Biblical covenants reassure us of God’s faithfulness and reveal God’s plans. The Noahic Covenant includes a reaffirmation of God’s creative purposes contained in the Edenic Covenant plus an extension of the seed promise from the Adamic Covenant.[i] The scope of this covenant is broad since it encompasses mankind and God’s creation. The rainbow is the sign of the covenant in the same manner that circumcision is the sign of the Abrahamic covenant. The immediate context is important since it follows a worldwide flood which is also supported extensively by anthropological accounts from around the globe. Following the wickedness of ungodly inter-relations between the sons of God and the daughters of men (Genesis 6:2) and violence across the earth (Genesis 6:13), Noah and his family entered a new dispensation of human government (Genesis 8:15ff).
The Noahide laws
The concept of observing Noahide laws is important within some branches of Judaism. One example is that mentioned in Chabad.org whereby Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson encouraged Jewish people to publicize these teachings to enable the world to prepare for times of peace and wisdom swiftly approaching.[ii] Since everyone is ultimately descended from Noah who together with his family survived the flood, all people today are considered Noahides. The Noahide laws are considered the minimal requirement for a Gentile to be among the righteous. The Noahide laws are as follows.
Do not deny God (no idolatry).
Do not murder.
Do not steal.
Do not engage in sexual immorality.
Do not blaspheme.
Do not eat of a live animal.
Establish courts and a legal system to ensure obedience of these laws.
The Noahide laws cannot be traced in entirety, directly from Genesis 8:20-9:17 though they are mentioned in the Talmud. Nonetheless they have much in common with the Ten Commandments and agree with the Tanakh (Old Testament). A useful application of where a Noahide law might be mentioned is the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:29.[iii] Since the first believers in Yeshua (Jesus) were mainly Jewish it was decided that for Gentile believers, they did not have to be circumcised though had to abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled and from sexual immorality.[iv]
Noah’s offering and God’s promise-Genesis 8:20-22
The Lord had graciously protected Noah and family though the storm and flood, hence it was fitting that they made themselves available to do His will.[v] Note the similarity between Noah’s offering and God’s covenant with Abram (Genesis 15:9-11). This ritual looked forward to when Jesus offered Himself as a spotless offering unto God as a substitute for man’s sin.[vi]John Gill noted that the Targum of Jonathan mentions offering four creatures on the altar; Gill equated those foreshadowing Messiah namely, the bullock of heifer might denote strength, the sheep or lamb His patience and harmlessness, the turtle or dove His meekness and the burnt offering may signify the Lord Jesus bearing the wrath of God.[vii]
Many will notice the similarity in language between Genesis 6:5 and 8:21 regarding the evil intention and inclination of man’s heart and imagination from his youth. On the first occasion, there was no sacrifice and judgement followed, though in the latter instance God acted in mercy.[viii] The Lord would never again flood the earth. Rashi makes the connection between never again flooding the earth with Isaiah 54:9, “For this is like the waters of Noah to Me; for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah would no longer cover the earth, so I have sworn that I would not be angry with you or rebuke you.”[ix]
In Genesis 8:22, the promise of regular, harvest, seasons, and daytime and night time was given. It is easy for us to gloss over this statement and fail to consider Noah’s immediate setting. Genesis 2:2 tells us that the Lord had not caused it to rain upon the earth so torrential rain, storm and a worldwide flood would have undoubtedly been a terrifying experience. God’s covenant with day and night is especially meaningful for Jewish people since it guarantees that they will never cease from being a nation (Jeremiah 33:19-26) and that He will never again send a flood is further assurance that His covenant will never be broken (Isaiah 54:7-10).[x]
If we look at Jeremiah 33:19-26 closely we can take this a stage further since the Lord declared that if the covenant with day and night would be broken, then the Davidic Covenant could also be broken which is worded to illustrate the certainty of both covenants not being broken. Again in Jeremiah 31:31-37 a new covenant is promised and if amongst other things the sun for a light by day can be removed or the moon at night, then Israel would cease from being a nation before Him. God is faithful and His covenant promises continually reassure us.
God’s Blessing-Genesis 9:1-3
These verses provide further reassurance following the worldwide climatic upheaval and flood, and echo the Edenic Covenant (Genesis 1:28-30). Noah is commanded to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Again they would have dominion over every creature. Instead of the vegetation being their food, they were now permitted to eat animals.
