Why is it that God is so patient with the hard-heartedness of mankind after the flood? In short: the Noahic covenant! Yahweh is clear that post-flood mankind still has the same heart problem that has wreaked havoc on the earth since the original transgression in the Garden. So, the fear and dread he puts in the animals towards humanity, combined with the death penalty for murder, as well as the command to be fruitful and multiply, are all concrete expressions of God’s common grace, whereby he promises to not wipe out humanity again in his wrath, and he curbs the effects of sin so that humanity does not destroy itself (see Gen. 9:1–7).
In last month’s theme on Genesis 1–11, I dealt with the Noahic covenant in some detail by engaging David VanDrunen’s teaching on it in relation to the covenant of creation/works/human nature/law. I made the case there that I found his interpretation and application of the Noahic covenant to be far too modest, insofar as he teaches that it holds out no hope of attaining the new creation and is merely a stopgap for sin which preserves the first creation. In essence, he singles the Noahic covenant out so that it alone accounts for how God rules over creation universally post-fall until new creation, and in so doing he is guilty of counting the limited word count of the Noahic covenant, without weighing its role within the larger narrative of Scripture.
In this essay, I aim to briefly highlight the Noahic covenant’s placement and role within the larger metanarrative of Scripture from a Progressive Covenantalist perspective. I believe VanDrunen would largely agree with the first three points to be introduced in this article, but would have significant reservations on points four and five, which I will unpack in part two. This is because he sharply demarcates common and redemptive grace and sees the Noahic covenant as non-redemptive. I however believe it brims with the promise and hope of the protoevangelium (“first gospel” promise) from Genesis 3:15.
As I stated in the previous essay, we must read each biblical covenant on its own terms and in keeping with its placement within the biblical storyline. In the words of Stephen Wellum, “By tracing out the covenants in this fashion, we are able to see how the entire plan of God is organically related and how it reaches its culmination and fulfillment in Christ . . . we will rightly see how the parts of God’s plan fit with the whole.” To that end, I contend a proper understanding of the Noahic covenant is that it: (1) reaffirms the creation covenant, (2) reminds God and man of Yahweh’s promise to never destroy the earth in judgment again, (3) remains in force until Christ’s return, (4) renders two kingdoms, the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man, and (5) reveals Yahweh’s covenant faithfulness while anticipating the greater glory of the new covenant. Again, in today’s essay I will discuss the first three points, and in tomorrow’s followup essay I will unpack points four and five.
The word covenant does not appear in the opening chapters of Genesis until Noah enters the scene (Gen. 6:18; 9:9). Peter Gentry has highlighted the important difference between “creating a covenant” (karat berit) and “renewing/establishing a covenant previously created” (heqim berit). He also rightly observes that only the latter phrase heqim berit is used for the Noahic covenant (Gen. 6:18; 9:9, 11, 17) as opposed to the normal expression for the creation of a covenant (karat berit). For example, karat berit is invoked when Yahweh initiates the Abrahamic covenant, but by using the language of heqim berit in the Noahic covenant God’s means “to affirm (verbally) the continued validity of a prior commitment—that is, to affirm that one is still committed to the covenant relationship as established or initiated previously.”
This logic raises the question: if the first time(s) the word “covenant” is used in Scripture is Genesis 6 and 9, how can God speak of reaffirming a previous covenant? It is here that the Reformed tradition has rightly affirmed an original covenant of works/Adamic covenant, or what we Progressive Covenantalists would rather call the Creation covenant. A crucial prooftext for understanding the Noahic covenant to be a reaffirmation of a creation covenant is Hosea 6:7, which reads: “But like Adam [Israel and Judah] transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me.” Passages like this one give sound biblical and theological grounds to conclude God made a covenant with Adam as the vice-regent of creation, one that Adam failed to keep.