The World After the Flood
Upon leaving the ark, Noah offered a sacrifice to God. Noah gave to God one of every clean animal and bird. Remember that on entering the ark, Noah brought in seven of every clean animal and bird. Therefore, the odd animal was used in the sacrifice. God finds Noah's sacrifice acceptable and promises to never curse the earth again nor destroy life on the earth, no matter how evil mankind becomes. God had cursed the earth when Adam and Eve sinned, bringing forth weeds and thorns (Genesis 3:17). He also cursed the earth with the flood waters, destroying every living thing on the earth (Genesis 6:13).
While the earth remains, the seasons would continue to cycle. This is the first mention of seasons in the Bible. Some speculate that alterations to the earth in the flood brought on the seasons, but there is no way to prove such a point. Notice that the condition on God's promise is "while the earth remains." God is not promising that the earth will remain forever. He is saying that the seasons will not be interrupted as they were during the flood while the earth remains in existence. We know that one day, this world will be destroyed for God has promised its destruction (II Peter 3:10).
With life destroyed from the earth, God once again renews his blessing to replenish the earth with life (Genesis 9:1-4). This blessing is similar to the one given in Genesis 1:28, but the statement that man was to have dominion over the earth is omitted. Instead, God has given animals an instinctive fear of man. This corresponds with God's change in man's source of food. Up until this time, men were vegetarians (Genesis 1:29). Now, men are permitted to eat meat, but their meat would not docilely wait to be killed. God places one restriction on the eating of meat, man is not permitted to eat the blood of an animal because it contains the life of the creature. This universal law continues today (Acts 15:29).
God also adds laws dealing with murder at this time (Genesis 9:5-7). Murder is to be punished by death. It does not matter if the killing was done by an animal or man. Some people object to this punishment. They wonder how killing someone could be a punishment for killing someone. They miss the point that God is not authorizing personal vengeance. The punishment of a murderer by death is carrying out a just punishment for a crime that was committed. In the Old Law, which came much later in history, there is a commandment, "You shall not murder." However, even this commandment is punished by death when it was broken. In fact, breaking any of the ten commandments carried a death penalty (Hebrews 10:28). In the New Testament we are told that governments have the right from God to bear swords (Romans 13:4, Acts 25:11, Matthew 26:52). The right to bear implies a right to use the sword. Therefore, governments have the right to enforce their laws even to the point of imposing a death penalty.
While death is a just punishment for the violation of some laws, it is permissible to give exceptions when conditions are met. For example, King David was guilty of adultery and murder, both punishable by death, but because of his repentance God forgave him of his sins (II Samuel 11 and 12). The woman taken in the act of adultery and brought to Jesus had committed an act punishable by death, but the lack of accusers (the Old Law required at least two witnesses) and the implied repentance of the woman allowed Jesus to send her way forgiven (John 8:3-11).
God then entered a covenant with all living creatures. A covenant is an agreement between two parties. In ancient times there were two basic covenants. One was made between two equal parties. In these covenants both parties would give up certain rights and gain benefits by the agreement. The other type is between two unequal parties, such as between a ruler and his subjects. This covenant is an example of the latter. Nothing is given up by mankind or the animals. Only God gives up his right to destroy his creation by another flood. In this covenant, mankind and the animals benefit from God's protection, but God does not gain any direct benefit from his promise. All covenants are sealed by some visible token. Today we exchange papers with our signatures. In the ancient days they would stack stones to form a monument or offer sacrifices of animals or both. God seals his pledge by giving the world a rainbow. Prior to this, rainbows did not exist. Since rainbows are formed by light shining through raindrops, this is another hint that it did not rain before the flood, instead the ground was watered by morning mists.
In every covenant, the terms and duration of the covenant are specified. In this covenant, God establishes a perpetual covenant that will remain in effect as long as the earth continues to exists. Notice that this covenant does not rule out the possibility of God destroying the world by some other means.
The world was destroyed because its people continually sinned. We quickly learn that the flood did not wipe out sin. After the flood, Noah plants a vineyard and makes wine from the grapes he harvested. He became drunk and laid naked in his tent. One of his sons, Ham, happens to come upon him. Instead of being embarrassed for Noah, Ham gloats over Noah's weakness. Instead of trying to help Noah, Ham seeks out his brothers to laugh about his drunken father. However, Shem and Japheth did not find the situation funny. They immediately went to rectify the problem. They even refused to look at Noah in his weakness. They held a garment between them, walked in backwards so they would not see Noah's shameful condition.
Ham's sin was not his looking at his naked father, but what his action implied. Ham gloried in his father's shameful behavior, implying that he resented Noah's authority. We should not glory in another person's sin (Galatians 6:1), but rather to sorrow for them and to do something about the sin, if it is within our power.
When Noah awoke from his drunken stupor, he realized what had happened. He then gave a series of cures and blessings on his sons and their descendants. The pronouncements that Noah made are more than wishful thinking on Noah's part, they are prophecies about the nature of each son and their descendants. The practice of giving blessings and curses, when the head of the household nears death, continued throughout the Old Testament. It was considered a part of one's inheritance, especially for the oldest child, as we will see when we study Esau and Jacob.
Ham, for the role he played in making his father's shame public, was not even mentioned by Noah. Instead, Noah pronounces a curse on Canaan, Ham's youngest son. Noah is giving insult by ignoring Ham and his two older sons. However, by naming the youngest son, we see that Noah is doing this on purpose and not by oversight. Further injury is made to Ham when Noah gives Ham's two brothers blessings.
The actual curse is that Canaan (or his descendants) would be servants of servants. In other words, they would occupy the lowest rank in society, serving those who themselves are servants. This is not necessarily implying slavery. For example, Jesus viewed himself as the servant of all men. He served everyone, but he wasn't enslaved by anyone. People in the past have used this curse to justify slavery of black people. However, they fail to notice that the curse was directed to Canaan, whose descendants occupied the area of Israel before the Israelites conquered the land. Descendants of Ham's other children occupied the land of Africa. In the future we will learn that the Canaanites were conquered by the Israelites (descendants of Shem) and became permanent servants to the Israelites, thus fulfilling the prophecy.
Shem received a blessing from Noah that emphasized his relationship with God. The nation of Israel descends from Shem and they are called God's chosen people.
Japheth's blessing centers around the word "enlarged." This is the only time this particular form of the Hebrew word appears in the Bible. There is some debate on what the exact translation should be. Other forms of the same word are translated as "persuade" or "entice." One commentator thinks the word means "open-minded" or "intellectual." We do know that Japheth's descendants occupied the area we now call Europe, where much of our modern knowledge originates from. The blessing also notes that Japheth and Shem's descendants would share a close relationship.
Noah lived to the ripe old age of 950 years. To put this in perspective, consider that Noah died 58 years after Abraham was born. It is possible that Abraham had meet his famous ancestor, though we do not know where Noah settled to live after the flood.