GENESIS 9: A Covenant Sign
"This is the sign of the covenant in which I have risen." -Genesis 9:17
Having rescued Noach and his family from the flood G-d now makes a covenant with them and with all humanity. A covenant that is entirely reliant on G-d. In the days to come He will do something similar for Israel following her deliverance through the waters of the Red Sea [Sea of Reeds] (Exodus 14-15, 19). However the closer parallel to the present text is the covenant made with Avraham (Genesis 17). Both the Genesis 9 and Genesis 17 covenants are everlasting, each being memorialized by a distinctive sign. In the case of Noach the sign is the rainbow (9:12, 13, 17) and in the case of Avraham and the Jewish people, circumcision (17:11).
It’s important to note that both the covenant of Noach and the covenant of Avraham are unconditional royal grants that are entirely reliant on G-d’s mercy, love and compassion.
Gen 9:1 And blessed Elohim, Noach (Comfort, Rest) and his sons, and said unto them, be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth (ha-aretz).
We first notice that G-d is blessing both Noach and his progeny. Prior to this G-d has communicated intimately to and through Noach, now He blesses the new beginning of humanity, thus we read, “Noach and his sons”, who represent the subsequent generations of humanity.
The instruction that follows is familiar:
“And Elohim blessed them, and Elohim said unto them, be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth (ha-aretz).” –Genesis 1:28
It is suggested by Isaac ben Judah Abarbanel (15th Century CE), that when Noach left the vessel he saw that the world had been made desolate and that only four human couples remained. As a result Noach became fearful and was dismayed. Thus G-d allayed his concerns by giving him the blessing that the world would become repopulated.
Gen 9:2 And awe, reverence, fear (Oomora’akhem) of you and the fear, terror, dread (Cheet’chem) of you shall be upon every living thing of the earth (ha-aretz), and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moves upon the ground (ha-adamah), and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they given (Neetanu).
Isaac ben Judah Abarbanel wisely observes that Noach and his family may well have had concerns about the possibility of being overrun by wild life, some of which could have potentially attacked and harmed them. Again, the blessing of G-d that imposes a fearful weariness of humanity upon all animal life is a comfort and a protection for the persons He has created in His image and likeness. What is very clear is that G-d sets humanity apart from the animals as His unique and precious possession.
Gen 9:3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food (lachem: lechem) for you; for eating, the green vegetation and herbs I have given you for food, all things. Gen 9:4 But flesh with the soul, life, self (b’nafsho: nefesh) blood (damo), don’t eat.
While some suggest that the consuming of animal flesh is implicit in Genesis 1:29-30, I see no evidence supporting this assumption. It seems clear that the eating of animal flesh is newly conceded. The important part of this concession is the reference to the life being in the blood. Flesh with the life still in it is a clear reference to the pagan practise of cutting flesh from a living animal and eating it in order to obtain some occult power by means of the animal’s life force. This was also a means of keeping meat fresh in times when refrigeration and other means of preservation where not available.
Rashi (11th Century CE) explains that this text illuminates the instruction, “Ach-basar b’naf’sho” (It is forbidden to eat a limb taken from a living animal). Accordingly, Genesis 9:3 states that flesh is prohibited while life remains in the animal. Thus the limitation imposed on the consuming of animal flesh, like so many of the later instructions of the Torah, is concerned with setting the people of G-d apart from idolatrous practises.
It is from this verse and those of the remainder of the Torah that support it (Leviticus 3: 17; 17:11, 14; Deuteronomy 12: 15, 16, 23), that Jewish law rightly requires the meat of slaughtered kosher animals to be drained of blood. However, it is not a violation of this instruction to eat ones steak rare etc. The kashering practise of salting meat finds its origin in such verses, however this practise is neither implicit nor explicit in the instruction itself.
More important than any of the dietary aspects of this verse, are the spiritual implications. When HaShem reminds Israel that, “the life is in the blood” (Leviticus 17:11; Hebrews 9:22) He is affirming the need for blood atonement as a means of covering sin.
We see that G-d has given the animal flesh for food: the life that is in the animals is His to give, therefore the life that is in the blood that will cover our sins upon the altar is provided by G-d for our redemption and not of ourselves. Our atoning sacrifices are His gift to us, and not our gift to Him (Leviticus 17:11).
