Animal sacrifices, instituted by God before the flood, were continued after it; and Noah, on his coming forth from the ark, offered up burnt-offerings on the newly-ordered earth, on which that sacrifice was subsequently to be offered to God, which could for ever satisfy and glorify Him.
And now we meet for the first time with a description of the sacrifice. Of Cain and Abel we read that they brought an offering unto the Lord. Of Noah we learn that he offered burnt-offerings (Gen. 8:20), but only of every clean beast and of every clean fowl; the institution of animal sacrifice having necessitated an understanding of which of the creatures endowed with life men might bring an offering unto the Lord. With this essential element in an acceptable sacrifice Noah was before the flood well acquainted (Gen. 7:2), though the means by which he had learnt it have not been recorded. But reading, as we do in the law, God's definition of clean beasts and clean birds, and finding that there is moral teaching connected with the subject (Lev. 11), we must surely conclude, that no man by natural intuition could have discovered which would be regarded in God's eyes as clean, and which would not.
With the giving of the law further teaching in reference to sacrifice was unfolded; but prior to that we meet with burnt-offerings (Gen. 8:22; Ex. 10:25, Ex. 18: 12; Num. 23; Job 1:42), with sacrifices which resembled in character somewhat the peace-offering of the Mosaic ritual (Ex. 10:25; Ex. 18:12; Ex. 24:5), and drink-offerings. (Gen. 35:14.) At times burnt-offerings and those called sacrifices could be offered up together. (Ex. 10:25, Ex. 18:12; Ex. 24:5.) At times it would seem each was offered alone. Noah, Abraham, and Job offered burnt-offerings alone. Jacob probably at Galeed (Gen. 31:54) offered that which had somewhat the character of the peace-offering, apart from any accompanying burnt-offering. But when at Beersheba, on his way to Egypt, he sacrificed (Gen. 46:1) unto the God of his father Isaac, the sacred historian has probably left undefined (as he has done in Ex. 5:3) the nature of the sacrifices which the aged patriarch there offered to God. But they were animal sacrifices; and throughout the book of Genesis, subsequent to the deluge (Jacob's drink-offering excepted), we read of none others being brought to God. What God had instituted outside the garden of Eden was continued after the flood; and since every one of the human race who survived the deluge was present before Noah's altar, no fresh revelation to re-establish the truth of the acceptability of animal sacrifice was needed by the nations which peopled the earth. Each progenitor of a nation must have carried with him from the cradle of the race the knowledge that such sacrifices could be offered to God. Immensely important as such teaching was, it was not all that God intended to impart; for ere He had called Israel out of Egypt, and had given them a ritual in which sacrifices occupied so prominent a place, the Lord made known in His own way what He thought of the burnt-offering, and something too of what it was in His eyes to give up to death an only son. We learn these lessons from the histories of Noah, of Job, and of Abraham.
Noah, as he came forth from the ark, reared up his altar, and offered his burnt- offerings. We read of nothing more that he did. With the remembrance fresh, as it must have been, in his mind of what the earth had been when last he had trodden upon it, seeing what it then was, and surveying all that remained of man, and of every living thing in which was the breath of life that moved upon the earth, then gathered together near the ark, every animal which had entered into it having come out of it, gratitude for preservation, and a sense of the sustaining care of the Creator must surely have filled his heart. Yet for aught we know no prayer was uttered on that solemn occasion, nor was any hymn of praise raised by the patriarch, as the common expression of the feelings of his heart and of those that were with him. It may have been a silent service that went on. We read of nothing that God had heard, but only of what He smelled. A silent service perhaps, yet how full of meaning to Him, and instruction to us; for our attention is clearly meant to be fixed on the sacrifices then offered up, on which the Lord's eyes rested, and which were well pleasing to Him.
A sweet savour! This is the first time we meet with such an expression. From earth it ascended to God. Surveying an undefiled world prepared for man, God pronounced all that He had made to be very good. (Gen. 1:31.) When He brought Noah out of the ark into a newly-ordered scene, we read of the sweet savour of the sacrifice. This earth was defiled; but what ascended to Him from the altar of Noah spoke of the pure and spotless death of the Son of His love. In that He could take delight, though man was a fallen creature, and this world was defiled by sin. But who could have told us what that sacrifice was in His sight? None but God Himself. So He acquaints us with this; first by revealing the thoughts of His heart in consequence of it, and next by recounting what He did, and what He said to Noah and to his sons. For all that we know of that day's proceedings are detailed only in the written Word. No tradition yet discovered has preserved any account of them.
