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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.

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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