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Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary Preacher's Homiletical
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Genesis 9". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ phc/ genesis-9.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Genesis 9". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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Genesis 9:1. God] Heb. Elohim. Blessed] Similar to the blessing pronounced upon Adam and Eve (Genesis 1:28.—
Genesis 9:2. The fear of you, and the dread of you] The fear of you, as existing in the inferior animals. “Dread” imparts a greater intensity of meaning into the word—the fear which paralyses. It may be that even in Paradise the lower animals had a wholesome fear of man, by means of which they could be kept in subjection. Now they are to be ruled by force and terror.—
Genesis 9:3. Every moving thing that liveth] This form of permission forbids the using of any animal that hath died of itself.—
Genesis 9:4. But the flesh with the life thereof] Some suppose that it is hereby intended to forbid the cruel custom of some ancient nations in tearing off the flesh from living animals. But this was the practice of later heathenism, and it is therefore more probable that we have here a command that the blood of animals must first be shed before they can be used for food. This prohibition was also made to serve the purpose of educating the people to the idea of the sacredness of blood as a means of atonement (Leviticus 17:11; Hebrews 9:22).—Life.] The animating principle—the animal soul. The blood is regarded as the basis of life (Deuteronomy 12:23). “The blood is the fluid-nerve: the nerve is the constructed blood” (Lange). “He disgorges the crimson tide of life” (Virgil), Æn. IX., 348.—
Genesis 9:5. Your blood of your lives] LXX. has “blood of your souls”—the blood which contains the life or animal principle.—Require] i.e., judicially, in the sense of making “inquisition for;” same verb used in Psalms 9:12.—At the hand of every beast] They have no right to human flesh, and men are to avenge the injuries they suffer from them. Hence their extermination is justifiable for the protection of human life.—Every man’s brother] Heb. “Of every man, his brother.” Society was thus permitted to inflict punishment for the highest wrongs against itself. Every man was to see in every other a brother, which recognition would give an awful significance to the crime of murder. Some consider that the duty of blood-vengeance is thus laid upon the next of kin; but this sprang up in later times, and it is better to take the words as laying down the principle of all such punishments.—Life of man] Man is emphatic.—
Genesis 9:6. By man] This would seem to denote the instrument of the action, yet the Hebrew has a special phrase to indicate such a meaning, in that case using the expression “by the hand of man.” It is more probable that the preposition denotes substitution “n the place of man,” “life for life.” Thus 2 Samuel 14:7, “For the soul (the life, or in place of) his brother.” The LXX has (Genesis 9:6) “in return for his blood.” The Targum of Onkelos has “by the witnesses according to the word of judgment.”—
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Genesis 9:1-7
THE DIVINE BENEDICTION ON THE NEW HUMANITY
The human race now starts from a new beginning. Through the Fall the contagion of sin had spread until the Old World had reached a maturity of corruption, and tempted beyond forbearance the vengeance of Heaven. The terrible judgment of the Flood overwhelmed the violence that filled the earth, and destroyed all except the “eight souls who were saved by water.” But Mercy at length finds a time for rejoicing and triumph, and those deeds of kindness in which she delights. The Divine benediction, so full of present gifts and of promise, came in answer to pious devotion expressed in an act of sacrifice. The new humanity had acknowledged sin, and the necessity of propitiating Him to whom alone man has to render an account. God’s blessings are no empty form of words, no pleasing abstractions in which alone philosophic meditation can delight. They are substantial good. God loves, and therefore gives. The word of blessing, in Genesis 9:1, is afterwards expanded into gifts and provisions for the new humanity. “God blessed Noah and his sons,” and spake unto them in words which represented solid benefits. Here we have blessing in the form of provisions for this new beginning of the human race.
I. Provision for the Continuity of its Physical Life (Genesis 9:1). Death must still reign until destroyed as the last enemy. Successive generations shall go down to the grave, to be replaced by others who in their turn must submit to the common fate. But while the individual dies, as far as his portion and work in the world are concerned, the race is destined to be immortal. The stream of human life must flow on throughout the ages, until God shall be pleased to bring in a new order, and the former things be passed away. This continuity of humanity through the wastes of death is to be maintained by the institution of marriage. To these progenitors of the new race, God said, as to our first parents, “Be fruitful and multiply.” Sexual sin Lad been the ruin of the old world; but now it shall be seen that lawful connections can be formed and the proper uses of marriage secured. The command to replenish the earth by the multiplication of the species is now given to men who with their “wives” came forth out of the ark. It is therefore a re-affirmation of the sanctity of marriage. This divinely appointed provision for the continuance of man upon the earth.—
1. Raises the relation between the sexes above all degrading associations. Without the protection and guidance of a divine ordinance, such relations would be chiefly governed by natural instincts. Marriage controls these, and restrains their impetuosity within wholesome bounds. It brings the relation between the sexes under the sanction of God’s order, by which it becomes ennobled. Man is thus reminded that moral responsibility belongs to him in all the relations of life.
2. Tends to promote the stability of society. Wild and untamed passions, the indulgence of animal instincts without control, will keep any society of men in the lowest possible condition. It is only when the reason and conscience submit to the laws of God that man can exist in stable society, or rise in the family of nations. Men are not to herd together as beasts, they must live together, otherwise they debase the dignity of human nature. They cannot form a society possessing strength and nobility, unless they acknowledge that the relations of life rest upon something out of sight. They are ultimately spiritual relations. There is no real progress for man, unless in all the relations of life he acknowledges the will of the Supreme Father. Marriage is the foundation of the family, and the family is the foundation of the State.
3. Promotes the tender charities of life. To this ordinance we owe the love of husband and wife, parent and child, and the play of all those affections that make home sacred. Whatever is noble and tender in natural instinct becomes enhanced and permanent when God is acknowledged in all the domestic relations of life.
II. Provision for its sustenance (Genesis 9:3). In the history of the human creature the sustenance of life is the first consideration, though not the most important. It is necessary first to live before we can live well. “First that which is natural, and afterwards that which is spiritual,” is the order of human progress, as it is the order in which we must supply the wants of our nature. Life is a flame that must be sustained by something outside of itself. No creature can live on its own blood. The physical life of man must be preserved by the ministry of other lives—animal, vegetable. For this end God has given man dominion over the earth, and especially over all other lives in it. We may regard this sustenance which God has provided for man’s lower wants
(1) as a reason for gratitude. Our physical necessities are the most immediate, the most intimate to us. We should acknowledge the hand that provides for them. We should feel how much we are beholden to God for our very life itself, upon which foundation even the highest blessings rest. The order of thought requires that we thank God for our creation and preservation, even before we thank Him for His love to us in Christ Jesus. We may regard God’s provision herein
(2) as an example of the law of mediation. Man’s life is preserved by the instrumentality of others. God’s natural government of the world is carried on by means of mediation, from which we may infer that such is the principle of His moral government. That “bread of life” by which our souls are sustained comes to us through a Mediator. Thus God’s provisions for our common wants may be made a means of educating us in higher things. Nature has the symbols and suggestions of spiritual truths
(3) as a ground for expecting greater blessings. If God made so rich and varied a provision to supply the necessities of the body, it was reasonable to expect that He would care and provide for the deeper necessities of the soul. Man was made in the image of God, and invested with dominion over the world. He is of the blood-royal of Heaven, and may be permitted to hope for those better things suitable to his high estate. God will surely maintain His own glory in caring for His image. If there be no provision for our souls, then would there be a strange break in the dealings of God with man, and a fatal gulf between Heaven and earth.
III. Provision for its protection. Human life must be protected from dangerous enemies (Genesis 9:5-6). There are evils against which no human foresight can provide, but there are many more from which we have abundant means of defending ourselves. Though the dominion of man over nature has limitations, yet it is real; otherwise man could never have held his place against such tremendous obstacles. It is necessary that our physical life be protected—
1. From the ferocity of animals. From their numbers and strength, these would be formidable enemies. They increase rapidly and exist in external conditions against which the natural weakness of man could not contend. Their time of utter helplessness in infancy is short, they soon become independent of their fellows, they are provided with clothing and weapons of defence and attack.
“Hale are their young, from human frailties freed,
Walk unsustained or unsupported feed;
Bound o’er the lawn, or seek the distant glade,
And find a home in each delightful shade.”
Man, on the other hand, passes through a long period of weakness and entire dependence upon others, requires artificial clothing to shelter him from the cold. He is not provided by nature with any formidable weapons for his defence; yet subdues all things, captures other animals for his food, compels them to perform his work, or tames them to make him sport. Man, inferior in every physical quality and advantage, reigns over them by his superior reason. The force of intellect, by directing and controlling all other forces, maintains his pre-eminence. The lower animals acknowledge his majesty in fear and dread. The Providence of God preserves the balance of power, in a wonderful manner, between man and the lower animals. Man has the Divine sanction for protecting himself against their ferocity. He is commanded to avenge the life of his fellow upon them. It is lawful for him to seek their extermination, should they become dangerous to his existence. Human life must be held sacred, and its rights vindicated, even when they are invaded by a blind ferocity.
2. From the violence of evil men. Sinners were destroyed by the flood, yet sin remained in the human family. The evils of our nature were too deeply seated to be cleansed away even by so dire a judgment. It was contemplated that in this new humanity evil passions would arise, and drive men to deeds of violence against their fellows. God would require, judicially, the blood of man at the hands of him who shed it, and has given authority to man to execute His vengeance. In this permission and command there may be a remembrance of Cain, who did the first murder. The new society must be protected by holding a terrible penalty over murderers. The Bible does not indulge in poetical theories of human nature, but soberly acknowledges all its most terrible facts.
IV. Provision for its Morality. Without morality society cannot be stable, exist in comfort, or make progress. Nations having the highest resources of talent, power, and wealth, have yet been destroyed by their own corruptions. The new humanity must have laws of right conduct, and sufficient penalties to enforce them; else it could not continue in prosperity, or rise to higher things. The inbred corruption of human nature, its fierce passions, imperfections, and frailties, demanded the restraint of law. Here, however, we have not so much the external command as (what might be called) the material and principle of law. We have the ethics of human conduct not settled into formulated statements, but held in solution. The aim is to attack the evils of society in their roots, to give ennobling views of human nature, and to create a sufficient authority on the side of order and good.
1. Hence the tendency to cruelty was to be repressed. They were not to eat the blood of animals. The prohibition was necessary to preserve men from acquiring savage tastes, and practising gross and revolting forms of cruelty. This would be one of the effects of the command to abstain from the use of blood, though it is probable that a higher lesson was intended. All that tends to repress cruelty greatly modifies the evils of depravity, is on the side of goodness, and strengthens the charities of the heart. Cruelty imparts a terrible momentum to evil, until that which is sad and pitiable becomes monstrous and horrible. When men are seized by this demon of cruelty, they go rapidly to the extremest verge of sin and crime. Hence to forbid what may lead to cruelty is a wise provision to preserve morality.
2. They were to remember the fact of mutual brotherhood. “At the hand of every man’s brother.” God was the universal Father, and the human race was His family. Every man was to see in every other a brother. The recognition of this fact would be a fruitful source of goodwill towards all, and a promoter of social order and morality. No deed of violence, cruelty, or wrong could be done where there was a full and real knowledge of this truth. This conviction of our common brotherhood is so disguised, overlaid, and silenced by the depravity within and around us that it is comparatively weak as a restraint on the evils of the world. It can only be clear and come to strength and efficacy when we read it in the light of our Lord’s redeeming work. Men cannot have true union with one another until they have union with God through His Son. The hand has no direct connection with the foot, but each is connected with one centre of life. The unity of the body is thus maintained, and so it must be with the members of the human family. There will be no perfect union until they all partake of one spiritual life. Still, the fact of human brotherhood prepares the way for this sublime issue, and helps us to rise to the thought of it. The tie that really binds men together must be spiritual.
3. Morality was to be protected by authority armed with penalties. (Genesis 9:6.) Society was empowered to punish crimes committed against itself. The whole community, by means of appointed and responsible persons, must avenge the wrong done to any of the individuals of which it is composed. Here we have the punishment to be inflicted upon those who commit the highest offence against society. Hence the origin and use of the civil magistrate. The community should be on the side of right and justice, and against violence and wrong. But, for the sake of convenience, it is necessary that this feeling should be represented and the duties belonging to it carried out by the officers of the law. They represent the authority of God, and the just feeling of society. Nations could not exist with the stability and privileges of civil life without a government strong enough to enforce the laws. The form of government is a human ordinance, arising out of the necessities of life and moulded by the events of political history, but the end of government is of Divine appointment. By requiring so terrible a penalty from him who sheds the blood of man, God has given His sanction to the office of the civil magistrate. Such deal with offences against morality in the form of crime, or of evils affecting the comfort and well-being of society. In the present condition of mankind, teaching and moral suasion are insufficient to preserve public peace and order. There must be an authority, which is to be feared by evildoers. God sets His seal upon human institutions which have the safety and well-being of mankind for their object. Hence in this new beginning of the race, He directs that men shall protect themselves against all deeds of injustice and violence.
V. Provision for its Religion. Something more must be considered than the safety and prosperity of men regarded as inhabitants of this world. Man needs a religion, for he is conscious of relations with a higher world. We have here the outlines of certain religious truths, which compel us to refer the principles of conduct and the foundation of authority ultimately to God. They were also intended to prepare humanity for the superior light of a later Revelation
1. Mankind were to be educated to the idea of sacrifice. (Genesis 9:4.) Blood was forbidden as a separate article of food. Men were to be taught to regard it as a sacred thing, so that they might be prepared for the fact that God had set it apart as the symbol of expiation. The education of humanity is a slow process, and in its earlier stages it was necessary that men should attain to the knowledge of the deep truths of religion by the aid of outward symbols. Pictures and illustrations of truth were suitable to the childhood of the world. Mankind were first to see the form and appearance of truth before they could examine its structure, or know its essence. The sanctity of blood prepared the way for the rites of sacrifice, and sacrifice taught the sinfulness of sin and the necessity of some Divine expedient for restoring man to the favour of God. It also suggested man’s superior relation to God and to the spiritual world. If man were not accountable to his Maker when this life is ended, why should he be taught the necessity of being purged from sin? Surely God contemplated a creature who, when he had attained purity, might be fitted to dwell with Himself.
2. Mankind were to be impressed with the true dignity of human nature. For the law concerning murder, there is the moral sanction arising from the brotherhood of man, but there is also the religious sanction founded upon the fact that he was made in the image of God. The sublime truths of revelation must be regarded as extravagant, unless we suppose them addressed to a creature having such dignity. Mankind were to be early impressed with the idea of their high and noble origin in order that they might be prepared for the successive advances of God’s kindness. The gifts of God, however great they may be, cannot be unsuitable to a being made in His image. From this fact we gather—
1. That man has the capacity for religion. The image of God in him is greatly defaced, but it is not destroyed. He has the capacity for knowing God, for understanding his own responsibility, and feeling after the spiritual world. By this he is distinguished from, and placed far above, all other lives on the earth. There is something in man that answers to the voice of God and the suggestions of inspiration.
