Genesis 9:1 So God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.”
This statement was originally made to Adam and Eve (Genesis 1:28), except in this case, there is a part of God’s original instruction for humanity missing. To Adam and Eve, God added, “and subdue it”, which in the Amplified Bible reads as “subdue it using all its vast resources in the service of God and man.” While the original commission to humanity provided for a synergy between Man and creation, this new commission leaves that part out, and from Noah onward the relationship between man and nature has been out of balance. While we don’t really know what the pre-Flood world was like, we do know that people were not hunting animals to extinction, and due to the cursed ground, were probably not altering the environment. After the Flood, the rules changed, and in the time since, man has done a pretty good job of tipping the balance of nature into his favor, as if the original commission was still in place. Since the Bible is blunt in its depiction of man’s failure on all levels (spiritually, morally, socially, in governing, and in stewardship), we are not surprised by the condition we see the world in 4,400 years later.
Genesis 9:2-4 “And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth, on every bird of the air, on all that move on the earth, and on all the fish of the sea. They are given into your hand. 3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs. 4 But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.”
Adam and Eve and their descendents were instructed to be vegetarian. Perhaps some people did eat meat during the pre-Flood era; however, this would have been outside the will of God and would have been considered rebellion. But here, we see that God’s change between the relationship of man and creation included, for the first time, permission to eat meat and fish. In fact, anything was fair game. We can also suppose that there was an implication that this edict went both ways. There are a number of animals that consider people to be food. Was this always the case? Not before the Fall. In Genesis 1:30 God told Adam that animals were also created to eat a vegetarian diet. The Bible does not tell us whether this changed immediately after the Fall, and that Adam’s descendents needed to be wary of things like tigers and salt water crocodiles. But according to Genesis 9:2-4 we know that the default relationship between people and animals is hostile, and instinctively animals fear people. At this point it became eat or be eaten. But what do we make of verse 4? There are a few reasons for this special instruction to man, not given to animals:
- Man is not an animal. We were created separately and differently. Although we are alike, the Bible teaches there are clear differences:
- Similarity: Ecclesiastes 3:19-20 For what happens to the sons of men also happens to animals; one thing befalls them: as one dies, so dies the other. Surely, they all have one breath; man has no advantage over animals, for all is vanity. 20 All go to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to dust.
- But huge differences: 1 Corinthians 15:39 All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds. And Ecclesiastes 3:21 Who knows the spirit of the sons of men, which goes upward, and the spirit of the animal, which goes down to the earth?
- God intended for people to remain above the level of an animal in their behavior, and this would include the treatment of animals. While a hungry animal would have no problem ripping the guts out of its prey and eating it alive, people are to remain more civilized in their status as God’s children. Properly dispatching (i.e., killing), draining the blood, cleaning, butchering, and preparing meat and fish show a regard for using animals as a food resource that are to be managed and respected. Ripping the head off of an animal and drinking its blood shows no regard for the animal’s life or its value as a living thing, and if fact, is often used in pagan practices rather than a purely dietary practice. Here are some additional scriptures pertaining to eating or drinking blood :
- Leviticus 17:14 Therefore I said to the children of Israel, ‘You shall not eat the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off.’
- Deuteronomy 12:15-16 “You may slaughter and eat meat within all your gates, whatever your heart desires, according to the blessing of the Lord your God which He has given you; the unclean and the clean may eat of it, of the gazelle and the deer alike. 16 Only you shall not eat the blood; you shall pour it on the earth like water.”
- Was this rule only applicable under the Law? Are we, modern day Christians free from this restriction? Not according to Acts 15:20, which says, “we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood.”
- The blood of a living thing has special meaning in God’s eyes. Recall that Abel’s blood cried out from the ground after he was killed by Cain (Genesis 4:10). It was the blood of an animal (probably a lamb) that was shed when God killed an animal to cover up Adam and Eve’s sins. The blood of animals was an important part of the atonement sacrifices offered by God’s people in the tabernacle: Leviticus 17:11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.’
