God’s Covenant with Noah

September 3

Lesson 1

Devotional Reading:

Psalm 36:5–9

Background Scripture:

Genesis 9:1–17

Printed Text:

Genesis 9:1–15

Lesson Aims

After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:

1. Summarize the commands and promises that God gave to Noah immediately after the flood.

2. Explain the security that results from knowing God’s expectations and promises.

3. Tell how he or she will use each observance of a rainbow as a reminder that God keeps his promises.

How to Say It

Cicero. SIH-suh-row.

Deuteronomy. Due-ter-AHN-uh-me.

Festus. FES-tus.

Galatians. Guh-LAY-shunz.

Gentiles. JEN-tiles.

Hebrews. HEE-brews.

Moses. MO-zes or MO-zez.

Plato. PLAY-tow.

tsunami. sue-NAH-me.

Daily Bible Readings

Monday, Aug. 28—God Is Gracious (Psalm 36:5–9)

Tuesday, Aug. 29—Noah Enters the Ark (Genesis 7:1–12)

Wednesday, Aug. 30—The Flood Rages (Genesis 7:13–24)

Thursday, Aug. 31—The Water Subsides (Genesis 8:1–12)

Friday, Sept. 1—God Makes a Promise (Genesis 8:13–22)

Saturday, Sept. 2—God Instructs Noah (Genesis 9:1–7)

Sunday, Sept. 3—God Covenants with Noah (Genesis 9:8–17)

Key Verse

I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.

Genesis 9:11

Why Teach this Lesson?

Is the glass half empty or half full? It’s the classic question to determine if one tends to focus on the negative or the positive. After the cleansing of planet Earth by a flood, it would have been very easy for Noah’s clan to focus on the loss.

It’s true that God, grieving the immense evil of humanity, destroyed the world. But that’s not all he did. He also preserved a remnant of his original creation. Stop to think about that original creation. With less than a week’s work, a mere six days, he created the universe. That means that after the great flood he could have created everything all over again. Undoubtedly, he could have retooled people to be less trouble-prone. But a key character trait of our God is love … and love, he tells us, never gives up.

Today’s lesson focuses on a new chapter in God’s relationship with us—a new start, complete with fresh commands and a fresh promise sealed with a celestial sign. Today, God promises each willing person a new beginning. This promise is sealed with the blood of Jesus.


A. “The Good of the People”

In about 360 b.c. the Greek philosopher Plato wrote, “Mankind must have laws and conform to them, or their life would be as bad as that of the most savage beast.” This is simply another way of saying that laws are necessary for each person to know the mutual obligations that are expected in any social group.

Observing those expectations will ordinarily promote the general welfare of both the individual and the group. The Roman statesman and orator Cicero (106–43 b.c.) said, “The safety of the people shall be the highest law.” The popular version of his statement is, “The good of the people is the highest law.”

We humans seem to be in a constant state of give-and-take with our laws. The year 1957 saw the governor of the U.S. state of Arkansas defy a 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling concerning racial integration in schools. He used the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the ruling from taking effect in Little Rock, the state capital. President Eisenhower responded by federalizing the National Guard and sending a unit of the U.S. Army to Little Rock. The ruling of the court was enforced.

The fall of that same year saw the establishment of a new Bible college, and a social experiment was suggested. Would it be possible for the students in such an institution to function together with only the laws of the state and the Bible to guide them? The students expressed an eagerness to cooperate in such an endeavor. A plan to devise a complete set of rules by using student handbooks from other colleges thus was abandoned.

As time went on, however, rules were added as various liberties were abused. For example, a person could play a radio as loudly as desired, but that liberty would end where the ears of another were involved. This liberty had to be balanced with another person’s right to quiet, especially if the hours for nighttime sleeping were involved! The list of rules slowly grew, and within a few years a handbook came into being.

People need to know what they should and should not do. Toddlers, for example, learn that parents have a favorite word: No! As children crawl, walk, or run, they must understand that there are boundaries and that there are consequences for bold adventures into prohibited areas. Children learn that the family’s unwritten code of laws also increases. A child may have to tolerate the fact that older siblings have privileges that are not yet granted to those who are younger. Laws or rules—whether at the level of the government, Bible college, or family—are for the common good.

