This is the chapter which starts with a blessing. It is God’s blessings that enable us to live. Like it or not, we depend on his blessings. The Bible tells us that there are blessings we will receive from God which are not dependent on our faith in him: ‘For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous,’ (Matthew 5:45b NASB). Of course, without these blessings, nothing could survive. In this chapter God authorises humans to eat meat. This signifies that the previous relationship that humans were to have with the created world was no more – instead of purely caring for creation, humans were now able to eat animals, previously they had only eaten plants. This is significant, it has resulted in humans reducing animals to exploitable commodities. The role of humans changed regarding relationship with animals – instead of looking after them purely pastorally, Noah and his family became hunters of them. The harmony had gone, now the animals would fear humans. God made it clear, however, that in the eating of the flesh, the blood must be drained away. The blood was not to be consumed. This is because the life of the animal is in the flesh (Leviticus 3:17), blood is spilled as a sacrifice – the blood of the Passover lamb (Exodus 12) looked forward to a time when Jesus’ blood would be shed for all sins for all time.
At this point, God also declares that those who murder should be executed. This is because man is made in the image of God, and when murder is committed, the image is defaced; attacking another person is the same as attacking God. Human government was brought in in order to administer justice. God is quite clear that there is a difference between murder and accidental manslaughter. The penalties therefore, are different too. This was essential – because of the fallen nature of people, murder was inevitable. By the time of the flood the whole earth was filled with evil and murder. It was essential to deal with murder to stop chaos from ensuing. By having laws and punishments for the lawbreakers, it can act as a deterrent to potential lawbreakers. Although we are made in God’s image, the human heart is evil and therefore it will lead to destruction. Only God can regenerate the human heart. Laws and punishments are in place not only to punish lawbreakers, but also to restrict vigilante acts.
Warren Wiersbe says that God has ordained three institutions, family and marriage (Genesis 1:26-28), human government (Genesis 9:5-6) and lastly, the Church (Acts 2). They are mutually exclusive – one cannot substitute for another. Although one could argue that whatever laws we have in place today are not working as a deterrent because crime still happens, it can also be argued that the laws themselves and the punishments for breaking them can instil in people a respect for right and wrong, even if they don’t always obey the law. For example, if there were no penalties whatsoever for parking on double yellow lines, then what would be the point in having them? Everyone would ignore them. There would be no respect for them. Sometimes, because of the nature of the human heart respect has to be enforced, it will not naturally be forthcoming.
This chapter contains what is often referred to as the Noahic Covennant. God has an agreement here not only with Noah but with all his descendants throughout the ages and every living creature. It is significant that God has made the covenant with every living creature – seraphim are those living creatures which spend all their time in the throne room of Heaven worshipping God. There are four that we know about; one had aface like a lion, the second like a calf, the third like a man and the fourth like an eagle. This shows that God takes the plight of the living creatures seriously, and that the covenant is quite clearly also made with them. These four creatures are also used as emblems of the four Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The agreement is that:
- God will never send another flood to destroy all life on earth. This is unconditional.
- The sign of the covenant was to be a rainbow, so that people were not to be concerned when the rain started to fall. There would never again be a flood like the one that wiped out most of creation.
The second half of this chapter is in stark contrast to the first. We begin with Noah emerging from the ark and God setting up a covenant with Noah and all his descendants. We end with Noah going about his daily life and falling into sin. How did that happen?
It’s quite easy, it always is. Noah had done so well, he probably thought he was above this type of thing. He was wrong. Noah had begun farming and had cultivated a vineyard. One thing led to another and he ended up in his tent, naked and drunk. It’s not that growing, processing or consuming grapes or their juice is wrong. All of that is fine. What is the problem is the excess. He just drank too much of it. What is a shame is that not only do we know Noah as the man who had great faith and built the ark in which mankind and creatures were saved from the flood, but we also know that he sinned in this way. Perhaps nothing is quite so sad as seeing a person sin who had previously scaled such heights of faith and communion with God. None of us are exempt, even though none of us think it will ever happen to us. I’m sure Noah didn’t either. This whole episode shows us the need to be consistent. Noah wasn’t tripped up when he was accomplishing vast things for God, he was tripped up when his guard was down and he was going about his daily life. It can easily be the same for us. It’s easy to obey God when we see that what we are doing is amazing. It’s harder to consistently do the right thing in the little things of life, particularly when we think no one will notice. Be aware, it’s not the mountain in our path that trips us up, it’s the tiny pebble that we didn’t think was there.
The reactions of Noah’s family members are interesting. Ham almost relished his father’s downfall. This great man who had led them through the flood and enabled them to survive had come to this, and Ham seemed to enjoy it. When believers stumble it’s not a cause for celebration, but a time to quietly help them to their feet and encourage them. Ham saw what had happened (what he was doing uninvited in his father’s tent is a different matter), and instead of quietly sorting out the mess, he told his brothers. His brothers on the other hand responded completely differently. Shem and Japheth covered their father whilst at the same time upholding his dignity. Believers who deal with situations with this level of love and respect are truly doing God’s work.
