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The Covenant with Noah


God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. 2The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the air, on everything that creeps on the ground, and on all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered. 3Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. 4Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. 5For your own lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning: from every animal I will require it and from human beings, each one for the blood of another, I will require a reckoning for human life.


Whoever sheds the blood of a human,

by a human shall that person’s blood be shed;

for in his own image

God made humankind.

7 And you, be fruitful and multiply, abound on the earth and multiply in it.”

8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9“As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12God 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: 13I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

Noah and His Sons

18 The sons of Noah who went out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham was the father of Canaan. 19These three were the sons of Noah; and from these the whole earth was peopled.

20 Noah, a man of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard. 21He drank some of the wine and became drunk, and he lay uncovered in his tent. 22And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. 23Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. 24When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, 25he said,

“Cursed be Canaan;

lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers.”

26 He also said,

“Blessed by the L ord my God be Shem;

and let Canaan be his slave.


May God make space for Japheth,

and let him live in the tents of Shem;

and let Canaan be his slave.”

28 After the flood Noah lived three hundred fifty years. 29All the days of Noah were nine hundred fifty years; and he died.

1. And God blessed Noah. We hence infer with what great fear Noah had been dejected, because God, so often and at such length, proceeds to encourage him. For when Moses here says, that God blessed Noah and his sons, he does not simply mean that the favor of fruitfulness was restored to them; but that, at the same time, the design of God concerning the new restitution of the world was revealed unto them. For to the blessing itself is added the voice of God by which he addresses them. We know that brute animals produce offspring in no other way than by the blessing of God; but Moses here commemorates a privilege which belongs only to men. Therefore, lest those four men and their wives, seized with trepidation, should doubt for what purpose they had been delivered, the Lord prescribes to them their future condition of life: namely, that they shall raise up mankind from death to life. Thus he not only renews the world by the same word by which he before created it; but he directs his word to men, in order that they may recover the lawful use of marriage, may know that the care of producing offspring is pleasing to Himself, and may have confidence that a progeny shall spring from them which shall diffuse itself through all regions of the earth, so as to render it again inhabited; although it had been laid waste and made a desert. Yet he did not permit promiscuous intercourse, but sanctioned anew that law of marriage which he had before ordained. And although the blessing of God is, in some way, extended to illicit connections, so that offspring is thence produced, yet this is an impure fruitfulness; that which is lawful flows only from the expressly declared benediction of God.

2. And the fear of you. This also has chiefly respect to the restoration of the world, in order that the sovereignty over the rest of animals might remain with men. And although after the fall of man, the beasts were endued with new ferocity, yet some remains of that dominion over them, which God had conferred on him in the beginning, were still left. He now also promises that the same dominion shall continue. We see indeed that wild beasts rush violently upon men, and rend and tear many of them in pieces; and if God did not wonderfully restrain their fierceness, the human race would be utterly destroyed. Therefore, what we have said respecting the inclemency of the air, and the irregularity of the seasons, is also here applicable. Savage beasts indeed prevail and rage against men in various ways, and no wonder; for since we perversely exalt ourselves against God, why should not the beasts rise up against us? Nevertheless, the providence of God is a secret bridle to restrain their violence. For, whence does it arise that serpents spare us, unless because he represses their virulence? Whence is it that tigers, elephants, lions, bears, wolves, and other wild beasts without number, do not rend, tear, and devour everything human, except that they are withheld by this subjection, as by a barrier? Therefore, it ought to be referred to the special protection and guardianship of God, that we remain in safety. For, were it otherwise, what could we expect; since they seem as if born for our destruction, and burn with the furious desire to injure us? Moreover, the bridle with which the Lord restrains the cruelty of wild beasts, to prevent them falling upon men, is a certain fear and dread which God has implanted in them, to the end that they might reverence the presence of men. Daniel especially declares this respecting kings; namely, that they are possessed of dominion, because the Lord has put the fear and the dread of them both on men and beasts. But as the first use of fear is to defend the society of mankind; so, according to the measure in which God has given to men a general authority over the beasts, there exists in the greatest and the least of men, I know not what hidden mark, which does not suffer the cruelty of wild beasts, by its violence to prevail. Another advantage, however and one more widely extended, is here noted; namely, that men may render animals subservient to their own convenience, and may apply them to various uses, according to their wishes and their necessities. Therefore, the fact that oxen become accustomed to bear the yoke; that the wildness of horses is so subdued as to cause them to carry a rider; that they receive the pack-saddle to bear burdens; that cows give milk, and suffer themselves to be milked; that sheep are mute under the hand of the shearer; all these facts are the result of this dominion, which, although greatly diminished, is nevertheless not entirely abolished.

3. Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you. The Lord proceeds further, and grants animals for food to men, that they may eat their flesh. And because Moses now first relates that this right was given to men, nearly all commentators infer, that it was not lawful for man to eat flesh before the deluge, but that the natural fruits of the earth were his only food. But the argument is not sufficiently firm. For I hold to this principle; that God here does not bestow on men more than he had previously given, but only restores what had been taken away, that they might again enter on the possession of those good things from which they had been excluded. For since they had before offered sacrifices to God, and were also permitted to kill wild beasts, from the hides and skins of which, they might make for themselves garments and tents, I do not see what obligation should prevent them from the eating of flesh. But since it is of little consequence what opinion is held, I affirm nothing on the subject.286286     The question which Calvin here dismisses as one of little importance has, in modern controversy, assumed a very different position; and most commentators have come to a decision, the reverse of that to which he inclines. His arguments appears chargeable with the want of firmness, which he imputes to others. The inference that the flesh of sacrifices was eaten, since otherwise it must have been wasted, is of no force, if we suppose the first sacrifices to have been all holocausts, or whole burnt offering unto the Lord. The garments or tents referred to as made from the skins of animals were, in all probability, those of the very animals which were thus sacrificed; so that there is no reason hence to conclude, that flesh was eaten before the deluge. But let the reader refer to Magee on the Atonement, Dissertation, No.li2 — Ed. This ought justly to be deemed by us of greater importance, that to eat the flesh of animals is granted to us by the kindness of God; that we do not seize upon what our appetite desires, as robbers do, nor yet tyrannically shed the innocent blood of cattle; but that we only take what is offered to us by the hand of the Lord. We have heard what Paul says, that we are at liberty to eat what we please, only we do it with the assurance of conscience, but that he who imagines anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean, (Romans 14:14.) And whence has this happened to man, that he should eat whatever food he pleased before God, with a tranquil mind, and not with unbridled license, except from his knowing, that it has been divinely delivered into his hand by the right of donation? Wherefore, (the same Paul being witness,) the word of God sanctifies the creatures, that we may purely and lawfully feed on them, (1 Timothy 4:5.) Let the adage be utterly rejected which says, ‘that no one can feed and refresh his body with a morsel of bread, without, at the same time, defiling his soul.’ Therefore it is not to be doubted, that the Lord designed to confirm our faith, when he expressly declares by Moses, that he gave to man the free use of flesh, so that we might not eat it with a doubtful and trembling conscience. At the same time, however, he invites us to thanksgiving. On this account also, Paul adds “prayer” to the “word,” in defining the method of sanctification in the passage recently cited.

And now we must firmly retain the liberty given us by the Lord, which he designed to be recorded as on public tables. For, by this word, he addresses all the posterity of Noah, and renders this gift common to all ages. And why is this done, but that the faithful may boldly assert their right to that which, they know, has proceeded from God as its Author? For it is an insupportable tyranny, when God, the Creator of all things, has laid open to us the earth and the air, in order that we may thence take food as from his storehouse, for these to be shut up from us by mortal man, who is not able to create even a snail or a fly. I do not speak of external prohibition;287287     By external prohibition, is probably meant such as might be enjoined by the magistrate during a time of scarcity, or for any purely civil purpose. — Ed. but I assert, that atrocious injury is done to God, when we give such license to men as to allow them to pronounce that unlawful which God designs to be lawful, and to bind consciences which the word of God sets free, with their fictitious laws. The fact that God prohibited his ancient people from the use of unclean animals, seeing that exception was but temporary, is here passed over by Moses.

