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A Christ-Centered Covenant

Off The Grid Theology

The covenant with Noah binds together God’s purposes in creation with His purposes in redemption.

                            —O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants (1980)

Dominion and the Fall

noah covenant floodMan’s fall into sin corrupted his own nature.  His natural impulse toward dominion didn’t disappear, but it became twisted and distorted into tyranny and irresponsibility.  In his first sin, man thought and acted as if he himself were God, but when the consequences of his sin appeared, he denied any culpability.  He blamed his society and his environment.  In short…he blamed God.

God responded to man’s fall with judgment aimed at salvation.  God cursed the Serpent and predicted his destruction.  He placed curses upon the ground, upon childbearing, and upon man’s own body.  And yet God didn’t rescind His original command.  Instead, God promised grace through the Seed of the woman and sent Adam and Eve, still man and wife, out into a hostile wilderness to worship by sacrifice and till the ground in the face of thorns and thistles and—ultimately—death.

The complex of curses that would make man’s dominion more difficult also served to restrain man’s sin.  Shortened life spans, difficult pregnancies, and a hostile nature would all serve to keep man focused on his work.  Man would earn his bread by “the sweat of his brow.”

In this way, God replaced the covenant of creation with a covenant of grace and promise wrapped up in the language of judgment and curse.  But at no point did God turn aside from His original program for man and the Earth.

The Waters of Noah

In the centuries after the Fall, the human family apostatized and filled the Earth with corruption and violence.  “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD” (6:8).  And then, in the context of the Flood and the Ark, the word covenant first appears in Scripture:  “But with thee will I establish my covenant” (Gen. 6:18).

God’s dealings with Noah were in terms of His redemptive grace in Christ.  It was by justifying faith that Noah “prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith” (Heb. 11:7).  Because of this, Peter talks about the Flood as a baptism (1 Pet. 3:220-21). By its waters God separated Noah and his family from the old polluted world and ushered them into a new heaven and earth.

And while the ark floated above the submerged Earth, it held all the living covenant community in the presence of God.  God called Noah and his family into the ark and later sent them out of the ark (7:1; 8:16).  He was with them the whole time.  So in this sense the ark was the Church of Jesus Christ while the earth remained buried in water.  And it was to this covenant community that God entrusted (again) the care and stewardship of the planet.  God’s covenant with Noah was a covenant with the Church; the later apostasy of the human family doesn’t alter this.

When the Flood was over and Noah and his family came out from the ark, Noah immediately sacrificed to the Lord.  It was in response to this blood sacrifice that God gave His first promise to preserve the Earth from cataclysm until the end of redemptive history.  The blood sacrifice, of course, points to Jesus Christ.  His atoning blood is the foundation of all of God’s promises; it is the fountain of “common grace” as well as special grace.

God’s Response to Sacrifice: Blessing

As Noah stood before the altar, God spoke:  “And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (Gen. 9:1).  This is the language of sovereign grace.  The wording reminds us of the original mandate in Genesis 1.  But now the command, “Be fruitful, and multiply,” points most directly toward one Seed, the promised Messiah.

But it also points further and more broadly.  It points beyond the cross to all the promised seed, to all those whom Jesus will save.  But until the wheat is mature and ready for harvest, God lets the weeds grow in the field for the sake of the wheat.  When Jesus said this, He wasn’t talking about some common grace arrangement:  He was talking about the kingdom of God in the biggest and most explicit terms (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43).

It is in this light that we should understand God’s promise to preserve the world from another Flood and His authorization of capital punishment.  Both are Messianic in focus.  Their goal is the preservation of human society for the sake of Messiah and His people.

We shouldn’t be concerned, then, that God’s covenant with Noah doesn’t make any explicit mention of the coming Seed.  There was no need.  Noah was obviously the ancestor of the coming Messiah.  And everything else in the covenant is preparation for the coming of the kingdom of God.

Covenantal Continuity

God established His covenant with Noah before the Flood.  He expanded on its details once the Flood was over.  But it is most certainly the same covenant, begun in grace and faith, sealed with the baptismal waters of the Flood, and issuing in covenant man’s renewed dominion in a new world.

It is also important that we observe the continuity between this covenant, the covenant of promise that God made with Adam and Eve at the Garden gate, and the original Dominion Covenant. Under all three, man was supposed to marry, labor, and worship.  The absence at certain points of recorded commandments to this effect in no way annulled any of these three ordinances.  The covenantal assumption is that of continuity.

