Sunday, February 05, 2017

God Remembers (Genesis 8:1-9:17)

They say the first thing to go is your sense of the hereafter. You walk into a room and wonder, “What did I come in here after?” Earlier this week, I claimed to be having a “senior moment,” but was told that I was not yet old enough to use that excuse. Whatever factor we chalk it up to, or excuse we make, the undeniable fact is that we are a forgetful lot. A great example of this is found in Scripture, when Joseph was imprisoned, and he asked Pharaoh’s cupbearer to “please do me a kindness by mentioning me to Pharaoh” (Gen 40:14). The Bible says simply, “Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.” Most of us can relate to that. That is why we are especially grateful that we have a God who never forgets.

Sometimes we can feel as though God has forgotten us. We find ourselves in the midst of hardship or difficulty, worse yet, hit with wave upon wave of suffering. We may wonder, “Does God even know what I am going through? Does He even care? Has He forgotten about me?” Noah may have been tempted to feel that way. By the time our text begins, Noah had been holed up in the ark for about 5 months and a week. Think about where you were on August 30 of last year. That’s how long Noah had been on the ark when Chapter 8 begins. The incessant sound of torrential downpour had hammered on the roof of the ark for almost six weeks. The waves of the great flood had bombarded the sides or the ark, tossing it back and forth. His only human companions were his wife and three sons and three daughters-in-law. They were surrounded by animals, and by this time had either grown immune or weary of the odor. Food supplies may have begun to concern them. They may have wondered if they would die on board the ark, or if they would ever be able to emerge from it. It must have felt as though they had been forgotten. But Chapter 8 opens with these simple words, “But God remembered Noah.”

Now when you and I “remember” something, it means that something comes to mind that we have previously forgotten. But we also use the term in a different way. Sometimes when we say we “remember” something, it is to say that we could never forget it. We remember our wedding day. We remember where we were on 9/11. We remember our loved ones’ birthdays. How could we forget? And it is this second sense in which the Bible speaks of God remembering. To say that God “remembers” is to say that God never forgets. And so Noah discovered, as must we all, that God never forgets His people or His promises. He remembers.

I. God Remembers His People (8:1-20)

When we look at the entire flood narrative from Chapter 6 to Chapter 9, we find that this statement, “God remembered Noah,” becomes the turning point of the story. Prior to this statement, the waters are rising. Afterward the waters are receding. Everything before this marks an end of creation as it was known; afterward, everything marks a new beginning. Noah, you will remember, was introduced to us as a unique person of his generation who had “found grace (or favor) in the eyes of the Lord.” God had chosen Noah to be the object of His saving grace. Noah had been invited into a personal relationship with God, which was received by Noah’s faith, and which was maintained by God’s faithfulness. In the security of this personal relationship, there is assurance that God never forgets, but always remembers His people.

Because God remembers His people, He works on their behalf. In fact, the Hebrew word “remember” which occurs here in our text indicates far more than just mental recall. Some 73 times in the Old Testament, we read of God “remembering,” and in each case the indication is that God is taking action toward that person.[1] He acts upon His previous commitment to His people. And that is what He is doing here with Noah. Notice that because God remembered Noah, He did something. Verse 1 says that He caused  a wind to pass over the earth, and the water subsided. Surely the natural hydrological cycles were at work here, but behind and beneath them, God was orchestrating the events for the benefit of the chosen object of His grace.

Friends, we must come to understand this. There are times in our lives when our circumstances tempt us to conclude that God has forgotten about us, or that He has gone on vacation or something and left us to deal with our struggles on our own hopeless resources. But this is never the case. When we live in a personal relationship with God by His grace, we can have the confidence that He remembers us – that He will never forget us! – and that He is always at work on our behalf, even when we do not perceive what it is that He is doing. Because He remembers His people, He works.

Next, we find that God’s remembrance of Noah causes Noah to do something as well. Because Noah trusts that God does remember him and is working on his behalf, Noah waits. The narrative from verse 4 to verse 14 seems to slow down to a snail’s pace, and it is punctuated throughout with timestamps. Verse 4 says that the ark came to rest upon the mountains of Ararat on the seventh month, on the seventeenth day. But it was almost three months later before the tops of the mountains became visible, as verse 5 indicates, “in the tenth month, on the first day of the first day of the month.”

