The Constitution of New Earth (Genesis 9:1-7)

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth

That is how Moses began the book of Genesis. And by this point we are very familiar with what followed: over the course of seven days God brought the earth up out of darkness and chaos and turned it into an orderly temple filled with worshipers. That was Chapter 1 of Genesis.

Then in Chapter 2, Moses zoomed in on one particular point: the garden of Eden, which was designed to be the center of perfect order on an earth that was still an untamed wilderness. And he showed how, through the work of mankind, that garden was supposed to expand and bring order to the wilderness of the earth, gradually leading all the creatures into the worship of their creator.

Of course, we know that mankind decided, instead, to lead all of creation into the worship of themselves. They set about deliberately defiling the temple of the earth that God had given them to take care of —

So, God washed the temple clean with a great flood.

And last week, as the floodwaters gradually receded, we realized that Moses is actually retelling us the story of creation from Chapters 1 and 2. He keeps on using the same words, the same patterns, the same themes. Moses wants us, as his readers, to see that the earth has been reset to what it was in the beginning: an untamed wilderness. He wants us to realize that Noah’s ark is the Garden of Eden 2.0. And he wants us to see Noah and his family as Adam and Eve 2.0.

So, now that we are seeing the parallels between the creation story and the flood story, we will be able to understand better what happens next in Noah’s story — because this next part has happened before.

Back in Chapter 1, right after God brought mankind forth from non-existence, he gave them…the Constitution for their New Earth. The instruction manual. Rules for life. And the constitution of Chapter 1 started like this: God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.”

And now here we are in Chapter 9. God has just brought Noah and his family forth from the ark — resurrected from death in many ways. What happens next? He gives them…the Constitution for their New Earth, Earth 2.0. And the constitution of Chapter 9 starts like this: [1] Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.”

Huh. Very interesting! This is almost exactly what God said in Chapter 1. There is only one difference: in Chapter 1, mankind was told to fill the earth and subdue it. Here, mankind is called only to fill the earth, not subdue it.

Why the difference?

Well, for one thing, mankind in Chapter 1 was still obedient to God; here in Chapter 9, every inclination of the human heart is now evil from childhood. So God is not giving mankind quite the same permission to rule that he did in the beginning.

But, for another thing, it is no longer really possible for mankind to rule in the same way. And that is because the garden of Eden is gone. Mankind no longer lives in a sacred space, in the sacred presence of God.

Basically, because Adam and Eve lived in a controlled environment, God was able to continue the Constitution of Chapter 1 with, “Rule over the fish in the sea and birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Noah and his family do not live in a controlled environment. The ark was only a temporary “garden of Eden”. It was only a temporary temple. They could not live inside it forever! In fact, in many ways, God calling Noah and his family out of the ark into the the wilderness is really a repetition of Adam and Eve getting driven out of the garden into the wilderness.

The Constitution of Chapter 1 was a constitution designed for life inside the garden. This Constitution of Chapter 9 is designed for life outside the garden, in the wilderness.

And that is why, this time, God does not say, “Rule over the fish and the birds and the creatures…”

Instead, he says this: [2] The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands.

In the beginning, mankind was called to subdue the earth, and rule the animals. That is no longer possible. So now subdue and rule have been replaced by fear and dread.

But what does that mean? Are we supposed to terrify the animals?

No. These words fear and dread are actually the same words God uses to describe how he wants to be worshiped by his people. For instance, the prophet Isaiah says this: “The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread.”

Now, the thing is: there was no fear and dread in the garden. In the garden, Adam and Eve experienced God as a loving Father, and the animals experienced Adam and Eve as protectors and providers. It was only after mankind sinned that fear and dread and death entered into all those relationships.

The Constitution of Chapter 1 — the Garden Constitution — commissioned mankind to rule over the animals, and the animals were going to cooperate. But this is now the Wilderness Constitution: mankind no longer rules over the animals in quite the same way, and the animals no longer cooperate in quite the same way. However, this does not mean that the animals now rule over mankind: mankind is still superior to the animals, and the animals will continue to experience the same fear and dread of mankind that mankind experiences in the presence of God.

Okay. But what about this “they are given into your hands” bit? Does that mean we can use animals however we want to?

No. In order to properly understand what this means, we should compare this part of the New Constitution with the corresponding section of the old Constitution.

So when we turn back to Chapter 1, the Garden Constitution, we find that this is what it says next: then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the creatures I give every green plant for food.”

So in the garden constitution, the words “I give you” was a reference to food.

Let’s turn back to Chapter 9, the Wilderness Constitution, and let’s keep reading:

The animals are given into your hands. And verse 3: everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.