"The Lord smelled a sweet savour; and the Lord said in His heart" (before He spoke to Noah He spoke to Himself), "I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done. While the earth remaineth, seed time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease." (Gen. 8:21, 22.) The Lord would change His way of dealing with man, and would institute, as long as earth should last, an abiding order of things. We are all witnesses to the faithfulness of His word in this. He has not again cursed the ground; He has not again smitten every living thing; He has not broken in upon the established order of seasons and times.
But why these thoughts and purposes of God? Because of the sweet savour of the sacrifice. Man had not improved so as to furnish any reason for a change of dealing with him. The Lord's estimate of man after the flood differed little, if at all, from that before it. (Compare Gen. 6:5 with Gen. 8:21.) Before the flood God spoke of evil as being constantly in the heart of His creature man. After it He declared it was innate. "The imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth." Beholding the active wickedness of man, God traced it back to his heart, every imagination of the thought of which was only evil continually. Viewing all that yet remained alive on earth of the human race, God declared that man himself was unchanged. "Only evil!" What a description of us all by nature! As children of Adam, then, we have nothing to boast of before God.
Now this estimate of man expressed in Gen. 8 refers (let the reader mark it) to those alive after the flood, who had been in the ark, and had been preserved through the judgment. There were but eight people on the earth, and one of them was Noah, the righteous one (Gen. 7:1), when the Lord thus communed with Himself. The ungodly (2 Peter 2:5) had been swept away, but man was no better; and the Lord's ways with man before the flood, cursing the ground (Gen. 3:17), had not altered him; nor did the witnessing by man of divine judgment at the flood improve him in the least. His nature, inherited from Adam, is incurably bad. Now if centuries of God's dealings with man on earth did not change it, will centuries of punishment elsewhere be likely to effect the alteration? Adam at the end of his nine hundred and thirty years' life on earth was no better than he was just after the fall. Methuselah, who lived for nine hundred and sixty-nine years, had just as corrupt a nature at the close of his life as he began with when born into this world. Time then is no element to be taken into account in this matter. Nothing can change a nature. What man really needs is a new one. And as no length of punishment can alter what a man really is in his nature before God, so no amount of punishment inflicted by God, and endured by man, would justify the divine Being in removing His hand from off the sinner, and putting him in heaven before Him. The man will remain unaltered in his nature by all that he has passed through. And God, who is unchangeable in holiness, would have on that ground no reason to consent to any remission of punishment. How early was the incurability of man's evil heart declared by God, of which subsequent history affords such abundant proofs. Take Israel, God's earthly people, hedged round with ordinances to keep them separate from the idolatrous nations around them. God's estimate of them, and of man in general in the days of David, Ps. 14:2, 3, plainly tells us. And the apostle in Rom. 3 quotes from that psalm, and from other Old Testament scriptures, to acquaint us with God's judgment of man after the cross. The education of the world, as men speak, had been going on for centuries; men's minds had been cultivated very highly, as the writings of the ancients abundantly testify; yet man, the apostle was inspired to declare, was, in himself unchanged. By the new birth those subjects of it became children of God, and as such had a new nature; but in all others there was no change nor real improvement.
Passing on to the closing days of this dispensation, we learn that even the presence of Christianity upon earth, unless man is converted by the testimony of God, will leave him no better morally than it found him. We have only to compare 2 Tim. 3:1-5 with Rom. 1:28-31 to prove that; and when the Lord shall come to reign, the unconverted will not desire His advent. All in heaven will rejoice at the establishment of the kingdom in power. Creation too will be glad; but the nations will be angry. (Rev. 11:18.) Such will be their feelings at the commencement of His reign. What will be their state at its close? Having enjoyed outward blessing throughout it, such as this earth and men on it have never yet known, Rev. 20:8 supplies us with the solemn answer. They will be ready to combine under the leadership of the devil against the beloved city, and the camp of the saints. Hatred to God, and to all that is of God, will still characterize them.
