oh the humanity

January 27, 2017

Genesis Chapter 9


God’s words to Noah were intended to remind him of man’s unique and dignified position. He spoke of a “special commission.” “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Gen. 9:1). Despite his awful fallenness, man was still to reproduce himself and fill the earth with his kind. God’s purposes still incorporated man and he was to do what only man could do. God had chosen not to eradicate man and had decided not to replace him with another order of created being. The commission to man still stood. Man was still in charge of the animal kingdom and the agent of the divine rule, but a new note had crept in. Under Adam’s rule there was no suggestion of tension between man and the animal kingdom. But for Noah there would be a difference—”And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth…. They are given into your hand” (v. 2). In addition man was given specific permission to eat flesh—”Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs” (v. 3). This may have been an implicit right before the Fall but it had not been stated explicitly. The relationship between man and animal was basically the same, but the differences were real.

God also spoke about “special creation” reminding Noah, “For in the image of God He made man” (v. 6). There was no dilution of man’s dignity at this point either, but the same note of caution was sounded. Man, made in God’s image, had shown himself capable of taking man’s life, and this was totally unacceptable to God. Man had to be protected from himself. “But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed” (vv. 4-6). While these verses figure largely in debates on capital punishment it should be noted that they serve a broader purpose. They certainly have something to say about retribution but they are saying much more. If an animal killed a man, killing the animal could hardly be regarded as retribution but it was required! The eating of blood with the flesh was also regarded as unacceptable even though the taking of the life of the animal was permissible. This passage is speaking of the inestimable worth of lifeblood, whether human or animal but particularly human, because life itself is the gift of God and must not be abused.

Then God reminded Noah of the “special covenant” which He had introduced in response to the loving sacrifice at the time of disembarkation from the ark. It was described as “the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth” (v. 16). The extent of the covenant is seen in the use of “everlasting” and “all flesh,” and the fact that it originated with God and guaranteed that there would never again be a flood like that which mankind had just experienced. In addition the introduction of an unmistakable sign in the heavens—”I set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth” (v. 13)—showed the depth of God’s concern for His covenant children. For God to speak in this way to mankind was yet another indication of the unique relationship which man, even in his fallenness, enjoyed not only with a Creator but also with a covenant God.

Man has always displayed an innate sense of his own worth. He resolutely insists on being treated properly and consistently speaks of his high view of himself. But man’s reasons for this sense of his own dignity have not always been valid. It is only in his relationship to God through creation, commission, and covenant that man has the right to regard himself as uniquely worthy of respect. It is only in terms of deity that man finds dignity.

It is at these same three points that the prostitution of human dignity takes place. The doctrine of special creation has been widely dismissed. The concept of a divinely imparted special commission has been diluted, and to a large extent the special covenant has been ignored.

The results of these attitudes are seen in “the cheapness of human life.” Despite the clear prohibition of Genesis 9:6, human history has been stained with the blood of violence’s victims, and the horrors of terrorism and visions of nuclear disaster do nothing to alleviate man’s nervousness. When the United Nations Organization was founded at the end of the Second World War, one of its objectives was to put an end to the strife and tension which lead to violence and bloodshed. Since that time over 100 million people have lost their lives in warfare not to mention other forms of violence. At any given moment there are over 200 wars going on this planet.

Another evidence of the loss of human dignity is “the casualness of human relationships.” God had introduced the wonderful principle of covenant and in so doing had not only shown his commitment to mankind but had also shown man how relationships based on covenant and commitment were to be normative. The breakdown in this area can readily be documented and the seeds of this breakdown can even be seen in Noah’s family. When Ham, one of Noah’s sons, was inadvertently confronted with Noah’s shame he apparently delighted in it, shared it with his brothers, and was roundly judged for it.

Respect for parents, the sanctity of marriage, and the cohesiveness of the family unit would rapidly deteriorate producing all manner of aberrations in human sociology and psychology not to mention spirituality.

Then there was “the corruptness of moral standards.” The sad story of Noah’s downfall is but the preliminary to innumerable sordid stories of human disintegration. “Noah began to be a farmer, and he planted a vineyard. Then he drank of the wine and was drunk, and became uncovered in his tent” (vv. 20-21). What the Bible has to say on the subject of strong drink and drunkenness should be carefully studied because the impact of alcohol on human morals and the resultant fallout in heartbreak and death is well documented. That Noah’s sons, Shem and Japheth, instinctively recognized something was wrong about their father’s condition is shown by their respectful action, and the blessing they received is evidence enough that there is reward for those who hold a high view of human dignity and refuse to do anything to diminish it.

Noah’s patriarchal curse on Ham and blessing of Shem and Japheth were prophetic in that they predicted the relationships between the tribal descendants of the brothers. The subjugation of the Canaanite descendants of Ham has been used by some to justify slavery and racial discrimination, but it should be remembered that One was to come who would accept the curse of all men and even become “a servant of servants” in order that freedom from oppression and opportunity for fullness of life might be available to all people. Those who follow the Suffering Servant seek to alleviate suffering and to elevate the downtrodden to a place of dignity in His name.

There is no shortage of opportunities to promote human dignity because there is no shortage of attempts to abuse and denigrate God’s creation. Anyone who has sat and counseled a battered wife knows something of the anguish caused by a man who either has no respect for his spouse as a person, whatever her failings, or has so little respect for himself that he has capitulated his life to forces which serve only to destroy whatever self-respect he may have preserved.

Many people are outraged at the incidence of pornographic materials which employ children or humiliate women. The callousness of those who seek to profit from such traffic and the condition of those who allow themselves to be aroused by such material serve only to show how deeply fallen we are and how desperately concerned we should be to see the results of human fallenness reversed in the power of Christ. Racism and bigotry continue to raise their ugly heads and in so doing plunge their victims into increasingly unacceptable positions of oppression and indignity. The commitment of many of God’s people to alleviate the deprivation of the underprivileged and the suffering of the abused is the only appropriate response to an understanding of man’s inhumanity to man and the need to redress it in the name of the Lord.



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