1. The PRIVILEGE of the Covenant of Grace: We learn about the mission God has given His people
We read in Genesis 9:1, “And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.' ” We looked at this passage earlier in speaking about God's blessing of Noah. We saw how God is repeating here the same thing that He had spoken to Adam back in Genesis 1:28. And we saw that the reason this is so amazing was that when God blessed Adam, God was blessing a man who was not yet a sinner. But now, with Noah and his sons here in Genesis 9, God is repeating the same blessing to sinners. Through the atonement fore-pictured in Noah's burnt offerings, God is restoring to mankind the blessing that Adam had lost at the fall. Precious truths.
Well, what we're going to see here is that, in the Covenant of Grace, God is not only restoring the blessing of God—He's also restoring the mission of God. Just like the blessing of God, this command to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth was the exact same command God had given to Adam back in Genesis 1:28. So, when the Lord said to Noah and his sons, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth,” He was restoring to redeemed sinners the sacred privilege of filling the earth with His glory. And this command to Noah and his sons doesn't only point us backwards in Scripture—it also points us forward—to Christ and the Great Commission in Matthew 28. Think about it this way:
“The first Adam failed to carry out God’s mandate. Now Jesus, the last Adam, is fulfilling the original mandate which God gave to humanity. . .God commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful, to multiply, to fill the earth, and to subdue it for God’s glory. Jesus, the second Adam, has taken up that task. Just as the first Adam had a bride to serve as his helper (Gen.2:18-25), so the second Adam has chosen a bride to serve as his helper: the Church (Eph. 5:29-32). Together with his bride, Jesus is fulfilling the original mandate by filling the earth with regenerated images of God, who in turn submit to God’s rule and subdue the earth for his glory. To state it a little differently, the cultural mandate, which God gave to the first Adam and his bride, has now become the Great Commission. . .”1
It's also good to be reminded again here of the context of Genesis 9:1. God gives this awesome privilege to Noah and his sons immediately after we are told that the flood hadn't cured man's nature. Genesis 8:21 reminds us that Noah and his sons are still a people that struggle with sin; they're still sinners. So who is God going to use in powerful ways to fill the earth with His glory? Christians who still find themselves struggling with sin. By the way, we see the same truth in Matthew 28. Who does Jesus send out in the Great Commission? Right before verse 18 we have verse 17: “When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful.” These are the people Jesus was pleased to send out to the world and use to gather entire nations and kingdoms. Jesus is pleased to use us as His instruments—not just on our best days or when we're following Him the closest—but even in the midst of our worst failures and blunders. He uses us in the midst of our sin. He's pleased to use struggling, failing Christians—weak and broken vessels—to do wonderful things for His glory.
And this isn't just something for pastors or missionaries. If you're a believer in Jesus, this awesome privilege is for you, wherever He may call you to serve. Whether you're a minister or a mechanic or a mom—God has given you this sacred privilege—to fill your little section of the earth with His glory. Whoever you are, wherever you are; you can teach, live, pray and give to God's global mission of redemption. In Christ, your life has incredible eternal significance, whatever it is that you do.2
So, God gives His people a charge: “Be fruitful and multiply” (9:1,7). But again, God's covenant is in no way conditional on us keeping this charge. God doesn't say to Noah and his sons, “If you are fruitful and multiply, then I will confirm My covenant with you.” God gives Noah and his sons a commission, but His covenant with Noah—His peace and blessing—was never based on obedience to that mission. And that's exactly the way it is in the gospel. God has given us commands. And God has given us a mission: to fill the earth with His glory. But God never says to us: “If you go and make disciples of all nations, then I will bless you and give you My peace. God has given us His blessing and peace to the fullest measure—and it's in that knowledge that we fill the earth with His glory.
2. The OUTCOME of the Covenant of Grace: We learn of the sure hope we have in Christ
When Noah stepped out of the ark, along with his family and the animals, he entered into a new world; an earth that had been purged of wickedness and recreated in holiness and righteousness.3 Scripture emphasizes this when it tells us in Genesis 8:13 that the day the water was dried up from the earth was the first day of the first month of the first year since the flood. Now, on the one hand, this is to signify the new birth. Scripture refers to believers as “new creations” in Christ, because when God saves someone, everything about them becomes new—new desires, new longings, a new will, a new purpose, a new Lord.4 Just as it was with the earth, we have become new creations in Christ. So in one sense, this new world is pointing us to what believers experience in regeneration.
