In the first chapters of Genesis we see the beginnings of human history through the theological lens of God’s plan. When God created the world and declared it good and He was committed to the well being of His creation according to His purpose.
God’s care for creation becomes evident as redemptive history moves forward. “Without exception, the whole human race is involved in wickedness, outwardly and inwardly; equally without exception the whole race has excited divine grief and pain; and, once more…are under the judgment of death.” Since man is head of creation, then all of creation would share in God’s judgment also.
But hope is not completely lost. We must remember that God has a plan, which includes commitment to His creation for the purposes of His will. Goldsworthy illustrates God’s commitment to creation by noting: “Mankind’s rebellion brings judgment but not instant destruction. God preserves order in the universe and in human society, and at the same time begins to reveal His purposes to overcome the effects of human sin.”
As we have already seen, through Adam and Eve God maintains the seed of the woman in Seth. The Sethites are shown to worship God by calling on His name. What is the significance of this? According to Goldsworthy: “To call on God’s name means to express trust and confidence in the God who has revealed his character… it means to believe God for salvation.”
While the line of Seth was in one sense godly, they were also sinful by virtue of the fall. Yet God maintained the seed of woman through Seth. The writer of the Pentateuch arranges the material in Genesis 5 in order for the reader to see the direct link ‘from Adam to Seth to Noah.’
“Descended from Adam through Seth, Noah belongs to the special line which later includes the Hebrew patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This family line is characterized by individuals who play an important role in the outworking of God’s purposes to bring about the restoration of creation following the punishment of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.”
Yet, Noah has a specific function in this family line. The very name Noah means ‘to comfort.’ In many ways Noah’s name reflects the purpose of his life, “to bring comfort to humanity after the cursing of the ground and the difficulties of obtaining a living from the land.”
Introducing the Themes of Grace and Covenant
In Genesis 6-9 we are introduced to two themes that will be central in the whole story of redemption found in the Bible. Those themes/words are ‘grace’ and ‘covenant.’
a. Grace (Genesis 6:8-9)
God was provoked to anger and had enough of the wicked human race. But Noah finds grace in the eyes of God. The Hebrew phrase ‘Noah found grace in the eyes of God’ means nothing more than ‘God favored him.’ “The emphasis on the ‘righteousness’ of Noah is set against the contrast to the wickedness” of his descendants. In comparison to the wickedness of those around him, we must see that Noah’s ‘righteousness’ as the consequence of God’s grace. The Hebrew rendering of Genesis 6:8-9 (taken together) show that God’s grace ‘brought forth’ Noah’s righteousness.
Here the significance of the phrase lies in what God does for Noah, “He rescues him.” Therefore, grace is shown as God being good towards those who do not deserve it. So ‘grace’ is not grounded in perceived obligation or contract, nor can it be coerced. Therefore, ‘Grace’ as a “characteristic of God grounds divine-human relations in God’s generous initiative…in the restorative activity of God on behalf of humanity.”
Because God chose to exhibit His grace to Noah, he lives by faith in God’s word. The most obvious example of this is the enormous boat Noah built on faith that God would flood the entire earth. This is also evident in the fact that after the flood “Noah is patient in leaving the ark, not on the basis of the evidence of his eyes, but only when the divine word was given.”
“Noah’s righteousness is simply stated alongside God’s grace without any comment about whether it is the cause or effect of God’s attitude toward him.” We must continually remind ourselves that God’s graciousness is thus neither rooted in nor dependant on people. God is sovereign in his giving of grace.
b. Covenant (6:18)
A covenant underpins God’s relationship with Noah. God shows Noah how to escape the flood by proclaiming, “I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark.” This is the first time a covenant is mentioned in the Biblical text. We know that from this point on ‘covenants’ will play a major role in the history of redemption. In fact, the covenant concept is one of the most important motifs in biblical theology.
As the Biblical drama unfolds we will later see that the word covenant is used to describe God’s loving relationship with His undeserving chosen people. In the ordinary sense of the word a covenant is “the coming into existence of a stated and continuing relationship between two parties who were previously apart from each other.” For now, our focus will remain on God’s covenant with Noah.
