Be Fruitful and Sacrifice

Genesis 8:15-22
There is a difference between remorse and repentance. Remorse is feeling sorry that you were caught, and feeling sorry about the consequen- ces. It is a selfish feeling. Repentance is something completely different. Repentance is a change of heart. Repentance focuses on the fact that God has been offended. Remorse is the reaction of the child when he knows he is about to be spanked, and wails even before he is spanked. There is not necessarily any true repentance in his heart. He is just sorry that he was caught, and that he will have to pay a penalty. Repentance happens when the child does not do the same thing again. It means that he is sorry enough for offending God that he does not do it again. We see a picture of repentance and salvation here in our passage.

Noah has been delivered from death. God had remembered him, and had taken the Flood waters away from the earth. Then, God had dried out the waters, and Noah had reacted with wisdom and discernment, sending out two appropriate birds to see if the land had dried out.

We saw last week that the ark was a “type” of Christ, a shadow that points to reality. The only place of salvation was in the ark. So also, the only place we can find salvation is in Jesus Christ. He is the new ark. In Him, our new life, our salvation is hidden, as Paul says in Colossians 3:3: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” So when Jesus appears for the second time, we will be invited to go out of the ark, not to be separated from Jesus, but with a new glorified body. In the meantime, we must die to sin. Noah left behind his own sin in the Flood. That is symbolic of baptism. Noah walked into the new creation by faith. Just as Noah’s sin was judged in the Flood, but because he was in the ark, his sin was covered, so also our sin was judged at the cross. Jesus Christ took our sin upon Himself. Now, if we join with Him in faith, our sins are forgiven. Joining with Christ in faith means trusting in Jesus for forgiveness of sins. It means repentance from sin, a turning away from sin. We walk into the ark of Christ, and walk out into a new creation. But it is God who saves us. God could have destroyed the ark during the Flood. But He gave Noah careful instructions on how to make it. And, God sealed Noah into the ark.

So, when God brings Noah out of the ark, He gives Noah the new creation command: “be fruitful and multiply.” This is the same command given to Adam and Eve. Indeed, Noah is a new Adam, for all people are descended from Noah. That command to be fruitful and multiply is still in effect today. We are to do just that. It is a sad state of affairs in our society that children are viewed as a burden, an inconvenience. The Scripture says that children are a blessing, even the difficult children. They are arrows in the quiver, shoots of olive branches sitting around the table.

Important as the command to be fruitful and multiply is, the command also points us to the missionary command. It is not enough merely to multiply the number of humans. We are now to multiply the image of God restored. This means missions. Just as God commanded Noah to multiply and fill the earth, so also Jesus commanded His disciples to multiply and fill the earth with Christians. Both births are important: the birth into this world, and the birth into the kingdom, the new birth. God loves both of those births. That is part of what God has to say to us: be fruitful in all ways.

Noah has gotten out of the ark, and the first thing he does is what many of us might want to do: celebrate! Some people have the mistaken impression that Noah was being excessively pious by making a sacrifice instead of partying. That is not true. Noah was being pious. However, this was a celebratory piety! The offering gives us the clue here. It is a whole burnt offering. The idea of a whole burnt offering is that the entire animal ascends to God in smoke. It is always offered as a sign of thanksgiving for deliverance. It was extremely appropriate here that Noah offer something that spoke of the life and death issues he had been dealing with, specifically, that he had escaped death by God’s grace. Notice here that Noah offers one of every clean animal. Moses wants us to remember here another sacrifice that happened in the earlier part of Genesis. Abel offered a sacrifice of clean animals. God accepted that offering as well. But is Abel’s case, there was a Cain was upset about the whole thing. In Noah’s case, there is no Cain to take away Noah’s life. God has dealt with the issue of violence, and will deal with it again in chapter 9.

It says that the Lord smelled the offering. This is what is known as an anthropomorphism. That is a big word that means describing God in human terms. God does not have a physical nose like us. What this phrase actually means is acceptance of the offering. When the Lord smells it, that means that the attitude of Noah has come to God’s attention, and God accepts Noah. Notice, though, an extremely important phrase that is easy to miss: God said this “in His heart.” That means that Noah did not hear this conversation that was going on in God’s mind. The reason why that is important is that if Noah heard what God was saying, then Noah might be tempted to think that the sacrifice itself was somehow magical. That is exactly what Cain thought. Cain thought he could do his religious duty and thereby be accepted. It is just like someone today who thinks he is a Christian just because he goes to church, or because he reads his Bible, or, even worse, thinks he is a Christian because he is basically good, and is certainly better than that drug dealer over there. No, what God sees here is Noah’s heart. Noah’s heart has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. There is new life there. It is that which God accepts. It is the new heart. If we would be accepted by God, we must have a new heart.

Now, Noah’s sacrifice was an offering of thanksgiving. However, it was also a sacrifice for sin. A wonderful writer on Genesis named Robert Candlish says this, “The Lord was propitiated, reconciled, well-pleased: having respect, undoubtedly, not to the sacrifices then slain, but to the more precious blood which theirs prefigured.” That is something of a mouthful. The word “propitiation” means that God’s justice has been satisfied. God’s wrath is satisfied not because of Noah’s sacrifice, but because of the greater sacrifice of Jesus Christ, to which Noah’s sacrifice pointed. So, Noah’s sacrifice, in pointing to Jesus Christ, propitiated God’s wrath against mankind. So now, living on this side of the cross, we need to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, which is your logical worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. That is Romans 12:1-2. What is our response to Christ’s sacrifice? We offer our bodies back to Him as a living sacrifice in response to His dead sacrifice, but behold, He lives!