2. That man is destined for another life. To partake of the image of God is to partake of immortality. God, who has made and fashioned us in His likeness, will have respect to the work of His own hands, and will not suffer us to be destroyed in the grave.
3. Mankind must be taught to refer all authority and rule ultimately to God. The civil magistrate was to be invested with authority and power to punish the crime of murder by the infliction of the death penalty. The assigned reason is, man was made in the image of God. Thus all human authority, for its foundation and warrant, is cast ultimately on God. Religion is the life of all progress. Every question concerning the interests of mankind resolves itself, in the end, into a question of religion. Here are the only noble and sufficient impulses, motives, and sanctions of all the activities and aims of human life. Man must realise the full significance of his relations to God, that he might be fitted to occupy his position as the appointed ruler of the world.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Genesis 9:1. God gives his benediction at every great crisis in the history of mankind. Thus at the creation of man (Genesis 1:28). Even when He sent forth His “fiery law,” He loved the people and gave His blessing (Deuteronomy 33:2-3). When the Messiah came, the blessing became more definite and plentiful.
At every great epoch of human history, Gods shows some sign of His favour to the race.
God’s blessing goes before His commands. Men must have the light of His favour before they can serve Him. Religion would be altogether impossible did not the grace of God go before men and lead the way.
This was the blessing of a Father, for it was spoken to His offspring. Given to rational beings, it implied duties which the righteous Father requires of His children.
God is the source of all paternity. Every society in heaven and earth must acknowledge Him as their origin—their Father. They were begotten by His gracious will (John 1:13).
As the old blessing is repeated, so is the old command to be “fruitful and multiply.” God intends a human history, and thus provides for the continuity of the life of the race, without which history would be impossible.
In this text the marriage state is praised and celebrated, since thereout flows not only the order of the family and the world, but also the existence of the Church.—(Lange.)
The earth was to be overcome by the diffusion of human life over it. Hence learn the energy of spiritual life, which is a power to conquer and subdue all opposition.
Man’s place on earth is appointed by his Heavenly Father, who disdains not to give him direction for the lowest as well as the highest duties; for this world, and that which is to come.
Fruitfulness is another blessing of this stage. Just as in creation, when the third day rose, and the waters were restrained, the earth was made fruitful; so now in Noah, the third great stage in man, the flood being passed, man increases wonderfully. “Except the corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:24). Now having died to the world by the cross, and the evil fruits which grow out of old Adam being judged by the overflowing waters, the new man within increases yet more. Being purged, he brings forth much fruit.—(Jukes, Types of Genesis.)
The greatest desolations in the world cannot hinder God from having a people.—(Hughes.)
The grant of increase is the same as at first, but expressed in ampler terms.—(Murphy.)
Genesis 9:2. Human reason, fruitful as it is in resources of skill and contrivance, would not by itself secure the complete subjection of the lower animals. Man could not maintain his sovereignty unless they were weakened by dread and felt an awe of his majesty.
It is often God’s plan to work by an internal power upon the nature of His creatures as well as by influences from without.
To be compelled to rule by fear was a sign that man was now out of harmony with nature. This is one of the jarring notes of discord which sin has introduced.
Enmity is put between fallen man and all the brute creatures, as well as the serpent. But though they are so greatly superior in strength, their instinct is commonly to flee from the presence of man. If it were not so, how full of terror would man be in new settlements, where civilised society crowds upon the wilderness tribes.—(Jacobus.)
“Into your hand are they delivered.” Man does not wear an empty title of sovereignty. A real dominion is conveyed to him.
The Scripture everywhere maintains the lordship of man. He is the central figure, all things deriving their worth and excellence from the relations in which they stand to him. Hence the Bible is not a history of external nature, but of man.
This dominion, as granted to the first Adam and renewed to Noah, was in itself limited and conditional, such as is fit to grant to sinners. As granted to the second Adam, He that is the Lord from heaven, under that man’s feet God hath put all things (Hebrews 2:6-9; 1 Corinthians 15:27). This is given to Christ as Mediating Lord, and by Him is sanctified to His members; so the covenant renewed to Noah includes some special blessings in this dominion unto the Church, as it refers to the promised seed, the ground of all God’s gracious promises and revelations unto His people.—(Hughes.)
God will, as it were, make a covenant for him with the beasts of the field, and they shall be at peace with him, or at least shall be awed by his authority. All this is out of respect to the mediation of Christ, and for the accomplishing of the designs of mercy through Him.—(Fuller.)
Genesis 9:3. Physical life must be sustained by other lives of flesh and blood; mental, by the life of other minds; spiritual, by the infusion of the life of God.
God prepares a table for His family. Having granted the greater blessing, He will not withhold the lesser. He who gave life will give all that is necessary for its maintenance.
The daily supply of our common wants is now part of the established order of things. We are in danger of regarding it as a matter of course, and not calling for any special recognition. Yet we should realise the fact that these are gifts of God, and receive them as if they came fresh from His hand. The manna, though it came regularly every day, was yet given from heaven.
By the slaying of animals for food, men would grow familiar with the thought that life is preserved by death. They would be prepared for the doctrine of the atonement, where the death of the Divine victim procures the life of the world.
The grant of sustenance is no longer confined to the vegetable, but extended to the animal kinds, with two solemn restrictions. This explains how fully the animals are handed over to the will of man. They were slain for sacrifice from the earliest times. Whether they were used for food before that time we are not informed. But now every creeper that is alive is granted for food. Every creeper is every thing that moves with the body prone to the earth, and therefore in a creeping posture. This seems to describe the inferior animals in contradistinction to man, who walks erect. The phrase that is alive seems to exclude animals that have died a natural death from being used as food.—(Murphy.)
Genesis 9:4. In the largest rights granted to man God reserves something to Himself. He maintains some supreme rights, and grants liberty with wholesome restraints.
It is God’s design to invest the seat of life with peculiar sacredness; to encourage that mysterious awe with which all life should be regarded.
The basis of life is still the most perplexing inquiry of philosophy. Human science fails to bridge over the chasm between physical organisms and the facts of volition and consciousness. It would seem that God has thrown around the whole subject the sacredness of mystery.
As the people were to be trained to great leading ideas of sin and salvation by means of these ritual ordinances, so they were to be taught of a special sanctity attaching to blood in the system of Divine grace. “For without shedding of blood is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22). The natural horror of blood which obtains among men is evidence of such a Divine regulation.—(Jacobus.)
As life, must the life of the beast go back to God its Creator; or, as life in the victim offered in sacrifice, it must become a symbol that the soul of man belongs to God, though man may partake of the animal materiality, that is, the flesh.—(Lange.)
Blood is the life, and God seems to claim it as sacred to Himself. Hence, in all the sacrifices the blood was poured out before the Lord: and in the sacrifice of Christ, He shed His blood, or poured out His soul unto death.—(Fuller.)
Genesis 9:5. Justice is not a mere abstraction, but a reality in the Divine nature, making demands upon the transgressor which must be satisfied, either by the provisions of grace, or by the exaction of penalty. Justice is made terribly real by the personality of God, the “one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy.” (James 4:12.) “I will require.”
The awful punishment for murder proclaims the sacredness of human life.
The principle is here approved that the safety of society must be secured at whatever cost to the individual.
The life of man was to be required judicially at the hands of irrational animals, though they must be ignorant of the moral aspects of their actions. Hence man has the right to exterminate them should it be necessary to the safety and welfare of society.
The civil magistrate is an ordinance of God, not an expedient of man to meet the necessities of society. We have reason to believe that the first ideas of law, order, and civilisation were the result of Divine teaching. Men have never risen from the savage state by any internal power, but have always been helped from without. A boat cannot be propelled by the strength of a man exerted within it—since action is always equal to reaction—the oar must press upon a fulcrum outside of it. In like manner, man, if he will make any progress, must have some fulcrum outside of himself.
This ordinance of the civil magistrate had not existed before this time. Romans 13:4. From this preliminary legislation the synagogue has derived “the seven Noachic precepts,” which were held to be obligatory upon all proselytes. These forbid
(6) Eating of blood and strangled animals.
(7) Disobedience to magistrates. (Jacobus.)
The brotherhood of man ought to be a sufficient guard of morality; but the sense of it in humanity is too weak to be effectual without the aid of religion, teaching, as it does, the highest form of that fact.
By thus reminding those who intend an injury to others of the common brotherhood of the race, there is an appeal to what is noble in human nature, which is anterior to the threat of law. We have here the suggestion and prophecy of those purer and nobler principles of action to which God is gradually leading up mankind. Moral principles are before the forms of law and shall survive them.
“I will require it.” The trebling of the expression notes the intention of care which God hath over the life of man.—(Hughes.)
I, the Lord, will find the murderer out and exact the penalty of his crime. The very beast that causes the death of man shall be slain. The suicide and the homicide are alike accountable to God for the shedding of man’s blood.—(Murphy.)
Genesis 9:6. Here we have no pleasing dream of an ideal humanity. It is contemplated that the crime of murder would be committed.
The State must be founded upon justice, and in human society justice can only be maintained by punishment.
Punishment, though it may act as a deterrent, or as a means of improvement, must yet in itself be regarded as the upholding of justice against disobedience, the natural reaction of justice against its violation.
Those who are appointed to administer the law, and make effectual the sanctions of it, have a duty to do for society in the name of God.
Murder is the most extreme violation of the brotherly relation of mankind, and is to be punished accordingly. The penal power, attributable to God alone, is here committed to the hands of man.—(Delitzsche.)
This image of God, in which man was first formed, so belongs even to fallen man that such wilful destruction of human life is to be regarded as a crime against the Divine majesty, thus imaged in man.—(Jacobus.)
Capital punishment has been objected to on the ground that, as life is the gift of God, we have no right to take it away. But the real conflict here is between the sacredness of individual life and that of society. The question is not whether there shall be death, but whether society shall inflict it?
However expedient it may be to visit the crime of murder with the extreme penalty, yet the more excellent way, in which the spirit of the Christian religion leads, is to teach the sacredness of human life.
The image of God in man must be held as a constant fact, invariable in its essentials through all the changes of his moral history, and through all the mystery of his future. This fact has a bearing upon
(1) the question of human depravity. Man is not altogether evil. The image of God in him is only defaced, not destroyed. There is something in his nature to which religion can make an appeal, otherwise he would be incapable of it. There must be something in the soul answering to truth and goodness.
2. Upon the conversion of the soul. That great spiritual crisis in a man’s life destroys none of his natural powers, but only directs them into new channels, and exalts their energy. The image of God is brought out more clearly and perfectly.
3. Upon immortality. Man was made in the image of God, and, therefore, in the image of His immortality. God will not suffer a spark of Himself to see corruption. The Gospel finds, but does not make, men immortal.
4. Upon wrongs done to our fellow creatures. He who sins against a man sins against God, to whose image he does dishonour. In an especial manner he does so who sins against a child, where the image of God is fresh and new. Hence our Lord pronounces a heavy woe upon all who lay a stumbling-block in their way.
The first law promulgated in Scripture was that between Creator and creature.… And so it continued to be in the antediluvian world. No civil law is on record for the restriction of crime.… So long as the law was between Creator and creature, God Himself was not only the sole legislator, but the sole administrator of the law. The second law is that between creature and creature.… In the former case God is the administrator of the law, as He is the immediate and sovereign party in the legal compact. In the latter case, man is, by the express appointment of the Lord of all, constituted the executive agent.—(Murphy.)
Genesis 9:7. An apparent repetition of Genesis 9:1, but with the added idea that the earth affords the necessary conditions for the multiplication of the race. The life of the earth is to be transformed into the life of man. The earth is the fruitful mother of mankind, both prefiguring and maintaining their fruitfulness.
How great is man, touching, as he does, the dust at one extremity and God at the other! He joins earth and heaven, frailty and immortal strength, brief life, and the day of eternity!
The command to multiply is repeated, and contains permission, not of promiscuous intercourse, like the brutes, but of honourable marriage. The same law which forbade the eating of blood, under the Gospel, forbade fornication.—(Fuller.)
REV. WM. ADAMSON
Noachic Covenant! Genesis 9:1-17. We have here
(1) Principle of Government, as God’s institution for the good of His saints;
(2) Promulgation of Covenant, as God’s instruction to mankind of an everlasting covenant in Christ; and
(3) Proclamation of Rainbow, as God’s intimation of His faithfulness, in which no arrow shall ever find a place. There are men who can see no lofty aim in this chapter 9, and who only see the abstract moral principle of right and wrong, virtue and vice. Like the first visitors to the coral lagoons, they can only perceive a sheet of water; whereas deep down are the pearl-treasures—the gems of great price. Dost thou well
“To challenge the designs of the All-wise;
Or carp at projects which thou may’st but scan
With sight defective: typal contrivances
Of peerless skill and of unequalled art,
Framed by divinest wisdom to subserve
The subtle processes of grace?”
REV. WM. ADAMSON
Representation! Genesis 9:1.
(1). In the earliest fauna and flora of the earth, one class stood for many. The earliest families combined the character of several families afterwards separately introduced. This is true, for instance, of ferns, which belong to the oldest races of vegetation. Of them it has been well said that there is hardly a single feature or quality possessed by flowering plants, of which we do not find a hint or prefiguration in ferns. It is thus most interesting to notice in the earliest productions of our earth, the same laws and processes which we observe in the latest and most highly developed flowers and trees.
(2) At the successive periods of the unfolding of God’s great promise, we find one individual representing the history of the race, and foreshadowing in brief the essential character of large phases and long periods of human development. Hence it is that here Noah becomes the representative of the patriarchal families in covenant with God. He is the individual with whom God enters into covenant, in relation to the successive generations of the human race.
(3) And in this respect Noah is a retrospective type of Him who, in the eternal ages, consented to be the representative of redeemed humanity, and with whom the Father made an everlasting covenant; and a prospective type of that same Representative who, in the fulness of time received the Divine assurance that in Him should all nations of the earth be blessed, when, as the Prince of Peace, He
“Leads forth His armies with triumphal palms,
And hymning hallelujahs, while his foes
Are crushed before Him, and Himself assumes
The sceptre of His rightful universe.”
Bible Revision! Genesis 9:1. etc.