The Dominion Mandate Revisited

And so as we look at the details of the restated Mandate, we shouldn’t be surprised that God didn’t repeat all the original details or that He added new provisions.  The Fall had altered the way that man had to exercise godly dominion.  So God told Noah that the beasts would be afraid of man; that man could kill the beasts for food; and that men would need to execute murderers in order to maintain the civil order necessary for man’s work of dominion.

And, God promised to continue His orderly providence until the final end.  He said that while Earth remains, “seedtime and harvest”—the regular botanical processes tied to the astrophysical seasons—“and cold and heat”—God’s ordering of heat flow (thermodynamics)—“and summer and winter”—Earth’s tilt on its axis and its revolution about the Sun—“and day and night”—Earth’s rotation on its axis—“shall not cease” (Gen. 8:22).  This providential ordering of creation—an order that God would only interrupt on rare occasions by divine miracle—is essential to man’s task of dominion.  Agriculture, botany, astronomy, physics, chemistry, and the whole host of sciences depend upon this providential regularity.  Given the miraculous nature of the Flood, man might well question whether dominion would even be possible in this new world.  God chose to assure man that it would.

So, we have continuity, but with some variation to deal with new redemptive-historical circumstances.  The covenant is new, but not wholly new.  It is aimed at the restoration of dominion, but only through grace and in Christ.

Conclusion

The Noahic covenant, like all of the covenants of promise, is centered on Jesus.  All grace is for Christ’s sake, whether it be the saving grace that brings forth regeneration and faith or the general mercy of God that preserves creation until Christ has gathered all His Church and finished the work the Father has given Him.

The Noahic covenant had as its goal the kingdom and reign of Jesus Christ.  It preserved the world for His coming; it preserves the world while He is gathering and sanctifying His Church; and it will come to its glorious end in the revelation of Jesus Christ from heaven.  It is, in all its dimensions, a Christ-centered covenant.

For Further Reading

O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants (Phillipsburg, NJ:  Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1980).

Gary North, Dominion and Common Grace, The Biblical Basis for Progress (Tyler, TX:  The Institute for Christian Economics, 1987).

Gary North, The Dominion Covenant:  Genesis (Tyler, TX:  Institute for Christian Economics, 1982).

David Bruce Hegeman, Plowing in Hope, Toward a Biblical Theology of Culture (Moscow, ID:  Canon Press, 1999).

Francis Nigel Lee, The Central Significance of Culture (N. p.:  The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1976).

© 2008-2014 Off The Grid News

8 comments

  1. I cannot tell what an encouragement this article is to me. It took much of my Christian life to come to the understanding that the Gospel is the power of God for Salvation, from beginning to end. That the preaching of the Gospel is Gods means of sanctifying His people. It also took me most of my Christian life to understand the Bible isn’t about stories on “Dare to be a Daniel” or do more, try harder sermons with 5 steps to living. NO! The Bible, from beginning to end is about Christ and His work. To know there are preppers who truly understand the Gospel, gives me hope. Praise God! I’d like to pass on to those who are tired of living on the hamster wheel a show called The White Horse Inn. And pretty much any book from Michael Horton and Kim Riddlebarger.

    • This is a seriously deficient view of God’s covenants for any Christian to accept. I will let Meridith Kline’s comments point out the errors: (These comments were in response to a minister who held a similar view of the Noahic/common grace covenants)

      Of greater consequence is a cluster of problems relating to VG’s handling of God’s kingdom and covenants. We begin with his confusing of the holy kingdom with the order of common grace. Critical in this connection is the interpretation of the post-Flood covenant (Gen. 8:20-9:17). VG identifies that covenant with the covenant described in the immediately preceding narrative, the covenant that commissioned the construction of the ark as the means of deliverance from the Flood judgment. These are patently distinct and very different arrangements. The one revealed to Noah before the Flood (Gen. 6:13ff.) was a sub-administration of the Covenant of (Saving) Grace. It was made with the believer Noah and his household in sharp distinction from the rest of mankind, who are emphatically excluded. Symbolically in the ark, it provided for the holy covenant family a typological experience of the messianic salvation and of the holy consummated kingdom of the new heavens and earth. The subsequent covenant of Gen. 8:20-9:17 was, on the contrary, inclusive of all mankind; it was made with all the earth (Gen. 9:13, 17). Involving as it did believers and unbelievers alike, it had to do with the common city of man, not the holy city of God. The benefits it afforded were strictly secular, not the eternal blessings of saving grace. And this secular world order had a temporal terminus (Gen. 8:22); it was not to be consummated in glory but terminated in judgment (cf. 2 Pet. 3:7). By identifying these radically different covenants, VG obliterates the distinction between the holy and the common and precludes the possibility of a genuine doctrine of common grace.

