“Understand that I am bringing a flood—floodwaters on the earth to destroy every creature under heaven with the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark with your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives.” (Genesis 6:17-18)
Yes, covenants really are a big deal.
Unless we know how critically important they are to humanity, as revealed in the Bible, the whole study of covenants can be a yawner. But trust me, once you grasp the idea of covenants and see how deep they’re a part of God’s plan, you’ll appreciate the immensity and simplicity of God’s plan for you. You’ll also feel greater responsibility and joy to live God’s way more and more.
Previously, we looked at biblical covenants – what they are, their purpose for protecting relationships against betrayal, the parts that make up a covenant, the five main biblical covenants (Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and the New Covenant), the three main types of covenants (Kinship, Suzerain-Vassal, and Grant), and how to identify them.
But within the pages of the Bible, there’s evidence of a sixth covenant, a Creation covenant, the first in the string of primary biblical covenants. This Creation covenant is foundational for humanity’s existence on earth and contains the crucial Subdue and Rule Mandate to which we’re all bound.
“So where’s the evidence of a Creation covenant, Mr. Theology Smarty-Pants?”
Glad you asked. Let’s start here:
Evidence #1: God said so (Hosea 6:7).
Yes, this sounds like a lame “Because I said so” argument, but it’s true. It’s right here: “But they, like Adam, have violated the covenant; there they have betrayed me” (Hosea 6:7). Per this verse, there was a Creation covenant because God said so.
Remember, the purpose of a covenant is to protect a relationship from betrayal. In Yehovah’s indictment of Israel for her idolatry, He spoke through the prophet Hosea and gave the Israelites the reason for their impending doom. Israel, Yehovah’s bride, was guilty of betraying Him by committing spiritual adultery. Israel had broken her marriage covenant with Him, made at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 24), by messing around with other gods, i.e., her “lovers” (Hosea 6:5, 13). God’s cry of grief and outrage over both Israel’s and Judah’s lack of repentance for their betrayal resounds in Hosea 6:7.
Taken at face value, it’s clear that God refers to an actual Creation covenant with Adam. Some scholars disagree and claim that the correct understanding of the Hebrew adam (man) is the generic “mankind,” not Adam himself. But that doesn’t settle the question of when God made a general covenant with men (humanity).
Throughout the Hebrew scriptures, when God references a covenant relationship with people, He often addresses individuals (Noah, Genesis 9:9; Abraham, Genesis 15, 17, 21), groups (Levites, Nehemiah 13:25; Phinehas’ family line, Numbers 25:12-13), or nations (Israel, Exodus 24:8; Deuteronomy 29:14-15). Aside from the Creation covenant under discussion, there is only one definite instance where God makes a covenant with all humanity – Noah, including his family and all of his descendants. After Noah proved his faithfulness and exited the Ark post-Flood, God followed through with His promised covenant, “Understand that I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you” (Genesis 9:9, 12, italics author). Since all future generations came from Noah’s family line, the entirety of humanity is included under Noah’s covenant.
However, as we’ll see shortly, the Noah covenant was just a reinstatement of the Creation covenant with Adam/humanity, which doesn’t violate either interpretation of Hosea 6:7 with its possible twin interpretations of adam (Adam/humanity). Therefore, from the plain sense of Hosea 6:7 that alone seems clear that God made a covenant with Adam (the person) and adam (humanity “in” Adam), proving an existing Creation covenant.
Suppose there’s a Creation covenant with adam (Adam/humanity). In that case, this covers the human generations between Adam and Noah and drives home the idea of covenant obligations and accountability across generations, Adam to Noah and then Noah into the future. This trans-generational covenant aspect means all humanity is bound and accountable to the Noah and Creation covenant terms.
But if one verse isn’t enough to establish proof, then let’s look at the words used for “covenant” to see that Noah’s covenant points back to a Creation covenant.
Evidence #2: Noah’s Covenant as a renewed Creation covenant: Important words.
There are two crucial words in Noah’s covenant with God (Genesis 6:11 and 9:8, 11, 17) – berit (covenant) and qum (establish).