Punishment then, whether suffered or witnessed, does not change man. Advantages and education, whatever external polish the latter may give, equally fail to alter his evil nature. Truth professed, but not possessed, will leave him in the condition it found him; and millennial blessing will not eradicate his innate hostility to all that is of God. The announcement therefore of a change in God's dealings with him did not arise from any improvement in man, whether present or prospective. It arose simply and solely from the sweet savour which God smelled. Hence we are permitted to see what God can do for man by virtue of the death of His Son. It was this that was before Him as He smelled a sweet savour, and straightway communed with Himself. Man was unchanged. God was unchangeable in holiness, but He could righteously deal in grace with him, because of that sacrifice, the sweetness of which rose up in anticipation before Him. Nor was man only concerned in that; for creation, which shares man's fortunes (Rom. 8:20, 21), was to participate in beneficial results arising out of it. The order of nature and of the seasons was henceforth to abide unchanged as long as earth should last. An interruption in it, like that occasioned by the flood, should not occur again; nor should every living thing be smitten again as they had been. Each year, then, each season, each day, as they come round, witness to us of the faithfulness of God to His word, and of the benefits secured by that sacrifice of sweet savour. That the seasons return with regularity all acknowledge; but this, which should lead man to own that God is faithful to what He has said, will be used, Peter warns us, when writing of the evil in the last of the days, to make men doubt the fulfilment of the divine predictions respecting the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. "All things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation," men will say. (2 Peter 3:4.) Foolish, blind creatures; for the stability of the order of nature in connection with earth only dates from the burnt sacrifice of Noah. Yet the enemy, with that fact distinctly stated in God's word, will induce men, from the unvarying order of things they see around them, to discredit the Lord's faithfulness in fulfilling that which He has foretold.
But to return. We read that, besides speaking to Himself, the Lord opened His mouth to let those around the altar learn of His ways in goodness with them all. God blessed Noah and his sons. This was something quite new. He had blessed Adam and Eve when in innocence. He had blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; but never, that we read of, did God bless a sinful creature, till Noah had taken of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and had offered them as burnt-offerings unto the Lord. Then He waited not a moment. What was there to wait for? The ground was laid in type on which He could bless, and He did it. He blessed Noah and his sons with him. Before the flood God spoke to Noah, but never addressed one word to his sons. After the burnt-offering had ascended up to Him He spoke to them all, and recognized them all as having a place before Him. He blessed them all in the fullest way as regards earthly things, and as creatures of earth, sinful though they were, could enjoy His blessing.
One feature should be noticed in the blessing after the flood. Noah was not the head of a race, so God could not speak to him as He did to Adam. Headship of a race belongs to the first man and to the second man. Noah was neither of these. We miss therefore, in the terms of the blessing bestowed on him and his sons, those significant words, "and subdue it," of Genesis 1:28, which were addressed to our first parents. Noah, though the father of all alive upon the earth, did not occupy that place in creation which Adam had filled. But that which God never gave to Adam He bestowed on Noah and on his sons. To Adam there were given for meat every herb bearing seed, and every tree in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed. (Gen. 1:29.) After the fall God only allowed them to eat of the herb of the field. (3:18.) But on the acceptance of Noah's burnt-sacrifice, God gave to man everything on earth for food - all that grew, and everything that lived on earth, in the air, and in the sea, blood only excepted. From this God has never withdrawn. This divine blessing has never been revoked. What God then said holds good to this day. The grant is as free as ever. (1 Tim. 4:4, 5.) The exception, however, then made remains uncancelled, as the council at Jerusalem reminded the converts from among the Gentiles. (Acts 15:29.) For those under law, and as long as they were under it, there were restrictions as to meats and articles of food; for those not under it, blood only was and is withheld. So as we exercise our freedom as to articles of food, and of flesh especially, we are sharing in the grant the Lord then made on the ground of the sweet savour of the sacrifice. Did the grant depend for its continuance of man's obedience it would have been forfeited long ago. Had it been promised on the ground of any improvement to be made in man's nature, it never could have been enjoyed. But given solely as it was on the acceptableness of the sacrifice, its continuance was not dependent on conditions which man had to fulfil; and as long as that sacrifice, of which Noah's burnt-offerings were but types, shall abide in acceptance before God, so long, whilst men need such food, can that grant continue. In this we see an illustration of a principle of great importance to us. All depends for man's blessing on this, What is the sacrifice in God's eyes? What ground is this to rest upon! Here God can act according to the dictates of His own heart. Here man, unworthy though he be, can receive richly and unconditionally from God. C. E. Stuart.