Genesis 8-9:17 - There's No Going Back
[Text: Genesis 8-9:17]
Do you remember how important “do-overs” were as a kid, like when you played a game and your turn didn’t turn out like you wanted? You said, “That one didn’t count. I get a do-over.” Do-overs, fresh starts and clean slates are the things humans love. We see them in our stories and want them for ourselves. You say something stupid on a first date and put your foot in your mouth. The relationship is taking a nose dive, both of you see it happening, so you say, “I’m sorry. Can we just start over?” Sometimes that might work, but we also know that while a new start is possible, things can never be quite the same as they were in the beginning. A harsh word spoken in anger cannot be taken back and be unsaid. There is no going back, but we can move forward. People can change, forgiveness can happen over time, trust can be regained. Restoration is possible, even if you carry some baggage with you.
This is a story about a new beginning. Moses intends for God’s people to read it that way as we’ll see shortly. But the sin in the hearts of humans, the desire to rule our own lives, could not be washed away by that flood of water carrying God’s judgment against man’s broken song.
FCF: This is a story of re-creation, but the problem for humanity is that there is no going back to Eden. God knows that the same sin that broke his heart in Eden was a stow-away on board the ark in the hearts of the passengers. It’s a part of our hearts, too. In 8:21, see how well God understands the twistedness of human hearts. He knows the depths of our desire to live apart from him when he says, “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” But the grace of the passage, what God wants his people to know, is that even though we can’t go back to Eden because of our sin, we can go forward into redemption and renewal. And we go forward through God’s covenant.
In this story we see two things:
God renewing His creationGod establishing His Covenant
And as He renews the earth and establishes His covenant with all flesh, we see the faithfulness of God that man cannot deserve, but can still receive by grace.
I. As I said, this is an account of re-creation. God is renewing His creation that was marred by the violence of mankind running away from its Creator.
- When we left Noah last week, we learned in 7:23-24 that every living thing on the face of the ground had been blotted out, erased because of their unrepentant rejection of God. Only Noah and those with him on the ark were left - covenant refugees.
- In 8:1, Moses picks up on some imagery that we’ve seen before in Chapter 1 to show God at work.
He made a wind (ruach) blow over the earth, comparable to the Spirit (ruach) of God hovering over the waters in the beginning.As we move through the next verses, the waters recede and the dry land re-appears, much like in 1:9.And even though it takes time for the earth to dry out, the land is again covered with life.We can assume the survival of plants through their seeds,But the animals coming off of the ark are given a similar order from God as in the beginning (in 1:22): fill the earth - be fruitful and multiply!Can you imagine the noise? The roaring of lions and chattering of monkeys? My favorite image that I imagine this parade containing is that of a baby calf, a little cow that was born on board the ark and had never seen the sun or run free in a field.Illustration: Mort’s witnessing the spring festival and the skipping calves, thankful to be alive and free.Just like that thankful calf, Noah’s heart is a thankful, glad heart. He had believed God when he promised that His covenant would be with Noah. He trusted that he was not forgotten by God, and acted accordingly by sending out the birds to see when the earth would be rescued from the water. And when God told him, “Everybody out!” his heart was thankful to God. We know that by his worship of the LORD at the end of chapter 8. Echoing Abel’s pleasing sacrifice that was pleasing to God because it came from a heart that embraced Him and His song.
- All of this is very much a picture of God in control of His kingdom, just as much as in the beginning. And through this renewal of His creation, we see the same goodness of God on display!
- But there is something different about the perfect earth of Chapter 1 and the earth in Chapter 8. Creation has been renewed, but it is clear, through a couple of things, that the world is still broken. Sin is still an intruder and corrupts human hearts and they way things should be. How do we know?
We know because we hear God’s assessment of human hearts in 8:21 when he says, “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” God knows that sin didn’t disappear in with the floodwaters. It lives in the hearts of men, making us believe the horrible lie of the serpent in the beginning that tells us that God doesn’t love us and we don’t need Him, anyway.We also know it because Noah’s sacrifice is of a different kind than Abel’s. While Abel’s was a peace offering, expressing love and fellowship with God, the word for Noah’s burnt offering is connected to the need for forgiveness because of sin. Noah understands his need before God and responds in worshipful faith, trusting that the God who promised to establish a covenant with him even before it started raining (and carried him through the flood waters) would have mercy on him and forgive him, too.
