top of page
  • Writer's picturemww

God's Covenant of Life with Noah in Genesis 9:1-15

Updated: Jan 22

Do we take life as seriously as God does?

Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for Genesis 9:1-15

In this final lesson about Noah, we see God's plan to "reboot" the earth. A fresh start for life on earth. A new focus on preserving that life. A new commission to take that life seriously. In addition to the beautiful symbol of the rainbow, I discovered some strong parallels with the Great Commission in Matthew 28, and I can't help but believe that's intentional.

God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. (9:1)

Two Previous Studies of This Week's Passage

I mentioned last week that our 2015 study of Genesis combined last week's and this week's passage:

We also covered this passage for the Sanctity of Human Life study in 2019:

This Week's Big Idea: Sanctity of Human Life Sunday

I'm doing my post a bit out of order because it seemed appropriate. This Sunday is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday (January 21), and Lifeway has chosen a passage in Genesis 9 that heavily deals with the sanctity of life.

This brief article by Mike Griffin (Public Affairs Representative of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board) -- Commentary: Sanctity of Human Life Sunday is a time to build a culture of life - The Christian Index -- is really useful.

If you Google this topic, you're going to get a series of pregnancy aid centers around the country. As you can imagine, this time of the year is critical to their fundraising efforts. Here are the first three centers that came up in my search:

They each heavily promote resources for churches (like bulletin inserts, etc.) because they see churches as their most logical partners. Churches can support them financially, and churches can refer women in need to them. And let me be clear about this -- these groups aren't in it for the money. They're in it to help as many women as possible. They just need the money to keep the lights on.

About the CSRA, I found more abortion providers than pregnancy aid centers. These two aid centers did not indicate if they partner with specific churches.

You might remember from our Mission Georgia Offering (October) that maternity care is one of the Georgia Baptist priorities. See the sorts of things they support on the Georgia Baptist Mission Board website:

If your group has a heart for pregnancy support, do some research into the kinds of things you can be a part of in the CSRA, or get in touch with me and we can work together to figure out ways (beyond supporting Mission Georgia) you can help.


Getting Started: Things to Think About

Park Rules

I have always loved the classic park instruction "Leave only footprints, take only photos". But if you think about it, rules for parks are incredibly important, not only for safety, but also for sustainability. Here are some park signs from Google:

Assuming you are someone who appreciates parks and public outdoor spaces, what is so important about having rules for their use?

In a weird way, I see the instructions God gave Noah and his family as a kind of "park rules for the world". If that analogy works for you, when you get to the end of the lesson, talk about how following those particular rules improves safety and sustainability.

[Addition: in my group's discussion, we brought up HOAs. It's an interesting balance between rules for the good of everybody, and rules that are unnecessary. We have to remember that God's rules are always good.]


Hopefully we can all agree that seeing a rainbow still gives you a bit of a thrill. Here's the Wikipedia rainbow banner.

God was very deliberate in His choice of the rainbow. It was, of course, an inspired decision. We see rainbows only after a rain. We see them all over the world. We see them only for a short time. We love to see rainbows.

If you take it to a scientific level, God's choice is even more amazing. There are many, many webpages that laud rainbows. Here are two:

I love the theological symbolism of those two truths.

If you really want to nerd out, this page is for you:

This guy has a PhD in physics and is a nature photographer. He gave no indication of belief in God, just a passion for sharing scientific truth. To me, his page not only shows God's creativity, but also His careful design of the mathematical constants of nature.


This Week's Bonus Big Idea: God's Covenants

You didn't think we were stopping there with introductory material, did you? The book of Genesis is all about establishing the ground rules of human existence. Everything we have read so far has foundational importance -- why the world is the way it is; why people are the way they are; why God relates to people the way He does. This week, we focus on the covenant between God and Noah.

Let me just be honest -- the Bible Project does a much better (and more concise!) job of explaining the four covenants of the Old Testament than I could.

The big point I want you to catch is that God's covenant with Noah is "one-sided". It is simply a promise from God to man that God will never again use that method of dealing with sin. But if you watch the rest of the video, you see how God's covenants build on one another and ultimately point us to Jesus.


Part 1: A Blessing and Commission (Genesis 9:1-4)

God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. 2 The fear and terror of you will be in every living creature on the earth, every bird of the sky, every creature that crawls on the ground, and all the fish of the sea. They are placed under your authority. 3 Every creature that lives and moves will be food for you; as I gave the green plants, I have given you everything. 4 However, you must not eat meat with its lifeblood in it.

