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Bible Commentaries

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible

Genesis 9



Verses 1-29

The Divine Blessing and Covenant. Noah and the Vine. The Curse of Canaan

1-7. The primeval benediction of man (Genesis 1:28) is now repeated and enlarged. Animal food is allowed (cp. Genesis 1:29), but blood is forbidden. The blood makes the life manifest, as it were, to our senses, and the life belongs to God, and must, therefore, be offered to Him.

5, 6. The ground of the sacredness of human life here is the existence of the divine image in man. It is not conceived as being wholly destroyed by sin.

9. My covenant] This word occurs some two hundred times in the OT., and the idea lies at the root of the whole conception of law among the Jews. Covenants, as made between men, form the beginnings of civilised government: cp. Genesis 26:26; Genesis 31:44, etc. The word is also used of the relation of God to man; of His justice, His unchangeable nature, and His protecting power, on the one side, and the corresponding duties devolving upon man, especially as embodied in the law of Moses, on the other. A series of covenants (with Abraham and his successors, with Israel in the wilderness, with David) runs through OT history. The particular idea in the covenant with Noah is that of the uniform working of God in Nature (cp. Genesis 8:22), and of His loving care for His creation. On these two ideas are based all physical science, which could not exist if there were no laws of nature, and all religion, which otherwise would become mere superstitious dread of unseen powers. Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31-34) speaks of a new covenant which is to take the place of the covenant of the exodus. The New Testament claims that this new covenant has been introduced by Christ (Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Hebrews 8). Hence the two divisions of the Scriptures are properly not 'Testaments' but 'Covenants.'

13-17. We are not to understand that the bow was now first created. From the beginning a rainbow would be formed, whenever the sunshine and the rain met together. But it was now designated to be the token of God's gracious promise, and its use for this purpose is in harmony with the feelings which it naturally excites. The rain-storm is on us, but the sun is in the skies: the dark background brings out the glorious arc of colour. Man need not yield wholly to depression, for he knows that the clouds will pass. Hindoo mythology calls the rainbow Indra's war-bow, laid aside by him after he had vanquished the demons. Scandinavian legend speaks of it as a bridge built by the gods to join heaven and earth. It is also alluded to in the Babylonian narrative of the Flood.

18-27. Noah and the Vine. The curse of Canaan.

The purpose of the passage is (1) to explain by a story the origin of the cultivation of the vine, and (2) to set forth the moral and religious position of Israel among the other nations of the world. On the ground of the mention of Canaan instead of Ham in Genesis 9:25, Genesis 9:27, it has been suggested, with some probability, that in the Primitive document the sons of Noah were originally Shem, Japheth and Canaan, and that the explanations in Genesis 9:18, Genesis 9:22 (Ham the father of Canaan) were introduced to harmonise the story with the Priestly document, which speaks of Shem, Ham and Japheth.

18, 19. These vv. are a link, inserted to connect the incident with the account of the Flood.

20. Noah is represented as the first cultivator of the vine.

21. Noah's intoxication was not due to deliberate excess, but was his practical discovery of the properties of wine. The story therefore contains nothing inconsistent with the character already ascribed to him.

25. Canaan represents the nations of Palestine subdued by Israel. The justification of the conquest lay in the impure character of their worship, which was foreshadowed in the immodest conduct of their ancestor.

26. The Lord God of Shem] RV 'the Lord (Jehovah), the God of Shem.' Shem was the ancestor of Israel, and these words assert Israel's unique position and calling, as the chosen people of the true God. Canaan shall be] RV 'let Canaan be': so in Genesis 9:27.

27. God shall enlarge] RV 'God enlarge Japheth.' Japheth represents the remaining peoples of the world. They have a share in God's favour, even though they do not know Him in His true character as Jehovah. He shall dwell] RV 'let him dwell,' in friendly alliance. We may see in the words a forecast of the days when the descendants of Japheth should come to worship the Lord God of Shem: cp. Isaiah 60:3, Isaiah 60:5.


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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Genesis 9:4". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". 1909.

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