4. But flesh with the life thereof , which is the blood thereof Some thus explain this passages ‘Ye may not eat a member cut off from a living animal,’ which is too trifling. However, since there is no copulative conjunction between the two words, blood and life, I do not doubt that Moses, speaking of the life, added the word blood exegetically,288288     This is apparent in the English version, where the words, “which is,” are added in Italics, showing that in the judgment of the translators, the word following was explanatory of that which preceded. — Ed. as if he would say, that flesh is in some sense devoured with its life, when it is eaten imbued with its own blood. Wherefore, the life and the blood are not put for different things, but for the same; not because blood is in itself the life, but inasmuch as the vital spirits chiefly reside in the blood, it is, as far as our feeling is concerned, a token which represents life. And this is expressly declared, in order that men may have the greater horror of eating blood For if it be a savage and barbarous thing to devour lives, or to swallow down living flesh, men betray their brutality by eating blood. Moreover, the tendency of this prohibition is by no means obscure, namely, that God intends to accustom men to gentleness, by abstinence from the blood of animals; but, if they should become unrestrained, and daring in eating wild animals they would at length not be sparing of even human blood. Yet we must remember, that this restriction was part of the old law.289289     “Partem fuisse veteris paedagogiae.” Wherefore, what Tertullian relates, that in his time it was unlawful among Christians to taste the blood of cattle, savours of superstition. For the apostles, in commanding the Gentiles to observe this rite, for a short time, did not intend to inject a scruple into their consciences, but only to prevent the liberty which was otherwise sacred, from proving an occasion of offense to the ignorant and the weak.

5. And surely your blood of your lives will I require. In these words the Lord more explicitly declares that he does not forbid the use of blood out of regard to animals themselves, but because he accounts the life of men precious: and because the sole end of his law is, to promote the exercise of common humanity between them. I therefore think that Jerome, in rendering the particle אך (ach,) for, has done better than they who read it as an adversative disjunctive; ‘otherwise your blood will I require;’ yet literally it may best be thus translated, ‘And truly your blood.’290290     Thus agreeing with the English version. The whole context is (in my opinion) to be thus read, ‘And truly your blood, which is in your lives, or which is as your lives, that is which vivifies and quickens you, as it respects your body, will I require: from the hand of all animals will require it; from the hand of man, from the hand, I say, of man, his brother, will I require the life of man.’ The distinction by which the Jews constitute four kinds of homicide is frivolous; for I have explained the simple and genuine sense, namely, that God so highly estimates our life, that he will not suffer murder to go unavenged. And he inculcates this in so many words, in order that he may render the cruelty of those the more detestable, who lay violent hands upon their neighbors. And it is no common proof of God’s love towards us, that he undertakes the defense of our lives, and declares that he will be the avenger of our death. In saying that he will exact punishment from animals for the violated life of men, he gives us this as an example. For if, on behalf of man, he is angry with brute creatures who are hurried by a blind impulse to feed upon him; what, do we suppose, will become of the man who, unjustly, cruelly, and contrary to the sense of nature, falls upon his brother?

6. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood291291     “Qui effuderit sanguinem hominis in homine.” He who shall have shed the blood of man in man. The clause in man which is here added, has the force of amplification. Some expound it, ‘Before witnesses.’ Others refer it to what follows, namely, ‘that by man his blood should be shed.’292292     This is the interpretation of the English version. But all these interpretations are forced. What I have said must be remembered, that this language rather expresses the atrociousness of the crime; because whosoever kills a man, draws down upon himself the blood and life of his brother. On the whole, they are deceived (in my judgment) who think that a political law, for the punishment of homicides, is here simply intended. Truly I do not deny that the punishment which the laws ordain, and which the judges execute, are founded on this divine sentence; but I say the words are more comprehensive. It is written,

‘Men of blood shall not live out half their days,’
(Psalm 55:23.)

