“All Future Generations”
Bacteria are plant organisms too small to see without a microscope. Even after being magnified 1,000 times, a single, common round bacterium appears no larger than a pencil point.
Given favorable conditions for growth—sufficient warmth, moisture, and food—bacteria multiply at an extremely rapid rate. For example, some bacteria reproduce by simple fission: a mature cell simply splits into two daughter cells. When fission takes place every hour, one bacterium can produce more than 16 million new bacteria in 24 hours. At the end of 48 hours, hundreds of billions of bacteria will have appeared.
This microscopic phenomenon in the natural world illustrates the rapid growth of evil after the Fall. Gifted with giant intellects, robust health, and longevity, this virile race forsook God and prostituted their rare powers to the pursuit of iniquity in all forms. While bacteria may be exterminated by sunlight, chemicals, or high temperatures, God chose to check this rampant rebellion by a universal flood.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, April 17.
The divine opinion at the end of God’s creation was that all “was very good” (Gen. 1:31). Then sin entered, and the paradigm shifted. Things weren’t “very good” anymore. God’s orderly creation was marred by sin and all its loathsome results. Rebellion had reached terrible proportions by Noah’s day; evil consumed the race. Though the Bible does not give us many details (see Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 90–92, for more), the transgressions and rebellion were clearly something that even a loving, patient, and forgiving God couldn’t tolerate.
How could things get so bad so quickly? The answer is, perhaps, not that hard to find. How many people today, looking at their own sins, have not asked the same thing: How did things get so bad so quickly?
Genesis 6:5 and 11 did not arise in a vacuum. There was a history before them. This terrible result had a cause. Sin progressively got worse. It tends to do that. Sin is not like a cut or a wound, with some automatic, built-in process that brings healing. On the contrary, if left unchecked, sin multiplies, never satisfied until it leads to ruin and death. One does not have to imagine life before the Flood to see this principle operating. It exists all around us, even now.
No wonder God hates sin; no wonder, sooner or later, sin will be eradicated. A just, loving God could do nothing else with it.
The good news, of course, is that though He wants to get rid of sin, He wants to save sinners. That’s what the covenant is all about.
There is no question, Noah was someone who had a saving relationship with the Lord. He was someone whom God could work with, someone who would listen to Him, obey Him, and trust in Him. That is why the Lord was able to use Noah to fulfill His purposes and why Peter, in the New Testament, called him “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Pet. 2:5).
The word grace occurs here for the first time in Scripture and clearly has the same meaning as in the New Testament references, where the merciful, unmerited favor of God, exercised toward undeserving sinners, is described. Thus, we need to understand that however “blameless” and “righteous” Noah was, he was still a sinner who needed the unmerited favor of his God. In that sense, Noah is no different from any of us who seek earnestly to follow the Lord.
In this one verse we have the basics of the biblical covenant that God makes with humanity: God and humankind enter into an agreement.
Yet, there are more elements than first meet the eye.
To begin, there is the element of obedience on humanity’s part. God says to Noah that he and his family shall go into the ark. They have their part to do, and if they do not do it, the covenant is broken. If the covenant is broken, they are the ultimate losers, for in the end they are the beneficiaries of the covenant. After all, if Noah said no to God and did not want to abide by the covenant or said yes but then changed his mind, what would have been the results for him and his family?
However unique this particular situation, we see here the basic Godhuman dynamic found in the covenant. By establishing “my covenant” with Noah, God here again displays His grace. He shows that He is willing to take the initiative in order to save human beings from the results of their sins. In short, this covenant must not be seen as some sort of union of equals in which each “partner” in the covenant is dependent upon the other. We could say that God “benefits” from the covenant, but only in a radically different sense from the way humans do. He benefits in that those whom He loves will be given eternal life—no small satisfaction for the Lord (Isa. 53:11). But that is not to say that He benefits in the same way we, on the receiving end of the same covenant, benefit.