Berit is the classic Hebrew term meaning “to cut a covenant,” referring to the act of ceremonially cutting an animal into two parts, making a “visual threat” of severe consequences for not fulfilling the covenant. In other words, “May what happened to these animals happen to me if I break this covenant.” This messy act happened when God made His covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15:9-17). God had Abe cut some animals in half and arrange them to make a path between the bloody halves. Then God showed up and walked alone between the pieces proclaiming His one-sided Grant covenant to His faithful servant.
This is God’s proposal to Noah, “But I will establish (qum) my covenant (berit) with you, and you will enter the ark with your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives” (Genesis 6:18) and “Understand that I am establishing (qum) my covenant (berit) with you and your descendants after you,” (Genesis 9:9), and “I establish (qum) my covenant (berit) with you that never again will every creature be wiped out by floodwaters; there will never again be a flood to destroy the earth” (Genesis 9:11).
Did you notice how often God connected qum with berit? You already know the word berit means covenant, but what’s with this qum word? It’s there for a crucial reason. Qum means “to arise, stand up, stand” and is translated in many ways. But in these verses, the translations use “establish” or “confirm.” According to Dumbrell, qum “suggests that God’s covenant with Noah… is undergoing a renewal rather than initiation” (italics author). The sense of “establish” is to make firm what is already in place, and “confirm” is to “reaffirm” what is already “firm.” Given this understanding, God tells Noah that His covenant renews the implied prior Creation covenant.
But wait! There’s more!
Evidence #3: Noah’s Covenant as a renewed Creation covenant: Covenant terms.
All covenants have terms that both parties must follow. The Couple only had three simple commands of one covenant law: “Be fruitful and multiply, subdue and rule, and don’t eat from the Tree (do it My way).”
So, what were the terms when God established/confirmed His covenant with Noah in Genesis 9? Here are the two positive commands God gave Noah, “God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear and terror of you will be in every living creature on the earth, every bird of the sky, every creature that crawls on the ground, and all the fish of the sea. They are placed under your authority” (Genesis 9:1-2, italics author). Does that sound familiar? It should. These two commands restate the positive commands of God’s Creation covenant with the Man and Woman in Genesis 1:28. Here’s the negative command, “However, you must not eat meat with its lifeblood in it. And I will require a penalty…” (Genesis 9:4-5, italics author). The penalty was death for disobedience, i.e., not handling blood (life) in God’s way. That’s a restatement of God’s Creation covenant negative command to “do it My way or get the death penalty” (Genesis 2:17).
So, via Hosea 6:7, the Hebrew words, and the shared covenant terms, it should be clear God’s covenant with Noah was not His first covenant with humanity. The original God/humanity covenant was the Creation covenant. This insight opens a theological vista.
What we see in Genesis 2 and 9 are the first two links in a single covenant chain. God’s major covenants (Creation to Noah to Abraham to Moses to David to New) are linked to the first covenant with adjustments as God needed along the way. Those adjustments were expansions of the “Do it My way” command of the Creation covenant. Check it out. If you boil down the covenant terms from each of the main covenants, you’ll find they all fit into the three command categories – have children and rule over your land, but only God’s way. The adjustments were simply more detailed applications of “do it My way” to help God’s people align with God’s standard of right and wrong.
And there’s still more!
Evidence #4: Noah’s Covenant as a renewed Creation covenant: Identical Grant Covenants.
Now, if the Noah covenant is a renewal of the Creation covenant as stated above, then the Creation covenant God made with the Man and Woman must also be a Grant covenant as Noah’s was.
As a refresher, a superior initiates a covenant with an inferior in a Grant covenant because of their proven loyalty. The superior offers a grant (usually land) to the inferior, blesses him, and promises to provide what the inferior needs in return for their continued loyalty and fidelity.
Noah believed God about the Flood and faithfully followed through with the Lord’s Flood Relief Mission and Living Things Preservation Program. As a result, God rewarded His loyal and faithful servant with a covenant and fixed a clear “loyalty metric” to prove continued faithfulness (the blood prohibition).
