The book of Genesis is the book of generations, and covenants. While the Abrahamic covenant is arguably the most foundational covenant of the Bible, Noah was the first to receive the offer of a covenant relationship with God (Gen 6.18). This covenant was God’s promise to deliver Noah and his family, while destroying the rest of the human race. In Genesis 9-11 we see that with the gift of deliverance God bestowed upon Noah He also set forth the task that Noah and his descendants repopulate and manage the earth—all in a manner consistent with His wisdom and power.
These covenant tasks and gifts are stated in Gen 9.1-17. The demands God made were the natural and logical progression of the deliverance Noah and his descendants received when the rest of humanity was destroyed in the flood. In vv. 8-17 God confirmed His covenant with the Noahic family—a covenant that would be memorialized in the sky to embolden Noah and his descendants in their covenant-keeping God (vv. 12-17). We have seen that the early chapters of Genesis establish patterns that will be seen throughout the lives of the Patriarchs. Such is the case in the later half of ch 9: Noah—in whose footsteps Abraham (Genesis 16), Isaac (Gen 26.7-11), and national Israel (Exodus 32) would walk—heard the promises of God’s covenant only to falter in faithfulness. The remainder of Genesis 9 records the drunken stupor of a father, the shameful curiosity of a son, and Noah’s harsh words of discipline.
Sadly, God’s covenant did not inspire faithfulness in Noah’s descendants either. The historic-chronological record most likely places Gen 11.1-9 before ch 10; thus, Noah’s descendants settled in one place—as opposed to obeying God’s command to spread out over the whole earth (9.1, 17 and 11.1-3). The text does not leave us wondering as to the motive for their disobedience: “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky. Let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise, we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth” (11.4). Noah’s descendants were afraid that they would not be able to maintain their corporate identity, so in an effort to sustain posterity, they built a tower to make a name for themselves.
The following scene reveals God’s discipline toward those who receive the gifts of His covenant but do not faithfully walk in the tasks; He said: “Come, let Us go down there and confuse their language so that they will not understand one another’s speech” (11.7). Further, Gen 11.9 reveals that God not only halted their building project by confusing their speech, He also “scattered them over the face of the whole earth.” If we wish to understand the story chronologically, we could now insert chapter 10, whose last verse reads: “These are the clans of Noah’s sons according to their family records, in their nations. The nations on earth spread out from these after the flood” (11.32)
God’s covenant with Noah establishes the paradigm for God’s covenants with humanity. Throughout the storyline of Scripture God chooses to bless His people with certain gifts, and sets forth specific tasks that accord them. So, what should we believers under the New Covenant gather from these chapters? At least two ideas:
- We should continually be mindful of the gifts we have received in Christ: forgiveness of sin, reconciliation to God, adoption into God’s family, the hope of future glory, spiritual gifts for use in the church and the world, the fellowship of a church family…the list goes on (cf. Eph 1-3; Col 1-2; Heb 8.7-13)
- We should faithfully fulfill the tasks of loving God with all that we are, and loving our neighbor as ourselves (cf. Matt 22.37-40; Eph 4-6; Col 3-4; Heb 2.1-4, 10.26-31)
Perhaps the evangelist Luke presents these themes together most succinctly. In Lk 22.14-27, he recorded the first Lord’s Supper; after giving thanks for the bread, Jesus said, “This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me” (v. 19); likewise Jesus took the cup and said, “This cup is the new covenant established by My blood; it is shed for you” (v. 20). Immediately after this Luke reported that disputes had broken out among the disciples concerning the identity of Jesus’ betrayer (v. 23), and conversely who was the greatest among them (v. 24). Jesus’ response summarizes the tasks of the new covenant—those things that accord the gift of forgiveness through His blood; He said:
“The kings of the Gentiles dominate them, and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever is greatest among you must become like the youngest, and whoever leads, like the one serving. For who is greater, the one at the table or the one serving? Isn’t it the one at the table? But I am among you as the One who serves” (vv. 25-27).
*For a complete list of references, please see scripturestoryline.com