Noah and the Covenant
Remember, in order to protect the ‘seed of woman’ God made a covenant to save Noah and his family from the destruction of the flood. Though Noah and his family are not saved in an eternal sense, this covenant at the very least points to, or provides a pattern for, the future covenant of salvation through it has not at that point been revealed.
Again, Noah and his family show their faith by trusting God’s word. They are protected as they live in their ‘little floating world’ while God executes judgment on the rest of creation. Goldsworthy writes: “when they disembark into a new world God promises that even though mankind, including Noah, is still inclined to evil, God will never again destroy the world in a flood.
So, “God makes the first move and establishes a relationship that works for the good of creation. He calls it ‘my covenant’…God is refusing to allow human rebellion to divert Him from His purpose to create a people to be His people.”
The sign of the covenant made with Noah was God’s ‘bow in the clouds.’ “While this visible symbol in the sky would undoubtedly reassure humankind, its express intent was to remind God Himself to keep His covenantal promise, although the reminder may be just an anthropomorphic way of expressing the reassurance.” The bow is the “bearer of eternal truth” to man. Man can be certain of its changeless meaning and rest in faith that God will keep His word. Simply put, “covenant signs express covenant promises to covenant people.”
God then calls Noah to fill the earth and exercise dominion just as He had commanded Adam.” Once the flood waters subside, Noah and his family become the ‘new beginning’ of the human race. Notice, the first thing Noah did upon leaving the Ark was to build an altar and worship God. This is the only proper response to the grace shown by God to Noah and his family in saving them from death by flood.
Furthermore, God makes other provisions for the protection of the ‘seed of woman.’ In Genesis 9:5-6 God deters the violent acts of men by establishing the “life for life” legal enactment. Thus, humans are forbidden to take human life. The Lord gives life and only the Lord has the right to take life away. Remember, humans are created in the ‘image of God’ and are God’s agents in the world. Therefore, God will call to account anyone who kills His agent. As implication Fuller makes two observations:
- In establishing this primitive structure of government God assures that never again would the Cainite-minded people be able to completely overwhelm God’s people.
- Also, no longer would Noah’s descendants, in order to have some hope of safety, have to resort to the desperate measure of making marriage alliances with serpent-types at the cost of having offspring adopt their violent lifestyle.
Along with the God ordained protection of humanity, the command to “Be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth” is repeated to Noah and his family. From here we can conclude that God’s sovereign purposes for redemption history have remained unaltered.
Gods Purposes and the Division of the Human Race
The rapid development of sin is a central theme in the early narrative of Genesis. Sin proves powerful enough to distort the ‘good creation’ of God and can be rendered for the purposes of evil. “Because the evil is so deep-seated” the judgment of the flood, nor human government cannot cure it. Therefore other means are resorted to.”
Not only did God protect the seed of woman and progress His purposes by establishing His covenant and human government, a further step was taken by fragmentizing humankind. “Genesis 10 gives a table of the nations that stemmed from Noah’s three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.” These descendants spread out over the earth after the flood, thus bringing to fulfillment God’s command to ‘fill the earth.’ But the people did not do this on their own accord, as we will see God brought it about by His providential hand.
a. Noah Declares Blessing and Curse
In Genesis 9 we see that Noah became a man of the soil and planted a vineyard. We are told that Noah becomes drunk off of his own wine and lies uncovered alone inside his tent. Ham unashamedly looks upon his father’s nakedness, then humiliates and dishonors him by attempting to make a spectacle of the situation by calling his brothers to join in. Because of the disrespect Noah pronounces a curse on Ham’s son, and thus on him.
Therefore, Noah creates a new division in the human race stemming from the blessing and curse he pronounced on his sons: Ham’s son Canaan is cursed, Shem is blessed, and Japheth shares in Shem’s blessing.
