As you’re reading this, keep at the forefront of your mind: What is the meaning of the rainbow so far as the covenant of Christ is concerned? A little bit of exposition: after Cain killed his brother Abel, there were two lines—Cain and Seth. Cain’s line was called the sons of man, and Seth’s line the sons of God. After a while, the two lines intermingled and created offspring. The sons of God began moving from faithful sacrifices (like Abel) to unfaithful sacrifices (like Cain) until the point God looks at His creation and doesn’t see the point in keeping anyone around, except for one man and his family: Noah. Genesis 6:5-8:
The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him to His heart. So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the skies, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favour in the eyes of the LORD.
“Favour” and “grace” are the same word in Hebrew (חֵן—chen). We know we are made righteous by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), which makes us blameless before God. Built into us is what’s called the opinion of law, which is the assumption that in order to be good, we must do good. So, we have a habit of saying Noah was blameless because he was doing righteous deeds—he was a doer of good works. Sure, he built the ark, which was a good work because he obeyed God, but he also had a bad temper and he loved getting drunk with wine. He was a sinner just like the rest of us. It doesn’t say Noah was righteous because he did so many good deeds; it just says he was righteous because He had favour (grace) with God. Instead of operating by the Law, we ought to let the New Testament covenant inform the Old Testament covenant. Read the Bible from the Cross, looking back into history, not at a specific point in time according to our opinion of the law without the Cross in view. That is, read Scripture in light of Christ, because Christ is the interpretive key to understanding Scripture.
Martin Luther struggled with the word “righteousness.” He kept coming across the Psalms and Romans with this phrase: “the righteousness of God.” He kept wondering, “How the heck can I obtain righteousness” until he suddenly realised, “Wait a minute. It doesn’t say the righteousness of Martin Luther. It says the righteousness of God.” He realised the problem is faith alone. That is, faith in God’s righteousness, which is given to us at the Cross of Jesus. Romans 1:16-17 is known as Luther’s “Aha!” moment: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.'”
Noah was the last faithful man on earth. Genesis 6:11-14a:
Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make yourself an ark of gopher wood…”
The Hebrew word for “ark” is actually “box.” It is more likely that Noah built a large box than this giant U-shaped boat we see in paintings. Boats today and in the distant past have been shaped in such a way so it can move through water as it’s being propelled by something. But Noah didn’t need to build something that needed to move; he just needed something that could float on water. So, God tells him to build a box-like ship out of gopher wood with other detailed instructions.
Genesis 6:17, “For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die.” Don’t read that too fast. This is also a picture of things to come. Here, we read of a destruction of temporal death with water, but there is a fiery and eternal death to come from which the creation itself is spared, but the fallen angels who have no chance for repentance and the men and women who choose not to repent will not be spared.
We see cartoon images all the time with happy animals and people on the ark in many children’s nurseries and books, but what’s missing? Thousands, perhaps millions, of corpses in the water. This is not a happy story; it is a dark event. It’s a story of God’s wrath. Yet it is also the story of the salvation of God from His own wrath. God promises destruction, but He also brings salvation. At least for faithful Noah.
It is no coincidence that the box (ark) of the covenant is also connected to this. It was a box in which God Himself dwelled. Then Jesus came as God—hence Immanuel: God with us, who carried us across “death’s raging flood“ as the Lutheran hymnody sings so beautifully.
Genesis 6:18-19, 21-22:
“But I will establish My covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female… Also take with you every sort of food that is eaten, and store it up. It shall serve as food for you and for them.” Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.
The question here is: How did Noah get all the animals? Interestingly, God gives Noah a separate blessing and curse apart from the rainbow. We’ll see this later in chapter nine, but at this point after the Flood, God says that from now on He’ll let mankind eat the animals, “but the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth” (9:2). So, before the Flood, apparently mankind never ate animals, and they were never afraid of mankind until after the Flood because of God’s permission to eat them. So how did Noah get them all on the ark? Well, animals didn’t fear man at that time, so it must’ve been extremely easy as God called them to migrate to Noah’s location. (Keep in mind that as Creator and a personal Being, God is ever active and present in His creation. Thus, as Creator, the most logical conclusion is that God called the creatures to migrate to the ark.)
