And God spoke to Noah, and to his sons with him, saying,…
The scheme of Providence, in the world after the flood, is of the nature of a dispensation of forbearance, subservient to a dispensation of grace, and preparatory to a dispensation of judgment; and of this forbearance, on the part of God, Noah receives a promise and a pledge.
I. Looking, then, to the original purpose, of which we read as existing in the mind of God (Genesis 8:21, 22), HIS DETERMINATION TO SPARE THE EARTH IS EXPLAINED ON TWO PRINCIPLES, WHICH IT IS IMPORTANT TO OBSERVE. The first of these principles is the inveterate and desperate depravity of man. "Why should ye be stricken any more?" is the indignant voice of God to Israel by His servant Isaiah; — ye will but increase revolt, "ye will revolt more and more." "The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness at all; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores" (chap. Isaiah 1:5, 6). Why, then, should ye be stricken any more? There is no sound part in you on which the stroke can take effect; discipline, correction, chastisement, is thrown away upon you; ye are beyond the influence of its salutary efficacy; ye become worse and worse under its infliction; I will strike no more, for ye are too far gone to be thus reclaimed. So also the Lord says in His heart respecting the world after the flood; — I will not again curse the earth — I will not again visit it with so desolating a judgment. Why should I? What good purpose would it serve? Thus considered, this Divine reasoning is, in many views, deeply affecting. It rebukes the presumptuous security of unbelief (Ecclesiastes 8:11). Again, this argument, as thus used by God, places in the clearest light the extreme depravity of man. The disorder of his nature is too inveterate, inborn, and inbred, to be remedied by a discipline of correction and chastisement. Undoubtedly there is an efficacy in the chastisements which God ordains, to amend, to purify, and sanctify the soul; but this efficacy depends upon there being some health and soundness, some principle of life, in those to whom such chastisements are applied. Therefore the Lord chastens and corrects His own people. But on the heart of man, as it is by nature, the Lord here emphatically testifies that the warnings and visitations of judgment will never effectually tell. Why should I smite the earth any more The imagination of man's heart is so thoroughly evil from his youth, that My smiting is altogether in vain. There is a tremendous truth involved in this argument; — it shuts forever the door of mercy on the impenitent and unbelieving. But while this saying of God presents on one side a dark and ominous aspect, on the other side it reflects a blessed gleam of light. It indicates the purpose of God, that in His treatment of the world, during the remainder of its allotted time, He is not to deal with its inhabitants according to their sins, nor to reward them after their iniquities. His providence over the earth is to be conducted, not on the principle of penal or judicial retribution — the human race being too corrupt to be thus reclaimed or amended — but on another principle altogether, irrespective of the merits or the works of man. What that other principle is, appears from the relation which the Lord's decree bears to the sacrifices offered by Noah, by which He is said to be propitiated (Genesis 8:20, 21). These sacrifices undoubtedly derive their efficacy from the all-sufficient sacrifice of atonement which they prefigured. And it is that sacrifice, offered once for all, in the end of the world — the sacrifice of the Lamb virtually slain from the foundation of the world — which alone satisfactorily explains the Lord's determination to spare the earth. It does so in two ways. In the first place, the interposition of that sacrifice vindicates and justifies the righteous God in passing by the sins of men (Romans 3:25) — in exercising forbearance, and suspending judgment. It is this alone which renders His long suffering consistent with His justice; — otherwise as the righteous Judge, He could not spare the guilty for a single hour. Secondly, that sacrifice of Christ reaches beyond mere forbearance, and is effectual to save. The very design of it — its direct and proper object — is not merely to provide that the barren tree may be let alone, but to secure that it shall be cultured and revived, so as to become fruitful. Therefore God spares the earth on account of the sacrifice of Christ, that those for whom it is offered may be saved, and that in them Christ may see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied.
II. Afterwards, in its announcement or publication to the human family (Genesis 9:8-17), THIS DECREE IS EMBODIED IN THE FORM OF A COVENANT AND RATIFIED BY A SIGNIFICANT SEAL. In the first place, the Lord establishes a covenant on the earth. "My covenant," saith the Lord. And what covenant can that be, but the covenant of grace? "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He sayeth us." This, and this alone, is preeminently His covenant; always the same in its character and terms, whatever may be the kind of salvation meant. In the present instance, it is exemption, or deliverance from the temporal judgment of a flood. But still this is secured to the earth, and to all the dwellers on the earth, by the very same covenant in which the higher blessings of life eternal are comprehended. Then again, secondly, the covenant, as usual, has a, seal, or an outward token and pledge; designed, as it were, to put the Lord in remembrance of His promise, and to settle and confirm the confidence of men. It is God's proof of His faithfulness to the children of men — the pledge that He is keeping, and will keep, His covenant. He looks on the bow, that He may remember the covenant. And as the covenant, being made by sacrifice, not only secures a season of forbearance to the earth, but looks to an end infinitely more important, to which that forbearance is subordinate and subservient; — as it is the covenant of grace or the covenant of redemption, of which the promise of exemption from the judgment of another flood forms a part; — so the rainbow becomes the seal of the covenant in this higher view of it also — and is the token and pledge of its spiritual and eternal blessings. Hence, among the ensigns and emblems of redeeming glory, the rainbow holds a conspicuous place (Ezekiel 1:28; Revelation 4:3; Revelation 10:1); and hence, moreover, the covenant which it seals, respecting the days and seasons of the earth's period of long suffering, gives to God's faithful people an argument of confidence, not for time only, but for eternity. He is true to His covenant, in sparing the world; will He not much more be true to the same covenant, in saving those for whose sake the world is spared? (Isaiah 54:9, 10; Jeremiah 33:20-25).
(R. S. Candlish, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying,