"God's Faithfulness"
Gen. 9:18-29
Sept. 22, 1996 

Text Comments

v.19 The Scripture insists upon the unity of mankind, the descendants of the same parents, the creatures of the one God. The prophets would later deal with the whole world in their prophecies both of judgment and salvation.

v.21 Noah's drunkenness is not the focus of this history, but it well illustrates the sin and the kinds of consequences that come from it.

v.22 There has long been uncertainty regarding the precise nature of Ham's sinful act. Was it simply a profound disrespect for his father, whom he should have covered up, certainly never gossiping of his father's disgrace to his brothers; or, as others have thought, Noah's violent reaction suggests that "saw his father's nakedness" must be a euphemism for some darker sin. Drunkenness and sexual sin go together often enough in the Bible, but, all in all, it seems enough to stick with the plain words of the Bible, a disrespect that was revealed both in a voyeurism on Ham's part and his delight in speaking of it afterward to the insult of his father's name. v. 23 suggests this meaning in that it shows the behavior that Ham should have displayed. We struggle to feel the force of that disrespect because we do not feel, as did the ancients, the terrible and wonderful sanctity that attached to the duty of children to respect their parents. We need a strong dose of that medicine today!

v.25 These are the only recorded words of Noah! The curse falls on Canaan, Ham's son. For his breach of the honor and obligation of the family, his family will suffer. A principle that is to be demonstrated everywhere in the Bible. On the other hand, the curse is not said to fall on the Hamitic peoples in general, but this one family line of that group of peoples descending from Ham. The subjugation of Canaan and its peoples later to Israel is the primary outworking of that curse. In the same way, the blessings pronounced on Shem and Japheth primarily devolve on their descendants not themselves.

v.26 Of the three oracles, only that concerning Shem uses the personal name of God, "Yahweh." The significance of that will begin to appear in 12:1. Interestingly, this oracle blesses the God of Shem and not, as we might expect, Shem himself.

v.27 Is the fulfillment of this promise, "may Japheth live in the tents of Shem," finally fulfilled in the ingathering of the Gentiles in the NT?

There is an historical phenomenon in Holy Scripture that is of immense importance and we have an instance of it here in Gen. 9. Perhaps you have noticed this phenomenon yourself in your reading of Holy Scripture. It is one of the grandest demonstrations that the God who wrote this book is also the God who controls human history, so that he can reveal the same truth in one medium as in the other and he can confirm and demonstrate the truth he has revealed in his Word in the events of human life.

I am speaking of the fact that after every major development in the history of the covenant of grace, the covenant of friendship and family love that God has made with his chosen people, there is shortly, if not immediately, thereafter a profound violation of that covenant on man's part. God no sooner takes men into loving fellowship and friendship with himself than they spit in his face.

Human history began with God taking Adam into covenant with himself, granting him great blessings, the most satisfying and honored place in the kingdom of God on earth, and granting him the greatest gift, a woman with whom to share the pleasure of his knowledge of God. And what did Adam do with that kindness, that generosity, that prospect of such rich and fruitful life lying ahead of himself and his bride? He trampled it under his feet and threw it away.

And now we have the same thing over again in the history of Noah, even Noah a righteous man who walked with God. No sooner had God made his covenant with Noah, no sooner had God stooped down to show Noah his great compassion and endless love for unworthy and sinful human beings, no sooner had God treated Noah in the kindest and most generous way, than Noah took God's good gifts and threw them back in God's face. He got drunk and in that stupor and that inhuman and unmanly lack of self-control and self-possession, he couldn't even keep himself covered and became a snare and an opportunity to his own wicked son.

But this is only the beginning of a series of such stunning betrayals of God's goodness to his people. He would later make a covenant with Abraham and promise that man, who had grown up nothing more than a pagan idolater in Ur, to give him and his barren wife a son, to make of him a great nation, to bless the entire world through him and to bring forth from his descendants the Redeemer of the world. God's gracious words were hardly uttered before Abraham was in Egypt, a coward hiding behind his wife's skirts, risking her virtue and God's promise, trampling on the honor of God in a mad dash to save his own skin.