Then the LORD said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before Me in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate, and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate…”
Seven pairs of clean animals, and a single pair of unclean animals. Interesting. This is common Hebraic language. A clean animal was one worthy of sacrifice for atonement, which we see later on at Mt. Sinai. But how does Noah know what’s clean? Because there was something already going on in the sacrifice of his lineage in the line of Seth—the sons of God who used to make right sacrifices like Abel until they intermingled with the unrighteous sacrifices of Cain’s line. It’s clear that Noah knew about blood sacrifices; it was already part of his religion.
Genesis 7:4, 7, 16:
“For in seven days I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground.” …And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him went into the ark to escape the waters of the flood… And those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him. And the LORD shut him in.
“And the LORD shut him in.” This is key. This is a Gospel phrase. It wasn’t the pitch that kept the water out; God put them in this box and closed it with His power. How did they survive? By God’s preservation—His election. God does the work of electing and saving us, not us.
Genesis 7:11, “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened.” How did this happen? Science has shown that there are, in fact, giant pools of water underneath the earth, even bigger than what our oceans can currently hold. It could be talking about that (I’m not saying it is, but it is possible). Creation scientists attempt to come up with all sorts of explanations. Notice, however, they try to explain it with naturalistic scientific causes. The immediate reaction is not to admit it’s a miracle, but to have some naturalistic explanation as opposed to God opening the floodgates of Heaven and just pouring massive amounts of water onto the earth (like the above verse says).
If you’re a Christian, is that a plausible explanation? Of course it is. I can’t say for sure that’s what happened, because I don’t know, but verse 11 sure does seem to suggest that. What I am trying to say is: Don’t forget about miracles. We’re a people of miracles who believe in God’s power over creation. After all, Jesus stopped the stormy sea without naturalistic causes. He exerted His divine power over creation and did the impossible: calming the sea with a simple gesture and a few simple words. Jesus, fully God and fully man, could turn water into wine. He didn’t throw grapes in after mashing them with His feet; He just did it. So if He wants, God can flood the entire earth any time He wants and however He wants from out of nowhere; it doesn’t need to be explained. If there are explanations we can find, awesome! But just realise the kind of world we live in with the kind of questions we ask. We ask impossible questions while expecting naturalistic answers when, even at their best, naturalistic answers cannot answer our extraordinary (supernatural) questions.
Either way, we don’t need to answer these questions in order for the events to be true. Just because we don’t know the answer and we cannot answer them with our own intelligence does not make the event any less real. To pass something off as false just because we can’t explain it is the root of intellectual dishonesty due to the lack of fearing the unknown.
And all flesh died that moved on the earth: birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the skies. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark.
I’ve never seen the movie Noah particularly because, according to others, it was just an overall bad movie, so why would I want to watch a bad movie? But one thing I understand they got right was the horror the people faced when the rain came and would not stop. I imagine the people would’ve made attempts to escape. Imagine how horrible it must’ve been to be alive at that time when the rain kept coming and you went to higher ground, then it still kept coming and you went to higher ground again, and so on until there was nothing you could do but die, even after swimming for long periods of time until you died from exhaustion. The wrath of God is a terrifying thing, which is, again, an illustration of the wrath of fire to come against those who don’t believe.
The first three words in chapter eight, however, are reassuring. “But God remembered.” Anytime we read the word “but” in Scripture is when we really have to pay attention. Any time there’s a “but,” it’s negating everything that came before. In essence, when there’s a “but” in Scripture, it’s saying, “Yes, everything that was said or happened up to this point is valid and true, BUT there’s this other thing that’s more significant.”
