How is the reiteration of “Be fruitful, and multiply” (Gen 9:1) significant?

It serves two functions. First, it underscores the notion that Noah and his family are blessed by presiding over a new Earth, as it were a new creation; it was after the introduction of man to the first creation that God gave him the same blessing. Notice this serves not just as a command but as a blessing, the profundity of which becomes only clearer between this verse and others concerning the sanctity of life, leading up to Gen 9:7 where “be fruitful, and multiply” is again reiterated. The second function is to make a general statement of approval of the notion that human life on earth is to be replenished, even though God has just stated grimly that “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” (Gen 8:21)

Why only now should it be that “the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth” (Gen 9:2)?

The observation seems to imply that animals were not previously afraid of man. This seems unlikely, however, not only from a scientific point of view but from a narrative one; there was no hint of it earlier, and the suggestion does not seem to serve any obvious role in God’s plan. So I propose to look for a different way to understand the statement, and it is not hard to find one. Along with “be fruitful, and multiply” in Gen 1:28, God bade man to “replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion” over animal creation. And here in the present passage there is a similar injunction to fruitfulness as well as a statement that “every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you” (Gen 9:3). So perhaps this is just another way to state that man has dominion over the beasts of the earth; fearing man, they are able to be dominated by man. So the claim, I suggest, is not that man and beast were previously on more polite terms, nor that man had somehow become more dreadful or that animals had become more timid, but instead a reiteration has license to rule the natural world as God’s representative.

If “every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you” (Gen 9:3), does that not mean that there was no unclean meat?

So it appears, and this is despite a statement not long before (Gen 7:2) that some animals were “clean” (טָהוֹר, tahor) and others not. Some commentators attribute this to two different authors of the text (the P, or priestly, text would talk about clean versus unclean animals, while the Gen 9 verses would by from something like the J, or Yahwist, source. This, of course, undermines the credibility of the text. Is there another sensible way to reconcile the text? Perhaps this way: Moses would describe tame livestock raised by Noah as “clean,” even though Noah might not; he might attribute those words to God, and who knows, perhaps God employed them with Noah. But times were simpler, and God was permitting all food sources to them, so that they had the best chance to succeed in life.

So does the text imply that Noah, and mankind, were vegetarians before Gen 9:3 (“every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you”)?

I have already discussed this question above, but let us re-examine it briefly in light of this passage. I think it is tolerably clear from what we said earlier that, probably, men were not just vegetarians. The Cainites were surely not above eating meat. But in that case, why say the animals “shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things”? That is a fair question. After all, the text seems to be an allusion to this: “Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.” (Gen 1:29) Perhaps it also refers to “in sorrow shalt thou eat of [the ground] all the days of thy life” (Gen 3:17), which God told to Adam; there, too, there is no reference to animal meat. Could it be that God did not approve of meat eating, even though he tolerated it, but that here, now he officially sanctioned it on grounds that man would certainly continue in his practice, just as he would continue to have multiple wives? That would imply that God’s laws become laxer in order to accommodate was once regarded as sin; and that sounds unlikely. I think it is fair to say that God always did approve of meat eating, and the reason he says man may eat meat now, whereas he did not before, is that in the times before the Fall, man did not eat meat because he did not have to. Now, essentially, the difficulty of life in a fallen world has made meat-eating a practical necessity. God specifically blesses meat-eating because man is beginning a renewed life in this fallen world, in which meat-eating is necessary.

Why does God so specifically forbid the eating of blood (Gen 9:4)? How does this, and other verses in this passage, point up the sacredness of life?

Blood is not just a symbol of life (as in the word, “lifeblood”; see the next question), it carries essential, life-giving oxygen and nutrients throughout the body, and death comes when it stops coursing through the body. It is, of course, a symbolic act to avoid the blood. But why is it so important to avoid it? After all, in order to eat meat, one must kill an animal, ending the actual life of which the blood is merely a component and symbol. To answer, let us consider several other points related to life in the passage: (1) Noah and family are invited to reproduce human life; (2) animals will fear for their lives before Noah, as well they should, since (3) Noah is given authority over the lives of those animals, any of which could be eaten; (4) but life of men could not be taken (and this is put in terms of “man’s blood”), and (5) whoever does so take it, forfeits his own life (and will pay with his own blood). The upshot, clearly, is that life per se is deeply sacred, and if it should be that man may eat meat in this fallen world, he must never forget the sacredness of the life given up for that meat, even if it is merely animal life. Such respect for the sacredness of life is symbolically expressed in this injunction against eating blood.

Is it not the case that the prohibition on blood first appears here, and that this is because meat is first explicitly permitted here (Gen 9:4)?

