God blesses Noah and his sons. — V.1. And God blessed Noah and his sons and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth. This is a repetition and a confirmation of the blessing of creation, chap. 1, 28. As founders of the new human race, Noah and his sons received the assurance of God’s blessing for the propagation of their kind. Note that the blessing of the Lord is incidentally a command; it is His will that the human race should be propagated, that man and woman, in holy wedlock, should be fruitful and multiply. The modern criminal limiting of offspring is a blasphemous perversion of God’s order of creation. V.2. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered. This is an extension and a confirmation of the order of God by which man was given dominion over the animals. Before the Fall all creatures willingly placed themselves under the direction of man, as the lord of creation. But now the fear of man and the dread of man was to keep the animals and the birds and the fishes in check, because sin with its consequences has dissolved the bonds of willing subjection, man having lost his natural power over nature, and nature, in turn, being constantly on the verge of rebellion against man. God gave them under the hand of man, but man is constantly obliged to resort to force to maintain his superiority. V.3. Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. In the early days of the human race God had restricted man to a vegetarian diet, chap. 1, 29, but now everything that lived and moved, all animals, were included in the food which was at man’s disposal. Thus was the eating of flesh formally legalized and, at the same time, commended. V.4. But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat. Although the eating of flesh was permitted, yet a restriction is added to the concession, namely, that excluding flesh as food while the living blood was still coursing through the veins, whether this referred to pieces cut out of the living animal or to the eating of blood. This provision was added to prevent man’s degeneration to coarse and brutal barbarism, or even savagery. V.5. And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man. V.6. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God made He man. While the blood and the life of animals is in the power of man, he is strictly forbidden to shed that of his fellow-man. The blood of every person with reference to his soul (since the life is in the blood) the Lord will require at the hands of man and of every beast. Thus the life of man is here safeguarded against beasts as well as against fellow-men. The killing of every human being will be punished by the Lord, but not directly or immediately, as He had promised in the case of Cain. He that sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed. The punishment of murder is laid into the hands of the government, which shall punish the murderer by requiring his life in exchange for that which he took. This is, as Luther remarks, the first command regarding the authority of the government in the wielding of the sword. In these words the temporal government is authorized, and the authority from God to use the sword is conferred. For in the image of God made He man: murder is a violation of the image of God in man, which the Lord intends to restore in all those that are renewed in faith, and which He wants all men to put on. In a wider sense, therefore, man bears even now the image of God, since he is a rational creature and has an immortal soul. V.7. And you, be ye fruitful and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply therein. Cp. v.1; chap. 1, 28. The emphatic repetition is not without significance, especially in view of the situation as it now exists.
The rainbow a token of the covenant. — V.8. And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying, v.9. And I, behold, I establish My covenant with you and with your seed after you, v.10. and with every living creature that is with you, of the fowl, of the cattle, and of every beast of the earth with you, from all that go out of the ark, to every beast of the earth. The Lord here addresses both Noah and his sons, although the latter occupied a subordinate position. He established, set up, confirmed, a covenant, by giving the promise of the covenant, of the realization of future happiness. Not only with Noah, his sons, and their descendants did God establish this league, but also with the irrational beasts, especially those that had found refuge in the ark, with all animate beings over whom He had given them dominion, whether birds, or mammals, or any other beings on the earth. V.11. And I will establish My covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth. This is the resolution which God had determined upon within Himself, chap. 8, 21, which He now made known to man as His covenant: there should be no new destruction to cut off all flesh in a sudden catastrophe; the end of the earth should not be brought about through a deluge, to cause the universe to perish. V.12. And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: v.13. I do set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between Me and the earth. In confirmation of His words God gave to man a special token, or sign, for everlasting generations, to last as long as the earth stands. This token was to be a reminder of the covenant which the Lord now established between Himself and all living beings. It is the rainbow, God’s bow, which is the sign of His covenant. He did set it in the rain-clouds, thus establishing that law of nature which causes the refraction of the light-rays when they pass through drops of water. V.14. And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud; v.15. and I will remember My covenant which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. V.16. And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth. In speech which is modeled strongly after that of men, and by a repetition of thought which emphasizes the bow and the covenant of God and the relation between the two again and again, the Lord impresses the significance of His act upon Noah and his sons. Whenever dark clouds do arise for a rainstorm on the earth, and whenever this beautiful phenomenon of the rainbow appears, then God has given His promise to remember His eternal covenant not to destroy all living flesh with another flood. V.17. And God said unto Noah, This is the token of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is upon the earth. Whenever we see the rainbow in the clouds, we should remember the covenant of God toward all flesh, the fact that He-is at peace with His creatures, so far as their outward existence is concerned. The token of God’s covenant with which He has connected His promises really guarantees His goodness and grace, possessing power and significance not only for men, but also before God. Every appearance of the rainbow should cause a prayer of thanksgiving to arise to our lips, praising the goodness and mercy of God. It may be remarked in this connection that the changing of the laws of nature indicates that the atmosphere and the climate of the earth before the Flood must have differed materially from that which now obtains, an assumption which is sustained by biological discoveries during the last centuries.
