Teaching series from Genesis

Noah and the Flood

Genesis 6-8

by Ryan Weingartner

Teaching t14067

Introduction

Briefly review the “beginnings” covered thus far –especially the beginning of God’s rescue operation (3:15b).  We now come to one of the most well-known passages in Gen. 1-11 – Noah and the cataclysmic deluge.

Let’s first overview the narrative, noting especially the many chronological references (read 6:3,6-9,13-22; 7:11,12,16,17,24; 8:4,5,13,14).

Such is the narration of the event.  It poses several key questions (especially to the modern secular reader), and it teaches several important spiritual lessons (especially in light of the New Testament’s commentary on it).  Let’s begin with some of the questions . . .

Questions                   

This passage asserts that God caused a 5-month deluge (both rain from above and aquafer waters from beneath – 7:11) which wiped out all humans except for Noah and his family, and all land creatures.  Such a deluge – whether global or local[1] - has never recurred in subsequent history.  This raises the historical question: Did this really happen, or is this a myth/fable?

First, we note that the event is described as history.  As with the rest of Gen. 1-11, the key features of human history – people, places, and chronology – are all present in this account (see for example 8:5,6; MAP).  Ancient Assyrian accounts also refer to the kingdom of Ararat.

Second, there is an amazing amount of anthropological evidence for this event.[2]  The biblical account seems to be the original account which was preserved and corrupted (e.g., silly details like canoes or cube-shaped ark, a mere 14 day rain, gods’ petty squabbling, etc.) as the post-deluge humans spread out across the earth.  Unlike the small boats and canoes of the other accounts, the size of the ark in Gen. 7 was sufficient to hold the people and prescribed animals (SLIDE).  This rescue still required God’s supernatural intervention (getting the animals on board, keeping them alive outside their ecosystems, etc.) – see later for a possible reason why God did it this way.

This passage asserts that at a specific point in the distant past, God inflicted a dramatic judgment on the human race and the animal kingdom (which is connected to humans – see Gen. 3:17).  He also dramatically decreased the average life-span of humans, from hundreds of years to about 120 years (see 6:3 and the rapid decline of life-spans in the post-deluge genealogy of Gen. 11).  This raises the moral question: Does God have the moral right to do this?

First, as Creator and Owner, God has the moral right to govern His creation.  If we grant that fallen human civil authorities have the moral right to punish their citizens for serious civil crimes, how much more does God have this right over His creatures?

Second, the text supplies two extraordinary reasons why God intervened in such a dramatic way:

First, 6:1,2 cites some kind of wrongful union between “the sons of God and the daughters of men.”  So horrific is this to God that He decides to intervene in judgment and drastically reduce human lifespan (read 6:3).  What exactly was this wrongful union? 

Some scholars hold that the “sons of God” refer to men from Seth’s line, who called themselves by God’s name (4:26), and that the “daughters of men” refer to the women in Cain’s godless line.  Thus, the intermarriage with the godless line (because the women were beautiful) led to the corruption of Seth’s line and the situation described in 6:5.  Later biblical warnings against ungodly intermarriage provide support for this interpretation, but the second interpretation makes more sense of what the text says.

Others (including myself) hold that the “sons of God” refer to fallen angelic beings who entered into a wrongful procreative union with human women.  The women in this passage are simply described as human women – not as women from Cain’s line (6:1,2).  “Sons of god” is an Old Testament term for angelic spirits (see Job. 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; Dan. 3:25).  The New Testament references to this event seem to confirm this interpretation.[3]  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), who he says existed both before and after the flood.[4]  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 like Hercules, who were the offspring of gods and humans (Zeus and Alcmene)?  Might this have been an attempt by humans to overcome the mortality imposed by God in Gen. 2:17 (implied by 6:3)?  Might this have been an attempt by Satan to counterfeit or prevent God’s promise in 3:15b?  Whatever the intent, God foiled it by destroying the offspring in the deluge and imprisoning the sinning angels.

Second, 6:5,11,12 describes an almost total moral corruption of the human race (notice the superlatives in 6:5), and the extreme and pervasive violence and ecological damage that resulted.  Imagine a world in which only totally hardened Lamech’s/Hitler’s lived for hundreds of years!  Imagine a world like “Road Warriors” on steroids!  God is not stepping into to ruin a pristine world; He is rescuing it from total destruction.  God did not abandon His plan to redeem humans through Eve’s seed; He started over so that His plan could proceed.

One more point before we move on.  The fact that God was grieved by the corruption of the human race (6:5-7) speaks of God’s personal nature and compassion – not of His ignorance that this would happen.  If we are often grieved by events we knew would happen, how much more is God grieved?

So God intervened to rescue the human race from total corruption.  He judged His enemies through a cataclysmic deluge, and He provided an ark to deliver His followers from this judgment.  While this event obviously had great significance for those who experienced it, the New Testament (which constantly affirms the historicity of Noah and the deluge) tells us that it also foreshadowed even more significant future events and illustrated even more significant truths . . .