Gen 9:5 And surely your blood (deem’chem)of your soul, lives, self, person (l’nafsheeteiychem: nefesh) will I seek, require, care for (ed’rosh); at the hand of every living thing (Chaiyah) will I seek, require, care for (ed’roshenu) it, at the hand of the man, human beings (ha-adam); at the hand of every man's brother (ish-acheen) will I seek, require, care for (ed’rosh) the soul, self, person, life (nefesh) of the man, human beings (ha-adam). Gen 9:6 Whoever spills (sheds) the blood of a human being, by a human being that person’s blood is to be spilled (shed): for in the image, likeness, semblance (b’tzelem) of Elohim (Judge, Ruler) made He the man, humanity (ha-adam).
The overarching theme of these verses is the sanctity of human life and to a lesser extent, life in general. Derek Kidner writes, “If life is G-d’s, human life is supremely so.”
Human life is sharply distinguished from animal life by the phrase, “for in the image, likeness, semblance (b’tzelem) of Elohim (Judge, Ruler) made He the man, humanity (ha-adam) [Genesis 1:26-27].”
The Talmud interprets verse 5 as a prohibition of killing oneself (b. B.K. 91b). Verse 6 is cited as a prohibition of abortion (b. Sanh. 57b). Jewish Law forbids suicide and allows abortion only under extreme circumstances and never for the purpose of birth control.
Gen 9:7 And you (plural), be fruitful, become great and multiply in the earth (ba-aretz), and become great in it. Gen 9:8 And spoke Elohim (Judge, Ruler) to Noach (Comfort, rest), and to his sons with him, saying,
It’s important to note again that this covenant is being made with Noach and his sons and by inference, with the generations of humanity that will proceed from them.
Gen 9:9 “And I, behold, I will arise (meikeeym: kum) in covenant (b’ritee) with you, and with your seed (plural) after you; Gen 9:10 And with every soul, self (nefesh), living creature (ha-chaiyah) that is with you, of the fowl, of the cattle, and of all that is living (Chaiyat) on the earth (ha-aretz) with you; from all that go out of the vessel, to every living (Chaiyat) thing of the earth. Gen 9:11 And I will arise (root: kum) in my covenant (B’riteey) with you (plural); and not cut off all flesh by the waters flowing continually in a flood; neither shall there be waters flowing continually in a flood to destroy the earth (ha-aretz).
The Hebrew, “meikeeym” from the root, “kum” meaning to rise, is an interesting choice of terms. Its literal meaning, that is, the p’shat (plain meaning) is in fact a remez (hint) at the very essence of the covenant itself. The word means, “To stand up, arise, come on the scene, establish, confirm, endure, and persist”. While this can be understood as a figure of speech conveying the confirmation of an agreement, it is not entirely accurate to use it that way here because, while Noach and his sons may agree that this is a good covenant, they are not offering anything of themselves in order to confirm it; rather they are tasked with either accepting or rejecting the gift of its confirmation from G-d. It is G-d alone, Who swears by Himself, that He will be faithful to this covenant. Therefore the remez (hint) points us to the truth of a much greater p’shat (plain) understanding. Read on and find out what sod (mystery) the remez is revealing.
We also notice that all of creation will benefit from the covenant that follows.
Gen 9:12 And spoke Elohim, “This is the sign, mark, banner, warning (Ot) of the covenant (ha-b’rit) which I give between Me and you (plural) and between every soul, self (nefesh) living creature (chaiyah) that is with you, for generations perpetually: Gen 9:13 My bow (strength) I give in the cloud, and it shall be a sign, mark, banner, warning (l’ot) of the covenant (ha-b’rit) between Me and the earth (ha-aretz).
A feature of all covenants, is the sign or seal that identifies them. The sign acts as a seal of an accomplished fact. Something that has already (past tense) been firmly decided and accomplished by G-d.
“And Avraham received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the trust which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them,” –Romans 4:11
The Rainbow is symbolic of the very present k’vod (glory) of G-d (Ezekiel 1:28; Revelation 4:3; 10:1) and is used by the Apostle Yochanan (Scribe of the Revelation of Yeshua) to connect the fullness of G-d’s justice, love and mercy to the beginning of all things. The seven colours, born of refracted white light, convey the days of creation and the progression of G-d’s revelation to humanity.
The text simply describes it as, “Kashti”, My bow. The bow is arched to point away from the earth, showing that the destructive arrows of HaShem are no longer directed at creation (Psalm 7:12; Habakkuk 3:9).
