Divine covenants structure the relationship between God and mankind. After the week of creation, He made a covenant of works with Adam that held out the blessing of life if our first parents would obey the covenant’s terms (Gen. 2:15–17). But Adam ate of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and broke the covenant of works. Still, God was gracious to Adam, for though mankind died spiritually at the moment of Adam’s disobedience, our Lord did not immediately strike us dead. More importantly, God promised to redeem His people through an agent who would keep the covenant of works (Gen. 3:15; Rom. 5:16–17).
God’s curse on the serpent is the first announcement of the covenant of grace, which is the covenant through which salvation comes. This covenant is revealed in several subsequent covenants with Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Christ.
Following Adam and Eve’s exile from Eden, Genesis 4:1–6:7 describes a creation that becomes increasingly corrupt as the number of sinners multiplies on the earth. Wickedness of all sorts is prevalent, prompting God to destroy almost everything that He has made with a flood. Only Noah’s family and representatives of the animal kingdom are spared (6:8–8:19). Out of His great mercy, the Lord saves a remnant of creation, but only a remnant. This teaches us that we can be confident of His grace but that we must never, ever take advantage of it.
Like the covenant made with Adam, the Noahic covenant laid out in Genesis 8:20–9:17 is a covenant made with all of humanity, and it marks a new beginning for the world after the flood. A sacrifice ratifies this covenant (8:20–21), and God promises never again to use a flood to destroy all life. The Lord promises that the seasonal cycle will continue while the earth remains (v. 22), and Noah is commanded to replenish the earth (9:1).
The Noahic covenant is God’s pledge that He will preserve the stability of nature, a stability that will allow His people to flourish and that will provide an arena for Him to enter history and bring salvation (John 1:14). Moreover, our Creator’s love for all that He has made is seen in the pledge that He will never again destroy the world, which is also an early sign that one day all creation will be renewed.
Our world tempts us to believe that the cycle of seasons and the rising and setting of the sun is due entirely to the orbit of the planet, the tilting of its axis, and its revolution around that same axis. While all these things are true, we must never forget that it is God Himself who works through these means to keep His promise to Noah. Every change of season and every sunrise and sunset is proof positive that the Lord never breaks His promises.