God’s Prohibition-Genesis 9:4-6
Firstly, Noah was commanded not to eat flesh with its blood. This reminds us of the prohibition of eating blood in the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:29) and of the importance of the blood and life itself. Secondly God would demand a reckoning from those who took life. We have already considered that the world was previously filled with violence (Genesis 6:13). In Genesis, Cain killed Abel and the voice of his brother’s blood cried from the ground (Genesis 4:10). Lamech committed murder in Genesis 4:23 and boldly proclaimed to his wives that “If Cain be avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.” If good government is not established, then chaos quickly results. One only has to consider the disastrous cases of ongoing blood feuds particularly in tribal societies but also in corrupt civilisations.
Some may have thought that because of the worldwide flood and the destruction which ensued, God may have considered the taking of life a small matter.[i] This covenant affirms that life is sacred, and man should not take the life of another man since he is made in the image of God.[ii] Capital punishment presupposes the establishment of governmental authority, otherwise mayhem ensues so duly appointed government is needed which the New Testament also affirms (Romans 13:4).[iii]
God’s Promise-Genesis 9:7-11
The Western reader may be tempted to quickly glance over these verses and merely observe the repetition of the Edenic Covenant or the promises stated already in the Noahic Covenant. Noah is again commanded to be fruitful and multiply across the earth and the scope involves his descendants and every creature. The world will never again be flooded in entirety. Nonetheless this should not lull us into a sense of false security since God has also promised to destroy the earth with fire one day (2 Peter 3:10-11; Revelation 21:1). Additionally, the repetition of the phrase “I will establish My covenant with you (Genesis 9:9)” is an expression of Hebrew grammar to denote emphasis.[iv]
God’s Sign and Everlasting Covenant
The rainbow was a sign of the covenant which the Lord would look upon and remember as an everlasting covenant between Him and all flesh on the earth. Rabbeinu Bahya noted that as circumcision was a sign between the special relationship between Abraham and God, the rainbow was a symbol of a new relationship between God and mankind and would prevent the further occurrence of another deluge.[v]
Much is written in Jewish commentary and other commentaries concerning the bow, and the meaning of the ‘rainbow’ in Hebrew should not go unnoticed. In Hebrew, the derivation of the ‘rainbow’ is that of a bow used in battle.[vi] Hence the bow is put away and the storm is over.[vii] Chizkuni lists several interpretations, one being that hunters normally aim the bow and arrow upwards or at a level, though since the bow is faced the other way, the bow is not intended to destroy the foe.[viii]Along similar lines Bahya asserts that since the bow points in the opposite direction this symbolises peace between God and man.[ix]
Unger helpfully sees the full implications of the battle bow pointing us to Yeshua the Messiah. The bow speaks not only of covenant mercy set upon the clouds of judgement, but foreshadows the suffering of Messiah where judgement, never to be repeated was visited upon the believer’s sins.[x] Since the Edenic covenant was broken, sin has affected every human being and the world we reside in. We deserve God’s wrath and judgement yet there is refuge in the Ark of God’s protection. God is merciful but He is also just and the Judge of the whole earth. To be spared from the wrath of God we need to turn from our sins and trust in the sacrifice of Jesus the Messiah to make atonement for our sins and to trust and follow Him. We know we can trust Him because He is faithful to keep His covenant promises.
[i] John F. Walvoord & Roy B. Zuck The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Victor Books, 1989; USA), p40
[ii] Ibid, p40
[iii] MacDonald, p44
[iv] Unger, p45
[v] Rabbeinu Bahya, Bereshit 9:13 https://www.sefaria.org/Genesis.9.13?lang=bi&aliyot=0&p2=Rabbeinu_Bahya%2C_Bereshit.9.13&lang2=bi
[vi] Walvoord & Zuck, p40
[vii] Ibid, 40
[viii] Chizkuni, Genesis 9:13 https://www.sefaria.org/Chizkuni%2C_Genesis.9.14.1?lang=bi
[ix] Rabbeinu Bahya, Bereshit 9:13 https://www.sefaria.org/Genesis.9.13?lang=bi&aliyot=0&p2=Rabbeinu_Bahya%2C_Bereshit.9.13&lang2=bi
[x] Unger, p45
[i] Kevin Conner & Ken Malmin The Covenants (City Bible Publishing, 1983; Oregon), p26
[ii] The Seven Noahide Laws: Universal Morality https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/62221/jewish/The-7-Noahide-Laws-Universal-Morality.htm
[v] Warren W. Wiersbe The Wiersbe Bible Commentary (David C. Cook, 2007; Colorado Springs), p43
[vi] Merrill F. Unger Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament (AMG Publishers, 2002; Chattanooga), p43
[vii] John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/geb/genesis-8.html
[viii] William MacDonald Believer’s Bible Commentary (Thomas Nelson, 1995; Nashville), p44
[ix] Rashi on Genesis 8:21 https://www.sefaria.org/Rashi_on_Genesis.8.21.2?lang=bi
[x] Wiersbe, p44