So if things are still broken then why does God renew his creation? Because of the covenant! He had promised in 3:14-15 that sin would not win. He would make a way for His people to be with Him again, for things to be right like they were in the beginning. But very literally, there was no going back to Eden for Noah (just like there is no going back for us). Eden, the place of God’s presence on earth, had been washed away in the judgment. There was no going back, but God was making redemption possible. The Story would move forward and it would always do so in the same way – through the Covenant. Because judgment is not His best (best or only?) answer to sin – grace is!
II. That’s why the next thing God does is establish His Covenant, assuring humanity that the Story of Redemption will move forward. That’s what we see happening from 8:21-9:17.
And the covenant with Noah illustrates just how big redemption needs to be. When Adam chose fruit over communion with God, the intimate enjoyment of God’s presence was lost. He found his relationship with his wife broken, his relationship with all of creation broken and discovered that he himself was broken, too. But just as everything was broken by Adam’s disobedience, God demonstrates his care for everything and promises that while the earth remains, He will restrain His full wrath against sin!
Let’s look at the details in the text:
8:1 opens with God “remembering” Noah. Of course, God didn’t forget about Noah being cooped up with all those animals like I forget to let the dog out. When the Scriptures say that God “remembers” something, it isn’t just a matter of memory, but memory leading to action on God’s part (and is always based on God’s timing). And notice that He is remembering all the beasts with Noah in the same moment. That is pointing us toward the bigness of God’s concern. He cares about everything that He has made and aims to restore all of it.
Why does God “remember” Noah? The covenant. God promised that He would confirm His relationship with Noah before all this happened and now He is moving to make that happen. In keeping with this as a re-creation account, Noah becomes the Covenant Representative, like Adam before him. When this second Adam, Noah, responds to God’s grace and covenant properly through worship in 8:20, God blesses Noah, sets some rules and makes a promise.
- 8:21 - As grieved in His heart as he was before the flood, so pleased is God’s heart that he says – in the same breath that he affirms man’s sinfulness – that he will never again curse the ground because of man and that while the earth remains, the created order will make life and worship possible.
- 9:1-17 – He then blesses Noah and his sons and restates the job of mankind. God’s intention for the earth to be filled with the knowledge and worship of God as the water covers the sea has not changed and man’s job toward that end is the same: be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. (This is the opposite of the Babylonian flood accounts, where the gods inhibited the growth of the human race.)
Only now things are going to be different. Sin has broken man’s relationship with creation, so the animals will be fearful of mankind. Governing the earth as God’s image bearer is going to be hard work. Have you ever tried herding cats?
- And there are some ground rules for mankind.
Everything is food for man, but life must be respected. Blood is an important thing because it symbolizes the life that God gives. The life of one is given so that another can be freed. As blood represents that life before God, man is being shown its importance and told to respect life like God does.If God is so concerned about the life of animals, it fits that the life of his image bearers should be respected. This prohibition of murder by man or beast actually makes sense in this context when we consider the form of brokenness that had filled the earth before the flood. As violence filled the earth and grieved the LORD, he saw how man took whatever He wanted with no concern for life or the image of God in others. Since man wanted to live life without God, he had no problem killing the image of God in his fellow man. So God lays down this rule to protect life and restrain sin. Mankind becomes an agent of God’s justice against sin.
- These ground rules become a part of walking with God as one who has embraced the covenant. It doesn’t earn your place in the covenant, but it is the life of one affected/transformed by the grace of God.
- In 9:8-17, however, God gives a promise that does not depend on anything man does. It shows His heart for what He has made and lays the foundation that the rest of Scripture (and the later covenants) will build upon.