Verse 6 says that after 40 more days had passed (6 weeks from the mountain tops becoming visible), Noah sent out a raven. The raven “flew here and there,” seemingly never returning to the ark. Ravens are “carrion birds,” who feed upon anything and everything, including the carcasses of the dead. The raven was able to fly long distances at great heights, finding plenty to eat and high places in the mountain peaks to make a home. At some point later, Noah sent forth a dove. Doves and pigeons are closely related, and both have a unique homing sense. The dove was able to go out and return, because there was no place for the dove to settle outside of the ark yet.

Another week passes, according to verse 10, and Noah sent out the dove a second time. This time, the dove returned holding a “freshly picked olive leaf.” This was an indication that vegetation below the treelines of the mountains had emerged, but there was still no dwelling place available. Finally, in verse 12, another week elapses, and Noah sends out the dove again, and this time the dove does not return. Conditions for sustaining life on the earth were improving.

Verse 13 says that on the first day of the first month of the 601st year, the water was dried up from the earth. To put that into perspective, this is approximately 11 months after Noah boarded the ark, and about four months after the ark had come to rest on the mountain. The final time stamp is in verse 14, where we read that on the 27th day of the second month (nearly two months after verse 13), the earth was finally completely dry. And it was then that God said to Noah, “Go out of the ark.”

Now, what is the point of all this tedious inscription of the slow passage of time? It is to demonstrate Noah’s patient waiting on the Lord. Because He knew that the Lord had remembered him, he was able to wait for the Lord to speak about what he was to do next. And he did not do anything until the Lord spoke. There is an important application for us here. If we are convinced, and believe by faith, that the Lord remembers us, that He never forgets us, and that He is working on our behalf for our good and His glory according to the promises of His word, then we can be patient as we wait for Him. Like Noah, we can abide under the momentary afflictions that come our way, the temporary discomforts and inconveniences, knowing that in His own time and according to His perfect will, God’s work will be done. And until we are certain that our next step of faith is one of obedience to Him, we can wait because we believe He remembers us.

Notice there is one other thing that we observe here in Chapter 8 that flows out of the assurance that God remembers His people. Because He remembers His people, He works and we wait, but we also see in verse 20 that we worship. Notice the first thing Noah does upon emerging from the ark. He builds an altar to the Lord. I suppose that the average person might think first to build shelter for himself, but not Noah. In grateful worship for the Lord’s gracious remembrance of him, he builds an altar and makes a sacrifice.

Although in our popular folklore, we tend to think of Noah only taking two of every kind of animal on board the ark, the Bible actually tells us that there were more of certain animals. In 7:2, the Lord told Noah to take the clean animals “by sevens,” and only two of the unclean animals. The distinction between the two has not been revealed yet in Scripture, but when it comes later, the clean animals will be specified as those which are fit for eating and for sacrificing in worship. The phrase “by sevens” could mean seven, with three pairs for mating and a spare for sacrifice, or “seven pairs.” In ether case, the point is the same: God provided more than was necessary for the mere survival of the species. Those which man would be able to eat and offer to God in worship were to be more abundant.

In building the altar and offering the sacrifice, Noah was engaging in worship. He was thanking God for His provision and for His faithfulness to deliver him and his family. He was also confessing to God his own unworthiness for this divine favor. Noah recognized that he was saved by grace, and in gratitude for grace, and as a confession of his reliance on that grace, he offered this sacrifice to the Lord. Because God had remembered him, he worshiped.

