Creation Command and Redemptive Covenant


Genesis 9:1–17

After having destroyed all that had in it the breath of life with the exception of eight people and designated numbers of all non-human life, God begins the reconstruction of the earth’s population. Having pledged continuity in the natural order and overall predictability (8:22), he gives a command concerning man’s place in it and a sign indicating covenant surety for God’s purpose.


I. As Noah begins life in the water-purged earth, he received for all mankind a code of conduct and a promise (9:1–7).

A. Noah and his family are responsible for beginning anew the peopling of the earth.

The same command received by Adam in Genesis 1:28 – “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth—is renewed to Noah, his wife, his sons, and their wives. The earth is made for man, for his sustenance, for his rule, for his benefit, and for his dominion (Genesis 1:28; 9:1).

    1. This relationship persists throughout Scripture and is fundamental to the revelation of divine purpose in creation (Psalm 8). By divine revelation, we should understand that humans are above all created beings that inhabit the earth and that we are fit by created nature and fitted by redemptive measures to inhabit heaven. The Psalmist sees that the earth is made for us and is designed to sustain us. “You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the path of the sea” (Psalm 8:6–8). The reality presented to Noah informs both the poetic power and the metaphysical conviction of the Psalmist. He knows and is deeply moved by the position assigned by God to man.
    2. The command to multiply and the distinction drawn between humans and the animals (2) enters into the character of the redemption accomplished by Christ and forms part of the argument of the writer of Hebrews 2. After quoting a portion of Psalm 8, the writer acknowledges, “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death” (Hebrews 2:8, 9). Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15, shows that Christ, by his death in his covenant assignment as Messiah, has all things placed in subjection under his feet (27). Through Christ as the representative of a perfect humanity, this purpose of human rule over the created order comes to pass.

B. Verses 2, 3, 4 – Humans, as superior to all other forms of life, may use all of them for food.

    1. All other forms of life will have an instinctual fear of man. There are differing levels of this and some of the non-human life can be domesticated for human purposes and human flourishing. Humans are not just a more sophisticated form of animal life, with no intrinsic superiority over other living things. We are made in the image of God for the purpose of having dominion for good over other created things.
    2. All non-human forms of life, both plant and animal, may be used (after the flood) for food. Only plant life was permitted for food prior to the flood (Genesis 1:29). This, of course, is to be limited by knowledge of the poisonous effects of some kinds of plants and animals, should be prepared for consumption in ways that are healthy and pleasing. Slaughtering cattle for food in order that humans may thrive is divinely ordained. Breeding livestock for more and better sources of food supply is fully in accord with this Noahic stipulation. The sacrificial system provided animals as food for the priests (Leviticus 9:18–21; 10:12–15).
    3. Dietary laws for Israel were given as part of a larger code to make them distinct from other nations of the earth (Leviticus 11). That this dietary code was not intended as a perpetual obligation had to be made clear to Peter (Acts 10:9–18) as preparation for him to go to a Gentile home to preach the gospel by which uncircumcised as well as circumcised may, and must, be saved.
    4. Verse 4 – The prohibition of eating the flesh with its blood arises from a three-fold cause possibly. One, preparation that minimizes blood content is much healthier for the human being. Two, there seems to be the spiritual effect of creating insensitivity to life, the development of a rapacious outlook, when a desire for blood characterizes the appetite. Avoiding this tendency moves naturally into the next requirement in “C” of the outline. Three, salvific symbolism resided in the blood of the animals and severe threat from God hung over the head of those who did not regard the spilling of the blood of the animal as necessary for atonement (Leviticus 17:10–14).

C. Every human life that is taken while innocent shall be avenged.

    1. The killing of a human being, whether by man or animal requires reckoning.
      • No person shall take the prerogative of life over another human being but must do all that can be done to preserve human life and cause it to flourish and be abundant on the earth. Earlier, God forbad personal vengeance in the case of Cain (Genesis 4:14, 15). Now, God establishes the principle of capital punishment as a civic or community duty in light of the disregard for the divine image in each person. He who has no sense of awe and reverence for the divine image in another person, he will be regarded by lawful society in accordance with his own standard of conduct (Genesis 9:6; cf. Romans 2:1–3).
      • Society has the God-ordained responsibility to highlight the value of human life by requiring an exact reckoning for murder. If a person sheds man’s blood—that is, if he intends to do such harm to a person that he kills him—his life is forfeit. A person who does not embrace the inviolably precious nature of the image of God (6b) is not to be kept in human society. He works opposite of God’s intention for this world and thus must not be allowed to stay in it. He has taken life, and he should be producing life. Since this is given to Noah immediately following the flood and was relevant to all his sons, this is not to be taken only as a part of the civil code of Israel, but as divinely prescribed for all nations generally.
    1. An animal that kills a human being must be put down (5a; Exodus 21:28)). This is so that the superior value of human life is to be maintained in society. An animal does not have moral intent in its actions, and so in that sense is neither guilty nor innocent. This requirement of death for an animal is designed purely to show that human life is superior to all other forms of created life on the earth, and other animals that prove themselves fatal to human life must be removed. Killing rats to avoid the bubonic plague is the right thing to do. Elimination of a mosquito population that spreads malaria is consistent with this stipulation. Declaring the sacredness of any animal at the expense of human well-being violates the post-flood ordinance.
    2. The entire abortion industry, including Planned Parenthood, masquerading under the ruse of women’s health is one of the greatest insults to humanity ever invented by the deceitful intentions of Satan (the enemy of life) and of human hearts complicit with his treachery. It violates the creation declaration that God created man in his own image, the command to be fruitful and multiply, the biblical reality that from the point of conception moral personhood is present in the woman’s womb, and the specific commands that we should multiply and preserve life, not devise means to destroy it.