And we see some die in highways, some in stews, and many in wars. Therefore, however magistrates may connive at the crime, God sends executioners from other quarters, who shall render unto sanguinary men their reward. God so threatens and denounces vengeance against the murderer, that he even arms the magistrate with the sword for the avenging of slaughter, in order that the blood of men may not be shed with impunity.

For in the image of God made he man. For the greater confirmation of the above doctrines God declares, that he is not thus solicitous respecting human life rashly, and for no purpose. Men are indeed unworthy of God’s care, if respect be had only to themselves. but since they bear the image of God engraven on them, He deems himself violated in their person. Thus, although they have nothing of their own by which they obtain the favor of God, he looks upon his own gifts in them, and is thereby excited to love and to care for them. This doctrine, however is to be carefully observed that no one can be injurious to his brother without wounding God himself. Were this doctrine deeply fixed in our minds, we should be much more reluctant than we are to inflict injuries. Should any one object, that this divine image has been obliterated, the solution is easy; first, there yet exists some remnant of it, so that man is possessed of no small dignity; and, secondly, the Celestial Creator himself, however corrupted man may be, still keeps in view the end of his original creation; and according to his example, we ought to consider for what end he created men, and what excellence he has bestowed upon them above the rest of living beings.

7. And you , be ye fruitful and multiply. He again turns his discourse to Noah and his sons, exhorting them to the propagation of offspring: as if he would say, ‘You see that I am intent upon cherishing and preserving mankind, do you therefore also attend to it.’ At the same time, in commending to them the preservation of seed, he deters them from murder, and from unjust acts of violence. Yet his chief end was that to which I have before alluded, that he might encourage their dejected minds. For in these words is contained not a bare precept, but also a promise.

8. And God spake unto Noah. That the memory of the deluge might not inspire them with new terrors, as often as the sky were covered with clouds, lest the earth should again be drowned; this source of anxiety is taken away. And certainly, if we consider the great propensity of the human mind to distrust, we shall not deem this testimony to have been unnecessary even for Noah. He was indeed endued with a rare and incomparable faith, even to a miracle; but no strength of constancy could be so great, that this most sad and terrible vengeance of God should not shake it. Therefore, whenever any great and continued shower shall seem to threaten the earth with a deluge, this barrier, on which the holy man may rely, is interposed. Now although his sons would need this confirmation more than he, yet the Lord speaks especially on his account. And the clause which follows, ‘and to his sons who were with him,’ is to be referred to this point. For how is it, that God, making his covenant with the sons of Noah, commands them to hope for the best? Truly, because they are joined with their father, who is, as it were, the stipulator of the covenant, so as to be associated with him, in a subordinate place293293     “Ut secundo loco in societatem accedant.” . Moreover, there is no doubt that it was the design of God to provide for all his posterity. It was not therefore a private covenant confirmed with one family only, but one which is common to all people, and which shall flourish in all ages to the end of the world. And truly, since at the present time, impiety overflows not less than in the age of Noah, it is especially necessary that the waters should be restrained by this word of God, as by a thousand bolts and bars lest they should break forth to destroy us. Wherefore, relying on this promise, let us look forward to the last day, in which the consuming fire shall purify heaven and earth.

10. And with every living creature. Although the favor which the Lord promises extends also to animals, yet it is not in vain that he addresses himself only to men, who, by the sense of faith, are able to perceive this benefit. We enjoy the heaven and the air in common with the beasts, and draw the same vital breath; but it is no common privilege, that God directs his word to us; whence we may learn with what paternal love he pursues us. And here three distinct steps are to be traced. First, God, as in a matter of present concern, makes a covenant with Noah and his family, lest they should be afraid of a deluge for themselves. Secondly, he transmits his covenant to posterity, not only that, as by continual succession, the effect may reach to other ages; but that they who should afterwards be born might also apprehend this testimony by faith, and might conclude that the same thing which had been promised to the sons of Noah, was promised unto them. Thirdly, he declares that he will be propitious also to brute animals, so that the effect of the covenant towards them, might be the preservation of their lives only, without imparting to them sense and intelligence. Hence the ignorance of the Anabaptists may be refuted, who deny that the covenant of God is common to infants, because they are destitute of present faith. As if, truly, when God promises salvation to a thousand generations, the fathers were not intermediate parties between God and their children, whose office it is to deliver to their children (so to speak) from hand to hand the promise received from God. But as many as withdraw their life from this protection of God (since the greater part of men either despise or ridicule this divine covenant) deserve, by this single act of ingratitude, to be immersed in eternal fire. For although this be an earthly promise, yet God designs the faith of his people to be exercised, in order that they may be assured that a certain abode will, by his special goodness, be provided for them on earth, until they shall be gathered together in heaven.