In Isaiah 49:14-16, the people of Israel who were undergoing captivity and enslavement say, “The Lord has forsaken me, and the Lord has forgotten me.” But God’s response is this: “Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands.” We who have come into a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ find all the more assurance in these words. By God’s grace, He has rescued us from sin through the offering of Jesus Christ on the cross. He died to take our penalty for sin upon Himself that we might be saved. And just as the disciples were able to see the nail prints in the hands of the risen Jesus, so the Lord says, “I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands. Whenever He sees the wounds that Christ endured for us on the cross, He remembers those who are the special objects of His grace. How could He ever forget those who were ransomed by the shedding of the very blood of His only begotten Son? A mother would more likely forget her own child than that God should forget His blood-bought children. He remembers! Therefore, He works on our behalf, and we wait on Him with patience, and we worship Him with our lives, because God remembers His people.

II. God Remembers His Promise (8:21-9:17)

Mark Twain once famously said, “If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.” As we have seen in political and celebrity scandals, when a person lies to cover up lies with more lies, they can catch themselves in an awkward web of “misremembering” important details. Twain’s memorable remark is simply an admonition to be honest, for then one doesn’t have to remember what was told to whom and when, for it was always the truth being told. Of course, when God speaks, He speaks the truth. In Numbers 23:19, we read, “God is not a man, that He should lie.” And because He always speaks the truth, He is never in danger of “misremembering” a promise that He has made. The second occurrence of God “remembering” in this passage is found in 9:15. There He assures Noah that He will remember His covenant. He can never forget a single one of the many promises He has made.

In 8:21-22, immediately following Noah’s offering on the altar, we find that God’s promises are made with grace. The Lord was pleased with Noah’s offering, as indicated by the statement, “The Lord smelled the soothing aroma.” This is a literary device here featuring a play on words with the word “soothing,” and the name “Noah.” Remember that Noah’s father gave him this name “This one will give us rest” (5:29). The name “Noah” means “rest,” and the Hebrew word is very closely connected to the word here for “soothing.” The idea is not that Noah had placated an angry God to repent of His unbridled vengeance. It is that Noah had honored the Lord, and that finally the Lord was receiving the worship that was due him after humanity had dishonored him for so many generations. God was taking pleasure in the worship and obedience of Noah and it rose up before Him like a soothing aroma. And so God makes a promise. He says, “I will never again curse the ground on account of man.”

But notice that this promise is saturated with grace, for the very next thing the Lord says is, “for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” You will recall that this is exactly what the Lord said of the human race prior to the flood. “Every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (6:5). So the flood did not “fix” human depravity. Man’s fallen nature remains unchanged after the flood, as Noah will demonstrate at the end of Chapter 9 when his story comes to a close. Noah’s story begins with a man transformed by grace, and ends with a drunk, naked, shamed man. He is a reminder to us that the most important part of our story is how it ends. But though man remains radically corrupted by sin after the flood, God promises to deal with man in grace – that is, not to bring about what man deserves, but to treat mankind better than he deserves. The Lord says, “I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done.” It is not that we don’t deserve that, but that God has a better promise for humanity. The flood has wiped the earth clean of the symptoms of human sinfulness. But it did not uproot the disease. In the future, God would deal with the disease in the life, death, resurrection and return of Jesus Christ and destroy sin fully and finally when the seed of woman trampled the head of the serpent as promised in the Garden.

So, as long as the earth remains (which is not a promise that it will remain forever, because it won’t), there will be the normal, dependable rhythms of life and time: seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night. Last week, you may have seen the news concerning the Twitter account of Badlands National Park. In defiance of a presidential directive about government use of social media, and to make a statement about the president’s position on climate change, someone from Badlands tweeted, “Today, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is higher than at any time in the last 650,000 years.”[2] Now, please understand, I am not making any kind of bold claims about climate change here, but I want you to see just how alarmingly unscientific such a statement is. How long has mankind had the tools necessary to measure the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? And how long have those records been kept? Certainly not 650,000 years! Science, when done rightly, deals with observable, measurable data. Claims about the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere for the last 650,000 years exceed those bounds. However, when we look at the human history we do have, we find that God’s word stands on its own merits. There have been times of sowing and reaping, times of cold and heat, times of summer and winter. Sometimes, the trends have been warmer, sometimes colder. But, the world keeps turning, the sun keeps rising, and life goes on with a dependable sense of regularity. Mankind need not live in fear that the glaciers are going to melt and flood the world, because God has promised that it won’t happen again. Not that we don’t deserve it, mind you, because our cultural conditions are no different than in the days of Noah. But because God has made a promise with grace.

