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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 9

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


Dods referred to this chapter as the “Fall of Noah,” but it might equally be called the “Second Fall of Mankind.” A number of things which are of the greatest consequence to humanity are introduced in this chapter; and John Skinner noted that, “As a historical document, it is of the highest importance.(F1) The profound conception of the unity of mankind and the religious primacy of Israel were cited by Skinner, but much more is found. Here is the origin of capital punishment (Unger), the judiciary (Keil), the institution of civil government, and the beginning of the second descent of humanity into a condition of hardening and rebellion against God.

The most remarkable thing in the chapter is that the great hero of the Flood is here presented as a weak and sinful man, the reason for this, in all likelihood being that of removing any thought that even one like Noah, who assuredly was “righteous in his generation,” and a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5), would be able to provide the Saviour that man needed. Only the Holy One, Jesus our Lord, would be able to do that.


The Adamic blessing, extended and elaborated, is conveyed to Noah, thus investing him with the status of a second father of all mankind, and also a barrier against the gross violence of the antediluvians is established in the law of capital punishment (Genesis 9:1-7). The rainbow covenant appears in Genesis 9:8-17, and the sin and dishonoring of Noah, along with the prophetic blessing (and curse) upon the major segments of humanity making up his posterity are found in Genesis 9:18-29.

Verses 1-3

“And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of the heavens; with all wherewith the ground teemeth, and all fishes of the sea, into your hand are they delivered. Every living thing that moveth shall be food for you; as the green herb have I given you all.”

Here is the repetition of exactly the same commission that was given to Adam and Eve in the beginning (Genesis 1:28-29, and Genesis 2:16-17). It is a recognition in Noah of a second progenitor for the human race. Noah was no better than Adam, as would quickly appear, but God took some precautions against the unrestrained violence that preceded the Flood. The use of [~’Elohiym] as the name of God in this verse does not stem from its having been in the Elohist document, but from the fact that, “Here the deity is exhibited in his relations to his creation.”(F2)

“And the fear of you and the dread of you” There seems to be revealed here some fundamental change in the human creation’s relationship to the animal kingdom. Just what it is we are unable to say, but apparently this divinely-instilled fear might have been for the protection of man. As a rebel against God, it was inevitable that hostility should also exist between men and the rest of God’s creation. The “image of God” was still in man (Genesis 9:6); “but it had been marred.”(F3)

“Every living thing that moveth shall be food for you” There is much difference of opinion about whether or not man had been permitted to eat meat before this, and our opinion is that nobody knows for sure. Our assumption here is that it had not been intended from the first, but that the introduction of animal sacrifices in the days of Abel supports the conviction, that after the Fall and the institution of sacrifice, men surely ate meat. Also, we have noted that the preponderance of “clean animals” in the ark was also presumably related to the food supply. We agree with Alford, Keil, Whitelaw, and others that, “Whether permitted or not, prior to the Flood, it was used, and here for the first time was formally permitted by Divine edict.”(F4) There is more than sufficient reason for the special mention of animal food just here because of the restriction about to be placed on it, without the necessity of supposing that for the very first time men were allowed to eat animals. Willis and many other respected scholars take a different view.

Verse 4

“But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.”

We cannot agree with Skinner that the reason for this prohibition was “purely ceremonial,”(F5) although, of course, it could have been anticipative of the elaborate blood sacrifices to be instituted later in the Law of Moses. Some of the other reasons that might have lain back of this law are:

(1) to prevent cruelty to animals, such as eating of flesh from a living creature,

(2) to remind men of God’s providence in allowing the eating of meat,

(3) to emphasize the sacredness of life, the blood having a special relationship to life. Jamieson thought that the only reason for this was that of curbing “the cannibal ferocity in eating the flesh of living animals, to which men in earlier times were liable.”(F6)

This writer once saw a group of Indians in a primitive celebration in the Wichita Mountains of Oklahoma kill and eat a live buffalo in one of the most disgusting exhibitions of human savagery that could be imagined. They began eating the animal before it died, stripped the residue out of the intestines held between two fingers, devouring them like spaghetti, scooped up blood in their hands and drank it, etc., with many other revolting details of which it is a shame to speak. Anyone who ever saw such an action can well understand such a prohibition as that which appears here. And, as Willis observed, “This law is for mankind, not merely Israel.”(F7) Even under the New Covenant, this law was affirmed again (Acts 15:20). Aalders believed that the eating of raw meat tended to foster a condition in men that would lead to their “becoming wild.”(F8)

Verses 5-6

“And surely your blood, the blood of your lives, will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it: and at the hand of man, even at the hand of every man’s brother, will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.”

