The Pleasing Aroma

“When the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done’” (Gen. 8:21).

- Genesis 8:20–22

Today we return to Genesis 8 and our study of the flood narrative. The waters have receded and Moses now begins to describe the covenant God made with Noah following his rescue from judgment.

After leaving the ark, the first act Noah performs is a sacrifice of the clean animals he brought with him (v. 20). This is reminiscent of the sacrificial system established in Leviticus, and so Noah, who is commended for his faithfulness (6:9), demonstrates how those consecrated to the Lord worship Him gratefully for their salvation.

Yet the waters have not solved the problem of sin, a fact the transgression of Ham, and even righteous Noah, will soon reveal (9:20–29). To remain holy, the Lord must wipe out mankind because man is still wicked (8:21; 6:5–7). However, He has also mercifully promised to destroy Satan through the woman’s seed (3:15). To be true to His word, the Lord must preserve a portion of humanity, not because we are deserving, but because His honor demands it. How then can God’s wrath and His desire to preserve humanity be reconciled?

Noah’s sacrifice brings the Father’s grace and holiness into harmony. This is what 8:21 tells us, for our Creator vows to preserve mankind only after smelling the “pleasing” aroma of an offering made to satisfy the Lord’s wrath. As Lamech had hoped, Noah has brought rest to man (5:28–29), but it is not rest from toil. Instead, we no longer have to fear that God will annihilate His entire creation (8:21–22). The Almighty purposes not to curse the ground “any further” (this addition reflects the force of the Hebrew text in 8:21), meaning not that the thorns and thistles are removed (3:17–19) but that the curse will not be worsened. God will still judge, but He has promised never again to strike down every living creature.

This is all by grace alone. Noah was righteous in comparison to others in his generation, but he was not perfect (9:20–29), and so he did not undo Adam’s fall. In the end, even his offering was by the Lord’s grace, for it was God who told Noah to bring the animals fit for sacrifice aboard the ark (7:1–5). As the week progresses, we will examine further the gracious character of the Noahic covenant.

Coram Deo

Noah’s sacrifice prefigures Christ’s in many ways. But while Noah only placates God’s judgment of creation temporarily (“while earth remains,” 8:22) and cannot secure the salvation of the Lord’s people, Jesus forever turns away the wrath of God against His elect (Heb. 9:11–14). Do you gratefully worship the Savior for His salvation, or do you take it for granted, failing to pay Him the homage He is due? Spend time today in worship of our king.

Passages for Further Study

Ps. 74:16–17
Isa. 54:9–10
2 Cor. 2:14–17
Heb. 12:28–29

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.