So the phrase “I give you” is a reference to food. God is not saying we can use or abuse the animals any way we want to. But he is saying that we can eat them.

Now, I realize that — in these modern times — the thing that some people find shocking about this verse is the fact that God gives us permission to eat meat. Some people are totally disturbed and disgusted by that — and appropriately so, perhaps, given the horrors of modern industrial factory farming. So I want to say it again: God is not giving us permission to use or abuse the animals any way we want to, and that includes the horrors of factory farming.

However, God really is saying that it is okay to farm and hunt animals. And even admitting this much horrifies some Christians…while it delights others. And that difference has led to some tremendous debates within our faith recently about whether God really wants us to eat meat or if he is just making allowances for our sinfulness.

The problem is, once again, that these debates totally miss the point. This verse is meant to be a shocking verse, but not for the reasons we think. The shocking thing about this verse, for the ancient people of Israel, is not that God gave Noah permission to eat meat; the shocking thing about this verse is that God gave Noah permission to eat everything that lives and moves.

And the ancient people of Israel would have said, “Everything? Are you sure, Moses?” Because — remember! — ancient Israel practiced a kind of halal diet as a mark of their covenant with God. God had basically said to them, “Listen, I will be your God and you will be my people — but you must keep yourselves holy by only eating clean animals.”

And — remember — back when Noah got onto the ark, God specifically provided him with extra pairs of all the clean animals. And at that time, the Israelite listeners would have interpreted that as God’s special generosity to Noah: giving him extra clean food to eat, so he would not get too hungry and defile himself by eating an unclean animal. The people of Israel would have interpreted that moment as God basically saying to Noah, “Listen, I will ride with you in the ark and make it my temple — but you must keep yourself holy by only eating clean animals.”

So this moment, when God says, “Hey, Noah, now you can eat any animal you want!” — this would have been profoundly shocking to the ancient people of Israel. They would have interpreted this moment as God saying, “Hey, Noah, you are now released from my covenant!”

Which, in a way, is correct. That special covenant with Noah was only in effect while Noah was in that floating temple with God. Now Noah is no longer in the floating temple: he is on the new earth, receiving a new covenant, a new constitution. And under this new constitution there is no such thing as an unclean animal. Because the entire earth is now — once again — God’s temple. That is the point Moses wants his people to pick up: at this point in history, every living thing on earth is now in covenant with God. All animals are now clean.

So, what this means for our modern debates is that this verse is not actually about God giving mankind permission to eat meat. Mankind has been doing that — with God’s permission — at least since the time of Abel, Adam’s son.

This verse is actually about God giving mankind permission to eat all kinds of animals — because that is how powerfully complete God’s covenant with creation is: all animals have been made clean.

However, there is one dietary restriction in the Wilderness Constitution — just as there was one dietary restriction in the Garden Constitution.

When we go back to Chapter 2, we find that right after God gives mankind permission to eat from any tree in the garden, he says this: “But you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

In the same way, here in Chapter 9, right after God gives mankind permission to eat from any animal on earth, he says this: [4] “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.

Why not? What does it mean?

Well, we should notice some parallels between the two restrictions. Under the Garden Constitution, eating the forbidden fruit produced death. In the same way, here in the Wilderness Constitution, eating meat also produces death — quite obviously so.

However, while there was no way for Adam and Eve to give back the fruit they had taken from God, here there is a way for people to give back the lives they have taken from God: they do this by not eating the blood.

See, in those days people believed that the life-force, the spirit of a creature, was contained in its blood. So by refusing to eat the animal’s life-force, this was a symbolic way of saying, “The life of this animal was given to it by God. I am now taking this animal’s life — but I’m not keeping it for my own use, I’m only keeping the meat. The life I am giving back to God so that he can do whatever he wants with it.”

So God has just told Noah that, here on Earth 2.0, there is no such thing as unclean meat. Noah can eat any of the animals — but the life of each animal must be given back to God as a form of repayment. A sort of tithe. Basically, if an animal life is taken by a human, the repayment rate is roughly 10%.

But if a human life is taken by a human, then the repayment rate back to God must be 100%.

That is what God says next: [5] And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.

[6] “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.”

Under this constitution, human beings no longer have the authority over creation that they did in the beginning. But, human beings are still superior to the animals. Humans are still more valuable. And that is made obvious by the 1-to-1 exchange rate: if one human life is taken, one human life must be given.

Now, again, I realize that — in these modern times — some people are deeply troubled by this, because God seems to be instituting the death penalty for murderers. There is a strong movement in many places — especially in the west — to abolish the death penalty, and in many places this has already happened. And the argument is that two wrongs don’t make a right: if it was wrong for the killer to kill, then surely it is just as wrong to kill the killer, this just continues the cycle of violence. And besides, executing the murderer does not really repay the family of the murder victim anyway.

