It’s bad enough people claim there is no Covenant of Noah; too many wholly miss the point of it.
There are several covenants with God mentioned in Scripture. Everyone seems to be aware of Moses, and most notice the one with Abraham. In each case, God says, “Here’s the deal. Will you go this route, or be destroyed?” While some particular individuals did manage to negotiate minor changes in things He required of them, the business of covenants is in a different class altogether. Had Israel said “no” at the foot of Mount Sinai, they would have been destroyed. Even though God knew they would not keep the Covenant of Moses, it was for His glory to go through with the deal after they claimed to accept it.
The Covenant of Noah takes the same tack, but is not for a single nation, but all nations. We talk about Adam as the father of mankind, but Noah was the second father, because Scripture says no one survived the Flood but Noah and his sons, plus their wives and children. You cannot in clear conscience read the narrative of Noah with legalistic Western intellectual assumptions. It’s Hebrew literature, and the unspoken assumptions are sometimes wildly different from ours. Noah is the father of all humans living since the Flood, and God honors and holds accountable all humanity to the choice Noah made to accept the Rainbow Covenant.
From the context of the narrative we can deduce the primary symbols explaining the covenant. Those who clung to the revelation of God up to that point (Children of God) had begun slipping into sinful ways. Inherent in their obedience to God was the clannish tribal lifestyle God had commanded for them. To remain morally and ritually pure meant not mixing unnecessarily with the pagans (Children of Men). The symbolic associations draw wildly contrasting pictures. The good guys were nomads, pastoral, rather austere, etc. The bad guys were urban, sedentary, hedonistic, etc. Social cohesion and stability is critical to righteousness. It’s inherent in the meaning of the word shalom. It’s okay to go out and meet folks from all over the world, but if you hook up with someone on the wrong basis, ignoring that fundamental commitment to a particular set of values and worldview, you damage what makes human life worth living.
This is what God says is necessary for humanity in this fallen world. I’ve written extensively about Game from the biblical understanding, of the absolute necessity the woman see and understand the man’s commitment to his mission, and her sense of calling to that mission at his side. If all her dreams and ambitions in life are not tied to his mission, there is no marriage in God’s eyes. This is what the narrative means in it’s Hebrew expression of God’s anger at how those who served Him indiscriminately married up with cuties from the wrong side of life. These cuties were not saying what Ruth said to Naomi, “Your God shall be my God.” Yes, it’s downright clannish, and that’s what God demands.
This understanding is fundamental to everything we take from the Covenant of Noah. If you do not see how this connects to God’s declaration about executing murderers, you don’t understand God’s Laws at all. The narrative goes from talking about mixed marriages on bad footing to shedding blood, and it’s not a change of subject. A failure in one area leads to failure in the other; it’s the same fundamental rejection of God’s demands. It’s not that human life is sacred, but that God’s Laws are sacred.
We rightly understand Moses as a very specific application of Noah. It’s a tighter, more demanding standard with similar aims in terms of human existence in a fallen world. The promises of Moses are explicitly stated, and we correctly read them as extensions of what was promised to Noah: Creation will behave in orderly and supportive fashion if mankind meets a minimum standard in pursuit of social stability. That social stability says individuals surrender their impulse in having sex outside certain narrow constraints, and in violent reprisal without deferring to the social order. How do you get your pound of flesh for crimes in a tribal society? The elders take charge and discuss what’s most fair and fitting for the crime. Each elder disciplines their own kin, up to executing murderers among them. This is the government God demands, under Noah and under Moses.
That hasn’t changed.
To suggest the Covenant of Noah applies only to individuals ignores the entire text of the Old Testament, and ignores the fundamental meaning of the covenant itself. God judged nations, as nations, who were not under Moses. God judges every government since the time of Noah, by the standard of Noah. The first and most fundamental requirement is having a tribal social structure. Without that, every government is doomed. Yes, it takes a long time, but Noah was six centuries old when the Lord judged his world. Does it occur to anyone we no longer live that long in part because we have continuously violated that Covenant of Noah? Does it mean nothing when God says in His Laws to Moses, “Honor your father and mother that your days may be long upon the earth?” That business of “honor your parents” is Hebrew shorthand for a demand we keep a strong tribal social structure.
You cannot obey God’s Laws without in some way instituting that social structure. If your government flouts that demand, you should at least do what you can in your own life. Demand your own kids be clannish in the righteous sense, not mixing with pagans beyond what’s unavoidable. Since we could hardly pull this off in every part of our daily lives, we should at least have churches which mimic this. Instead of shared human DNA, our “extended family household” of faith is shared spiritual DNA, in the Blood of Christ. That’s what New Testament churches looked like. In Jerusalem, where it was already their standard social structure, it was pretty easy. In the Gentile churches across the Roman Empire, it became necessary to teach the people how to emulate that.
More on that in another post, but the point here is you cannot obey God’s Laws for all humanity without that clannish lifestyle. That is God’s justice on earth, by definition.