The final painting in Tom DuBois's "Noah" series is called "The Commission":

This is the painting I have in my hall. I told you this guy loves color and excitement!

We are supposed to catch the parallel with God's commission to Adam:

28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.” 29 God also said, “Look, I have given you every seed-bearing plant on the surface of the entire earth and every tree whose fruit contains seed. This will be food for you, 30 for all the wildlife of the earth, for every bird of the sky, and for every creature that crawls on the earth—everything having the breath of life in it—I have given every green plant for food.”

What are the big differences between the two commissions? I'll let you discover those on your own.

A neat parallel between the two is the circumstance. In chapter 1, God starts the entire human race from two people. In chapter 9, we're right back to the same place, except this time with eight people. "Be fruitful and multiply" is a necessity for the survival of the human race.

Let's dive into

  • "Be fruitful"

  • "Multiply"

  • "Fill the earth"

I'm going to quote at length from my 2019 post:


"Timothy Keller wrote an excellent book (Every Good Endeavor) explaining how our work/job/career intersects with this original commission, and I highly recommend it. One of his subtle points is that the “image of God” must be directly related to His commission to Adam. In other words, what God told Adam to do, that no other animal could do, is based on the fact that Adam alone was made in God’s image. “Fill” “rule” and “subdue” thus relate to:

  • Conservation (land and resource management)

  • Cultivation (advancement and technology)

  • Culture (expression and identity)

  • Society (laws, communication, economics)

  • Development (planning and implementation)

(That’s my oversimplified summary and interpretation of his book. When God says “fill the earth”, He doesn’t just mean “with more people” but also with our imprint. We leave our mark all over the earth—that’s where “culture” and “cultivation” come into play.) Take an in-depth look at those concepts. They demand everything that makes us us, including “will” and “mind” and “personality”. In other words, the ability to do and create those things is rooted in the image of God. But those things take all of us—creativity, ingenuity, logic, perseverance, compromise, and more. Everything that God took to create the universe and plan for our salvation, He gave us a likeness of that (however limited)."


Hopefully you noticed that the commission to Noah didn't explicitly include "subdue". However, I think God's line "They are placed under your authority" takes the place of that. Thus, everything that applies to the commission to Adam also applies to Noah.

I truly love how Tim Keller noted the full depth of meaning of what God way saying to Adam (and Noah). "Make the earth your own! Fill it with families, productivity, culture, and joy! And take care of it so your children's children can enjoy it just as you have!"

I encourage you to test out a thorny topic: conservationism. I believe that God is clearly giving us a mandate to be responsible with the resources of earth. What is the line between using the earth's natural resources for the good of society and exploiting them? What is the line between a harmonious relationship with the earth and an adversarial one?

That is one of the most important -- and most difficult -- debates of our day.

I've seen too many cruelly killed or abused animals to believe that we're doing all that great of a job. (And as an animal lover, I'm sensitive to that.)

Let's briefly unpack verse 4. Once again, I'm going to quote my 2019 post at length. (I'm pressed for time this week; why reinvent the wheel?)


"Aside: Meat with Its Lifeblood

When we covered the book of Acts, we spent a week on the Jerusalem Council and their pronouncement that the new Gentile Christians should abstain from meat that has been sacrificed to idols, from blood, from animals that have been strangled, and from sexual immorality (Acts 15:29). You might remember from that lesson that I explained the reason against strangling (which sounds weird, right?) is that strangling an animal kept all of its blood inside, and eating blood (in many pagan settings) was considered the means of absorbing that creature’s life force (or some such nonsense). Because there is absolutely no nutritional reason to drink blood, the only reason you do it is as part of some cultic pagan animal ritual. Christians don’t need to be part of that in any way. (By the way, you’ll find some odd websites that tout the iron content of blood. They downplay the presence of killer bacteria—I’m convinced that God also gave this requirement to protect primitive humanity from food-borne poisons that would have been all the more dangerous (1) not knowing how hot/long to cook food, and (2) having dangerous blood still in the meat just making it all the more poisonous. If you’re iron-deficient, take a supplement; don’t drink blood.)

Well, you might not be surprised that the pagan belief in blood containing the lifeforce of an animal is very ancient. The question is chicken-or-the-egg: did God tell Noah not to drink blood because it was already a common practice, or did people start drinking blood because God told Noah not to do it?

Lev 17:11 tells us that life is in the blood; that’s a biological truth, and it’s also the basis for the Jewish sacrificial system. Creatures cannot survive without blood; blood carries nutrients, hormones, to all of the cells in the body so that they can continue to function. Blood is necessary for life—but blood does not contain “lifeforce” (whatever that’s supposed to be).