(1) The last four verses of Genesis 8:0 properly belong to Genesis 9:0. In any future revision, these 4 verses, along with the first 17 verses of Genesis 9:0, should be united in one chapter. The sweet-smelling savour is intimately connected with the Divine declaration of man’s future. As we link the blessings of humanity for the last 2000 years with the sweet-smelling sacrifice of Calvary, so should we join the future of man (as in Genesis 9:1-17) with the Noachic sacrifice so acceptable to God.
(2) And as the ark cast upon the stormy floods was divinely designed to be a type of that other and better ark, sheltering man from the wrath divine; so that sweet and odorous offering, with its succeeding stream of divine benediction, was a divinely-appointed symbol of the nobler victim on a holier mount,
“The fragrance of whose perfect sacrifice
Breathes infinite beatitude, and spans
The clouds of judgment with eternal light.”
Man’s Lordship! Genesis 9:2. In India, a man-eating tiger sprang upon a group of men resting in the shade. Grasping with his teeth one of the group, he sprang off into the jungle, while the rest of the natives scattered hither and thither. The following day, a maiden, returning from the fountain, met the same tiger. Fastening her eye firmly upon that of the tiger, she boldly advanced to the beast, which suddenly turned and fled into the thickets. God thus shows what sin has done in destroying man’s lordship over the creature. No doubt, had man under the Noachic covenant walked with God, the fear of man and the dread of man would have been upon every beast of the field, and upon every fowl of the air. It was the same lion, which seized the soldier by the camp-fire, which next day fled precipitately from the form of a little child, as it stood staring with childish wonderment at the strange creature that stepped across the path leading to the Missionary’s compound. In that retreating monarch of the wild from the shining eye of childhood, we have a relic, not of man’s Adamic, but of man’s Noachic dominion over the beasts of the forest, who slunk away
“With muttered growls, and sought their lonesome dens,
Gliding, like cowering ghosts with baffled mien,
Into the dark, deep forest.”—Collingwood.
Blood for Blood! Genesis 9:6. An English tourist came upon an Indian village, in centre of which a number of youths were playing. Provoked in play, one lost his temper, and, suddenly seizing a knife, struck his opponent in the neck. The wound, though not dangerous, bled profusely, and a cry was immediately raised. A young chief came forth from his hut—inquired the cause—and, having ascertained the culprit, started in pursuit of him. Soon overtaken, the guilty youth was dragged to where the wounded one lay. After carefully examining the depth, extent etc. of the wound, the young chief took a knife and made precisely the same incision in the offender’s neck. The one was a papyrographic fac-simile of the other. Both were then taken to their huts. This Indian chief was the “Goel;” i.e., the avenger of the injured;
“Poising the cause in justice’ equal scales,
Whose beam stands sure, whose rightful cause prevails.”—Shakespeare.
Genesis 9:9. My covenant] Usually means a compact made between two parties, delivered in solemn form, and requiring mutual engagements. As employed in Scripture, from the nature of the case, it must also be extended to mean God’s promise by which He binds Himself to His creatures without terms, absolutely (Jeremiah 33:20; Exodus 34:10). Gesenius derives the term from the verb “to cut,” as it is a Hebrew phrase “to cut a covenant,” and it was customary for the purpose of ratifying such to divide an animal into parts. Others derive it from the verb “to eat together,” thus explaining the phrase “covenant of salt.” By others it is referred to purifying (Malachi 3:2).—
Genesis 9:13. I do set] Heb. “I give—constitute—appoint.”—My bow] This implies that the bow previously existed, but was now appointed as the sign of the covenant. It was already a symbol of constancy in nature. The rainbow is used in Scripture as the symbol of grace returning after wrath (Ezekiel 1:27-28; Revelation 4:3; Revelation 10:1).—Token]. Some appointed object put before two parties for the purpose of causing them mutually to remember (Genesis 31:48; Genesis 31:52).
Genesis 9:14. When I bring a cloud] Heb. “In clouding a cloud,” denoting intensity. A probable reference to the violent showers of the eastern world, issuing from thickly congregated clouds; on which dark ground the rainbow would appear.—
Genesis 9:16. The everlasting covenant] Heb. “The covenant of eternity.”—
Genesis 9:17. Token of the covenant] The Hebrew word is not used of miraculous signs. Any permanent object would serve. A memorial was all that was required.—
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH—Genesis 9:8-17
GOD’S COVENANT WITH THE NEW HUMANITY
God makes a covenant with Noah as the head of the new race, and also with his sons, to show that it includes the whole human family. This is the first covenant made with mankind in distinct terms; that made with Adam being implied, rather than formally indicated, by the relationship in which he stood to God. Now, a terrible Divine judgment upon human sin had intervened, so that God’s dealings with man expressed themselves with suitable enlargements and circumstances. The moral necessities of man call for fresh revelations and provisions of Divine mercy. God meets man in an especial manner at every great moral crisis of human history. Of this covenant we may observe:—
I. It was a covenant originating with God Himself. The usual meaning of a covenant is that it is a compact entered into by two parties, with engagements on both sides, and ratified in solemn form. But here it signifies God’s gracious promises to men, whereby He engages to grant them certain blessings on His own terms. While He is gracious towards sinners, God retains His prerogatives, and magnifies His glory. This covenant was not made at man’s suggestion, nor accommodated to his terms. It was originated and framed by God alone.
1. Men have no right to dictate to God. He cannot deal with men on precisely the same terms on which men can deal with one another. The creature belongs to God, and must be content to receive whatever His goodness pleases to bestow. The case is still stronger when the creature has fallen, and can only stand in the position of a suppliant for mercy. When angels bow in silence, sinners must lie humbled in the dust.
2. God reserves the power to bestow goodness. Men are absolutely helpless in those things which concern their real life and supreme interest. They must perish in the consequences of their own sin, unless God interferes and stretches forth His hand to save. Man learns, sooner or later, that the great issues of his life are in the hands of God. This oppression of inability is intended to tame the wildness and presumption of man’s nature, and to cast him entirely upon God.
3. The character of God leads us to expect the advances of His goodness towards men. Power by itself is a terrible attribute; admirable, but alarming. But power, when engaged on the side of mercy and love, gives encouragement and hope. The forces of nature impress us with a crushing sense of power, and the only refuge we have is in that infinite heart of goodness which lies behind them. From what we know of God’s character, we may expect much from the gifts of His goodness. We may also, from His past dealings with the race, learn to trust His mercy. He had spared these eight souls, and this was a pledge that He would still be gracious, and that the resources of His mercy would not be overtasked by human sin.
4. When God enters into covenant with His creatures He binds Himself. God is infinite, yet for the sake of His creatures He condescends to bind Himself to certain courses of action. This He does, not as constrained by necessity or moved by caprice, but of His own free will and by the direction of His infinite reason. Creation itself was a limitation of God; it cannot all express His greatness or His glory, for God must be greater than all He has made or ordained. As the will of man can be limited by his determination, so God’s design to bless and save imposes in its measure a restriction upon Himself. Thus God suffers Himself to contract duties towards man. This bears upon
(1.) The creation of rights in His creatures. If God did not thus limit Himself, His creatures could have no rights, for they can enjoy no good but as He gives; and this is determined by His pleasure, and His pleasure binds Him when once expressed. God allows His creatures to have rights, which is in effect the passing over to them a portion of His own independence.
(2.) The possibility of man’s sin being borne with. God, in a moment, could silence all rebellion, but He gives promises which bind Him to delay punishment, or to devise means for restoration to His favour. Thus when the highest justice might take its course, He still bears with man’s sin; for He has determined that His dealings shall take the course of mercy.
3. The preservation of general laws for the benefit of men. The laws of nature preserve certain rights of man, ensure his safety, and minister to his enjoyment. The laws of the spiritual world concern him as he is a responsible creature and a candidate for immortality. If he will conform to the will of God these will further and secure his most lasting interests. Yet in ordaining these laws God binds Himself towards His creatures. How gracious is the purpose of God when He thus suffers Himself to be limited by the measures of man’s necessity!
II. It was a Covenant of Forbearance (Genesis 9:11; Genesis 9:15). This covenant was simply a promise that God would not destroy the world of His creatures any more by means of a flood. He would not, until the consummation of all things, visit sin again by such an universal calamity of punishment. Here we have the forbearance of God. Severe judgments had been inflicted upon mankind, and now God promises the new race that His patience will not be exhausted while man remains upon the earth.
1. This was an act of pure grace. It has been said that man in Eden was under the covenant of works. This is not true, for no creature could be placed strictly in such a condition. Man was always under the covenant of grace; for whatever he possessed, or whatever he was permitted to do or enjoy, was possible to him only through the favour of God. The sin of man calls for fresh provisions, but they all come from grace. The forbearance of God is one particular form which His grace assumes toward mankind.
2. Human history is a long comment upon the forbearance of God (Romans 3:26; Acts 14:15). In the history of mankind, how much would arise to provoke continually the Divine displeasure! Yet, God would withhold Himself from destroying mankind as He did by the flood. His judgments, however severe, would not reach this awful limit. The contemplation of the sin of the world is a pain and distress to a good man, often awakening a holy zeal which prays that God might arise and scatter His enemies, that He might avenge the wrongs which sinners have inflicted upon the meek of the earth. Yet man’s knowledge of the world’s evil is limited, and therefore his sense of it imperfect. How much indignation against sin must a holy God feel who sees the iniquity of all times and places, and knows all the dark things of the heart and life! If history reveals the sin of man, it also reveals the forbearance of God.
3. This forbearance of God was unconditional. It was not a command relating to conduct, but a statement of God’s gracious will towards mankind. This is evident from the subjects of it, some of whom are irresponsible and unconscious of any relations to God. Not only men capable of exercising reason, but infants also, and even the earth itself are included in this covenant. Still, though unconditional, God’s gracious dealings were intended to evoke piety and devotion.
3. This forbearance throws some light upon the permission of evil. We ask, why does God permit evil to exert its terrible power through all ages? Our only answer is that His mercy triumphs over judgment. God bound Himself by a promise to continue the present course of nature and of His dealings, notwithstanding the persistence and awful developments of human sin. This indicates a leaning in the Divine Nature towards tenderness and compassion. Evil is permitted that greater good might arise, and that God might magnify His mercy. God’s forbearance has a moral end in view—to lead men to repentance. It is His gracious purpose to allow sufficient time for the maintenance and issues of the conflict between good and evil, truth and error.
III. It was a covenant which, in the form and sign of it, was graciously adapted to man’s condition. Man was weak and helpless, his sense of spiritual things blunted and impaired by sin. He was not able to appreciate Divine truth in its pure and native form. God must speak to him by signs and symbols, and encourage him by promises of temporal blessing. In this way alone he can rise from sensible things to spiritual, and from earthly good to the enduring treasures of heaven. In the form and sign of this covenant, we discover the Divine condescension to a creature of narrow range, materialised ideas, and a gross way of thinking. The great God speaks in human language, as if limiting Himself by man’s weakness and ignorance. He allows men to conceive of Him in the forms and limitations of their own thought and being. We must thus think of God, in a greater or less degree, until “that which is perfect is come.” In the education of mankind the spiritual must come last. God accommodates Himself to man’s condition, and deals with him in ways having reserves of meaning, which they give up to him as he is able to receive.
1. The terms of the covenant refer to the averting of temporal punishment, but suggest the promise of higher things. The determination that the earth should be no more destroyed by a flood showed a tendency in the Divine mercy, from which greater things might be hoped. It seemed to encourage the expectation that God would be ready to save men from a more awful doom, and swallow up the worst penalties of sin in His own love. It may reconcile us to the permission of evil, that there are remedies in the grace of God. The human race was not now ripe for the full revelation of God’s mercy. It was necessary, therefore, to give mankind such a sense of it as they could feel and understand. By a long and weary journey must they be led to this promised land.
2. The sign of the covenant was outward, but full of deep and precious meaning. Covenants were certified by signs or tokens, such as a heap or pillar, or a gift (Genesis 31:52; Genesis 21:30). The starry night was the sign of the promise to Abraham (Genesis 15:0). Here, the sign of the covenant was the rainbow; a sign beautiful in itself, calculated to attract attention, and most fitting to teach the fact of God’s constancy, and to encourage the largest hopes from His love. All this was an education for man, so that he might adore and hope for the Divine mercy.
1. Mankind were to be educated through the beautiful. From the works of nature, men could learn lessons of the faithfulness and constancy of God; but there are certain features of His character which can only be learned through beauty. He who is perfect and holy is full of loveliness, and whatever is beautiful helps us to rise to the thought of it. Something more is necessary than the bare knowledge of spiritual truth, the soul must be filled with admiration and delight. The sense of beauty helps a man to rise out of himself, lifts him from all that is mean and unworthy, and prepares him for the scenes of grander worlds. He learns to look upon sin as a deformity, and upon God as beauty and love itself. The loveliness around us is so much of heaven on earth, as if that other world did not merely touch, but even overlap this. The beauty of the rainbow helped men to thoughts of heaven.
2. Mankind were to be taught the symbolic meaning of nature. All nature is a mighty parable of spiritual truth. Man puts meaning into things around him, and as his mind enlarges and his heart improves they give forth their meaning more plentifully, and strengthen his expectation of better things. They impart instruction, consolation, and hope, according to the soul which receives. It is scarcely a figure of speech that all things arise and praise God, for they embody His ideas, represent His truth, and show forth His glory.
3. Mankind were to be taught that God is greater than nature. The creature, however beautiful, or capable of inspiring awe and grandeur, must not be deified. This was God’s bow, not Himself. God is separate from nature, and greater than it; a living personality above all things created. If we could pursue nature to its furthest verge, we should find that we could not thus enclose and limit God; He would still retire into the habitation of eternity!
(4.) Mankind were to be taught to recognise a presiding mind in all the phenomena of nature. “My bow.” God calls it His own, as designed and appointed by Him. It can, indeed, be accounted for by natural causes. Science can explain how these seven rich and radiant stripes of colour are painted on the waters of the sky. Yet these laws of nature are but another name for the regular working of an Infinite Mind. God still upholds and guides all things; the numbers, weights, and measures whereof are with Him. There is no resting place for our mind and heart in second causes; we must come at last to a spiritual and intellectual subsistence—to a living personality. Nature without this view becomes a ruthless machine.
