Teaching series from Genesis

Noah and the Flood

Genesis 6:1-8:14

Teaching t07302

Introduction

We turn this morning to one of the most well-known and problematic passages in the Bible: Noah and the flood.

WELL-KNOWN: Virtually everyone has heard of Noah and the ark full of animals, the 40-day rain, the dove coming back with the olive branch, and the rainbow in the sky.

PROBLEMATIC: A host of questions arise—many view it as a tall tale.

This week we will focus primarily on the problems in this event. Next week we will focus more on what we can learn from it.

Why did God do this?

Before we get into the ark and the flood, let’s take a look at the setting.

Read 6:1,2. What the heck is this about? There are three proposed answers, but I think the best one is occult sexuality: a wrongful sexual union between fallen angels and human women. Here are my reasons.

The Old Testament uses the term “sons of God” to refer to angels, including Satan (see Job 1:6; 38:7 and Dan. 3:5).

The New Testament references to this event seem to confirm this interpretation. Read 2 Pet. 2:4,5. Peter is not referring to the fall of Satan, because he has not been cast into hell yet. He is referring to a special group of angels who have been punished this way, and the following verse suggests they were active during Noah’s day. This interpretation is confirmed by Jude 1:6,7 (read). Jude likens these angels to the people of Sodom and Gomorrah in that they indulged in gross immorality by going after strange flesh. This passage (Gen. 6:1-4) is the only passage in the Old Testament that it could be referring to.

6:4 also seems to confirm this interpretation—the children of this wrongful union were very strange. I think Moses is distinguishing them from the “Nephilim” (large people like Goliath). He says they were around both before and after the flood. But the children of this union were “the mighty men of old, the men of renown.”

Might this be the historical root of much ancient mythology about heroes who were the offspring of gods and humans (HERCULES: Zeus and Alcmene)?

Might this also be the historical root of the ancient occultic “incubi-succubi” theme (“Rosemary’s Baby”)?

The Bible does not tell us why the fallen angels did this, so we can only speculate. Perhaps they were trying to counterfeit God’s plan to send the God-man. Perhaps they were trying to completely pollute the human race in order to ruin God’s plan to send a descendant of Eve to defeat Satan. We don’t know. But we know that it was serious enough that God drew the line at this point (6:3). And he evidently confined the angels capable of such things so that it could not happen again.

But no matter how strange 6:1-4 may be, there’s nothing difficult to understand about the second reason given for the flood (read 6:5-12).

The godly line had shrunken down to one man and his family. Only Noah had a relationship with God and wanted to accomplish his will.

The rest of humanity had become obsessed with evil (6:5b,11b). This is describing something we have never seen—a totally hardened humanity, worse than anything like “Escape From New York.”

It did not take God by surprise, but it grieved him deeply because he loves humanity. But he determined that things had become so bad that radical surgery was needed. We will return to the question of God’s right to destroy humanity later, but let’s go on to other issues . . . 

Is there any evidence for such a flood?

Read 6:13-22. 7:1-8:12 narrates the actual deluge which included tectonic plate movement (7:11), and lasted for about five months before it began to gradually recede, depositing the ark somewhere in the mountains of Ararat (8:4) just over one year after the deluge began (compare 7:11 to 8:14). This sure sounds like a tall tale (Paul Bunyan & Babe the Blue Ox). Is there any evidence that such a flood actually occurred? You might be surprised to know that the answer to this question is “Yes.”

GEOLOGICAL: We would not expect to find a whole flood stratum, because this whole event lasted less than a year, which is a tiny blip in geological time. But we do find something very interesting—ossiferius fissures (a fancy way to say “big cracks in the ground”).

