Genesis 9:1-7: God's Blessing on Noah's Family

God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, be fruitful, become numerous, and fill up the earth. The fear of you and the terror of you will be on all the beasts of the earth and on all the flying creatures of the heavens [and] on all that with which the earth swarms, and on all the fish of the sea. They are given into your hand. Every moving thing that lives will be for food for you — as [I have given] the green plant, [likewise] I have given to you everything. However, flesh with its life, [that is,] its blood, you will not eat. Surely [for] your lifeblood I will require [a reckoning]. From the hand of every beast I will require it and from the hand of man. From the hand of his fellow man (lit. man his brother) I will require the life of man. The one shedding [the] blood of man, by man will his blood be shed, for in the likeness of God he made man. You (pl) be fruitful and become numerous. Move about in the earth, and become numerous in it. — Genesis 9:1-7 (my translation)

In chapter eight, ʏʜᴡʜ leads Noah, his family, and the animals off the ark and into the new world. Noah then sacrifices burnt offerings of clean animals to ʏʜᴡʜ. When ʏʜᴡʜ smells the soothing aroma of the sacrifices, he determines never to "curse again the ground because of man" despite the universal sinfulness of mankind; not to repeat the global flood catastrophe; and also to continue to give the necessary cycles and seasons of earth throughout the remainder of earth's history.[1] Here we see that in Scripture, sacrifice is closely tied to God's mercy and his faithfulness — pointing us ultimately to the perfect sacrifice of the Christ — and both are foundational to the blessing at the beginning of chapter 9.

Now, God blesses Noah and his sons, telling them to "be fruitful, become numerous, and fill up the earth". In Scripture, when God blesses people (directly or through others) this means that God gives them the power or ability to flourish in some way. God desires and commands[2] that human life should abound greatly, stating it three different ways: that they should "be fruitful", or have children; that they should "become numerous", which is the idea of increasing greatly in number; and that they should "fill up the earth"[3] which implies spreading across the earth geographically.

God proceeds to provide several promises and instructions that will be of great practical importance as humanity pursues the goal stated above. First, God indicates that he will place the "fear" and "terror"[4] of humans into the beasts and the flying creatures. This is a reaffirming of the original dominion mandate (Genesis 1:26, 28). Originally man and animals lived in harmony, but that relationship was damaged by the fall and the curse. Man's reign over the animals is retained, but based on fear rather than love.

Sadly, in a fallen and cursed world, animals can be very dangerous, and their purposes often come into conflict with man's needs. The general reality that animals are afraid of man, and try to avoid him, serves to reduce the aggressiveness of animals, which would assist man in the re-settlement of the earth, where he would often find himself out-numbered by the local animal population. This would also assist man in domesticating animals, even many that are, physically speaking, stronger and more powerful than himself.

Second, God gives explicit permission for man to eat animals, or more precisely, "every moving thing that lives"[5]. Before the flood, mankind only had permission to eat plants, according to the order of things given at Creation.[6] But in this new world, it would in many situations be difficult for human settlements to obtain sufficient food and required nutrients by growing and harvesting it all themselves. And so man is given permission to consume any living creature he finds.[7]

Yet[8] even in giving this broad liberty, God maintains the principle of the sanctity of life (נֶפֶשׁ, ne-fesh), even of animal life. Rather than savagely consuming the animal alive, or still full of its blood, the animal should be killed, and the blood, which is the symbol of its life, should be drained out before the animal is consumed.[9] This shows respect for the life of animals as a special divine gift, placing them above mere matter, or even plants.

Third, God institutes capital punishment. Though a certain respect is to be shown for the life of animals, the life of man is placed on a higher plane of sanctity, such that if a man dares to take the life of his fellow man[10], nothing short of the death of the offender will be sufficient to show the heinousness of the crime and the value of the life which was taken[11]. This special sanctity is owing to the fact that man is specially made in the likeness (or image[12]) of God, and so to show disrespect for man's life is showing disrespect for God in whose likeness he is made. With emphasis (אַךְ, (ʾ)ach, "surely") God states that he will pursue justice for the bloodshed[13], though God ordains that man himself should be the executioner.

Such a notion of justice — a life for a life — seems repugnant to many people today, but to the best of my knowledge, it was taken for granted in most cultures throughout most of human history. I hasten to add though that in many pagan cultures, human lives were not generally considered to be of equal value.

Capital punishment, as we now call it, is justice that serves to preserve the principle of the sanctity of life. But in the context of the larger narrative here, it is also clear that God instituted it as a deterrent to violence. In the world before the flood, as far as we know, God had not instituted a specific and general punishment for for murder[14]. It appears that, in the pre-flood world, that killings were largely a matter of private grudges or tribal retribution[15], rather than a strict pursuit of justice. Eventually the whole earth became filled with violence[16]. Here, God is setting up mankind to "be fruitful, become numerous, and fill up the earth", and so the tendency to murder and violence is supressed by instituting a swift and dramatic punishment for it.[17]

Incidentally, the institution of capital punishment in this passage lays a foundation for structured government in the post-flood world. For, if capital punishment is to be done for the reasons given, then it must be done fairly and justly, and not based merely on personal or tribal whims and feelings. This implies the necessity of independent authorities to ensure fair trials and an unbiased application of the law.

