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"A Convenant"

March 7, 2021 Speaker: Pastor Bob Davis

Passage: Genesis 9:1–9:28

Today we come to the conclusion of the Noah material in Genesis. Obviously, Noah’s life had a profound impact on the shape and frame of what would happen throughout the generations to follow. There are really three sections in this chapter: God’s blessing, God’s covenant, and Noah’s blessing and cursing his own sons. Because I want to spend most of our time focusing your attention on God’s blessing and covenant, let me tackle the last section first.

Noah’s Blessing and Cursing

The last section of Chapter 9 gives us the post-flood parallel of something we saw in Chapter 3: the Fall and banishment from the Garden of Eden. It showed that brokenness existed and pervaded the re-set creation.

After everyone and everything got off the ark, things began to settle. Noah planted a vineyard. He drank some wine and got drunk. The author reported this without judgment – there is no explanation, excuse, or condemnation for Noah’s getting drunk. (That is not a license for us, by the way – it just means that the author’s focus was on something else.) From the way it was presented, it seems as if Noah passed out naked in his tent. One of his sons, Ham, saw him and went out and told the other two. The other two sons grabbed a blanket, walked into the tent backwards, and covered up Noah.

When Noah awoke and found out what Ham had done – meaning telling his brothers that their father was passed out naked in the tent – we get the only recorded words of Noah. He blessed the two faithful sons, and cursed the son of the offending son. In other words, Noah’s curse was extended to Ham’s son, Noah’s grandson, Canaan.

If you are like me, there are so many questions. Quickly, it seems as if the basic offense was in dishonoring Noah. Instead of covering Noah’s nakedness, Ham sought to expose his nakedness to his brothers for the purpose of shaming, mocking, or scorning him. The dishonoring was the problem.

So how does this follow the pattern from the Garden? First, both Eve and Ham were betrayed by their eyes: they were not discerning about what they saw. Eve saw that the fruit was desirable, Ham saw that his father was naked and in a vulnerable position. Second, both sought to entice others into sharing what they saw. Eve gave Adam the fruit. Ham told his brothers, inviting them to share in this dishonoring moment at their father’s expense. 

Third, the consequences were similar: Adam and Eve were banished from the presence of God and lost their communion with Him. Ham and his descendants were broken from familial fellowship with the brothers and Noah. Thus, the author was noting, even after the flood the brokenness begun in Adam and Eve’s failure to do abide by God’s command continued to manifest.

One quick digression. One commenter made this salient observation.

For centuries the curse of Canaan (often referred to as “the curse of Ham”) was one of the principal passages used to justify slavery. It was claimed that Ham was the forefather of the African race and that their slavery was thereby biblically mandated because of the curse. Both elements in this contention are fatally flawed. (1) There are few families from the line of Ham that eventuate in dark-skinned peoples, and none from the line of Canaan. There is therefore no line of descent connecting Ham or the curse on Canaan to dark-skinned Africans. (2) A [human] curse does not create a mandate.[1] [note: Noah’s curse does not bind God].

The author was revealing that the brokenness of sin remained after the flood as it had been. The author did not speculate or report why God allowed it to remain; he simply set the stage for the rest of the story.

With that, let me return to the first two parts of this chapter to see what it reveals to us about the heart and character of God.

God’s Blessing

Just to remind everyone, Noah and his family survived the flood because “Noah did all that the LORD commanded” and because God shut them in the ark.  God instructed Noah what to do, Noah did it. God shut Noah and family in the ark, saving them from the judgment that was executed on the rest of creation. Now, in Chapter 9, we get a re-set of the order of creation.

In both Genesis 1, water represented chaos. In Chapters 6-8, the flood represented a return to chaos. The flood followed the same pattern set in Chapter 1: dry land appeared, vegetation was established, people and animals were brought forth onto the land, and a blessing was given.[2]

What we see in this re-set is a re-affirmation that God is sovereign. God is in control. God brought about the judgment of the watery chaos and God brought about the emerging new creation. God saved Noah and his family through the waters of the flood. God established humankind on the earth and gave a blessing.

