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Sermon preached on Genesis 9:1-17 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 05/21/2023 in Petaluma, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
We come now to the post-Flood world, which happens to be the same world we live in. As Noah and family step off the Ark, it would have been a fresh start for them, though not quite completely fresh. The Flood had destroyed that world that once was, and now Noah and the seven others have arrived into this new world, a renewed world made afresh out of the old. And yet we will find that some core problems from that old world have continued on into the new. The Flood had been a sign of the end, a sort of final judgment on that first world. It had been a removal of God’s common grace to judge the wicked while at the same time save his elect. That Flood judgment held out the hope that evil might have been done away with, purged from the world. And yet as they come back into a renewed world, and God sends them back out into this new world, we’ll yet see problems remain. And we’ll see God even acknowledges that here and reinstitutes common grace as an initial measure to address it.
Let’s begin in our first point to see how God reaffirms the mandate given to humanity in Genesis 1. Our passage has some similarities and differences with the opening chapters of Genesis. As they get off the Ark and come into this new world, it’s like they are the first people starting out on a new creation. It’s like Noah is a new Adam. And so, we see some similarities and differences to how God began things with Adam and his family in Genesis 1-4, and now with Noah and his family here in chapter 9 in this new post-Flood world.
We see the Genesis 1 mandate to humanity reaffirmed especially here in verse 1 and similarly in verse 7. There, God blesses Noah and family and tells them to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. That is very similar to Genesis 1:28, where God blesses and similarly instructs humanity at creation. So, like how God sent Adam and Eve out into the world and command them to propagate the species and spread out over the earth, so too he instructs Noah and family. That along with the command to subdue the earth, is often referred to as the cultural mandate. People can mean a lot of different things by that term, but in its simplest understanding it is the call for humans to essentially be fruitful and productive in this world, not only in physical reproduction, but in establishing a well-ordered society on earth.
Interestingly, there is one difference in the wording in verse 1 versus what God said of this cultural mandate in 1:28. Here in Genesis 9 it doesn’t mention the dominion reference. Before, God explicitly told them not only to multiply and fill the earth, but also to have dominion over all the animals. That dominion command is not reissued here verbatim. Yet, while we might note that difference in terms of the literal wording, the concept of human dominion of the earth is taught here. In fact, it is spelled out with much more words even though the exact language of dominion is not used again. Just look at verse 2. There, it mentions how all the animals that were previously put under humans will have fear and dread of the humans, and that God will deliver them into human hands. This is a much longer way to speak of man’s dominion over the animals, and in fact implies the great success that humans will have in mastering the animals. I say that because this same language is used elsewhere in the Torah in such positive ways, like in Deuteronomy 11:25 when God promises Israel that he’ll give them such success over their enemies in the Promised Land that they’ll have fear and dread of Israel. Surely that is the point of application then. That God’s promise to Noah and family is great success in the work of dominion, which should later encourage Israel of the great success they will have in terms of exercising dominion even over the heathen peoples. By extension, we know that us Christians will have ultimate dominion under Christ of this whole world, and no heathen peoples will be able to stop that from ultimately coming to pass. Psalm 8 is a song about such a hope, that God’s people would come into such successful dominion over everything.
A related idea is then given in verse 3, that God gives humans both plants and animals as food to eat. In Genesis 1, God explicitly gave plants to eat, but it did not explicitly mention anything about eating animal meat. Here, that meat is explicitly given for mankind to eat. Now, to clarify, this does not necessarily mean that humans hadn’t eaten meat prior to here in Genesis 9. There seems to be good reason to think they had begun to at some point prior. We know Abel in Genesis 4 raised and also sacrificed sheep and I think it hard to interpret that he wasn’t raising them in part for food. Likewise, Cain’s line is highlighted in that same chapter for their advancements in animal husbandry, and surely that included for food. Noah had been commanded to distinguish between clean and unclean animals, and as far as we know that is a distinction that particularly has food consumption in mind. So, we don’t have a record in Scripture of how and when mankind started eating meat. Maybe it was something inferred after God made coverings for Adam and Eve from animal skins. Or maybe it was simply to be inferred by the idea of man’s dominion over the animals. God seems to be making that connection at least here in Genesis 9. Regardless of the questions we have about the background, at this point in the new creation, God clearly tells them they can eat animals as he sends them back out into this new world. Sometimes we have to be content with questions that God doesn’t answer and just be thankful to God next time you sit down for a good tri-tip BBQ.