But in another sense, this new world is pointing us to what believers will experience in glorification. When Noah and his family and the animals stepped off the ark, they became the inheritors of a new earth. And this is to signify the coming reality for all those in Christ. For, “according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:3-13).5
Now, let's meditate on this theme of glorification a little more. Scripture tells us that every living thing that entered into the ark also went out together with Noah from the ark (8:17-19): “Every beast, every creeping thing, and every bird. . .went out by their families from the ark” (v19). No life was lost through the storm. In the same way, Scripture tells us that Christ will bring home to glory with Him every single person who has been united to Him by faith—no exceptions. Jesus said, “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:39). In Romans 8:29-30, Paul describes our hope of glory as believers with such certainty that he uses the past tense: “and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” The reality of inheriting eternal glory is so certain for believers that we can talk about it in the past tense.6
God wants us to live in this hope. He could have saved us without letting us know all He had done and all He had promised to do. But He didn't do that—He wants us to know; He wants us to live in the absolute assurance that He who promised is faithful; that He will bring us home to glory. Friends, if you belong to Jesus, then you are are inside the ark of salvation, and there is only one destination. You may feel like a lowly worm—but even the worms that boarded the ark were brought safely through to the new world! He will do what He promised; and He wants you and I to live upon that promise! He wants us to know that we are bound for glory. We may feel the wind and the waves—of course we will—but if we are in the ark we have nothing to fear. The day is quickly coming when we who have entered into the ark will again step out into a new world, to live and reign with Christ forever: “Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass” (1 Thessalonians 5:24).
3. A Few Final Applications from God's Covenant with Noah
A) There are WARNINGS:
I. A warning to THE WORLD of the coming of Christ and the judgment to come:
Jesus said in Luke 17:26-27: “And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.” There is a warning for us here. The final judgment will come the same way that it did with the flood. There will be no time to suddenly change your mind; it will be like a lightning flash. Now is the acceptable time; today is the day of salvation. I'm not sure how Noah's neighbors reacted to his preaching. Maybe they laughed at him; maybe they ignored him. But then, one day, the door shut, and the sky began to get incredibly black. Perhaps it was a giant tsunami.7 Maybe they saw a great wave from a distance and started banging on the ark for Noah to open the door. But it was too late. The final judgment is coming, whether the world is ready for it or not. Flee to Christ, the only ark of salvation.
II. A warning to THE CHURCH of the coming of Christ and the judgment to come:
The warning isn't just for those outside of the church. Though Noah's son Ham was safe in the ark when the flood came, in the end he showed himself to be of the seed of the serpent (Genesis 9:20-27). He had been in the ark like the rest of Noah's family. He was a member of Noah's church. He was a covenant child, and a professor of the true religion. But it seems that after the flood had died down, he began to show his true colors. In the end, all his offspring are cursed. So it will be in the resurrection of the dead. Our Savior tells us that there will be many on that day who will be thrust out of the kingdom. But they are not atheists or Hindus or Muslims or Buddhists. They had been professors of the true religion. They were those who had called Jesus “Lord,” and even those who had healed and cast out demons in his name (Matt.7:21-23). Maybe some of them had been powerful preachers or the kind of Christians known for their incredible zeal for Christ. But you know what? They never really knew Christ. Just like Ham sat in the ark, all their lives they sat in the church. But they missed the reality. They were part of the visible church, but never true members of the church invisible. They busied themselves doing Christian things all their life, but they had never truly known Christ, and on the day of judgment they will be cast away. My friends: Don't let this happen to you.
B) There are COMFORTS:
In God's dealings with Noah and his family in the ark, we are given a precious insight into the heart of God towards His people in the midst of all their distresses. Let's read Isaiah 54 one more time:
Isaiah 54:9-11: "For this is like the days of Noah to Me, when I swore that the waters of Noah would not flood the earth again; so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you nor will I rebuke you. For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake, but My lovingkindness will not be removed from you, and My covenant of peace will not be shaken. O afflicted one, storm-tossed, and not comforted, behold, I will set your stones in antimony, and your foundations I will lay in sapphires. . ."