Noah’s sin. — V.18. And the sons of Noah that went forth of the ark were Shem and Ham and Japheth; and Ham is the father of Canaan. V.19. These are the three sons of Noah; and of them was the whole earth overspread. Since Noah had no more sons after the Flood, his three sons may be said to have been the progenitors of the human race since that great catastrophe. Attention is called thus early to Canaan, the son of Ham, since he and his descendants entered into very significant relations with the chosen people of God. The entire population of the world may trace its descent from the three sons of Noah. V.20. And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard; v.21. and he drank of the wine and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. Noah, as a husbandman, as a tiller of the soil, now devoted himself to the cultivation of the vine: he planted a vineyard. But in making use of the product of his labors he forgot the caution which is essential in the life of every Christian. He drank of the wine, of the fermented juice of the grape, which is here mentioned for the first time, and he partook of the liquor to excess. He became intoxicated and lay in his tent in a drunken stupor, uncovered to the gaze of every passer-by. Scripture is not silent concerning the sins of the believers, but relates many of them for the purpose of warning us against the dangers of sin. V.22. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. This act on the part of Ham, enjoying the shame of his father in making it a matter of scornful joking over against his brothers, showed both a lack of the proper respect toward his father and a proneness toward indecency, in short, a bold and impious disposition of mind. He had evidently forgotten the earnest piety which he had learned from his father. V.23. And Shem and Japheth took 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. Even though Noah had sinned, it was not the business of the sons to make mockery of the fact. Shem and Japheth did what filial reverence demanded of them when they covered the shame of their father without so much as looking at him. Thus they also showed the chasteness of their mind. This behavior may well serve as a lesson for our day and age, when sexual matters are always kept in the foreground, either by prurient speech and behavior or by shameless exposure of nakedness.
The curse upon Canaan. — V.24. And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. As the intoxication wore off, Noah awoke to soberness and found out what Ham had done, probably by reason of the dress which covered him. It was doubtless with deep humiliation that he became fully aware of the role which he had played. But to this was added just anger at the disrespect of Ham. V.25. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. The curse strikes Canaan, because he followed his father in his sinful, wicked disposition. Therefore his offspring, his whole generation, should be cursed by being servants of servants to the brothers of Ham and their descendants. The sons of Canaan in Palestine were either annihilated or became servants of the children of Israel; and his later descendants in Africa were, for many centuries, the slaves of the Japhetic peoples. It has been only through the power of the Gospel that their lot has been changed, and that they have become partakers of the glories of salvation and of the blessings which attend Christianity. V.26. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. The Lord Jehovah, the true, living God, was to be the God of Shem. From the descendants of Shem the Lord chose the people to whom He entrusted His oracles, the Messianic prophecies. From the descendants of Shem, from the children of Israel, the promised Seed of the woman, Jesus Christ the Savior, was born. V.27. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. The blessing of God came upon Japheth and his descendants, chiefly the European nations. They have been spread out far and wide; they have had the destinies of the world in their hands, under God. But the highest distinction of these peoples was that they partook of the blessings of Shem, that they became partakers of the one salvation, in Christ. Like a refrain the fact of Canaan’s servitude is predicted three times, showing that his curse indeed would be heavy and long enduring. V.28. And Noah lived after the Flood three hundred and fifty years. V.29. And all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years; and he died. Holy man though he was, and distinguished above all men of his time, he yet, as a sinner, was subject to death: he went the way of all flesh.