Lessons from the New Testament

When Jesus was asked about His future return at the end of the age, He responded by referring to the deluge during Noah’s lifetime (read Matt. 24:37-41).  Jesus’ point is His return will take people by surprise because of their culpable ignorance.  They were warned (by Noah’s ark-building and preaching – more later), but they rejected the warnings (“Nothing like this has happened before!”) and went on obliviously – until the flood came and carried them all away. 

Despite centuries of warning of Jesus’ return,[5] most people will disregard this warning (2 Pet. 3:3,4) until it is too late.  Then they will be taken away (in judgment) by Jesus’ return, while others (those who believe in Jesus and in His return) will be rescued to enter into His kingdom (Matt. 24:31).  Therefore, the time to believe in Jesus and His return is before He returns (Matt. 24:42; 2 Pet. 3:9)!

Noah and his family were rescued from the deluge by God’s appointed means – inclusion into the ark.  They had to choose to believe God’s word and enter inside the ark, trusting God to close the door at the proper time (7:16). 

Peter says this foreshadows how we are rescued from God’s final judgment – by inclusion into Christ (read 1 Pet. 3:18-21).  Our baptism is the antitype (antitupos) of the salvation of Noah and his family.  “Baptism” means “being put into” (e.g., ships sinking into the sea; cloths immersed into dye).  The “baptism” to which Peter refers is not the ritual of water baptism (“not the removal of dirt from the flesh”), but being put into Christ by entrusting ourselves to Him as our Savior (“an appeal to God from a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ;” see also Col. 2:12).  You have heard this good news of God’s offer to save you from His judgment through Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Will you choose to entrust yourself to His promise?  At that moment, He will put you into Christ where you will be forever safe!  Have you made this choice?

Noah was a preacher of righteousness (2 Pet. 2:5) – he communicated God’s warning and (presumably) urged people to join him and his family in trusting God’s promise.  He may have been doing this before God called him to build the ark (like Seth/Enosh – Gen. 4:26).  Certainly he would have done this as people saw him building the ark.  His lifestyle (how his time and money was spent) was consistent with his message, and this would have precipitated many interchanges about his faith.  Noah wasn’t some kind of spiritual survivalist, concerned only about himself and his immediate family.  He was also concerned for the others, including those who mocked him.  Tragically, none of them responded to his preaching.

So we are to live lifestyles that are consistent with our message.  How we spend our time and money ought to reflect what we say we believe about God’s coming kingdom.  The watching world may conclude that we are crazy, but they should not be able to conclude that we are hypocrites who actually hold to the same (personal peace and affluence) values that they do.  Nor should we be Christian survivalists, retreating into our own bunkers until the end of the world comes.  Rather, like Noah, we should communicate God’s judgment and salvation to people (even those who mock us) – with sincerity and genuine compassion (read 1 Pet. 3:14,15).  Hopefully, many will respond to our message – but we must be faithful even if they do not respond![6]


[1] Whether this was a global or local deluge is unclear from the text, although the evidence slightly favors a global deluge.  A local deluge would have sufficed for God’s purpose.  Both require God’s supernatural intervention.

[2] We might expect the similar stories 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) reports.  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 Asia, 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 . . . survived the catastrophe by means of a ship or raft or large canoe of some sort.” Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, pp. 209,210.

[3] In 2 Pet. 2:4,5, Peter refers to a special group of angels who have already been cast into hell for their misdeeds (unlike Satan).  The following verse suggests that these angels were active during Noah’s day.  This interpretation is confirmed by Jude 1:6,7, where Jude likens these angels to the people of Sodom and Gomorrah in that they indulged in gross immorality by going after strange (“other”) flesh.

[4] This interpretation makes sense for Moses’ original audience.  They were headed to the land of Canaan, where the Nephilim/Anakim dwelt (see Num. 13).  Moses does not want his audience to conclude that these Nephilim are even more powerful than they are.  Also, if the Nephilim were the offspring of these wrongful unions, God’s plan to destroy them failed since they survived the deluge.

[5] This warning is rooted in hundreds of biblical predictions that have already been fulfilled (e.g., judgments on other nations; Israel’s and Judah’s exiles; Judah’s return from exile; the Messiah’s First Coming; Israel’s returns from world-wide dispersion; the world-wide spread of the gospel; etc.  It is on the basis of this unique track-record that people who disregard the Bible’s prediction of Messiah’s second Coming are culpably ignorant.

[6] “. . . like Jeremiah (and Noah) we must speak of judgment concerning individual men great and small and judgment of the church, the state, and the culture which have known the truth of God and have turned away from Him . . . Like Jeremiah (and Noah) we must keep on – keep on speaking regardless of the cost to ourselves . . . and we must not be cold in our orthodoxy, but deeply compassionate for our own kind even when it is costly.” (Francis A. Schaeffer, Death in the City, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, Vol. 4 [Crossway Books, 1982], pp. 285,286.)