Genesis Lesson Ten | 9:1–9:29

Prayerfully read Genesis 9 at least two times and then read the following notes.

Context: Setting the Table

Following a magnificent introduction (1:1–2:3), the “history of the heavens and the earth” (2:4–4:26) relates God’s wonderful provision for his image bearers, their wicked rebellion, and the increasing perversion of the line of Cain. The second section, the “book of the generations of Adam,” (5:1–6:8) tells of the line of Seth and its eventual corruption. Chapter 9 concludes the third section, “the family history of Noah” (6:9–9:29), with the institution of human government, the sign of the rainbow, and the sad end of Noah’s story.

Content: Reading the Text

(9:1–7) God Blesses Noah and His Sons
(9:1-7) While the Lord promised that he would never again smite every living thing (Genesis 8:20–22), the hearts of humans were still full of evil. In the absence of repeated floods, God ensured the preservation of his image bearers by the institution of human government to serve as a check on human wickedness. “[L]aws are established that will curb the violence among humanity that had brought about the necessity of the flood (Genesis 6:11–12)…Regulations insure the continuation of the earth until its final, future redemption.”1
(9:1) Up to this point, no blessing has occurred since the creation of Adam and Eve (5:1 clearly refers back to initial blessing at creation). As a new sort of Adam, Noah was given the very same command as the first Adam—to be fruitful and multiply. (see also under 7:13)
(9:4) The prohibition of imbibing blood (see also Leviticus 17:10–14; Acts 15:20) is a reminder that all life, including animal life, ultimately belongs to God. We are only stewards of what ultimately belongs to Another (see under 7:2).
(9:5—at the hand of every beast) This does not mean that God requires animals to punish murderers but rather that murderous animals, like murderous humans, must be put to death (Exodus 21:28–29).
(9:6a) This verse marks the institution of human government. From this point onward, God requires that humans punish the misdeeds of other humans. Willful murder must be punished by the death of the perpetrator. Any society that neglects this divine commission has abandoned genuine justice. All murder is ultimately an affront to God because mankind, even after the fall, remains the image of God on earth. “This doctrine, however, is to be carefully observed, that no one can be injurious to his brother without wounding God himself.”2
(9:6b) Note the careful reversal of order in the two sequences in this verse—shed, blood, man | man, blood, shed. “This is poetic justice indeed!”3
(9:7a) The repetition of “be fruitful and multiply” links back to 9:1 and serves to close the paragraph. This literary technique (known as inclusion) is a very common way to highlight the beginning and end of paragraphs and larger sections throughout Scripture. It is important to remember that the original biblical texts had no chapter divisions or capitalization and minimal punctuation and word spacing. Divisions had to be marked in the text itself or not at all.
(9:7b) The word translated as “bring forth abundantly” almost always refers to the swarming growth of small animals (Genesis 1:20; Exodus 8:3, etc). Only here and in Exodus 1:7 does it refer to the multiplication of humans—a link between the two passages is surely intended.
(9:8–9:17) God Speaks to Noah and His Sons
(9:9) Unsurprisingly, the Hebrew word for covenant occurs exactly seven times in this paragraph (9:8–9:17). The frequent repetition found in the Old Testament, which can sometimes seem initially to be boring or even meaningless, are often part of purposeful patterns that we haven’t happened to notice yet.
(9:12–17) While this is the first “covenantal sign” (translated as “token” in the kjv) it would not be the last. Just as the rainbow reminded Noah that even the stormiest of rain clouds would not cause the earth to be once more overwhelmed by the waters of the flood, so the waters of baptism and the cup and the bread of the Supper remind us that we stand in the righteousness of another and that the sins and weaknesses that so easily beset us will not wash away the forgiveness that we have been given. While we must not over-value these signs, superstitiously assigning to them salvific power in their own right, we must also not under-value them, thinking ourselves so “spiritual” that we can do without the reminders that God thought we needed.
(9:13) Apart from this passage and Ezekiel 1:28, the Hebrew word translated as “bow” always refers to a bow as a weapon of war.
(9:18–29) Noah and His Sons after the Flood
(9:20) The Hebrew grammar of this verse is somewhat ambiguous. Translations and commentators differ as to whether the point here is that Noah was the first human to cultivate a vineyard or simply that this was the first vineyard cultivated by Noah. If the former is the case, Noah may very well not have yet fully understood the effects of wine and thus may not have been guilty of intentional excess.
(9:21) This is the first mention of wine in Scripture. While there has long been, and will doubtless continue to be, a wide spectrum of opinions as to the practical application of these principles in each particular context, the foundational guidelines of Scripture regarding the use and abuse of alcoholic are clear. On the one hand, drunkenness of any kind is strictly prohibited (Ephesians 5:18) and the consequences of drunkenness are sharply warned against (Proverbs 23:29–35). On the other hand, nowhere in Scripture are wine or other alcoholic beverages positively prohibited. While priests were forbidden to partake while on active duty in the tabernacle or temple (Leviticus 10:9), wine was required to be offered on the altar at least twice daily (Numbers 15:4, 28:7). Wine, along with oil and bread, is celebrated as one of God’s good gifts to mankind (Psalm 104:15). It was both miraculously produced (John 2:1–11) and regularly partaken of (Luke 7:33–34) by Jesus. While the alcohol content of ancient wine could vary considerably, all varieties of wine mentioned in both the Old and New Testament, including “new wine,” were fermented to one degree or another.4 At the same time, in this matter as in all others, we are commanded to give priority to the consciences of others rather than to our own personal liberty (Romans 14). Though we have the liberty to either partake (though only in moderation!) or to abstain altogether (Jeremiah 35), we may neither judge those who partake of what God has not forbidden nor despise those who refrain from what God has not required (Romans 14:10).
(9:22) Though Noah’s abuse of wine is of course of great interest to us, the focus of this story remains on the wickedness of Ham in taking open delight in the shame of his father. We must not forget that the Mosaic law considered this a crime worthy of death (Exodus 21:17—the word there translated as “curse” is much broader than our English word and certainly includes Ham’s disgraceful conduct).
(9:23) Though many have done so, there is no need to imagine any additional crimes of Ham not mentioned in the text: “if the covering was an adequate remedy, it follows that the misdemeanor was confined to seeing [and gleefully reporting that sight to others].”5
(9:25) Though there are many unanswered questions about Noah’s curse (the only speech recorded by him in the Scriptures!), its function in the text of Genesis is rather more clear. “Noah’s curse and blessing foreshadow the relationship of the nations that the three brothers originate.”6 “[T]he Canaanites are notorious throughout the Old Testament for their aberrant sexual practices…Ham’s indiscretion towards his father may easily be seen as a type of the later behavior of the…Canaanites. Noah’s curse on Canaan thus represents God’s sentence on the sins of the Canaanites, which their forefather Ham had exemplified.”7
(9:27) While the particular historical instance of Japheth “dwelling in the tents of Shem” that Moses seems to have had in mind has been much disputed, the ultimate fulfillment of this verse is certainly the inclusion of the Gentiles in the people of God.