(5.) Man was to be assured that the mercy of God is equal to his extremity. He will remember men for good in their greatest calamities and dangers. “I will look upon it that I may remember.” Such words are accommodated to our ignorance and weakness, for the Infinite Memory has no need for such expedients. Such a device is out of tender consideration for us. Yet we may suppose that there is a sense in which God may be said to remember some things as standing out from the rest. He remembers the acts and signs of faith, the deeds of love. Not even a cup of cold water given in the name of His beloved Son can escape recognition. He who provides for all worlds, and sustains the mighty cares and interests of them, can yet stoop to the lowly, and puts the tears of His persecuted saints into His own bottle. In this appointed sign of the rainbow, the eye of man meets the eye of God. Men look to God from the depths of their calamity, and He looks to them and remembers the token of His mercy. The human and the Divine may meet in a symbol, which is a light held to the struggling soul, a comfort and an assurance. Such is the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. Some might say, Could not Christ have trusted unceasing devotion to Himself, to the love and spirituality of his followers? Surely their knowledge of His character, and their zeal for Him, would never suffer them to forget Him? But He knew the human heart better than to trust this to a purely spiritual feeling, and therefore appointed an outward sign. Here Christ and His people look upon one common object, eye meets eye, and heart unites with heart. Such symbols train men in spiritual ideas, they fix the heart and entertain it with delight, they render devotion easy. Man in this first stage of his education for higher worlds needs them, and will still find sweet uses in them until he dwells in the “new heavens and the new earth.” Those aids from form and sight shall be no longer needed when the eye is entertained with the vision of God.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Genesis 9:8. God spake to Noah as the head of his family, and therefore the representative of the whole human race.
God still speaks to mankind, not as divided by separate interests, but as forming one family having the same superior and permanent interests. From this family He is ever gathering another, more exalted and select, united to Himself by the dearest ties of spiritual likeness and generation.
A nation can never be wise and great until the families of it hear and obey the voice of God. The purity of family life is the true defence and safety of the State.
1. The speaker Elohim, the mighty God who was able to do every word.
2. The hearers whom this concerned, Noah and his sons with him. Such as could understand, to them only he speaketh, though the matter which he spake concerneth such as could not understand, as infants and beasts.
3. The speech, which was intent and pressing, He said in saying, that is, He seriously and earnestly spake what followeth.—(Hughes.)
Genesis 9:9. God enters into covenant relations with Noah as the second head and father of the race.
This covenant was not made until Noah, as a representative of the new humanity, had by sacrifice confessed his sin and signified his hope of salvation. (Genesis 8:20-21.) It was a proof that his offering was accepted.
God prevents man, with the blessings of His goodness, anticipating his desire and need; yet that goodness is not declared and revealed until man has felt his deep necessity. This covenant does but express in due form what the love of God had long before intended.
God’s covenants show—
1. That He is willing to contract duties towards man. Man can therefore hope for and obtain that which he cannot claim as a right. Thus “Mercy rejoiceth against judgment.” (James 2:13.)
2. That man’s duty has relation to a personal Lawgiver. There is no independent morality. All human conduct must ultimately be viewed in the light of God’s requirements.
3. That man needs a special revelation of God’s love. The light of nature is not sufficient to satisfy the longings of the soul and encourage hope. We require a distinct utterance—a sign from heaven. The vague sublimities of created things around us are unsatisfying, we need the assurance that behind all there is a heart of infinite compassion.
4. That every new revelation of God’s character implies corresponding duties on the part of man. The progress of revelation has refined and exalted the principle of duty, until man herein is equal unto the angels, and learns to do “all for love, and nothing for reward.”
“With your seed after you.” God’s promises extend to the latest hour of human history; they encourage us to expect a bright future for the race. Let us not indulge in any melancholy or depressing views, but wait in patience and hope until these promises have yielded all their wealth.
My Covenant. The covenant which was before mentioned to Noah in the directions concerning the making of the ark, and which was really, though tacitly, formed with Adam in the garden.—(Murphy.)
We see here
(1) the mercy and goodness of God, in proceeding with us in a way of covenant. He might have exempted the world from this calamity, and yet not have told them He would do so. The remembrance of the flood might have been a sword hanging over their heads in terrorem. But He will set their minds at rest on that score. Thus He deals with us in His Son. Being willing that the heirs of promise should have strong consolation, He confirms His word by an oath.
(2) The importance of living under the light of revelation. Noah’s posterity by degrees sunk into idolatry, and became “strangers to the covenants of promise.” Such were our fathers for many ages, and such are great numbers to this day.
(3) The importance of being believers. Without this, it will be worse for us than if we had never been favoured with a revelation.
(4) The kind of life which it was God’s design to encourage: a life of faith. “The just shall live by faith.” If He had made no revelation of Himself, no covenants, and no promises, there would be no ground for faith; and we must have gone through life feeling after Him without being able to find Him: but having made known His mind, there is light in all our dwellings, and a sure ground for believing not only in our exemption from another flood, but in things of far greater importance.—(Fuller.)
Genesis 9:10. As the flood destroyed all the animals who entered not into the ark, so they were interested with man in the terms of this Divine promise. “The whole creation” is represented by Paul as groaning and travailing in pain together in sympathy with the curse upon man (Romans 8:22). God, by the prophet, represents this covenant as confirmed by all the solemnity of an oath. “I have sworn,” etc. (Isaiah 54:9.)—(Jacobus.)
God stands in certain relations to creatures who are entirely unconscious of them. What these relations are, we cannot fully know; but we may be assured that they exist. God will yet give a voice to the dumb agony of creation, and redeem the creature from that emptiness of all solid result in which all things, at present, seem to end.
When man fell, there was a corresponding reduction along the whole scale of nature; when he was restored to God’s favour, the promise was given that there would be as far-reaching an extension of blessing. A covenant with man cannot concern him alone, for he is bound up with all nature under him as well as with all that is above him.
God shows compassion for creaturely life upon the earth.
Man is viewed in revelation both as he is connected with God and nature.
Such as know not God’s covenant may have a part in it.—(Hughes).
Genesis 9:11. The covenant was reduced to a single provision,—that the judgment of such a flood should not again be visited upon mankind. Such was the simple form which the promise of God assumed in this infancy of the new humanity. Yet here was a Divine forbearance which was a prophecy of better things, as it afforded scope for the deeds of mercy.
The covenant of law, as given to the old man, is all “Thou shalt.” So God to Adam said, “Thou shalt not eat of it; in the day thou eatest thou shalt surely die:” and by Moses repeating the same covenant of law, each command reiterates the same, “Thou shalt.” Such a covenant is all “of works.” There is a command to be fulfilled by man, and, therefore, its validity depends upon man’s part being performed as well as God’s. Such a covenant cannot stand, for man ever fails in his part. Thus the covenant of law or works to man is only condemnation. But finding fault with this, the Lord saith, “I will make a new covenant,” and this new covenant or gospel throughout says, not “Thou shalt,” but “I will.” It is “the promise,” as says St. Paul to the Galatians. All that it requires is simple faith (Galatians 3:16-29). “This is the covenant I will make in those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws in their hearts; I will write them in their minds; I will be merciful to their transgressions; I will remember their sins no more; I will dwell in them; I will walk in them.” It is this “I will” which Noah now hears, and to which at this stage God adds “a token” set in heaven.—(Jukes: Types of Genesis.)
This expresses also the security of the moral world against perishing in a deluge of anarchy, or in the floods of popular commotion (Psalms 93:0).—(Lange.)
Genesis 9:12. Every covenant requires an outward sign or token, by which God suffers Himself to be reminded of His promise.
A token is needed to confirm our faith in that which was done in the past, and though it still abides with us in unworn energy of blessing, we need the aid of these things that we may recognise God.
God does not leave men to general notions of, and vague expectations from His goodness. On fitting occasions in the world’s history He certifies that goodness to them.
Such tokens are instances of God’s condescension to the weakness of man. This principle will account for much concerning the form in which revelation is given us. All such communications from God must be conditioned by the nature and capacity of him who receives.
God’s mind is to teach His Church by visible signs as well as by His Word.—(Hughes.)
Genesis 9:13. God made or constituted the rainbow to be the sign of His covenant, and therefore calls it “My bow.” The covenant token, as well as the thing itself, was God’s own.
This token was made to appear in the clouds, because their gathering together would strike terror in those who had witnessed the deluge; or who would afterwards learn, by report, of that awful judgment. In the very danger itself, God often causes the sign of hope to appear.
As it is the sun’s rays shining through the rain drops that reflect this glowing image on the black cloud, so is it also a fitting symbol of the Sun of Righteousness reflected, in His glorious attributes, upon the face of every dark and threatening dispensation towards His Church.—(Jacobus.)
Men find their last refuge and hope in looking up to God, who fails not to comfort them with the token of mercy.
The appointment of the sign of the covenant, or of the rainbow as God’s bow of peace, whereby there is at the same time expressed—
1. The elevation of men above the deification of the creature (since the rainbow is not a divinity but a sign of God, an appointment which even idolatrous nations appear not to have wholly forgotten, when they denote it God’s bridge, or God’s messenger).
2. Their introduction to the symbolic comprehension and interpretation of natural phenomena, even to the symbolising of forms and colours.
3. That God’s compassion remembers men in their dangers.
4. The setting up of a sign of light and fire, which, along with its assurance that the earth will never be drowned again in water, indicates at the same time its future transformation through light and fire.—(Lange.)
To the spiritual mind, all natural phenomena are God’s revelation of Himself; each one of them answering to some other truth of His.
The rainbow is an index that the sky is not wholly overcast, since the sun is shining through the shower, and thereby demonstrating its partial extent. There could not, therefore, be a more beautiful or fitting token. It comes with its mild radiance only when the cloud condenses into a shower. It consists of heavenly light; variegated in hue and mellowed in lustre, filling the beholder with an involuntary pleasure. It forms a perfect arch, extends as far as the shower extends, connects heaven and earth, and spans the horizon. In these respects it is a beautiful emblem of mercy rejoicing against judgment, a light from heaven irradiating and beatifying the soul, of grace always sufficient for the need, of the reunion of earth and heaven, and of the universality of the offer of salvation.—(Murphy.)
An arch, cheering and bright, embraces the firmament. On a scroll of variegated light there is inscribed—“These storms drop fertility: they break to bless and not to injure.”—(Archdeacon Law: “Christ is All”)
Genesis 9:14. The regularity with which the rainbow appears in the sunshine after rain does not set aside the fact that it is brought to pass by the ever-living energy of the Creator. “When I bring,” etc.
A purely spiritual mind sees in all things in nature the working of a personal will, and does not require that distinct evidence of it which a miracle supplies.
Science deals with nature as a collection of facts, to be classified and explained as modes of the operation of general laws; but the Bible only considers the religious idea of nature.
The sun looks forth from the opposite skies. Its rays enter the descending drops, and returning to the eye in broken pencils, paint the bow on the illumined back-ground. Heaven dries up the tears of earth, and the high roof above seems to take up the Gospel hymn, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill towards men.”—(Archdeacon Law: “Christ is All.”)
Genesis 9:15. This token is for God as well as for man. God deigns here to appoint it as a remembrance to Himself. “It is a bow (says Dr. Gill), yet without arrows, and pointed upward to heaven, and not downward to the earth.”—(Jacobus).
The following prayer, found in the Talmud, is directed to be recited upon every appearance of the rainbow: “Blessed be thou Jehovah our God, King of eternity, ever mindful of thy covenant, faithful in thy covenant, firm in thy word.”
When the Scripture says “God remembers,” it means that we feel and are conscious that He remembers it, namely, when He outwardly presents Himself in such a manner, that we, thereby, take notice that He thinks thereon. Therefore it all comes to this: as I present myself to God, so does He present Himself to me.—(Luther.)
We can only conceive of God through our human thoughts and feelings. In this way we obtain those consolatory views of His nature which we miss when we are ambitious of an over-refinement.
When God appoints the sign of the covenant, He obliges Himself, or contracts the duty, to meet man there.
How sacred are those symbols that may be said to arrest the glance of the Infinite eye—to concentrate the attention of God! They give that reality to spiritual blessings which, in the mere processes of thought, would become a cold abstraction.
The Scripture is most unhesitating and frank in ascribing to God all the attributes and exercises of personal freedom. While man looks on the bow to recall the promise of God, God Himself looks upon it to remember and perform this promise. Here freedom and immutability of purpose meet.—(Murphy.)
Genesis 9:16-17. It was to be an “everlasting covenant,”—to last until it should be needed no more.
If God looks upon the rainbow to remember, so should we, with a fresh sense of wonder and recognition of His presence. Faith in Him can alone prevent our losing this sense of wonder.
Memorial was the chief purpose intended by this sign. In that early age of the world all was wonderful, for everything seemed fresh from God. Signs were not then intended to generate faith, but to be a memorial of it.
As the rainbow lights up the dark ground that just before was discharging itself in flashes of lightning, it gives us an idea of the victory of God’s love over the black and fiery wrath; originating as it does from the effects of the sun upon the sable vault, it represents to the senses the readiness of the heavenly light to penetrate the earthly obscurity; spanned between heaven and earth, it announces peace between God and man; arching the horizon, it proclaims the all-embracing universality of the covenant of grace. (Delitzsche.)
We could not know that God had appointed such a sign but for the inspired record. Revelation is needed even to teach us the significance of nature.
How can we render thanks enough for this superadded pearl in our diadem of encouragements? We are thus led to look for our bow on the cloud of every threatening storm. In the world of nature it is not always visible; but in the world of grace it ever shines. When the darkest clouds thicken around us, the Sun of Righteousness is neither set nor has eclipse, and its ready smile converts the drops into an arch of peace.…
In our journey through the wilderness, the horizon is often obscured by storms like these: terrors of conscience,—absence of peace,—harassing perplexities,—crushing burdens of difficulties. But from behind these dusky curtains, the bow strides forth in its strength.—(Archdeacon Law: “Christ is All.”)
REV. WM. ADAMSON
Noachic Covenant! Genesis 9:1-17. We have here
(1) Principle of Government, as God’s institution for the good of His saints;
(2) Promulgation of Covenant, as God’s instruction to mankind of an everlasting covenant in Christ; and
(3) Proclamation of Rainbow, as God’s intimation of His faithfulness, in which no arrow shall ever find a place. There are men who can see no lofty aim in this chapter 9, and who only see the abstract moral principle of right and wrong, virtue and vice. Like the first visitors to the coral lagoons, they can only perceive a sheet of water; whereas deep down are the pearl-treasures—the gems of great price. Dost thou well
“To challenge the designs of the All-wise;
Or carp at projects which thou may’st but scan
With sight defective: typal contrivances
Of peerless skill and of unequalled art,
Framed by divinest wisdom to subserve
The subtle processes of grace?”
REV. WM. ADAMSON
Nature-Symbolism! Genesis 9:12-17.
