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B'resheet/Genesis 9:9 And I - look! I Myself - am establishing My covenant with you and your seed after you
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It is at this critical point - after Noah and his family have come out of the ark, and the first round of blessings and sacrifices have taken place - that G-d takes the initiative and moves to assure Noah there really is a long-term future for mankind on the earth.Rashi expresses doubts in Noah's mind as to the future: should Noah really be prepared to invest his time and energy into building a permanent position, in encouraging his family to spread out and re-populate the earth, developing cities, nations and civilisations, or would G-d feel obliged to step in and destroy everything again if it got out of hand? According to Rashi's picture, Noah is sitting on his hands, unwilling to move forward or commit to anything until G-d - almost reluctantly it would seem - gives him a promise that He won't destroy the earth and all the people again. This could be seen in the almost patronising tone of our text: "I - look, I Myself, it really is Me - I will establish My covenant with you and your seed".
Taking a larger view, Richard Elliot Friedman sees this passage in a more positive light as the first in a series of "major covenants that provide the structure in which nearly all of the Bible is framed." (Commentary on the Torah, page 42). Friedman counts four: Noah (B'resheet 9) - the security of the cosmos, Avraham (B'resheet 15 & 17) - the Land and relationship with Avraham's descendants, Moshe (Shemot 20, 34; D'varim 5, 7:12-15) - well-being and a way of life in the Land, David (2 Samuel 7; Psalm 89, 132) - kingship over Jerusalem and Judea. As believers, we logically extend the count to five by including the renewed covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Luke 22;20) in Messiah Yeshua. These all show that time and again it is G-d who takes the initiative in the human-divine relationship and offers covenant - a legal, binding, permanent, committed relationship - to man; it is G-d who sets the terms, provides the surety and offers all the benefits. History shows that it is also G-d who alone is faithful to the covenant, G-d who renews the covenant and constantly call His people back to the covenant, G-d who will not let His people go but keeps their feet to the fire whenever they turn away from Him.
Three times every day we proclaim the faithfulness of G-d in the first stanza of the Amidah: "Blessed are You, O L-rd, our G-d and the G-d of our forefathers, G-d of Avraham, G-d of Yitz'chak and G-d of Ya'akov; the great, mighty and awesome G-d, the most high G-d, who bestows acts of loving kindness and creates everything, who remembers the loving kindness of the patriarchs and brings a redeemer to their children's children for the sake of His name in love." This speaks of the consistency and constancy of G-d and His covenant relationship with us, His people. He has been in covenant with us, in spite of our many failures and abandonments over the years, since the days of the patriarchs, and He is still bringing a redeemer - Messiah Yeshau - to us every day so that we may turn to Him and find rest for our souls (Matthew 11:28).
So G-d's basic nature is that He is a maker and a keeper of covenant; not only has He made them, but He has paid the penalty for our non-keeping of the covenant through the body of Yeshua on the stake so that His covenant-keeping might become ours in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). We are made in the image or likeness of G-d (B'resheet 1:26-27) and are called to be like Him; in particular, we are called to be faithful in the covenants that we make: marriage as a primary example, but also in business and other relationships. The divorce rate in both the church and the wider Jewish community is pretty much equal to that of the non-believing world, suggesting that we're not too clever on that front, and it is difficult to open the pages of the Jewish Chronicle without reading of some court case, bankruptcy hearings or financial misconduct that is either between or includes Jews.
Yeshua calls us to a higher standard in the Sermon on the Mount. First, in the area of marriage relationships He tells us: "I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of fornication, makes her an adulteress; and that anyone who marries a divorcee commits adultery" (Matthew 5:32, CJB). Marriage is to be a permanent covenant, made and kept before G-d as a model to the world of His covenant faithfulness toward us. Yeshua goes on, "let your 'Yes' be a simple 'Yes' and your 'No' be a simple 'No'" (v.37, CJB). We are not to compound our commitments to each other with complicated for fearsome sounding oaths as if our words are meaningless unless we invoke some dire calamity upon our heads; we are to be people of our basic word, who can be trusted simply on the basis of what we say. This is indeed a challenge in our day, but G-d has set us the example: "See, I am establishing My covenant with you and your seed after you".
Further Study: Isaiah 54:9-10; Matthew 23:16-22
Application: How do you rate on the covenant keeping scale today? Can people trust you and rely upon what you say? Remember that G-d knows how to keep covenants and can help you to do the same. He wants you to be a good reflection of His character, so why not get Him on your case today!
© Jonathan Allen, 2007
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