Sermon Ideas For Genesis 9:8-17 Part 1
A covenant is an agreement of a sacred character that bonds partners together, under girded with an oath, vow, or holy promise and often sealed in blood. The importance of the idea of covenant throughout the Bible is arguably as great as that of any other image or concept. It underlies (and underlines) the qualities of loyalty, steadfastness, reliability, trust, and faith that characterize the sought-for relations between God and humanity, between individuals, and among groups and nations. "All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees" (Ps. 25:10).
The covenant with Noah, however, although the scripture calls it "everlasting," has received scant attention compared to that with Abraham and his descendants (Gen 15:18; 17:2-14), the covenant of the Ten Commandments (Ex 19:5; 32:15; 34:28-29), the "new covenant" envisioned by Jeremiah (31:31-33), and the other "new covenant" made by Jesus with his followers (Lk 22:20; Mt 26:28; Mk 14:24; 1 Cor 11:25; 2 Cor 3:5-6; Heb 7:22; 8:6; 8:8,13; 9:15; 12:24; 13:20). The reason, no doubt, is that these other covenants establish particular constituencies, the Jews and the Christians, thus playing key roles in their religious histories. The covenant with Noah, by contrast, was made with him and all his descendants (that is, with all humanity ever after) and "with every living creature" (Gen 9:10). This universal covenant, being everybody's business, has too often been nobody's. Perhaps the time is approaching when this situation will change, there being today a growing realization that planet earth
is in desperate need of a global constituency to preserve it from destruction. In this circumstance, the covenant with Noah may serve as a strong reminder that God is indeed the protector of the earth and that when human beings despoil it they break faith with its creator. In other words, life upon the earth is a gift of grace not to be taken for granted. Some Native American traditions teach that human beings are only guests upon the earth, since Earth is not "theirs" or "ours" to treat any way we please, but is the sacred Mother of life. The covenant with Noah provides a biblical link—perhaps tenuous but nonetheless a link—between Judaism, Christianity, and those religious traditions that pay homage to the earth and its natural processes as Mother, for in this cov enant the Father God of Hebrew scripture, although not going so far as to acknowledge a divine motherhood, nevertheless promises to regard the earth as sacrosanct: "Never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth" (Gen 9:11b); "as
long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease" (8:22).
This said, it must also be noted that the Noah covenant story contains a number of motifs that run counter to contemporary ecological concern. God tells Noah and his sons that they will inspire "fear and dread" in all animals (9:2), who are to be their food; "and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything" (9:3). In the first place, these words not only echo but seem to amplify the "dominion" over animals that was given to humankind in the creation story (Gen 1:26). It is widely thought today that theological emphasis upon dominion over nature, including its corollary, the ethic of stewardship, is not adequate to the immensity of the ecological crisis, which seems to call for an ethic beyond that of stewardship, for a renewed acknow- ledgement of the sanctity of the earth.
Second, the encouragement given to eating meat is of questionable value today, when high consumption of meat products is a health hazard and also wastes natural resources, contributing heavily to the maldistribution of food in the world and the starvation of many people.
Finally, the injunction to "be fruitful and multiply" (Gen 9:1, echoing 1:28) offers dangerous counsel in a severely over- populated world. In short, the story of the Noadic covenant, while providing an essential reminder to Bible readers that the God of creation and of righteousness has bound human beings into a covenant committed to the preservation of the earth, is nonetheless couched within a worldview and an ethic that is far removed from that of the world situation today. The story comes from a time when the increase of a tribe's population, and its access to protein, were primary survival values. Today, survival of the planet and its living species requires curbing the human population growth, reducing the consumption of natural resources, and obtaining protein from less wasteful, more healthy sources than animal flesh. All these factors point toward the necessity of an increased respect for all living beings. The story of Noah goes a little, but not a long way in this direction.
Lent is a most appropriate season of the year to ponder one's covenant with God in the preservation of the earth, to consider the discipline that such a covenant entails in modern society, and to think about its relation to the "new covenant" in Christ, which was made for the sake of human redemption. 1 Peter 3:21 speaks rather fancifully of Noah's flood as a prefiguration of Christian baptism. It might be more profitable to regard baptism as a call to renewal of the Noadic covenant with all creation.
Tom F. Driver