Wednesdays on the Word: Chaos, Death…and Life

On this weeks Wednesdays on the Word, Andrew Fuller, an English Baptist who worked with William Carey to start the modern missions movement, discusses God’s covenant with Noah in Genesis 9. The mercy and goodness of God are made known in the gracious covenant that he makes with Noah after the flood.

After death, life

Ver. 1, 2. We have now the beginning of a new world, and various directions given to those who are to people it. In several respects it resembles its first beginning; particularly in the command to be fruitful and multiply, and in the subjection of the creatures to man. But there is one great difference: all must now rest upon a gracious covenant: Man by sin had forfeited, not his existence indeed (for that was given him to hold on no conditional tenure) but the blessing of God, and his dominion over his creatures.

Nevertheless, he shall be reinstated in it. God will, as it were, make a covenant for him with the beasts of the field, and they shall be at peace with him, or at least shall be awed by his authority. All this is out of respect to the mediation of Christ, and for the accomplishing of the designs of mercy through him.

Ver. 3, 4. Here is also a special grant, which does not appear to have been given before: not only the herbs of the field, but the animals, are given to man for food. It is however accompanied with a special exception with regard to blood, which is the life.

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This, being forbidden to Noah, appears also to have been forbidden to all mankind; nor ought this prohibition to be treated as belonging to the ceremonies of the Jewish dispensation. It was not only enjoined before that dispensation existed, but was enforced upon the Gentile Christians by the decrees of the apostles, Acts 15:20. To allege, as some do, our Lord’s words, “not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man,” would equally justify the practice of cannibals in eating human flesh.

The reason of this prohibition might be in part the prevention of cruelty; for the eating of blood implies and cherishes a ferocious disposition. None but the most ferocious of animals will eat it in one another; and one would think none but the most ferocious of mankind could endure it. But there may be a higher reason. Blood is the life, and God seems to claim it as sacred to himself. Hence, in all the sacrifices, the blood was poured out before the Lord; and, in the sacrifice of Christ, he shed his blood, or poured out his soul unto death.

We are the image of God

Ver. 5, 6. As God was tender of animal blood, in not suffering man to eat it, so, on the other hand, he would be especially tender of human blood. If any animal slew a man, let him be slain on that account; or if any man slew himself, God would require it; or if any man slew another man, he should be put to death by man.

This also appears to be a new law, as we read of no executions for murder among the antediluvians. The reason for this law is not taken from the well-being of man, but man’s being made in the image of God. The image of God is of two kinds, natural and moral. The latter was lost by sin; but the former continues with man in every state, and renders it peculiarly criminal to abuse him.

To deface the king’s image is a sort of treason among men, implying a hatred against him, and that if he himself were within reach, he would be served in the same manner; how much more treasonable must it be to destroy, curse, oppress, or in any way abuse the image of the King of kings!—James 3:9.

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The command and the covenant

Ver. 7. The command to multiply is repeated, and contains permission, not of promiscuous intercourse, like the brutes, but of honourable marriage. The same law which forbade the eating of blood, under the gospel, forbade fornication, which was common among the heathen; and, alas, too common among those who call themselves Christians!

Ver. 8–17. Having given the foregoing precepts, God graciously proceeds to enter into a solemn covenant with Noah and his posterity, and every living creature that was with them, no more to destroy them by water, of which “the bow in the cloud” was to be the token. This covenant is an amplification of what was said at the altar, where the Lord smelled a sweet savour; and indeed the first seventeen verses of this chapter are a continuation of that subject.

We see here,

1. The mercy and goodness of God in proceeding with us in a way of covenant. He might have exempted the world from this calamity, and yet not have told them he would do so. The remembrance of the flood might have been a sword hanging over their heads in terrorem. But he will set their minds at rest on this score, and therefore promises, and that with an oath, that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, Isa. 54:9. Thus also he deals with us in his Son. Being willing that the heirs of promise should have strong consolation, he confirms his word by an oath, Heb. 6:17, 18.

2. The importance of living under the light of revelation, Noah’s posterity by degrees sunk into idolatry, and became “strangers to the covenants of promise.” Such were our fathers for many ages, and such are great numbers to this day. So far as respects them, God might as well have made no promise; to them all is lost.

3. The Importance of being believers. Without this it will be worse-for us than if we had never been favoured with a revelation.

Our life of faith

Finally, We see here the kind of life which it was God’s design to encourage—a life of faith. “The just shall live by faith.” If he had made no revelation of himself, no covenants, and no promises, there would be no ground for faith; and we must have gone through life feeling after him, without being able to find him; but having made known his mind, there is light in all our dwellings, and a sure ground for believing, not only in our exemption from another flood, but in things of far greater importance.

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With respect to the sign, or token, of this covenant, the bow in the cloud, as it seems to be the effect of causes which existed from the beginning, it is probable that that also existed; but it was not till now a token of God’s covenant with the world. Such a token was extremely suitable, on account of its conspicuousness, and its appearance in the cloud, or at a time when the fears of man would be apt to rise, lest they should be overwhelmed with another flood. This being a sign of peace, the King of Zion is described as having “a rainbow about his throne.”

Did you enjoy these thoughts by Andrew Fuller? Be sure to check out the Complete Works of Andrew Fuller, a three volume set containing sermons, biblical and doctrinal works, and a defense of missions. Or, for a bigger discount, purchase a Baptist Base Package, which contains the Complete Works of Andrew Fuller plus commentaries, histories, biblical studies works, and more!

For the next two weeks, we are going to be taking a brief hiatus. Be sure to check back on June 24th for more Wednesdays on the Word!

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