And there is some truth to that last argument. But…not enough truth. Yes, it is true that executing the murderer does not really “repay” the family of the murder victim — but this verse is not about repaying the family: it is about repaying God.

The life-force of every animal belongs to God, and so does the life-force of every person. The murder victim’s life was only “on loan” to the family; it belongs to God. It is God who is robbed when a human being is murdered, and it is God’s right — as the owner — to set the price of repayment.

Friends, God has set the price of repayment at its maximum. Why? Because: in the image of God has God made mankind. In other words: we are his children. All of us. Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Atheists — it actually doesn’t matter if you recognize God as Father, God recognizes you as his child, and he has set the maximum value on your life. And that is a mark of his goodness as a Father!

Think about it this way: when I was a kid in Indonesia, I lived on a narrow dirt lane in a kampung. And that lane was always full of chickens, ducks, goats, dogs, children, just running wild. And every living creature knew how to get out of the way when a car or scooter came along. But every now and then a chicken would move too slowly and — bwaaak! — end of chicken. And then the chicken’s owner would show up and set a value on the chicken and the driver had to pay.

Now, mercifully, none of us children ever got hit, but what if that had happened? What if a little girl got struck and killed, and her father showed up and said, “Hey! You owe me 5 ringgit!”

We would call that man a bad father, wouldn’t we?

But how much should he ask for? 500? 5000? 50,000? 50,000,000? Wouldn’t we despise a father who was willing to put a cash price on the life of his child, no matter how large that number was?

Well, in the same way, if one of us was murdered, and God showed up and just asked for money in exchange — wouldn’t we call him a bad father? Wouldn’t we say that he is not actually valuing his child’s life as he should?

So what this means is that, for God to demand a life in exchange for a life is not a mark of how monstrous and barbaric he is; it is actually a mark of his love as a Father, and how valuable we are to him.

But what about this argument that two wrongs don’t make a right, that demanding a life for a life just continues the cycle of violence? Is there any truth to that?

No, there is not. In fact, this 1-to-1 exchange rate is actually designed to limit violence.

Remember what was going on in the world before the flood? The earth was filled with violence. What kind of violence? Lamech’s kind of violence: 70 deaths in exchange for one wound.

See, the problem with the world before the flood was that tyrants got to set the price of repayment. And — no big surprise — they always made sure the rates were in their own favour. If they lost their temper and killed somebody, all they had to do was pay a few dollars and maybe make a sacrifice to the gods. But if someone hurt them, they would torture that guy to death, and his wife, and his parents, and his kids. And no one could stop them, because — even though the Garden Constitution had clearly established the value of human life: made in God’s image — it never outlined specific penalties for murder, for obvious reasons: murder didn’t exist at that time. As a result, the people in power were above the law — because there was no law except what they set for themselves! And that is how violence and injustice consumed the world.

But this is the Wilderness Constitution. Once again it establishes the value of human life: made in the image of God — but this time God spells out very specifically what that means: it means that no one human life is worth less than another human life; but it also means that no one human life is worth more than another human life.

All that is happening here is that God is setting the price of repayment, instead of men. God is setting the minimum rate of exchange — and he is setting the maximum rate of exchange. He is putting limits on violence. He is putting limits on the governments of the world by establishing a law that is greater than the governments of the world.

God is a good father. So he is refusing to look at his children — the human race — and say that some are more valuable than others. And he is making it against the law for anyone else in the world — no matter how powerful! — to say that some human beings are more valuable that others.

So, what this means for our modern debates is that this verse is not actually about God instituting the death penalty. The death penalty has been in operation — with God’s permission — since Adam, since Cain and Abel.

This verse is actually about God putting minimum and maximum limits on the value of human life, because every single human being has actually been created equal in value and dignity. We are all children born in the image of God. And this makes us the most blessed of all creatures on earth — and the most responsible for preserving the value of our fellow creatures.

As usual, I find that C.S.Lewis said it best: “You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve. And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth.”

Here ends the Wilderness Constitution, the instruction manual for Earth 2.0. And the way we know it ends here is because Moses repeats the opening sentence: [7] As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.” It ends where it began: with God’s blessing upon mankind.

So: what does it mean? Do these things apply to us? Are we supposed to increase in number and fill the earth? Are we supposed to avoid eating blood? Are we supposed to take a life for a life in order to preserve the value of human life?

…Well, in order to understand what this should mean to us, first we really need to understand what it meant to the ancient people of Israel.

