The flood waters having receded, and Noah and family having
disembarked from the ark, it was back to business as usual on earth in a number
of discernable ways.
Thus we see, firstly, the restitution of the creation
ordinance of marriage (Gen. 9.1), and, at least by Calvin's reckoning, a rather
remarkable population boom in the first few centuries of post-flood human
history. Noah's family was directed to "recover the lawful use of marriage," and
so to rest assured that "the care of producing offspring" remained "pleasing to
[God]." Accordingly, they returned to the pattern of marrying and procreating
that characterized their pre-flood days; indeed, they did so with notable
success, producing "within one hundred and fifty years" an "astonishing
increase" of offspring, which "doubtless" resulted in "unbounded joy" for Noah,
for it spoke clearly of "divine favor towards him."
We see, secondly, a return to work. "Noah, ...though now an
old man, returned to the culture of the fields, and to his former labors." The
resumption of his farming career must have felt rather anti-climactic to Noah,
given the nature of his recent adventures. But work (along with rest/worship)
is part of the normal pattern which God established for man even before the
fall (Gen. 2.15). Calvin concedes that Noah may have added 'viticulturist' to
his job description for the first time following the flood ("it is... uncertain
whether he had been a vine-dresser or not") but he is not willing, being after
all a good Frenchman, to concede that viticulture as such was strictly a
post-flood pursuit. "It does not appear to me probable that the fruit of the
vine, which excels all others, should have remained neglected and unprofitable
[before the flood]."
We see, thirdly, a return to eating and drinking, a return
to the enjoyment of the fruits of human work. Calvin refuses to see the
permission to eat animals in Gen. 9.3 as something unique to the post-flood
setting: "God here does not bestow upon men more than he had previously given."
Men were, in other words, "permitted" from the very first "to kill wild beasts"
for the very specific purposes of making "garments and tents" and padding their
diet with protein. However, no license was given, before or after the flood,
for superfluous shedding of "the innocent blood of cattle." As already indicated,
Calvin believes God's "most precious gift" of wine was likewise entrusted to
men from the very beginning, and so merely re-entrusted to men following the
flood. Both gifts of God -- food and drink -- are, of course, susceptible to "shameful
abuse." Neither gift should be despised on that or any other grounds.
We see, finally, a return to man doing what (fallen) man
does, and God responding as God does. We see, in other words, man sinning (and
sometimes, by God's grace, repenting), and God responding to man's sin in judgment,
mercy, and promise. The flood was, of course, no ultimate resolution of sin. God's
own post-flood observation that "every inclination of the human heart is evil
from childhood" (Gen. 8.21) quickly proves concretely true in a series of
incidents. Noah, first of all, engages in the "filthy and detestable crime [of]
drunkenness" and prostrates himself "naked on the ground, so as to become a
laughing-stock to all." Then Ham, who "must have been of a wicked, perverse,
and crooked disposition, ... not only took pleasure in his father's shame, but
wished to expose him to his brethren." Calvin supposes a deeper motive than
simple scorn to Ham's mockery of his father: "It is probable that he thus
perversely insulted his father, for the purpose of acquiring for himself the
license of sinning with impunity. We see many such at this day, who most
studiously pry into the faults of holy and pious men, in order that without
shame they may precipitate themselves into all iniquity."
In the face of such (continuing) human sin, God remains God,
and responds as God responds. Indeed, God responds to human sin even before man
perpetuates any (recorded) concrete sinful acts after the flood. He responds
with his covenant -- that is, his promise not to destroy the earth with
flood-waters again, even though man's sin be great. God's word of promise
serves, Calvin notes, as a "thousand bolts and bars" restraining the waters of
his wrath, "lest they should break forth to destroy us." For man's greater
confidence in God's mercy, God assigns a "new office" to "the celestial arch
which had before existed naturally;" the rainbow henceforth serves as a "sign
and pledge" of God's promise to restrain his own anger at human impiety.
In more immediate response to the instances of sin just
noted, God responds in judgment and promise. Judgment is leveled against Canaan
and the Canaanites, descendants of Ham, for Ham's actions. Calvin restrains us
from overmuch speculation about why Canaan bears the brunt of cursing for Ham's
sin. God is never, he notes, "angry with the innocent, because even they
themselves are found in fault." Beyond that we must "remember that the
judgments of God are not in vain called 'a great deep,' and that it would be a
degrading thing for God, before whose tribunal we all must one day stand, to be
subjected to our judgment." And so "let every one of us, conscious of his own
infirmity, learn rather to ascribe praise to God's justice, than plunge, with
insane audacity, into the profound abyss."
Of course, more remarkable than God's sentence of
condemnation, whatever its own peculiarities, is God's promise -- directly in the
face of man's sin -- of a hope and salvation far greater than that which Noah and
his family had recently enjoyed. In this post-flood setting where God is
obviously keen to re-establish so much of what pertained to the original
creation, he is most eager to repeat the promise of the Seed of the Woman who
would one day come to reverse the consequences of that sin which wreaked such
havoc on the original creation (Gen. 3:15).
That Seed and his saving work bear proleptic fruit, of
course, in the free pardon granted Noah for his drunken escapade (a pardon
which can be deduced, Calvin argues, from Noah's faith and the prophetic role
granted Noah immediately after his recovery in Gen. 9.25). The concrete
repetition of the promise as such occurs in Gen. 9.26-27, where Shem and Japheth
are blessed. The blessing of Shem anticipates the eventual blessing of Abraham,
through whom the Seed would come, and in whom all nations would themselves be
blessed (Gen. 12). The blessing of Japheth points, in Calvin's judgment, to the
gathering of "the Gentiles and the Jews... together in one faith," the joining
together of "scattered sheep to join his flock" in the singular "covenant of
life." "It is truly no common support of our faith," Calvin observes, "that the
calling of the Gentiles is not only decreed in the eternal counsel of God, but
is openly declared by the mouth of the Patriarch; lest we should think it to
have happened suddenly, or by chance, that the inheritance of eternal life was
offered generally to all."
It was, then, truly business as usual after the flood, for
both good and ill. Sinful man returned to his ways of marrying and making babies, eating and drinking, working and (for some) worshiping, and, of course, sinning. God remained God,
and so returned to the business of pursuing sinners with his "paternal love," sustaining
them by the word of his promise in the hope of eternal life with him.
Aaron Clay Denlinger is professor of church history and historical theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Florida.