This past week, the election was held for the presidency of the United States. One week later, as I am finishing this manuscript, we still don’t know who has won the election. As the days pass, the margin between victory and defeat gets smaller and smaller, not only in the state of Florida, but in a few other states as well. This is due, in part, to the tremendous voter turnout for this election. We should have learned from this election that the actions of a very few people will affect the destiny of the candidates, not to mention the citizens of our great country.
In the Bible, we can see that the fate of many people often rests on the character and conduct of just one man. This was the case, for example, with Israel’s kings. It was also true of the period of the judges. We see the same principle at work in Genesis 3, where Adam’s disobedience brings sin, condemnation, and curses upon the entire human race. We see it with Cain and with Seth in Genesis 4 and 5, where the sin or righteousness of each impacts future generations. We see it once again in the account of the flood. The whole world is corrupt and fit only for destruction, and if it were not for one righteous man – Noah – the entire human race would have been wiped out forever. But because of Noah, a remnant was preserved, and so the human race had a new beginning.
In my earlier series on the Book of Genesis, four lessons were required to cover the same Scriptures that we shall deal with in but one lesson. Our purpose in this lesson is to look at the “big picture,” and thus I cannot allow myself the luxury of any rabbit trials. Among these is the question of the identity of the “sons of God” and the Nephilim in the first verses of Genesis 6. Good scholars differ over the interpretation of these terms. If knowing the precise meaning of these terms were crucial to the message of this passage, then I’m sure God would have spent more time on them and would have made the meaning very clear to us. I must conclude that the text is somewhat vague, which should caution us about being too dogmatic on such matters.
Further, I am not going to attempt to explain how the flood came about in scientific terms. This is partly because it is not my area of expertise, and partly because it is not the point of the passage. Neither will I try to explain all the differences between the pre-flood world and the post-flood world. These matters may be of interest to some, and I wish them well in their pursuit of them, so long as it does not prevent them from taking heed to the major thrust of this passage. In this lesson I will seek to heed the “law of proportion,” noting those parts of our passage which receive the most emphasis.
1 When mankind began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of mankind were beautiful. Thus they took wives for themselves from any they chose. 3 So the LORD said, “My spirit will not remain in mankind indefinitely, since they are mortal. They will remain for one hundred and twenty more years.” 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days (and also after this), when the sons of God were having sexual relations with the daughters of mankind, who gave birth to their children. They were the mighty heroes of old, the famous men. 5 But the LORD saw that the wickedness of mankind had become great on the earth. Every inclination of the thoughts of their minds was only evil all the time. 6 The LORD regretted that he had made mankind on the earth, and he felt highly offended. 7 So the LORD said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth-everything from mankind to animals, including creatures that move on the ground and birds of the air, for I regret that I have made them.” … 11 The earth was ruined in the sight of God; the earth was filled with violence. 12 God saw the earth, and indeed it was ruined, for all living creatures on the earth were sinful.
I have a confession to make. I often run to the grocery store for my wife, or with her, to “pick up a few things.” The produce section has always fascinated me. Sometimes the produce manager will attach a sticker to fruit which reads, “ripe.” From time to time, I’ve seen a piece of really rotten fruit, and I must confess that I’ve attached a ripe sticker to that rotten fruit for all to see.
I think the civilization of Noah’s day needed one of those “ripe” stickers. It was rotten to the core. Initially, things may have appeared to be on course, but it didn’t take long for things to deteriorate. In the beginning, God had given man His blessing and commanded them to “be fruitful and multiply”:
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it! Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:28).
Adam and Eve bore two sons; Cain killed Abel, and later on Seth, along with others. Then, some years later came Lamech, one of Adam and Eve’s descendants through Cain. Cain and Lamech were better at subtraction (by committing murder) than at multiplication, although Lamech made up for his reduction of mankind by having two wives, rather than just one (4:19-24). By the time we reach chapter 6, things have gone from bad to worse.