The same thing happened again when God made his covenant with the nation and people of Israel at Mt. Sinai. God had not only made a covenant with that miserable and benighted people, under the boot of their oppressors in Egypt, but had brought them out of Egypt and bondage on eagles' wings. And what was the result of that great redemption? Why Moses wasn't even down from the mountain where he was receiving the details of that covenant before Israel was cavorting with a golden calf and displaying an almost complete disinterest in the God whose glory and majesty were being displayed before her very eyes in the thunder and lightning and smoke that encircled Mt. Sinai.

And what of the covenant God made with David and his house, promising Israel's second king that the King of Kings would come from his lineage and that the name of David, which otherwise no one would ever have known -- it has only recently appeared for the first time in archaeological records of the ancient world -- would instead sound forever in the hallowed halls of the kingdom of God. Well might we suppose that following a promise like that, following mercy so great as that, in contemplation of an honor great as that, David would have been a man who, for the rest of his days, would have walked on ice, so careful neither to offend against the will of his God or do anything that might, in any way, betray the grace that had been shown him. But, you and I know that, as a matter of fact, the promise had barely been delivered to him before David was embroiled in the most sordid soap opera, behaving like any other cheap oriental despot, stealing another man's wife and murdering her husband -- the better man -- to cover his shameful crime.

And still we are not done. In the Upper Room that fateful and wonderful night, the covenant of grace was renewed once more, its meaning and its nature and its glory made still more clear. It was given a new sign, the passover was transformed into the Lord's Supper. With the prospect of his cruelest of all deaths lying before them all, that night the Lord Christ renewed his friendship with his people, the twelve disciples representing the entire church, promised them his Holy Spirit, the forgiveness of sins, and a room in his father's heavenly mansion, all to be theirs because he gave his life a ransom for them. And what was the end of that evening? I will tell you. It was one disciple betraying him to his enemies, all the rest running for their lives at his arrest, except Peter who followed his master only to betray him publicly. "If you confess me before men, I will confess you before my father in heaven, but if you will not confess me before men..."

And these are not all the instances of God's gracious condescension to make friends of his people being answered with indifference, rebellion, or scorn. But time fails me to mention more.

Now, what is the meaning of all of that dismal history? Can it be anything other than this: to demonstrate to us, to confirm what the Scripture in any case always teaches us, that salvation is of the Lord, that we are no more able to carry it on once it has begun than we were able to begin it in the first place. That from beginning to end, our relationship with the living God depends upon his faithfulness to us and not ours to him, his love for us and not ours for him, his fidelity to his promise, not ours to ours.

It is a principle so central and so important both to any true understanding of our faith and life and to any true experience of fellowship with God that it is no surprise that the Scripture should teach it to us in so many different ways.

We are taught the same thing, of course, in the Bible's repeated teaching and illustration of the fact that even once we become Christians our lives are virtually as full of sin as they can be, and what sins may be left behind are only replaced by others, often worse: sins against the light and in defiance of the goodness of our God, sins of ingratitude to God, of indifference to our Redeemer, sins committed against the living presence of the Holy Spirit within us.

You know that I believe in real righteousness and real obedience. I often preach it to you because the Bible teaches it so plainly. I believe that Christians are called to obey God and to live to his glory and that they are equipped by the Spirit of God to do so and that all Christians, real Christians, who have the new birth and the Spirit of God upon them, will indeed, to some degree, live a holy life. There is such a thing as real holiness and a real difference between those who follow Christ in the world and those who do not.

If we were speaking of that this morning, we could speak at length of the reality of that difference and of real righteousness of life.