We notice as well that God makes a promise with blessings. Chapter 9 opens with language that sounds exactly like God’s blessing and promises to man when Adam was first created. And this is for good reason. With the emergence of Noah from the ark, we have a “new beginning” of creation. And here in this new creation, though man is still deeply scarred by sin, man still bears the image of God in which he was created. And so, just as God blessed the first man and woman, he blesses Noah and his sons in similar terms.

The first blessing in God’s promise gives life purpose. Just as Adam was blessed and commissioned to be fruitful and multiply and to exercise dominion in the world over all creation, so Noah and his sons were blessed with the same purpose (9:1). Because the human race at this point consisted of only eight people, it was essential that they repopulate the earth. God’s intention was that the world would be filled with the creatures that bore His image. So, life’s purpose is about more than just having babies. It is about filling the earth with the divine image that is found in man, even though that image is marred by sin. And as man exercises dominion on the earth, God’s will is carried out through them. Man rules in creation on God’s behalf as His vice-regents. But notice that now there is a difference. The harmony that once existed between humanity and the animal kingdom is now corrupted. The Lord says, “The fear of you and the terror of you will be on every best of the earth and on every bird of the sky; with everything that creeps on the ground, and all the fish of the sea” (9:2). They are still given into the hands of men, but now this dominion will be carried out with a struggle. But still, human life has a purpose under this blessing and promise of God. They are to represent God by reproducing His image and ruling creation on His behalf.

Second, we notice that God’s promise comes with the blessing that gives life provision. Originally, Adam and Eve were permitted to eat from any and every tree and plant of the garden except one. It was not merely for health or dietary reasons that the human race was initially vegetarian. It was because death had not entered into the world. Death came by sin, and as far as we can tell, the first physical death that ever happened on the earth was that of the sacrificial animal that was killed so that God could provide coverings of skin for Adam and Eve after their sin. But now that death was commonplace in the world, there was no reason to prohibit the eating of meat. So, the Lord says, “Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant.” But there are boundaries to this blessing. First, notice that God says, “everything that lives.” That means that man must trust God’s promise to provide and not resort to scavenger living by eating things found dead. Also, man must abstain from savagery, and “not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” There must be a respect for life, and life is represented by blood. Leviticus 17:11 says that “the life of the flesh is in the blood,” and it is for this reason that blood is offered as a sacrifice for atonement. It represents the giving of a life. Mankind is not to disregard the sacredness of life by carelessly eating and drinking blood. The animal life that he takes for food must be handled with care, and prepared with care. Because God has promised to provide, man can obey God and trust Him to provide the food that is necessary to sustain life without becoming bloodthirsty savages and scavengers.

We also see that God’s promise comes with the blessing of life’s protection. Because of the divine image in mankind, human life bears a unique sacredness. Therefore, God promises to defend human life above all else. “Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it, and from every man, from every man’s brother I will require the life of man.” This means that any animal or human who takes the life of a human being will be put to death. “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man” (9:6).

This does not authorize vigilante style justice, and it is not necessarily a blanket endorsement of all instances of capital punishment, but it does establish the role of human government in defending the rights and life of mankind. The architects of American government understood this, and said in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Because humanity has the right to live the life that God has given him, no one else has the right to take that life away. Mankind is thus commissioned to govern one another to protect this and other rights that are inherent in the created order. As one writer says, “innocent human beings have a right not to be deliberately killed.” Thus, when Christians stand today for the protection of human life, from the unborn child in his mothers’ womb, to the elderly, infirm, and disabled, we are standing for God and the protection of life that is created in His image. God has promised to defend human life, and that promise comes with the blessing of His protection.

