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Signs of the Covenants

Last month, we heard about God’s reasons for sending the great Flood upon the earth: in order to bring judgment upon unrighteous, unbelieving humans who spurned God’s Word, while saving righteous Noah and his family (which is a foreshadowing of our salvation through Baptism). After the Flood, God records the following in Genesis 9:

And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth… And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood”… Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

God makes a covenant with Noah, his descendants, and every living creature never again to destroy life and the earth with a flood . Some covenants are two-way contracts, in which both parties have obligations to fulfill. However, it is ridiculous to think that animals could ratify or abide by the terms of a covenant. Therefore, it seems that God made this covenant even with the animals to show that the covenant with Noah and all humanity is one-sided, with God taking all the action.

Like God’s covenant with Abraham, then, the Noahic covenant is a set of promises to which God binds Himself, not dependent on human works. When it comes to our salvation, God’s covenants are always one-sided. He is the Giver; we receive His promises in faith. That is the nature of faith: an empty hand that the Lord fills with His goodness!

God attaches a sign to His covenant, the rainbow. Words can easily be forgotten, but when words of promise are attached to a visible sign, the promise is easier to remember and assurance is given that God is kind and merciful.

God has always graciously worked through visible signs in the Old Testament and the New. After the Flood, the rainbow appeared in order to provide proof that God would not subject the world to a similar punishment. God has given Baptism and the Lord’s Supper to the Church as visible signs of grace, so that we may know where to find God’s forgiveness, life, and salvation. Unlike the rainbow, however, the New Testament means of grace are active and effective signs. They do not just give assurance of the forgiveness of sins, but they actually forgive the sins of those who receive them.

In Genesis 9:4, God tells Noah, “You must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.” This verse is the first of many in the Bible that prohibit the consumption of blood (Leviticus 3:17, Deuteronomy 12:15-16, and others). Here, and elsewhere in the Old Testament, blood is equated with the life of the living being. This fact about blood help us understand the significance of Christ’s true body and blood in the Lord’s Supper.

Until Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper, the consumption of blood was absolutely forbidden because it would be taking the life of the eaten object. Yet under the New Covenant (or better, the New Testament), with Christ, we can and should drink His blood—which has already been sacrificed for our sins—in, with, and under the wine. And we drink it because of His command and there receive life in His blood!

When we partake of the Sacrament, we receive the body given on the cross as the once-and-for-all sacrifice for the sin of the world; we receive the blood that was shed for our forgiveness; and we share in life through Christ’s blood. “For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation” (Small Catechism). “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Romans 5:10).

Prayer (LSB 575:1-3):

1. My hope is built on nothing less

Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;

No merit of my own I claim

But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;

All other ground is sinking sand.

3. His oath, His covenant and blood

Support me in the raging flood;

When ev’ry earthly prop gives way,

He then is all my hope and stay.

On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;

All other ground is sinking sand.


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