Try this analogy: a man has fallen overboard from a boat in the midst of a storm. Someone on the deck says that he will throw a life preserver over to haul him in. The one in the water, however, has to agree to his end of the “deal,” and that is to grab on and to hold on to what has been provided him. That, in many ways, is what the covenant between God and humanity is all about.
Few natural phenomena are more beautiful than the rainbow. Who does not remember as a child one’s first fascination and wonder as those amazing bars of light bent across the sky like some sort of beckoning, mystical portal into the heavens? Even as adults, our breath can be taken away by the sight of those outrageous colors in the clouds. No wonder that even today the rainbow is used as a symbol for so many things: from political organizations to cults to rock bands to travel agencies (look up the word rainbow on the internet and see). Obviously, those beautiful bands of color still touch chords in our hearts and minds.
Of course, that was God’s whole point.
The Lord said He would use the rainbow as a sign of “my covenant” (Gen. 9:15). How interesting that He would use the word “covenant” here, for, in this case, the covenant differs from how it is used elsewhere. In contrast to the covenant with Abraham or the Sinai covenant, there is no specific obligation expressed on the part of those who would benefit from the covenant (even Noah). God’s words here are to all people, to “ ‘every living creature of all flesh’ ” (Gen. 9:15, RSV) for “ ‘all future generations’ ” (Gen. 9:12, RSV). God’s words are universal, all-encompassing, regardless of whether anyone chooses to obey the Lord or not. In this sense, the concept of covenant here is not used as it is elsewhere in the Bible when talking about the relationship between God and humans.
In this text one finds the first mention of the concept of “the remnant” in the Scriptures. The word translated as “was left” comes from another word whose root forms are used many times in the Old Testament where the idea of a remnant is conveyed.
“ ‘And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors’ ” (Gen. 45:7, RSV; emphasis supplied).
“And he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, every one who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem” (Isa. 4:3, RSV; emphasis supplied).
“In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant which is left of his people” (Isa. 11:11, RSV; emphasis supplied).
In all these cases, the italicized words are linked to the similar words “was left” found in Genesis 7:23, RSV.
At the time of the Flood, the Creator of the world became the Judge of the world. The nearing worldwide judgment raised the question whether all life on earth—even human life—would be destroyed. If not, who would be the survivors? Who would be the remnant?
In this case, it was Noah and his family. Yet, Noah’s salvation was linked to God’s covenant with him (Gen. 6:18)—a covenant that originated and was executed by a God of mercy and grace. They survived only because of what God did for them, however important their cooperation was. Whatever Noah’s covenant obligations were, and no matter how faithfully he executed them, his only hope was in God’s mercy.
Further Thought: Read Ellen G. White, “The Flood,” pp. 90–104 and “After the Flood,” pp. 105–110, in Patriarchs and Prophets.
“The rainbow, a natural physical phenomenon, was a fitting symbol of God’s promise never to destroy the earth again by a flood. Inasmuch as the climatic conditions of the earth would be completely different after the Flood, and rains would in most parts of the world take the place of the former beneficent dew to moisten the soil, something was needed to quiet men’s fears each time rain began to fall. The spiritual mind can see in natural phenomena God’s revelations of Himself (see Rom. 1:20). Thus the rainbow is evidence to the believer that the rain will bring blessing and not universal destruction.”—The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 1, p. 265.
Summary: In this week’s study, we have noted that the covenants God made with Noah are the first to be discussed explicitly in the Bible. They display His gracious interest in the human family and His desire to enter into a saving relationship with them. God reaffirmed His covenant with Noah, and it was Noah’s commitment to God that shielded him from the prevailing apostasy and eventually saved him and his family from the devastating judgment of the Flood.
“This symbol [the rainbow] in the clouds is to confirm the belief of all, and establish their confidence in God, for it is a token of divine mercy and goodness to man; that although God has been provoked to destroy the earth by the Flood, yet His mercy still encompasseth the earth.”—Ellen G. White, The Story of Redemption, p. 71.