Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 9:16–17

Genesis 9:16–17
“When the rainbow is in the clouds, I will notice it and remember the perpetual covenant between God and all living creatures of all kinds that are on the earth.” 17 So God said to Noah, “This is the guarantee of the covenant that I am confirming between me and all living things that are on the earth.”
(NET Bible)

A commitment we can count on

When God makes a commitment, he keeps it! The problems all lie on our side, because “flesh” is notoriously weak (Rom. 8:3). So, what we need to rely on first are those things God does entirely on his own. Those divine actions are often expressed in covenants between God and man.

What other forms of God’s grace may we rely on? How does prayer fit into this picture? What divine covenants cover those who have never trusted in Christ for salvation?

Today’s passage restates the message of Gen. 9:14–15 in slightly different words. The added element (as in Gen. 9:12) is the word “perpetual,” which ties the promise to us as well!

God does not have a problem with forgetfulness, so it comes as a linguistic surprise to be told God remembers something. When something comes to God’s focused attention, stand by!

It is time to learn a lesson about Hebrew words in contrast to English words. In English, when we say “remember,” it simply means that we have an event, thing or person come to mind. We might, for example, remember a book we once read or a birthday party we enjoyed as a child. But when God is the subject for the Hebrew verb “remember,” it means an event, thing or person comes to God’s mind and he does something about it. For example, in Genesis 8:1, God remembers Noah and the creatures on the ark and causes the flood waters to recede. Later God remembered Abraham and took his nephew Lot out of Sodom before destroying it (Gen. 19:29).

The same element of action also is integral to other Hebrew verbs. When God feels compassion, he shows kindness. When men turn and believe in the Lord, their lives are expected to actually change. Hebrew verbs are concrete and action-oriented, but English often stops with conceptual meanings.

When the NET Bible says that God confirmed his covenant with “all living things” (Gen. 9:17), it actually translates the phrase “all flesh.” The phrase “all flesh” occurs 13 times from Gen. 6:12 to Gen. 9:17. In Gen. 6:12 God said that all flesh had corrupted its way, and in Gen. 9:17 he confirms a covenant with all flesh after the flood. Speaking of covenants, the word “flesh” does not occur again until Genesis 17:11 when God tells Abraham what he must do to confirm the new covenant God made with him.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived fr

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 9:12–15

Genesis 9:12–15
And God said, “This is the guarantee of the covenant I am making with you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all subsequent generations: 13 I will place my rainbow in the clouds, and it will become a guarantee of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 then I will remember my covenant with you and with all living creatures of all kinds. Never again will the waters become a flood and destroy all living things.”(NET Bible)

 A commitment to calm fears

On one level it is astonishing that the all-powerful Creator makes a binding agreement with the living things he has made. But he did so in unmistakable terms.

What is the significance of God making a covenant with humankind? What was the idea behind making known what he expected of us and what he would do in return?

The language of Genesis 9:12 seems formal in its careful enumeration of the covenant parties. The Hebrew text makes very clear that God is establishing a covenant “between me [God] and you [Noah, his sons and their wives] and every living being that was with you for farthest generations” (Gordon Wenham).[1] We should be equally careful in considering the covenant parties, but ordinarily we ignore the animals, whom God always includes! Perhaps this blind spot is a demonstration of how we have lost sight of our stewardship for God over the earth and its life forms.

The first words of Genesis 9:13 are “my rainbow” to emphasize it. But the time-sense of the verse, is an issue between translations:

NET Genesis 9:13 “I will place my rainbow in the clouds, and it will become a guarantee of the covenant between me and the earth.” (emphasis added)

ESV Genesis 9:13 “I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” (emphasis added)

NET is alone among major translations in saying “will . . . will,” placing all action in the future. ESV joins NIV 2011, The Jewish Bible, and the Holman Christian Standard Bible in some variant of “have . . . shall/will,” placing the initial action in the past and the subsequent action in the future.

I consider the ESV and other translations better than NET here, because rainbows would have already existed as a matter of physics (sunlight falling on water droplets at a certain angle); the newly introduced element was the significance God was giving the rainbow as a sign.

