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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:God's covenant with nature is a great encouragement in an uncertain world
Text:Genesis 9:8-17 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Covenant faithfulness

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 77

Hymn 11:9 (after the Law of God)

Psalm 100

Psalm 145:3

Hymn 85

Scripture reading: Luke 6:27-36

Text: Genesis 9:8-17

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

In case you hadn’t noticed, every June is now celebrated by the LGBTQ community as “pride month.”  It’s at this time of year that you’ll often see the rainbow flag.  But even at other times of the year, you’ll see it on bumper stickers on cars or on nametags at the grocery store.  It’s hard to miss it. 

Where did it come from?  The pride flag first appeared in 1978 in San Francisco.  The creator was apparently inspired by a Rolling Stones song, “She’s a Rainbow.”  It originally had eight colours and they symbolized sex, life, healing, sunlight, nature, magic, serenity, and spirit.  Later versions of the pride flag had six colours, but now more stripes and colours and circles are being added all the time. 

Whatever else you might want to say about the pride flag, its original design had nothing to do with what we’re looking at in Genesis 9 this morning.  From what I can tell, the designers didn’t have the Bible on their minds at all.  That doesn’t change the fact that they’ve taken something good from God’s creation and used it to celebrate something contrary to his will and design for humanity.  Anytime you display a rainbow publicly these days, people will conclude that you’re either LGBTQ or what they call an ally.    

As Bible-believing Christians, whenever we see a rainbow in the sky, we’re meant to pause and think about what it really means.  Every natural rainbow is a sign from God.  It’s a sign speaking certainty to us in a world where so many things are uncertain.  If you ask me whether this coming week will be much like the last one, I’d have to say, “I don’t know.”  The future is a big question mark.  But yet there are some things you can count on from day to day and year to year.  Every rainbow in the sky reminds us of that encouraging truth.  So let’s listen to God’s Word from Genesis 9:8-17 this morning, God’s covenant with nature is a great encouragement in an uncertain world.

We’ll consider this covenant and its:

  1. Content
  2. Sign

Normally when we hear the word ‘covenant’ we think of God’s special relationship with his people, with believers and their children.  So normally we think of what’s called the covenant of grace.  The covenant of grace is like a golden thread running through Scripture from Genesis 3 onwards.  There’s one covenant of grace, but it goes through different administrations or phases.  So the covenant of grace with Abraham is essentially the same as the new covenant we’re part of, but there are some differences.  Now besides the covenant of grace, there are other covenants in Scripture.  What we’re looking at here in Genesis 9 is not the covenant of grace, but another covenant, a covenant made with all creation.  It’s sometimes called the covenant with nature.  It’s important to have that clear in our minds.  To say it again, this is not the covenant of grace, but the covenant with nature – something entirely different.

We can see it’s different by looking carefully at verses 9 to 11.  This is where this covenant of nature is laid out.  Let’s look at the details together. 

First, our passage emphasizes that this covenant was God’s idea, “I establish my covenant…”  The initiative didn’t come from Noah and his sons, but emphatically from God. 

Closely connected with that, God is doing absolutely everything in this covenant.  There’s no obligation here for Noah and his sons, or for the other creatures.  In other words, this covenant is unconditional.  It’s unique among covenants in Scripture in that it only delivers promises.  And because God is the one making the promises and because God is always faithful, this covenant can never be broken.

Next, take a look at the universal scope of this covenant with nature.  Verse 9 mentions Noah and his sons and their children.  So it’s with humanity, but not just with humanity.  Look at verse 10.  Notice how you see the word “every” three times, referring to every living creature, every animal, every beast.  That language comes back in verse 12, “every living creature,” and verse 15, “every living creature of all flesh,” and then again in verse 16.  And in verse 13, the covenant here is even said to be made with the earth itself.  So this is an all-encompassing covenant with creation.  It’s not just believers and their children like in the covenant of grace, but with everything God has made.

And if you look ahead to verse 12, you’ll also see this is a covenant “for all future generations.”  And verse 16 speaks of it as “the everlasting covenant” between God and every living creature.  So as long as this present age remains, this covenant will remain in force.  It’s forever, perpetual.

So to review what we’ve gleaned so far:  the covenant with nature is God’s covenant, it’s unconditional, universal, and everlasting.  Already here we’re seeing something of the character of God, in particular his kindness and mercy.  Now let’s look closer at exactly what God promises in this covenant. 