- Finally, the blood of the Lamb was shed to wipe out man’s sins and make us presentable before God: 1 Peter 1:18-19 knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.
The word “blood” is used 424 times in 357 different verses in the New King James Version, and these usages are in contexts ranging from mercy, atonement, sanctification, covenants, redemption, and cleansing. The power of the Blood is represented for us in Revelation 12:11: And they overcame [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.
Genesis 9:5-7 Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man. 6 “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man. 7 And as for you, be fruitful and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth and multiply in it.”
To further emphasize the sanctity of human life, God described the ultimate vindication for the taking of a human life: the life of the killer in return. Before the Flood, it seems there was not an established death penalty. Cain’s murder of his brother Abel did not result in Cain’s death and others were forbidden to kill Cain in acts of vengeance. Unfortunately, man, in his wickedness, took advantage of this “freedom” to murder without fear of a death penalty (see Lamech’s story, Genesis 4:23-24). Since man was incapable of respecting human life based on conscience or morals alone, God instituted a death penalty. Every human life, made in the image of God, is precious, and so valuable to God, that He demands compensation: nothing less than then the death of the one who took the life. While it is easy to see this as pertaining to murder, it also covers accidental or negligent death, including death caused by an animal. The following scriptures expound on what God said here:
- Exodus 21:28-29 If an ox gores a man or a woman to death, then the ox shall surely be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall be acquitted. 29 But if the ox tended to thrust with its horn in times past, and it has been made known to his owner, and he has not kept it confined, so that it has killed a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned and its owner also shall be put to death.
- Exodus 21:12 He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death.
- Exodus 21:22-25 If men fight, and hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman’s husband imposes on him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
It is also clear in Genesis 9:5-7 that God is granting human government the authority to execute the death penalty (“Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed”). In cases of murder prior to this, man did not have the authority to apply the ultimate justice to another human being. But things changed starting with Noah and his family: God handed man the authority to govern himself, with the ultimate power of this authority represented by man’s responsibility to punish capital crimes. There is no biblical reference to human government prior to the Flood. So as far as what God wishes us to learn from scriptures, human government, as ordained by God, was instituted beginning with Noah, and included judicial authority to punish by death. Why did God make this change? It is clear that man had failed in his attempts to live peacefully, on his own, under a governing authority of God. So God established human government as the way to deter unpeaceful and uncivil practices that people would otherwise use to mistreat others, and man became responsible to govern the world for God. The power of government became based on the highest power granted by God to the governing authority: the judicial power to take life as punishment.
A valid question would be whether or not the death penalty is still morally valid today. Many Christians believe that the death penalty was applicable only to the Old Testament or Mosaic Law. To address this, one must consider that God granted man the authority to apply the death penalty 800 years before he gave the Law through Moses. So the death penalty was established outside of the Jewish Law, and applied to everyone, not just the Israelites. We already quoted scripture above from Exodus 21 which describes judicial situations in which the death penalty applies. What about the New Testament? The New Testament did not do away with the death penalty, but in fact Jesus acknowledged, and gave Himself over to, the authority of the Roman government to take His life, even though He was innocent. Paul made reference to the death penalty in Acts 25:11, when during his trial before Festus he said, “if I be an offender, or have committed any thing worthy of death, I refuse not to die: but if there be none of these things whereof these accuse me, no man may deliver me unto them. I appeal unto Caesar.” Paul also pointed to a ruler’s authority in Romans 13:4: “For [the ruler] is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” Paul also explained (in the very next verse) why God sees it necessary to ordain human government to rule on His behalf: Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. Man’s conscience alone will not be sufficient to keep man from mistreating man. The comprehension of a punishment for crimes, along with our conscience, is what ultimately restrains us, keeps us out of trouble, and makes it possible for human beings to live together peacefully.