The change of person in Genesis 9:6 should not be disturbing, such is a phenomenon in the sacred writings found frequently in the Minor Prophets. Also the words, “In the image of God made he man,” could be understood as an explanatory comment added by the inspired author of Genesis.

This whole passage may be viewed as God’s precautionary action taken against the possibility of the recurrence of the universal physical violence that preceded the Flood. It is significant to note that this represents a change in the action of God Himself when He spared Cain, following the murder of his brother Abel. Cain’s fear that someone would kill him (Genesis 4:14) shows that even he realized that his crime deserved death, hence, the fear that gripped his evil heart. But with the establishment of this law, God had seen enough of such leniency. Henceforth, the murderer would receive the retribution that his crime deserved. Capital punishment for murderers is a law here instituted by God Himself. The just application of such a law would necessitate the creation of a judiciary with power to exonerate those who were inadvertently guilty in a technical sense, but whose lives should be spared, as later formalized in the law of Moses in the establishment of the cities of refuge. The germ of civil government is also in this.

“By man shall his blood be shed” “This is not merely a permission legalizing, but an imperative command enjoining capital punishment.”(F9) Only God has the right to take life, but in this commandment, it is clear that, “When God commands man to execute murderers, He delegates this task to him, and it becomes his God-given responsibility(F10) to do it. The repeal of capital punishment by many states today is not merely a mistake, it is a VIOLATION of God’s law. The unjustified leniency of the judiciary in our own times could not possibly have any different effect than did God’s leniency in the case of Cain. If any human society would like to invite the return of universal violence that precipitated the Flood, they could choose no quicker way to do it than by their rejection of God’s commandment regarding murderers.

Keil called the divine order to execute murderers a command “that laid the foundation of all civil government … a barrier against the supremacy of evil.”(F11) Right here is also the explanation for two DIFFERENT words in the Hebrew Scriptures for killing. They are [~ratsach] which means murder, and [~harag] which means put to death. [~Ratsach] is in the Decalogue, “Thou shalt not kill”; and the other is in Deuteronomy 13:9: “Thou shalt surely kill ([~harag]) him,” referring to a legal execution. It is gross ignorance that tries to find in the Bible a prohibition of capital punishment, for it is precisely there that one reads the Divine institution of it and the unqualified order for men to enforce it. Of course, the manner of the enforcement of such a commandment was not prescribed here at a time prior to the establishment of human government, and that is the reason the next of kin under the patriarchal dispensation was given the responsibility, such an individual being called “the avenger of blood.” In our own times the police authority of the central government is charged with the task, but in both instances, “The powers that be are ordained of God” (Romans 13:1). These verses are the account of such powers being ordained.

Verse 7

“And you, be ye fruitful, and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply therein.”

As noted above, this is essentially the same commission given to Adam.

Verses 8-13


“And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying, And I, behold, I, establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you; and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you; of all that go out of the ark, even every beast of the earth. And I will establish my covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of the flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth. And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.”

This is not the same covenant mentioned in Genesis 6:18. That covenant was conditional, requiring that Noah should build an ark according to God’s directions, and then enter it with his family and all the other creatures as God directed. This covenant is absolutely unconditional. That covenant regarded the safety of Noah and those with him on the ark through the impending disaster of the Flood. This one regards absence of any other universal flood unto perpetual generations. No token was given of that covenant, but the rainbow was given as the token of this.

“Covenant” This word “occurs some two hundred times in the O.T.”(F12) There was a series of covenants with Abraham; two were revealed to Noah, and many were made with Israel. There is no need, therefore, to attempt an identification of one particular covenant with another.

“By the waters of a flood” This is the prime qualifier of this covenant. The promise was not that “never again would the earth be destroyed,” but that it would not be done a second time by means of a flood. The N.T. is explicit, as also the Minor Prophets, that another total destruction of the earth will yet occur, by means of fire, at or near the time of the Great Assize. (See 2 Peter 3; Zechariah 12:9).

“I do set my bow in the cloud” There is a difference of opinion as to whether the rainbow appeared at this time for the very first time, or whether this indicated merely a new significance of it decreed by the Father. If the first of these is correct, it would mean that rain had not fallen upon the earth until the times of the flood, which some see as a fact in the light of Genesis 2:6. The great problem of making the rainbow a pre-existing “sign” is that: “If it was, it was a lying sign, because the Flood came in spite of it.(F13) Therefore, we conclude that it was not a sign of anything prior to this designation by the Father, no matter whether it had existed previously or not. All kinds of learned opinion has been arrayed on both sides of this question. We prefer the view that it appeared here for the first time. Unger defended the opinion that the bow was a new phenomenon on the basis that “radical changes occurred at the time of the Flood in the earth’s atmosphere.”(F14) The whole question lies beyond the area of any dogmatic certainty. Whenever the rainbow first was seen, “Men are to remember that He who set it there will keep His Word.”(F15)

N.T. emphasis on the rainbow is pronounced. It adorns the throne of God Himself (Revelation 4:4) and encircles the head of the Rainbow Angel who holds open the redemptive Word of God for mankind (Revelation 10:1).

