Genesis 9:8

I. It is a COVENANT OF LIFE. It embraces all the posterity of Noah, i.e. it is -

1. The new foundation on which humanity rests.

2. It passes through man to all flesh, to all living creatures.

3. The sign of it, the rainbow in the cloud, is also the emblem of the salvation which may be said to be typified in the deliverance of Noah and his family.

4. The background is the same element wherewith the world was destroyed, representing the righteousness of God as against the sin of man. On that righteousness God sets the sign of love, which is produced by the rays of light - the sun being the emblem of Divine goodness - radiating from the infinite center in the glorious Father of all. "And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud."


1. It is waiting to be recognized. When we place ourselves in right relation to the revelations and promises of Jehovah we can always see the bow on the cloud of sense, on events - bright compassion on the darkest providence.

2. There is an interdependence between the objective and subjective. The rainbow is the natural result of an adjustment between the sun, the earth, the cloud falling in rain, and man, the beholder. Take the earth to represent the abiding laws of man's nature and God's righteousness, the falling cloud to represent the condemnation and punishment of human sin, the sun the revealed love and mercy of God sending forth its beams in the midst of the dispensation of judgment; then let there be faith in man to look up and rejoice in that which is set before him, and he will behold the rainbow of the covenant even on the very background of the condemnation.

III. TRANSFIGURED RIGHTEOUSNESS IN REDEMPTION. The cross at once condemnation and life. The same righteousness which once destroyed the earth is manifested in Christ Jesus - "righteousness unto all and upon all them that believe."

IV. UNION OF GOD AND MAN. God himself is said to look upon the sign of the covenant that he may remember. So man looking and God looking to the same pledge of salvation. "God was in Christ reconciled," &c., Their reconciliation is complete and established. - R.

I establish My covenant with you.
I. The covenant God made with Noah was intended to remedy every one of the temptations into which Noah's children's children would have been certain to fall, and into which so many of them did fall. They might have become reckless from fear of a flood at any moment. God promises them, and confirms it with the sign of the rainbow, never again to destroy the earth by water. They would have been likely to take to praying to the rain and thunder, the sun and the stars. God declares in this covenant that it is He alone who sends the rain and thunder, that He brings the clouds over the earth, that He rules the great awful world; that men are to look up and believe in God as a loving and thinking Person, who has a will of His own, and that a faithful and true and loving and merciful will; that their lives and safety depend not on blind chance or the stern necessity of certain laws of nature, but on the covenant of an almighty and all-loving Person.

II. This covenant tells us that we are made in God's likeness, and therefore that all sin is unworthy of us and unnatural to us. It tells us that God means us bravely and industriously to subdue the earth and the living things upon it; that we are to be the masters of the pleasant things about us, and not their slaves as sots and idlers are; that we are stewards or tenants of this world for the great God who made it, to whom we are to look up in confidence for help and protection.

(C. Kingsley, M. A.)


II. THE TRANSMISSION OF PARENTAL BLESSINGS TO CHILDREN. Ver. 9. Dispositions of good or evil are almost sure to transmit themselves to succeeding generations. The descendants of a single vicious man and his wife, in the state of New York, numbered by scores, have been paupers and criminals. Put against this another illustration. The grandfather of Mary Lyon, the devoted principal of Mount Holyoke Seminary, was accustomed to pray daily for the blessing of God upon his children and the generations that should follow. Nearly all his descendants have been earnest Christians. In one graveyard lie fifty who died in the Lord. So when God covenants with Noah, it is with his children also. Here was the ground of circumcision in the Jewish Church. But it was because of this Divine principle that Peter said, "The promise is unto you and to your children." We ought to expect that our children will grow up Christians, and labour for it.