God, as you can see, remembers His promise. His promise is made with grace, and it is made with blessings. But finally we see that God’s promise is made with assurance. We see it in the language used to describe the promise. God calls it a covenant. This is a binding and unbreakable promise. Now a promise of this kind is only as valid as the word of the one who makes it, and for that reason, we ought to draw great assurance from this promise. We see that the One who authors and offers this covenant and the One who stands behind to uphold it and carry it out is none other than God Himself. Notice the repetition of the first person pronouns throughout the passage. Verse 8, God says “I Myself do establish My covenant with you.”  Verses 11, “I establish My covenant with you.” Verse 12, “This is the sign of the covenant which I am making.” Verse 15, “I will remember My covenant.” Verse 17, “This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth.” The assurance we have is that God will not break the promises that He has made to mankind because it is His covenant. He made it. He established it. The promises of God are certain because they rest on God’s faithfulness.

Notice not only does God make His covenant, but He also memorializes it with a sign that assures us that He will remember His promise. He says in verse 12, “This is the sign of the covenant which I am making.” And that sign is given in verse 13, “I set My bow in the cloud and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth.” Now some of the English translations use the word “rainbow” here in this passage, and certainly it is a rainbow of which God speaks. But the word that God uses is simply the word “bow,” and it is the same Hebrew word that is used to describe the weapon of the archer. God says, in effect, “I have hung up the bow, and promise to no more fire the weapon of my judgment at the earth in this same way that I have with the flood.” He says, “It shall come about, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow will be seen in the cloud, and I will remember My covenant.

The rainbow is the memorial which God has set in the sky as the assurance of His promise to never again flood the earth with the waters of judgment. It is not a promise that judgment will never again come, for it certainly will. But it is a promise that judgment will not come in the same way. If you think of the rainbow as a bow, a weapon, consider how it is suspended in the sky. The arch of the bow is pointed, not toward the earth, but toward heaven itself. And in this, we see a foreshadowing of how God will keep the promise of His covenant with mankind. The next time the arrow of His judgment would fire, it would fire, as it were, upon Himself as God incarnate was nailed to the cross at Calvary to take the flood of judgment for man’s sin upon Himself. So, when you see the rainbow in the sky, you know that God has made a promise that He can never forget, and will always remember. He has promised that He will take the arrow of judgment on our behalf and never again flood the earth with watery judgment. And this promise is as sure as any other that God ever made. Jesus said that He was making a new covenant with His followers – a covenant symbolized not by a rainbow, but by a cup and by bread. The bread and the cup symbolize that His covenant was established with us by the breaking of His body and the shedding of His blood. He has promised to save us from the judgment of fire that will come upon the earth at the consummation of His kingdom.

We began our service with a reading from Isaiah 11 that speaks of life in the coming kingdom of Christ. The shoot that springs from the stem of Jesse and the branch of his roots will come -- the descendant of David who was promised to come and reign forever. He is the same one who is the seed of woman who will crush the head of the serpent. He is the “little boy” who will rule in the everlasting kingdom over the blood-bought sons and daughters of His covenant. And in that day, we will see the fulfillment of all that Noah and the ark represent. On the ark, man and animal lived together in harmony until the ark opened and they all emerged. But in the Kingdom, “the wolf will dwell with the lamb and the leopard will lied own with the young goat, the calf and the young lion, the cow and the bear, the lion and the ox, the man and the cobra,” will live together forever under the banner of Christ’s kingdom. The present heavens and earth will have been destroyed by fire, as 2 Peter 3 promises, preparing the way for a new heaven and new earth where man will dwell in a renewed, glorified state with the Lord, free from the presence and power of sin forever. And Christ will stand as a “signal for the peoples; and His resting place will be glorious.”

We serve a God who remembers His people, therefore He works on our behalf while we wait and worship. He remembers His promise, made with grace, delivered with blessings, and guaranteed with assurance. Hear His words of love inviting you into this blood-sealed covenant to become a citizen of this kingdom for which we all long.

[1] Victor Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17 (New International Commentary on the Old Testament; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 299.

[2] Katie Reilly, “A Rogue National Park Is Tweeting Out Climate Change Facts in Defiance of Donald Trump.” Online at Accessed February 2, 2017.

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