These fissures have been found all over the earth (Saar valley, Cerigo and Kythera off the tip of the Peloponnesus, Gibraltar, Black Sea, Malta, Nebraska). They can be quite high in elevation and anywhere from 140 to 300 feet in depth. They contain very heterogeneous mammal remains (unlike intact skeletons in river beds or tar pits). Since no skeleton is complete, they were probably already dead before being swept into the fissures. Since they were cemented together in calcite and there is no evidence of weathering, they must have been deposited in water. The remains suggest that thousands of animals died instantly in a great cataclysm and their remains were deposited in these cracks.1

On the other hand, certain areas of the earth show strong evidence of no immersion. In Auvergne, France, there are cones of loose scoria and ashes from volcanoes evidently thousands of years older than the flood which show no evidence of disturbance by water.2

ANTHROPOLOGICAL: There are many ancient accounts (oral and written) of this event from peoples all over the world.

We might expect a similar story from the ancient Near Eastern peoples (Sumerians, Babylonians [Gilgamesh Epic], and Assyrians—namely, that they borrowed this story from one another.

We might even use the same explanation for the Egyptian (reported in Plato’s Timaeus), Greek (reported in Ovid’s Metamorphosis), and Apamea (preserved in ancient coins bearing an ark inscription).

But what shall we say about the Hindu legend (Manu and seven others saved by boat from a world-wide flood), or the Chinese (Fah-he with his wife, three sons and three daughters)?

Moving further from the mid-east, how would we explain the Hawaiian story (Nu-u), or that of the Mexican Indians (Tezpi), or the Algonquin tribe (Manabozho). “All of these agree that all mankind was destroyed by a great flood . . . as a result of divine displeasure at sin, and that a single man with his family and a very few friends survived the catastrophe by means of a ship or raft or large canoe of some sort.”3

NOTE: These accounts from North American peoples would seem to date the flood to earlier than 20,000 BC since the earliest humans evidently crossed the Bering land bridge at about that time.

Similar accounts were preserved by the aborigines of the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal, the Battaks of Sumatra, the Australian aborigine Kurnai tribe, the Fiji islanders, the native peoples of Polynesia, Micronesia, New Guinea, New Zealand, New Hebrides, the ancient Celts, tribesmen in Sudan, the Hottentots, and the ancient Greenlanders.

In all, there are over 270 accounts of this event!

It is very plausible that the Bible contains the accurate record of this event, which was passed down and corrupted (with silly details like canoes or cube-shaped ark, a mere 14 day rain, gods’ petty squabbling, etc.) by Noah’s descendants as they spread out over the world after the flood and Babel.

Contrast this evidence with the evidence for the lost city of Atlantis. There are only 3 (one of which is a copy) records. Yet many believe this, including historian Will Durant. Durant didn’t believe that Jesus existed, but stated that the evidence for Atlantis is “too strong to ignore.” Why did he ignore the strong evidence for Jesus and make this statement? Maybe because Jesus makes him uncomfortable . . . 

ARCHEOLOGICAL: What about the claim that expeditions have actually discovered Noah’s ark on Mt. Ararat?

My research in this area has turned up no conclusive evidence that this claim is true. Some hand-hewn beams have been dated (carbon-14) to around 1700 years plus or minus 100 years. This suggests perhaps a shrine built by Christians. Another supposed finding turned out to be a normal rock formation. Christians should beware of believing such “urban legends” and check them with the facts.

Was the ark big enough to fulfill its purpose?

Many people have objected that the ark could not possibly have been large enough to hold all the animals and feed them for many months. I think this is a problem, especially for a world-wide flood. But consider the following facts.

The dimensions of the ark (“box”) are quite large. After all, it took and his sons 120 years to build it (6:3). If a cubit is 18 inches, it held over 1.5 million cubic feet, almost exactly the size of the Great Eastern, which laid the first north Atlantic cable. If a cubit is 24 inches, it held over 3.6 million cubic feet, which is as large as any modern ocean-going barge ever built.

The Bible does not specify that every species was preserved. “Kind” (6:19) may be broader than “species.”

Of the 1 million known species today, only 30,000 can’t survive in water. Of present land animals, only 290 are larger than sheep. 757 range in size from sheep to rats. 1358 are smaller than rats. Some have calculated that these animals could easily fit into two of the decks, leaving the he third deck for fodder and Noah and his family.

Lastly, the animals may refer only to the animals of that region, because the flood may have only covered that part of the earth that humans inhabited at that time.