One frequent designation for the first five books of the Bible is “the Law.” The main reason for this designation is that these books record the covenantal laws that the Lord put into place at various times. We have much to learn from God’s Old Testament laws and covenants yet today.

B. Lesson Background

The flood that occurred the year Noah was 600 had just ended. Noah, his family, and the animals emerged from the ark after spending many months within it.

The account of the flood is always fascinating to read. It is interesting that over 200 similar accounts have been found in legends around the world. These sagas have common threads of a god or gods who were displeased with humanity and thus destroyed just about everything except for one individual and his family. Over two-thirds of the stories indicate that animals also were saved. Over half of the stories have the vessel of safety landing on a mountain. There are many differences among the accounts, so the conclusion for the Christian is that the straightforward presentation as found in Genesis is the only one that is authentic.

The New Testament contains several references to the events of the great flood. Matthew 24:38, 39; Hebrews 11:7; 1 Peter 3:20; and 2 Peter 2:5; 3:6 confirm that Jesus and the inspired writers of the New Testament were confident that the flood was a historical event.

As the family of Noah departed from the ark, they found themselves alone in a world that had been cleansed. We can only wonder how the raging waters of the flood affected continents and climates, topography and temperatures. In his wisdom God does not reveal those things to us. Noah’s first action upon leaving the ark was to offer sacrifices of the clean animals and birds (Genesis 8:20). As the aroma arose, the Lord spoke first to himself about the earth—its daily and annual cycles. He then spoke the words that are the printed text for today’s lesson.

The word covenant is a very important word in God’s expression of his will for humanity in every age. That word occurs nearly 300 times in the Bible. It is a vital part of today’s lesson, “God’s Covenant with Noah.”

I. God’s Command (Genesis 9:1–7)

Noah needs assurance about the things that the Lord desires for him, his three sons, and the wives of each man. Their experiences convince them that God keeps his word and that he punishes sin. But they also need to know of the blessings that await them.

A. Procreation Prescribed (v. 1)

1. Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.

The phrase God blessed Noah and his sons means that God is granting the abilities for them to enjoy prosperity in the areas of life that are important. They will be successful in their endeavors. This assurance provides a confidence that they need in their changed situations. God had made a similar pronouncement at the creation of humans (Genesis 1:28). In that case the ensuing prosperity led to humanity’s detriment as people used God’s blessings to focus on evil (Genesis 6:5).

God sets forth his plan with three terse imperatives: be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. The last command notes that it is the earth that is to be filled. The ancients correctly viewed this command as God’s authorization of marriage. That naturally involves a man and a woman.

What Do You Think?

With blessings come responsibilities! What are some of the responsibilities that you and your church have received because of the blessings available in Christ? How well are you living up to these?

Obeying the command to multiply is not considered an ideal in certain nations today. Children often are viewed as expensive (and they are!) and as interfering in the quest for life at its fullest. The gift of procreation with which God endowed humanity has deteriorated in many cases into a selfish, sensual sexuality. Many seek ever more perverse ways to find elusive fulfillment. But disobedience to God will result in emptiness.

B. Protection Promised (v. 2)

2. “The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands.

The statement that animals of all types will fear or dread humans introduces a new concept. It produces speculation that the eight people in the ark originally experience fright as they watch the animals leave (perhaps from the size or appearance of some of the animals), but that fright is now on the part of the animals. All we can do is wonder if this indicates a change from the past.

The promise by God that the animals will fear humans is a general principle. It is normally true that wild animals do whatever they can to avoid humans, but we all know about the exceptions. The exceptions ordinarily have to do with the self-preservation instincts that God placed within the animals. In normal circumstances most animals run from encounters with us.

What Do You Think?

“Into your hands” reflects the earlier part of Genesis, where God gave humanity dominion over the world. What are some ways this responsibility has been misused? How can we do better?

C. Provisions Concerning Food (vv. 3, 4)

3. “Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.

Humanity receives permission to eat the flesh of animals. This becomes a new source of protein. Immediately after the initial creation, God said that he was giving plants and fruit as food for humanity and plants for the animals (Genesis 1:29, 30). We would like to know more about this situation in the years before the flood, but in his wisdom God does not reveal it to us.