This had direct implications on all the nations that descended from Noah and his family. Therefore, the genealogies in Genesis 10 stem from the prophetic word of Noah declaring blessing and cursing on his sons. The significance of the divisions will become clear as redemptive history moves forward. One example, Noah’s curse on Canaan looks forward to the promised rule of Israel over the land of Canaan.
b. The Tower of Babel
It’s important to note that the nations descended from Noah listed in Genesis 10 was after, and thus the result of the confusion of tongues from the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. Then why is the account of Babel listed after the generations? The author of Genesis chose to break the chronology of the narrative “by first listing the many nations throughout the earth…and then recount the situation that made it necessary for God to bring this about.” By locating the table of nations in between the flood and Babel the author emphasizes the importance of God’s command to ‘fill the earth’ even though Noah’s descendants decided to rebel against God’s command. They gathered and proclaimed:
Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.
The narrative of Babel indicates that the human race had plans for unity and power based on self interest. While unity itself is not a bad thing, in fact it is the mark of the people of God when they conform to God’s purpose. But unity under God is one thing, and unity as proud independence is another.
In the building of the Tower of Babel we see a collective expression of the independence Adam and Eve reached for in the garden. It echoes “the proud aspirations of the serpent’s seed to exalt themselves by showing how much progress they could make on their own in overcoming finitude, needing no help from God…these descendants of Noah had rebelled against God’s command to fill the earth, choosing instead to remain congregated together in order to increase their security.” Fuller makes a wise observation:
“Thus evil could still have triumphed over the woman’s seed. In a supersociety held together by the sanction of the power of the sword, people of various skills could organize themselves a standard of living that could delude them into thinking they could meet all their need and declare themselves independent of God. Thus people like Seth who called upon the name of the Lord would be completely out of step with such a demonic supersociety; they would be pressured from every side not to look to God for contentment but to contribute to the exaltation of humankind’s attainment of self-sufficiency.”
The danger for those who refused to join the anti-God purpose becomes obvious. The ‘serpent-types’ could use their power in numbers and violence to eradicate them. In order to allow woman’s seed to multiply in a world filled with evil people God providentially steps in. God does not permit the people to rebel as a cohesive unit. So, “God confounds the unity that the people wish to maintain for their evil ends.” The disruption of the people at the Tower of Babel is God’s judgment against their unified front of rebellion. This would inevitably allow each of the neighboring nations to hold each other in check, thus no one nation could create an empire that would last for very long. So while the serpent will continue to succeed in giving the people of God a wound, though harmful it will not be lethal.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ
a. The Gospel and Noah:
Noah by his God given righteousness saved not only himself but also his family. In Hebrews 11:7 we read:
By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
This prefigures the new covenant of Christ. Where are given Christ’s righteousness through faith and repentance, and made part of His spiritual family, through which we will be saved from the destruction of God’s wrath. Remember, the flood brought that primitive world to an end as we read in 2 Peter:
If he [God] did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly.
This prefigures the final judgment which ends the present heavens and earth and brings about a new world. Christ will be the vessel by which His spiritual family is saved from the wrath of God’s judgment. Similarly, the ‘new world’ that emerges after the flood prefigures the ‘new heaven and new earth.’
Note: Peter declares Noah a ‘herald of righteousness.’ This is extremely important for understanding the often misunderstood 1 Peter 3:18-20. See footnote 
Remember, God repeated the command given to man in Genesis 1:28. Noah becomes the new representative for humanity, prefiguring Christ who will be the final head of new humanity. Under the covenant, all who descend from the representative are blessed.
b. The Gospel and the Tower of Babel
Humanity has been divided since the fall. But the tower of Babel shows how this division effects the relationships of whole people groups. We still see the implications of this division today. Goldsworthy notes:
“Despite the desire for world unity there is an inevitable breakdown in human society into smaller units all seeking their own advantage. Sin has a fragmenting effect on human life. This confusion of languages and division of nations will characterize sinful humanity until the redemptive power of God unites in Christ a people drawn from all nations, tribes, and languages.”
We see the first shift towards the unity of God’s people in Acts 2 where the nations who were scattered at Babel are represented in Jerusalem. The text records that “every nation under heaven” was gathered and heard Peter proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. Thus, we can look forward to the day when people from every nation cry out with a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” One day Christ will gather all who are scattered together, and make all things new.
- Alec Motyer, Look to the Rock, 43.
- Graeme Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 113.
- Genesis 4:26.
- Joel 2:32.
- Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 113.
- As seen in their adopting Canaanite ways.
