Relevant Biblical Passages: Genesis 6:18; 9:8-17
“All Future Generations” – God’s Covenant with Noah. The idea of “covenant” is one which is especially important to those who are gripped by the idea of divine sovereignty: God is everything and we exist only by His power and His grace. The predestinarian system of John Calvin (1509-64), the famous Geneva reformer, represents the extreme development of this emphasis on divine sovereignty. The contrasting position, emphasizing human freedom and responsibility, typically goes under the name of Arminianism or Wesleyanism, from the names of the two most famous theoreticians and practitioners of a free-will system: Jacob Arminius (1560-1609) and John Wesley (1703-91).
Since the story of Noah and the flood is the first context in which the term “covenant” is used to describe God’s relationship to humankind, it may be helpful to keep in mind that tension between the divine role and the human role as we focus on the idea of covenant in the story of Noah and the flood.
Discussion themes and questions.
- The covenants compared. Since the first use of covenant in the Noah story simply involves God’s promise of deliverance for Noah and his family (6:18) and the second one involves God’s promise never to destroy the earth again with a flood (9:8-17). what do we learn about God’s covenant of eternal salvation in this story?
- The human response. How much human involvement and response is required for these two covenants to be effective? In the initial covenant, Noah and his family simply had to enter the ark; in the covenant given after the flood, the promise seems to have been universal and unconditional.
- Humans make a mess of God’s world. The stated cause for the flood is human wickedness (Gen. 6:5-8). How does this freedom to abuse God’s creation fit in with the idea of divine sovereignty? The NRSV puts God’s reaction to human sinfulness very bluntly and in very human terms: “The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth…. And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” (6:5-6, NRSV). How does the idea of a divine master plan fit in with such language?
- A plan only for Noah? The wording in Genesis 6 applies the word “covenant” only to Noah and his family. There seems to be very little emphasis on the idea of evangelism in an attempt to win a wicked world. At the very outset, God promises to save Noah and his family and they are the only ones who are saved. Does this foreshadow a more predestinarian position?
- All humankind delivered: never again a flood. Clearly the covenant to Noah after the flood is at God’s initiative and involves all creation. There seems to be nothing that humans have done to deserve the covenant and nothing they can do to change it. Does God’s plan to finally destroy the earth with fire, instead of with water, suggest a certain conditionality even in the promise never to destroy the earth again by water?
- Divine initiative and personal salvation. To what extent is the gracious universal covenant of God after the flood a harbinger of God’s plan to save humankind through Jesus and his death?