Universal Covenants – Adam and Noah: Genesis 1:26-28
The first covenant in the Bible is the covenant that God established with Adam. Now this covenant is traditionally known as the “covenant of works.” In our day a number of theologians think that we shouldn’t call this a covenant, and to be sure, the term “covenant” is not used in Genesis 1–3. And also, there was much more than works involved in this covenant made with Adam. Perhaps it is better simply to speak of this as an “arrangement” that God had made between himself and Adam. But in the days of Adam, God established certain pillars that remain in effect throughout all the history of the Bible.
At least three pillars were established in the days of Adam which endure for the entire history of the Bible. These pillars were human responsibility, human corruption, and human redemption. First, God ordained human responsibility in the days of Adam. God created the human race as His image in this world, and when God first spoke about human beings in Genesis 1:26, He said these words:
Let us make man in our image ... and let them rule.
All human beings are God’s image and therefore responsible to represent His kingship in this world. Human beings are to live in ways that honor God throughout every part of the earth. And along with every other portion of Scripture, the prophets understood that all people of every nation received this sacred responsibility in the days of Adam.
Beyond this, the arrangement with Adam also established that all human beings have suffered corruption. As the entire history of the Bible illustrates so clearly, the events of Genesis 3 were not isolated to the lives of Adam and Eve. As the book of Romans in chapter 5 teaches, because of Adam’s sin, the entire human race has become sinful and stands under the judgment of God. The prophets did not have to look far to see that the nations of the world had turned away from their Creator, and they had turned away from their responsibilities as His image.
Beyond this, the arrangement with Adam also established a hope of redemption for humanity. In Genesis 3:15, God cursed the evil serpent who tempted Adam and Eve. There he promised that one day the offspring of Eve will crush the serpent’s head. The prophets of the Old Testament understood that eventually victory over evil and death would come to every nation on the earth. These basic pillars of human responsibility, corruption, and redemption established the structures of divine, human interaction throughout all of history. They extend to the entire human race.
Let’s turn now to the major concerns of the second universal covenant made between God and Noah. Put simply, God furthered the structures of Adam’s arrangement, but added the feature of stability for the physical universe. After the flood, God placed His bow in the clouds to demonstrate that He would not punish human beings immediately every time they sinned. Instead, God promised a new order, an order in which He would be patient with our sins. As God declared in Genesis 8:22:
As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.
Why did God make this promise of natural stability? What was His central concern?
God has given us an orderly world so that we can fulfill our human destiny to serve as His image. Genesis 9:1, 3 tells us that after the flood God spoke to Noah, the father of all people, and He said these words:
Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth… I now give you everything.
Drawing upon the words He first spoke to Adam in Genesis 1, God once again affirmed the responsibility of all nations to serve as His image. So we see that God promised to be patient and to provide a stable world for the human race so that all nations of the earth could serve as His image.