I think it’s quite possible that God gave this command to keep His people from dabbling in what would become common pagan practices. But there’s one more likelihood: God was foreshadowing Jesus and the entire sacrificial system. Through the shedding of His blood, Jesus paid the price for our sins. Blood is to be given the highest respect by Christians for that reason. The shedding of blood should always remind us of Jesus. I think that God is absolutely able to accomplish both a practical and a spiritual purpose with the same commandment."


In short, this passage is about starting over. How do you believe this commission applies to you? How are you doing fulfilling the commission?


Part 2: Life Is More Precious Than You Know (Genesis 9:5-7)

5 And I will require a penalty for your lifeblood; I will require it from any animal and from any human; if someone murders a fellow human, I will require that person’s life. 6 Whoever sheds human blood, by humans his blood will be shed, for God made humans in his image. 7 But you, be fruitful and multiply; spread out over the earth and multiply on it.”

First, note that the relationship between man and animal is not reciprocal. God will invoke the "death penalty" on an animal that kills a human (eg, Ex 21:28-32). Humans are not prohibited from taking the life of an animal. (But, per above, we had better be responsible with our killing of animals -- for food, for clothing, for self-defense.)

It was important for God to put this strict command here, lest people misunderstand the lesson from the flood. God did not flood the earth because life is cheap; God flooded the earth because life is more precious than people appreciated.

Let's see if you agree with me about this -- sin boils down to elevating yourself above others (including God). Sin unchecked reduces others (objects, animals, people) to a thing for you to use for your own purposes; their value is nothing more than how useful they are to you. Sin creates the conditions for exploitation and, at its extreme, murder. God wants to restrain the incalculable consequences of sin without constraining our wills, and appealing to the sanctity of life is (and should be) a powerful measure.

So, obviously, this is where the Sanctity of Human Life Sunday emphasis comes in.

God values human life to the utmost.

The language in verses 5 and 6 is an interesting combination of singular and collective nouns. The Hebrew behind the second half of verse 5 is actually the much more poetic, "From the hand of mankind, I will exact punishment for the life of the man, from the hand of a man, his brother." God is putting three concepts together: the individual, the group, and the family. For Noah's descendants, the "family" part should have been easy to see -- they were all immediate family. But for us today, the implication is even broader: we are all a part of the same human race, and that means we are all family. You are not just "a person" -- you are my brother or my sister. Taking another person's life is murdering a sibling (from God's perspective).

And this also kind of answers the question we probably all have of how God intended to exact this penalty. Vigilantism was certainly a thing in the ancient world. God identifies this as "the avenger of blood" -- a family member who avenges a murder. In the absence of a widescale judicial system, that was the only way to "get justice". God gave context and boundaries for that practice in Deuteronomy 19. We studied that passage for the Sanctity of Human Life lesson in 2020:

That post dives into the topics of

  • legal definitions of murder

  • euthanasia

  • vigilantism

  • "cities of refuge"

  • how God can be pro-life and also pro-capital punishment

In both the 2015 and 2019 posts, I was a bit noncommittal on how God intended to exact the penalty for murder. Having gotten help with the Hebrew behind Genesis 9, I think it's more clear than I realized:

Then Jesus told him, “Put your sword back in its place because all who take up the sword will perish by the sword. (Matt 26:52)

In a more ordered society, this would refer to capital punishment. But even in a more primitive society, people would understand how they needed to deal with murderers.

[Note: when society becomes corrupt, there's a different set of problems, and God will deal with them as well, though not necessarily in this life.]

Jesus throws two massive monkey wrenches into this concept.

(1) Mercy. Mercy has always been a factor. Just look at the mercy that God showed Cain a few chapters ago! But Jesus explains that mercy is not simply the purview of God; it's something that all people are to show to all people. So if we're supposed to show mercy, how can we endorse the death penalty? My guess is that you've already had this debate many times, and I'm not going to sway your personal opinion in a few sentences. Here's the simplest way I can explain what I believe the Bible says about this: Christians are to show mercy, and we are to forgive those who sin against us, but that does not mean that the consequences of sin disappear.

(2) Anger. In my opinion, this is the bigger deal for us to consider.

You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, Do not murder, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Whoever insults his brother or sister, will be subject to the court. Whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be subject to hellfire. (Matt 5:21-22)

!!!!! First of all, this is rhetorical. However, Jesus wants us to pair his words with God's commands against murder in the Old Testament, rooted in the verses in Genesis 9. Being angry with your fellow human is a BIG DEAL. Anger is a stepstone to murder, and anger (like unforgiveness) reveals that one does not realize how merciful God has been to him.

