Genesis 9 – The promise keeping God

God is a covenant-making promise keeper. The Bible reveals the character of God, and one thing it shows us over and over is God making agreements with his people and God doing what he says he will do. The covenants that God makes are similar to contracts between two parties, and in Genesis 9 he makes one of his very first ones. As the old spiritual says, “God gave Noah the rainbow sign, no more water but fire next time.” The rainbow is God’s signature, God’s John Hancock, written large in the sky for all to see. It’s a signature for the record books, and every time he writes it he is telling us, “see, I have kept my promise.”
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The amazing thing about God’s agreement with Noah is that there is nothing that Noah has to do to keep this contract in force. God is making  an unconditional guarantee. He says to Noah, “I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” There are no payments that Noah must make, no actions he or his descendants must take. It is all up to God. It is a kingly thing that God does, giving something that only he in his might and power could give and giving it forever.

God makes other covenants in the Bible, and some of them are conditional. He still makes them as the king, the one who holds the power to grant and the power to enforce, but in these agreements the other party has to hold up their end of the contract. God made such an agreement with Moses and the nation of Israel as he brought them out of their captivity in Egypt. He promised, as long as they kept his word and remained obedient to it, that he would bless them and make them a nation of kings and priests. He also promised them, if they failed to honor the covenant, that he would bring a curse upon them. The people willingly accepted the terms of the agreement, and then failed to keep their end of the bargain.

There is a final covenant that God has made with his people. He made it in graceful mercy when we failed to keep the old agreement. Here it is, from the words of the prophet Jeremiah as quoted by the writer of Hebrews:

“The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord. This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” Hebrews 8:8-12

You decide whether this is a conditional or unconditional covenant. But look at all that God says he will do: he will make a new covenant, he will put his laws in our hearts, he will forgive.

God is a covenant-making promise keeping God, and he likes to remind himself of it. That was the other reason for the rainbow. God put it there so that every time it appeared in the sky he would remember his promise.

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Genesis 5 – Noah lives up to his name

When Lamech saw his newborn son he named him Noah, meaning rest or relief or comfort, and then prophesied that Noah would give rest from “the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the LORD has cursed.” The perfect world created in God’s perfect week had been permanently damaged, first by Adam and Eve’s disobedience, and then by each sinful life that followed. Now sin was about to bear its full fruit, for by the time Noah reached his mature age of 500 “the LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.”

I imagine that Noah grew up hearing his father’s prophetic words more than a few times (Lamech lived 595 years after Noah was born, dying only five years before the flood). It could have been a heavy burden for Noah to carry. Or it may  have motivated him to live a godly life. Either way, it must have frustrated him, as he walked with God, to see no change in the godless people around him. There was no rest, or relief, or comfort. But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord, and at the very time that God was poised to wipe all evil from the earth, he entrusted Noah with a rescue mission.

I doubt that Lamech had the ark in mind when he foresaw Noah’s mission of relief and comfort. Even now it takes a very long-term view to see the rest in that storm-tossed boat. Yet by carrying his children through the flood Noah made it possible for God to carry on his plan of redemption. Noah was the father of Shem, and from Shem came the Hebrew people. From the Hebrews God raised up one man, Jacob, who became the father of twelve sons. From that family God grew a nation, Israel, and from that nation God chose a family, the family of David. From that family came one man, Jesus, who offers all of us rest and comfort.

In giving us rest Noah found little rest himself. He worked hard, perhaps for a hundred years, to build the ark. He must have struggled with doubts as he worked to build something whose end and purpose he could not see. But his faith was greater than any doubt, and his life is an example of the sacrifice that is needed if we are to serve God and bring his rest to others.

After the flood waters dried up and Noah’s family left the ark, God said, “never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood.” Lamech had cried out for relief from God’s curse. God used Noah to bring relief. In some way the earth itself is fundamentally different now than it was before the flood. Part of the curse of sin has already been removed by God, a down payment of sorts on the final transaction that will one day permanently remove us even from the presence of sin.

Genesis 1 – The days and seasons that frame creation

The creatures of creation, all those fish and birds and cattle, make it easy to overlook the framework of God’s creation: the sun, moon, and earth itself which ordain our days, months, seasons, and years. Genesis 1:14 says they were created “for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years.” The Hebrew word for seasons also means holy days or feast days. God used the movements of the heavenly bodies to establish a calendar of civil and sacred days that ordered life for the Hebrews and foreshadowed the coming of the Messiah who would be their true Passover lamb, their sinless, unleavened bread of life, and the first fruits of all those who would be resurrected. Even as Jesus fulfilled these spring feast days in his first coming to earth, some look for him to fulfill the fall sacred days when he returns at the last trump to make final atonement and tabernacle with us forever.

My imagination is most captivated by the week. Why did God choose seven days in which to complete all his work and then rest? In God’s arithmetic seven is the number of completion and perfection. Perhaps the week and the number seven are perfect because of the creation it encompassed, or perhaps there is something more basic about the number that motivated God’s design. Either way, there is mercy in the method. The weekly Sabbath of rest breaks up our days into livable blocks of time that help keep us from burning ourselves out and which keep reminding us of our Maker from whom we are so prone to wander.

With the Sabbath God is shouting, “enough.” God had done enough. His creation was perfect, lacking nothing. With the Sabbath he is telling us, “enough.” He has given us six days to accomplish all we can do in our human strength, but on one day each week we must stop our activity and trust God to make up the difference. When Jesus died on the cross he shouted, “it is finished,” or in other words, “enough.” He had done everything in his days that was needed for our salvation. And when He returns from heaven with a shout (I Thessalonians 4:16) the word may well be, “enough.” Enough with this sin-stained world. Let the redeemed enter their eternal Sabbath rest.