The antithesis announced in Genesis 3:15 played out to complete depravity and God assigned the world to a watery grave. The Lord spared Noah, the godly line, from His wrath. After the waters ceded, Noah worshiped God and God made a new covenant with creation. What norms this covenant is natural law. Natural law is an understanding of the natural order of creation. Image bearers have certain knowledge of creation because God wrote the moral and natural law on the heart of man (Gen 1:20, 32; 2:14). Think about it. If you are a good citizen, odds are you did not study law in order to be an outstanding citizen. Thanks to natural law, you just know how to do the right thing.
The Lord made the Noahic covenant to ground our ordinary cultural activities. We see in this covenant three important distinctions. First, the covenant is made with the human race in common (9:9), with every living creature (v. 10), and the earth itself (v. 13). This is a common covenant. This can also be seen in that it does not identify a holy people, but all men in common. Second, the covenant ensures the preservation of natural and social order. The seasons will continue (8:22), wild animals will not overrun society (9:2), marriage and procreation will continue (v. 1), and social order is preserved (v. 6). Men in society can enact proportionate justice do to the fact that they are image bearers (Rom 13, 1Pet 2). It is important to note that Genesis 9 never promises redemption. The covenant sign is a common sign for all mankind to see. There is no priest, nor is there any blood to remove sin. Finally, we see that this covenant is temporary. It remains while the earth remains (8:22). The Lord will not destroy this world by a flood. This world will come to a climatic end another way, not water, but by fire (2Pet 3).
So the Noahic covenant grounds the common culture in common grace and another covenant, promised in Genesis 12 and made in Genesis 15, grounds the church. This is the Abrahamic covenant. What norms this covenant is not natural law, but special revelation. God’s Word, which Abraham believed is the church’s rule. This covenant is one of righteousness, faith, and worship. Paul in Romans 4 explains to us that Abraham’s faith was a salvific saving faith in Christ. In Christ, Abraham was counted (imputed) righteous. This covenant remains thoroughly religious as Abraham received a bloody sacrament (circumcision). He was set apart from the Philistines (ungodly line) as one who “Called upon the name of the Lord.” Abraham was not to worship idols, but the eternal God. This covenant set apart a holy people. It was not universal in the sense that everyone in creation receives this covenant like the Noahic, but universal in that through Abraham the nations would be blessed, so that there is “neither Jew nor Greek,” but in faith, we are “Abraham’s heir” (Gal 3:28). Set apart, Christ redeemed us by his covenant service. His righteousness becomes our righteousness as according to Paul we are justified, declared and accepted righteous in God’s sight. This is true as if we “had never sinned nor been a sinner,” as we “had been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient” for us (Heidelberg Q.60 see also Q.56). We have peace with God by this covenant forever.
So here, we see two covenants that mark two kingdoms. First, is the common kingdom of preservation. In this kingdom, God the Creator King governs by his hand heaven and earth. All men are subject to this King and held accountable for breaking the moral and natural law. All men owe God worship as Creator, but the antithesis keeps them from worshiping God as they suppress this religious truth (Rom 1:18). The other Kingdom is God’s redemptive kingdom, where his people render praise to a King who “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col 1:13).
It is important to see that Abraham lived in both kingdoms. As a man of God, he aligned with pagan kings in war against other pagan kings (Gen 14). Abraham continued in commercial life with his pagan neighbors (Gen 23). Abraham held judicial disputes with pagans. His lie to Abimelech is a good example. Sarah’s beauty caused Abraham to fear for his life. He feared that the pagans would kill him to take Sarah as their wife. We all know the story, Abraham held court with Abimelech and was rebuked, “You have done to me things that ought not to be done” (20:10). Abimelech under the Noahic covenant through natural law knew Abraham was in the wrong. The ungodly offspring rebuked the godly for his sin. This incident shows us that we can have moral conversations with pagans to settle disputes in just and mutually beneficial ways. Let us not by hypocritical with our unbelieving neighbor, but remember, they may and often have the moral high ground. Nevertheless, they are not made righteous from that position. We need a higher ground, to be found right with God based on Christ’s ascent to the mountain of the Lord.