This is, I believe, precisely correct. Again, while man might have begun eating meat just after the Fall, he was doing so without the explicit permission of God. God had not given his explicit permission in Gen 1 because the Fall had not yet happened; food from plants was at that time doubtless much more nutritious and tasty. But now, again, because the world is starting anew, and God is passing out the new rules of the game, only now does he acknowledge that eating meat is permitted. But if he is going to permit that, he had better (so goes the thinking) forbid the eating of blood, lest man think that is ever permitted. It is not, because (see above) the lifeblood is respected deeply as a symbol of the sacredness of life—of all life that draws breath. The importance of treating the blood as sacred is underlined more explicitly in Lev 17:10-14, which is well worth reviewing in full:

And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, that eateth any manner of blood; I will even set my face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul. Therefore I said unto the children of Israel, No soul of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojourneth among you eat blood. And whatsoever man there be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, which hunteth and catcheth any beast or fowl that may be eaten; he shall even pour out the blood thereof, and cover it with dust. For it is the life of all flesh; the blood of it is for the life thereof: therefore I said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh: for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof: whosoever eateth it shall be cut off.

Are such laws as that against eating blood (Gen 9:4) and murder (9:5-6) the first legislation in the world? Was there no human law before this?

On the one hand, God had set rules and requirements for man previously; insofar as any command of God constitutes law, then there was law before this. Moreover, there was something like human law in the form of Lamech’s bold and shameless declaration, “If Cain is avenged sevenfold, Then Lamech seventy-sevenfold” (4:24). Some commentators portray this as a kind of law; if Lamech could back up his boast, as he probably could, then it could have been something like a (deviant, unjust) law. But on the other hand, the laws set forth here are indeed the first divinely-promulgated law which was nonetheless to be enforced by man. In this regard, it is the original of the sorts of laws given to Moses.

Why does God pass off responsibility of law enforcement to man (Gen 9:5)?

God personally punished the first crimes, much as he gave the first devastating punishment to all mankind in the Flood, and for that matter, much as he destroyed Nadab and Abihu as examples to future careless priests. Notice in every case that God is incredibly strict (on which, see below). What is interesting in every case is that, while God initially is the law enforcer, in time he passes the responsibility to man. So—why? To begin with, in each case when God passes off responsibility to enforce law, he specifically deputizes man, though only properly righteous and consecrated man. In this way, he appears to be training man to be fellow judges and executioners with him. Now, as to why he does not simply continue in this original role, it is probably not as if the role were beneath him; rather, this is a rite of passage as man leaves his nonage. As man is created in the image of God, more righteous or godly sort of men (if that is permitted to say) ought to be able to serve as judges over other men. God is building his church and the inhabitants of the future kingdom of God. After being placed in authority over Israel by Yahweh, Moses specifically deputizes literal judges over Israel (see Ex 18). Future men will be made, explicitly, judges of a much holier kingdom, of the twelve tribes of Israel in the Kingdom of God—as Jesus says of the twelve apostles. “And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Luke 22:29-30) Practice would seem to be in order.

God has by now certainly proven himself to be quite strict, as in, just for example, ordaining capital punishment for murder (Gen 9:5-6). How and why, in his original examples of law enforcement, is God initially very strict?

Let us review his strictness. Consider the examples. For their original sin of eating a piece of forbidden fruit, God exiles Adam and Eve from the Garden (but not entirely from the presence of God), and assigns them limited lives of toil and pain. He punishes Cain’s murder with exile from the presence of God and God’s people. He destroys mankind for their unmitigated wickedness, except for Noah, who walked with God, and his family. Though it was Noah who issued the curse on Canaan, it seems God did carry out the sentence (as the Bible’s history books, especially Joshua, make very clear). And when man outrageously attempted to build a tower to heaven, God confused human languages and scattered the people. Later, when the Pharaoh refuses to obey God and honor God’s people, God devastates the land. And when two of the first priests fail to strictly follow God’s rituals, he destroys them. All of these examples, without exception, show God’s first punishments to be surprisingly strict, indeed, harsh. And yet, also in every case, many later examples of the same (and worse) crimes are not touched by God. I believe God literally made an example of the first in each case: the first sin, the first murder, the first corrupt society, the first disrespect of parents (or perhaps the first incest), the first organized occult attempt to displace God, the first oppression of his chosen people, and the first disrespect of priestly duties. God demonstrates in this way both his high standards and his sovereignty. Afterward, it is mostly whole nations (and their leaders) that God personally punishes, and often the punishment still takes place at the hands of other nations.

If God so cherishes life, why does he require capital punishment (Gen 9:5-6)?

An answer is given right in the text: “For in the image of God he made man.” Severe punishment for murder is meted out because man bears the image of God. Still, we can ask: do not murderers also bear the image of God? Why are they killed, then? The answer, clearly, must be that time and again in the Bible, lawbreakers lose their rights. Murderers lose their right to live. Adam lost the right to live in the Garden, and to immortality. Cain lost the right to be in the presence of God and live among God’s people. The evil of nearly all of humanity caused them to lose the right to live. And that is just the first six chapters of the Bible; the theme goes on to the end. Moreover, the famous articulation of lex talionis, “eye for eye” (Ex 21:24), occurs in a distinguished place, i.e., just one chapter after the Ten Commandments. God is very far from being a gentle, tolerant liberal. God cherishes life, it is fair to say, indeed; so, naturally, he hates that which is so hostile to life. But more precisely, it is ultimately not lives per se but lives that serves righteous life that God loves.

What is the theme of Gen 9:1-7?

There is indeed an interesting, unifying theme. To wit, we must reproduce, feed up, and cherish life; naturally, we must not destroy life, except in jealous defense of it.