So, yes, all this horror happened (because we deserve it), BUT: God always remembers; He never forgets. Every time the Old Testament says God remembers something, it is always connected to Him doing something. Whenever God remembers, He acts; and when He remembers, He tends to perform acts that save. Genesis 8:1-7, 15-16, 20:
But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided. The fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens were closed, the rain from the heavens were restrained, and the waters receded from the earth continually. At the end of 150 days the waters had abated, and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. And the waters continued to abate until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains were seen. At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made and sent forth a raven. It went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth… Then God said to Noah, “Go out from the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you.” …Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar.
If this is a reference to the clean animals we later see in the Levitical code, this was a lot of dead animals. It would’ve been a really bad smell. I can tell you from personal experience that death does not smell good. It’s not just their insides that smell bad, but he’s also burning them to a charred crisp; that would smell even worse. But then, verse 21, “And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in His heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.'” Why in the world would God think that charred flesh smells good? Obviously, it’s not the smell itself, but the destruction and total annihilation of Jesus on the Cross that the sacrifice represents. Later on, Paul calls Christ “our pleasing aroma” (2 Corinthians 2:15). Jesus on the Cross is the fulfilment of these Levitical sacrifices. Thus, it wasn’t the smell or act itself that was pleasing, but the purpose and meaning for the sacrifice.
Continuing from verse 21, “Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” Say what you want about climate change, but it is clear summer and winter, cold and heat, and day and night will never cease. We don’t have to worry about mankind destroying the world because God is upholding it as long as He sees fit. Even if global climate is worsening, this should come as no surprise since the earth is corrupt with sin and, as such, is dying. We cannot stop it; but until then, God does promise the seasons will continue.
And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the skies, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.
This is what I was talking about earlier—God permitting us to eat animals and thus their fear of us. Verse four is not talking about eating rare or medium rare steak; God is talking about actually drinking blood. There’s a reason for this. Every time God says “the life is in the blood” in the Old Testament, a Calvinist would say this is why Jesus’ body and blood cannot be in the Lord’s Supper since you can’t eat the blood of animals, so why would He let you eat the blood of a human? This is a categorical mistake. The retort to this folly is simply, “The life is in the blood.” The life in these animals, if you drink their blood, is dead life; it cannot keep you alive. But the life that is in the body and blood of Jesus is eternal life; He’s alive! That’s what’s going on here. In case you haven’t noticed, it’s all about Jesus.
Genesis 9:9, 11-12:
“Behold, I establish My covenant with you and your offspring after you…” …”I will establish My covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations.”
This is a local temporary promise until the end of the world that God will never destroy the earth by water again. In order to remind us of this promise, He placed a sign—the rainbow:
“I have set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember My covenant that is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.” (9:13-15)
The key words are, “When I see the sign, I will remember.” His remembering is always saving, acting words. Now He is connecting His promise of the seed (Genesis 3:15) to the concept of physical signs—things that when He sees them, He will remember what it all means and act according to that promise (Jesus on the Cross). Take, for example, “Take this cup, which is the new covenant in My blood” (Luke 22:20). It’s a sign, which is connected to a promise—the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28). The sign is not only for us, but also for God. When God sees this sign in you on the Last Day, He will remember what it means and bring you through it to eternal life.
In 1 Peter the apostle says this giant flood doesn’t matter. He’s not denying it happened, but he’s saying the real flood is Baptism, which, in fact, kills us (see Romans 6:4-8; 1 Peter 3:18); yet it brings us through itself by the power of Christ. Thus, he says, “Baptism… now saves you… as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). The translated word “appeal” is interesting. In Greek, it is ἐπερώτημα (eperótema), which a closer translation is to make a “pledge.” So, the flood of Baptism that kills our old sinful flesh now saves us because, as we have risen as new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), the sign of this Baptism within us pledges our new self before God through Christ.
So, on the Last Day, Christ literally stands before God and says, “Father, in his/her baptism I have clothed them with Me [see Galatians 3:27]; therefore, I pledge for My sake before You that they are justified in My blood. Just as You sent Your bow in the clouds as a sign not to destroy creation by flood again, so Your baptism in Your people is the sign of My salvation in My blood.” And staying true to this sign in His promise, God will bring us into His kingdom.