Genesis 9:1 And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. 2 The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of the air, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered.
“Be fruitful and multiply….” God’s first words to humankind after the flood are to repeat to them what He had commanded when He first created them in Genesis 1. Does God understand that creation is beginning totally new or just that creation has been renewed? This new world order is not like Paradise, nor even like the world into which Adam and Eve were expelled and exiled; animals will now fear and dread the humans, not live at peace with them. In Genesis 2 Adam named the animals which showed he had power over them, but the animals did not dread the human. After the deluge, the animals which Noah had helped preserve from death in the flood are to be human food. Is this why God wanted Noah to preserve the life of all the animals because He knew in the post-flood world they would be human food?
Except for the brief time when the animals follow Noah into and out of the ark – when Noah was shepherding or rather animalherding all wildlife – never did the humans demonstrate their “dominion” over all other creatures. Now human “dominion over” is to be replaced by dread in the animals themselves. Humanity failed to do God’s will, and in the connected world of creation the animals suffer from the failure. Soon in Genesis, humans will practice warfare where not only will animals dread the humans, but humans will dread other humans as they each attempt to lord it over, enslave or eliminate one another.
God blesses Noah and his sons which will present a textual problem later in 9:24-25 when Noah wants to curse his son Ham for lewd behavior but instead curses his grandson Canaan, perhaps because Noah doesn’t want to curse one who had been blessed by God. Such tensions in any one human reveal that humans have the capacity for both good and evil. God has learned to work with this fact as is witnessed in the Gospel description of the behaviors and attitudes exhibited by the Twelve Apostles.
“God … said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply … Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.” In the modern world we commonly separate our spiritual lives from all else that we do: We go to church, we do our prayers, we give to the poor, etc. All of these “spiritual” activities are somehow separated from our “regular” lives where we: watch TV, go out to eat at a restaurant, exercise, do housework, have sex. We live a very dualistic life and are quite comfortable with it. The Genesis account knows of no separation between the religious/spiritual and the secular/profane. Everything in Genesis is God’s and everything is part of God’s creation. From the beginning God spoke to the humans about what they could eat, and about their sexual lives, and about work. All that happens to the personages in the story is religious – there is nothing they do which is in any sense unrelated to God and to their spiritual lives. The challenge for all humans today is to reconnect all the disparate elements of our lives so that we experience wholeness in life again. How we behave at work, what we eat at supper, what interests we have, what skills we have, what friends we have, what knowledge we hold, what property we own, who we marry, how we treat our neighbors, are actually all related to God and to our relationship to God. God speaks to the first human beings not about heaven or hell (neither is mentioned in the early chapters of Genesis) but about this world and our relationship to it. Genesis 9:1-17 represents the longest speech from God to any human beings up to this point in the story. God speaks about life, death, eating, law, procreation, environment, and anthropology. Nothing that we humans do is outside of God’s interest. To fail to see ourselves and our daily lives in relationship to God is to live exactly like the people of Noah’s day did before the flood. Jesus taught, “As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man” (Matthew 24:37-39). Have we learned nothing by reading the narrative of Noah and the flood? What are we doing today? How should we be living? What difference did Jesus think the Noah story should make in our daily lives?
“The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth” Humans were created by God in Genesis 1 to have dominion over all of creation. Humans were originally envisioned to live at peace with all animals – none were carnivores. This is very much what Isaiah envisions for God’s Kingdom: “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, says the LORD” (Isaiah 65:25). But following the flood human rule is accomplished with and through fear and dread. The world though “restored” by God is a different world where carnivores dwell. God has promised never to destroy all of life on earth again, but He will allow the humans to slaughter animals even if He will not. It is no wonder fear and dread have come upon the animals – God has lifted His protection from them and left them at the mercy of the violent and vile humans!
“…into your hand they are delivered.” The lives of the animals are placed at the mercy of the humans. God who saw the wickedness and violence of the humans before the flood, now entrusts the lives of all his creatures to these same humans. One has to wonder, Why? Has God seen a change in humanity which makes Him think humans can be entrusted with behaving responsibly toward the rest of creation? Or, is it possible that God is revealing a deistic tendency and is simply withdrawing from creation? Or is God putting full responsibility on the humans to make us fully accountable for all we do? The story is perhaps preparing us for the great and awesome Final Judgment. It does not offer a very satisfactory explanation as to why humans have delivered into their hands the lives of all other animals. Humans have not proven themselves very good stewards of God’s generosity. God seems determined to place ever more responsibility on the humans.