Verse 11 tells us.  God will never again use flood waters to destroy all living creatures from the earth.  And the earth too will never be covered with flood waters as it was in the days of Noah.  Matthew Henry commented, “As the old world was ruined to be a monument of justice, so this world remains to this day, a monument of mercy, according to the oath of God…”  In his kindness to his creation, God allows this world to go on.  This is a common benefit enjoyed by all creatures.  It’s enjoyed by all humanity too, whether they’re believers or not.

This common benefit of enjoying a world that’s not under threat of another global flood is one of several common benefits mentioned in Scripture.  Sometimes these common benefits are called common grace.  Nobody deserves them – because of sin everyone actually deserves the opposite – but God is nonetheless gracious in providing these benefits.  So you can call this common grace if you want, but if for some reason you stumble over that term, you can also go with common benefits. 

Think of what our Lord Jesus said about this in Luke 6:35.  He taught how we’re to love our enemies and do good to them – why?  Because that’s how God is.  Christ said in verse 35 that God “is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.”  And how is he kind to the ungrateful and the evil?  To answer that, we should listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 5:45, “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.”  In other words, the maintenance of nature is a common benefit enjoyed by all human beings and all creatures.  When the sun comes up each day and the earth hasn’t been destroyed, that’s God’s kindness.  When the rain falls and then it stops without rising up above all the mountains of the earth, that’s God’s kindness.

Now why does God show this kindness to his creation?  Ultimately it’s for the sake of the gospel -- it’s for the good news of Jesus Christ.  We know that because of what Scripture says in Romans 2:4.  Please turn there with me and let’s read that together.  Notice that God is rich in kindness, forbearance, and patience.  We see that with this covenant of nature in Genesis 9.  God doesn’t owe it to us to make a promise like this.  But he is rich in kindness.  But then Romans 2:4 also tells us the purpose:  “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance…”  God’s kindness is meant to bring us to our knees recognizing our unworthiness to receive such kindness because we’re sinners who constantly rebel against God.  And God’s kindness is meant to bring us to look to Christ as the ultimate expression of God’s kindness to sinners.  We’re meant to look to him for the forgiveness of every sin which would otherwise leave us under worse judgment than what the world received in the Flood. 

Loved ones, this covenant with nature ultimately serves the covenant of grace in which the gospel is found.  The covenant with nature serves the covenant of grace by drawing people into it.  But the covenant with nature also creates an environment in which the covenant of grace can exist and also ultimately be fulfilled with the coming of Jesus Christ.  If God didn’t preserve the world, there’d be no covenant of grace and there would have been no Mediator for us, no Saviour.  That’s why we say the covenant with nature serves the covenant of grace.    

So it has a link to the gospel, but there’s also a connection in how we respond.  The world around us has the testimony of a rising sun and falling rain, a world which will continue till the end of the age.  The world has God’s kindness and everyone is responsible for how they respond to that.  But for those in the covenant of grace, our responsibility to respond properly is amplified.  That’s because we’re also confronted with God’s revelation in Scripture.  We see God’s kindness in the rising sun and falling rain and a preserved earth, but we also learn much more about God’s kindness from Scripture and especially in what he’s done in sending his Son.  Now with greater knowledge comes greater responsibility and accountability.  So loved ones, don’t let God’s kindness escape your notice.  Notice how kind he is in this world and especially in Christ, and let it lead you continually to repentance and faith in Christ.  God lavishes his kindness on you – and you don’t deserve it, you deserve the opposite.  So, seeing that, turn away from your sins and look to Christ, keep looking to Christ, and I promise you that you’ll experience even more of God’s kindness in this age and in the age to come.

Now covenants in Scripture come with signs.  In the Old Testament administration of the covenant of grace, circumcision was the sign of initiation.  It publicly announced your inclusion in the covenant of grace.  This covenant with nature in Genesis 9 also came with a sign.  Of course, that sign was the rainbow.  God took a natural phenomenon and he filled it with meaning.  The meaning has to do with a feature of some covenants in Scripture.  In Genesis 15 when God comes to Abram to covenant with him, there’s this remarkable scene where the smoking fire pot and flaming torch pass between the animals that had been cut in half.  That was a picture of God passing between those animals.  It was like God saying, “If I am not faithful to what I have promised, let me be cut in half like these animals.”  Similarly, here in Genesis 9, we have a bow.  A bow is a weapon of war, as in a bow and arrow.  After God’s wrath has been poured out on the earth in the Flood and he made his oath to never do it again, his bow is now directed upwards towards himself.  It was like God saying, “If I am not faithful to what I have promised, let that bow take aim at me.”  And of course, because it’s impossible for God to die, this is never going to happen.  It’s impossible for God not to be faithful to what he’s promised.  “He remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.”  That’s what every rainbow is announcing to us.  The rainbow is God’s illustration of how he can be trusted to do what he says he will do.