People have argued that the post-flood world had changed such that grape juice would now ferment, whereas previously it woudn’t. this is highly unlikely – the Bible makes no mention of this; it would be unfair on Noah to be presented in this way if it were not his own fault. rather, it is more likely and more fitting that Noah sinned, and that this episode is inlcuded in the Bible to show us that:
- Committed men of God can sin
- When they do sin, it is a serious matter and compromises their witness as men of integrity
- But also, it leaves other people bereft – their trust in that person has been tested. All sins involve theft somewhere along the line – Noah stole his sons’ respect from them. Could it be that Ham was so disappointed that he failed (or even refused) to cover his father’s nakedness?
Maybe Ham was disappointed and feeling betrayed, or maybe he was just an uncaring disrespectful son. seeing his father frunk, asleep and naked gave Ham the opportunity to do the right thing, but he chose not to do it. life is a long string of opportunities to do the right thing. It’s a marathon, not a sprint; there is no one thing we can do that is big enough that we can put our feet up. We have to be always alert to opportunities to do the right thing, and also have the stamina and willingness to do them.
Shem and Japheth are completely different. It may have been Ham who alerted them to their father’s plight – but instead of giving in to curiosity, they went out of their way to preserve his dignity. They took a blanket between them, backed into the tent so they couldn’t see Noah and dropped the blanket over him so his nakedness was now covered. by bnehaving in such a way they showed their maturity and love; that their loyalty was not shaken. Also they showed righteousness – righteousness is what you do when no one is looking – no one was there to see their actions – their father was asleep.
It is imperative for believers today to seek to preserve those who sins we are aware of, to silently come alongside them and support them. all of us are capable of sin, and any of us might need the understanding and love a Christian brother or sister.
Warren Wiersbe says: ‘on the battlefield of life, Christians are prone to kick their wounded.’ We need to make sure we do not do this. We are to act with love and kindness.
When Noah woke, he must have realised to some extent what had happened, and possibly asked his sons to fill in the details. Noah’s response was not the ‘curse’ that most people think – it was a prophecy. Noah does not have the authority to curse. Judging by the behaviour which is diplayed by his sons, he sees their characters clearly – and the prophecy is based on the playing out of their characters. We know it’s a prophecy rather than a curse because some of it is directed at Ham’s son Canaan. It would not be fair to curse Canaan for his father’s sin. Perpetrators of slavery in later times have alleged that Ham was black, and the father of Africans, and that therefore slavery was a result of the curse, and so it was OK. There is asolutely no biblical basis for this at all, it just shows how keen unscrupulous people are to twist the Bible beyond recognition – and how successful they can be when the average person has no clue what is in the Bible. After all, with this passage, you could just as reasonably assert that Ham was the father of all left-handed people. Had it been a real curse, surely Noah would have cursed Ham himself, instead of one of his children. Rather Noah was merely describing what were to be the fortunes of his descendants, rather like Jacob has done (see Genesis 49).
The Canaanites come off rather badly in this prophecy, and are the people occupying the Promised Land that the Hebrews were to remove. It is not because of this prophecy that they were to be removed, but rather because of the disgusting and immoral practices they indulged in such as sacrificing children by burning them to death. This was something they chose to indulge in, and therefore their downfall was their own fault. The existence of prophecy doesn’t negate free will, it just foretells what is going to happen. God knows what we are going to do before we do it, and that’s how prophecy works, it has no bearing on free will whatsoever.
When Noah prophesies about Shem, he is prophesying about the Hebrew nation. It is through the Jews that we have received the Bible, and Jesus. We have a lot to thank them for. Interestingly Shem is Noah’s second son. There is a major pattern of second sons being favoured above the firstborn (Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Judah, even in the parable which we know as the prodigal son). Wiersbe explains that the name ‘Shem’ means ‘name’. Interesting then that this should be the ancestor of the people who would preserve the name of God.
Japheth was the ancestor of many of the gentile nations. Japheth’s descendants would spread out throughout the world building settlements and empires, but spiritually, they would need to depend on Shem, as the keepers of God’s name.
When we leave Noah, he has repented of his sin and been forgiven by God. There is no reason to suggest that he didn’t regain his position with God, and continue walking with God until he died. Noah’s example teaches us that no matter how high we climb, falling is always possible – but it’s not irreversible. God will forgive and bring us back into his will. What we also need to remember is that influential believers have more required of them than those who are less influential (Luke 12:48c).
God spoke of the rainbow (Genesis 9:12-17) as a visible sign of the Noahic covenant but the way he spoke of it suggests that it might have been present before the flood (possible as there was water above in the atmosphere).
Wiersbe says: ‘When we are looking at the rainbow, we know that our Father is also looking at the rainbow, and therefore it becomes a bridge that brings us together.’
With thanks to my spiritual uncles: Uncle Warren Wiersbe, Uncle Chuck Missler, Uncle Matthew Henry, Uncle Jacob Prasch and Uncle Arnold Fruchtenbaum.