God blessed Noah and his family. The blessing in Chapter 9 had both familiar and unfamiliar elements. The familiar elements included the command to “be fruitful and multiply,” and the gift of all plants for food. The unfamiliar elements included the fear and dread the animals exhibit towards humankind, and the permission to eat anything moving thing that lives. There are questions about whether God had granted permission to eat domesticated animals prior to the time of the flood – but that is really beyond the scope of what we are looking at and misses the larger point that the author was going to make here, “Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.”

God spelled out the reason – and, this is so important for us to understand – “for your own lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning; from every animal I will require it and from human beings, each one for the blood of another, I will require a reckoning for human life.”

Life matters to God. Life is a blessing from God; and God will require a reckoning for life. Stop here for a moment. As we have been going through this pandemic of isolation and social distancing, there have been many (many) people who have despaired, wondering if their lives matter or mean anything to anyone else. The short answer is an emphatic: yes, your life matters. Your life matters to God. Your life is a gift from God and it is important to God. It may not always feel great or be pleasant or pleasing to you, but your life is important to God. He has given you life for His purposes and reason – even when that purpose and reason is not evident to you.

Further, God has given us each other. Here it is stated in the negative – that is, accountability for taking the life of another – however, the positive also is true that we are to be looking out after the life of those around us. “Each one for the blood of another, I will require a reckoning for human life.” We are, in fact, our brother’s keepers. Your life means something to others. It is part of the blessing.

Take note of what God says about blood. Blood matters to God. Physical, tangible, visible, actual blood matters to God. The reckoning or accountability for life – God’s judgment – will involve blood. We need to take God’s words seriously. There is a reckoning for how we conduct our lives, and that reckoning is – literally – with our blood.

Why am I harping on this? I am dwelling on this because the importance of blood is a live issue in our world currently; currently, as in, this week.

On Friday, I was reading online and found this story on The Presbyterian Outlook, an independent publication focusing on the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the denomination that this congregation left to join ECO. You may wonder why I still follow things in the PC(USA); well, my experience has been that the theological battles waged there appear in larger culture about a decade later. In 2000, there was a conference called the Peacemaking Conference, in which a Presbyterian minister asked the question, “What’s the big deal about Jesus” and argued that “Jesus is like a window through which God’s light shines, but there are many other windows” – which was a foreshadowing of much of the cafeteria spirituality we have seen in the last decade or so.

On Friday, The Outlook was reporting on a church conference called “NEXTchurch,” which is not a denominational sponsored event, but was a conference supported publicly and privately by much of the PC(USA)’s leadership. I am going through this so you can be discerning about what you see. There are a ton of things wrong with what I am about to read to you, but I want you to pay particular attention to the speaker’s handling of blood:

White Christians and mainline churches “don’t know who Jesus is” — don’t know the story of Christ, “a radical black man,” or the meaning of the incarnation or of evil, Duncan said. “They [white Christians] are the reason love was murdered.”

And he questioned whether the civil rights movement is too willing to accept the deaths of Black people as the price of progress. “I would rather have Emmett Till than the civil rights movement,” have Trayvon Martin and Sandra Bland alive, Duncan said. “I would rather know who Mike Brown is going to grow up to be than I would to know the words Black Lives Matter” – he said while swiping at his tears.

“Jesus didn’t have to die,” Duncan said. “Are you willing to let go of lifelong theological convictions to wonder, ‘Can the Black blood stop (flowing)? Can the indigenous blood stop? Can the queer blood stop?” What if Christians really acted like Jesus, stood with him at the cross, “rather than hammering the nails in every time? … Why is my sacrifice needed for you to wake up?”