Do we see the same thing with the Man and Woman? Yes. God created the Man and Woman in a sinless state, meaning they were formed as loyal subjects (faithful proxy-kings) to their Sovereign King. God rewarded His loyal servants with a Grant covenant and fixed a clear “loyalty metric” to prove continued faithfulness (the Tree prohibition). In both cases, the death penalty was the “inducement” to remain loyal.
As a final covenant identifier, both covenants were one-sided, meaning God took the initiative. He didn’t ask the Couple or Noah. He just did it. Ergo, a Grant covenant! Here’s a summary for you covenant theology geeks,
For the Creation and Noah Grant covenant:
· Covenant obligation. God initiated the covenant, the obligation rests with Him, and there’s a reward for past loyalty and a test for future loyalty.
· Covenant oath. God alone swore the oath, binding Himself to the inferior, making Him unconditionally bound to fulfill His grant as long as the inferior was loyal. The obligation extends to future generations with the expectation of their loyalty.
· Covenant oath sign. Symbolic gesture – God gave the Couple complete provision and Noah the rainbow.
· Covenant relationship. Superior (God) to the faithful inferior (the Couple, Noah) and the inferior’s descendants (future generations of humanity).
· Covenant curse-bearing. The obligation is on the superior. But God can never break His oath. Therefore, the covenant remains active indefinitely.
· Covenant blessing. It’s the superior’s responsibility to bless the inferior. The Couple and Noah were promised children, land, and provision.
· Covenant commitment. Superior to the inferior.
· Covenant terms. “Reproduce, rule, do it My way.”
· Nature of the grant. Dominion over the earth.
· Extent of the grant. Only over the earth and creatures, not other people.
I like how Sandra Richter describes the Creation covenant, “Yahweh, the suzerain lord, promis(es) to his vassals (His proxy-kings), Adam and Eve, the land grant of paradise if they will remain loyal to their agreement. The blessings are many, the stipulations few.” The stipulations were simple. The couple was to reproduce and rule as they worked and guarded their covenant home, and they were to do it in God’s way.
But when the Man and Woman broke their Creation covenant, what happened?
When a partner breaks the covenant terms.
When a covenant partner breaks the terms, the covenant penalties kick in. For example, break a business contract and get sued. Break a marriage covenant and get taken to divorce court.
Covenant obligations are the laws of the agreement. In the case of a Grant covenant, the terms express the sovereign’s will that his subject must obey to demonstrate fidelity.
In the biblical sense, breaking God’s covenant law violates God’s will, resulting in sin. Even if you’re just a new Bible-believing Christian, you know that sin entered the human race when the Man and Woman broke God’s covenant law when they chose to act “their way.” For the record, this affirms a Creation covenant, for there is no sin without a covenant and its laws. Paul confirms this, “…where there is no law, there is no transgression” (Romans 4:15). Therefore, the implication is that a law was functioning in Eden as part of a Creation covenant, which, when broken, identified the action as covenant betrayal.
So, if a covenant is broken, is that the end of the covenant? Is it nullified and done forever? No. As Hahn puts it, “when a sworn duty remains unfulfilled, the oath ensures divine retribution, that is, covenant curses. The violation or nonfulfillment of a sworn duty does not terminate a covenant, it simply triggers the curses of the original covenant-ratifying oath” (italics author). This condition is seen in God’s judgment on the Man and Woman, not for failing to reproduce or exercise dominion but by partaking of the forbidden tree. The covenant curse was death, separation from their life-giving God, which was immediately leveled against humanity.
Humanity’s rebellion did not nullify the Creation covenant. It remained in an active but violated form from Genesis 3 onward. That means the original Creation covenant law is still in effect since humanity can never escape God’s one-sided Grant covenant. Therefore, the Couple still reproduced and performed their Subdue and Rule Mandate, but with the curse of separation from God affecting them until something would satisfy and neutralize the separation/death curse for violating God’s will.