(1) All Nature, says Leale, is a mighty parable of spiritual truth. To the attentive ear, all the earth is eloquent; to the reflecting mind, all Nature is symbolical. Each object has a voice which reaches the inner ear, and speaks lessons of wise and solemn import. The stream murmurs unceasingly its secrets; the sibylline breeze in mountain glens and lonely forests sighs forth its oracles. We are told that the invisible things of God, from the beginning of the world, are clearly seen; being understood by the things that are made. From the very first, a spiritual significance was embodied in the physical forms and processes of the universe. Nature, as a whole, was meant to be for man the vesture of the spiritual world.
(2) But, in addition to this, God takes one of these symbols in Nature, and, as it were, consecrates it to new use—appropriates to it new and refreshing spiritual significance. He seizes upon an existing phenomenon, which, as Wordsworth says, had hitherto been but a beautiful object-lesson shining in the heavens, when the sun’s rays descended on falling rain, and consecrates it as the sign of His love to man.
“And thus, fair bow, no fabling dreams,
But words of the Most High
Have told why first thy robe of beams
Was woven in the sky;
When o’er the green, undeluged earth
Heaven’s covenant thou didst shine.”
Rainbow! Genesis 9:13. If a boy, says Newton, has a ball, and wishes to know what it is made of, he takes it to pieces; and in the same way we can take the sunlight to pieces, and find out of what it is made. Go into a room which has a window towards the west where the sun is shining. Close the shutters, after boring a hole in the shutter large enough to insert your finger. A beam of sunlight comes through that hole. Hold a prism, i.e., a three cornered piece of glass so that the shaft of light falls upon it. Before that beam enters the prism, it is white; but in going through the glass it is broken up and taken to pieces. It comes out in seven different colours. Now, whenever the rainbow appears, this is the way in which it is made. God has been breaking up the light. He uses not the prism of glass, but the drops of falling rain.
“When thou dost shine, darkness looks white and fair;
Forms turn to music, clouds to smiles and air;
Rain gently spreads his honey-drops, and pours
Balm on the cleft earth, milk on grass and flowers.”
Covenant Rainbow! Genesis 9:13.
(1) The beautiful rainbow, in which all the seven prismatic colours are blended together in sweet and graceful proportion, is declared to be an emblem of His covenant with His people. And as the seven-fold colours thus sweetly blend in harmony of grace, so in His covenant every attribute of God is exhibited in its infinite perfection, and in it they all beautifully and gloriously harmonise together.
(2) This comes out in Ezekiel 1:27, where we are told by Ezekiel that, in the vision vouchsafed to him of Christ upon the mercy seat in the heavens, as the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. If this symbolises anything, surely it symbolises the excellent grace and surpassing harmony of the Divine attributes in the covenant of Christ.
“When I behold thee, though my light be dim,
Distant, O bow, I can in thine see Him
Who looks upon thee from His glorious throne,
And minds the covenant betwixt All and One.”
Divine Action! Genesis 9:13.
(1) Not only is the cloud necessary, but also the sunlight. The dark cloud is of itself utterly powerless to give birth to the smiling arch of light. The bright rays of the sun are requisite to paint its glowing colours on the dark background. The sun must kiss the dark face of the storm-cloud with his lips, before it can become wreathed with beauty. The cloud alone can make no rainbow glitter on its breast; but the moment the light darts through the gloom and kisses with its golden rays the threatening cloud—that very moment, a belt of light encircles the cloud.
(2) In the Christian life-sky, the clouds of sorrow and affliction are an essential element of Divine discipline, for there drop from the clouds the raindrops of invigorating refreshment. But those clouds have on their breast no bright light of truth and faithfulness, except the Sun of Righteousness dart His enlightening beams. It is when Jesus smiles upon our cloud-woes, that the eye of the soul beholds the eternal iris of grace of truth, and as it beholds adores Him who says, “I, the Sun of Righteousness, do set My bow in the cloud.”
“Oft, O Lord! Thy azure heaven
Did grey rainy vapours shroud,
Till at last in colours seven,
Shone Thy bow upon the cloud;
Then, for saving mercies there,
I, on my steep mount of care,
Altar built for thankful prayer.”—Gerok.
Rainbow-Myths! Genesis 9:14. It was a beautiful superstition which maintained that, wherever the glittering feet of the rainbow rested, there a hidden treasure would be discovered. And some foolishly set out in quest of this hidden treasure, wandering far and wide, only to find fairy gold—a glow of beauty which vanished ever and anon the nearer they approached it. But there was mystic truth in the fable. Where the magic hues lay, there the dull soil brightened into fruitfulness. Golden harvests—the only true riches of earth—sprang up, and rewarded those who sought wealth, not in idle, superstitious wanderings, but by steady, trustful industry, in those spots where the feet of the bow of promise touched the earth. Macmillan says that our cornfields grow and ripen seemingly under that covenantarch, whose keystone is in the heavens, and whose foundations are upon the earth. And surely it is beneath the feet of the “Faithful and True Witness” (Revelation 1:0) that the golden harvest of redeemed ones, to be reaped by His angels, spring up, under the genial showers of the Holy Spirit of Grace. So that when God set his opal rainbow in the clouds He made it a teacher of the great harvest of grace, as well as
“A token when His judgments are abroad
Of His perpetual covenant of peace.”
Rainbow! Genesis 9:15. God was pleased to adopt the known and most beautiful, as well as welcome token of a retiring storm, as the sign of His covenant of mercy. And thus, in the visions of heaven, the throne of God is over-arched by a rainbow, and a rainbow is displayed as a diadem above the head of Christ (Revelation 10:1). Whenever we see a rainbow, let us
(1) Call to mind that it is God’s bow seen in the cloud;
(2) Conclude that, in His darkest dispensations, there is ever a gracious purpose towards us; and
(3) Consider that all warnings of wrath to come are accompanied with offers of pardon to the penitent. It is a suggestive fact that the rainbow is never seen except in a cloud from which the rain is at the same time falling. So that if the shower reminds us of the flood, the bow in that same shower-cloud shall remind us of the Covenant:—
“A dewy cloud, and in the cloud a bow,
Conspicuous, with three tinted colours gay,
Betokening peace with God, and covenant new.”—Milton.
Apocalyptic Rainbow! Genesis 9:16.
(1) In St. John’s local description of the celestial presence chamber, he tells us of his initial glance into the heaven of heavens. The august throne of Deity arrests his gaze. It has been rightly remarked that, combining the description in Revelation 4:0 with others which follow, this grandest of visions consists in the manifestation of God as the God of Redemption. We have Jehovah seated on the throne—the Lamb in the midst of the throne—and the seven lamps or torches before the throne. The throne itself has the three primary colours; while encircling all was the rainbow.
(2) As in Ezekiel’s vision by the banks of Chebar, the appearance of the glory of the Lord was encircled by the appearance of the bow in the cloud, to assure him to fear nothing of Babylon or Assyria, inasmuch as He who sat enthroned above the complications and seeming confusions of earth was faithful and true; so to the Seer of Patmos was vouchsafed a similar assurance, “I do set my bow in the cloud.” He saw God, in His covenant aspect, as the God of salvation—His throne encompassed with the emerald iris—
“Beautiful bow! A brighter one
Is shining round th’ eternal throne!
And when life’s little storm is o’er
May I gaze on this bow for evermore.”—Watson.
Everlasting Covenant! Genesis 9:16. The rainbow of the covenant of grace lasts for ever; it never melts. The one on which Noah gazed soon lost its brilliancy. Fainter and fainter still it grew, until, like a coloured haze, it just quivered in the air, and then faded from the vision. Ten thousand rainbows since have arched our earth, and then melted in the clouds; but the rainbow of God’s mercy in Christ abides for ever. It shines with undiminished splendour from all eternity, and its brilliancy will dazzle the eyes of redeemed humanity through the countless cycles of the same eternity. As has been said by Guthrie, it gleams in heaven to-night, yea, it beams sweetly on earth with harmonious hues, mellowed and blended into each other as fresh as ever. And when the sun has run his course and given place unto eternity, that bow of grace will still remain for ever, and be the theme of the ceaseless songs of spirits glorified in heaven, as, wrapt in the radiance of that sinless, sunless land, they realise that the darkness of earth was but the shadow of God’s wing sheltering them from earth’s too scorching sun.
“As fresh as yon horizon dark,
As young thy beauties seem,
As when the eagle from the ark
First sported in thy beam.”
Genesis 9:18. Shem, and Ham, and Japheth] See Critical Notes, ch. 5. Japheth was the eldest; but Shem is named first, as being the family whence the Messiah was to spring.—Ham] So named, probably, from his children occupying the torrid regions. The name is applied to Egypt; and in the Coptic signifies blackness, as well as heat.—Japheth] Signifies spreading. He was the father of the largest portion of the human family, Celtic, Persian, Grecian, German—occupying the northern part of Asia, and all Europe.—Ham is the father of Canaan] Mentioned to draw attention to the fact that Ham was cursed in his family, not specially in himself. The sacred historian appends such notices, as reading the prophetic word by the light of subsequent history. It was also necessary to show how the curse of God rested upon the Canaanites.—
Genesis 9:19. Overspread] Heb. “divided,” or “dispersed.” They were the progenitors of those who divided the whole earth for a habitation.—
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Genesis 9:18-19
THE FACTORS OF HUMAN CULTURE
Mankind have a common calling as human beings, to which we give the name of culture. This comprehends all influences from without that form the human character and create history. The world of mankind is a complex product which several elements have helped to form. The names of these progenitors of the new race are significant of great principles of thought and action, which have guided the progress and shaped the destinies of mankind. We have here those effective powers which have been at work throughout the whole course of history.
I. Religion. This is represented by Shem, which signifies “the name,” i.e. the name of God with all its fulness of meaning for man. The knowledge of that name was to be preserved through Shem, for without it the race must fail to reach its highest perfection. Shem is mentioned first because religion is the chief glory of man, the only source of his true greatness, and the only worthy end of his life. Without religion, man must be ignorant of his destiny and the ultimate aim of history. The knowledge and practice of it can alone redeem men from the vanity of their condition. Consider religion:—
1. As a system of thought. It has certain truths addressed to the intellect, heart, and conscience. Religion comprises—
(1.) The knowledge of God. What God is in Himself is beyond our comprehension; His nature eludes our furthest search, and retires into that eternity which He alone inhabits. But it is possible for us to know God in those relations in which He stands to ourselves. The revelation of His name has therefore an important meaning for mankind. All our duties, hopes, and destinies are bound up with it. Man must know God in this regard before the lost features of the Divine image in him can be restored. There is a knowledge of God which is but a barren exercise of the mind, which regards the subject as merely curious and in no way connected with man’s life. It is necessary that men should feel after God, and be conscious of Him as the Ever Near. God must be a felt reality, or there can be no true knowledge. To know God is to know the chief end of life, that ethical side of knowledge which the Scripture calls wisdom.
(2.) Religion comprises the knowledge of man. From it alone we can learn what man is in his nature and origin, what are his relations to God, his duties in the world, why he is here, and what is his prospect beyond life. Science may investigate the nature of man, and even prescribe his duties. It may minister to his prosperity in the world. But science only lights up the valleys of our nature; the summits of it can only be illumined by a light from heaven. The contemplation of human nature apart from religion is gloomy and uncomfortable. The true knowledge of ourselves is an essential part of religion. We must know ourselves as capable of God, and of all those great things for which He can fashion and prepare us. The religious idea of man is necessary to the true study of himself.
(3.) The knowledge of things. Man has powers to observe the facts and appearances of nature, to reason upon them, and to reduce the results of his investigation to the systems of science. But the grandeur of this universe can never be truly felt and seen until we look at it through God. The things that are made are His thoughts; they show forth His glory. True piety in the heart transforms creation into a mighty temple filled with the praises of its Maker. The study of things yields but a melancholy satisfaction if we do not see above them the Divine eye and heart. Religion raises all science to a higher truth.
2. As a rule of life. The truths of religion are not intended merely to give us right thoughts of God and our condition here, but also to teach us how to live. The fact that God stands in certain relations to ourselves implies that there are certain duties arising out of those relations. To the revelation of the Divine name, as preserved by the family of Shem, mankind owes the noblest motive of conduct, the highest ideal of virtue and of life. If it was given to the Greeks to develop the powers of the intellect, it was the prerogative of Judaism to develop the conscience. How superior is the moral code delivered to the chosen race to that of the nations that lived about them! The standard of morality is raised in all those nations where the light of revelation shines. In the culture of the human race in virtue, religion is the chief factor.
3. As a remedy for sin. It was given to the family of Shem to nourish the expectation of the Messiah, to prepare mankind for His coming, and to witness His manifestation. The weight of sin pressed upon the human conscience, and men sought in many ways to avert the displeasure of heaven and secure acceptance. Hence the various religions of the world. Mankind yearned for some Deliverer from sin, who could restore light and peace to their souls. The coming of Christ imparted a sublime impulse to the education of the world. In Him humanity had reached its flower and perfection. The noblest ideal of life was given. Devotion was rendered easier for the mind and heart. The whole conception of the dignity of human nature was raised when God became man. The true way of peace was made known to the troubled conscience, and men could come to their Father in the joy of forgiveness. The passion for Christ, generated by the sense of His love, has produced the noblest heroism which the world has ever seen. It has developed the highest type of man. If the “Desire of all nations” had not come, how different would have been the issues of history; how aimless and unsatisfactory all human effort! We cannot overrate the influence of religion on the intellectual progress of mankind. It will be found that all the greatest and most exalted ideas in the mind of the poorest and most unlearned man in Christendom are derived from religion. Christianity has made the greatest ideas common to all.
II. The spirit of work and enterprise. This is another factor which enters into the culture of the human race. It is represented by Japheth, which signifies enlargement. There was in him an energy by which he could overcome obstacles and expand his empire over the world. This spirit of work and enterprise has given birth to civilisation. The union of external activity with mental power is the source of man’s greatness and superiority in the world.
1. It is necessary to material progress. In the division of human labour the thinkers stand first of all. Mind must survey the work and plan the means by which it is to be accomplished. But for the practical work of life, there must be energy to carry out the thoughts of the mind, and render them effective in those labours which minister to prosperity and happiness. Man cannot obtain the victory over Nature by contemplation alone. Philosophy must come down from her high seat and mix with men before any great practical results can be secured. Nature places obstacles in the way of man to rouse his thought and develop his powers of invention and contrivance. He has to contend with the earth and the sea, and even against some adverse forces in society itself. It is necessary that this contest should be directed by the few who are thinkers, yet it can only come to a successful issue by the labours of the many who are workers.
2. It is necessary to mental progress. The knowledge and contemplation of truth only partially satisfies the necessities of the mind. Truth becomes an energy when it is embodied and doing work. By the application of abstract truths to the labours of life man has accomplished the greatest results. The mind becomes expanded when it is able to pass from the knowledge of its own facts to those of the world around. By far the larger proportion of human knowledge has been acquired by the actual struggle with the difficulties of our present existence. The battle of life has drawn out the powers of the mind.
