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The Unchangeable God Part 2 (Gen. 9:8-17)

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This Fall, FOX launched a new series called Terra Nova (which means “new earth” or “new land”). It is probably one of the most expensive series ever with a 20 million dollar budget, but basically the story is set in the year 2149, in “a time when all life on planet Earth is threatened with extinction due to dwindling worldwide air quality and overpopulation. It has become virtually impossible for humanity to survive, and almost no vegetation exists.”[1] But scientists find this space/time rift where humans can travel back into time (in an alternate reality) 85 million years and have a chance to start over and save humanity.

It is sort of like Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg did produce it) and I’m not sure if it will last, but it did remind me that humans have a longing for a new beginning and a fresh start. We all want a chance to start new again with a clean slate, a new beginning. You can call it a desire for utopia. But can man learn from his mistakes? But even in the first episode, we see that new place with the same heart problem does not change anything. Some over the years have dreamt of the possibility of killing off the “bad” people and taking only the morally righteous and virtuous people and starting over. The only problem is who decides who is righteous and who is not? And how righteous is righteous enough? And if we go by God’s standards, He says, “there is none righteous, no not one” (Rom. 3:10).  So the problem according to the Bible is not about if we can live in a new world, but how can we have a new heart?

Back in Genesis 8, we saw that God executing justice and in pain, He judged mankind. As soon as Noah, his family and the animals leave the ark into a Terra Nova of their own, they must have had a lot of questions. How do we live in this world, which is still fallen? And I’m sure they knew that they also brought sin on the ark when they entered it. And now they bring sin with them as they enter the new world. How does God want us to live? How can we survive in a fallen world with fallen hearts? What does God think of life? Will He flood the world again? There must have been a lot of fear and hope mixed together there. But also remember that this book is written to the children of Israel as they are about to enter their own Terra Nova, the Promised Land. So the truths here speak to them as well as they endeavor to live for Yahweh in a new place.  So God reassured them of a few things:

I. God will never be defeated by sin (Gen. 8:20-22)

We saw that though there is great sin in man’s heart, there was greater grace and mercy in God’s heart. What an assurance of God’s grace and love! Secondly,

II.  God will always value life (Gen. 9:1-7)

We also saw that God is a God who celebrates and values life. Though we can have our stances on death penalty or abortion, do we value life as God? Is our value on what God values? We know we love Jesus when Jesus is more valuable to us than our valuables. God values people over things. We must put our value in the right place and we looked at three questions that helped us with that. Thirdly,

III. God will always keep His promises (Gen. 9:8-17)

After God gives Noah and his sons the commission, God promises what He will do on His part. There are three speeches here by God (vv. 8-11, vv. 12-16 and v.17). This whole section deals with what is called the Noahic covenant. Seven times (Gen. 9:9,11,12,13,15,16 and 17) the word “covenant” is mentioned in Gen. 9:8-17. What is a covenant? Basically, it is “a promise made by God to man.”[2] From now on in Scripture, we will see that God is a covenant maker in how He will relate to man. Why a covenant? It shows God’s commitment to man. It highlights His character and shows us His faithfulness in that God will always keep His promises. It is really for our blessing. As John Macarthur says, it is “for the goodness of life from the goodness of God.”[3]

You might be wondering why the Noahic Covenant here has to be so wordy and repetitious? The repetition and wordiness emphasizes the thoroughness and seriousness of this covenant. Noah and his sons are told to “Behold” (Gen. 9:9), i.e. pay attention and get ready to bank on this for the rest of your life. It should be notes that several covenants (six promises) mentioned in the Old Testament (though some see less, others more): the Noahic (Gen 6:18; 8:20–9:17); Abrahamic (Genesis 15, 17); Mosaic or Sinaitic (Ex. 19:5, 20); Palestinian (Deuteronomy 29–30); Davidic (2 Sam. 7:4–16; 23:5); and New Covenant (Jer. 31:31–34; Ezekiel 36–37 ).[4] Right before Jesus died at the Last Supper, Jesus said, “This is the new covenant in my blood”(Luke 22:20). So what are the characteristics of this Noahic covenant?

