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Genesis 9:8-17

Genesis 9:8-17

Background to the Book of Genesis
Literary: Genesis is a fascinating book which begins with two creation accounts of the world in Gen 1-3, continues with stories about humanity in general through to the end of Gen 11 before we come to the specific journeys of Abraham. Gen 1-11 is often referred to as universal history or primeval history and is applicable to all of humanity. The genealogies enable Abraham to be descended from Adam and Eve. Indeed, another purpose of the genealogies is to divide these eleven chapters as follows into a 5-fold division:

Gen 2:4a heaven and earth - these are the generations of the heavens and the earth ...
Gen 5:1 ff Adam - This is the book of the generations of Adam.
Gen 6:9 Noah - And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth
Gen 10:1 Noah’s 3 sons - These are the generations of the sons of Noah. ...
Gen 11:10 Shem - These are the descendants of Shem ...

Besides the suggested division above, scholars have proposed different recurring literary patterns such as sin, speech, punishment - Gen 1-3, 4, 6-9,11 (Westermann) in Gen 1-11: von Rad includes forgiveness: sin, speech, forgiveness, punishment: Clines rejects a theme of sin-speech-mitigation-punishment because it does not contain the genealogies which he sees as a recurring motif and suggests: spread of sin - spread of grace. Whether one wants to go along with any of the above suggestions about the literary divisions or patterns in Gen 1-11, there is almost unanimous agreement that there is a tightly formed literary pattern and we are meant to be read it as a unity. Creation of the world and humans is torn apart when the relationship between God and humans is told in Gen 3 and between humans and humans in Gen 4. One of the literary patterns which may be considered to not only be present in Gen 1-11, but extend through into the remainder of the book of Genesis is that connected with the command in Gen 1:28 - ‘be fruitful and multiply’. Not only does the phrase occur in a number of places, but the lists of genealogies show that indeed the people have been fruitful and multiplied - Gen 5, 10, 11. The genealogies continue in Gen 12-50 at particular points: Gen 25:12 (These are the generations of Ishmael), Gen 25:19 (These are the generations of Isaac), Gen 36:1, (These are the generations of Esau), Gen 37:2 (These are the generations of Jacob). The genealogies not only show that God's command in Gen 1:28 has been followed, but the promises to Abraham in Gen 12:1-3, Gen 15:5 have come true. That is, Abram will have many descendants and become a great nation. At the point where each of the genealogies are listed we have the story of that person in the following chapters. Abraham in Gen 11:27-25:18: Jacob in Gen 25:19-36:43: Joseph, Judah and Jacob's family in Gen 37:1-50:26. There are a number of covenants mentioned in the Book of Genesis all of which come into the category of unconditional or promissory. Unlike the condition covenant in Exod 19 in which God seeks a response of obedience from the people, the covenants in Genesis are based on first person pronouncements by God. In Gen 9 it is an universal covenant with all living creatures, but once we move into Gen 12 the covenants are specific to Abraham and his descendants. the relationship has been set up from creation when humans were created to be in special relationship with God (Gen 1:26-27).

Attempts have been made since the 18th century to explain such things as: a different word used for God -Yahwist or Elohim: multiple versions of the same story = Abraham’s pretence, Gen 12:10-20, 20:1-18, 26:6-16: repetition within the same story = Gen 6:5-7, 11-12: contradictions - for example, Exod 20:24 gives permission to offer sacrifices at numerous altars v Deut 12:13-14 which forbids this and restricts sacrifice to one place only or Gen 7:17 in which the flood remains for 40 days v Gen 7:24 in which the flood remains for 150 days and other examples. The classic theory suggests that the Pentateuch has a number of written sources as well as the early oral traditions which account for the sort of differences mentioned above. In Gen 1-11 there is the Priestly source which can be seen in Gen1:1-2:4a, 6:9-22, some verses in Gen 7-8, 9:1-17, 10:1-7, 11:10-27 and the remaining texts come from the Yahwistic source. Some characteristics of what is know as the 'P' source are: the use of the Hebrew term toledoth/generations, the writing is sophisticated and often in a liturgical style (Gen1:1-2:4a), in the creation account God speaks and it happens, humans are made in the image of God, the covenant is unconditional and can be made with the animals, and an abiding concern to state numbers and years. The Yahwistic source uses myths and sagas to tell the story, God and animals speak (anthropomorphic), the world is very small (Gen 2:10-14) compared with the universal world of the 'P' source (Gen 1:1-2:4a).