Verse 14

“And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud.”

Keil summed up this passage by writing that: “This presupposes that the rainbow then appeared for the first time in the vault of heaven. From this it may not be inferred that it did not rain on the earth before the flood, but that the atmosphere was differently constituted, a supposition in perfect harmony with the facts of natural history.”(F16)

The spiritual application of this is profound. Every cloud of our earthly existence is adorned with a rainbow of hope and promise. Against the dark clouds of human depression and sorrow, this symbol of the throne of God and of the Rainbow Angel holding forth the Redemptive word shines through the gloom of human fears and frustrations. The proverb that, “Every cloud has a silver lining” is but a variable statement of inherent promise contained in the rainbow. It would also appear to illuminate prophecy. The primary and secondary rainbows are a perfect illustration of how divine prophecies carry within them both a primary, or immediate, and secondary, or ultimate fulfillment. Examples of this are seen in Matthew 2:15; Matthew 2:18 and in numerous other Biblical texts.

Verses 15-17

“And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth. And God said unto Noah, This is the token of the covenant which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth.”

As previously stressed, the linguistic phenomenon of God’s appearance in this passage both as the speaker and the person spoken of is fully in harmony with such usages throughout the Bible and is not to be attributed to the clumsy work of some alleged “redactor.”

Verses 18-19

“And the sons of Noah that went forth from the ark, were Shem, and Ham, and Japheth; and Ham is the father of Canaan. These three were the sons of Noah: and of these was the whole world overspread.”

The erroneous allegation that, “These verses are redactional”(F17) is unacceptable. These verses are not the bungling efforts of some ancient scribe trying to harmonize Scripture, but they are absolutely correct and necessary in this context. The following account of the fall of Noah is an extremely abbreviated one; and without this connection between Ham and Canaan, it would be impossible to see certain vital facts embedded in the story.

Verse 20

“And Noah began to be a husbandman, and he planted a vineyard: he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness. And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his youngest son had done to him.”

There were two offenses against Noah in this passage:

(1) the reprehensible conduct of Ham in gazing at his father’s uncovered condition and then gossiping about it with Shem and Japheth. However, a considerable time had elapsed after the flood when this episode occurred, for Canaan, and presumably many others, had been born, all of which happened after the coming forth from the ark. Now we may easily fill in the gaps of the narrative left by its extremely abbreviated form. When Ham talked about his father’s condition to Shem and Japheth, the conclusion must be allowed that Canaan, Ham’s son, in that gossip learned about Noah’s shameful condition, and then acting independently of his father, he went in to Noah and dishonored his grandfather. We are not told exactly what he did, but it was certainly more than “looking on” Noah’s uncovered state, otherwise Noah could not possibly have known of it upon recovering from his drunkenness.

That action of Canaan was the second offense against Noah. As many able scholars have pointed out that offense was almost certainly some form of sexual sin.

(2) But is not such a view nullified by the statement of what Noah’s “youngest son” did to him? No. To begin with, Ham was not his youngest son; and the use of “son” instead of “grandson” is a common Biblical habit. All of the scholarly fulminations against this text are solved by this simple truth. The word “youngest” in the passage is even affirmed to indicate extreme youth, a term that could not possibly be applied to Shem, Ham or Japheth, since they were over a hundred years of age when they came out of the ark. Indeed, Canaan could easily have been an adolescent; but instead of making this GRANDSON to have been a SON of Noah “according to a different tradition,” thus postulating a defense of the theory of contradictory document sources for Genesis, scholars should take a little more pains to find out what is actually said here. The explanation offered here is the only way to avoid the impossible conclusion that, whereas it was Ham who sinned against Noah, it was Canaan who received the curse! Such a proposition is contrary to all that is revealed concerning God in the whole Bible.

Ham DID sin against Noah. Yes, but his sin was one of impropriety, and gossip, totally unlike the despicable act of Canaan, and not nearly so reprehensible. How else could the curse upon Canaan have been pronounced in such comprehensive and extensive terms?

The shameful and sinful consequences of gossip are evident in this narrative. All of the wickedness started with Ham’s report of Noah’s drunken condition to Shem and Japheth, through which, it must be concluded, Canaan’s knowledge of his sinful opportunity was conveyed. Many a word of irresponsible gossip has issued in consequences reaching far beyond what was intended by the gossiper!