III. THE ADVANTAGE ENJOYED BY OTHER CREATED BEINGS IN THE BLESSINGS GIVEN TO GOD'S PEOPLE. Ver. 10. Men often enjoy privileges that are solely due to a Christianity at which they scoff. Certain scientific unbelievers, who deride prayer and declare man an automaton, and seek to prove the blight of Christian influence on society in the Middle Ages, would find no market for their books but for the quickened intellect that Christianity has induced. They are basking in the gospel's sunlight. There are heathen nations that are pierced through and through with Divine rays of light. Japan will illustrate this fact. A while since an embassy from Japan was in this country (United States of America), studying our national characteristics. It carried back for use in its own land our systems of education, of railroading, of manufacturing, of newspaper publication, of post office management, and what not beside. In doing this, it carried back Christian influences, for as Joseph Neesima, himself a Japanese, assured the embassy, our civilization is built upon the Bible. Today every prison warden in Japan has been studying a book furnished him for his guidance by the Japanese Government. That book was written by a missionary and contains a chapter on Christianity as an influence in managing prisons. Thus do the Divine shafts of the gospel fling themselves into the most inaccessible places. Even the animals are blessed through our religion. To be sure, some heathen nations have considered certain animals to be gods, and cared for them in consequence. But the tenderness of Christian people toward the inferior creation extends to all forms of sentient life and springs from reverence to God and a religious desire to spare His creatures suffering.

IV. GOD'S PROMISE OF CARE AND PROTECTION. Ver. 11. We distrust God when the lightning affrights us, or when we tremble in a storm at sea. Let us seek the spirit of the Christian sailor, who, when asked, as the waves were raging, how he could have so little fear, replied, "Though I sink, I shall only drop into my heavenly Father's hand, for He holds all these waters there."

V. NATURE APPEARS IN THE NARRATIVE AS A TEACHER OF MORALS AND RELIGION. Vers. 12-14. God designs that we should learn spiritual truths from the open pages of creation. His power and wisdom, His plans for man's good, are manifest in sky and earth and sea. The world is a most elaborate and perfect machine, fashioned by the hand of a Master. It is as manifestly fitted for man's needs as is a mansion furnished with the luxurious contrivances of modern ingenuity.

(A. P. Foster.)


1. Men have no right to dictate to God.

2. God reserves the power to bestow goodness.

3. The character of God leads us to expect the advances of His goodness towards men.

4. When God enters into covenant with His creatures, He binds Himself.


1. This was an act of pure grace.

2. Human history is a long comment upon the forbearance of God. (Acts 14:15; Romans 3:26.)

3. This forbearance of God was unconditional. It was not a command relating to conduct, but a statement of God's gracious will towards mankind.

4. This forbearance throws some light upon the permission of evil. We ask, why does God permit evil to exert its terrible power through all ages? Our only answer is that His mercy triumphs over judgment.

III. IT WAS A COVENANT WHICH, IN THE FORM AND SIGN OF IT, WAS GRACIOUSLY ADAPTED TO MAN'S CONDITION. Man was weak and helpless, his sense of spiritual things blunted and impaired by sin. He was not able to appreciate Divine truth in its pure and native form. God must speak to him by signs and symbols, and encourage him by promises of temporal blessing. In this way alone he can rise from sensible things to spiritual, and from earthly good to the enduring treasures of heaven.

1. The terms of the covenant refer to the averting of temporal punishment, but suggest the promise of higher things.

2. The sign of the covenant was outward, but full of deep and precious meaning. Covenants were certified by signs or tokens, such as a heap or pillar, or a gift (Genesis 31:52; Genesis 21:30). The starry night was the sign of the promise to Abraham (Genesis 15). Here, the sign of the covenant was the rainbow; a sign beautiful in itself, calculated to attract attention, and most fitting to teach the fact of God's constancy, and to encourage the largest hopes from His love. All this was an education for man, so that he might adore and hope for the Divine mercy.(1) Mankind were to be educated through the beautiful. The beauty of the rainbow helped men to thoughts of heaven.(2) Mankind were to be taught the symbolic meaning of nature. All nature is a mighty parable of spiritual truth.(3) Mankind were to be taught that God is greater than nature. The creature, however beautiful, or capable of inspiring awe and grandeur, must not be deified. This was God's bow, not Himself. God is separate from nature, and greater than it; a living personality above all things created. If we could pursue nature to its furthest verge, we should find that we could not thus enclose and limit God; He would still retire into the habitation of eternity!(4) Mankind were to be taught to recognize a presiding mind in all the phenomena of nature. "My bow." God calls it His own, as designed and appointed by Him. There is no resting place for our mind and heart in second causes; we must come at last to a spiritual and intellectual subsistence — to a living personality. Nature without this view becomes a ruthless machine.(5) Man was to be assured that the mercy of God is equal to his extremity. He will remember men for good in their greatest calamities and dangers.