God says that He is establishing His covenant with Noah, his children after him, and every living creature - that never again will a judgment with water destroy the whole earth. While the earth remains (as he says in 8:22), He will restrain His wrath against sin so that life can endure. The shocking thing about this is that God already knows what is in the hearts of men (8:21) and yet He is saying that all flesh will experience something of His grace.
- And in vv. 12-17 He gives a sign for men to see: God’s bow in the clouds. Some translations render this as “rainbow” because that, indeed, is to what God is referring. But that misses some of the importance of the concept of a “bow,” a warrior’s weapon of death. By hanging up his bow, sinful men have hope.
But the sign of the bow is not only for men…it is for God! Even if man forgets God (as we’ll see it soon does) and runs away after the lie again, God will see His bow hanging there, pointing away from the earth and toward himself and he will remember His covenant not to erase men from the earth again. Because judgment is not His best (best or only?) answer to man’s sin – grace is! He will remember His covenant and He will act as He remembers.
The rest of the story of Scripture is God remembering and acting upon His covenant. His heart loves His creation that is broken by sin and even through the Old Testament we know that His intention is to renew all things once again. And He promises that when He renews all things again He will take away all of the baggage of sin that we carry along with us. But last week we learned that God can’t just ignore sin and pretend it never happened.
We know that God is a gracious God and that He is Just, so he could not hold back his hatred of sin forever. There will come a day when people who are still running away from God will face the justice of God. But for those who embrace Him and His promises, God has always remembered to bring them out of judgment and to save them. In Malachi 4:2, God said, “But for you who fear my name [that is, embrace and worship me with awe], the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.” Like those calves coming from the ark or the ones my friend saw in the mountains of Switzerland, God would cause his own children skip and dance like calves as they are healed from their brokenness and freed from sin and judgment. Instead of final judgment, God will bring healing to those who worship Him and He would do that through the covenant.
And that is what He has done through Jesus. When Jesus was raised up on that cross, God picked up his bow again, aimed the arrows of his anger at sin toward His own son and pierced him through…so that we might run free. And not only that! While the blood of Jesus freed us from the guilt and power of our broken, twisted hearts, His resurrection to new life is the down payment on nothing less than the restoration of all things! As we embrace Jesus and receive Him as our Savior and King, we find that all of life is being restored in him because he gives to us his own goodness before God, the very thing we never had since the Fall in Eden. And the restoration through Jesus begins now and our sure hope is that when He returns, like he promised he would, we will hear him say, “Behold, I make all things new!” And the old broken world and all the sad, terrible, evil, hurtful things will be gone forever and only God and His goodness will fill us. The imperfect re-creation that we see in this passage and all around us will be swallowed up with the perfect and the beautiful.
As the account closes, there is an epilogue of sorts (9:18-29). We’ll revisit this next week, but it becomes evident that just like we saw a difference between the line of Cain and the line of Seth, some are embracing the LORD and others are going after their own way. Through Noah, his (very imperfect and sometimes foolish) covenant representative, God again proclaims the outcomes of living in covenant with him and breaking that covenant through dishonoring God. It serves to underscore the truth that in order to move forward with God in the Story of Redemption, it has to be through the covenant.
Implied in this epilogue is a call, an invitation to ask yourself, like the people of God before you, “Am I living within the covenant? Have I embraced the LORD?” If your only hope in life and death is that you belong to Jesus, then welcome to the Covenant of God’s grace! God promised in this covenant with Noah that the Story would move forward, and the good news is that Jesus is the climax of the Story of Redemption. Through faith in him we are new creations and inheritors of the promises of God. We pass out of death and into life as God intends it to be because God took the baggage of our sin and buried it in the tomb with Jesus.
Paul wrote in 2 Cor. 5, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Have you ever thought of God making His appeal to others through you? That God is working to restore people to himself by your life, your words, your time, your energy? God is not so weak as to require your help to succeed, but what he has revealed is that he wants His children to join with him in that work! We are called to embrace Christ, follow him and to call others to do the same by making disciples of them, teaching them to obey all that Jesus has commanded. We can’t go back, but through faith in Jesus and by His grace, we can move forward into redemption together and invite others to come with us and believe Jesus makes us (and all things) new.