A Distinctive Contract with God

By Mark D. Roberts

August 31, 2015

‘I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’ God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.’”

Genesis 9:11-13

Photograph of a Double Rainbow taken at Bishop, CA

Contracts. We all have them, by the dozens. In business, government, and in our personal lives, contracts provide structure and order for relationships that are essential to all of life. Contracts tell us what is expected of us and what we can expect from others. Without contracts, both explicit and implicit, our lives and our work would quickly unravel.

God structures his relationship with us with a distinctive kind of contract. Usually we refer to God’s contracts as covenants, which is a way of affirming their particular character. They aren’t the sort of contract that you and I can rewrite or back out of at will. Rather, God’s covenants are binding on us and, interestingly enough, on God, not because we have any power over God, but because God chooses to enter into binding contracts with us.

The first explicit contract in Scripture is the one God makes with Noah. Though we can see an implicit contract with Adam and Eve in Genesis 1-2, in Genesis 6:18 the Lord says to Noah, “I will establish my covenant with you.” Then, in Genesis 9, God lays out the specifics of this covenant: “I will establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Gen 9:11). In order to ratify and signify this binding contract, God sets his “bow in the clouds” (9:13). The rainbow reminds God and, implicitly, us, of God’s commitment not to wipe us out again.

Like all biblical covenants (Mosaic, Davidic, New Covenant), the one with Noah is initiated by God. We human beings don’t determine the structure of our relationship with God. That’s God’s business. He establishes the covenant. We enter into it in response. Yet there are elements of the Noahic covenant that are distinctive. For one thing, God establishes his covenant, not only with Noah and his heirs, but also “with every living creature” (9:10). Additionally, though the Noahic covenant reaffirms God’s basic charge to humanity (“Be fruitful and multiply”) while adding some new elements (animals can be eaten, sacredness of human life requires capital punishment), the main point of this covenant is God’s binding commitment not to destroy the creatures of the earth again.

The covenants in the Old Testament, including the Noahic covenant, consistently underscore God’s sovereignty over our lives. They also point to the New Covenant promised in Jeremiah 31:31 and established through Jesus, whose shed blood creates “the new covenant” (Luke 22:20). The sign of the New Covenant is not the rainbow, but the cross. Through Christ, God not only spares life on earth, but also offers the abundant life of the age to come.


Do you think of your relationship with God in terms of covenants? If so, what difference does this make?

What does God’s establishment of a covenant with Noah and all creatures suggest about how we might live today?


Gracious God, thank you for entering into relationship with us. Thank you for establishing the terms of our relationship through the covenants you have made. Thank you for the glimmers of grace we see in the Noahic covenant. Thank you for the fullness of grace we see in the New Covenant.

Help us, Lord, to live faithfully in covenant relationship with you, to live fully as your people in all we do. Amen.

Photo: Double rainbow near Bishop, California. Photo © Mark D. Roberts. Used with permission.

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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