Last week we began a series entitled “The Gospel According to Genesis.” We’re beginning 2020 by taking a look at some of the foundational stories of our faith from the book of Genesis. But we’re also looking for those hints that point to the Good News about Jesus. So last week we talked about the creation story at the beginning of the Bible — but also how the NT writers refer to the work of Jesus as “new creation” work.
We can think of this in three parts:
- God creates us in His image;
- But Sin un-creates that image, corrupts it beyond recognition;
- So Jesus re-creates that image, restores, renews, reconciles
So many of the stories in the Bible tell of the power of sin to “un-create.” But God has a unique response to this situation. His response to the brokenness of sin is to make promises in the form of a covenant. That is one of the underlying themes of the entire Bible and you can see this for the first time in the story of a man named Noah.
Many ancient cultures had their own flood stories. Critics of the Bible like to point this out as if it somehow “waters down” (no pun intended) the truthfulness of the Genesis account. But I would argue that all these different flood accounts point to the reality of a massive, worldwide flood event in the ancient world. It would only be natural for different people to come up with different explanations for this event over time — thus the competing stories. But we can think of the Genesis flood account as God setting the record straight — letting us know what really happened and why it happened.
Genesis sets the stage for the Gospel story by showing us that God responds to the pervasiveness of sin by providing a cleansing through water.
The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.Genesis 6:5, 11-12
Here we see the power of Sin to un-create. In just a few chapters in the biblical story, we’ve gone from the goodness of God’s creation to widespread corruption. Sin has corrupted God’s image-bearers and His creation. So He sets out to create again. And He chooses to do this through — in the words of the old hymn — a “cleansing flood.” God responds to sin by providing a cleansing through water, a purifying bath.
But one man finds favor in God’s eyes. The Bible tells us that Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. In some of the Jewish traditions, this meant that Noah called others to repent of their wickedness, although with very little success it would seem. So God comes to Noah and He tells him to build an ark, to put animals and supplies on the ark. And Noah did all that God commanded him. And God delivered Noah and his family.
But God doesn’t simply save Noah’s life. God also makes a promise to him.
But I will establish my covenant with you…Genesis 6:18
This is an important passage of Scripture because it contains the first usage of a word that is HUGE for our understanding: that word is “covenant.”
The word “covenant” appears nearly 300 times in the Old Testament alone. A covenant is an agreement, a promise — sometimes it refers to a treaty between two nations; other times it is used to describe the relationship between a king and his subjects or between a wife and her husband. There was often a legal component to a covenant; it cemented a relationship of mutual obligation. In the ancient world, a covenant was often sealed by passing between the divided parts of a sacrifice — which we’ll see next week when we look at God’s covenant with Abraham.
God’s response to the brokenness brought about by sin is to enter into covenant. To put it differently, God responds to the problem of sin by making a promise.
From this point forward, the Biblical story will focus on God as a covenant-making, promise-keeping God. This is the first of five major covenants in the Bible:
- Covenant with Noah — God’s universal covenant with creation
- Covenant with Abraham — God’s promise to make a great nation out of Abraham’s descendants
- Mosaic covenant — the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai
- Davidic covenant — God promises to build a house for David, one of his descendants will rule forever
- New covenant — prophesied by Jeremiah (Jer. 31) and fulfilled in Jesus
Noah is a second “Adam” of sorts. He steps into a new creation after God has created the world again through this cleansing flood. Noah receives the same commandment Adam received: to be fruitful and to multiply. We see that even though God makes a new start with His creation, His purposes remain the same.
After the flood waters subside, Noah makes a sacrifice and this pleases God. With covenants there are always sacrifices involved. And God tells Noah once again about the covenant He is establishing with Him.
And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”Genesis 9:12-13
God gives creation a sign of His promise: a rainbow. This is the universal symbol for God’s universal covenant with His creation. The rainbow is a visible manifestation of the faithful covenant promises of God.