? Two observations from the Scriptures; one from the original context, the other from the fuller interpretation found within progressive revelation.


The favor of the Lord, firstly, was not necessarily generated from the innate goodness in Noah. Rather, it was the product of the sovereign Lord who fulfills His redemptive aim through the lineage of Eve. The genealogy of Genesis 5 indicates that Noah flows through the line of Seth rather than the corrupt and violent line of Cain (cf. Gen. 4:8-16). Just as Seth was the carrier of the promise messianic seed, Noah counteracts the violence of his day by modeling a righteousness that is tied to faith (cf. Rom. 9:30-33). The “son” language and the act of naming conveys intimate correlation to the transmission of divine image.[4] Seth, then, embodied the divine image and likeness of Adam which derived from the Creator God Himself. Not only that, Seth is the carrier of the messianic seed which was promised to Eve and, in turn, is identified by the text through the language “he fathered a son” (Gen. 5:3; 28). Thus, when that language is attributed to the narrative of Noah, the author is desiring for the reader to see God’s providential hand in guiding history toward His redemptive aim.


Simultaneously, amid the genealogical progression readers are able to identify with careful examination Enoch as a figure who does not taste death, but rather “he was not, for God took him” (Gen. 5:24). Yet, the characteristic that marks Enoch is also seen as distinguishing Noah: “Enoch walked with God” (5:24) while “Noah walked with God” (6:9). According to one author, Moses “intentionally draws a parallel between the deliverance of Noah from the Flood and Enoch’s deliverance from death (5:22-24). The point is clear enough: God delivers those who ‘walk with’ Him and who do not ‘corrupt His way.’”[5]


To this end, faith is not self-generated, but rather is a gift from God (cf. Eph. 2:8). The author of Hebrews affirms this notion by identifying Noah in the long line of faithful witnesses. The Apostle Paul asserts that “now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Rom. 3:21-22; italics mine). According to Thomas R. Schreiner, “Noah condemned the world by his faith because he showed that he trusted God, had given himself to God, and belonged to God. He didn’t give himself over to evil as the culture of his day had.”[6]


The Covenant:


As the flood subsided, the covenantal Lord establishes a covenant with Noah, in one sense, with the intent of repurposing the cultural mandate grounded in Edenic form (cf. Gen. 2:15-20a). Though the basis is Edenic, the function deviates from its initial intent due to the state of the fall. Either way, the construct of covenant is known to be a covenant-of-common-grace-of-sorts; that is, the entire creation is bounded and held responsible to the blessings and curses found within the mandate. The original decree was set forth for Adam and Eve to “work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15); that is, to cultivate in the Edenic structure a theocentric, i.e., a God-centeredness, that functioned amid an aura of prosperity and vitality for creation. This is reissued in the Noahic context yet amid the ailment of depravity. No longer will the animal kingdom appeal to their leadership, but rather “[the] fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the first of the sea” (Gen. 9:2; italics mine).


Furthermore, the central premise of the cultural mandate is governmental structures which is established for the flourishment, well-being, and betterment of society. Genesis 9:6 strictly states, “6 Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed” (cf. Gen. 9:5; “From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.”). Meaning, leadership found amid civil government will give oversight and protection to the preservation of communal life. Civic ingenuity, then, fosters two central aims. First, sanctity of life is to be upheld with the highest regard. Any governmental magistrate must stand for the inviolability and sacredness of life. The text clearly iterates, “And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning” (Gen. 9:5a); that is, there will be fatal consequences if life is disregarded or undervalued by persons within any societal framework. Secondly, the family unit is to be protected and sustained. The charge to be “fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 9:1, 7) is twice given while martial matrimony is presupposed from a creation ordinance between one man and one woman administered to Adam and Eve (Gen. 2:18-24). In light of the fall, God has established a covenant with creation to preserve and sustain creation-order in the blessings of common grace.


Thus, the fundamental nuance in the covenant made through Noah is a universal commitment to the guardianship of creation in order to assure redemption could and would reach its telos in the seed of Eve (cf. Gen. 3:15). The global pledge is seen through language used in Genesis 9:8-12 (italics mine) in saying,

8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations:”

In this light, the Noahic covenant is also known as a covenant of preservation. As Schreiner contends, “The covenant with Noah is a creation covenant in that it guarantees the continuance of the world until the great events of redemptive history are consummated. The covenant, therefore, is not limited to a certain person or a particular people. It was made with all people everywhere.”[7]


Lastly, the sign of the covenant is marked by a bow to remind humanity of God’s steadfast promise to preserve creation and bring forth redemption through the work and Person of Jesus Christ. Though the Hebrew language does not have a word for rainbow, the imagery conveys a militant king’s disposition toward those who foster treasonous affections against His kingdom; that is, the bow signifies God’s just-wrath and readiness toward those who oppose His reign. Yet, the upward posture of the bow assures that God “has put His weapons of war down and will not wipe out the human race again.”[8] The covenantal Lord will be longsuffering and steadfast in His promise to bring about the messianic seed for the salvation of the world. Soli Deo Gloria!

 

***footnotes***

[1] Thomas R. Schreiner, Covenant and God’s Purpose for the World, SSBT (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 31.

[2] Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants, 2nd ed. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 180.

[3] Wayne Grudem, Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 507.

[4] Stephen Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible, NSBT (Downers Grove, IL:IVP, 2003), 72.

[5] John H. Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative: A Biblical-Theological Commentary, Library of Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1992), 124.

[6] Thomas R. Schreiner, Commentary on Hebrews: Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation. NT Commentary (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2015), 346.

[7] Schreiner, Covenant and God’s Purpose for the World, 36.

[8] Ibid, 35.

 

McYoung Y. Yang (MDiv, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; ThM, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the husband to Debbie and the father to McCayden (12), McCoy (11), McColsen (9), and DeYoung (5). He is a Teaching Pastor at Covenant City Church in St. Paul, MN and a homeschool dad to his four children. McYoung is continuing his doctoral studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO. His ambition is to use his training as a means to serve the local church in living life through the Gospel lens.

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