So you’re driving in your car and you pass through a rain storm.  As you come through to the other side, the sun is shining and a vibrant rainbow appears.  At that moment, don’t just admire the beauty of what you’re seeing.  Let your thoughts be drawn upwards to God.  Remember God’s covenant with nature and his dependable faithfulness to what he’s promised.  If you’ve got kids and they’re with you in the car, point out the rainbow to them and use it as a teaching moment.  Tell them what the rainbow really means according to the Bible.  Tell them that they can trust God to always make the sun shine, and the rain fall, but also to make the rain stop so that it’ll never flood the whole earth again.  The rainbow tells us that God is kind to his creatures, longsuffering and patient.  It’s a sign of this covenant with nature, a sign which preaches to us what God is like.

Every time there’s a rainbow, God remembers his covenant.   In chapter 8:1, God is said to have remembered Noah and all the creatures with him on the ark.  When God remembers it means he is about to act in a way that shows himself faithful to what he’s promised.  It doesn’t mean he’s forgotten, but that he is active in relation to his promises, active in a loyal and faithful way.  Here too in the covenant with nature, God will see the rainbow and he will remember – he will always act in a way faithful to what he has promised.

If God is like that in the covenant with nature, you can be sure he’s also like that in the covenant of grace.  Every rainbow tells us that God is kind, extending a promise of protection over the earth.  And in the covenant of grace we see his kindness in even greater detail.  God kindly promises to be our Father who loves us and who conducts our lives in the wisest and best way possible.  God kindly promises that we have forgiveness and righteousness in Christ.  He kindly promises that we have hope for real change with the presence of his Holy Spirit in our lives.  All we have to do is believe in Jesus Christ and God delivers everything promised to us.  Faith is the hands by which we receive these beautiful gifts from God.    

The world is an uncertain place.  There are so many things we can get caught up in worrying about.  In the face of that reality, it’s so encouraging that with God and his faithfulness, there are some certainties.  There are certainties that benefit all people whether they’re Christians or not.  But then there are also certainties specially directed to those who are Christians.  God’s covenant faithfulness is great.  He’ll never back down on what he’s promised you.

The focus of our text has been on God.  Notice how nothing is said in these verses about Noah at all.  Nothing is said about God requiring him to do anything.  Nothing is said about how he reacted.  The focus is on God and his kindness alone.  But that focus doesn’t mean we’re to just take this all in for information.  Remember what Scripture says in Romans 15:4, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”  Genesis 9 gives us hope.  Not the wishful thinking kind of hope, but the hope that’s based on certainty.  It’s hope grounded in who God is as both faithful and kind.  And another direction this passage takes us is worship.  When you receive kindness, you want to thank the one who’s been kind.  When someone is faithful to you, especially when you haven’t deserved it, you feel affection for them.  With God, these things lead us to love him and worship him.  We worship him here and now in our service, but we’re also going to worship him with our lives.  God is so kind, so dependable, so loving – such a God is worthy of our loving dedication every day.  AMEN.     


Our God in heaven,

We worship you for your faithfulness to all your promises.  We adore you for keeping your word in the covenant with nature in Genesis 9.  In that we see your kindness and we love you for it.  Thank you for the sun which rises every day, for the rain which falls and then doesn’t fall.  But Father, thank you also for your faithfulness in the covenant of grace too.  We’re so often unbelieving and unfaithful, but you hold on to us in your kindness.  You give us and our children beautiful promises.  Above all, we worship you for the hope that we have in Jesus Christ, the hope of eternal life spent in fellowship with you.  Father, whenever we see your rainbow above us, please remind us of these great truths.  Please give us the encouragement we need to realize that we do have certainties with you, even though the world around us is so uncertain. 

Father, we also want to pray to you for the LGBTQ community.  Please break our hearts for them.  Give us compassion and love for them.  We pray that the gospel would come to them, whether through us or through others.  We ask that your Holy Spirit would work powerfully in more hearts to draw them to yourself in repentance and true faith.                                                            

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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