a) Unilateral

This means this is a covenant made by one person. A bilateral covenant is a covenant made by two people, like marriage. This is God initiated, God enacted and God completed. He does not negotiate with Noah. God is sovereign. He determines what He will do in accordance with the counsel of His own will. Macarthur adds, “God is not saying if you do this and do that then I'll do this and I'll do that. If you don't do this and do that, then I won't do this and do that. It is not like that. It is, "I Myself," that's in verse 9. Look at verse 11, "I establish My covenant." Verse 12, "This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between me and you." Verse 17, "This is a sign of the covenant which I have established." Never we, always I. The promise or the covenant here is unilateral. God determines to make this promise on His own, without consultation with man.”[5] Notice in v.9 God says, “I establish,” but then in v.17, “I HAVE established.” God is the one who initiates, enacts and completes the covenant. This is God’s thing.

Look also at the order of what God asks Noah and his sons to do and not to do and what God says He will do and not do. In Gen. 8:21-22, we see what God will not do. We see His extravagant grace despite the sinfulness of man. Then in Gen. 9:1-7 we see what Noah and his sons are to do and not do. Following this is what God again says He will do. So we have a “sandwich” here of God-man-God. What does that tell you? Well, it tells you that all covenants between God and man are made in a context of relationship. All that we are to do flows out of what God will do for us. And that is exactly how Paul writes his letters. He spends a few chapters on what Christ has done and then a couple on what we are to do. That is the heart of the New Covenant. God will do all the work in securing our salvation and then give us the Holy Spirit to us and it is in that context of relationship where we will be divinely enabled to be and do all the things He asks us to be and do. We will do anything for the One we love!

All of God’s commands flow out us knowing that God is more committed to us than we are to Him. He doesn’t put His rules on people to ruin their lives or make them unhappy or make them do something oppressive or burdensome. John himself says, “His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). They are burdensome when it is done outside the context of relationship. If we really love God—if we really rest and delight in all that God is for us in all his amazing promises, then we cannot help but to obey. It will not be a “have to,” but a “get to.” I get to obey God because my joy is tied up with my obedience. When I serve my idea of joy more than God, I will never be happy and His commands will be burdensome.

b) Unconditional

Notice the words, “I establish.” Establish here means “to make firm, to make stand solidly. In other words, I set this in concrete.”[6] I’m doing it and there is nothing you do or don’t do that will cause me to break it. The covenant with Noah reveals God’s abundant grace. What abundant grace! Especially since we know that it will not take long before mankind goes deep into sin again (By the way, the Mosaic covenant was conditional and that was between God and Israel, which we will see in a second).

c) Universal

It even included the animals! God’s blessings of protection from the judgment of a global flood extend to every living thing. This is the only covenant that applies to all of humanity. Thus, this can be called the common grace covenant. God will extend His grace to all people and animals. No one will be left out. And we know for thousands of years, there has not been a global flood on the earth. Why? Because God keeps His promises in the Noahic Covenant.

d) Perpetual

Notice verse 12: “with you and all future generations.” In Gen. 9:16 it says “everlasting,” but that does not mean eternally, but lasting throughout time. Until the earth endures (Gen. 8:22) before the Final Judgment, the Lord will keep His promise to every generation. The Noahic Covenant is why God doesn’t kill off everyone today, but patiently waiting for their repentance.

e) Confirmed with a Sign

Each covenant has a sign or evidence that God has made a promise. It is an outward symbol to remind people that a covenant was entered into. The sign of the Abrahamic Covenant was circumcision and the Mosaic Covenant was the Sabbath. Under the New Covenant, we have Communion to remind us. For the Noahic Covenant, it was the rainbow.

