The God Who called Noah into the ark for his safety also commanded him to leave the ark, and to take with him all the living creatures that he had taken into the ark. This Noah did, and we may believe that he made sure that no creature was left on any of the three stories of the ark. Obedience becomes a child of God. And to obey is better than sacrifice, to hearken to God better than the fat of rams.
But sacrifice also becomes the child of God and its desire should spontaneously spring up in his heart and manifest itself in the deed. To obey God is to love Him. To sacrifice is to serve Him in love, and to express faith in Him. To obey is better than a sacrifice without that love, but a sacrifice in love is an act of obedience to God. This was especially true, and true in a special way, in the Old Testament dispensation. In the day of shadows of Christ, which the saints saw in place of Christ Who cast that shadow, the sacrifice was an act of obedience; and especially after the tabernacle was built in the wilderness there were strict laws that demanded sacrifices.
Noah, leaving the ark, brought his sacrifice to God both as an expression of gratitude to God for a safe return to the earth after a long journey in the ark for one year and ten days, and as an expression of his faith in Christ Whose shadow was there from the days of paradise onward. Of course he was glad to be upon the dry land again. Of course, as a regenerated child of God he was thankful for all that God did for him and his family in distinction from the thousands upon thousands that perished. But it was a bloody sacrifice that he brought, and in that it was also an expression of his faith in the atoning blood of Christ.
Let us remember that the flood was the judgment of God upon sin, and Noah and his family were sinful, as well as those whom God destroyed. And they knew it. Not only did they reveal sin shortly after leaving the ark, but they were quite conscious of it while still in the ark. And although the flood destroyed sinners, it did not destroy sin. God declares this Himself after Noah offered up his burnt offerings. For we read (in a better translation) that God said after this sacrifice and after He smelled a sweet savour, “I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake, though the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” This includes Noah and his family. And the point is exactly this: that having brought Noah and his family back to this earth, there still is a sinful human race in this new world; and in but a short time another destruction of the earth such as by the flood would be required, if God is going to respond as He did by bringing in that flood. He will, He here, declares, deal differently with sin, not as a change of mind, but as the execution of an eternal, unchangeable counsel which he had in Himself from eternity.
But, to return to what we began to say, Noah in his sacrifice expressed a faith in Christ, and in His blood as that which washes away his sins. And this God Himself declares when He moved Moses to write that He smelled a sweet savour in that sacrifice of Noah. Literally we read, “And the Lord smelled a savour of rest.” There is even here a delicate play on words. Noah’s name is rest, and he was called this because God would through him give rest to His church. We read — with the use of the verb form of this same word — that the ark rested on the mountains of Ararat. And now God smells rest. And Jesus says, “Come unto Me all ye that are labouring and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” It is that Christ, that Restgiver that God smells in that sacrifice of Noah. And it was that Restgiver that Noah under the shadows and types sought in his sacrifice as the covering for his sins and those of his family.
In that light we ought to understand the words that God said that He would not curse the ground any more for man’s sake, though the imaginations of his heart are evil from his youth, and that God promises that as long as the earth remaineth, according to His eternal counsel, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.
The two seeds, that of the woman and that of the serpent will continue to grow and peruse their courses without a world-wide catastrophe to make a separation between church and world, such as the flood did. There will be floods. There will be famines and no harvest in some regions. But as a universal judgment of God to separate the church from the world, no floods, no famines and no ark or its equivalent will appear.
God’s terrible wrath is still going to be there upon the world. There is no “common grace” that now will be manifested to the ungodly. Nothing could be farther from the truth, and any honest exegesis of the passage, entirely apart from anything that Scripture declares elsewhere — and it has abundant proof of no such “common grace” — will show that this is not the case at all. In just a bit of anticipation let it be pointed out that although God gives the rainbow as a sign of His covenant with Noah and his family, that rainbow shines, and can only shine, on the background of a dark cloud. You will never have a rainbow against the clear blue sky. Nor will you have one on the background of white fleecy clouds. Always it appears in connection with and in contrast to storm clouds. And these are the testimony of God’s awful wrath that sent the flood. And the truth expressed is exactly that although, upon that world of men whose imagination is only evil from youth onward, God’s terrible wrath, that once destroyed the whole lot of them with the flood, rests, He looks with grace and favour upon His Church for Christ’s sake. The two, God’s hot displeasure with the wicked and His grace to His Church are and will be found in the world until the judgment of tire. And then the grace of God in the glorification of the church will be seen, and it will be quite plain to all the wicked, and to those who now want to maintain such an impossible theory of a grace of God common to all mankind, that those dark clouds of God’s terrible wrath have always been in the world, and that the rainbow is quite particular in its reach to the earth.