3. It is necessary to religious progress. The knowledge of spiritual truth must be expressed in duty, or man can have no religion. Doctrines are only valuable as they teach us how to live. Activity without contemplation has many evils, but united with it is the perfection of spiritual life. True thoughts of God and ourselves must be manifested in that energy by which we contend with evil, and perform our duty.
III. The power of evil. This is represented by Ham, who is the picture of moral inability—of one who knows his duty but is unable to perform it. Evil is the disquieting element in human culture; a disadvantage, like friction in a machine. Moral weakness complicates man’s struggle, protracts it through the ages, and delays victory. The tremendous power of evil must be acknowledged, but it is a terrible factor in the estimate of all human thoughts, struggles, and labours. In the culture of humanity, Ham lays waste the labours of Shem and Japheth. The persistence of evil demands new vigour from those who think and from those who work. One sinner can destroy much good that earnest minds and hearts have slowly laboured to build up. A large portion of the energy of mankind is spent in contention with evil, in neutralising the labours of one another, and but a poor remainder issues in useful work. This power of evil accounts for—
1. The slow education of the race.
2. The monstrous forms of vice. These are developed even in the midst of the best influences and restraints.
3. The limited diffusion of religion.
4. The imperfection of the best. Still our great hope for the race is that evil is not the strongest power in it. Man is capable of goodness, of receiving the grace of God in sufficient measures to ensure his victory. Christ did not despair of humanity, for He knew it could be united to God and prevail. Religion is the strongest force in society; and though in the course of history Shem is the last to be developed, yet he is first in the kingdom of God. Japheth’s activity may secure present admiration, yet mankind must confess at last that to the preserver of the Divine name and salvation it owes its true wealth, prosperity, and lasting honour.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Genesis 9:18-19. In the development now to appear, we naturally turn to the sons of Noah, to see whether the promised salvation is soon to come. Here for the fourth time the sons of Noah are mentioned (ch. Genesis 5:32; Genesis 6:10; Genesis 7:13), to show that these alone came out of the ark as the branches into which the human family was now to be divided. In the new development now to be traced out, the character of the sons of Noah is to be given to show that the hope of the race in the Messiah was to be not in the line of Ham, nor of Japheth, but of Shem—leading also to an enlargement of Japheth. This is in accordance with what is seen in the conduct of the brothers.—(Jacobus.)
In the individual character of the sons of Noah, we have the ground-plan of all history.
Shem and Japheth are very different, but are, in their piety, the root of every ideal and humane tendency. The people and kingdom of China are a striking example of the immense power that lies in the blessings of filial piety; but at the same time a proof that filial piety, without being grounded in something deeper, cannot preserve even the greatest of peoples from falling into decay, like an old house, before their history ends.—(Lange.)
In Shem and Japheth we have the representatives of action and contemplation. These types of character appear in the Christian Church in such as Peter and John, Martha and Mary. Nor is the dark type of evil wanting: there was a Ham in the family of Noah, and there was a Judas among the Apostles.
It was plainly the design and intention of God that mankind should not retain uniformity of manners and sentiments; but that by breaking them into separate communities, and by dispersing them over different countries and climates, they should be made to differ from each other by an indefinite diversity of customs and opinions. (Grinfield.)
These two verses form a connecting link between the preceding and the following passage. After the recital of the covenant comes naturally the statement, that by the three sons of Noah, duly enumerated, was the whole land overspread. This forms a fit conclusion to the previous paragraph. But the penman of these sentences had evidently the following paragraph in view. For he mentions that Ham is the father of Kenaan; which is plainly the preface to the following narrative. (Murphy.)
REV. WM. ADAMSON
Climate-Influences! Genesis 9:18-19.
(1) It is a remarkable fact that insects partake of the colours of the trees upon which they dwell. Some look so exactly like slender dead twigs covered with bark, that their insect nature can only be discovered by mere accident. Some resemble living things, and are green. Others resemble such as are decayed, and are brown. The wings of many put on the resemblance of dry and crumpled leaves; whilst those of others are a vivid green, in exact accordance with the plants they respectively inhabit.
(2) Although, in the torrid zone, we hardly ever meet with a single aboriginal species of plant or animal common to both hemispheres, yet the analogy of climate everywhere produces analogous organic forms. Thus, on surveying the feathered tribes of America we are not only struck by their singularity of shape or mode of life, but by the fact that they bear striking resemblance to the feathered tribes in Asia, Africa, and Australia.
(3) As with insects, so with man. He is not less affected by the place of his habitation on the earth. His face in colour answers more or less to the hue of the tree-trunks, etc.; therefore to understand any people thoroughly we must know something of the country in which they live. And as with the birds of all tropical lands—they bear a resemblance more or less to each other in shape and characteristics—so with the human race. The dwellers in temperate climes, however widely sundered by seas and mountain ranges, have more or less of analogy one to the other; and these adaptations and analogies of man to climate have one voice. They tell us of the Divine design and declaration in Genesis 9:18-19. They give us food for fruitful meditation in their folio volume,
“which we may read, and read,
And read again, and still find something new,
Something to please, and something to instruct.”
Genesis 9:20. And Noah began to be a husbandman] Heb. The man of the ground. Like the Gr. γεωργος, and the Lat. Agricola. As the Heb. has the article, the meaning is conveyed that such had been his occupation, and it is now resumed after the interruption of the flood.—Planted a vineyard] The first mention of the culture of the grape. This was well known to have been the chief occupation of the Western Asiatics, chiefly Syria and Palestine.—
Genesis 9:21. He was uncovered] More accurately, “he uncovered himself.” Intoxication made him careless regarding the ordinary provisions for preserving modesty.—22 Told his brethren without] Outside the tent.—
Genesis 9:24. And knew] The particular word used implies that he had this knowledge of himself, and not from the information of others. He became sensible of his condition.—His younger son] Heb “His son, the little.” Some consider that Shem was the youngest, as Ham is second in the list in five other places But here, the order of the names is no certain guide; because it was customary to arrange names according to their rhythm, or sound. Others say that the order of the names is determined by their importance and moral nobility as factors in fulfilling the purpose of God. The most likely meaning is, that Ham was the “little one” distinctively, i.e., the youngest of all.—Had done unto him] Heb. “A thing which” The expression implies something more than carelessness or omission, and suggests the idea of some positive act of shame or abuse.—
Genesis 9:25. Cursed be Canaan] “Ham is punished in his sons, because he sinned as a son; and Canaan, because Canaan followed most closely in his father’s footsteps.” Noah fixes his prophetic eye upon this people as the most powerful and persistent enemies of Israel.—Servant of servants] A Hebraism to denote extreme degradation—a state of slavery. “Hewers of wood, and drawers of water” (Joshua 9:23), refers to their complete subjugation in the days of Joshua and Solomon.—
Genesis 9:26. Blessed be the Lord God of Shem] Heb. “Blessed be Jehovah, the God of Shem.” “If Jehovah is the God of Shem, then is Shem the recipient and the heir of all the blessings of salvation which God, as Jehovah, procures for humanity.”—Keil. Shem has the redeeming name of God—Canaan shall be his servant] Heb. “Servant to them.” Referring to those who should descend from Shem. Fulfilled when Israel conquered Canaan, extirpated the greater part of the inhabitants, and reduced the remnant to entire subjection. The great obstacle to the family of Shem in the time of Abraham was the Canaanite (Genesis 12:6).—
Genesis 9:27. God shall enlarge Japheth] Lange renders it, “God give enlargment to the one who spreads abroad.” The word signifies to make room for, or give space for outspreading. Keil understands it metaphorically, as denoting happiness or prosperity. Bringing into a “large place” is an image frequently employed in the Psalms and other places, to express a state of joy (Psalms 118:5; 2 Samuel 22:20). But the more literal interpretation is probably the true one. Japheth was to spread out through the earth, to have the colonising spirit. And he shall dwell in the tents of Shem]—The chief Jewish authorities, with others, make Elohim the subject of the verb, and with sufficient reason, as there is no necessity for a new grammatical subject. It is more natural to interpret the words as describing two acts of God. He (God) will enlarge Japheth, but He will dwell in the tents of Shem. This view gives a more spiritual significance to the prophecy. Shem was the habitation of God. A merely political interpretation fails to satisfy so high a conception.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Genesis 9:20-27
THE LESSONS OF NOAH’S FALL
The second head of the human race passed through an experience of moral disaster, which in many features reminds us of the fate of the first. Adam fell through sensual indulgence, and so did Noah. Adam fell after God had given him the charter of dominion over the earth and all creatures. Noah fell when that charter had been renewed with added privileges. Both had received direct assurance of the Divine favour. The fruit which Noah tasted, and which caused him to transgress, was a mild reflex of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Adam sinned by partaking of that which was prohibited; Noah sinned by excessive indulgence in that which was allowed. There are lessons of Noah’s fall that are of special importance to us. His (unlike that of Adam) was not the fall of the innocent, but the fall of a sinner who had found acceptance with God. The lessons to be derived are most appropriate to our condition. They are—
I. The moral dangers of social progress. Noah had been a husbandman, but he had laid the duties of it aside in order to prepare the ark. Now he resumes his old employment, and advances one step in social progress by beginning to cultivate the vine. Civilisation multiplies and refines our pleasures, opening up to us new sources of enjoyment. But it has special dangers.
1. Increased temptations to sensual indulgence. In the earliest times the habits of those who tilled the ground were simple, and the temptations arising from sensual enjoyments few. When toil “strung the nerves and purified the blood” the appetites were healthy, and easily satisfied. But when arts multiplied, new delights arose to please and stimulate a jaded appetite, and man began to feel the dangerous charms of luxury. Whatever multiplies the pleasures of sense sets more snares in the way of the soul.
2. It exercises a tyranny over us. Civilisation extends and varies our means of enjoyment. We grow accustomed to the luxuries which it brings, until these become a necessity of our nature. We are made their slaves. Noah lighted upon a new means of indulgence which has often created a dangerous craving, and bound man fast by the chains of evil habit. All indulgences, beyond the satisfaction of the simple necessities of nature, have in them some of the elements of seduction. The comforts of civilisation please and charm us; but when in a moment of moral heroism we strive to be independent of them, we feel their chain. The pursuit of pleasure to excess is the great danger of all civilised societies. Few have the moral strength to subjugate the love of earthly delights to the higher purposes of life.
3. It tends to make us satisfied with the present. When sources of pleasure are plentiful, and our taste of them rendered more exquisite by the refinements of an advanced civilisation, we are tempted to become so satisfied with earth that we feel no need of heaven. In the charms of worldly pleasures we grow insensible to the higher joys of the Spirit: we lend but a dull ear to the voice of duty, we become too soft and cowardly to wage the war with temptation and to fight the good fight.
II. The spreading power of evil. Noah did not, at first, intend to prostrate himself beneath the power of wine; but, led on by the gratification it afforded, he relaxed his moral control over himself and fell under the temptation. One evil, having gained admittance, opened the way for many. It is true, especially of the sins of the flesh, that one form of degradation quickly succeeds another. Sensual sin, by weakening the power of self-control, leaves a man helpless against the further assaults of temptation. He who once allows evil to gain the mastery over him cannot tell to what degrading depths he may descend. Evil has a tremendous power to spread. This is illustrated in the history of individuals. One sin generates another, until he who has turned aside from the paths of virtue to taste some forbidden joy, is led further and further astray, and, at length, finds it difficult to return. It is the nature of sin to deceive, so that the victim of temptation has little suspicion of the base uses to which he may come. We have another illustration in the history of families. How often have sins of sensuality acted like a contagion among the members of a family! Besides, sins of this kind are often inherited, the mischief not terminating with the first transgressors, but spreading like a foul infection to others. And a further illustration in the history of nations. At first, they rise to fame and greatness by manly courage and virtue; but prosperity tempts them to sins of luxury and indulgence, and then the worm of decay is at their root. A nation like that of the ancient Romans would never have been conquered by a foreign power, if it had not been first weakened by internal corruptions.
III. The temptations which assail when the excitement of a great purpose is past. While Noah was preparing the ark he was above the assaults of temptation. The excitement of a great purpose filled his mind, and he remained pure in the midst of the profligacy of the age. Now, when the work is over, he falls an easy prey to temptation. Activity with a worthy end in view is the best preservative of virtue. It is the very greatness of man that renders a life having no sufficient aim and purpose intolerable. There should be one great purpose in life, which can be continually reached after but not attained. This alone can promote that activity which preserves our moral health; but if we trust to special victories, the ease and gratification of success which attends them may prove dangerous. Noah rested in one work accomplished, and forgetting that the great purpose of life still remains, the hero of faith falls a victim to the sins of sense. With the height of heaven above us, we should never rest, but keep our graces and virtues alive by exercise.
IV. The power of transgression to develop moral character in others. The tendencies to evil often remain inert in us, but become developed to their issues by outward circumstances. The inward man thus makes himself known to the world what he is.
1. The sins of others give occasion for fresh sins in ourselves. Noah fell under the temptation to self-indulgence, and while helpless with excess of wine his son dishonours him by a shameless deed. By means of the sin of the one the character of the other stands revealed. The true moral nature of a man may be gathered from the manner in which he regards or treats the sin of others. If he glories in their shame, or is driven by it into further sin, his nature must be truly vile.
2. The sins of others may give occasion for some high moral action. Good men may interfere in the transgressions of others by their counsel, by timely reproof, by seeking to remove the temptation and prevent further evils. So it is here. A kind of moral ingenuity was exercised, adapting itself to a sudden emergency. Thus the evil of one man may serve to discover the virtue of another.
V. The apparent dependence of prophecy upon the accidents of human conduct. The sin of Ham, and the generous conduct of his two brothers, furnished what appears to be the accidental occasion of a remarkable prophecy. The words of Noah take too wide a range and are too awful in their import to warrant the interpretation that they were the expression of a private feeling. They are a sketch of the future history of the world. The language is prophetic of the fate of nations. It may seem strange that so important an utterance should arise out of the accident of one man’s transgression. The same account, too, must be given of the greater part of the structure of Scripture. Some portions were written at the request of private persons, some to refute certain heresies which had sprung up in the Church. Many of the books in the New Testament owe their origin to the needs and disorders of the time. But this does not destroy the authority or Divine origin of the Scripture, for the following reasons:
1. The Bible has thus imparted to it a human character and interest. There is in the Word a human element as well as a Divine, a revelation of man as well as a revelation of God. The voice of eternal truth is heard speaking through human passions and interests. The fact that the Bible is true to the realities of human nature accounts, in no small degree, for the hold which it has on the mind and heart. The form in which it is given may, in our present condition, be the best for promoting our spiritual education.