In the text here in Gen. 9:13-16, it is simply the word “bow.” In Hebrew, this word is also used of a weapon, like a crossbow that often deities would use. With this lethal weapon he eliminates his foes. One commentator notes, “The OT itself describes Yahweh as a warrior (Exod. 15:3) who vanquishes his opponents with a bow and a quiver full of arrows (Hab. 3:9).”[7]  I don't think this is the first rainbow ever in the world. I think what God is doing is put a new meaning into what a rainbow means. So the next time it rains and then when the sun comes out, sometimes you might see a rainbow, maybe even a double rainbow! Don’t hyperventilate over it (like this one guy on YouTube), but neither let it make you think of gay pride. Pastor Mark Driscoll said certain groups rip off the dove with the leaves symbol straight out of the Bible and the Gay Rights Movement ripped off God’s rainbow. He says, “It's curious to me. God's so good at marketing that people who don't even like him rip off his ideas. That's how good God is.”[8]

So the rainbow is supposed to remind you that God has hung up his bow. It’s like he’s saying, “You've all sinned against me and made yourselves my enemies, and I've flooded the earth and I've killed you all, but now I'm hanging up my bow, and I'm gonna bless you, and you're gonna live even if you dishonor me, and I'm not at war with you today.”[9] The symbol of combat and hostility is now a picture of grace and peace.

On a side note, this is also a picture of life as well. Notice also what the text does not say. God does not say, “I will never send a storm again.” Pastor Ray Pritchard says, “God never promised that life will be free of storms, trials, troubles and difficulties. Most rainbows appear only after the storm has come and gone. If there were no storms, there would be very few rainbows. The rainbows come after the rain, not before. Weeping endures for a night, but joy comes in the morning.

But there will still be many storms along the way, tears aplenty, and much sadness. And if we look up, we will see God’s rainbows, the signs and tokens of his love, here and there along the way, reminding us that the storms of life do not mean that things are out of control. The rainbow teaches us that everything is under God’s control.”[10]

And for us we know that God did pick up that bow again. He did not use to destroy humans, but He shot it straight at His Son. In doing so, God killed sin that would keep us from God forever and today He has hung up His bow, if you are in Christ. And so when you see the rainbow, think of God’s grace in not treating you as your sins deserve. And guess what is one of the first things John sees in Revelation 4 around the throne of God? A rainbow (Rev. 4:3). 

God will always keep His promises. God’s promises are like the stars, the darker the night, the brighter they shine. But how do we receive God’s promises?


As we close here, I want to show you an interesting verse in 2 Cor. 1:20: “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through Him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.” The Corinthians were upset at Paul because he changed his plans to visit them. They said that when Paul said “Yes,” he meant “No” and his “No” actually meant “Yes.” In other words, Paul was not trustworthy. Paul denies this and points them to the trustworthiness of God in Christ.

What Paul is saying here is that from the beginning God is a promise keeping God. God showed this by making covenants. All of those covenants were leading up to the New Covenant in Christ. Paul is referring to the Mosaic Covenant, which was a conditional covenant. So this covenant was an “if-then” covenant. Look at Deut. 11:22-23: “22 For if you will be careful to do all this commandment that I command you to do, loving the Lord your God, walking in all his ways, and holding fast to him, 23 then the Lord will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations greater and mightier than you.” The basic idea is, “If you diligently keep these commandments, then God will drive your problems from you, do wondrous things for you, and take total care of you.” Pastor Jon Courson says, “But therein lies the problem…Do I love the Lord with all of my heart? Do I walk in all of His ways? Do I cleave only to Him? The answer, sadly, is no. Therefore, if I’m not doing the “ifs,” I can’t expect to receive the “thens.” [11]

But this is not surprising. Paul says the Mosaic Covenant or “the Law” was designed to be like a mirror to show us that we cannot keep it (Gal. 3:24,25). We can’t possibly keep the standard of righteousness that would be necessary to qualify us to receive the blessings we so desire. Courson adds, “The law—including the Old Testament promises—was given to produce in us the realization that although we wish we could receive the blessings, we can’t fulfill the obligations. But here comes Paul, telling us that, because Jesus has fulfilled all the “ifs” in the Old Testament, the promises are all “Yea” and Amen” in Him. Look again at Deuteronomy 11:22 to see how this works if we have Jesus substitute for us. So it might read something like: “For Jesus diligently kept all the commandments that I command you. He loved the Lord His God, He walked in all His ways, He clung unto Him. Jesus fulfills the “ifs” perfectly.”[12]

