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The Scope and Sign of God's Salvation (Lesson 4.6)

1. The SCOPE of the Covenant of Grace: We learn who salvation is for

A) It is for COVENANT CHILDREN: God made the covenant not just with Noah, but with his entire family (6:18; 7:1; 9:9ff): “God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying, 'Now behold, I Myself do establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you. . .” Earlier we noted how this has implications for seeing Noah as a type of Christ, our covenant representative. But we also gain an important insight here into how God works. The Lord is pleased to extend His covenant not just to individuals, but to entire families. We'll study this more in detail with Abraham, but even here in God's covenant with Noah, far before Genesis 17, we see that God's covenant extends to whole families—not only to believers, but also to their children. Now, this doesn't mean that covenant children (the children of believers) are automatically saved. Though all the children of believers are in the covenant—not all are necessarily of the covenant.1 Children of believers will show themselves to be either covenant-keepers (by embracing Christ by faith) or covenant-breakers (by rejecting Him). We see this clearly in Genesis 9, where Noah curses Canaan, the son of Ham, because of what his son Ham had done to him. Though Ham was a covenant child, it seems that he never embraced the covenant from the heart by faith.2 But what we see here is that God's covenant promises are made, not just to individuals, but to entire families, even for generations to come: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31).3

So, pray for your children. Plead with God to fulfill His covenant promises to your children, and their children, and their children—to confirm His covenant promises to your descendants after you.4 Also, invest in your children. A lot of father's in ministry make the mistake of forgetting about their children; they invest in everyone else, but they fail to take the time to really invest in the lives of their own children.5 And teach your children. Teach them everything you know. Teach them about the gospel, but also teach them about the covenant promises. Tell them that they have been set apart, as born into a covenant family. But also tell them that it all means nothing if they don't embrace Christ from the heart. Plead with them to show themselves covenant-keepers, and not covenant-breakers.6

B) It is for INGRAFTED FOREIGNERS: The covenant of grace isn't meant to be limited just to covenant children who grow up in the church.7 We are also given hints in the Noahic covenant that the Lord means to draw a people to Himself from every tribe, tongue, and nation under heaven:

I) Apparent in Noah's BLESSING: After Noah blesses his son Shem, he goes on to say, “May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem” (9:27). What does this mean? Well, we are told that from the offspring of Japheth, “the coastlands of the nations were separated into their lands, every one according to his language, according to their families, into their nations” (10:2,5). Later in Scripture, in the last chapter of Isaiah, we are given a precious glimpse of future missionary labors among unreached Gentile nations (a Gentile mission to Gentiles). If we compare Genesis 10:1-4 with Isaiah 66:19, it is apparent that it is the scattered sons of Japheth that will be brought home to the Messiah in the latter days. As another put it: the descendants of Japheth are “non-Shemites who become Shemites by embracing the God of Shem.”8 They're Gentile foreigners, strangers to God, outsiders—who come to take refuge in Christ.

II) Typified through Noah's ANIMALS: Earlier we talked briefly about the significance of the animals in the covenant of Genesis 9. We asked how it could be that animals are included in this covenant, if indeed it is part of the Covenant of Grace? There, we explained that all creation, in a sense, is comprehended in the Covenant of Grace. We noted that just as all creation suffered the consequences for man's sin in the fall, so too, the healing of redemption will one day extend, in turn, to all creation. So far, so good. But I believe there's even more significance to the animals.

Some noted theologians9 believe that the animals which were gathered from every corner of the earth into Noah's ark were a picture of the reality that people from every tribe and tongue and nation will be gathered to Christ (cf. Revelation 5:9; 7:9).10 In particular, these theologians affirm that the clean and unclean animals which were gathered into the ark fore-pictured two distinct groups: the clean animals represented the Jews, and the unclean animals represented the Gentiles. This may well be the case, especially in light of what we read elsewhere in Scripture:

Isaiah 43:20, “The beasts of the field will glorify Me, the jackals and the ostriches, because I have given waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to My chosen people.”

Here, God's chosen people are pictured as unclean and wild animals; they are likened to jackals and ostriches. And we see the same thing echoed in another passage in the New Testament:

Acts 10:10-12, “[Peter] fell into a trance; and he saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. A voice came to him, 'Get up, Peter, kill and eat!' But Peter said, 'By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean. Again a voice came to him a second time, 'What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.' ”

Later we come to understand that the animals in the vision symbolized unclean Gentiles—and that God was teaching Peter that He is calling to himself through the gospel not just the clean but the unclean; not just ethnic Jews, but men from every tribe and tongue and nation under heaven.