Verses 4 then turns to talk about blood and life. Let us then in our second point consider what is said here about such. Verse 4, after talking about how we could eat meat, gives us a prohibition against eating the blood with the meat. This is an interesting development, because we don’t read of anything about this, one way or another, earlier in Genesis, however it does become a part of the explicit Mosaic law requirements later. God here makes a connection between the blood and the life, and he will go on to say this is true even for the humans. He says the blood is its life. He equates the blood and the life. This may be God recognizing biologically how blood is crucial in sustaining of a creature’s life. Or, it might be meant in a more symbolic or sacramental character, that God here assigns the blood of animals and humans to effectively represent their life. This will tie heavily into the sacrificial system, for as Scripture teaches, without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Jesus himself will have to have his blood shed for us and for our salvation, where he gives up his life in our place. So then, Noah and all humanity with him is given this restriction. You can eat whatever meat you want, but never its blood.
It has been asked if this prohibition against consuming blood is still in effect. It has in fact been argued over by some Christians rather heatedly, even in some circles to the result of great division in the church. It is less of a question in our culture because most people here tend to get disgusted at the idea of consuming blood. On a side note, I would point out that eating a rare steak with red juices is not considered to be eating its blood, but that is just the juices from the meat, which is different. But the question becomes if this prohibition still stands today as Christians. There have been godly Christians on both sides in history. I tend to think this prohibition is still valid, but let me explain. We should note first that at this point we are not at the Mosaic Covenant in Genesis. There are later aspects of ceremonial law under the Mosaic Covenant that we would not hold to be binding upon Christians even though God required it of the Jewish people under the old covenant. At Noah’s day, there were not yet any Jewish people, and not yet any Mosaic covenant. Even under the later Mosaic covenant, there was a distinction between clean and unclean meats and the consuming of blood. They were not the same thing, even as here in Genesis 9 they are treated differently. Noah is not given a restriction to only eat clean meats. He can eat any kind of meats, but just not with the blood. So then, this prohibition on blood predates the Mosaic covenant and need not be treated in the same category as the rest of the later kosher food laws.
Some have argued for the freedom to now consume blood because Jesus declared all foods clean in Mark 7:19. Jesus’ point there was that what makes someone unclean is not what they eat but what is in their heart, clearly referencing kosher food laws about unclean meats, but yet it is not clear that this made any application to blood. Others have argued for freedom to now consume blood arguing that the prohibition was related to a sacrificial system to make atonement on an altar, which we don’t do that anymore after the sacrifice of Christ. So, they say this prohibition is now irrelevant. Yet, even under the Mosaic covenant, God required them to still pour out the blood of meat even when they ate animals they didn’t sacrifice (Deut 12:23), so it doesn’t seem the blood prohibition is only relevant to a sacrificial system.
Instead, we have this prohibition reaffirmed at the Acts 15 Jerusalem Council. There, they were discussing if the Gentiles had to follow all the whole Mosaic law, and they basically decided no, but they did give them four specific concerns they wanted them to heed. Two of them were regarding consuming blood, that they called the Gentiles to not consume blood and to not eat meat that hadn’t been properly drained of its blood. This would have allowed Gentiles to, say, eat their pork, as long as they made sure it had been properly slaughtered to drain out the blood. Nowhere after that Jerusalem council does Scripture explicitly lift that restriction on blood. So then, while then you can find since then in church history different views, I lean toward seeing the prohibition still in effect. I am not dogmatic about it, but I tend to see this prohibition on blood as a creation ordinance of sorts that gets brought into the Mosaic covenant but is never exclusive to the Mosaic covenant, but instead its ongoing validity is reaffirmed in the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15.
Returning to Genesis here, let us turn now in our third point for today to consider verses 5-6 and how it speaks of the image of God and its implications. We see in verse 5 that the mention of blood leads to God turning to consider man’s blood. It addresses the unwarranted killing of a human. If man’s blood is shed, whether it be by an animal or by another human, there must be a reckoning. Here we see the theological basis for what is today called the pro-life movement. It is wrong to murder a human. That also includes humans in wombs and humans in hospital beds. The theological basis for this concern is stated in verse 6. Humans are made in the image of God. That is why it is proper if we speak of the sanctity of life. That is a way to describe human life as sacred, holy, and precious. In so far that every human is made in the image of the holy God, that sets every human apart compared to all the other creatures on this world. Animals are not made in the image of God. They don’t have a sanctity of life. That is why you don’t have to be vegetarian; you can be a carnivore, but you must not be a cannibal. It’s why if you are ever faced with the dilemma of having to choose to save the life of a stranger or your beloved family dog, morality demands you save the human. That doesn’t mean that we should be flippant about animal lives or treat them of no value. God shows elsewhere that he also values animal lives, as so as those who bear God’s image we should value animal lives too. But they are not of the same value as humans, which gives us various applications to things like why we can utilize them in ways we wouldn’t use humans. We should not unjustly take the life of humans, especially not those who are in special need of our protection and help, like the unborn, like the infants, like the elderly, like the disabled, etc.