The law of Moses, which is to be given at Mount Sinai, will modify the acceptability of food sources for the Israelites. They are to distinguish between clean and unclean animals that they can eat (see Leviticus 11).

That restriction, however, is for Old Testament Israel only. In the Christian age the distinction is removed entirely. A person may eat whatever he or she wishes (Mark 7:19; 1 Timothy 4:4). If, however, an individual chooses not to eat a specific type of food, he or she should not attempt to enforce that choice on others (Romans 14:2, 6). Also, our freedom to eat certain foods is restricted when the faith of others may be at stake (1 Corinthians 8).

4. “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.

The eating of meat does have a restriction: the blood of the animal is not to be consumed. Moses will repeat this restriction for the nation of Israel (see Leviticus 17:12–14). The same limitation is found in Acts 15:20, 29 among the restrictions that Gentile Christians are encouraged to observe. Many scholars see parallels between Genesis 9 and Acts 15.

D. Punishment for Taking Life (vv. 5, 6)

5, 6. “And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.

“Whoever sheds the blood of man,

by man shall his blood be shed;

for in the image of God

has God made man.

Clearly, God views the taking of human life to be a very serious thing. The sanctity of blood as the life principle puts it into God’s domain to render such a judgment. It also becomes evident that the taking of human life is much different from taking the life of an animal; in the previous verses God approved the latter as a means of obtaining food.

No one should interpret the dramatic loss of life in the great flood to mean that human life is cheap. God can choose to take human life in any manner he chooses, because he is the one who gives the breath of life to all in the first place. Anyone who deliberately and with malice aforethought takes the life of someone else must understand that there can and should be severe consequences from earthly tribunals. There also will be an accounting in the final judgment of God.

The reason for the equal retribution Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed is very specific: for in the image of God has God made man. Since each person is made in the image of God, no individual should endanger the lives of the innocent.

In verse 6 God authorizes governments and those who are in places of authority to exercise capital punishment for murder. Romans 13:4 states that the person in authority, “God’s servant,” bears a sword “to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” The individual who is authorized to use deadly force is sometimes called a peace officer, for he or she is to restore peace. When Paul stood before Festus, he recognized the authority of the court to impose the death penalty (Acts 25:11).

The Mosaic law demonstrates the mind of God in that he recognizes exceptions in applying the death penalty. While the Mosaic law is no longer binding (see Galatians 3:24, 25), it is helpful to use it to show that accidental death is duly recognized (Deuteronomy 19:4, 5). God gave the Israelites a method to protect the individual who took life accidentally (without hatred or malice). Further, those who serve as executioners are never assigned any penalty. Certain traditional teachings cite verse 6 as disallowing abortion.

What Do You Think?

How can Christians take the lead in promoting the sanctity of innocent life?

The Purpose of Pain

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we didn’t have any aches or pains? Parents wouldn’t have to deal with a baby’s cry because he or she could not tell Mom where it hurts. Middle-aged weekend athletes wouldn’t wake up hurting on Monday because they had abused their aging muscles in Sunday afternoon church softball games. Aching, arthritic joints wouldn’t plague senior citizens!

On second thought, maybe it wouldn’t be so wonderful. Grade-school student Ashlyn Blocker is one of a very few people who suffers from congenital insensitivity to pain (CIPA) with anhidrosis (inability to sweat)—a rare genetic disorder. She can’t tell if her food is too hot; if she falls on the playground and skins her knee, she won’t know it until her teacher sees the blood; if she gets overheated, she won’t perspire; if she gets too cold, she won’t shiver. The way God has created us, pain is a blessing; it is a “wake-up call” to the fact that something is wrong with our bodies.

The nightly news is filled with tragic stories of murder and attempted murder. Do these reports alarm us or have we become numb to them? Nations agonize over the issue of capital punishment. Yet nations that allow grievous crimes to go without sure and serious punishment will see their moral fabric disintegrate. The pain that a God-fearing nation feels when serious crime occurs is God’s way of saying, “Look at the danger you are in!” May we heed his warning.     —C. R. B.

E. Procreation Emphasized (v. 7)

7. “As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.”