Was the flood world-wide or local?

This may ultimately be an exegetical issue: how we understand “earth,” observational language, etc.

Solid evangelicals take both positions (Ramm & Ross vs. Archer & Schaeffer). For an even-handed survey of the issues, see Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1975), pp. 202-211 and Ronald Youngblood, ed., The Genesis Debate (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990), pp. 210-229. I lean toward the world-wide flood, but I admit the case is not crystal clear.

The essentials are that it was a supernaturally-caused event (EXPLAIN), and that it wiped out the entire human race except for Noah and his family. This leads us back to the biggest objection . . . 

Was God justified in judging humanity in this way?

This seems absolutely obscene to modern Americans. How dare God drown the human race!

This isn’t the only place in the Bible where God intervenes in temporal judgment. On a smaller scale, you have Sodom and Gomorrah, the Canaanite culture, and other nations (including the Northern Kingdom, Israel). Something similar to this will happen when Messiah comes (all but believers will be slain). And then, of course, there is the biblical teaching on eternal judgment.

It won’t do to view these an Old Testament God only, because it’s the New Testament God, too. Nor can we view these as isolated stories authored by fallen humans, because judgment is woven into the fabric of the biblical revelation of God.

No passage summarizes God’s attitude toward judgment better than Ex. 34:6,7a (read).

Vs 6,7a emphasize that God is patient and long-suffering. God does not enjoy judgment, as we saw in Gen. 6:6. He calls it his “strange/alien work” (Isa. 28:21). He would much rather that people repent (Ezek. 18:23), and he waits until all hope of repentance is gone (6:5). He made the Israelites wait over four centuries before they got the land because the “iniquity if the Amorite is not yet complete” (Gen. 15:16). He offered to spare Sodom if there were even ten citizens who were not totally corrupt (Gen. 18:20-33). (SURGERY TO SPARE THE REST)

But vs. 7a emphasizes God’s justice and right to judge. If humans are sometimes justified in using force to deter the spread of evil (POLICE; WAR), how much more is God justified in doing so? When we are bothered by God’s judgment, our perspective on what is just is slanted by our limited and sinful perspective.

All sin is a capital offense to God (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 6:23). We are shocked to find that 30 crimes in Old Testament Israel were capital crimes, but this is actually God showing mercy!

You see, we forfeit all claims on God’s justice to operate positively toward us the moment we first sin. After that, God’s justice can only operate toward us retributively. In other words, don’t ever ask God for what you deserve! It is only by God’s mercy that we have not been judged yet.

From God’s perspective, one of the most bizarre tendencies of humans is how we take his mercy for granted, think we deserve it, and view his judgment as unfair (LATE HOMEWORK STORY).

In other words, the amazing thing is not that anyone gets judged by God, but that anyone is forgiven! We are amazed when God judges, but we should be amazed when he shows mercy!

This is why the CROSS is so important. It reveals the depth of God’s justice and love. The fact that God would execute his own Son shows how little give there is with God on this issue of justice. But the fact that God would send his own Son to pay our penalty for us shows how much God love us.

This perspective is necessary if you want to receive God’s mercy. You can’t waltz into God’s presence and say, “OK, I guess I’ll start relating to you—and you should feel fortunate that I’m doing this.” You have to come with the attitude that says, “I deserve to die for what I’ve done to violate your character. I can hardly believe that you are merciful enough to sacrifice your Son to forgive me, but I’m not going to call you a liar on this.” Then God will certainly grant you mercy (PASSAGE)!

This perspective is necessary if you want to grow spiritually beyond a very primitive level. If you have the “I deserve” perspective, your relationship with God is going to be characterized by fights and disputes with God because you don’t think he treats you well enough. But if you have the proper perspective—that the more deeply sinful you realize you are the more you appreciate how merciful God is—then you’re going to grow and serve out of gratitude (Lk. 7).

NEXT: What other lessons can we learn from this event?

Footnotes

1 Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1975), pp. 206,207.

2 Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, p. 205.

3 Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, pp. 209,210.