And, as usual, they would have picked up on some subtleties that we tend to miss.

For instance, they would have noticed that in Moses’ creation story, back in Chapter 1, God speaks 10 times as he brings the world to order and then spells out the Garden Constitution for mankind.

They would also have noticed that in Moses’ story of the flood, from Chapter 6 until Chapter 9, God again speaks 10 times as brings Noah’s family safely through the flood and then spells out the Wilderness Constitution for them.

And they would have noticed this pattern because, right after God brought them safely through the Red Sea, he led them to Mount Sinai and then spoke to them 10 times as he spelled out the Promised Land Constitution for them. This constitution, which the ancient Israelites called the “10 words” of God, is what we now call the 10 Commandments.

So for the ancient people of Israel, as they heard Moses spell out how God gave Noah the Wilderness Constitution for Earth 2.0, they would have understood the Wilderness Constitution as a development of the Garden Constitution. And they would have understood their own Promised Land Constitution — the 10 Commandments — as a development of the Wilderness Constitution.

They would have said that the Wilderness Constitution applies to all mankind. They would have said that the basic principles here — the command to fill the earth, the command to give back to God what belongs to God, the command to preserve the value of human life — they would have said that these basic principles are the bare minimum that God requires of humanity.

And they would have said that these basic principles were all pointing forward to their constitution, the Promised Land Constitution. They would have said that their constitution is more developed, more sophisticated, more demanding. Which is appropriate, since they are the specially chosen children of God, especially commissioned by God to lead all the other nations into true worship under the Promised Land Constitution.

And…they were right! But…not right enough. They saw correctly that Noah’s constitution was fulfilled in Moses’ constitution. But they did not see far enough to realize that Moses’ constitution would later be fulfilled by another, greater constitution.

But Moses saw it. He saw that God’s covenant with Israel as a chosen nation must later grow to become a new covenant with every nation. That is why he was so careful to include the shocking detail that Noah, on Earth 2.0, was allowed to eat every kind of animal. While he was living in the temple of the ark, he was restricted to eating only clean foods. But once he was released into the world, he was free to eat anything he wanted.

This transition was a prophecy. It was a picture of things to come. It is true that the ancient people of Israel, while they lived in the Promised Land, under the shadow of God’s temple, were restricted to eating only clean foods. But Moses is telling them, here, that this is not the way it is always going to be! One day God’s people are going to be released into the world — and from that day onward, under that new covenant, under the New Earth Constitution, they are going to be able to eat anything they want. One day the whole world will be God’s temple, and all animals will be clean.

And if you are at all familiar with the flow of scripture you know that Moses’ prophecy came true. Jesus of Nazareth came and fulfilled the Wilderness Constitution and the Promised Land Constitution. He is the one who is filling the earth — filling God’s temple — with true order, true life, true worship. He is the one who has truly given back to God the blood that belongs to God. He is the one who has preserved the value of all human life by giving up his own life in exchange for the lives of people from every nation, every station in life, every gender. Jesus, the Son of God, came and wrote a new constitution for a New Earth, a constitution that perfectly fulfills every earlier constitution.

So…what does this mean for us, in this age? What does this mean for those of us who call ourselves Christians?

This is what it means:

Because Jesus is filling the earth with true life, we are not required — as Noah was — to all have as many kids as we possibly can. In fact, under Christ’s covenant we are required to think of family as more than just biological.

Because Jesus continually gives back to God the most precious life-blood of all, we are not required — as Noah was — to avoid eating blood, we have no dietary restrictions at all. In fact, under Christ’s covenant, we are required to think of everything as holy to God.

Because Jesus exchanged his life for every kind of human being, we are not required to discriminate anymore, and keep ourselves separate from “unclean” people. In fact, under Christ’s covenant, we are required to love those who are different from us, even if they are our enemies.

God’s people no longer live under the Promised Land Constitution. We have been released into the world. We live under the New Earth Constitution, which is more developed, more sophisticated — more demanding! — than all the rest. Paul, in the New Testament, described this whole process as a child growing up. He points out that, when a prince is born he already owns his father’s whole kingdom. But while he is a boy he is no better than a slave, because he is a student with teachers and exams and coaches, and they are really hard on him because they are getting him in shape to rule. But once the prince becomes a man, he is set free from the slavery of school. But this does not mean he is free to do whatever he wants! This means that he must now control himself, where before he was controlled by his teachers.