      To the same effect is VG’s identification of the covenant of Gen. 8:20-9:17 as continuous with the original covenant in Eden. He appeals to the presence in both these covenants of a creational element and of prescriptions for the cultural forming of the creation on its earthly level. The sharing of the creational element, however, carries little weight since that is a dimension of all human experience. And the appeal to the cultural prescriptions contained in both covenants is simplistic; it ignores the complications introduced by the Fall, in particular the distinction between the holy and common spheres.

      Man’s world outside of Eden is no longer the holy kingdom of God. To be sure, God’s sovereign rule extends over the fallen earth in the present age, just as it will over Hell in the world to come. Nevertheless, just as Hell is not part of the eternal holy kingdom of heaven but exists outside the boundary walls of the sacred New Jerusalem, so the post-Fall world order on the accursed earth is not a continuation of the holy kingdom order in Eden. Hence the cultural program prescribed in the Gen. 8:20-9:17 covenant for the generality of mankind in this present non-holy world order is not a resumption of the (original) cultural mandate and, therefore, yields no support for the alleged continuity of the post-diluvian and creational covenants.

      It is important to do justice to the continuity of the creational aspect of God’s kingdom as we work out our worldview, if we would avoid the reductionist religious outlook of Fundamentalism. But it is equally important to recognize the discontinuities resulting from the Fall and the introduction of the common grace principle, if we would avoid the reductionist political dogma of theonomic dominion theology. Or stated positively, the recognition of the non-holy, religiously indiscriminate character of the common grace order is vital for the development of a genuinely biblical view of culture, especially for a proper assessment of the nature and functions of the basic institutions of family, state, and church.

      By the double mistake of identifying the common grace covenant of Gen. 8:20-9:17 with both the creational covenant order and the redemptive covenant of salvation in the ark, VG identifies the preredemptive and redemptive covenant orders. In the attempt to maintain continuity between these two he ends up denying the radical discontinuity that obtains between them with respect to the principle of eschatological inheritance.

      VG asserts that the covenant with Adam was not a covenant of works, it was not a probation arrangement in which obedience would earn an eschatological reward (cf. pp. 68, 98). He thus falls in with the deviant, anti-Reformed school of thought that vehemently repudiates the idea of meritorious human works, even in the case of the original creation covenant. With the elimination of the works principle from preredemptive covenant, the works-grace contrast traditionally affirmed between preredemptive and redemptive covenants disappears. Taking its place as the principle of kingdom inheritance is some hybrid principle allegedly common to the preredemptive and redemptive situations, a principle called “grace,” but falsely so, for it is not the pure grace of the biblical gospel. Further, if there is no probation as an opportunity for eschatological advance there is no beyond-probation state for Adam to gain or for Christ, the second Adam, to win for his people. There is no place for the truth of Christ’s active obedience as that which earns for his own an eternal place with him in the heavenly kingdom of the Consummation.

      • BTW – Pretty sure Michael Horton would repudiate the above article!

        • Mike,

          My comments were more general in nature, then specifically the understanding of covenant. Most “Christian” prepper sites (and others), have a works based understanding of the Gospel. It was really this that I was commenting on (not that a deficient view of covenant wouldn’t lead logically to a poor (at the least) understanding of the Gospel, because it would) . My reference to Michael Horton was in no way meant to say Mr Horton would endorse the words of this article. The person who took my advice and read Horton, would eventually see this. Having said that, Mike I cannot criticize the person who seeks to defend and clarify the Gospel. For this sir, I stand with you!!

          • Got it! I agree with you – a deficient view of covenant will lead to a poor understanding of the Gospel!

    • Agreed.

  2. A compass always points to North, but the compass is not North. When you get to the North pole then what is your compass doing? It is spinning around like crazy! This is because you are at the peak, the final promise that flows out over and rules on everything else around you. This North pole is like Christ. Everything else has brought you to this point of perfection, and nothing else can replace or point to something greater than what can be done through Christ in Jesus.

  3. Mike,

    My comments were more general in nature, then specifically the understanding of covenant. Most “Christian” prepper sites (and others), have a works based understanding of the Gospel. It was really this that I was commenting on (not that a deficient view of covenant wouldn’t lead logically to a poor (at the least) understanding of the Gospel, because it would) . My reference to Michael Horton was in no way meant to say Mr Horton would endorse the words of this article. The person who took my advice and read Horton, would eventually see this. Having said that, Mike I cannot criticize the person who seeks to defend and clarify the Gospel. For this sir, I stand with you!!

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