Pretty amazing, right? And if you're still not convinced, also think about this: the way that God describes His covenant with Noah—which includes the animals—parallels the way God describes outside Gentile foreigners in His covenant with Abraham and in the New Covenant. In each covenant we see a distinctive 3-fold formula that includes both covenant children and outsiders:11

The NOAHIC Covenant: “Now behold, I Myself do establish My covenant with you, and with your descendants after you; and with every living creature that is with you. . .of all that comes out of the ark.” (Genesis 9:9-10)

The ABRAHAMIC Covenant: “I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you. . .and every male among you. . .who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants” (Genesis 17:7,12)

The NEW Covenant: “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself” (Acts 2:39)

So in light of these Scriptures, and a lot of other Scriptures,12 it's very probable that these animals that are gathered together to Noah in the ark do indeed symbolize the truth that men and women from every nation under heaven will be gathered together to Christ.13 Just as God brought to Noah, in pairs of two's and seven's, every kind of animal on the earth to be preserved with him in the ark, so too the Lord will gather to himself men from every tribe and tongue and people.14 It is this universal imagery that provides the foundation for the universal offer of the Christian gospel: We are to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15).15

2. The SIGN of the Covenant of Grace: We learn about the picture of God's promise

A rainbow is given as a sign of God's covenant with Noah (9:12-17). This is the first explicit teaching on covenant signs in the Bible. Later, we'll see that circumcision would be the sign of God's covenant with Abraham, and the Sabbath would be the sign of God's covenant with Israel under Moses. What is the purpose of covenant signs? “Covenant signs declare covenant promises to covenant people. [A covenant sign] is a token and guarantee of the word of God.”16 Our sacraments—the Lord's supper and baptism—come from the idea of covenant signs. A covenant sign is a tangible picture of God's everlasting pledge to His people. So the rainbow is given here as a picture of God's pledge.

The picture was the rainbow (Genesis 9:12-13).17 The pledge was that God would never again send a flood to destroy every living thing on the earth (Genesis 9:14-15). So the rainbow served as a very tangible picture of God's solemn promise. It was a guarantee to all those in the ark that the same wrath that swept away the rest of the world would never, ever, come upon them. Dark clouds may come again—God never promised it wouldn't rain anymore—but God's promise was that the rain would never again be sent in wrath for the purpose of flooding the earth. And again, remember that the promise God is making here is not only a temporal promise being made to every living thing in the world. Isaiah 54 makes clear that this promise is meant to teach us about the Covenant of Grace.

So, what does this teach us as believers in Christ? Well, one thing it teaches us is that as believers, dark storms may still come upon us. God never promised that the Christian life would be easy, that there would be no storms. But though the dark rain clouds will sometimes come—the flood of God's wrath never will. As believers, what we can know as we go through seasons of hardship and distress and confusion is that there's not a single drop of God's anger in the trials that He sends us.18

We see this hinted at in another place in Scripture where we read about a rainbow. Revelation 4:3 says, “And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance.” I love what one writer says about this: “this rainbow. . .[signifies] to us that memorial which God himself has of his everlasting kindness to his church in the midst of all thundering dispensations whatsoever, as a sign and symbol unto his church of the light of his countenance shining on them in their thickest and darkest clouds. . .And this New Testament rainbow excels that other [in that] the old was but as a half-moon rainbow, a semi-circle, whereas this is round about the throne, and encompasses it; it is a whole circle. . .So let God turn himself in various dispensations, and look which way he pleases, yet still he does, and must necessarily, view his church through his rainbow, putting him in mind of mercy.”19

Another thing that the covenant sign of the rainbow teaches us as believers relates to what is taking place when we partake of the sacraments. We mentioned that covenant signs are the foundation for our understanding of the sacraments: they are tangible pictures of God's unwavering promises. So, we should be thinking about the sacraments—the Lord's supper and baptism—as we read what God says in Genesis 9:14-16. First, in verses 14-15, notice that God is not saying, “Noah, when you see the bow in the cloud, you remember the covenant I made with you.” No, God is saying to Noah: When you see the bow in the cloud, “I will remember.” It's like a husband who gives a ring to his wife on their wedding day, and he says to her, “when you look at that ring, I will remember that I gave myself to you.” The emphasis here is God's remembering.20 When we see the sign, God remembers His covenant.21 So when there is a baptism taking place, or when we partake of the Lord's Supper—it's not just us remembering what God has done—it's God himself remembering. When we eat and drink of Christ's body and blood, God remembers the promises He's made to us.

So verses 14-15 emphasize how when we look, God remembers. Then, in verse 16, God is the One who will both look and remember the sign: “When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant. . .” In verse 14, it's us who sees the rainbow and then God remembers His covenant. In verse 16, it's God who both looks at the sign and remembers His covenant. God gave the sign to Noah so that he could look at it—but isn't it glorious that even in giving the sign, the important thing is not Noah looking at the sign and remembering God's promise—the important thing is that God looks at the sign and remembers His promise—whether Noah looks at it or not. It's God's way of saying “I'm not going to forget the promise that I made to you. You may forget the promise I made to you—that's why I have to give you a sign—but I will not forget. . .”22