So then, realize that verse 6 calls for the capital punishment of any man or beast that would unjustly take the life of a human. It even puts it poetically. This is the parallel to Genesis 1:27 which broke the narrative of creation to give a little song about man being created in God’s image. The parallel here in Genesis 9:6 is to break the narrative of a new cultural mandate to sing a little song about man being in God’s image and that’s why capital punishment should exist. Realize that this is surely another example of while this was not spelled out explicitly before in the opening chapters of Genesis, it is one that clearly can be deduced. Genesis 9:6 makes explicit what is clearly a natural corollary to what Genesis 1:27 taught about man being in God’s image. It’s one reason why Cain knew it was wrong to kill his brother Abel.
But the part of Genesis 9:6 that is helpful to make explicit is that it is appropriate to take a human life as a punishment for their murdering a human. In other words, Genesis 9:6 calls for capital punishment in the case of murder. People sometimes think it inconsistent for someone to be pro-life and also be pro-death penalty. But Genesis 9:6 says that a high view of human life is the basis for the death penalty.
Realize how all of this is really bringing out the issues raised in Genesis 4 with Cain and Abel. When Cain kills Abel, and God curses Abel, he shockingly gets concerned that people might murder him if he has to live as a wanderer and nomad. God then issues that principle of sevenfold vengeance to any who would so murder Cain. There, God makes explicit that people were deserving of proper justice against them if they shed the blood of another human. God even notes here that even mindless animals should so be killed if they were to kill a human.
We mentioned there in Genesis 4 that Cain went on to eventually found a city and presumably establish some form of government within it. Sadly, we saw that at least one of his descendants seemed to be perverting justice and governing in a tyrannical fashion. But Genesis 4 set us up to see the importance of justice and even civil government. Surely implied in it was even the seeds of due process. What was introduced there in Genesis 4 is further advanced here with the explicit call of capital punishment in the case of murder. Again, what is made here explicit could be derived from the original call for humans to exercise dominion. They were to rule and govern as God’s imager bearers on earth. That implies civil government to be formed in some way or another. And so, Genesis 9:6 gives all the more clarity to this duty of dominion to punish any violence of someone who would kill another human.
As a redemptive historical aside, I think we can also note a difference again with the later Mosaic covenant that called for capital punishment for a far more greater amount of crimes. I think a good argument to explain this is that such was due to the unique status of Israel. As a nation, Israel had the special outward status as a holy theocratic kingdom. No other outward nation in history ever has had such a collective status. Even under the new covenant, Christians are spiritually considered to be a holy nation, but we aren’t outwardly organized into a single political body. So, for Israel to be such a theocracy rooted in the Promised Land, was an intrusion of the age to come, a type and foretaste of the new creation. It seems its outwardly holy status called for in some cases more strict punishments than would have otherwise been considered equitable. But I digress again.
Just to make sure I am clear. I believe this advocating for capital punishment in the case of murder has continued application today. What we are finding here in Genesis is something continued to be made clearer in the Scripture, that civil government is an institution given by God for man’s good and for God’s glory. It has been given a sword that in the case of murder is to be used for capital punishment. While as a pastor I am hesitant today to get too involved in the church trying to tell Caesar what to do, I think our state has a serious moral failing in this area. If my data is correct, only 13 people have been executed for capital punishment in California since 1978, the last one being in 2006, despite hundreds of people being convicted and sentenced to death during that time (per CDCR). A far worse comparison is to say that during that time approximately 7 million babies were aborted in California (per CDPH).
Stepping back, let us then acknowledge what has been assumed here. It is assumed that there will be people who will sin against other humans by killing them. It is also assumed that there will be animals who kill humans too, in other words not all creation will be fully subdued to man’s dominion. So, do you see how this makes the point I began with today? On the one hand, Noah and his family step off the boat into this wonderful, fresh, new creation. It’s like Noah is a new Adam. God gives them a renewed mandate to fruitfulness. Everything seems so great. But then the other side is that we also hear that there will still be problems. Sin will still exist, and common grace working through things like government will be a partial measure to mitigate it. The rest of creation will still groan against mankind’s leadership. So, the people and the place of this new creation is not actually the paradise it might have at first seemed.
That means this new creation that Noah and family come into here is only a type and a shadow of the ultimate new creation to come. God has promised us yet a perfect paradise, because Noah didn’t actually bring us into such. It would be Jesus to bring us into it. So, when we read a passage like this, we can take several applications for life in this world like we’ve done. But ultimately, we realize that the world Noah has brought us into still has a sin problem. That sin problem wouldn’t get dealt with until the lifeblood of Jesus would be spilt by man to atone for our sin. We in faith in Jesus are now on the Ark that Jesus has built, so to speak, to bring us to that new creation. When it finally arrives, sin will be fully dealt with, God’s image in us will be fully restored, all evil will be completely purged away, God’s curse will be completely lifted, all creation, and even angels, will be in submission to our dominion, and all of it will be in submission to our God. Come quickly Lord Jesus, and keep us until that day.
Copyright © 2022 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
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