The rainbow is one of the most powerful covenant symbols of the Tanakh. It is significant because it is a covenant symbol given to all humanity prior to the giving of the Torah at Sinai. The rainbow is seen by some as a symbol of the bridge between G-d and humanity, made possible by sacrifice, cleansing and rebirth. It appears in the clouds (A symbol of the Divine presence) and is a refraction of pure white light, which represents the immutable holiness of HaShem.
The general moral obligation of all humanity is found in the story of humanity’s rebirth through the flood. The seven colours of the rainbow correspond to the seven Noachide laws (Talmud b. Sanh. 56a) incumbent upon every human being. They also reflect the attributes of the Spirit of G-d and the unity of the sevenfold light of G-d, keeping in mind that all the colours of the rainbow are the result of refracted white light.
“The children of Noah were commanded with seven commandments: [to establish] laws, and [to prohibit] cursing G-d, idolatry, illicit sexuality, bloodshed, robbery, and eating flesh from a living animal (Sanhedrin 56a; cf. Tosefta Avodah Zarah 8:4 and Genesis Rabbah 34:8).”
These laws were condensed by the early Jewish Church fathers in Jerusalem, who sent them via Shaul/Paul the apostle as instructions for new Gentile believers (Acts 15:29; 21:25).
Each of the colours of the rainbow are made up of the three primary colours: a. Red (Redeemer: Father) b. Yellow (Life Giver: Son) c. Blue (Heavenly Comforter: Holy Spirit), and have illuminating symbolic significance:
The spirit of wisdom (2) and understanding (3),
The spirit of counsel (4) and strength (5),
The spirit of knowledge (6) and the Awe (7) of HaShem.” –Yishaiyahu/Isaiah 11:2
Gen 9:14 And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth (ha-aretz), that seen, considered, perceived will be the bow in the cloud: Gen 9:15 And I will remember, bring to mind, be faithful to (v’zakhoreetee: zakhor) my covenant (b’ritee), which is between me and you (plural) and every soul, self (nefesh) living creature (chaiyah) of all flesh; and neither shall there be waters flowing continually in a flood to destroy all flesh. Gen 9:16 And it will come to pass that the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember, bring to mind, be faithful to (leezkor: zakhor) the covenant (B’rit) eternal (olam) covenant between Elohim (Judge, Ruler) between every soul, self (nefesh) living creature (chaiyah) of all flesh that is upon the earth (ha-aretz).
Not all covenants are eternal, and yet this one is. It is more than a simple fairy tale to explain rainbows. After all, the properties need to form a rainbow already existed prior to the flood. When the text says, “This is the sign” it means just that, “This rainbow which you’ve seen before, has now become a sign of hope”. This is a sign that foreshadows the greatest of covenants, one that is reliant on G-d. A royal grant to top all royal grants. The New Covenant that the prophet Jeremiah would speak to Israel (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
Gen 9:17 And spoke Elohim (Judge, Ruler) to Noach (Comfort, Rest), “This is the sign, mark, banner, warning (Ot) of the covenant (ha-b’rit), in which I have risen, it’s between me and all flesh that is upon the earth (ha-aretz).
Here we’re able to listen to the voice (ha-kol) of Yeshua saying, “The covenant, in which I have risen.” The remez, “kum” risen, is revealed in Yeshua’s resurrection, and the sign and seal of that covenant is the dove (Ruach Ha-Kodesh), the Holy Spirit, Who was poured out upon the Jewish believers during Shavuot (Acts 2, during the celebration of the giving of the Torah at Sinai), all of which occurred at the same time of year as the events recorded in Genesis 9.
Thus these three covenants in particular, all of which are connected by the feast of Shavuot, convey the unity of the G-d-head and the intrinsic value of signs and seals in relationship to the Royal grants of HaShem. The second of the three is a conditional covenant, whereas the first and third are unconditional royal grants. This is because the second was on an aspect of the fullness of The Word of Truth Yeshua. This was filled with the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31, when Yeshua the Living Word was born into time and space as the Messiah of Israel. Therefore, Yeshua is the goal of the Torah.