See the chapter introduction for other thoughts regarding the shame detailed here, which came upon the mighty hero of the Flood. One can only grieve at this flaw exhibited in the life of Noah, but the inspired Scriptures detail the sins of its heroes in the same stark truthfulness that recounts their deeds of righteousness and valor. We should not attempt to extenuate or diminish Noah’s guilt by the supposition that he did not know any better. A view like that is untenable. Rather, we should see here our common weakness and the need ever to watch and pray. As Dods put it:

“Noah is not the only man who has walked uprightly and kept his garment unspotted from the world so long as the eye of man was upon him, but who has lain uncovered on his own tent floor.”(F18)

Supporting the assumption received here that there was a long time-lapse between the disembarkation from the ark and the incidents of this chapter, is the fact that Canaan was Ham’s FOURTH son (Genesis 10:6), and the first was not born until AFTER the exit from the ark. The further conviction that Canaan should have been designated by the translators of this passage as Noah’s “grandson” is also supported by the Hebrew usage mentioned by Aalders that “small son” should be rendered “grandson.”(F19)

Some alleged that Noah’s living in a tent is inconsistent with the times attributed to this episode, but this is plainly an error. Abraham and the patriarch’s after him all lived in tents, whether or not they had in addition more permanent housing.

Verse 25

“And he said, Cursed be Canaan; A servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be Jehovah the God of Shem; And let Canaan be his servant. God enlarge Japheth, And let him dwell in the tents of Shem; And let Canaan be his servant.”

“Cursed be Canaan” What Cain was to the antediluvian world, Canaan was to the world after the flood. He was the ancestor of the Canaanites who preceded Israel in the land of Palestine, and the preoccupation of that entire Canaanite culture with their vulgar sex gods, which they worshiped with the most abominable rites, indicates clearly that they partook of the nature of their infamous ancestor. This also lends strong presumptive proof that the nature of Canaan’s sin was sexual. Significantly, it was precisely that evil culture which later overwhelmed Ephraim and the whole northern kingdom of Israel, through which, in turn, the southern kingdom also fell and was carried away by Babylon.

This did not mean that every individual person of Canaan’s posterity would be wicked, but merely that this would be the predominating nature of the population descended from him. It is a prophecy of what would happen, not a requirement that it had to happen. The efforts of the advocates of slavery to justify their enslavement of the black race during the last century in America were founded upon total misunderstanding of this passage. God never justified the enslavement of any people, and the condition of servitude imposed upon the posterity of Canaan was not a divine visitation upon them as a vindictive judgment, but the predicted result of their preoccupation with sex. Significantly, the land of Canaan, historically, was never free and independent, but always dominated by the great world powers.

“Blessed be Jehovah, the God of Shem” This means, that in a particular sense, God would be identified as “the God of Shem,” through whom the Messiah would come for human redemption. This is the prophetic designation of Shem as the patriarch through whom Jesus would be born.

“Enlarge Japheth” This prophesied the multiplication of his posterity, which was remarkably fulfilled in the proliferation of the populations of Europe and other places where so-called Western Civilization prevailed.

“Let him dwell in the tents of Shem” Depending upon whether the “him” in this passage refers to God or to Japheth, two various interpretations have been proposed. The humorous view that the Caucasians shall live “in the tents of Shem,” is said to be fulfilled in that most of them pay rent to Jewish landlords! We do not think this is what the text meant. Unger is probably correct: “`He (God) shall dwell in the tents of Shem,’ another reference to the spiritual blessings upon Israel through the Messianic line.”(F20)

Verse 28

“And Noah lived after the flood three hundred and fifty years. And all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years: and he died.”

Since Abraham was born about 292 years after the Flood, it appears that, for 58 years, Noah was a contemporary of Abraham!

Lessons from this narrative are many:

(1) Temptation and sin are of the greatest danger immediately following victory.

(2) Satan assaults the soul with the most vigorous efforts both at the beginning of life (or a career), and at the end of it. Either way, if one falls, the shadow lengthens to lie over the whole life.

(3) Idle gossip is exceedingly sinful and dangerous.

(4) Countless generations may suffer as the result of a single individual’s wickedness. Cain and Canaan both appear in these early chapters as examples of this.

(5) It is not the big temptations alone that cause people to fail, but the little ones as well. Noah could withstand the scorn of the whole world, but he could not resist the over-indulgence of his appetite!

(6) Even the greatest and best of men are no substitute for Christ, who alone is the Perfect One and the Saviour of all people.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Genesis 9". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/genesis-9.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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