The Rainbow Covenant

This lesson explains the promises made by God to Noah concerning the survival of his family and Noah's prophecy about the future of each of his sons and their descendants.
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Our last chapter we dealt with the worldwide effects of the flood and the new environment in which Noah and his family found themselves.

1. The physical world had changed dramatically. There were extreme temperatures creating change in climate, which we are still experiencing. The earth's surface was now mostly covered with water and the earth was more mountainous. The natural protective layer of water vapor was now gone subjecting earth to genetic changes, mutations and diseases.

2. The social world now changed as well. One family was left to repopulate. God authorized human government. Diets would now include meat which will require various types of work and trades.

3. The spiritual world changed. Before, God walked with man and the creation was a constant and unbroken reminder of God's love and pleasure with man. Now the environment is hostile and a constant threat and reminder of man's fallen state and ultimate death.

As for you, be fruitful and multiply;
Populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it.
- Genesis 9:7

Even so God, for the second time, gives the command to multiply and repopulate the earth. Despite the reality of man's sinful condition and the fallen state of the world God still loves and plans to save man and reassures him of this fact in two ways:

1. He gives His word that this new environment, despite its hostility, will be able to sustain man and will continue to do so.

While the earth remains,
Seedtime and harvest,
And cold and heat,
And summer and winter,
And day and night
Shall not cease.
- Genesis 8:22

2. He also provides a physical token as a visible reminder that He will not allow the environment to overwhelm them again. This is the subject of this lesson: the rainbow covenant.

The Rainbow Covenant

8Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying, 9"Now behold, I Myself do establish My covenant with you, and with your descendants after you; 10and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you; of all that comes out of the ark, even every beast of the earth.

Note the subjects of God's covenant. Remember, a covenant is a promise of God where He sets the conditions and guarantees the results. We can abide by the conditions and receive the rewards, or not.

He mentions Noah and all of his descendants. This includes us since we are all descendants of Noah. He is also careful to include all of the animals with Noah as well. Animals have no soul in the image of God but they are His creatures and God includes them in His care.

11I establish My covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth." 12God said, "This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations; 13I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth. 14It shall come about, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow will be seen in the cloud, 15and I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth." 17And God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth."

The promise is that the earth and life upon it will never again be destroyed by a great flood. The physical reminder of this will be the rainbow. Even though the environment will be harsh, there may be hurricanes and floods, etc. that would seem like a repeat of the worldwide destruction, however, the rainbow will appear as a reminder of the promise.

Some say the rainbow was always there and God merely invested it with meaning but in the pre-flood world there were no rain storms and thus no rainbows so this is the first instance and the original significance God gave to it. Although the world does not acknowledge it, whenever we see a rainbow it remains a direct sign of God's promise to maintain the environment and to sustain life until Jesus comes.

Sons of Noah

In the world there are various ways of classifying the races - three to six or more depending on your system:

  • Caucasian (white)
  • Negroid (black)
  • Oriental (Asian)
  • Some add mixtures of these.

There are about 150 nations of significance with over 3000 main languages. The source of all of these has been a problem for evolutionary scientists. There are some reports today that indicate that man originated in the North African region or Middle Eastern region. Many do not like the implications of these findings because they seem to confirm the Biblical record of the origin of the different races. The Bible does provide the information on the beginning and dispersion of the early groups that ultimately developed into the different races that we now have today.

18Now the sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem and Ham and Japheth; and Ham was the father of Canaan. 19These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the whole earth was populated.

The sons are once again introduced and they are brought forward as the originators of what is now the human race.

Dr. Morris writes of these first families,

"All the physical characteristics of the different tribes and nations must, therefore, have been present in the genetic constitutions of these six people… Somehow by the regular mechanisms of genetics, variation, recombination, all the various tribes and nations must have developed."
(p. 232,The Genesis Record)

We are given a look at the character of these men through an incident that happened during a moment of weakness in Noah's life.

20Then Noah began farming and planted a vineyard. 21He drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent. 22Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. 23But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it upon both their shoulders and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were turned away, so that they did not see their father's nakedness.

Noah planted a vineyard, drank the wine and got drunk. This is the first time wine is mentioned and is mentioned in a negative way. He was a great man, strong against worldly temptation but in a weak moment fell and shamed himself because of it. He lay drunk in his tent and naked in his drunken stupor (probably because it was warm).

Then we see the reactions (and some of the character) of his sons.

Ham – He enters the tent and "gazed" at his father. Some say that there was a sexual connotation here but the fact that the next verse says he told his brothers about it suggests another situation. The term gaze "to look at with satisfaction" and the term to "tell" refer to a telling with delight reveals a man who was happy to see his father's weakness and reveal it to others. Some believe that Ham, although a believer, was rebellious and constrained under his father's rule, and in seeing him in weakness, he rejoiced and tried to sway his brothers into mockery and rebellion as well. This trait seemed to crop out in his descendants, the Canaanites, who were sexually promiscuous as well.

Shem and Japheth – they did not go along with his delight but rather tried to cover their father's shame and not see him in order to share in that shame. The essential difference between them is that Ham obeyed out of constraint and fear and when the figure of authority fell, his respect and self-control fell with it. The other brothers obeyed from faith and principle and so when the one who embodied those principles fell, their faith and commitment did not fall with him. They continued to uphold the principles.