Historical: (History within the text) Gen 12-50 tells the stories about Abram and his descendants as they move from Haran into the land of Canaan and begin wandering around the land and then into Egypt. These stories began as oral traditions passed down within the tribes long before they became part of the written tradition. It is the way many cultures remember their history, but in the Western world we became influenced by the enlightened definition of 'history' which understood 'history' as written facts from an objective viewpoint. This has caused many scholars to debate whether the Patriarchs can be proven to be true people through archaeological means. Other scholars say that this is not possible and therefore they cannot be historical people. If this argument was applied to Bedouin tribes or Australian Aboriginal people we deny them any history. History as oral tradition passed down is the history of a people, and does not need to be justified by Western values. The people are portrayed as very human with all their faults and strengths - they lie, deceive, steal, test God, they have courage, journey into the unknown, seek God, question God and are obedient. These traits apply to men and women, and many of the women (Sarah, Rebecca, Tamar) play a significant role in the working out of the promises of God. I encourage people to read these stories for themselves.

Context of Gen 9:8-17
The readings for this week come after the narrative about the flood which is central in the block of material Gen 1-11. These chapters speak about the creation of the universe, the disobedience of humanity in Gen 2, the discord among brothers in Gen 4, the flood story in Gen 6-9, followed by the story of the tower of Babel in Gen 11. Interspersed between these narratives are the genealogies which are part of the deliberate theological composition of Gen 1-11. Gen 5 is the list of generations (Hebrew = toledoth) which bring us from creation to the time of Noah (Gen 5:32) and our lectionary reading finishes with another brief genealogy in Gen 9:18-19. We are told the reason for the flood in the beginning of Gen 6 - the sons of god cohabited with humans. God was sorry that Creation had happened and decided to punish the earth and it inhabitants. The flood story is a very clever combination of traditions with Gen 9:1-17 coming from the later tradition often referred to as priestly writing. Following the end of the flood, Noah makes a sacrifice and God promises never to destroy the earth again. In Gen 9 we have God establishing an eternal covenant with Noah and his sons and giving the rainbow as sign of this renewed covenant. The end of the chapter records the downfall of the righteous Noah who becomes drunk and his son, Ham sees him naked. It is like an etiological saga which explains why Canaanites were later dispossessed. Noah is recorded as living to 950 years which is unlikely and is a way of recording the generations.

Insights/Message of Gen 9:8-17
Literary structure:Gen 9:1-7 need to be considered along with the the lectionary readings vv.8-17. Vv.1 and 7 are an inclusio emphasising the universal command from Gen 1:26-28, with the need to produce offspring. Furthermore, the repetition of the creation of the animal kingdom is named with the intention that it will provide food for Noah's children. There is one restriction in that the people are forbidden to eat the blood. The blood is counted as "life" and therefore must not be eaten. Murder of humans is a direct affront to God because they are made in God's image. Initially, only green vegetation was given for food for humanity (Gen 1:28-29), but now there is the addition of animal flesh.


As Fretheim says, God chooses to safeguard the creation, making provisions from the human (vv.1-7) and the divine side (vv.8-17). (Fretheim: 398). Hence, as God blessed Noah in v.1 so now God makes a covenant with him. However, this covenant is not only with Noah but with all Noah's descendents and every living creature. Covenant (berit) is repeated seven times in vv.8-17 so we cannot escape the focus of the passage. It is an unconditional covenant with all the following promises attached: God will establish it, God will never again destroy the earth, God then provides a rainbow as a sign of this promise, God will remember it, God will look upon this everlasting covenant, God establishes it with every living creature upon the earth. Verse 8 begins with I establish and v.17 finishes with I have established as part of the movement through vv.8-17 (Scullion: 77). Again the repetition of the rainbow (4x) and its function (2x) serve to make clear to the audience, the hope that is given to them with the establishment of this covenant and all its promises. The symbolism of the bow has been reversed from it usual use as a weapon of war, which now in God's hands is used as a sign of God's eternal promises. What was promised in Gen 6:18 as they went into the ark is fulfilled in Gen 9:8-17.