Other just killings, such as in war, or for treason, ultimately trace their justification back to this passage.[18] In such cases, either we are taking life for the protection other lives, or we defending the principle of just authority and government.

This section ends with a repetition of the blessing in verse one, God commanding us to have children, increase in number, and to spread across the earth[19]. This, of course, has ramifications in regards to how we view our modern-day perspectives on population control and family planning. But it also has ramifications for how we view human life in general — its sanctity and value. A popular feeling today is that humanity is a worthless parasite, and that the more we can reduce and contain the human population, the better it will be for the universe and Mother Nature. Indeed, the depravity and failings of fallen humanity can hardly be denied. But the Biblical perspective is that human life is highly valuable and precious in the sight of our Creator, who delights to see it abound and flourish, even though he is acutely aware of our inward disposition to sin and evil. This should give us great hope and encouragement.


[1] "While the earth remains", or literally "as long as all of the days of the earth" (ESV interlinear), Genesis 8:22.

[2] The question can be raised as to whether this blessing is a command, or simply permission. But I believe that is a false dicotomy — God's blessings in Scripture give the power to do good things that were inherently desireable to any healthy person or society.

[3] Regarding מִלְאוּ: This must be HALOT Qal sense 2 "to fill up", as in Genesis 1:22.

[4] Regarding וְחִתְּכֶם: from חַת. HALOT gives "terror of" for this instance.

[5] Regarding כָּל־רֶמֶשׂ֙: HALOT gives "everything that moves and lives" for this instance.

[6] Dr. Gill gives some arguments that people did eat meat before the Flood, though I did not find them convincing. I'm inclined to think that the followers of God did not eat meat before the Flood, though it may have been something done by wicked and savage men.

[7] The full Kosher dietary laws were given later, but they were a requirement given only to the Jewish people.

[8] Regarding אַךְ: Williams §388 puts this instance under the "restrictive" use category, which is "only" or "however", and specifically translates this instance as "however".

[9] Logically, verse 4 could only apply to creatures that have blood that can be drained.

[10] Regarding שֹׁפֵךְ, shō-fēch: HALOT gives "to pour, shed blood" for this instance, with the note: "when used of people שֹׁפֵךְ דַּם is not a neutral word for to kill but it implies a considered judgement about the action; it is a deliberate act of killing and (with the exception of acceptable acts of vengeance, as Gn 9₆) is a criminal act".

[11] Some lexical notes regarding יִשָּׁפֵךְ, yish-shā-fēch: This appears to be either niphal imperfect 3sm or niphal jussive, per BHRG §, and would be the passive of Qal (§ BD gives niph. fut. (i.e., imperfect) 3sm. If it is jussive, it would seem appropriate to give "let his blood be shed" per BHRG §15.5 but I'm not seeing this in any of the English translations. This appears in context to be a directive use of the imperfect (BHRG § "A directive is a speech act by which speakers want to make their listeners do something."

[12] Regarding בְּצֶלֶם, bᵉṣe-lem, "in likeness": Nearly all English translations render it as "image" here. I am following HALOT, which gives "likeness" for this instance. Surveying the other HALOT senses, we see the word more generally is used to refer to something that is made in the likeness of something else, e.g. an idol or a picture carved onto a wall. Tyndale and Coverdale render it as "lycknesse" or "licknesse".

[13] HALOT gives "to require" for this instance of אֶדְרֹשׁ, (ʾ)ed-rōsh. The core literal meaning behind the Hebrew word is to seek or search for something.

[14] God punished Cain with banishment in Genesis 4:12.

[15] Genesis 4:23-24.

[16] Genesis 6:13.

[17] Like all punishments, if capital punishment is to be effective as a deterrent, it must be practiced consistently and swiftly. Capital punishment in the U.S.A., in the few places where it is even legal, is often not applied when it should be. And then offenders often spend many decades in prison before the legal and political obstacles to their execution are overcome.

[18] There is also the separate class of the theocratic killings, where someone is executed for an attack against the holiness of God or defying his authority. Such laws existed under the Mosaic law given to the Jews at the formation of the nation of Israel, which was originally setup directly by ʏʜᴡʜ as a theocracy.

[19] Regarding שִׁרְצוּ, shir-ṣū, root שׁרץ: I am following HALOT, which gives "to move about" for this instance, a "looser sense" or "transferred meaning" of "to creep, move, swarm".

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