The imperatives of the first verse of the chapter are repeated and therefore emphasized. God seems not to be concerned about overpopulation.

II. God’s Covenant (Genesis 9:8–15)

The first use of the word covenant in the Bible occurs in Genesis 6:18. That occurrence was before the flood as God promised Noah that he would make a covenant with him when the flood-judgment was complete. Now we see God ready to fulfill his promise.

A. Covenant’s Parties (vv. 8–10)

8, 9. Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you

A covenant often serves to establish a relationship, and that is the case here. It is God who is presenting the covenant. The recipients first named are Noah and his sons with him. But they are not the only recipients!

What Do You Think?

God is a maker and keeper of covenants! What are some covenants we make that we often fail to honor? How can we do better? What will be the result if we don’t?

This particular covenant and its preceding promises are to extend to future generations, for it is to Noah and his seed after him. The proper response is to serve obediently the one who is offering such a covenant with its attendant blessings.

10. “… and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth.

The covenant’s scope also includes every living creature that goes out of the ark. It is universal in its reach and effect. During the creation week, God pronounced blessings on the animals and upon humanity (Genesis 1:22, 28). The establishment of this covenant relationship is now added to the blessings, and it includes both humanity and the animals.

B. Covenant’s Promise (v. 11)

11. “I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

The covenant affirms that never again will God destroy all life on the earth by the waters of a flood. The history of the earth demonstrates that God has been faithful to keep this promise. There have been local floods involving terrible loss of life. But there has not been another flood to destroy all life on earth.

Visual for Lesson 1

Pose this question to your class to open a discussion of our obligations under the new covenant.

C. Covenant’s Permanence (vv. 12–15)

12, 13. And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

The rainbow is the perpetual sign of the covenant being announced by God. Isn’t it marvelous to see a rainbow yet today? When conditions are just right, we can even see two rainbows. No need to search for the mythical pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. God’s promise is better than gold!

14, 15. “Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.”

Some have conjectured that the appearance of a rainbow in the heavens was a new phenomenon. The conditions on the earth prior to the flood are not precisely understood, but it is very likely that the combination of light and moisture to form a spectrum was not new. God, however, gives it a new significance. He repeats that this is a perpetual reminder that he will never again destroy all living creatures on the face of the earth.

What Do You Think?

The rainbow reminds us of God’s promise not to destroy the world again with water. Why not use the rainbow to remind us of God’s other promises as well? The next time you look at a rainbow, what other promises of God will you remember?

The End Will Come!

On December 26, 2004, the world was shocked by news of the massive earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean. We can still remember the mind-numbing reruns of the destruction captured on video that day. Within a week the death toll had passed 150,000 in a dozen nations. More would die from disease in the weeks that followed. No one will ever know for sure how many died in the event. But it was one of the greatest losses of life by flood in modern history.

There is no end to natural disasters. In a rather macabre acknowledgement of this fact, some newspapers carry a regular “Earth Watch” column listing the previous week’s earthquakes, floods, cyclones, and unusual weather phenomena such as extreme cold or heat. So, does this mean that God has not kept his covenantal promise? Not at all! Even the most extensive floods of the past thousand years have not come close to equaling the devastation of Noah’s day.

In that day God destroyed almost the entire human race by supernatural disaster. God has promised that he will not do so again by means of floodwaters. Even so, “the end of all things is near” (1 Peter 4:7). The end of creation as we know it will come by fire (2 Peter 3:10). The time to prepare ourselves is now.

     —C. R. B.


One lady stated that her first connection between the God of Scripture and the God of her own little world as a child came after being read this account of Noah and the flood in a Bible-story book and then being shown the rainbow after a particularly heavy rainstorm. Such an association is exactly what God intended. The beauty of the brilliant spectrum of light in the sky is to remind people of any age, in every age, that they have a connection to God. It is up to individuals to determine if they will be faithful or faithless in their responses to the God who makes covenants with us.

Thought to Remember

Look for the rainbow.
       Remember God’s promise.


Lord, today I promise to be more alert to your perpetual promise. Help me not to be so busy with things that I fail to keep my promise to live, so that everyone recognizes that Jesus is my Lord. In his name, amen.


New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2006-2007 . Standard Publishing: Cincinnati