2. The Bible is unfolded by an inner law. We must not regard the Bible as a collection of histories and sayings preserved by the Church, and bound together in one book. It is truly to us the Word of God, for His higher wisdom has guided and inspired each part, and informed the whole with an organic unity of life. As in the ordinary history of the world, God is ever weaving what seems to us accident into the system of His providence, so in the formation of His written Word He makes the passing events of time to be part of the system of spiritual truth.
3. The Bible shows the advance of history towards an end. The Old Testament history looks forward to the coming of the Messiah. No series of events are recorded as facts terminating in themselves, but rather as having reference to that supreme hour of the world’s history when God should be manifest in the flesh. All was ministering to that “fulness of time” when mankind would be prepared to welcome their deliverer from heaven. Human history centres in the Son of Man. Mankind are either looking out for Christ, or they are actors in a history developed from Him. By the Christian mind, history is still to be regarded as working towards that definite end described by St. Paul, when he declares the purpose of God to be the building up of all mankind into one (Ephesians 2:11-22). The Bible records events not as a chronicle of the past, but as showing how the Divine purpose has been, and is still being accomplished. In this view the human aspect of Scripture history appears as transfigured. The deeper intents of its teaching can only be read by a spiritual light.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Genesis 9:20. The second head of the race, as the first, must find his true prosperity and happiness in activity.
If Noah was before a mechanic, it is evident that he must now attend to the cultivation of the soil, that he may draw from it the means of subsistence. He planted a vineyard. God was the first planter (Genesis 2:8), and since that time we hear nothing of the cultivation of trees till Noah becomes a planter. The cultivation of the vine and the manufacture of wine might have been in practice before this time, as the mention of them is merely incidental to the present narrative. But it seems likely from what follows, that though grapes may have been in use, wine had not been extracted from them.—(Murphy.)
The vine in its significance:—
1. In its perilous import.
2. In its higher significance. God hath provided not merely for our necessity, but also for our refreshment and exhilaration. The more refined His gifts, so much the more ought they to draw us, and make us feel the obligation of a more refined life.—(Lange.)
Noah’s care in the cleansed earth is the vine. In the sphere of old Adam, and before the flood, that is before regeneration, Noah was no planter. There his work was the ark: there, day and night, instead of planting the vine, he was cutting down the high trees; as the Church’s work in the world still is to lay the axe to the root of man’s pride; to lay them low, that by the experience of death they may reach a better life. But in the Church, regenerate man has other work. There the vine is to be trained, and pruned, and cultivated: there its precious juice, which gladdens God and man, is to be drunk with thankfulness and joy to God’s glory.—(Jukes: Types of Genesis.)
God plants His own vineyard—the Church—though men may abuse the privileges it affords.
Genesis 9:21. We are not in a position to estimate how much blame is to be imputed to Noah. He may have been ignorant of the strength of the wine, or have been rendered susceptible to its influence by his age. At best, he was overtaken in a fault. The external degradation and the physical penalties would be the same whatever be the amount of guilt.
Times of festivity require a double guard. Neither age nor character are any security in the hour of temptation. Who would have thought that a man who had walked with God, perhaps more than five hundred years, and who had withstood the temptations of a world, should fall alone? This was like a ship which had gone round the world being overset in sailing into port. One heedless hour may stain the fairest life, and undo much of the good which we have been doing for a course of years.—(Fuller.)
1. An abuse of the goodness of God.
2. A sin against the body. It deforms and degrades the temple of the soul.
3. Weakens the moral principle, and thus exposes a man to countless evils.
The sins of the flesh reveal the moral nakedness of the soul.
Wine is a mocker, and may deceive the holiest men that are not watchful (Proverbs 20:1).
Intemperance leads to shame, de grades the most respectable to the level of the brute, and subjects the wise and good to derision and scorn, puts a man’s actions out of his own control, and sets a most pernicious example in the family and in society.—(Jacobus.)
Genesis 9:22. In such a world as this the mere sight of evil things may be accidental; the sin lies in the beholding of them so as to make them objects of unlawful interest.
To have complacency in the sin of others, and to make a mock at it is the mark of fools.
A slight circumstance may serve to reveal the moral nature. There is a fine instinct in superior virtue which can adapt itself to the difficulties and complications of the world’s evil.
It is the mark of a base mind to publish the shame of others, when it is in our power to hide it and cover it in oblivion by some loving deed.
Love covers; Ham, instead of veiling his father’s nakedness, only the more openly uncovers what he had left exposed. As a son he transgresses against his father; so, as a brother, would he become the seducer of his brother.—(Lange.)
The evil have an eye for evil, while the good and loving are engaged in acts of charity. Thus He, whose work it is to bring to light the hidden things of darkness, by the failure of one often reveals another’s heart. The Church’s fall, the misuse of gift in some, is made the occasion for stripping the selfdeceiver bare. Men sit in judgment on the evil in the Church, full of impatience and self, laying all iniquity bare, not waiting for the righteous Judge; little thinking that, whilst they are judging evil, God by the evil may be trying and judging them; or that the spirit which exposes others’ sin may be far more hateful to Him than some misuse of privileges.—(Jukes: “Types of Genesis”.)
Genesis 9:23. A virtuous mind is quick to discover means of freeing itself from moral embarrassment.
Reverence for all that is about us—for all that is human—is the root of social virtue.
Two things are brought out by this fall; sin in some, and grace in others, of the Church’s sons. Ham not only sees, but tells the shame abroad, with out so much as an attempt to place a rag on that nakedness, which, as the sin of one so near to him, should have been his own shame. Shem and Japheth will not look upon it, but “walking backward,”—a path not taught by nature, but grace,—cover their father’s nakedness.—(Jukes “Types of Genesis.”)
The conduct of these two brothers is in accordance with the prophecy which follows. Nations, as such, have a moral character. Prophecy is but the distinct announcement of the working out of great moral principles through the course of history.
Genesis 9:24. The degradation of a man must at length come to light, and appear to himself. For every sinner there is an awakening.
When Noah came to himself, he knew what had been done by his younger son. Nothing is said of his grief for his own sin. We are not to consider what follows as an ebullition of personal resentment, but as a prophecy which was meant to apply, and has been ever since applying to his posterity, and which it was not possible for human resentment to dictate. (Fuller.)
God brings to light the wicked practices of ungracious ones against His saints, and sheweth it to His prophets.—(Hughes.)
Genesis 9:25. The interpretation that would resolve this declaration of Noah into an expression of private feeling is refuted by the history of those nations which sprang from his sons. That history confirms the prophecy, and proves it to be such.
The fulfilment of this prophecy took a wider range than could be contemplated by expressions dictated in a moment of passion. The descendants of Ham flourished for long ages after this curse was pronounced, maintained their independence, and founded empires. Their power was not utterly broken, nor did they sink into subjection until the time of the captivity. All this was too wide a prospect into futurity for the unaided mind of man to behold.
It is a historical fact that the degradation of slavery has fallen especially upon the race of Ham. A portion of the Kenaanites became bondsmen among the Israelites, who were of the race of Shem. The early Babylonians, the Phœnicians, the Carthaginians, and Egyptians, who all belonged to the race of Ham, were subjugated by the Assyrians, who were Shemites, the Persians, the Macedonians, and the Romans, who were all Japhethites. And in modern times it is well known that most of the nations of Europe traded in African slaves.—(Murphy.)
There never has been a son of Ham who has shaken a sceptre over the head of Japheth. Shem hath subdued Japheth, and Japheth hath subdued Shem, but Ham never subdued either.—(Mede: quoted by Jacobus.)
This prophecy did not fix the descendants of Ham in the bonds of an iron destiny, nor does it reveal a flaw in the equal ways of God. The Canaanites, on account of their wickedness, deserved Divine chastisements; and the prophecy does but signify what takes place by the operation of great moral laws.
The curse pronounced upon Ham, though terrible, did not affirm a perpetual doom, but was only to operate until the larger blessing and hope should be announced. Prophecy would yet unfold a brighter prospect when the Deliverer would come for all; and in the expansion of Messiah’s empire, even “Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God.” (Psalms 68:31.)
Genesis 9:26. As Shem was to possess the redeeming name of God, we have a further advance in prophecy, setting forth the particular race whence the Messiah should come.
To preserve the name of God, and to be conscious of covenant relations with Him, is the true life of nations and of souls. All other greatness dies. The prophet breaks out in benediction on such.
There is a dark side, however, to this prophetic thought, as it implies that the two other families of mankind, at least for part of the period under the prophet’s view, were estranged from the true and living God. History corroborates both aspects of this prophetic sentence for the space of 2,400 years. During the most part of this long period the holy Jehovah Omnipotent was unknown to the great mass of the Japhethites, Hamites, and even Shemites. And it was only by the special election and consecration of an individual Shemite to be the head of a peculiar people, and the father of the faithful, that He did not cease to be the God of even a remnant of Shem.—(Murphy.)
Shem holds the highest grade of honour. Therefore it is that Noah, in blessing him, expresses himself in praise of God, and dwells not upon the person. Whenever the declaration relates to some unusual and important pre-eminency, the Hebrews thus ever ascend to the praise of God. (Luke 1:68.)—(Calvin.)
Where God is truly Lord of His people, all adversaries are made subject to them. The Church shall in her appointed seasons triumph in God, and all enemies be laid under her foot.—(Hughes.)
Genesis 9:27. Japheth was enlarged.
1. In his territory. He was the progenitor of the inhabitants of Europe, Asia, and America, with the exception of the region between the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, the Mediterranean, the Euxine, the Caspian, and the mountains beyond the Tigris, which was the dwelling of the Shemites. He had the colonising faculty—the disposition to push on his conquests far and wide. Shem was devoted to home and fathers—a conserver of the past—upholding the doctrine of standing still—possessing no spirit of adventure.
2. In his intellectual and active faculties. The metaphysics of the Hindoos, the philosophy of the Greeks, and the military skill of the Romans, bear witness. The race of Japheth have given birth to the science and civilisation of the world. Even religion, though born in the East, has received the greatest expansion and development in the West.
To Japheth it was given to elaborate and perfect that language in which it has pleased God to give His later revelation to mankind. The Greek language was through long ages being gradually fitted to be the most perfect vehicle for the mind of the Spirit.
Nations that did not possess the Divine name have yet contributed to the glory of that name. The consciousness of the indwelling of God, together with the possession of that active energy which applies spiritual principles to life, affords the conditions of the highest prosperity. It is God’s indwelling and enlargement—the union of Shem and Japheth.
Human skill and activity without the grace of religion, however refined, is only intense worldliness. If Japheth would prosper in the highest degree, he must receive from Shem spiritual knowledge and the genius of devotion. Nothing else but Christianity can impart stability and nobleness to civilisation.
The blessing of Shem, or faith in salvation, shall avail for the good of Japheth, even as the blessing of Japheth, humanitarian culture, shall in the end avail for Shem. These two blessings are reciprocal, and it is one of the deepest signs of some disease in our times, that these two are in so many ways estranged from each other, even to the extent of open hostility. What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.—(Lange.)
When Alexander the Great conquered the Persians, he gave protection to the Jews. And when the Romans subdued the Greek monarchy, they befriended the chosen nation. In their time came the Messiah, and instituted that new form of the Church of the Old Testament, which not only retained the best part of the ancient people of God, but extended itself over the whole of Europe, the chief seat of Japheth; went with him wherever he went, and is at this day, through the blessing of God on his political and moral influence, penetrating into the moral darkness of Ham as well as the remainder of Shem and Japheth himself. Thus, in the highest of all senses, Japheth is dwelling; the tents of Shem.—(Murphy).
In that early age, what genius or foresight of man could have thus cast the horoscope of history? Surely the “seventh from Adam” spake as he was moved by the Holy Ghost.
The bondage of Ham has been overruled for good in giving him the means of the knowledge of God. He has been brought thus within the influences of religion.
All human history is working towards that blessed end when mankind shall dwell in peace together, knowing and reverencing the name of God. The Church is the true home for mankind, and the highest style and ideal of social and national life.
REV. WM. ADAMSON
Vine Fables! Genesis 9:20. The Germans fable that an angel visited the earth some time after the subsidence of the Deluge. He discovered Noah sitting at noon under the shade of a fig tree, looking very disconsolate. Inquiring the cause of Noah’s grief, he was told that the heat was oppressive—so oppressive that he wanted something to drink. The angel thereupon pointed to the rippling streams, sparkling fountains flowing around, and said, “Drink, and be refreshed.” But Noah replied that he could not drink of these waters, because so many strong men, beautiful women, innocent children, and countless animals had been drowned in them by the flood. The fable goes on to tell how the angel then spread his white wings—flew up to heaven swift as a lightning flash, and returned with some vine shoots, which he taught Noah to plant and tend. This has no doubt as much truth as that other fable, which represents Satan as killing a lamb, a monkey, a lion, and a pig, and then, pouring their blood upon a vine, watched to see with glee their effects upon Noah. Lucretius puts it thus:
“Dire was his thought, who first in poison steeped,
The weapon formed for slaughter—direr his,
And worthier condemnation, who instilled
The mortal venom in the social cup,
To fill the veins with death instead of life.”—Dryden.
Vineyards! Genesis 9:20. It is a beautiful sight to see the mountain sides of Hermon and Lebanon so neatly terraced, cultivated, and dressed with the vine. What our apple-orchards are in England, that—and much more—are the vineyards in the East. They perform for the Syrians a greater variety of purposes in their dietetic economy than our orchards do for us. Vineyards can thus be looked upon with delight; and God’s blessing can be invoked upon them. The scene is not one which suggests drunken revelry and excess. And the longing of the traveller is that those old, hoary mountains may again be terraced from base to summit with vineyards, and that the valleys may re-echo with the voice of the watchman, whose call in the vineyard to his fellow is, “Watchman, what of the night?” ‘Tis enough to make
“The sad man merry, the benevolent one
Melt into tears—so general is the joy!
While up and down the cliffs, over the lake,
Wains oxen-drawn, and pannier’d mules are seen,
Laden with grapes, and dripping rosy wine.”—Rogers.
Vine! Genesis 9:20. Macmillan says that the vine is one of the most extensively diffused of plants. In this respect it furnishes a beautiful emblem of the universal spread of the Christian Church. Its early history is involved in obscurity. It is as old as the human race. Its cultivation was probably amongst the earliest efforts of human industry. It is first introduced to our notice as the cause of Noah’s drunkenness. It is believed to be originally a native of the hilly region on the southern shores of the Caspian sea, and of the Persian Gulf of Ghilan. The Jews have a tradition that it was first planted by God’s own hand on the fertile slopes of Hebron. There is another tradition, that Noah’s sons, travelling westward, brought it with them to Canaan. The early culture of the vine in Egypt is proved by the paintings on the tombs of that land, where the different processes of winemaking are fully portrayed, and appear to be far more extended than the simple practice of squeezing the juice from the grape. These Egyptian pictures recall the poet’s words:—
“The vines in light festoons
From tree to tree—the trees in avenues,
And every avenue and cover’d walk
Hung with ripe clusters.”