When the rainbow is seen today, devote Jews pray the following blessing:
“Baruch ata Ado-Shem, Elo-kaynu Melekh ha-olam,
Zocheir ha-b’reet v’ne’eman beev’rito v’kayamb’ma’amaro”
“All blessing comes from You O L-rd our G-d, King of the universe
Who remembers [is faithful to] His covenant, is trustworthy in His covenant,
And fulfils His Word”
–Orach Chayim 229:1 [Yosef Karo 16th Century]
The rainbow is thus a sign of both redemptive security and dire warning. In every generation the rainbow reminds us of the flood and our need to repent. If we repent we’re able to look anew upon the sign that has been in the skies from before we were born and see it as the hope of glory, HaShem’s glory. However, if we refuse to repent, if we take that precious symbol and misuse it, as many in our generation have, we can expect only judgement.
“To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task?” –2 Corinthians 2:16 (NIV)
Gen 9:18 And the sons of Noach, that went forth out of the vessel, were Shem (name), and Cham (hot), and Yafet (opened): and Cham is the father of Kena’an (Lowland). Gen 9:19 These are the three sons of Noach (rest): and these shattered, beat to pieces, scattered and spread out (naf’ah) over the whole earth (ha-aretz).
Verse 19 introduces the subsequent Toldot (generations) expounded upon in Chapter 10, whereas the remaining verses, in particular verses 20-27 prepare the reader for the election of G-d’s holy people Israel.
It is interesting to note the wider meaning of the Hebrew, “naf’ah”, to spread out. It seems that in humanity’s spreading out it has a habit of shattering and scattering. A habit that will return to humanity at Bavel (Babel) as a just discipline for its idolatrous unity.
Gen 9:20 And profaning himself (vaiychel: chalal) Noach (Comfort, Rest) a man of the ground (ha-adamah) planted a vineyard:
The Hebrew text allows for this reading, translating the word, “vaiychel” to represent its primary meaning, “profanity”, which gives us a clearer indication of the motivation that brought Noach to a place of shame. It’s foolish to suggest, as some have, that Noach was the first man to plant a vineyard. There is nothing in the text to suggest that this was the case.
The Tanakh (OT) has no problem with exposing the flaws of her heroes. The only flawless Character in the Tanakh is the Author of it. Noach, a man, is not immune to humanity’s depravity, nor is he devoid of a fallen nature (yetzer ha-ra). This story is all too familiar to those of us who having walked faithfully with G-d and experienced great heights of revelation and good work, have non the less found ourselves failing in a moment of weakness and falling into disrepute. No one is infallible but G-d. This should give us comfort, to know that our eternal destiny is not reliant on our own fallible humanity.
Gen 9:21 And he drank of the wine (yayin), and became drunk; and he was uncovered within his tent.
Two things are clear from the text. 1.) The Hebrew, “yayin” meaning, effervescent, describes fermented grapes in the form of wine. This is qualified by the subsequent clause, “and became drunk”. It is foolish therefore to attempt, as some have, to suggest that the wine of the Bible is simply grape juice. 2.) Drunkenness is sin, it results in the loss of, self-control (a fruit of the Spirit), moral awareness and a lack of social etiquette. It is warned against in Scripture (Proverbs 31:4-5; 23:29-35). However, wine is not the problem, drunkenness is (Deuteronomy 14:26).
Gen 9:22 And Cham (hot), the father of Kena’an (Lowland), saw the nakedness of his father, and announced it to his two brothers outside (publically).
“Woe to you who make your neighbours drink,
Who mix in your venom even to make them drunk
So as to look on their nakedness!” –Habakkuk 2:15
While Noach’s drunkenness is proof of his flawed humanity, it is not the point of the story. It is not his father’s nakedness that proves Cham’s character but his response to it.
In the p’shat (plain) meaning of the text we read that Noach’s drunkenness resulted in him lying naked in his tent and that Cham walked in and seeing his father naked proceeded to mock and humiliate Noach by publically proclaiming what he’d seen to the rest of the family outside the tent. This in and of itself is disgraceful behaviour but it also has spiritual ramifications because G-d commands, “Honour your father and mother” (Exodus 20:12). The father is also a symbolic representation of the G-d-head and therefore holds a sacred position in the family as a representative of G-d’s Kingship.
Some have suggested that the phrase, “saw the nakedness” is used in a similar way to a similar phrase in Leviticus 20:17, where it is used figuratively to refer to the sex act, however this seems unlikely, given that the phrase is rarely used in this way and in the present text there are no qualifying terms, one can only conclude that the p’shat (plain) meaning is the intended one.
Gen 9:23 And took, Shem (name) and Yafet (opened) a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father's nakedness. Gen 9:24 And Noach (Comfort, Rest) awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done to him.