Because Christ fulfilled all the “ifs” and God put us “in Christ,” we get all the thens that He achieved. We no longer earn or achieve the thens by doing the “ifs.” We receive them as “Yes and Amen”! What am I saying? Perhaps an example will help. Perhaps Sally needs encouragement in something. Life has been hard, chaotic and confusing. So she thinks, “If I sit down and pray for 45 minutes, read the Word, go to small group and fast on Saturday, then God will give me encouragement.” If Sally is thinking that all of her activity is going to earn some kind of favor with God to force Him to do something for her, she does not understand receiving the promises of God under the New Covenant. However, if she does those things so to put herself in a position or place, not to earn, but to receive God’s Word to comfort her in this situation, she understands what it means to be under the New Covenant. Christ kept the conditions so we can receive the effects.

I think we have this mentality that the Christian life is opposed to effort. God and grace is not opposed to effort. God and grace is opposed to earning (Dallas Willard). Sally will not receive any promises from God if she sits around and does nothing. The Lord will not magically put His encouragement or whatever she needs into her mind and heart (He can, but that is normally not how He works). She will have to go out and get it. Effort is not bad, but if she does it to earn it, then we have a problem.

But the New Covenant is even more glorious than this.  Courson provides this helpful illustration: Suppose you were living in Switzerland and you were craving a burger and fries. You hear the best place to find it is actually in Los Angeles, CA. However, you are broke. There is no way to get there. But then someone hears about your situation and buys you a first class ticket to the United States. You make the effort to get yourself in the Jumbo Jet and get to your seat. You still have no idea how you will get your burger, but you get in for the ride. So there you are on the 747, looking forward to your burger. But then something amazing happens. As you are sitting quite comfortably in the plane, a steward comes by with a thick, juicy steak, a steaming baked potato, sautéed vegetables, crisp salad, flaky croissant, and chocolate mousse. Suddenly, the burger is the furthest thing from your mind. Although you thought the Jumbo Jet was simply a way to get you to the burger, in reality, you’re finding more satisfaction than I ever could have imagined just being on board.[13]

Courson concludes, “So, too, we say, “Oh, Lord, I need help.” But as we talk things over with Him, we find that although we initially thought if He answered our prayer, we’d be happy, we realize it was Him we were craving all along. As a result, little by little, we find ourselves saying, “Whether the relationship develops, the sickness is healed, the job opens—it’s all irrelevant compared to what I’m discovering just by spending time with You, Lord.” The price is paid, dear brother, precious sister. You’re in the Jet. Jesus perfectly fulfilled the “ifs” so you can fully enjoy the “thens.” And, as you do, you’ll discover that what you were craving was Him all along.”[14] In the New Covenant, we don’t just get His promises, which are glorious and precious (2 Pet. 1:4), we get the Promise-maker Himself!  


[1]“Terra Nova (TV series), accessed  3 November 2011

[2]Macarthur, J. “God’s Rainbow Covenant,” accessed 4 November 2011.


[4]Kent Jr, Homer A. “The New Covenant and the Church,” Grace Seminary. (1985; 2002). Vol. 6: Grace Theological Journal Volume 6 (290). Grace Seminary.

[5]Macarthur, Ibid. 


[7]Hamilton, V. P. (1990). The Book of Genesis. Chapters 1-17. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (317). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[8]Driscoll, M. From the sermon, “Genesis: Noah and the Covenant,” accessed 11 November 2011. 


[10]Pritchard, R. From the sermon, “Living under the rainbow—judgment first, then mercy,” accessed 11 November 2011. 

[11]Courson, J. (2003). Jon Courson's Application Commentary (1104). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.


[13]Courson, J. (1106).


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