12. This is the token of the covenant. A sign is added to the promise, in which is exhibited the wonderful kindness of God; who, for the purpose of confirming our faith in his word, does not disdain to use such helps. And although we have more fully discussed the use of signs in Genesis 2:1, yet we must briefly maintain, from these words of Moses, that it is wrong to sever signs from the word. By the word, I mean not that of which Papists boast; whereby they enchant bread, wine, water, and oil, with their magical whisperings; but that which may strengthen faith: according no the Lord here plainly addresses holy Noah and his sons; he then annexes a seal, for the sake of assurance. Wherefore, if the sacrament be wrested from the word, it ceases to be what it is called. It must, I say, be a vocal sign, in order that it may retain its force, and not degenerate from its nature. And not only is that administration of sacraments in which the word of God is silent, vain and ludicrous; but it draws with it pure satanic delusions. Hence we also infer, that from the beginning, it was the peculiar property of sacraments, to avail for the confirmation of faith. For certainly, in the covenant that promise is included to which faith ought to respond. It appears to some absurd, that faith should be sustained by such helps. But they who speak thus do not, in the first place, reflect on the great ignorance and imbecility of our minds; nor do they, secondly, ascribe to the working of the secret power of the Spirit that praise which is due. It is the work of God alone to begin and to perfect faith; but he does it by such instruments as he sees good; the free choice of which is in his own power.

13. I do set my bow in the cloud. From these words certain eminent theologians have been induced to deny, that there was any rainbow before the deluge: which is frivolous. For the words of Moses do not signify, that a bow was then formed which did not previously exist; but that a mark was engraven upon it, which should give a sign of the divine favor towards men. That this may the more evidently appear, it will be well to recall to memory what we have elsewhere said, that some signs are natural, and some preternatural. And although there are many examples of this second class of signs in the Scriptures; yet they are peculiar, and do not belong to the common and perpetual use of the Church. For, as it pleases the Lord to employ earthly elements, as vehicles for raising the minds of men on high, so I think the celestial arch which had before existed naturally, is here consecrated into a sign and pledge; and thus a new office is assigned to it; whereas, from the nature of the thing itself, it might rather be a sign of the contrary; for it threatens continued rain. Let this therefore he the meaning, of the words, ‘As often as the rain shall alarm you, look upon the bow. For although it may seem to cause the rain to overflow the earth, it shall nevertheless be to you a pledge of returning dryness, and thus it will then become you to stand with greater confidence, than under a clear and serene sky.’ Hence it is not for us to contend with philosophers respecting the rainbow; for although its colors are the effect of natural causes, yet they act profanely who attempt to deprive God of the right and authority which he has over his creatures.

15. And I will remember my covenant. Moses, by introducing God so often as the speaker, teaches us that the word holds the chief place, and that signs are to be estimated by it.294294     “Precipuas esse verbi partes, et inde aestimanda signa.” — “Queleprincipal gist en la parole, et que d’icelle il faut estimer les sacramens.” That the principal force is in the word, and that from it we must estimate the sacraments. — French Tr. God, however, speaks after the manner of men, when he says, that at the sight of the rainbow he will remember his covenant. But this mode of speaking has reference to the faith of men, in order that they may reflect, that God, whenever he stretches out his arch over the clouds, is not unmindful of his covenant.

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