Now, we come to a difficulty in the text. Why is the second part of verse 21 a reason for the first part? Moses says that the reason God will not destroy the ground is that man’s heart is evil from his youth. Why is this a good reason for God to refrain from punishing mankind? Notice that the NIV has a possible solution here. It translates, “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood.” This is a possibility. The text would mean that despite that fact that man is evil, God is going to be gracious. However, look carefully, and you will find that in verse 21, the NIV has a footnote. It is important to read the footnotes in your Bible. In this case, the footnote offers another translation. If we went with the footnote, the translation would read, “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, for every inclination of his heart is evil.” So, the translation in the text says that God will not destroy man despite the fact that he is evil, whereas the footnote says that God will not destroy man because he is evil. Unfortunately, one of these translations is correct, and one is incorrect. They cannot both be true, even though grammatically, they are both possibilities. I believe that the footnote is correct here. It is the more common way of reading that Hebrew word. What God is saying then is that the Flood does not ultimately solve the problem of the human heart. God already knew this, of course. It is not as if God was experimenting with destroying people to see if that would change anything, and found out that it didn’t work. No, God knew that the Flood was not going to solve the ultimate problem. But the Flood would point the way. It would be a warning to people that another destruction, the final one, is coming. It allowed God to show us His marvelous grace in saving Noah. So God is saying that this kind of destruction will not change the human heart. Why am I laboring this point? Because it is important that we read our Bibles carefully. We should read the footnotes, and ask the question, “Why did they translate it this way,” or “which translation is correct?” These are important questions, because this is God’s Holy Word that we are handling. Also, the question of God’s reason for not cursing the ground is an extremely important question for us, because the answer points us to salvation. God’s grace will change the human heart. That is the way He now operates, not by destroying, but by saving.

Now, God says here that He will not curse the ground anymore. Does this mean that the earlier curse on the ground is reversed? No. God is saying that He will not curse the ground any more than it is already cursed. God will not destroy the ground as He did before. The ground will still bear thistles and other weeds while man seeks to get a living from it. But no longer will God use complete destruction in this way. As John Calvin said, “If man got what he deserved, there would be a daily deluge.” Now, God says, there must be a different solution to the problem. The era of patience is now to begin. God is patient, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to a knowledge of the truth. That means that all the elect will come to faith in Jesus Christ. The fact that God spared the world from further catastrophe meant that there was room for salvation to occur in the person of Jesus Christ.

So what follows in verse 22 is a beautiful promise of God. We need to notice several things about this verse. First, the world is not eternal. It says “while the earth remains.” Then come a series of four pairs of extremes. The idea is not just that the two extremes (hot and cold, for instance) are the only two things that matter. Moses includes the two extremes, and is saying by that that everything in between is included as well. The regular cycle of the year had been interrupted by the Flood. The Flood lasted a total of one year, 365 days, to be precise. So now, God reinstitutes the regular seasons so that farming can start up again. Do you farmers recognize that this promise is the reason why you can get out there and farm at all? This promise is the reason why you farmers can order seed in the wintertime. God has promised that the spring will come. There will be a time to sow, and a time to reap. There will be a high temperature and a low temperature. There will be summer and winter. There will be day and night. Imagine what life would be like if there was no predictability in the rhythm of life. You would have to sleep any time you could, because you wouldn’t know if you could work the next day, because you wouldn’t know if there would be a next day. We take this rhythm for granted, don’t we? We assume that there will be a next day, a next season, a next year. That is all based on God’s promise that those will happen. Farming is dependent on this promise. We should be thankful that God has promised us that. And we should not take that rhythm for granted. James tells us that you cannot assume there will be a tomorrow for you. He says this, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’- yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” This is a very important reminder for us. Just because God has promised that the rhythm of life will continue does not mean that it will continue for us. We often confuse those two things. We need to keep them separate in our minds. Our lives hang by a thread. If God should drop His support of our lives, they would be instantly destroyed. It is God who arranges things such that our breath supports life. It is God who ordains that food should sustain life. If God were to change that arrangement we would all die in an instant.

We should then remember that God is merciful, and we should be thankful. He makes the rain to shine on the just and the unjust alike. When we are tempted to grumble about not having the right weather conditions, we should remember that God has promised this regularity in the seasons. When we are tempted to think that life is unfair, we should remember that that is fundamentally correct: it is unfair that we wicked human beings should have any life at all. The reason we have life at all is because of God’s grace. When we are tempted to blame God for the problems of the world, we need to remember that it was our sin that disrupted the world. It was our fault, humanity’s fault. Instead of thinking about how bad the world is, we should be setting about fixing it. God has put us here to redeem the world. We are His instruments. We are here to redeem the physical world of creation by taking care of it, and exercising proper stewardship over it, and we are here to redeem the world of people by sharing the Gospel. That is purpose in life. The philosophers of life have exercised themselves for no good reason over the meaning of life. If they would just look to Scripture, they would see the purpose of our lives written all over it, and the only answer that makes sense. We are here to do God’s bidding. He has commanded us that we should multiply and fill the earth with people, and with Christians. We are to offer our bodies as living sacrifices. That is the lesson of Noah.

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