(T. H. Leale.)

God's covenants show —

1. That He is willing to contract duties towards man. Man can therefore hope for and obtain that which he cannot claim as a right. Thus "Mercy rejoiceth against judgment" (James 2:13).

2. That man's duty has relation to a personal Lawgiver. There is no independent morality. All human conduct must ultimately be viewed in the light of God's requirements.

3. That man needs a special revelation of God's love. The light of nature is not sufficient to satisfy the longings of the soul and encourage hope. We require a distinct utterance — a sign from heaven. The vague sublimities of created things around us are unsatisfying, we need the assurance that behind all there is a heart of infinite compassion.

4. That every new revelation of God's character implies corresponding duties on the part of man. The progress of revelation has refined and exalted the principle of duty, until man herein is equal unto the angels, and learns to do "all for love, and nothing for reward."

(T. H. Leale.)


1. The all-loving and everlasting God.

(1)The time when God makes this covenant is instructive.

(2)The Divine motive which prompted this covenant is encouraging.

(3)The Divine power to fulfil the terms of this covenant is all-sufficient.

2. Noah and his sons and their posterity, and every living thing.

(1)Its comprehensiveness.

(2)Its duration.


1. The regularity of the seasons is guaranteed.

2. Food for man and beast.


1. The beauty of the token is suggestive.

(1)Its arched form, whose apex touches the sky, and whose base is on earth, and suggests that it is God's covenant that connects heaven with earth, and is the crown of human hope.

(2)Its colours suggest both the infinite variety and immaculate glory of God's covenant blessings.

2. The permanency of the token is suggestive.

(1)That God never forgets His covenant with us.

(2)That He would have our faith in His promises as constantly exercised as His memory of His covenant is unfailing.

3. Its heavenly sphere is suggestive.LESSONS:

1. God's most endearing title: our covenant-God.

2. As covenant-God He is full of grace and truth.

3. The centre of both grace and truth is He whose blood is the blood of the covenant.

(D. C. Hughes, M. A.)

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. 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.

2. The importance of living under the light of revelation. Noah's posterity by degrees sank 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.

4. 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 forbelieving not only in our exemption from another flood, but in things of far greater importance.

(A. Fuller.)

The scheme of Providence, in the world after the flood, is of the nature of a dispensation of forbearance, subservient to a dispensation of grace, and preparatory to a dispensation of judgment; and of this forbearance, on the part of God, Noah receives a promise and a pledge.