But, let us make no mistake. That real righteousness, that real obedience, such as it may appear in an earnest Christian's life, is so weak in comparison to that perfection of life to which we are called and to which we will someday attain by the power of God, is so little to be compared with the true goodness of a human life as God intends it to be lived -- in thought and attitude, in word and deed --, our obedience at its best is such a pale shadow of that life our Savior lived when he was in the world -- of the deepest devotion to God, the purest love to mankind, and the firmest and holiest control upon all of his desires and passions, especially on his love of himself, that no right-thinking Christian will ever imagine that his or her obedience or righteousness has anything finally to do with his or her salvation.

He will never be tempted to think that while God has done his part, he has also done his. He will never suppose that God's grace got him going, but now he has done the rest, even done the rest with God's help. She will never imagine that God brought her into the family, but she has kept her place there by her own faithfulness and obedience. NEVER! Real Xians know how unfaithful they are!

If ever it should come to pass,
That sheep of Christ might fall away,
My fickle, feeble soul, alas!

Would fall a thousand times a day.

It wasn't Noah's faithfulness that made that covenant stand, nor was it Abraham's, nor Israel's, nor David's, it was God's and God's alone from beginning to end. And so it is with the covenant he has made with you and me, if you are in covenant with God this morning by a living faith in Jesus Christ, his Son.

Even the change that overtakes you because you are a Christian is from him and without his continued protection of that change, without the on-going work of the Spirit of God within you, the weight, the drag, the inertia of your own continuing sinfulness would bring the effect of that new life to a complete stop, to nothing. All you provide, in the last analysis, throughout this entire process of salvation, from the new birth to heaven, is the sin from which God's grace and power delivers you and constantly must deliver you. God's unchanging love for you, his faithfulness and fidelity to the covenant he has made with you -- why he made it with you no one can say -- is the whole and entire and complete explanation for your salvation, the beginning of it, the continuation of it, and its final consummation in heaven.

Or as C.S. Lewis put it: "Though our feelings come and go, his love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to him." [Mere Christianity, p. 118]

Here is the great message of Noah's fall and that of his son, so soon after God made his covenant with them. Learn it well. Our trust is in God alone and not in ourselves, in Christ alone and not in our obedience or faith. Was your faith crucified for you, was your loyalty to God the ransom price paid for your sin?

But might not someone say, "Well, if that be true; that it is all God and none of me, if his grace must not only begin the work but continue the work, if he will remain faithful even though I do not, can I not relax as it were, and leave it all to God. Indeed, can I not go and sin without fear -- I'm going to sin anyway, if what you say is true -- why then should I be so worried about how faithfully I live?

But I am not worried that you will be misled by what I have said, by what the Scripture indeed says far more powerfully and beautifully than I can ever say it. The Bible, of course, recognizes that logic as superficially persuasive and, in fact, in several places imagines someone thinking such a thing in order to demonstrate how evil and how foolish such thinking is. Paul in Romans 6 is the greatest example of that.

But, as I say, I am not worried that you will be misled into taking less interest in and less care of your loyalty to Christ because you know that the foundation of your salvation is from first to last his loyalty to you and not yours to him. Unbelievers who fancy themselves Christians might make an excuse of this, a reason to take lightly the summons that Christ has issued to all of his followers to obey and serve him. They might well imagine that they could take the garments of Christ's righteousness and turn them into a cloak for sin.

They might well think that since every Christian continues to sin so much that no Christian could ever keep up his end of God's covenant with him unless God should hold up his end for him, I say he might think that because every Christian sins constantly, neither our sin or avoiding it is all that important. But, as Rabbi Duncan put it, while "There's nobody perfect" may be the hypocrite's couch of ease, it is the believer's bed of thorns.