For God to bless Noah and his sons, rain would have to fall on the earth to nurture crops. But imagine the potential for panic when a storm rolled in. To provide peace of mind during his new start with Noah, God re-brands the meaning of a storm (Gen. 9:14). Instead of being a reminder of judgment, a rainbow would serve as a reminder of God’s covenant promise (Gen. 9:15). It is God who brings the necessary rains, and in doing so he provides rain for both the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:45).

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 151.

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 9:8–11

Genesis 9:8–11
God said to Noah and his sons, 9 “Look! I now confirm my covenant with you and your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that is with you, including the birds, the domestic animals, and every living creature of the earth with you, all those that came out of the ark with you– every living creature of the earth. 11 I confirm my covenant with you: Never again will all living things be wiped out by the waters of a flood; never again will a flood destroy the earth.”
(NET Bible)

The only source of stability

We take far too much for granted. Global warming gives us a sense of how impossible life would be if our average temperature were five degrees higher during certain random years. What if gravity ceased for five minutes at unpredictable intervals? The outcome of both scenarios is that soon we would all be dead! The only reason we are not dead is the constancy of God’s care.

In the spiritual realm we also rely on the predictability of God — something we rarely consider. What if prayer was sometimes rewarded and at other, unpredictable times punished? Fortunately for us, God is not whimsical, nor does his character change.

How does God’s constancy allow us to function as Christians? How does knowing God is dependable allow us to build a life with him year after year? How does the faithfulness of God lead us to rely on his promises about heaven and to act accordingly?

Victor Hamilton explains the structure of this section by saying, “We note again the two subunits within verses 1–17: what man must and must not do (verses 1–7); what God will do (verses 8–17).”[1]

The term “fresh off the boat” makes us think of an immigrant just entering America and being bewildered by culture shock. Perhaps that image can serve as a metaphor for what Noah’s family must have felt emerging from the ark after the awesome flood.

Even more daunting, there had to be uncertainty about what God was planning to do with Noah’s family. Our understanding of their thoughts and feelings is blunted by our knowledge of how much human history has occurred since that day. Look at things from Noah’s vantage point. God had just destroyed all except the tiniest fraction of life on earth. Would they too be found wanting and be destroyed? What incentive could grow in them to build a new society when the threat of divine destruction was so fresh? How would they feel the first time a thunderstorm moved in on them?

God immediately and firmly answers all these concerns with his statement to Noah and his sons in Genesis 9:9. Kenneth Mathews says, “God’s declaration is emphatic in the Hebrew construction: ‘Now I—behold—I am establishing my covenant’ (v. 9).”[2] The word “covenant” is used seven times in Genesis 9, and that fact demonstrates its centrality to God’s dealings with Noah and his descendants. The covenant with Noah and his sons provides the stability needed to begin the world again. The Lord had mentioned a future covenant with Noah in Genesis 6:18, and now it is time to establish its details.

But before we examine the details of the covenant, pause to consider that Noah did not know what to expect until the moment the information was needed. We might call this just-in-time revelation. God often does the same with us, calling on us to trust in him even though the future is largely uncertain. In a similar way, Jesus told his disciples: “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:34).

In Genesis 9:10, the covenant protection is extended to all creatures that still live after leaving the ark. So, the scope of the covenant is as broad as the scope of the destruction declared against the original creation.

Since the mention of “every living creature” immediately reminds Noah of the terrible judgment, God next adds reassurances about divine judgment. In Genesis 9:11, God says, “I confirm my covenant with you,” and the “you” is plural, including every human being who had been on the ark. (English “you” is ambiguous as to singular or plural, a fact you should always remember during Bible study.)

After establishing the scope of the covenant partnership, God makes two powerful promises: (1) he will never again exterminate life with a flood, and (2) he will never again destroy the earth with a flood. Together with the limits God has set on violence, these assurances provide the peace of mind to allow a new start for humankind.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1–17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 319.

[2] Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis 1–11:26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996) 408.