The relationship between God and man is structured by agreements that we call covenants. When God created the earth, He entered into a covenant of works with Adam in which Adam could secure blessing if he obeyed the terms of the covenant. Adam disobeyed and broke the covenant of works by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Nevertheless, God was gracious to Adam. Though Adam died spiritually, he did not experience physical death immediately because of God’s forbearing mercy. Even more importantly, God gave hope that one day He would remove the curses through an agent who would be faithful to the covenant of works (Gen. 3:15; Rom. 5:16–17).
With the cursing of the serpent, the salvific covenant of grace is announced for the first time. Unlike the covenant of works, the covenant of grace is unfolded by several smaller “sub-covenants,” the first one being the covenant with Noah.
In Genesis 4:1–16:7 we read of a creation that becomes increasingly corrupt. Murder and wickedness of all kinds abound, leading God to send a flood that destroys all life, except for faithful Noah and representatives of the animal kingdom (6:8–8:19). God saves a remnant of His creation because of His great mercy. But it is only a remnant. Though we can be confident of God’s great grace, we should never think that He will allow sin to go unpunished.
We read of the Noahic covenant in Genesis 8:20–9:17. The Noahic covenant, like the covenant made with Adam, is a covenant made with all of humanity; it is made at the “re-creation” of the earth, at the new beginning for the earth after the flood. This covenant is ratified by sacrifice (8:20–21), and God promises never again to destroy the earth by means of a flood. While the earth remains, the seasonal cycle will continue (v. 22). Noah is commanded to replenish the earth (9:1) and to exercise capital punishment (9:6).
In this covenant, God pledges to preserve the stability of nature. Such stability is necessary if He is going to enter history to save His people. Moreover, since all living things will never again be destroyed completely by God in a flood, we see that the whole earth is the beneficiary of this covenant. This demonstrates God’s love for all of His creatures and gives us a hint that one day all things will be renewed.
There is an unfortunate tendency for some Christians to view salvation in purely spiritual terms. But the protection of the animals in the ark shows God’s love for all His creatures, and it foreshadows the renewal that will come to the whole earth. Be a good steward of the physical world now in anticipation of its future renewal.