Wine and Heat! Genesis 9:20.
(1) In the East the sherbet of the winter and spring is made of orange blossoms. It is very sweet, rich in perfume, and pleasant to the native palate; but it is not very refreshing. It is, therefore, not adapted for the summer, for the hot July weather compels the stomach to crave an acid by way of refreshment. In July the natives begin to use the green grape, by pounding it to a pumice in a mortar. Strained, sweetened, and diluted with water, it furnishes a drink which rivals our best lemonade, and which the mountaineer employs as a substitute. In August and September the grapes are used for making molasses, wines, vinegars, and jellies. These are invaluable auxiliaries in the hot climates of the East.
(2) It is the Lord Jesus who says, “I am the True Vine.” His precious blood is the vitalising juices of the Church and her true members; while the ripe fruit-clusters of that precious blood afford cooling refreshment to the fevered hearts of the servants of God in this hot, noontide life. As the Syrian says that there is no drink like that of the July vine, and no fruit like that of the August grape, so the children of God say that there is no blood like that of the True Vine, and no fruit like that of His atonement
“Lord of the Vineyard, we adore
That power and grace Divine
Which plants our wild and barren souls
In Christ the Living Vine.”
Use and Abuse! Genesis 9:20-21. On the fertile island of Chios lived, in ancient times, a noble and generous man, who had come from Asia, and built himself a house not far from the sea. On the sunny hills he had planted grapes, the delicious fruit of his native country. The vines prospered beyond expectation, and yielded the rich wine of Chios. The pious husbandman gave his wine to the rich and suffering, and they blessed the giver and his gift. One day, a great tempest drove a ship among the rocks, but the sailors and officers escaped to shore. Here they were hospitably entertained. The wounded received wine, slumbered, and awoke strengthened and refreshed. But the sailors took too much wine—quarrelled—fought, and slew each other. The hospitable owner was indignant, and said, “Go back, ye evil doers, to the sea, for ye are not worthy to live on the land.” Then, turning to the sailors restored and refreshed, he said, “You see, that as the sun which ripens the grape, and whose lustre beams from its gold, engenders the pernicious miasma when he darts his rays on corruption, so men may misuse the gifts of Nature to their own destruction: therefore, chain thy passions down”—
“For if once we let them reign,
They sweep with desolating train—
’Till they but leave a hated name,
A ruined soul, and blackened fame.”—Cook.
Drink and Drunkenness! Genesis 9:20. It is related of a converted Armenian on the Harpoot mission-field, that he was a strong temperance man. On one occasion, disputing with a drinker of the native wine, he was met with the rejoinder, “Did not God make grapes?” To this, with native warmth, the Armenian replied: “God made dogs; do you eat them? God made poisons; do you suck them?” While not prepared to argue after this fashion, all must admit the appalling follies of excessive drinking. Thomas Watson says that there is no sin which more defaces God’s image than drunkenness. And sadly as it mars and blots the face and form of the body, its deleterious and destructive influences upon the mental powers and moral principles are more distressing. “Alcohol is a good creature of God, and I enjoy it,” said a drinker to James Mowatt. To this he replied, “I dare say that rattlesnakes, boa-constrictors, and alligators are good creatures of God, but you do not enjoy swallowing them by the halfdozen.” As Guthrie says, “No doubt, in one sense, it is a creature of God; and so are arsenic, oil of vitriol, and prussic acid. People do not toss off glasses of prussic acid, and call it a creature of God”—
“Ah! false fiend,
In whose perfidious eye damnation lurks,
A chalice in his hand of sparkling wine
Whereof who drinks must die; and on his lip
Kisses and smiles, and everlasting woe.”—Bickersteth.
Noah’s Nakedness! Genesis 9:21. Noah was perfect in his generation. Canova’s marble plinth was perfect in comparison with many other marble blocks, veined with glaring flaws. Noah’s wealth and conversation were far above the lives and hearts of his day and generation. It was not absolute perfection, such as may be predicated of an angel. This explains his subsequent fall. By his very singularity and prominence he attracts attention—standing alone among millions, a solitary monument of glory amid universal disgrace. But the “Canova” eye of Infinite Purity perceives the flaw. How sad to read, after the noble testimony borne to his character—after witnessing the terrible infliction of judgment, that Noah was drunken. It
(1) Shows how frail man is at his best;
(2) Suggests how dependent he is on Divine grace;
(3) Solaces the groaning believer, fearful of everlasting exclusion for sin; and
(4) Stigmatises all phases and developments of sensual pleasure as branches of that upas-tree which God hates. Habits of intemperance strip off one’s clothes and property, and uncover, disclose their mental and moral state.
“Our pleasant vices
Are made the whip to scourge us!”—Shakespeare.
Saints’ Sins! Genesis 9:21.
(1) As the photographic art will not make the homely beautiful, nor catch a landscape without catching the shadow of deformity as readily as the shadow of beauty; so, says Swing, the historic genius of the Bible gathers up all virtue and vice equally, and transfers it to the record—the one for human as divine commendation—the other for human as divine condemnation. And thus it comes to pass that we do not see a Hebrew nation adorned in the gay robes of a modern frescoe, but one that sinned against God: a beacon tower of warning to all future nations of the earth that the Merciful and All-gracious will by no means clear the guilty.
(2) When the painters of the last century painted the great heroes of that age, they threw upon their subjects the costumes of that day; and now, when in our days their dresses seem ridiculous and create a smile, we rise above the dress—fasten our eye upon the firm-set lips, the chiselled nose and noble forehead, and bless God that we have such portraits of such giants. Just so in the Bible, its great heroes are all represented in the clothes they wore—from Noah, in the cloak of drunkenness, to Peter, in the robe of equivocation: and it is for us to let those garments alone and admire the matchless contour of their spiritual countenances,
“Pure and unspotted as the cleanly ermine,
Ere the hunter sullies her with his pursuit.”—Davenant.
Filial Reverence! Genesis 9:23.
(1) Lettice would quietly watch for her father, and as quietly lead him home, that none of the neighbours might see his shame as a drunkard. With what tenderness she led the reeling form within doors; and when he had flung himself upon his poor bed, how tenderly she covered him, ere she herself retired to rest. She could not bear the thought of friends around knowing that her father lived to drink.
(2) Joe Swayne, the street Arab, had been lured to Sunday School by a teacher on her way. In conversation he had mocked over his mother’s propensity for drink, and jocosely described her words and ways when she returned to their wretched garret after a deep debauch. At school, God’s word taught and God’s grace trained him to think otherwise. Child could not be kinder to mother than he was. No one ever heard him mention his mother’s shame. They could not honour, yet they would not dishonour.
“My father! my mother! how true should I prove!
How well should I serve you, how faithfully love!”
Afterwards! Genesis 9:24. Deep within an adjoining forest was a dell, where the beams of the sun scarcely ever penetrated. Tall trees grew on either side, whose branches, meeting above, formed a canopy of leaves, where the birds built their nests, and poured forth happy songs. Here the awakened drunkard bent his steps. It had been his favourite haunt in the days of his childhood; and as he threw himself upon the soft green award, the recollections of past scenes came crowding over his mind. He thought of the narrow escape he had had but a few weeks before, when the mountain floods turned the river and swept away houses and neighbours, his own home and family narrowly escaping. He covered his face with his hands and groaned deeply. Suddenly a soft arm was thrown round his neck, and a sweet voice resounded in his ear, “God will forgive you, father.” What were Noah’s feelings when he awoke from his drunken sleep? He was the penitent first, the prophet afterwards.
“Deep in his soul conviction’s ploughshare rings,
And to the surface his corruption brings;
He loathes himself, in lowest dust he lies,
And all abased, ‘Unclean! unclean!’ he cries.”—Holmes.
Nazarite Abstinence! Genesis 9:24. Law remarks that, as no juice of the grape, from kernel unto husk, was to pass the consecrated lips of the Nazarite, so Christians should sedulously flee whatever, like the juice of grape, may tend to weaken the firm energy, or stir up the sleeping brood of sensual and ungodly lusts. Touch not the kernel, nor the husk. Flee not strong potions only, but all that may insidiously corrupt the taste. Avoid them. They are the cancer’s touch. They are the weed’s first seed. Rapidly they grow—fatally they spread—mightily they strengthen—and soon they pervade the enervated soul. And as
“In some fair virgin’s bosom a small spot,
As if a thorn had prick’d the delicate skin,
Rises and spreads an ever-fretting sore,
Creeping from limb to limb, corrosive, foul,
Until the miserable leper lives
A dying life, and dies a living death.”—Bickersteth.
Wine-Woes! Genesis 9:25. “A glass of wine did it.” Such was the close of a traveller’s narrative. A partner in one of the largest New York houses, he was now striving to earn a scanty livelihood as a commercial traveller. One of the partners had gone south to collect large sums due to the firm. He was successful in his purpose, and arrived at New Orleans on his way home. He ventured to drink wine, contrary to custom—became drunk—and in his sleep was robbed of all. Next day the telegraph brought the news; the firm became bankrupt; the families of the partners were broken up and separated. Some of the children lost their education—some of them mixed with street Arabs—and one of them died prematurely on the scaffold. The present generations of descendants are suffering more or less from that one glass of wine. Noah’s overindulgence has touched the whole sea of Ham’s family life downwards, even as the pebble cast into the pool ripples and ruffles in ever-widening circles the whole surface of the water.
“Oh! fatal drinking! oh! accursed draught!
Ye stained the streams of time with shame and death!
No crystal streamlet from the fountain flows,
The source is tinged with crime, and stained with woes.”—Mark.
Human Race! Genesis 9:27. In the history of each of these great divisions of mankind, the characteristic sentence of Noah—legibly inscribed at the present time upon the nations that respectively owe their origin to Shem, Ham, and Japhet—it seems impossible to refuse our assent to the inspiration of Moses. As Redford remarks, “No impostor, and no mere philosopher, would have ventured upon such sweeping sentences—views so general, characteristics so peculiar. The correspondences between the historical facts and the written record are such as no ingenuity—no penetration, no calculation of human reason—could have anticipated.
(1) Who could have foreseen—at the age at which we are sure Moses wrote—that the Africans would not emerge and become the conquerors of Europe? Yet Moses plainly declares here that they should not.
(2) Or, who could have predicted that the Asiatics, then comprising all the mighty empires, and almost all the civilised world, would not overrun and subdue all the rest? Yet Moses plainly declares here that they should not.
(3) Or, who could have determined that the Japhet race of Europe, then as uncivilised and degraded as Africa is now, should become the predominant section of mankind, vanquish the vast empires of the East, dwell in the tents of Shem, and make Africa its servant? Yet Moses plainly declares here that they should. Therefore we have a choice between the fancy that Genesis 9:26-27 have been written within the last century, and the fact that He who knows the end from the beginning
“Pre-ordered and announced the ebb and flow
Of nations and of tribes—offspring of Noah’s sons.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Genesis 9:28-29
THE YEARS OF NOAH: THEIR SOLEMN LESSONS
Here is the brief record of a noble life. There is little besides the simple numeration of years—merely a reference to the great event of Noah’s history, and his falling at length under the common fate of all the race. This record, short as it is, teaches us some important lessons.
I. The slow movements of Divine justice. Before the flood the wickedness of man had grown so great that God threatened to cut short his appointed time upon the earth. His days were to be contracted to 120 years—a terrible reduction of the energy of human life when men lived nearly 1,000 years (Genesis 6:3). But, from the instance of Noah, we find that this threat was not executed at once. Divine justice is stern and keen, but it is slow to punish.
II. The energy of the Divine blessing. God blessed man at the first, and endowed him with abundant measures of the spirit of life. Even when human iniquity required to be checked and punished by the curtailing of this gift, the energy of the old blessing suffered little abatement. God causes the power of that blessing still to linger among mankind. The hand of Divine goodness slackens but slowly in the bestowal of gifts to man. How often are the favours of Providence long continued to doomed nations and men! Underlying all God’s dealings with men there is the strong power of redemption, which is the life of every blessing. That power will yet overcome the world’s evil and subdue all things.
III. God’s provision for the education of the race. When men depended entirely upon verbal instruction, and teachers were few, the long duration of human life contributed to the preservation and the extending of knowledge. But as the education of the world advanced, new sources of knowledge were opened and teachers multiplied, the necessity for long life in the instructors of mankind grew less. The provisions of God are wonderfully adjusted to human necessity.
IV. An encouragement to patient endurance. Here is one who bore the cross for the long space of 950 years. What a discipline in suffering as well as in doing the will of God! Time is the chief component among the forces that try patience, for patience is rather borne away by long trials than overwhelmed by the rolling wave. If tempted to murmur in affliction, or at our protracted contest with temptation and sin, let us think of those who have endured longer than we.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Genesis 9:28-29. He lived accepted of God, promoted by Him, testifying against sin, preaching righteousness, giving laws from God to the generation wherein he was; and sometimes slipping into sin, and falling into bitter afflictions. He died a death beseeming such a man; he died a saint, a believer, a glorious instrument in Christ’s Church, and so died in hope when by faith he had seen the promises.—(Hughes.)
REV. WM. ADAMSON
Noah’s Death! Genesis 9:28-29. The Jews have a myth of Noah, that on his deathbed he ordered his children to bring him wine sparkling in a beautiful cup. Holding it in his hand, he spoke to them of the vine. Let the vine be an emblem to you of your dignity, for it is full of weakness.
(1) Yet, as it creeps in the dust until the elm tree offers its aid, and then rises and gains strength by twining itself around the branches, so man is weak until he twines himself round the outstretched arm of God.
(2) Again, as the firm tree offers its supporting branches to the humble vine, in order that its hundred tendrils may wreathe themselves upwards nearer heaven, so God graciously offers His mighty arm for man’s soul to entwine his affections heavenward.
(3) Again, as the vine draws its nourishment of life from the earth, while on high it forms the coarser material into the leaf, and blossom, and refreshing grape, so should man. For as the vine needs light from above to pervade and invigorate, so man’s heart requires God’s light to stablish it. Then Noah gave them each the cup of wine; then drank thereof himself, and died.
“No further seek his merits to disclose,
Or draw his frailties from their dread abode;
There they abide in trembling hope repose,
The bosom of his Father and his God.”—Southey.