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The Meaning Of “Making A Covenant” in Genesis 9:12

  1. Genesis 9:12 God said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations;
  2. Most of the standard English translations use the same language of “making a covenant” for this verse – CSB, ESV, NIV, NJB, NKJV, NRS
  3. An exception is the NLT Then God said, “I am giving you a sign of my covenant with you and with all living creatures, for all generations to come
  4. the word for “make” in most translated is translated as “give”
  5. the word order is changed to state that it is the covenant sign that is being given
  6. The use of hēqîm bĕrît (“establishing” a covenant) instead of kārat bĕrît (“cutting” or “making” a covenant) indicates that God is upholding His covenant (between God and creation) instead of initiating a new covenant
  7. the construction “to cut a covenant” (kārat bĕrît) refers to covenant initiation while the expression “to establish a covenant” (hēqîm bĕrît) refers to a covenant partner fulfilling an obligation or upholding a promise in a covenant initiated previously so that the other partner experiences in historical reality the fulfilling of this promise (one makes good on one’s commitment, obligation, or promise)
  8. “covenant” (bĕrît) occurs eight times in Gen. 6 and 9

1)       4 times the text refers to “confirming” or “establishing” a covenant (hēqîm bĕrît)

a) 6:18 But I will establish My covenant with you

b) 9:9 Now behold, I Myself do establish My covenant with you, and with your descendants after you

c) 9:11 I establish My covenant with you; and all flesh

d) 9:17 This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth

2)       the other four occurrences of “covenant” deal with the sign or remembering the covenant

a) 9:12 This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you

b) 9:13 it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth

c) 9:15 I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh

d) 9:16 remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth

3)       the standard expression for initiating a covenant is lacking (“cut a covenant” – karat bĕrît)

4)       Gen. 9:12 is an upholding or reinstatement of the covenant initiated at creation and not a renewing of the covenant (God is making good His commitment to creation)

  1. The Hebrew word translated as “making” in Gen. 9:12 is נָתַן (nātan)
  2. the word is not “cut” (kārat)
  3. New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis – נָתַן (nātan), give, present, offer, allow, permit, surrender, deliver, set, put, place נָתַן (nātan), give, present, offer, allow, permit, surrender, deliver, set, put, place
  4. The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew – בוא come, i.e. enter into CD 22; 310; 619; 92; 1315; 2025; 1QH 523; 1QS 218, נתן give Gn 9:12; 17:2; Nm 25:12; Si 44:22, שׂים place 2 S 23:5; Jr 33:25 (or em. בָּרָאתִי I have created), שׁבע ni. swear Dt 4:31; 7:12; 8:18, צוה pi. command, i.e. ordain Jos 7:11; 23:16; Jg 2:20; Ps 111:9, נגד hi. tell Dt 4:13, זכר remember Gn 9:15; Ex 2:24; 6:5; Lv 26:42, 42, 42, 45; Ezk 16:60; Am 1:9; Ps 105:8‖1 C 16:15; Ps 106:45; 111:5; CD 14; 62 GnzPs 413 4QDibHama 1.59; 4QPrFêtesc 97.17, דרשׁ seek 1QH 59, אהב love Ketef Hinnom inscr. 14 ([א]הב הבר[ית]), שׁמר keep Gn 17:9, 10; Ex 19:5; Dt 7:9, 12; 1 K 8:23‖2 C 6:14 (all three ‖ חֶסֶד loyalty) 1 K 11:11 (+ חֻקָּה statute) Ezk 17:14; Ps 78:10; 103:18; 132:12 (+ עֵדָה testimony) Dn 9:4; Ne 1:5; 9:32 (all three ‖ חֶסֶד) CD 2017; 1QM 148; 187; 1QS 52, 9; 1QSa 13; 4Q521 102 (ברי[ת]), נצר guard Dt 33:9 (+ אִמְרָה word) Ps 25:10 (+ עֵדָה), appar. ידע know 1QH fr 77; 1QS 519, hi. make known Ps 25:14, חזק pi. restore 1QSb 323; 521, חדשׁ pi. make new 1QSb 326; 1QLitPrb 3.26; 4QPrFêtesc 97.18.
  5. Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament – The lexicons usually distinguish three chief meanings of ntn: (1) “to give,” (2) “to place,” “to establish,” “to lay,” and (3) “to make,” “to do”
  6. Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament – נתן with qal (which the form of the verb in Gen. 9:12 – MRJ) —1. to give —2. to present someone with something
  7. Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon – נָתַן – verb give, put, set
  8. this Hebrew word has various meaning; it seems that its basic meaning is “to give” (which is given in various Hebrew Grammars)
  9. The syntax of the verse – the verb “נָתַן” (nātan) follows two nouns (“sign” and “covenant”) and relates to both nouns (not just one)
  10. I think the New Living Translation has it correctly; God is “giving” (not “making”) a covenant sign (not just a covenant)

Being An Example

Your life forms the ceiling above which you cannot influence people to grow. Luke records Jesus as saying, “A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).

This is not to say that they cannot grow beyond you. They most certainly can. But you don’t have any influence over that. If students grow beyond you, they are not growing because of you; they are increasing in spite of you. Seldom does the students’ maturity eclipse that of his teachers.

That is one reason why James warned, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment” (James 3:1). Judged more strictly because of what the teacher teaches and the lives of the people we create. That is what Paul meant when he said, “You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men” (2 Cor. 3:2).

The apostle called others to follow his example and imitate him. “Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me” (1 Cor. 4:6). “Brethren, join in following my example and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us” (Phil. 3:17). There is a correct way (pattern) to live for God that can be seen and followed.

We think it sounds really spiritual to say, “No, no, no, don’t follow my example; follow the example of Jesus. Don’t look to me, look to Christ.” This sounds humble. This sounds spiritual. But this is not how the Bible teaches us to work as teachers. The truth is, students will follow your example whether you like it or not. They will follow your example whether you tell them to or not. They will follow us, so we must follow Christ. This is what Paul said in another place: “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

Adapted by Mark Johnson