D. Verse 7 – The earth is designed to support human life in abundance.

The command of God has three words that indicate exponential growth of the number of people in the world as God’s purpose—“be fruitful,” “multiply,” “teem,” that is, let the earth be swarming with human life. Then, again, in order to emphasize God’s delight in the flourishing of human life, the word multiply is repeated.

II. Chapter 9, verses 8–17 – God restrains his wrath by covenant in pursuit of the finality of the eternal covenant of salvation.

A. God initiated and stated the provision of the covenant – Note that God said, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you” (9).

And again in 11, “I establish my covenant.” Also, we find in verse 12, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make.” See also verses 13, 15, 16, 17. So it is with all of God’s covenantal arrangements. He knows his own purposes and establishes with his creatures certain provisions by which they might discern how God intends to operate to accomplish these purposes.

B. It is a covenant with all the earth and all its population.

    1. This covenant does not call for the earth’s agreement; rather, it states clearly God’s purpose for the earth and the way in which its inhabitants can expect God to operate. God has a specific intention for the earth and the multiplication of its population that is an element of a broader covenantal arrangement made before creation.
    2. This is not a covenant with one specific man as with Abraham (Genesis 12:1–4), or with one particular nation that descended from Abraham (Deuteronomy 7:6–9), or a covenant of sovereign, unilateral, spiritual power in the conversion of a chosen people (Jeremiah 31:31–34), or an eternal covenant of redemption arranged within the persons of the triune God (Hebrews 13:20; 2 Timothy 1:9; John 6:37–39; 10:14–18; 17:2), but a covenant that embraces every created being under the heavens on the earth.
    3. Nevertheless, this general and universal covenantal arrangement for preservation will facilitate the specific nature of all other biblical covenants. It will come to culmination in the “the sure mercies of David,” the “everlasting covenant” of an ever-ruling mercy-filled king (Isaiah 55:3, 4). “My mercy I will keep for him forever, and my covenant shall stand firm with him. … His seed shall endure forever, and his throne as the sun before me” (Psalm 89:28, 36).

C. It is a covenant that restrains a universal judgment by flood.

He does not promise that there will never be any localized manifestation of devastating natural disaster, but that he will never destroy the entire earth and all that is in it again. Look at multiple iterations of this in verses 10, 11, 12, 16. “The waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh” (15).

    1. Disasters should remind us that God already has destroyed all flesh and the earth because of his anger with its evil, and that abbreviated evidences of the truth of the power of such interventions should bring us to repentance.
    2. We should recognize that we are under a universal mercy of God’s restraint of his wrath until he accomplishes all of his holy will. We must take this as an urgent moment to repent and to set before others the reality during this season of universal mercy the infinitely necessary duty of repentance from sin and faith in the finished redemptive work of Christ. Nothing transcends that as a matter of interest for every individual. “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come buy and eat. …Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you. … Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:1, 3, 6).

III. 9:18–28 – The event that led to the division of nations.

This is set before the narrative of the Tower of Babel in order to explain the basic division of the population of the earth according to the descendants of the sons of Noah. Verse 19 is a clear statement of this reality.

A. Though the circumstances of Noah’s prophetic utterance are uncouth and shameful, it is set in the text, nevertheless, as a true proclamation of the future of the descendants of these sons.

B. Four sons of Ham are listed (10:6), but only one of them was cursed.

We learn that Canaan’s descendants constituted the nations that were displaced (10:15–20), exterminated, and enslaved by the Israelites when they took possession of the land God had promised to Abraham, one of the descendants of Shem.

C. Japheth would be enlarged and “dwell in the tents of Shem.”

This probably refers to the benefits that the Japhethites, mainly of European ethnicity, received from the Judaeo-Christian tradition in economy, law, and rational culture. More importantly the benefits received from their hearing of the gospel from the mouth of Paul when he went into Philippi in Macedonia and brought the gospel to Europe. And if one desires an ironic twist on the prophecy, the trade of tentmaking allowed the Shemitic Benjamanite Paul to bring the gospel “free of charge” to the Japhethites.


Earth was made for population
To sustain both man and beast.
Having neared eradication,
Multiply both great and least.

Over all now take dominion
Plants and breathing things for food.
God’s own word – no mere opinion –
Makes this rule, and it is good.

Blood is life in every creature;
Don’t consume it as your bread;
Human life God’s image features.
Kill it and your blood is shed.

Human hearts remain rebellious,
Judgment surely hovers near.
God remembered Eden’s promise;
Purging blood removes our fear.

For a sign God set the rainbow;
Covenant will guide His plan.
Season upon season follow,
Ne’er the deluge threatens man.

God arranged to work salvation.
Promises made in his Son.
Work that banished condemnation;
Justice served, love’s work is done.

Eternal and immutable
The Triune God’s intent to save.
Satan, flood, nor sin are able
To resign us to the grave.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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