Genesis 9:8-17
The Eternal Covenant

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1. Today's passage of scripture is a section from the famous story of "Noah's Ark." Today I would like for us to make an observation on a phrase which is found repeatedly in this scripture passage, "to establish a covenant."

The Depravity Of Humanity

2. First, let's take a look at a related term written just shortly before this. Beginning in verse one the text reads: "God blessed Noah and his sons by saying, 'Produce [children], increase, fill the land. All the beasts of the land and all the birds of the air along with everything that creeps on the land and all the fish in the sea will tremble with fear before you and are entrusted into your hands.'," (9:1-2). [You] probably recognize this from before. It is quite similar to the statement in Genesis chapter one. In the story of the creation of the heavens and the earth, [the scripture] said the following about the creation of humanity: "God created humanity in his own image. He created [man] in the image of God. He created [them] male and female. God blessed them by saying, 'Produce [children], increase, fill the land, and make the land obey. Rule over all the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the living things that creep on the earth.'," (1:27-28). Thus, today's passage has a deep connection to the account of the creation of the universe.

3. It does say "Rule over all the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the living things that creep on the earth," but the word "rule over" doesn't seem to be tied in with a very good image today. [I say that] because there are so many bad rulers in the world. But the word "rule over" in and of itself does not contain negative connotations in it. What [the scripture] is saying here is about managing the created world justly and righteously as per the will of the creator. Humanity has been entrusted with that honored task.

4. Yet though, as we come to chapter six, we come to see that the humans entrusted with the management of this world are depicted in the following way: "The Lord saw that the evil of man increased on the earth, and he was always scheming in his heart to do only evil, so he was sorry that he created man on the earth, and ached in his heart with pain," (6:5-6). "The land was depraved in the sight of God, and it was filled with unlawfulness. God saw the land. Behold, it was depraved, and all flesh was walking in the way of depravity on the earth," (6:11-12).

5. When we read those words, the following doubts may arise within our minds: "How did humanity turn out doing such depraved acts? Was God unable to create humans to not be depraved? Why didn't God keep the situation, which he would later be sorry for, from ever happening?" In regards to doubts like these, the Bible hardly seems concerned; for, the concerns of the Bible are directed more towards "how the real world is" rather than "how things got that way." The evil of the people certainly fills this earth, and there is a real world out there where humanity is always scheming in its heart to do only evil. There is a world out there where the land is depraved in the sight of God. Setting aside how it got that way, there is no denying the reality of it as the Bible has described it.

6. God announced that he would destroy humanity the way it was and all of the creatures in the world. The text says the following: "The time to put an end to all flesh is come before me. Because of them, the land is filled with sin. Behold, I will destroy them together with the land," (6:13). Then in order to fulfill this statement, God caused a flood. This is the story's unfolding, which we know so well.

Why A Flood?

7. But, we ought to think hard here, "Why [was it] 'a flood'?" Why didn't he destroy it by burning it up with fire? Why didn't he just annihilate or vaporize it into extinction? Why didn't he go by some other method?

8. When we read this very carefully then, we'll find that the text will say this about the flood: Please look beginning at verse eleven in chapter seven. "The eighth hundred year of Noah's life, the seventeenth day of the second month, [on] that day, fountains from the great abyss each split apart, the windows of heaven were opened," (7:11). It wasn't only that water fell down from above after the windows of heaven opened. The water overflowed in from below. It was written like that on purpose. Why?

9. Earlier I mentioned that our text for today is related to the creation account. Let's take another look at the passage of the creation of the heavens and the earth. Look at chapter one and verse two. "The earth was chaos, darkness was on the surface of the abyss, and the spirit of God was moving on the surface of the water," (1:2). This was the primordial situation when it was an orderless chaos. In this chaos, God made order. God said, "Let there be light." The order, first made from that, was "day and night," (verse five). Then, the next order that was made is described with the following wording: "God said, 'Let there be space in the water. Divide water from water.' God built the great arch of the sky, and he divided the waters under the space and above the space. It became that way," (1:6-7). Then, in regard to the waters under the space side [of the divide], the following order came to be: "God said, 'Collect the water under the heavens at one place, let a dry place appear.' It became that way. God called the dry place land, he called the place where the water collected ocean," (1:9-10).

10. Well, reading this far I think you've noticed it by now. By the flood in the story of Noah's Ark, the waters that were deliberately divided above and below became one again and terribly so. The dry land made after dividing it from the water ended up covered over with water again. Getting to the point then, the flood is being depicted as "a retrogression back to the state of chaos."