- Genesis 5:1-31.
- R.S. Hess, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 679.
- Genesis 5:29.
- Hess, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 678.
- Genesis 6:8.
- Hess, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 679.
- This is an observation of his character. In no way was Noah perfect. This word simply denotes the idea that he was blameless among, or compared to, the people of his time.
- Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 114.
- J.B. Green, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 525.
- Genesis 6:22.
- Genesis 7:13-14.
- Genesis 7:15.
- Motyer, Look to the Rock, 45.
- Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 114.
- Exodus 33:19.
- And ‘binding.’
- Alec Motyer, Look to the Rock, 42.
- Often when one uses the word ‘salvation’ in evangelical circles it is understood as ‘eternal life.’ I am not using the word in that sense here, I am merely speaking of being saved from death by the waters of the flood.
- Notice the pre-flood statement made in Genesis 6:5 regarding the wickedness of man’s heart. Humanity is also declared to have an evil heart after the flood in 8:21.
- Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 115.
- Genesis 9:12-17.
- The word anthropomorphic simply means ‘ascribing of human characteristics to non-human creatures or beings.’ So God reassures the people of His promise in the bow by telling them it will be His own reminder. Giving non-human beings human characteristics function to translate concepts in the easily understandable terms. It is a literary device, an illustration.
- P.R Williamson, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 422.
- Motyer, Look to the Rock, 45.
- Motyer, Look to the Rock, 45.
- A ‘second Adam.’
- Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 115.
- Genesis 9:19.
- If you are interested in reading further in Christian Ethics I would recommend two books. The first is by Michael Hill called The How and Why of Love: An Introduction to Evangelical Ethics. If you are looking for a more intricate treatment on Christian Ethics I would recommend John Frame’s substantial volume The Doctrine of the Christian Life.
- I think T.Desmond Alexander adds wise caution when writing “many would see this statement as establishing the death penalty in cases of murder- with the understanding that the person charged would have been justly tried and his guilt established beyond any reasonable doubt. A further requirement is that such a death-penalty verdict must always be carried out under the jurisdiction of the established authorities. The difficulty of establishing guilt beyond any reasonable doubt and the difficulty of ensuring justice in a modern, complex urban society (as compared to an ancient village-based society) underscore the great care and caution that must be taken in applying this principle today.” (The ESV Study Bible, Note on Genesis 9:5-6, pg. 65.)
- Representing the ‘Seed of Satan.’
- Governments continue to punish the evil and protect the good of society. (Romans 13:1-7)
- Genesis 6:1-4.
- Fuller, The Unity of the Bible, 242.
- Genesis 1:28.
- Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology, 53.
- The nations descended from Noah.
- In many ways Noah is like the ‘second Adam’ in that all of the human race will come from his lineage.
- Fuller, Unity of the Bible, 243.
- God said this to Adam in Genesis 1:28, and to Noah in 9:1.
- Genesis 9:20-27.
- Since they alone survived the flood.
- The placing of Shem’s line last is suggestive of the special significance it has in the purpose of God. Later in Genesis we see another genealogy where Abraham is traced back to Shem. (Genesis 11:1-32)
- Which was about 150 years after the flood.
- Fuller, The Unity of the Bible, 243.
- Genesis 9:1.
- Fuller, The Unity of the Bible, 244.
- Fuller, The Unity of the Bible, 244-245.
- Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 116.
- The ‘Good News.’
- Genesis 6:9.
- 1 Corinthians 11:25; Hebrews 10:15-18.
- Revelation 21:1.
- Revelation 21:1-4; 1 Peter 3:5-7.
- I would take this verse to mean that Christ “in the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18) proclaimed the gospel “in the days of Noah” (1 Peter 3:20) through Noah. Thus, those who heard the preaching and “did not obey” are the “Spirits in prison.” We must keep in mind that Peter has already proclaimed that the “Spirit of Christ” (1 Peter 1:10-11) was speaking through the Old Testament prophets.
- 1 Corinthians 15:45-48.
- Revelation 7:9.
- Goldsworthy, According to Plan. 116.
- Acts 2:5
- Acts 2:14-41.
- Revelation 7:10.