In Christ God smelled a savour of rest to Noah who sought Him in that Christ as He was under the shadows of the Old Testament dispensation. For the sake of the church He will continue the world until it had brought forth that Christ, not as a shadow but now as the reality that casts its shadow back to paradise. For their sakes, and for all who today seek Him in Christ, come in prayer to Him in Christ and His sacrifice on the cross, confess their sins and sinfulness and seek refuge in Christ from all this, He Will continue the earth and not “curse the ground any more for man’s sake.”
This is no lifting of the curse from off the world. It is no grace of any kind to the wicked. It is an act of sovereign and saving grace to the church. Let it be noted that God speaks here of the ground, the soil which yielded so little in the way of food to Adam and his posterity after they were driven from the rich garden of Eden. Man had to wrestle with that ground which grudgingly gave him the bare necessities of life. But now, through the flood, God brought to the surface rich soil from the bottom of the sea, when the fountains of the deep were opened, and the curse upon the ground(not upon men) was to a degree lifted. But take all this in the light of what has been said. It was all for the sake of the church and because God smells a savour of rest in Christ and in His blood shed for the church. This is not in favour to the whole human race. It is not a “common grace” but a very particular grace that will continue the new world with regular growing and reaping seasons, with food and drink for man and cattle, that the church may thrive and bring forth its covenant seed, that in this bringing forth the Christ Himself may appear and may receive the kingdom to rule it all from heaven until that time that He comes to bring this world to its end and give that rest to His church according to body and soul.
It was, then, no covenant of or with nature that God here establishes. It was a restatement, a reaffirmation of the one covenant of grace established with Adam, carried on through Seth, and now confirmed in Noah and his seed. It is no promise to nature, to the earthly creation but to the church as she is represented by Noah and his family. God still sends floods and famines. He still sends stormy blasts and extremely cold winds and temperatures upon creation. His tornado still powers its way out of the southwest with unbelievable destruction and strength. He still sends His hurricanes before which no man can stand. Are we to forget and overlook all this, or are we to say that God is not keeping this promise which He gave to Noah, and is breaking His covenant with nature? And forget not that some day — which the very promise implies — He is going to destroy the whole world with fire. He says that “while the earth remaineth,” which is a warning that it is not going to remain, that His wrath is going to destroy it, and thus that His grace is not upon creation as such. He cursed it for man’s sake. He keeps it under the curse for man’s sake. He blesses His church in the midst of that cursed world in grace. He makes life possible for her and gives abundance of earthly goods to her enemies that they may serve her — not because He has an attitude of favour towards these enemies — and it is exactly in saving grace that He will destroy the whole world and the ungodly in it for the church’s sake, as He did at the flood.
No, His grace is very particular, for it is only upon those for whose sins Christ died. There are no blessings flowing from that cross except to those whose sins are blotted out. If God has not blotted out their sins by that blood of the cross, there is no just and legal basis upon which he can give them any blessing. He can and does give them good gifts in His providence that they may serve His church, but He has established no covenant with the whole creation.
This is contrary to His very nature. For He is Jehovah, the unchangeable I am that I am. It is contrary to the very nature of an unchangeable God, who is the same yesterday, today and forever, to make a temporary covenant with the wicked. It is contrary to His holy nature to make a covenant with anyone whose sins are not blotted out. He saw the blood of the burnt offerings of Noah as a picture of the blood of the cross, and He sees Noah’s faith in that Christ, as He was then under the shadows, as faith in the very cross of Christ. And He counted it to him for righteousness and smelled a savour of rest for His church.
For her sake the world will continue to have its seasons and its crops, so that all whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life may be born, and be reborn into the kingdom. As Paul says, “All things are for your sakes.” Remember that, and continue to believe in an unchangeable and holy God.