Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth. —Genesis 9:8–11
At the very foundation of the Jewish and Christian faith is the concept of the covenant, or brit In Hebrew. The Bible teaches us that God chose and initiated a covenantal relationship with us — one that defines events of the past and assures us of promises for the future. This is one of six devotions related to these divine contracts that eternally bind us with God.
People tend to regard the story of Noah and the ark as a cute children’s story. Countless picture books depict Noah with a boatful of smiling animals floating carefree atop the waters. But the story of Noah and the great flood is more than that. Beyond being a story of judgment and punishment, is also the story of God’s very first agreement, or covenant, with people.
Covenants, or agreements, between two people or groups of people have a long history in the ancient Middle East. However, the Bible radically transformed this by introducing to us the concept of God being in covenant with man. After the great flood, God promised never again to destroy all living creatures in that manner.
Actually, God’s promise had three parts: 1) never again would a flood do such destruction; 2) as long as the earth remains, the seasons will always come as expected; and 3) a rainbow will be a visible sign to all that God will keep his promise.
And, according to the Talmud (the rabbinical commentary on the Bible that Jews view as authoritative) Noah promised in return to uphold seven moral laws. This makes sense, especially when you consider that widespread evil and immorality among mankind were precisely the reasons that God sent the destructive waters in the first place.
Six of the moral laws were actually prescribed at the time of Adam and Eve while another was added during Noah’s time. They included prohibitions against murder, theft, cruelty to animals, idol worship, blasphemy, and illicit sexual relations, as well as the positive command to set up a system of justice so that society could be ruled fairly.
Now, the Jewish interpretation of this Noahite covenant represents one of the foundational differences between Judaism and Christianity. In the Jewish view, these laws apply to all of Noah’s descendants, not just Jews. This means all of mankind. Jewish people believe that non-Jews who obey these laws deserve a place in the eternal world. Christians, on the other hand, believe that faith in Jesus is the only path to eternal life.
While this is a fundamental —and critical — difference between our two faiths, what we can agree upon based on God’s covenant with Noah at that time is God’s faithfulness. The earth never has experienced a flood of the magnitude of Noah’s day. The seasons come one after another, and God’s rainbow still can be seen in the sky — an eternal representation of His graciousness to the world.
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