His theology calls for action: “I don’t believe Christ had to die on the cross. I don’t believe Emmett Till had to die on the cross. … I don’t believe the blood was necessary.”[3]

Friends, again, there is so much wrong with this statement that I do not want you to lose the point. If quoted accurately, this speaker is directly contradicting God. He is proclaiming a lie. Period. All of the points he wanted to make are immediately lost when he went off the rails here: if you are saying Jesus did not have to die on the cross, you have absolutely no understanding of the gospel and have no business trying to offer a “prophetic” voice to the church. You have rejected the very Jesus you claim to represent.

I have spent years listening and engaging people with this “Jesus did not have to die” approach. It is akin to saying that there is no judgment, there is no reckoning for life. It is a lie. Jesus did have to die. To deny that is to say that Jesus was a liar because Jesus himself declared that he came to give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus’ blood shed for us matters – it matters to God; and to dismiss that is to dismiss the saving grace we have received.

That Jesus had to die is bad news: our sin made his sacrifice necessary. We could not be saved without it. That Jesus came to die is good news, his blood shed on Calvary was the living truth of, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16) “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17).

So, to close the loop on this: be discerning. Whom do we believe, God or the person who is explaining that God did not mean what He said?

God blessed Noah and his family. He told them to be fruitful and multiply. He gave them food to eat. He told them to respect life – the blood – their own and others. That blessing affirmed that life matters to God. Your life matters to God. My life matters to God. And because our lives matter to God, our lives matter to each other. That really is a blessing.

God’s Covenant

Then, God took an additional step and established a covenant God with Noah, Noah’s family, and all of creation. Covenants were well known in the ancient world. Covenants were not usually made between equals, like as in a contract. Contracts are understandings about quid pro quo – this for that. I will commit to this if you commit to something I value equally. Covenants are more than that. Covenants were not generally made between equal partners; normally, one would be markedly stronger. Covenants often were made between parties who had been previously opposed. In a covenant, the stronger unilaterally commits to not exercising their right or power that the weaker party could not resist – or – the stronger commits to doing something not required that they weaker could not demand.

God bound himself to Noah, his family, and all living things on his own initiative. God was not obligated. We could not resist if He chose otherwise. We have no claim against him. It is a remarkable thing God has done, and it is perplexing to us. “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? … O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8)

Here, God covenanted to not destroy the earth by a flood. God had that power and that right, but he committed to NOT exercising that option against creation. God’s covenant did not change the blessing – it did not say there would not be a reckoning for sin. It did not give license for humankind to do as they please, to do what is right in their own eyes, or to ignore the accountability for life that God had declared. God’s covenant was to commit to handling that reckoning – to handling judgment – differently. This covenant set the stage for the remarkable, wonderful, unimaginable, incomparable revelation of Grace and mercy we see in the rest of Scripture.

Communion

In Jeremiah 31: 31-34, the prophet revealed:

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord.

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Isaiah revealed how God would make that covenant; he promised that there would be one who would do exactly what Jesus did, “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

This is what Jesus revealed in the Lord’s Supper when “he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:19-20).

As we walk through this Lenten season – as we walk with Jesus to Jerusalem, to his betrayal, arrest, torture, conviction, crucifixion, and death -- his incarnation, life, ministry, and his blood shed for you and me – we see how God fulfilled (and is fulfilling) the covenant He made with Noah. The saving of Noah through the judgment of the flood foreshadowed the salvation God provided us in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ blood shed for me is my reckoning. 

The sign of the new covenant is not a rainbow, it is the bread and the cup. This meal is the testimony that in Jesus Christ we are saved from death. Sin no longer binds us. Death does not have the last word, it is not the final answer for us.

The covenant – the covenants – show us how much God loves us. Friends, the good news of the blessing and covenant is this: I am saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

 

[1] Walton, NIVAC, Genesis, p. 355-356.

[2] John Walton, NIVAC Old Testament, Genesis, p. 342.

[3] https://pres-outlook.org/2021/03/lenny-duncan-troubles-the-waters-at-next-church-gathering-why-is-my-sacrifice-needed-for-you-to-wake-up/?fbclid=IwAR2y_z7aKxlaorRM6eiogOYkHlJmwXAY2n62eJD15IGaXFJ6ZJWUtamwKi4