This is another of those verses that in context, is great. Out of context, it can really do some damage to people. For a start, people often throw just a piece of Genesis 9.1 or Genesis 9.7 around. Usually, it’s this bit:
“Be fruitful and multiply…”
Ok, great. I am going to be fruitful in the eyes of God and multiply and have a family. I am going to procreate, reproduce, and bring forth new life. If only it were that simple.
There are not many situations that I encounter as a pastor that are more heartbreaking than that of a newlywed couple, as in-love as they possibly can be, who have a strong desire to be fruitful and multiply, but who cannot. There are vast and varied reasons why some people cannot have children, and they are all heartbreaking.
Does that mean then that they are not [being] fruitful because they cannot multiply?
What about those that God has called to a life of singleness and dedication to Him?
Are they not fruitful?
To avoid hurting people with the words of Scripture we need to read it carefully first. Genesis 9.1 actually says this:
“Then God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth…”
Look at the first part again:
“Then God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them…”
God is talking to Noah and his sons here. This isn’t a catch-all kind of verse like John 3.16 wherein we see that God loves the entire cosmos and everything and everyone in it. Genesis 9.1 is written to four guys: Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth (Genesis 7.13). The command to be fruitful and multiply isn’t the Scriptural command of every believer ever, and throwing this verse around as if it is will surely do more harm than good.
I recently spoke at a wedding where another minister said this in his blessing about being fruitful and multiplying. It was a tactful, thoughtful, and caring addition:
“Bestow on them, if it is your will,
the heritage and gift of children
and the grace to bring them up
to know you, to love you and to serve you.”
The commands of Genesis 9.1 and 7 were specific to a place and time. The principle behind them, however, is still very much true: God has plans for the future of His creation. We are to steward the resources that He has given us well in the here and now (be fruitful) and we are also to actively work towards the future with an expectant hope that there will in fact be a tomorrow (and multiply).
The faithfulness of God is encapsulated in this wonderful verse, and it gives us strength for today and a bright hope for tomorrow.