Message:   A number of theological issues are worth noting here. This covenant is universal to all of humanity and to every living creature on the planet. God is creator of the whole universe and all humans are in God's care. Furthermore, it suggests a care and worth given to non-humans which has not been part of our psyche until recent generations. People are raising the issue of animal rights in a variety of different situations, for example, their use in the manufacture of cosmetics et al. Humans can no longer take the command to dominate the earth, but instead realise the need to care for it in order that future generations have a viable place to live. The high theology of humans made in the image of God is enhanced even further with the command that humans are not to shed the blood of their own kind because it will diminish God. Every human being is of ultimate value to God (Brueggemann: 83). It is an interesting idea to realise that the whole of creation is in partnership with God and not just humans.

I can remember standing on a cliff overlooking the entrance to the harbour just outside Vancouver just after the meeting I was attending had been discussing the proliferation of nuclear weapons. I remembered the promise of God in Gen 9, but realised that did not include the stupidity of humans to pursue such a path of possible destruction for the whole planet. Some people suggest that the promise refers only to the destruction of the planet by flood and not by other means. We have to read the passage in the whole context of the flood story and remind ourselves that that in Gen 8:21-22 it is quite catergorical that God will never again destroy the earth.

As the this passage is accepted by most scholars to be from the priestly writer we are looking at a possible situation during the last part of exile. This passage would give enormous hope in that situation, especially the unconditional promises by God in the first person. The renewal of the covenant is not dependent on the behaviour of the people of Israel. As we know from the prophetic material the people failed miserably to keep the covenant in Exod 20. Some of the terms used here are also present in the exilic theology of covenant in Ezekiel, for example, the concept of an everlasting covenant and the whole promissory aspect of it Ezek 37:26). An interesting suggestion made by Brueggemann is the centre point of the flood narrative (Gen 6:5-9:17) comes in Gen 8:1 in which God remembers Noah and all those in the ark with him. It is this gracious act of God remembering that gives us hope for the future (Brueggemann: 85-86).

Resources/Worship for Gen 9:8-17
Worship:   The Dramatised Bible has a useful reading for this Text.

Resources: Commentaries

The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the book.

The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the late 1990's - 2002 is more up to date than some earlier works.

Brenner, Athalya, ed. A Feminist companion to Genesis. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993.
———. ed. Genesis. Feminist companion to the Bible (Second Series), 1. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998.
Brueggemann, Walter. Genesis. Int. Atlanta, Ga.: John Knox 1982.
Coats, George W. Genesis, with an Introduction to Narrative Literature. FOTL. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1983.
Davies, Philip R., and David J. A. Clines, eds. The world of Genesis: Persons, Places, Perspectives. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998.
Fretheim,Terrence E. “The Book of Genesis: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections.” In The New Interpreter’s Bible. Vol 1. Abingdon: Nashville, 1994.
Hamilton,Victor P. The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1–17. NICOT. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1990.
———. The Book of Genesis: Chapters 18–50. NICOT, Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1995

Hess, Richard S., and David Toshio Tsumura, eds. I Studied Inscriptions from before the Flood: Ancient Near Eastern, Literary, and Linguistic Approaches to Genesis 1-11. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1994.
Moberly, R. W. L. Genesis 12-50. OTG. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1992.
Rogerson, J. W. Genesis 1-11, OTG. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1996.
Scullion, John J. Genesis: A Commentary for Students, Teachers, and Preachers. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1992.
Waltke, Bruce K., and Cathi J. Fredricks. Genesis: A Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, c2001. Call Number: 222.11077 W237g
Wenham,Gordon J. Genesis 1-15. WBC. Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1987.
———. Genesis 16-50. WBC. Dallas, Tex.: Word Books, 1994.
Westermann, Claus. Genesis: A Practical Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1987.

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources: 




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