Teaching series from Genesis

A New Start

Genesis 8:20-9:29

Teaching t14068


Review Genesis as the book of “Beginnings” (EXAMPLES: emphasize 3:15).  Last week, we saw that the effects of sin so corrupted humans and their world that God wiped out that world with a cataclysmic deluge and started over with Noah and his family.  The end of Gen. 8 through Gen. 9 record the beginning of this new start after the great Flood.  In this context, God makes a new promise to Noah and humankind, He introduces some new instructions for humanity, and He gives new predictive details about His redemptive plan – especially about the human ancestry of the coming “seed”/Messiah.

God’s new promise

Read 8:20.  Noah’s first recorded act upon leaving the ark is to offer animal sacrifices to God.  Why did he do this?  

“Clean” animals and the method of sacrifice (on altar; burnt offerings) imply previous instruction from God (as with 4:3,4).  This burnt animal offering anticipates Israel’s God-ordained sacrifices for the purpose of atonement (read Ex. 29:11,12,14b,16,18).  Like Israel’s later priests, Noah is acting as a priest/mediator for his family/the rest of humanity.  He knows that God judged humanity through the Flood for their sin, and he knows that God prescribes the death of His chosen substitute for the payment of human sin.

8:21 describes God’s response.  Moses uses anthropomorphic language (“God smelled the soothing aroma”) to communicate that God is pleased with the sacrifice (not that the smoke made Him hungry).  On the basis of this sacrifice, God promises to never again destroy the earth by flood (see 9:15), even though (NIV) humans remain evil.  After such a devastating disruption of nature’s stability, God promises to preserve natural continuity until His purpose for this earth is fulfilled (read 8:22). 

Therefore, the basis for God’s forbearance is not human goodness/improvement, but rather the substitutionary atonement symbolized by Noah’s sacrifice and ultimately fulfilled by Jesus (Rom. 3:25).

God communicates His promise of 8:21,22 by making a covenant with humans and animals (read 9:8-11).  It is a unilateral covenant, initiated by and unconditionally promised by God.  As with other covenants, God gave a sign – in this case a recurring natural event – to remind them of His covenant.[1]  The sign of this covenant is the rainbow (read 9:12-17). 

Now, rain will not mean devastating flood (imagine Noah’s PTSD!), but rather the rainbow will remind them of God’s promise never to judge the earth this way again.  The Hebrew word “bow” (qesheth) is same word for an archery bow (SLIDE; translated this way in the rest of Old Testament except Ezek. 1:28).  Since a rainbow is pointed away from earth (SLIDE), God may have chosen the rainbow to signify that His judgment will no longer be “pointed” at earth in this way.

In the meantime, God gives Noah and his descendants (the “you”s in 9:2-7 are plural) certain new instructions in order to deter a return to the condition (6:5) which brought the Flood upon them . . .

God’s new instructions

Read 9:1,7.  God reiterates the command to multiply and fill the earth.  Geographical expansion now is also a preventative measure, because when all people were in one place, they became completely depraved (6:5).  But as Gen. 11 shows, Noah’s descendants ultimately disobeyed this command – so that God had to force their dispersion by changing their languages (NEXT WEEK).

Read 9:2-3.  God now expands humans’ permissible diet by including animals.  While this is not a command to eat meat, it is an insistence that vegetarianism is not more righteous or spiritual than non-vegetarianism.  But, as with the curse of 3:17-19, this provision will still involve work and difficulty, because (contrary to the animals’ cooperation with Noah into the ark), they will now have a natural fear of humans. 

We learn here that while animals are God’s creation (and to be treated humanely; see Old Testament commands), humans have greater value than animals, and may take animal lives for human welfare (food, protection, etc.).  Contrast this to pantheism (which does not make this distinction and thus lowers humans), or to atheism (which elevates human life in practice while contradicting its worldview).

God specifies the sanctity of blood (symbolizing life) in two ways. 

Read 9:4.  Though they may eat animals, they must not eat animal blood.  God explained this instruction later – that animal blood was to be used only for atoning sacrifices (read Lev. 17:11,12).  As we saw in 8:20, animal sacrifice was an important educational device which prophetically symbolized God’s later offering of His Son’s life for our sins (read Rom. 3:25 again).  God rescinded this command after Jesus’ death because its purpose had been fulfilled (Acts 10:15).

They must protect human life by punishing those who take it (read 9:5,6).  Whereas God personally dealt with Cain’s murder of Abel, He now calls upon Noah and his descendants to punish proven murderers (“Whoever takes a human’s life, by humans shall his life be taken”).  The reason for this severe penalty is the great value of humans as God’s image-bearers.  The rest of the Bible upholds this command (see Mosaic Law capital crimes; Rom. 13:4).  Whatever legitimate debates there may be about capital punishment, the point is that human societies must have severe penal sanctions for murder.[2]

Here is the first command sanctioning human government and its responsibility to preserve social safety by punishing wrongdoers (see Rom. 13).  Because of human depravity, all utopian rejections of government end in exploitation and misery.  Without governing authorities and their ability to use force, fallen humans will descend into anarchy, vengeance feuds, brutal tyranny, etc.