There is an amazing similarity between Noah and Adam in their respective experiences:


  1. Commanded to fill the earth and control it.
  2. Ancestor of all men before the flood.
  3. Sinned by partaking of a forbidden fruit.
  4. Result of sin was nakedness revealed.
  5. Covered by God with animal skins
  6. The result ended in a prophecy that affected future generations.
  7. Along with curse was the promise of a blessing.


  1. Commanded to replenish the earth and govern it.
  2. Ancestor of all men after the flood.
  3. Sinned by partaking of a fruit in a forbidden way.
  4. Result of sin was nakedness revealed.
  5. Covered by his sons with own cloak.
  6. The result was a prophecy that affected them and future generations.
  7. Along with curse was a renewed promise of a blessing.
24When Noah awoke from his wine, he knew what his youngest son had done to him. 25So he said,
"Cursed be Canaan;
A servant of servants
He shall be to his brothers."
26He also said, "Blessed be the Lord,
The God of Shem;
And let Canaan be his servant.
27"May God enlarge Japheth,
And let him dwell in the tents of Shem;
And let Canaan be his servant."

These verses contain the prophecy concerning the track that the descendants of these three men will take.

He awakens from his drunken stupor and in some way (through his wife or sons) finds out what has taken place. Now that the hearts and true character of his sons are revealed to him Noah makes a prophesy concerning each one.

1. Ham

He refers to Ham through his descendant Canaan (the writer is making sure that the connection between the two is clear). The specific curse is that the descendants of Ham will be in a position of service to the descendants of the other two. This does not describe or support the idea of slavery or conquest however. History also shows that the Sumerians, Egyptians, Ethiopians and some Oriental peoples have not been historically enslaved to the others.

However, history shows that their concerns as a people have been in the area of serving the "cursed earth" in their pursuit of development (whereas the Shemites have a more theological bent and the Japhites have had a knack for philosophy and commerce).

Several centuries ago, many trying to justify slavery of the black man interpreted this verse to say that God had cursed the black man to slavery and a white man was justified in owning slaves because this was their position.

First of all, not all descendants of Ham were black. Secondly it was service that the Hamites provided, not slavery. Slavery is immoral. It is highly unlikely that Noah, under the Spirit's guidance, would curse an entire race of people to perpetual slavery. Historically the Hamitic people have provided the world with basic concepts, inventions, tools that served the purposes of others but have never taken full advantage of their own innovations. For example they were:

  1. Original explorers and settlers of almost all parts of the world after Babel.
  2. First cultivators of vegetables and livestock.
  3. First to develop basic structural forms and tools.
  4. First to develop weaving, fabric devices.
  5. Discovered the use of medicines and surgery.
  6. Invented basic math, navigation, surveying.
  7. Banking, postal system, commerce, trade first developed by these people.
  8. Paper, ink, printing, communication first developed by these people.

They provided much of the essential building blocks for social development but did not gain advantage or prosperity because of their overall contribution. In this way they were the servant of servants, they served the interest of the other two. The Hamites served the material interests of the other two brothers and their descendants.

2. Shem

Little is said but the little speaks volumes. The Shemites are the ones who became the Semites or Semitic people and from Shem's descendants came Abraham from whom came the Jewish people and the Lord Jesus Christ. There is a glimmer of this promise here because only for Shem does Noah mention a relationship and knowledge of God. So we know of Shem that he was spiritual in nature. The term "Jehovah" is used here for Lord implying that Shem knew the true God intimately and not just through his father.

Also mentioned is that Ham would serve his interests in the future.

3. Japheth

Noah says three things about him:

  • He would be enlarged. This term does not mean geographically but philosophically. Open-minded, curious, wide interests.
  • "Dwell in the tents" means to have fellowship with. These two would share their lives, talents and advantages with one another.
  • Also, Ham would serve the interests of Japheth as I have explained.

These three men do not represent individual races (black, white, oriental), they represent streams of nations that have a variety of races mixed within each one. They do represent in a general way, however, how each stream has developed:

  • The Semites have dominated religious motivations centered in monotheism (Jews, Moslems, Zoroastrianism).
  • The Japhethites (Greeks, Romans, Europeans, Americans) have exulted and stressed science and philosophy in their development.
  • The Hamites (Egyptians, Phoenicians, Orientals, Africans) have pioneered settlement, cultivation, technology.

There are exceptions, crossovers, but the general trend historically has followed the model originally set out by Noah in this prophecy.

28Noah lived three hundred and fifty years after the flood. 29So all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years, and he died.

Noah was the last patriarch to be unaffected by the new environment living longer than anyone other than Jared and Methuselah. This then is the end of the life of the man who lived in both worlds before and after the flood. Next, the table of nations and the tower of Babel.

Discussion Questions

  1. Summarize Genesis 9:7-17 and discuss its significance.
  2. Discuss the events of Genesis 9:20-23 and show the similarities between this event and the immediate consequences of Adam and Eve's original sin.
  3. Explain the characteristics and contributions of each of Noah's sons and their significance.
  4. How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?
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