“Now behold, I Myself do establish My covenant with you, and with your descendants after you; and with every living creature that is with you; the birds, the cattle and every beast of the earth with you; of all that comes out of the ark; even every beast of the earth.” Gen. 9:9-10
This is known as the rainbow covenant, or the Noahic covenant. These are interesting verses to isolate and read, as it forces you to realize that this was not just a promise to Noah, or to Noah and his descendants (all mankind), but rather a covenant with everything and everyone. I like the last part of the verse 10 – ‘even every beast of the earth’ – a phrase which God said twice in this passage.
But what is the promise? What is the covenant being made here? There may be some debate. Some would say the covenant begins at the start of chapter 9 and includes the commandment to multiply, the animals’ fear of man, the omnivore diet, and the warnings not to eat the animals’ blood and not to take another man’s life.
And yet I would also suggest that everything from Gen. 8:21-9:7 may just be blessings and commands from God before He specifically makes the covenant of the rainbow in 9:9-9:17. In these verses, God makes a promise to us that appears unilateral; He is the one making the promise and it is not based upon our following any rules – He is not stating that He will not flood the earth again as long as we don’t eat blood or commit murder; rather He is stating He will not flood the earth again, period. This is evidenced by God’s acknowledgement that humans have a tendency towards wickedness (Gen. 6:5 and Gen. 8:21); and the covenant ultimately made not to destroy the earth again with a flood is the outward expression of what God said to Himself concerning us in 8:21 after accepting Noah’s offering.
If so, the pictures becomes this: God creates man and ultimately chooses to destroy all but righteous Noah and his family. After Noah steps out of the ark, among his first actions is to make an altar, and an offering to God. God, upon accepting those sacrifices, makes the promise in is heart that He will no longer curse the ground or flood the earth. Then God explains what He has decided to Noah concerning this, and offers the sign of the rainbow as a tangible outward expression of this covenant.
It is as if there is a beautiful mutual interaction between God and man going on here. God shows He is the one that can create and destroy; Noah worships Him and thanks Him for having mercy on him and his family, saving them through the flood; lastly God makes a promise that it will not happen again. I think it is too easy to get tied up in bullet-point lists of what this or that covenant entails and miss what is really happening.