God’s new predictions concerning His redemptive plan

Read 9:18-19.  This paragraph sets the stage for the role Noah’s 3 sons would play in the repopulation of the earth.  Gen. 10 describes the 70 nations that descended from them.  Canaan (Ham’s son) is mentioned because from him came the wicked and powerful Canaanite peoples, who opposed Moses’ audience, the Israelites (another example of the 3:15 “enmity between your seed and her seed”).  What will be the outcome of this enmity?  Also, from which of Noah’s sons will the 3:15 “seed”/Messiah come?  The following material answers both of these questions.

Read 9:20,21.  There was nothing wrong with Noah planting a vineyard, or with enjoying wine (Ps. 104:14,15; Jn. 2).  But Noah got smashed and wound up in a naked stupor in his tent.  The Bible does not glamorize its heroes (e.g., Abraham, David, Elijah, Peter). 

What Noah did was bad – but what one of his sons did in response was far worse.  (The following account identifies certain biblical ethical priorities.)

Read 9:22.  When Ham discovers Noah’s state, he “told” his brothers.  Nagad means to declare, publish, expound.  At the very least, Ham mocked and scorned his father (like posting the photo to all the males in the world).[3]  As the following passage makes clear, God considered this so heinous that it adversely affected Ham’s inheritance and his descendants.  Read 9:23.  Shem and Japheth (while not approving of his drunkenness) respectfully cover Noah.  As the following passage makes clear, God considered this so important that it positively affected their inheritance and their descendants.

Parental respect and discretion are ethical priorities throughout the Bible (see other passages), because they safeguard relationships (including the family), which are the foundation of human society.  Conversely, parental disrespect and gossip/slander are extremely destructive to human society (see Rom. 1:30; 2 Tim. 3:2).  Our culture is in big trouble in both of these areas (EXAMPLES)!  Christians can be lights in these areas, exposing their darkness by positive contrast and demonstrating God’s forgiveness and love (Phil. 2:14,15).  How are you doing here?  What step could you take in these areas?

Read 9:24.  When Noah discovers what Ham did to him, he pronounces a familial oracle concerning his sons and their descendants.  In some mysterious way, the behavior of the 3 sons foreshadowed the roles of some of their descendants – as Esau’s and Jacob’s behavior at their births foreshadowed their relationship and the relationship between the nations that descended from them (Gen. 25:22-26; see also Gen. 49:1-27).

Read 9:25.  Noah curses Ham – specifically his son Canaan.  Why Canaan, when Ham was the one who disrespected his father?  Maybe because Canaan commiserated with his father.  Maybe because Canaan and his descendants imitated Ham’s wickedness.[4]  Maybe because Moses’ audience is particularly interested in the Canaanites.  We do know that God eventually subjugated the Canaanites to the Israelites – because of their extreme depravity (Gen. 15:16; child-sacrifice & ritual prostitution slaves) and despite God’s repeated warnings.[5]

Read 9:26.  Noah praises God as the God of Shem.  This probably not only indicates Shem’s true faith in YHWH; it also indicates that the “seed”/Messiah will come from Shem’s descendants.  This is confirmed by Gen. 11,12 – which says that Abraham descended from Shem, and that one of Abraham’s descendants would be the One through God blesses all nations (Gen. 12:3).

Read 9:27.  God also blesses Japheth’s descendants (NET: “May God enlarge Japtheth’s territory and numbers”).  They would also somehow benefit from the Semites’ blessing (see above on 12:3).  The Japhethites comprise the Gentile peoples, many of whom received and benefited from the gospel concerning Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:14). 

Read 9:28-10:1.  Noah died, but God’s plan went on.  Gen. 10 describes the nations God formed from Noah’s sons.  Concerning them, Paul says (read Acts 17:26).  Your nationality and family history is part of God’s sovereign plan, and He has created you (among other things) to find Him (read Acts 17:27).  That’s why your presence here tonight is not an accident!  He is not far from you; He is right here, and through His Son Jesus He is inviting you to receive His forgiveness and His Spirit.  Why not respond to His invitation (EXPLAIN HOW)?  Then you can play your part in God’s plan!


NEXT WEEK: Genesis 10,11 – “Nimrod’s Rebellion & the Babel Project”



[1] Gen. 9:16 does not mean literally that the rainbow will help God not to forget His covenant.  This is another use of anthropomorphic language to assure them that He will keep His promise.

[2] Of course, capital punishment can be unjustly implemented.  This is a complicated issue with many variables.  But the principle is that human society must punish serious wrongdoers for the sake of preserving social safety.

[3] It is also possible (but not probable) that Ham sexually molested Noah.  Lev. 20:17 uses the same word (“saw”) as a euphemism for sexually immoral act (see note in The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible).  The fact that when Noah awoke he knew what Ham had done to him may also suggest sexual imposition.  But there is nothing explicit in this passage that states Noah was sexually molested.

[4] “The curse is pronounced on Canaan, not Ham. Noah sees a problem in Ham’s character, and on the basis of that he delivers a prophecy about the future descendants who will live in slavery to such things and then be controlled by others.” Biblical Studies Press. (2005). The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press.

[5] American Christians in the South used this verse to justify the enslavement of black Africans, because they are Hamitic peoples.  But 9:25 refers only to the Canaanites – to say nothing of the rest the Bible’s condemnation of slavery.