There's one more topic that you might be concerned with:

  • "Whoever sheds human blood" seems kinda vague.

It's a colloquialism, and it's poetic. The rest of the Bible makes it clear what God means here. Essentially, this is talking about premeditated murder. Your leader guide mentions that this phrase is also used to describe killing on the battlefield, but the 2020 post goes into more details about the word for "murder" that God uses in the law.

Let me quote at length again:


"The word “murder” refers both to the intentional killing of someone and the unintentional killing of someone through negligence or carelessness. (That’s why Numbers 35:11, which clearly is talking about an accident, still uses the verb for “murder”.) This word is not used for judicial execution or killing in war. Your class probably has American legal ideas about murder, so it would be helpful to review those:

  • First-degree murder: intentional murder that is willful and premeditated with “malice aforethought”.

  • Second-degree murder: intentional murder with malice aforethought, but is not premeditated or planned in advance.

  • Voluntary manslaughter: intentional killing that involves no prior intent to kill (“crime of passion”).

  • Involuntary manslaughter: intentional or negligent act leading to death (but death not the intent of the act). 

These are distinct crimes according to American law with distinct punishments. However, all of them are considered “murder” by the biblical definition of the word (folks forget the old Judeo-Christian foundation of American law)."


For the purposes of this passage, we can simply observe that murder circumvents the primary commission: to fill the earth. God wants life to thrive on the earth. We can all observe the chilling effects of a culture of death in a society.


Part 3: A Commission (Genesis 9:8-15)

8 Then God said to Noah and his sons with him, 9 “Understand that I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you—birds, livestock, and all wildlife of the earth that are with you—all the animals of the earth that came out of the ark. 11 I establish my covenant with you that never again will every creature be wiped out by floodwaters; there will never again be a flood to destroy the earth.”
12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all future generations: 13 I have placed my bow in the clouds, and it will be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I form clouds over the earth and the bow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all the living creatures: water will never again become a flood to destroy every creature.

This would be the time to show that video about the covenants. This is a one-sided covenant -- God is making a promise to the world; it doesn't matter how the world responds.

[Note: this has nothing to do with future judgment. It's just gonna be by fire.]

This would also be the time to break out all of your rainbow pictures. Here's one from my house from last year. David loves to get a picture of a rainbow over the church building and put it on Facebook.

Rainbows are just marvelous and uplifting. (You know they have to be for a group that's diametrically opposed to God's word to appropriate it as a logo. As far as I'm concerned, they can't steal the rainbow from God.)

(Your leader guide recommends bringing a prism. I love prisms. I've loved them ever since I watched Pollyanna. Bring in a bunch of prisms!)

My simple takeaway from this is that God wants life to succeed. That should give us a great deal of hope and encouragement. When you look around, what evidence do you see of God's mercy and God's desire to see life on earth succeed?

The big picture question is about how we're doing with this commission to Noah. It should be clear that God is making those commands for "life" and "humanity" -- not just one person or his family. They apply to us. What impact are we making on the world?

If you push ahead to the New Testament, you find the Great Commission in Matt 28:

18 Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

You'll notice some language overlap from Genesis. As the covenants video made clear, Jesus is the One who properly fulfilled humanity's side of those covenants, and now He gives us a new commission in His new covenant. We realize that it's not just about "multiplying" and "filling the earth" -- it's about how we fill the earth. Who we fill the earth with. God wants us to fill the earth with people who know Him and are reconciled to Him through His Son Jesus. A great part of about that is we aren't limited to filling the earth through our own physical offspring. We can fill the earth with God's children by sharing the message of reconciliation with people who are already here!

Have you ever connected Noah's commission with the Great Commission?


Closing Thoughts: The "Replacement Rate"

In lessons past, I've mentioned the dropping birth rate throughout the "developed world". News just came out that China's population dropped for the second year in a row. Similar stories about many other countries have also recently been published.

Here's a fantastic (and short) study from the New York Times about global population trends (I've shared it before):

The earth's population growth is slowing so rapidly that some sociologists believe that it might peak in our lifetime. That's not a good thing.

This is a tricky subject. I personally don't believe it's my place to tell people to have more children. And I also just shared above that fulfilling the Great Commission is a fundamental aspect of fulfilling Noah's commission.

So, I'm just going to weakly throw out there that God does want us to fill the earth with people. And I don't believe that cloning is a viable method.


bottom of page