The way I understand verses 1-7, Moses is describing a progressive dissatisfaction with man, one that culminates with the necessity of worldwide judgment. The first two verses of chapter 6 describe the way in which mankind was multiplying. Men – the sons of God – were marrying women and together they were bearing children. All this might be seen as positive, except for the basis on which they chose their wives – they chose the ones that looked the best to them (6:2). Especially after the fall, one would have hoped that men and women would have sought mates who were godly, but this does not appear to be the case at all. Men and women were marrying and multiplying, but out of sheer fleshly desire. No wonder we find the words of God in verse 3, which indicate that His Spirit would not strive with men forever. It is as though God had said, “I created man, but he is so dominated by the flesh that his spirit is no longer in tune with my Spirit. I shall not put up with this for long. I will shorten man’s days to a mere 120 years.”39
The next problem arises in Genesis 6:4. As marrying and multiplying goes, on a race of giants known as Nephilim40 emerges. These men seem to be superior physical specimens, but from the following verses, we find that the moral condition of mankind was found wanting. As God looks down upon His creation, He finds that man’s wickedness is great; man’s thoughts are continually fixed on the promotion of evil (6:5). The time has finally come to deal with the mess man has made of creation.
In the past, I was involved in prison ministry. Teaching seminars inside a number of prisons was a great joy for me. The one thing I dreaded was that I might someday be asked to sit with a condemned inmate as he was being executed for his crimes. Fortunately, that never happened. If witnessing the death of a guilty criminal would be painful, think of the agony one might experience at seeing all creation put to death. One might wonder how the God who created all these living creatures could now destroy them. The answer, my friend, is to be found in the magnitude of the sin and corruption that man’s sin had brought about in creation.
Take just a moment to ponder the extent of the sin and corruption that had resulted from the fall of Adam and Eve, and the subsequent sins of their offspring. All mankind had been corrupted, as we can see from verse 5:
But the LORD saw that the wickedness of mankind had become great on the earth. Every inclination of the thoughts of their minds was only evil all the time.
From morning till evening, man’s mind was filled with evil thoughts. They thought of nothing but sin. And it did not end with mere thoughts; the earth was corrupt and filled with violence (verse 11). When I looked at the use of the word “corrupt,” I found that it is the same verb often used with the meaning “to destroy” or “to render worthless” (see Genesis 9:11, 15; 13:13:10; 18:28, 32; 19:13, 14, 29; 38:9). That is what man’s sin did to the earth. Today, we might say, man “trashed” the whole earth. What this means is that God did not destroy something beautiful and useful (though He surely could have done so if He pleased); He destroyed something that was worthless and corrupt.
It has taken me some time to appreciate the fact that man’s sin really did corrupt or destroy the earth. Verse 11 tells us that the “earth” was corrupted. Man’s sin impacts everything. The land suffered corruption because of man’s sin (see Leviticus 18:25-28)41. Not only was the land corrupted, but even the living creatures:42
13 So God said to Noah, “I have decided that all living creatures43 must die, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. Now I am about to destroy them and the earth… 17 I am about to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy from under the sky all the living creatures that have the breath of life in them. Everything that is on the earth will die, …” (Genesis 6:13, 17, emphasis mine).
3 So the Lord said, “My spirit will not remain in mankind indefinitely, since they are mortal. They will remain for one hundred and twenty more years.” … 6 The Lord regretted that he had made mankind on the earth, and he felt highly offended. 7 So the Lord said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—everything from mankind to animals, including creatures that move on the ground and birds of the air, for I regret that I have made them.”
Our text tells us that God was sorry that He had created man on earth and was grieved in His heart (6:6). As a result, He determined to blot out man, along with every breathing creature (6:7). Is this verse telling us that some unforeseen event caught God by surprise? Is Moses telling us that God realized that He had made a great mistake? Far from it! We see, once again, that God is intimately involved with His creation and that He cares about it passionately. God created all things, including mankind, knowing that man would fail the test in the garden. It was through the fall of man and the entrance of sin into this world that God was able to manifest His marvelous attributes:
5 And the Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there; and he made proclamation of the Lord by name. 6 And the Lord passed by before him and proclaimed: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love and faithfulness, 7 keeping loyal love for thousands, forgiving iniquity, and transgression and sin. But he by no means leaves the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and on the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:5-7).
It is only in the context of sin that God’s grace can be seen for all that it is. It is in contrast to the wickedness of men that the righteousness of God stands out so sharply. The misconception that many seem to have is that if God is God, then He will not allow anything to happen which causes Him sorrow or pain. We can only imagine what kind of pain God experienced as He poured out His wrath upon His Son at Calvary, as He died in our place, bearing our punishment. And yet we also know that this was a part of God’s plan that was established in eternity past.