Why is that? Because every covenant has a renewal clause. If one partner breaks the terms, it’s possible to restart the covenant once the violation has been satisfied and the covenant partners’ relationship is restored to the covenant terms. In a business situation, a businessperson may need to pay a settlement and resign the contract. In marriage, an unfaithful partner must confess, repent and receive forgiveness from the aggrieved spouse. Once satisfied, such couples often hold a “renewal of the vows” ceremony. See how that works?
For the Creation covenant, what would satisfy God’s penalty? A human’s death and an internal “reset” to align us once again with God’s standard of “My way only.” But how can a person die and yet live with God? Are you beginning to see the picture?
So, with the Creation covenant in violation, humanity was separated from God. People were still compelled by the sex drive (reproduce) and dominion drive (subdue and rule) but without God’s moral guidance. Yes, after unfaithful and disloyal humanity threw the GPS (God’s Purity System) out the window, the Man and Woman and their offspring stomped on the gas, and chaos followed wherever people went.
Life on earth got so bad between Genesis 3 and 6 God Himself had to step in to stem the downward slide of corruption through the Flood and restart humanity with Noah, capped with a covenant renewal with the same three laws as before. But without the death penalty completely satisfied, the covenant could be reinstated, but still in a violated state because human beings were bent on following their ways, not God’s. Since God is the Superior and the term-setter, only He can declare when the covenant punishment has been satisfied. He can let the covenant remain violated for as long as He wants until satisfaction has been met.
This point is essential to the dominion mandate discussion because there is debate over whether the Subdue and Rule Mandate still applies to humanity and to what extent that command applies. If there was no Creation covenant, here are some questions:
Then is the Subdue and Rule Mandate optional? If so, why do we all have the drive to control everything around us?
Does it only apply to Eden’s locale? If so, since humanity is “out of Eden,” the Subdue and Rule Mandate should be neutralized, and we have no right to rule the earth (which would make the Green movement ecstatic!). However, we still have that control issue dogging us, and we are the undisputed masters of the earth. I don’t see dolphins building rocket ships or fish excelling in anti-viral research.
Are the sex and dominion drives simply blessings from God? No, because as we’ve seen, they’re explicitly written as commands.
If there was no Creation covenant, on what basis does God give the “Do it My way” Tree prohibition command, attach the penalty, and demand people to obey? But if there is a command to obey with a penalty attached for disobedience, doesn’t this reflect a covenant agreement?
If there was no Creation covenant, how can two of three commands be optional and the third enforceable?
It should be clear by now that there was a Creation covenant with three clear, simple commands. The Subdue and Rule Mandate is still binding on every person, just as humanity is still reproducing and accountable to God’s standard for living His way.
Even though humanity fell into self-rule, we were never released from our priest-king duties. But this didn’t take God by surprise. He had a plan in place from before the beginning (Revelation 13:8) to remedy our God-foreseen Fall long before the Creation covenant was activated. He pre-planned to “rebuild” and reestablish His children in His image, just as He originally intended. What was in Eden (Genesis) will be renewed at the end (Revelation).
We were born to rule the earth under God’s sovereign covenant command, and the dominion drives still motivate us to take control of the world around us and manage it. The Subdue and Rule Mandate set our drive to “Edenize” the world for which God created us.
But here’s my point: We were never meant to exercise dominion over one another. We were designed to rule shoulder to shoulder as a team, and as we move ahead, we’ll see what happened that widened our focus from the world to include other people.
To do that, we’ll next take a deep dive into humanity’s Fall and how that corrupted our Subdue and Rule Mandate.
Christianson, Dr. Jay S., An Exploration into God’s Subdue and Rule Mandate for Humanity in Genesis 1:28: Its Origin, Corruption, Repercussions, And Eschatological Restoration in the New Covenant
Dumbrell, Dr. William J., Covenant and Creation, An Old Testament Covenant Theology.
Hahn, Dr. Scott W., Kinship By Covenant, A Canonical Approach to the Fulfillment of God’s
Richter, Dr. Sandra L. The Epic of Eden, A Christian Entry into the Old Testament.
Pastor Jay Christianson
The Truth Barista, Frothy Thoughts