Verses 9-10 of Isaiah 54 teach us about the surety and stability of God's people in the Covenant of Grace—they refer back to the promise that God had made after the flood. But here in verse 11, we get a precious glimpse into God's disposition towards His people in the midst of the flood. Verse 11 tells us what God was experiencing as His people were being battered to and fro, and swept up and down on the waves in the ark. Listen to how one pastor describes God's words here in verse 11:
“There is no speech or passage which we find our God to utter in Scripture more pathetic or passionate than this. . .than to hear God, in the midst of their afflictions and temptations, cry out on the sudden, and with the greatest vehemency, 'O thou afflicted, and tossed with tempests, and not comforted!'. . .it is as if the dearest friend, or most loving husband or father, having his dearest relations of wife, and children, and friends in a ship at sea, and viewing them to sit within the rage of wild waves and winds, which he, standing himself safe on the immediate shore, sees and beholds with his own eyes, and at every bending of the ship near to a suppression under those waves, his heart beats, and he lamentably cries out at every toss and motion, and thinks with himself, how must their hearts be afflicted, and not comforted in the midst of all, that are shiftless and helpless in this storm, and know not what to do! Like to such a one doth God express his affections here.”8
Our days as pilgrims in this world are like Noah's voyage in the ark. The Lord has saved us from His judgment and brought us into the ark of salvation, who is our Savior, Jesus Christ. And we know that the day is coming soon when we will step out into a new world; a new heavens and earth in which righteousness dwells. But the voyage can be long. It can be hard. It can be scary. At times we are storm-tossed. We feel like we're reeling, and there's no comfort. We wonder, where is God? It's in those moments that we need to fight with all that we have to believe the truth expressed in this verse: God isn't unmoved by the sufferings and trials we go through in this life. He's not indifferent when we're hurting or reeling, or when we're lonely and scared. His heart goes out to us, even as He also sovereignly guides us. And the day is quickly coming when He will usher us home to himself.9
1 Taken from The Cultural Mandate and Your Work Today, Hugh Whelchel, theresurgence.com/2013/08/29. The quote finishes, “. . .which God has given to Christ (Isa. 42:1-12; 49:1-26), and through Christ to the church (Matt.28:18-20; Luke 24:45-49; Acts 1:8; 13:47; Rom. 15:18). We could even say it a little differently than that: the cultural mandate, which God gave to the first Adam and his bride, has always been the Great Commission. The mission to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it was never intended to be taken only in a physical, temporal kind of way. God's plan from the beginning was to fill the earth with His glory in the fullest possible sense (Isaiah 11:9; Habakkuk 2:14). Isaiah 27:6 says, “In the days to come Jacob will take root, Israel will blossom and sprout, and they will fill the whole world with fruit.” The fruit Isaiah is talking about here isn't figs or grapes—it's the work of the Spirit imparting life and changing lives for the glory of God (See also Isaiah 4:2; 37:31; Hosea 14:4-8; John 15:1-5,8; Romans 7:4; Galatians 5:22-23). God's desire from Genesis 1 was a people who worship Him in Spirit and truth. So when God said to Noah and his sons, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth,” He was giving them (in Old Testament language) the sacred honor of participating in His global plan of redemption.
2 We could add here that being fruitful and multiplying in the truest intended sense isn't just an awesome privilege God has given the redeemed—it's also one of the purposes of redemption: Romans 7:4 says, “Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.” It may be that this truth is also being hinted at in the story of Noah. In light of what we discovered about the possible significance of the animals together with Noah on the ark, we may hear Romans 7:4 being echoed in Genesis 8:17, where the Lord said to Noah: “Bring out with you every living thing of all flesh that is with you, birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, that they may breed abundantly on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.”
3 “They came out of the ark as out of the grave; and that into a new world.” (Francis Roberts, p279).
4 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15; Ephesians 2:15; 4:24; Colossians 3:10.
5 See also 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 and Revelation 21:1-8. Waltke says: “The theme of this toledot, the annihilation of the seed of the Serpent's kingdom and the earth they have corrupted and the preservation of the seed of the woman through it to a renewed earth, foreshadows the future destruction of this present, evil world by fire and the preservation of the faithful by the specified salvation in Christ to inherit a regenerated earth that will never pass away (Matt.24:30-31,37-39; Luke17:26-32; 2 Thess.1:5-9; 2Peter 3:6-7). The elect covenant family going through a sea of death and coming forth from their burial chamber (Isa.26:19-21) is a pledge that the redeemed will be brought through the cataclysm of the final judgment.” (Waltke, pp151-52).
6 And it's not only certain because God has promised it to His people; it's certain because God has purposed it for His people. This is hinted at in Genesis 7:2-3, “You shall take with you of every clean animal. . .and of the animals that are not clean. . .also of the birds of the sky. . .to keep offspring alive on the face of all the earth.” The whole reason the animals were kept in the ark was to repopulate the new world. This also points us to God's purposes for us in salvation. Ephesians 2:4-7 says, “But God, being rich in mercy. . .made us alive together with Christ. . .and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” In other words, the whole reason God saved us was in order that He might forever lavish the riches of His kindness upon us—not just in this life—but for all eternity. Paul says the same thing in 2 Thessalonians 2:14, “It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We also see this dual foundation for assurance, both God's promise and God's purpose, in Hebrews 6:13-20.
7 May be hinted at in Isaiah 54:9, where the Hebrew reads that God swore the waters would not “cross over” the earth again.
8 Thomas Goodwin, Works V9, p75.
9 “The ark was a great while tossed to and fro on the face of the flood, ready to be overwhelmed; but at last rested on a high mountain or rock, and the company in it had enlargement and liberty, and were brought into a new world. So the church in the Messiah’s days is long in a state of affliction, tossed with tempest and not comforted (Isaiah 54:11). But when she is ready to be overwhelmed, God will lead her to the rock that is higher than she (Psalm 61:2), and she shall be brought out of her affliction into a new world (Isaiah 65:17-18), and shall dwell in God’s holy mountain.” (Edwards, Types of the Messiah).