In the same way, Paul says, the Promised Land Constitution — the Law of Moses — was like a strict teacher, designed to guide and prepare the children of God for adulthood. Now that Jesus has come, and taken his place as the head of God’s people, now God’s people are grown up. The Promised Land was like a nursery for God’s people; it was our classroom while we were small. But now we have inherited the whole house! the whole property! the whole earth! And so, Paul says, we have outgrown the Promised Land Constitution. We have been set free from the slavery of elementary school. But this does not mean we are free to do whatever we want! This means that we must now control ourselves, where before the Law and the fear of punishment is what controlled us. We are the heirs of God! — which means more is required of us, not less.

This is why I say that Jesus’ constitution is more developed, more sophisticated — but also more demanding — than all the others. Our freedom is greater…but so is our responsibility.

And we know this. We know this in our gut. And that extra weight of responsibility is scary. We want to make our Father proud! and we’re afraid we might not.

And so this is the temptation that comes to all of us: we want to figure out the “sure thing” — the perfect sequence of steps in life that will guarantee our Father’s praise. We want to know what exactly we need to do in order to make our Father happy.

And you know how we do this? We go back to the nursery. We go back to our elementary school classroom, back to our childhood teachers, and we say, “Tell me what to do!” We go back to Moses’ Old Testament constitution, maybe we even go back to Noah’s constitution, and we start to say things like, “I know! I am going to avoid eating blood, I’m going to avoid eating haram animals, because that made Dad proud of me when I was little, therefore it will make him proud of me today!”

But that is silly, isn’t it? That would be like a Uni graduate bringing his tadika teacher to a job interview. “Look sir, I can really colour inside the lines, and I’ve brought Puan Rosli as a witness!”

Or think of it this way: I am a father. I was proud of my children when they were 3 years old. I am even prouder of them now. But if they came now and tried to impress me by doing what they did when they were 3 — well, I’d still love them…but I would be worried that they are not growing up the way they should!

But that is what we do, as God’s children, when we try to turn back to less sophisticated forms of constitution. We want to make our Father proud! We are afraid we might fail. So we try to go back to simpler times, simpler rules. Yes, those teachers were strict! — but they were clear. They told us “don’t do that, do this!” They kept us from taking responsibility. And while we resented them for that control, and we longed for the freedom of graduation — once we got our freedom we realized, “Oh. This means that — from now on — when I fail, it’s my responsibility.” So we turn around and try to hide again behind the skirts of our childhood teachers.

And we all tend to do this, all human beings. This is one of the impulses that motivated Mohammed, for instance. He talked to Christians. He was offered the freedom that is in Christ. But he did not think his people could handle the responsibility that comes with freedom. So he retreated back behind the Law, and he built it up stronger than ever. And he claimed that his revelation was the final one, the most developed one, the most sophisticated — but clearly this cannot be, because any system based on external control is a system that keeps people locked up in a perpetual theological childhood. They are forced to make God proud, like children who are forced to do homework. They never get the chance to grow up and choose for themselves to make God proud.

Friends, we want to make our Father proud. And the only way to do that is by acting our age, taking up the responsibilities he has given us. The earth is our Father’s temple. We are his priesthood, called to help lead creation into order and worship. So we are required to minister to more than just our biological families. We are required to live as if everything is holy to God. We are required to stand up for the dignity and value of every human being — even those who are different from us, even those who hate us.

Those are heavy responsibilities. And it would be easier if we had our old nursery-school rules to tell us “yes” and “no”. But those old nursery-school rules were designed for a very small, restricted Promised Land. They were not flexible enough or wide-ranging enough to cover every possible situation a global people of God might face.

That is why, for us, Christ’s constitution is summarized, boiled down to two very simple — but infinitely flexible — rules: love the Lord your God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself.

That’s it. Simple enough to remember. Sophisticated enough to cover every possible situation. Now, the details of the Old Testament laws are very useful to us, because they show us how God defined “love” in the Promised Land, which helps guide us as we figure out what “love” can look like in the rest of the world.

But we are no longers slaves under that Law. We are not children anymore who need to be externally controlled by the Law and the fear of punishment. We now control ourselves from within by the power of God’s Spirit, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba! Father.” God is our Father. And as a Father, he is always proud of us. Even when we sometimes make the wrong decision about how to love in some particular circumstance, he is still proud of us, because — like all good fathers — he knows that failure is a part of learning. Even when we sometimes turn back to the Law and childish legalism — even then he is still proud of us. He may be worried that we’re not growing up like we should, but he still loves us.

So this is our Good News, brothers and sisters: we do not need to be afraid of losing our Father’s pride and joy in us. It’s incredible, I know! — but it is true. We live under the New Earth Constitution, a covenant sealed by Jesus himself that sets us free to love and fail and love again.

So let’s live and act with the courage of children who know their Father loves them. 

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