CHAPTER V

THE COVENANT CONCERNING NATURE AND WORLD HISTORY (GOD'S COVENANT WITH NOAH)

The Flood was past. The world of that time was gone (II Pet. 3: 6). A new period for mankind began.

Right from the start the governing principles for the future were given. The covenant of God with Noah formed the foundation for all future history of nature, mankind, and salvation.

i. The Ordering of Nature.

" So long as the earth stands, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease" (Gen. 8: 21, 22; 9: 11, 15). The reason is remarkable: " For the invention and endeavour of the human heart is evil, from its youth on." Thus that which just before was the very ground for destroying him (Gen. 6: 5), becomes now the chief ground for sparing him. Here also is seen plainly the necessity for distinguishing the dispensations. Else one might perhaps believe in the existence of "discrepancies" which really do not exist. In truth there began now, after the Flood, the period of Divine patience (see Acts 14: 15-17; 17: 30), and "the passing over of the sins in the forbearance of God" (Rom. 3: 25); and with Noah, the "rest-bringer" (whose name comes from the verb nuach, to rest, see Exod. 20: 1l; Deut. 5: 14), there set in a period of thousands of years of "rest" from Divine wrath.

At the same time man's kingly right over the earth was confirmed.

ii. The Establishment of Human Authority.

But now his attitude to Nature, especially in the animal world, is no longer that of the original harmony, but a relationship of force, oppression, and conflict. In Paradise the spiritual majesty of the earthly king had, in a certain sense, magically bound the animal world, but now it was a lordship with fear on the one side, and timidity, or indeed paralysing terror, on the other side. This is quite in keeping also with the right to kill animals and to use them-apart from their blood-for food, a right already, indeed, assumed earlier by man, but now first sanctioned by God (Gen. 9: 2-5).

It is to the covenant of God with Noah that the Rabbis connect their tradition of the doctrine of the seven Noachian commandments which are regarded as binding on all men (including non-Jews), the prohibition of blasphemy, idolatry, manslaughter, theft, incest, disobedience to authority, eating of blood. These particularly the three italicized, lie at the base of the deliberations of the conference (the so-called "council") at Jerusalen and the brotherly advice given on that occasion to the Gentile Christians (Acts 15, especially vv. 20, 21).

iii. The Ordering of Civil Life.

"He who sheds man's blood, by man, in return, shall his blood be shed (Gen. 9: 6). This introduced capital punishment for the murderer. But this includes the supervision of the individual by the community and the appointing of public courts and legal penalties, and signifies nothing less than the introduction of governmental powers and therewith the foundation of all later creation of States (Rom. 13: 1-6; I Pet. 2: 13-17). But since the death penalty upon the murderer is based upon the likeness to God of the murdered (Gen. 9: 6), this indicates that the exercise of justice must be practised on the principle of acknowledgment of man being in the image of God, and, by consequence, of the mental and spiritual nobility of man. Therefore the Authority must depend not on brute force, but on the acknowledgment of the Divinely granted natural right in the human society. Only so does it become the representative of justice and the servant of God" to the benefit of its subjects (Rom. 13: 4).

This appointment of human authorities was at the same time a necessary addition to the sparing of mankind from a repetition of judgment by flood. For if God, having regard to the inborn sinfulness of man, would not henceforth permit an exterminating judgment such as the Flood to come upon him, then He must by the introduction of order and justice, set a barrier to sin taking the upper hand, and therewith lay the foundation for orderly civil and political development. Thus natural, governmental, and civil order belong together. Yet they must first become possible through the fourth, that is,

iv. The Order of Salvation.

"Noah built Jehovah an altar and offered a burnt-offering upon the altar; and Jehovah said in his heart, No more henceforth will I curse the earth on man's account" (Gen.5: 20, 21) The connexion between sacrifice and the covenant concerning Nature is here given unmistakably, and in such wise, indeed, that the sacrifice is the foundation of the covenant.

Three things are chiefly to be noticed: the name Jehovah, the altar, and the burnt-offering. Jehovah is the covenant name of the Most High, the name of the God of salvation's history and of redemption (see Appendix I, "The Names of God"). To Him must the hearts of the pious lift themselves. To heaven, to the "height" must their offerings and prayers ascend, if they are to reach His throne. So as to give this "upward" direction to the sacrifices, from now on there were erected on earth high places and altars from which they should " ascend" heavenwards in the fire.

The presence of God is indeed everywhere and is not restricted by the boundaries of an above and a beneath (Psa.139); but in thc language of worship the "other-sidedness" of God is illustrated symbolically by conceptions of space, the spiritually superior by the spatial "to lie higher," the "above" time and "above" space by the mental idea "over" space.

So, then, in this place, for the first time in the Bible, is an "altar" mentioned and the sacrifice termed "olah," that is the "ascending." The sacrifice of Abel is termed simply "minchah, i.e. a "gift" (Gen 4: 3, comp. the verb manach, to give, present).

But the clean animals offered, as all the sacrifices from the beginning of the world, themselves point to the sacrifice of Golgotha, the Lamb without blemish and without spot (I Pet. 1: 19, 20), Who is in truth the foundation of all preservation and salvation of the world.

But the connexion of the ordering of nature and the ordering of salvation shines out still more clearly in the sign of the covenant, the rainbow, which the Lord has set in the clouds to be the sign of His divine faithfulness.

From Gen. 9: 12-17 it appears that there had been no rainbow before the Flood. Apparently the conditions of the globe were greatly transformed by the Flood.

v. The Covenant Sign.

The rainbow is "the coloured gleam of the sun breaking forth as the tempest clouds, dark as night, withdraw, the triumph of the sun over the Flood" (J. P. Lange). Like a heavenly

bridge it joins the upper and lower worlds, and with its sevenfold radiance (with the green of the emerald as the colour of life: see Rev. 4: 3) it testifies to the covenant between Creator and creation. (Three is the number of God, four the number of the

world; seven is the sum and union of both).

" Shining over the shadowed earth, so lately riven by lightnings, the rainbow illuminates the victory of divine love over dark and fiery wrath. Caused by the action of the sun on the dark clouds, it illustrates the willingness of the heavenly to interpenetrate the earthly; stretched between heaven and earth it proclaims peace between God and men; embracing the whole circle of vision it witnesses to the all-embracing universality of the covenant of grace."

In consequence it became the type of salvation and of redemption in general, and as such it appears at the throne of the Lord as Leader and Perfecter of salvation (Ezek. 1: 28; Rev. 4: 3). And as we here below see always only the half bow in the clouds-at once a type of the imperfectness of our present experience of redemption (I Cor. 13: 9-12; I John 3:2)-so shall we sometime see "encircling the throne" the complete bow, and in perfection and glory praise the faithfulness of the covenant God. And thus will the rainbow become the Nature symbol of our eternal deliverance.

Thus everything connected with the rainbow is typical:

The time of arising-for it rises with the return of the sun (Ezek. 1: 28);

the manner of arising-for it shines as the transfiguring of the darkness by the light (Gen. 9: 14);

the sevenfold colours-for seven is the number of the covenant (e.g. Lev. 16: 14; and frequently);

the predominance of the green-for green is the colour of life (Rev. 4:3);

the bow (i.e. bridge) shape-for it illustrates the union between Creator and creation (Gen. 9: 12-17);

the wide encompassing of the circle of vision-for it shows the all-embracing character of the covenant of grace (Gen. 9: 12, 15, "all flesh");

the eternal heavenly circle-for so it becomes a type of the Divine perfection (Ezek. 1:28; Rev. 4: 3).

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