The true believer in God and Christ, whose heart is broken by his sin because of the grief and the dishonor it brings to his heavenly father and the cost it was to his Redeemer, will never find in God's faithfulness an excuse for his sinning! Love for God and gratitude for his saving mercy will forever make sin hateful to a Christian and something which can never be happily indulged. Paul did not deny that he continued to sin terribly and that he was, for that reason, consuming every day of his Christian life, enormous quantities of divine love and faithfulness and mercy. He knew he was. But that fact made him, he tells us, not a self-secure and indifferent consumer of God's daily gifts, but a wretched man, a bond-slave, hungering to be rid of his sins, though unable in this life to get clear. It is what made heaven so delicious a prospect for him -- finally, at last, no longer at the beck and nod of sin! Finally, at last, able to give to God a life worthy of the grace he had received. But until heaven was reached, love constrained him to press on for that for which Christ had laid hold of him. So long as he continued a sinner, at least he would continue, for the sake of the love of God and Christ, an unwilling and unhappy sinner.

I have been reading these past several weeks of mornings to my sister in St. Louis, whom, as you may know, is dying of cancer. Each morning on the telephone I read to her some passage from a Christian classic or some classic sermon to encourage her, to strengthen her faith, to enliven her hope, to give her a better sight of Christ and heaven. It has been a wonderful time for us together and I am deeply grateful to the Lord for it.

Friday morning I read to her a sermon of Alexander Whyte from his volume of sermons taken from the spiritual experience of Thomas Shepard, the Puritan theologian, pastor, and first president of Harvard. This particular sermon had for its title a sentence from Shepard's journal, "The thought of my fast-coming death often makes me very unhappy."

As only Alexander Whyte could do it, the preacher considered the reasons why Christian people can still fear death and why they are so uncomfortable in the prospect of dying. And, as you might expect, Whyte found much of that fear in the troubled conscience, sins that still rose up to bite the soul even at that late date, sins of long ago, sins more recently committed, sins of commission and of omission. As he puts it in the midst of that great sermon: "The truth is, it is a wonder that any man among us ever dies in peace of conscience with so many causes of reproof and remorse crowding round his deathbed."

And what is the remedy for that? Is it, could it be remembering what righteous works we have also done while we lived in this world, the obedience we have offered to God, the service we have rendered to Christ? Never! No Christian conscience could ever be silenced in that way. There are too many sins and our righteousness is too imperfect to silence an awakened conscience at the hour of death!

No, the great preacher has another remedy, a far more effective remedy for an uncomfortable and terrifying deathbed. And that is to remember that from beginning to end our hope has always been and could be in no one else but a gracious, merciful, faithful God, whose love for us not ours for him is the whole and entire explanation for our salvation.

To make the point, he reminisced about his very first pastoral call when he came to be the pastor of Free St. George's, where he was to labor almost 50 years. It was to an old elder. Robert Candlish the great Free Church preacher and theologian had been the pastor of St. George's before Whyte and they used to say that no one ever had elders like Candlish had at Free St. George's. Here is Whyte remembering the scene:

"...I see the thing as if it had been yesterday. There lay open on his pillow -- what book do you think? His Bible? No. The Pilgrim's Progress? No. The Saints' Rest? No. Rutherford's Letters? No. I will tell you what it was, for you would never guess. It was the Westminster Confession of Faith, and it was open at the great chapter on Justification. "I am dying on that gospel chapter," he said. And I had no sooner finished it to him than he fell asleep in Jesus his righteousness." [p. 133]

And here then is Whyte's own remedy for your uncomfortable prospect of death and your own fearful deathbed. It is the old, strong, wise remedy that the godly have known from the beginning of the world -- to turn to the one who will be faithful and true and whose love cannot fail, no matter how miserably we have failed him, whose covenant stands firm because he makes it firm for us and hold us in it with all-powerful arms when we would, every day and a thousand times a day, fall away from it and from him never to return.

"When your old sins crowd around your deathbed and stare you in the face have instant recourse to the blood of atonement. And as you [would] lay aqua fortis (the old name for nitric acid) upon letters of ink to eat them out, so still be dipping the hands of thy faith in the blood of Christ. This do every moment that is now left thee, and that so awful handwriting that was recorded against thee [--the record of all your sins--], when it is sought for it shall no longer be found... As Rutherford sings it: --

I stand upon His merit, I know no safer stand,
Not even where glory dwelleth in Immanuel's Land." [135-136]