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The Background to the Noahic Covenant (Lesson 4.1)


1. The BIG PICTURE of Genesis 1-9:

It's good to remember that there were two absolutely cataclysmic changes that took place on the earth in the early chapters of Genesis: the fall of Adam; and the flood during the time of Noah.1

A) The FALL: Before the fall, mankind was sinless and creation was untouched by the effects of sin. But when Adam fell, it wasn't just mankind that was cursed, but the earth itself (Genesis 3:17; 5:29).

B) The FLOOD: This was the second cataclysmic change. After the fall of man, the earth became cursed. But the flood that came upon the world also resulted in catastrophic effects on the earth.2

2. The TRANSITION PERIOD of Genesis 3-5:

A) The Emergence of Two Lines:

One of the things we learned from Genesis 3:15 was that the Lord was going to put enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, that is, between the children of God and the children of the Devil; between those who would trust in the coming Messiah and those who wouldn't. In Genesis 4-5 we begin to see the fulfillment of these words. We begin to discern who are the seed of the serpent and who are the seed of God, and we begin to see the hostility between them that the Lord had spoken of. In Genesis 4, Cain shows himself to be of the seed of the serpent, and in the murder of his innocent brother Abel, we are pointed back to the enmity the Lord had spoken of in Genesis 3:15. After the death of Abel, Eve gives birth to Seth (4:25).3

After the account of Cain and Abel, we begin to see the emergence of two distinct family lines through the genealogies recorded in Genesis 4-5: the line of Cain (4:16-24), and the line of Seth (5:1-32). We also begin to understand that these two family lines represent two very different responses to the Lord. The physical seed represents spiritual seed. Those of the line of Cain show themselves to be the offspring of the serpent, children of the devil; those of the line of Seth show themselves to be the offspring of the woman, true children of God.4 So, again, we see:

I) The UNGODLY Line: Cain and his offspring (Genesis 4:16-24). The outcome of CAIN's line: Seven generations from Adam is LAMECH, the epitome of rebellion; a man totally hardened in heart towards marriage, life, and God (4:23-24).

II) The GODLY Line: Seth and his offspring (Genesis 5:1-32). The outcome of SETH's line: Seven generations from Adam came ENOCH (“dedicated”), a godly man who was taken home to the Lord (5:21-24).

III) The Biblical STORY Line: By the way, these two family lines representing two responses to the Lord don't stop with Lamech or Enoch. We see this reality continue to be played out throughout Genesis, and really, throughout the whole of the Scriptures. Noah, you remember, had three sons; one of them—Ham—showed himself to be of the seed of the serpent, while Shem inherits the blessing as a child of God. Abraham would later come from the line of Shem, and his sons Isaac and Ishmael would typify the same realities; Ishmael is called a child of the flesh, he persecutes Isaac, and he is cast out (Galatians 4:29); but Isaac is called the child of promise, and proves to be of the seed of God. Isaac likewise had two sons, Jacob and Esau; Esau is not a child of God; he doesn't know God, he doesn't love God; but Jacob shows himself to be of the seed of the woman; a true child of God. Many years later, Jesus would also use this same language when He told the Jews, “You are of your father the devil,” (John 8:44).

B) The Effects of Sin and the Grace of God (Genesis 5:1-32):

In the midst of these two distinct lines running through Genesis 3-5, we are also constantly confronted with two pervasive realities: SIN and GRACE. In particular, we see:

I) The EFFECTS of SIN: In studying the godly line of Seth in Genesis 5 we are confronted with the devastating effects of sin. Throughout Genesis 5, we read over and over and over again, “...and he died.” And remember—Genesis 5 was the godly line—these were believers. What we see here is that even the godly continue to be affected by the curse that came through Adam's sin. They're not exempt from the temporal effects of sin in this life (and neither are we).

II) The GRACE of GOD: We see God's grace, first, in preserving the line of Seth. Later, we'll talk more in depth about how God's covenant promises extend not only to believers, but also to their children. Well, that's exactly what we see in Genesis 5: God is preserving the line of this covenant family for generations. Enoch was a man who walked with God (5:21-24). And Noah's father, Lamech, named his son what he did through faith in the promise that God had given to Adam and Eve (5:29). So, we see that God deals with entire families in the covenant—not just with individuals. God has made promises, not just to us, but to our entire covenant line after us.

We also see God displaying His grace in another way. In Genesis 4:26 we read, “Then men began to call upon the name of the Lord.” This took place during the days of Enosh the son of Seth (4:26). Evidently, God began to pour out His Spirit in remarkable ways during the days of Enosh. Jonathan Edwards takes this to be a description of the first recorded revival in the history of the world—an outpouring of the Spirit that drew multitudes to faith in the coming Messiah.5

3. The IMMEDIATE CONTEXT of Genesis 5-6:

A) The Lineage of Noah and the Preface to the Flood (Genesis 5): It's good to remember that even though Genesis 5 is a short chapter, it covers the span of over 1,500 years. Let that sink in a bit. It's easy to think of Noah coming right after Adam, but even if we assume there are no gaps in the Genesis 5 genealogy,6 the flood came 1,656 years after God had created Adam. So, Genesis 5 is a short chapter in our Bible but covers a great deal of time.

I) METHUSELAH (5:25): Yes, he was the oldest man recorded in Scripture, living 969 years; but there is more here. His name means, “When he is dead it shall be sent.” And when does he die? Add 187 (5:25) + 182 (5:28) + 600 (age of Noah at the flood; 7:6) = 969. Pretty amazing!7

II) LAMECH (5:28): “Overthrower,” probably an allusion to Genesis 3:15 and the promise of the Coming One who would overthrow the work of the serpent. It's also pretty amazing to note that Lamech was 56 years old when Adam died. Adam died 126 years before Noah was born.

III) NOAH (5:29): “Rest.” Noah's name reflects the Sabbath rest that God would give His people in salvation. Noah himself would be a picture of that rest in several ways, as we'll see.8

B) The Sons of God and the Daughters of Men (Genesis 6:1-4): Bible interpreters have been baffled by Genesis 6:1-2. What in the world are these verses talking about? Who are the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men” described in this passage?9

I) UNLIKELY Interpretations:

a) Fallen angels who had sexual relations with women. Some take this position because the language of “sons of God” is used in the Old Testament to refer solely to angels (Job 1:6).10

b) Tyrannical kings who kept large harems. Others take this position, largely because civil magistrates are sometimes called elohim (“gods”) in the Old Testament (Psalm 82:6).11

II) LIKELY Interpretation:

c) The believing line of Seth intermingling in marriage with the unbelieving line of Cain: There are three main arguments for this view: First, the concept of a godly line and of an ungodly line has been established in the immediate context of Genesis 4-5. The line of Seth and the line of Cain are deliberately traced. Secondly, the concept of sonship based on divine election is an important Old Testament theme. Scripture calls believers the children of God (1 John 3:1); God is our Father. So when the language “sons of God” is used, it refers to those who are a part of the line of promise—the seed of the woman. Third, there are warnings about marriages between believers and unbelievers throughout the Pentateuch and the Old Testament Scriptures in general.12 So it makes sense why Moses would include this in the Genesis account: it's not just a piece of random information—he's giving us a warning.13


The covenant with Noah is the first manifestation of the Covenant of Grace after the gospel promise God had given to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15. To review, here's where we are in redemptive history:

I. The Covenant of Works with Adam

II. The Genesis 3:15 promise of a Redeemer:

A) The Noahic Covenant

B) The Abrahamic Covenant

C) The Mosaic Covenant

D) The Davidic Covenant

E) The New Covenant