In stark contrast to their foolish brother, Shem and Yafet act righteously, averting their eyes and placing a garment over their father’s disgrace in a redemptive act of covering.
Gen 9:25 And he said, Cursed be Kena’an (Lowland); a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers. Gen 9:26
In order to understand the cursing of Kena’an (who was not directly involved in this incident but is a fourth generation descendant of Cham), we must first understand blessing and cursing.
Where G-d is concerned blessing is the consequence of His righteousness at work in us whereas cursing is the consequence of us rejecting His righteousness. Because G-d sees the end from the beginning, when He speaks these consequences into the chronology of time and space they appear to be predictions of the future, when in fact, from His perspective they are observations of the eternal present.
It is also important to understand that the curse to the fourth generation as described in Exodus 20:5, refers to the chosen rebellion of each subsequent generation. Those who accept the misdeeds of their forebears as being their destiny will as a result be cursed. This is the case with Kena’an, a descendant of Cham who lived as Cham lived, in rebellion to G-d. Keep in mind also, that the people of Kena’an rejected the G-d of Israel and resisted His people as Israel sought to occupy the land G-d had promised them. The current record, written down by Moses after being passed on to him as an oral tradition from his forebears, is being given to Israel after her escape from Egypt and as a warning concerning the people whom she must one day fight against in order to receive the promised land.
And he said, all blessing comes from HaShem (YHVH: Merciful) Elohim (Judge, Ruler) of Shem (name); and Kena’an (Lowland) shall be his servant. Gen 9:27 Opening wide Elohim shall make space for Yaret (opened), and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem (name); and Kena’an (Lowland) shall be his servant.
G-d is the G-d of Shem Who also provides for Yafet. Shem’s line will produce Avraham, Yitzack and Yaakov/Israel, through whom G-d will reveal His redemptive plan to all humanity. Therefore Shem is seen here to be set apart, one who is in relationship with HaShem (YHVH). G-d, Who is The Name (HaShem) has named (Shem) His servant. This is a counterpoint to the servitude of Cham’s punishment which makes him the slave of slaves. The punishment of Kena’an is historically contextual and does not advocate for slavery of any kind but is an observation (Of G-d) of the future consequences of Kena’an’s sin.
A sod (allegorical mystery) interpretation of these verses sees Shem (Name) as being in the dwelling place of The Name, HaShem (YHVH) and His Torah ha-Emet (Word of Truth) and Yafet (Open space/ freedom) as the righteous among the nations who will enter into the tents of Israel and dwell with her as she surrounds the Mishkan (Tent of Meeting), where HaShem (YHVH: Merciful) resides. This places Cham (Hot), the wicked, outside the camp in darkness, where there will be perpetual weeping and gnashing of teeth.
It’s interesting to note that based on the understanding that the Greeks were descended from Yafet, an early rabbi cites verse 27 in defence of his ruling that Scriptural scrolls may be written in only one language other than Hebrew, that being the Greek language. Thus he interprets the beauty of Yafet as being the Greek language and the tents of Shem (Israel) as the seat of the Torah (Talmud b. Meg. 9b).
Gen 9:28 And it came to pass that Noach (Comfort, Rest) after the flood, lived three hundred and fifty years. Gen 9:29 And all the days of Noach (Comfort, Rest) were nine hundred and fifty years: and he died.
Noach was born in the year 1056 from Creation, the flood occurred in 1656, and he died in 2006, ten years after the tower of Bavel and the dispersion of humanity (Genesis 11). Avraham was born in the year 1948 from Creation, thus he knew Noach and was 58 years old when Noach died. It is important to note that from Adam to Abraham there was an oral tradition that spanned only four people: Adam, Lemech, Noach and Avraham. Similarly, Moses, through whom G-d gave the Torah, was connected to Kehat, who knew Yaakov, who knew Avraham. Therefore, Isaac ben Judah Abarbanel has observed, there were not more than seven people who carried the oral tradition of these events first hand from Adam to the generation that received the Torah at Sinai. (Adapted from the Stone Edition Chumash 1998, Mesorah publications Ltd.)
© 2016 Yaakov Brown
Thank You Rabbi, For Sharing Your Insight Into The Covenants, That Gives Us Greater Understanding Of Yahweh"s Ways.Blessings & Shalom.
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Founder of the Beth Melekh International Messiah Following Jewish Community,