In our readings in Genesis 9 today, we will look at two topics:
- The covenant with Noah
- The honoring of the 5th Commandment
The Covenant with Noah
In today’s reading, we see a covenant that God has been established with Noah. All of the elements of a covenant are there:
- Agreement: between God and Noah with all men after him (vv.9, 17), also includes creation (v.10)
- Stipulation: the preservation and multiplication of life (v.5-7)
- Promise: dominion over the animals (v.2); meat for food (v.3); will not destroy to earth in a flood (v.15-16)
- Curse: death for shedding a man’s blood (v.6)
- Sealed with blood (Gen 8:20-21)
- Covenant sign given: rainbow (v.14-15)
Is this a gracious covenant? Yes, it is. How so? God has promised to never again destroy the earth in a flood. He is not required to do so, since the weight of our sins is deserving of such punishment. However, to show forth the glory of His grace and His purpose in redemption through Jesus Christ, He promised never again to flood the earth.
Here in the covenant of Noah we see the first inklings of a most basic obligation of civil government to preserve life. Matthew Poole comments on verse 6 in the following way:
By man, i.e. by the hand of man, namely, the magistrate, Romans 13:4; who is hereby empowered and required, upon pain of my highest displeasure, to inflict this punishment. See Exodus 21:12 Leviticus 24:17 Matthew 26:57. Or, for that man, i.e. for that man’s sake, whose blood he hath shed, which cries for vengeance.
In the image of God made he man; so that murder is not only an offence against man, but also an injury to God, and a contempt of that image of God which all men are obliged to reverence and maintain, and especially magistrates, who being my vicegerents and servants, are therefore under a particular obligation to punish those who deface and destroy it.
Poole establishes here that it is the role of governments to preserve life by punishing murder. How our own government ignores this! Allowing so many murderers to go unpunished or punishing them with light sentences not befitting their crime. How often do they allow murder in the abortion clinics around the country, suppressing the truth and approving what is evil, allow men to murder innocent lives.
The will of God is clear in such instances: the punishment for murder should be the death of the murderer at the hand of the government.
Some Reformed theologians have found in the covenant with Noah an example for understanding the role of the church and the state. As this covenant was established with all flesh (v. 17) with all men under that covenant, it is concluded that the proper role of the state is the preservation of life. Therefore, the church ought not to compel the civil authority to enforce the law of God since its role, properly speaking, is established as the preservation of life (as can be seen throughout history, all nations have had laws respecting punishment for murder).
We will see when we come to the Mosaic covenant that while the above interpretation appears plausible, Scripture gives us further guidance regarding what God requires of civil governments. We see a hint of that here in Poole’s commentary. Murder is not only an offense against man; it is an offense against God. God requires that our civil laws not tolerate offenses against His natural and moral law.
Honoring the 5th Commandment
Here we see an example of God’s moral – and indeed natural- law, inscribed in the hearts of men, at work. For in vv.21-27, we see the duties required by children respecting their parents. Ham saw his father’s nakedness and told his brothers about it with intent to shame him. Matthew Poole notes that Ham’s grown age increased the heinous nature of his sin. Calvin summarizes his sins well:
We know that parents, next to God, are most deeply to be reverenced; and if there were neither books nor sermons, nature itself constantly inculcates this lesson upon us. It is received by common consent, that piety towards parents is the mother of all virtues. This Ham, therefore, must have been of a wicked, perverse, and crooked disposition; since he not only took pleasure in his father’s shame, but wished to expose him to his brethren.
– Calvin, Commentary on Genesis 9
Shem and Japheth, on the other hand, took great care in honoring their father (despite Noah’s own wickedness in being drunk on wine). They covered him out of their love and respect for him. Here we see the wisdom so eloquently spoken by the Apostle Peter, that love covers a multitude of sins (1 Pet. 4:8). It is our duty, according to the law of nature and the moral law of God, to honor our parents, our superiors, our equals, and inferiors. Indeed, the sinfulness of a nation may be seen by how little it regards its institutions of the family and the magistrate.
How do you show honor to others? To your parents? To your superiors in your work? To the elders who are charged with the care of your soul? To the leaders of your land? May we examine ourselves and ask Christ – to whom greatest honor is due – to bruise us with His rod of humbling, that we may repent of our shameful rebellions and honor those whom God has appointed over us.