4 Important Aspects of the Noahic Covenant in Redemptive History
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The Noahic covenant was the first covenantal administration after God’s initial covenant promise to redeem and restore humanity (Gen. 3:15). It is also the first time that the word בְּרִית (Berith, translated Covenant) is used in the Scripture (Gen. 6:18). What has not been frequently observed, however, is how the Noahic covenant falls squarely in the realm of redemptive history.
Consider the following ways in which Noah and the Noahic covenant play a part in redemptive history:
1. The Redemptive Role of Noah as a Type of Christ
Noah was a type of Christ. He was a typical second Adam, a typical redeemer, and a typical rest giver. Like Adam, God gave Noah similar instructions with regard to being fruitful and multiplying, filling the earth and subduing it. He was not the second Adam but was a type of the second Adam who pointed to Christ.
Jesus is the second and last (eschatological) Adam who redeems his people and fulfills the creation mandates. Noah was a typical redeemer. Everyone with Noah on the ark was saved. Everyone in Christ is saved. Noah was not “the Redeemer.” He was a typical redeemer, providing typical redemption for all those who descended from him. Jesus came to redeem all those he represented spiritually.
Noah was a typical rest-giver. Noah’s name meant ‘rest.’ His father had named him ‘Rest,’ saying, “This one will give us rest from the ground which the Lord had cursed.” Noah only gives typical rest, as the remainder of the Bible bears witness to the ongoing need for redemptive rest.
Jesus is the one who finally and fully gives rest to the people of God and to the creation that was brought under the curse at the fall. He is the one who said, “Come unto me and I will give you rest for your souls.” He is the one who takes the curse on himself when he wears the crown of thorns—the symbol of the curse on the ground.
2. The Redemptive Foreshadowing of the New Creation
The book of Revelation tells us that the “new heavens and the new earth” will be the new Temple where God dwells fully and permanently with the redeemed. Noah and all of creation were together in the ark, as in a typical temple. This was foreshadowing the new creation-temple. Interestingly, the ark and Solomon’s Temple had three levels. It seems that the biblical data substantiates that the ark was a temple where God dwelt with his creation.
Noah also led the way into a typical new creation when he and his family stepped off of the ark and into a world that had been typically cleansed of pollution. Jesus brought about the new creation through his death and resurrection.
Noah knew that the flood had not really made “all things new,” because he sacrificed when he stepped off of the ark. The flood waters could never cleanse the evil out of the heart of man. God had destroyed the earth with a flood because “every intent of the thoughts of man’s heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5).
God promised never to destroy the earth with a flood again because “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen. 8:21). The reason for the latter declaration was that the flood was never meant to deal with man’s real problem—the sinful pollution of his heart.
Noah’s sons would populate the earth along with depraved sinners. Only the blood of Jesus could cleanse the hearts of sinners. The cleansed world onto which Noah and his family stepped when the waters receded was a type of the “new heavens and the new earth in which righteousness dwells.”
3. The Redemptive Purpose of Animals
Noah was commanded to take seven clean and two unclean of every animal into the ark. The clean/unclean distinction was relevant in redemptive history for several reasons. First, it would be used in Israel’s sacrificial system. Because Jesus is likened to “a lamb without blemish and without spot,” Israel would be commanded in the OT to offer spotless (clean) lambs to God.
All of Israel’s sacrifices were to be clean. The cleanness was symbolic of the sinlessness of Jesus. When he stepped off of the ark, the very first thing that Noah did was offer a sacrifice to God. The sacrificial system stretched back to Adam and Eve and was carried forward in redemptive history until Christ offered himself as the true sacrifice for sin.
In addition to the preparation for the sacrificial system in Israel, the clean and unclean animals would, in time, become illustrative of the two groups of mankind—Jews and Gentiles. These two classifications represented spiritually clean and unclean groups of humanity in redemptive history until Christ came. The Scriptures expressly teach this in the account of Peter’s vision of the unclean animals brought down from heaven in the sheet for him to eat (Acts 10:9-11:18). For a more thorough treatment, see this article.
The final thing to note about the animals in the ark is in regard to food. Before the flood it appears that man was only permitted to eat vegetation. After the flood, God told Noah that he and his descendants could eat meat (only without the blood). What was the reason for this shift? The eating of meat would serve as a precursor to the eating of the sacramental and ceremonial redemptive meals, such as the Passover.
There were no vegetarians in the old covenant church, because God was foreshadowing the spiritual eating of the flesh and blood of his Son in the sacrifices. If man had not been allowed to eat meat, then the eating of the sacrificial meals—symbolizing the spiritual eating of the flesh of the Son of God by faith—would have been an unintelligible concept. God was preparing his people for what would come as the history of redemption unfolded.
4. The Redemptive Nature of the Death Penalty
The death penalty is clearly established in the Noahic covenant. Again, this falls in the realm of redemptive history. If murderers were not put to death (a punishment fitting the crime in accord with the justice of God) then mankind would have a very difficult time “being fruitful and multiplying.” Human extermination was restrained via the death penalty. This served the redemptive purposes of God.
Interestingly, this would also safeguard the coming of the Redeemer. In his human nature, Jesus may rightly be said to be in the loins of Noah. Each generation of Israel hoped that God would fulfill the promise of the Seed-Redeemer (Gen. 3:15).
Unless God had protected his people—through whom the Seed would come—from mass murder, his promise would have failed. This is the purpose of the book of Esther. Had God allowed Haman to exterminate the Israelites, the promise of the Redeemer would have failed. The same is true with regard to the animals, which might have shortened the population on account of their vicious attacks. God’s plan was to redeem a people “out of every tongue and tribe and nation and language” through the Redeemer, Jesus Christ.
In addition, God would save his people by himself undergoing the death penalty. Though he did nothing deserving of death, he stood in the place of his people who did. If there were no death penalty, we would not be saved. Jesus died the death of a murderer, adulterer and every other death deserving criminal so that we might be redeemed.
In short, God was preserving the world to be the stage in which redemption would occur. Had God not promised to preserve the fallen world, he would have been untrue to his promise to redeem a people (Gen. 3:15). All of the features surrounding the covenant itself were aspects of redemptive history, which makes the Noahic Covenant more important than most have realized.
Every time we see the rainbow we should remember God’s covenant faithfulness in sending the Redeemer to save a people for himself. Just as God had placed a rainbow in the sky to show his steadfast covenant fidelity, so there is a rainbow around the throne of Jesus Christ in glory (Rev. 4:3). We, like Noah, are beneficiaries of the mercy established in the Noahic Covenant in Jesus Christ.
Rev. Nick Batzig is an associate editor for Ligonier Ministries and a pastor at Wayside Presbyterian Church (PCA). He formerly served as the organizing pastor of New Covenant Presbyterian Church in Richmond Hill, Georgia.
This article is adapted from “Four Points about the Noahic Covenant and Redemptive History” at feedingonchrist.com.