Credo: Believing the Truth

The great flood was finally over. God had given his word—never again would he destroy the earth for the sake of mankind. Yet though the great flood had cleansed the earth, it had not changed the evil inclinations of rebellious human hearts. To preserve humanity from destruction until the coming of the promised Redeemer, God instituted human government, giving humans both the right and the responsibility to punish the wickedness of other humans. By placing his bow in the clouds, God established a perpetual reminder of his gracious forbearance until the right time for the setting forth of his righteousness should come. Nothing, not even the folly of Noah and the wickedness of his children, could de-rail God’s plan to accomplish his good purposes for his creation.

Conduct: Reshaping Our Walk

How might we be tempted to either undervalue or overvalue the covenant signs—the water of baptism, the bread and cup of communion—that God has given us?

Examples: Overvaluing—placing our hope of salvation in the sign rather than the word of the One who has given it to us; Undervaluing—treating baptism and communion as more or less dispensable matters of no particular importance

In what ways are we tempted to go beyond the demands of justice and truth by needlessly discussing the sins and weaknesses of others?

Examples: Gossiping to others about situations we have neither the obligation nor the ability to address in person; Taking secret or open pleasure in the humiliation of those who have previously wronged us; Participating in the “outrage” click-bait that so dominates social media.

1. Mathews 1996, 398 
2. Calvin 1847, 1.295–296 
3. Sarna 1989, 61 
4. Watson 1992, 870
5. Cassuto 1997, 151 
6. Mathews 1996, 417 
7. Wenham 1987, 201