11. I stated previously that embedded into the story of the creation of the universe in Genesis chapter one is the message of "God being the one who gives order and meaning to the world." More specifically, this means "A world apart from God cannot avoid returning back to its first chaos again." And that's exactly the way it happens in chapter six. Having defected away from God like a rebel, the world has gone backwards into chaos. This reversal occurs as a judgment from God. Of course it is human sin, it is evil, which is directly held in question here. But, as we too know quite well, the impact of the evil from humans who have rebelled against God doesn't hold over in just human society alone. It causes chaos on the whole world and the creatures in it, and it sets off conditions in which the entire world gets caught up in its destruction.

12. So, the Bible is informing us that all flesh deserves to be destroyed, in a world gone back to chaos, because of God's judgment, by all rights. God said, "The time to put an end to all flesh is come before me." (6:13). Thus, "all flesh" was supposed to be destroyed. But, a queer contradiction comes up between God's speech and actions. Even though God said that he would "put an end to 'all' flesh," in reality, he doesn't go on to destroy 'all.' Isn't the fact itself odd - the fact that [God] is talking to Noah, who is part of "the flesh" at issue, [and telling flesh,] "the time to put an end to all flesh is come" - isn't that so odd in the first place? Then, this same Noah survives. Hold it, I would still understand if it were just Noah. Actually, it isn't just Noah, but his family also survives. Also after that, "all things living, all things flesh, two by two" also survive (6:19).

13. Well, many only read this as a simple story of the past. Some assert the historicity of what happened and search for the wreckage of Noah's ark on Mt Ararat. Some let it slip in one ear and out the other as one of the fables not worth taking seriously. Whatever their opinion though, it would only belong to the past. But, for the Israelites who passed this on, especially for the people who experienced the collapse of the state and captivity as slaves, this wasn't a simple story from the past. They saw their own figure right there in Noah, his family and the animals, who were not annihilated out, but survived.

14. Whether or not we can read this story in any true sense will probably depend on if we can find our own figure in it or not. We are not being destroyed in the chaos by God's judgment, but are still left on this earth. That's not what we deserve. This story shows that the land we are standing upon is but a land given to us truly by grace.

The Eternal Covenant Established By God

15. With this imprinted on our minds, let's go back to our scripture text for today. It reads, "I am establishing a covenant with you and with your descendants who continue afterwards. I am establishing a covenant with all the living things which are with you, even all the birds, and cattle, and all the beasts of the earth whatsoever, and not only everything that came off the ark but every beast of the earth. Since I am establishing this covenant with you, all flesh will not be destroyed again by flood, and I will never destroy the land by causing a flood," (9:9-11).

16. We don't normally say [in Japanese] "to establish a covenant." We say "to bind a covenant." In the Bible there is a special phrase by which "to bind a covenant" is translated. In the Japanese language we "bind" a covenant, but in the Hebrew language they use the expression "to cut" a covenant. As an actual deed, when they bound a covenant, the parties involved would pass between an animal which was cut in two. By doing that, they were agreeing that breaking the covenant meant death. This was how a covenant was bound and contracted. In this manner then, at the time when they used the term "cutting" a covenant, both sides were involved, the sincerity of both parties was held in account.

17. However, here in this text it says that God was "cutting the covenant." The one doing the cutting is God. It was only God who was involved in the establishing [of the covenant]. In that sense it was a responsibility bound in only one direction. Like we saw earlier, the target of the judgment was on "all flesh." It was on Noah, his family and "all flesh." And just as [God] said, "The time to put an end to all flesh is come before me," the relationship between all flesh and God was ended in its fundamental essence. Therefore, all creatures did get destroyed. It was the same even for Noah, his family and the surviving animals. In spite of that though, it says a covenant was established between God and all flesh, but it was entirely one sided, just by God's grace, just with God as the responsible party.

18. Then, it is also important that [the Lord] states that the sign of the covenant is "the rainbow." The rainbow has appeared for generations. This is how God has remembered his covenant across the generations. The Lord said, "When a rainbow appears among the clouds, I will see it, and I will remember the eternal covenant established between God and every living thing on the earth, even with all flesh," (9:16).

19. How do we see this world!? How do we look at ourselves living in it? Is both this world and everything living in it just a meaningless thing in existence only heading for destruction? No, it isn't. This world is the target of the eternal covenant established by God. This world is that kind of world. All flesh is that kind of thing in existence. Because of that God has established a magnificent plan of salvation for the world, he did not withhold from making even his one and only son flesh and sending him into the world.

20. The Lord said,"The thoughts in a person's heart are evil from childhood," (8:21). It certainly is just as the Lord had said it was. The created world is still a world where the voice of suffering and grief never ceases because of the sin of humanity [in the way people think evil from childhood]. It is still a world upon which black clouds rise and darkness covers. But, on that same world the rainbow cuts [across the sky] again and again. Therefore, we must not forget that both the created world where the rainbow establishes itself again and again and we who live in it are still the target of God's love and grace.

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