I. Looking, then, to the original purpose, of which we read as existing in the mind of God (Genesis 8:21, 22), HIS DETERMINATION TO SPARE THE EARTH IS EXPLAINED ON TWO PRINCIPLES, WHICH IT IS IMPORTANT TO OBSERVE. The first of these principles is the inveterate and desperate depravity of man. "Why should ye be stricken any more?" is the indignant voice of God to Israel by His servant Isaiah; — ye will but increase revolt, "ye will revolt more and more." "The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness at all; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores" (chap. Isaiah 1:5, 6). Why, then, should ye be stricken any more? There is no sound part in you on which the stroke can take effect; discipline, correction, chastisement, is thrown away upon you; ye are beyond the influence of its salutary efficacy; ye become worse and worse under its infliction; I will strike no more, for ye are too far gone to be thus reclaimed. So also the Lord says in His heart respecting the world after the flood; — I will not again curse the earth — I will not again visit it with so desolating a judgment. Why should I? What good purpose would it serve? Thus considered, this Divine reasoning is, in many views, deeply affecting. It rebukes the presumptuous security of unbelief (Ecclesiastes 8:11). Again, this argument, as thus used by God, places in the clearest light the extreme depravity of man. The disorder of his nature is too inveterate, inborn, and inbred, to be remedied by a discipline of correction and chastisement. Undoubtedly there is an efficacy in the chastisements which God ordains, to amend, to purify, and sanctify the soul; but this efficacy depends upon there being some health and soundness, some principle of life, in those to whom such chastisements are applied. Therefore the Lord chastens and corrects His own people. But on the heart of man, as it is by nature, the Lord here emphatically testifies that the warnings and visitations of judgment will never effectually tell. Why should I smite the earth any more The imagination of man's heart is so thoroughly evil from his youth, that My smiting is altogether in vain. There is a tremendous truth involved in this argument; — it shuts forever the door of mercy on the impenitent and unbelieving. But while this saying of God presents on one side a dark and ominous aspect, on the other side it reflects a blessed gleam of light. It indicates the purpose of God, that in His treatment of the world, during the remainder of its allotted time, He is not to deal with its inhabitants according to their sins, nor to reward them after their iniquities. His providence over the earth is to be conducted, not on the principle of penal or judicial retribution — the human race being too corrupt to be thus reclaimed or amended — but on another principle altogether, irrespective of the merits or the works of man. What that other principle is, appears from the relation which the Lord's decree bears to the sacrifices offered by Noah, by which He is said to be propitiated (Genesis 8:20, 21). These sacrifices undoubtedly derive their efficacy from the all-sufficient sacrifice of atonement which they prefigured. And it is that sacrifice, offered once for all, in the end of the world — the sacrifice of the Lamb virtually slain from the foundation of the world — which alone satisfactorily explains the Lord's determination to spare the earth. It does so in two ways. In the first place, the interposition of that sacrifice vindicates and justifies the righteous God in passing by the sins of men (Romans 3:25) — in exercising forbearance, and suspending judgment. It is this alone which renders His long suffering consistent with His justice; — otherwise as the righteous Judge, He could not spare the guilty for a single hour. Secondly, that sacrifice of Christ reaches beyond mere forbearance, and is effectual to save. The very design of it — its direct and proper object — is not merely to provide that the barren tree may be let alone, but to secure that it shall be cultured and revived, so as to become fruitful. Therefore God spares the earth on account of the sacrifice of Christ, that those for whom it is offered may be saved, and that in them Christ may see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied.

II. Afterwards, in its announcement or publication to the human family (Genesis 9:8-17), THIS DECREE IS EMBODIED IN THE FORM OF A COVENANT AND RATIFIED BY A SIGNIFICANT SEAL. In the first place, the Lord establishes a covenant on the earth. "My covenant," saith the Lord. And what covenant can that be, but the covenant of grace? "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He sayeth us." This, and this alone, is preeminently His covenant; always the same in its character and terms, whatever may be the kind of salvation meant. In the present instance, it is exemption, or deliverance from the temporal judgment of a flood. But still this is secured to the earth, and to all the dwellers on the earth, by the very same covenant in which the higher blessings of life eternal are comprehended. Then again, secondly, the covenant, as usual, has a, seal, or an outward token and pledge; designed, as it were, to put the Lord in remembrance of His promise, and to settle and confirm the confidence of men. It is God's proof of His faithfulness to the children of men — the pledge that He is keeping, and will keep, His covenant. He looks on the bow, that He may remember the covenant. And as the covenant, being made by sacrifice, not only secures a season of forbearance to the earth, but looks to an end infinitely more important, to which that forbearance is subordinate and subservient; — as it is the covenant of grace or the covenant of redemption, of which the promise of exemption from the judgment of another flood forms a part; — so the rainbow becomes the seal of the covenant in this higher view of it also — and is the token and pledge of its spiritual and eternal blessings. Hence, among the ensigns and emblems of redeeming glory, the rainbow holds a conspicuous place (Ezekiel 1:28; Revelation 4:3; Revelation 10:1); and hence, moreover, the covenant which it seals, respecting the days and seasons of the earth's period of long suffering, gives to God's faithful people an argument of confidence, not for time only, but for eternity. He is true to His covenant, in sparing the world; will He not much more be true to the same covenant, in saving those for whose sake the world is spared? (Isaiah 54:9, 10; Jeremiah 33:20-25).

(R. S. Candlish, D. D.)

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