22 “Israelite men, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man clearly attested to you by God with powerful deeds, wonders, and miraculous signs that God performed through him among you, just as you yourselves know— 23 this man, who was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you executed by nailing him to a cross at the hands of Gentiles. 24 But God raised him up, having released him from the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held in its power (Acts 2:22-24).
The point I am trying to make is that God purposes some things that He knows will cause Him pain. The fact that God experienced sorrow because He had created man does not mean that He did not know mankind would fail miserably, causing Him grief. Any married couple who decides to have children should do so knowing that there will be times of great sorrow, and not just for the woman in her time of labor. God was sorry that man had become so wicked, but being sorry does not mean that He did not know the outcome of His act of creation.
5:28 When Lamech had lived one hundred and eighty-two years, he had a son. 29 He named him Noah, saying, “This one will bring us comfort from our labor and from the painful toil of our hands, because of the ground that the Lord has cursed.” … 6:9 This is the account of Noah. Noah was a godly man; he was blameless among his contemporaries. He walked with God.
The line of Cain went from bad (Cain) to worse (Lamech). The line of Seth held some promise. It was in Seth’s days that men began to “call upon the name of the Lord” (4:26). Enoch, one of Seth’s descendants, was a man who “walked with God,” and he was taken up into heaven (5:24). With the birth of Noah, there was a sense of expectation; his father expressed the hope that this son would bring about the reversal of the curse (5:29). He was used of God as a deliverer, and as such, he foreshadowed the great “Deliverer,” the Lord Jesus Christ. We will talk about this later on. We are told that Noah was a godly man; in the midst of a corrupt society, Noah stood out, stood alone, as a man of God. He was “blameless among his contemporaries,” a man like Enoch, who “walked with God” (6:9).
This is not to say that Noah was a perfect man, a man that God spared because he was without any sin. Noah was a sinner, whose deliverance was a matter of divine grace, rather than of human merit:
But Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord (Genesis 6:8).
It was God’s grace that saved Noah. And he, like all the saints – Old Testament or New – was saved by faith:
5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he did not see death, and he was not to be found because God took him up. For before his removal he had been commended as having pleased God. 6 Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. 7 By faith Noah, when he was warned about things not yet seen, reverently constructed an ark for the deliverance of his family. Through faith he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith (Hebrews 11:5-7, emphasis mine).
In contrast to Adam, who disobeyed God, Noah’s faith was evident in his obedience to the commands of God:
And Noah did all that God commanded him—he did indeed (6:22).
And Noah did all that the Lord commanded him (7:5).
While Adam’s disobedience took place in a moment of time, Noah’s obedience was demonstrated by countless years of constructing the ark.
13 So God said to Noah, “I have decided that all living creatures must die, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. Now I am about to destroy them and the earth. 14 Make for yourself an ark of cypress wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it with pitch inside and out. 15 This is how you should make it: the ark is to be four hundred fifty feet long, seventy-five feet wide, and forty-five feet high. 16 Make a roof for the ark and finish it, leaving eighteen inches from the top. Put a door in the side of the ark, and make lower, middle and upper decks. 17 I am about to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy from under the sky all the living creatures that have the breath of life in them. Everything that is on the earth will die, 18 but I will confirm my covenant with you. You will enter the ark—you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. 19 You must bring into the ark two of every kind of living creature from all flesh, male and female, to keep them alive with you. 20 Of the birds after their kinds, and of the cattle after their kinds, and of every creeping thing of the ground after their kinds, two of every kind will come to you so you can keep them alive. 21 And you must take for yourself every kind of food that is eaten, and gather it together. It will be food for you and for them. 22 And Noah did all that God commanded him—he did indeed.
I can’t help but think of an older model of a Volvo automobile when I read these instructions concerning the construction of the ark. Someone has said of the Volvo, “It’s boxy, but it’s safe.” I think that if we’d have seen the ark we would have said, “It’s ugly (and probably boxy too), but it’s safe.” I suppose that men had learned to make boats by that time, but no one would have ever imagined the need for a craft the size of the ark. Think of it: the ark was to be 450 feet long, 75 feet in width, and 45 feet high. In our church, Mrs. Roberts’ Sunday school class measured our new building and found that it was approximately the same size, except that our church is not that tall. This was a huge craft, and from the pictures I’ve seen of its likeness, it was nothing for which Frank Lloyd Wright would want to take credit. It was, however, just what was needed.
Someone rightly remarked that the ark was a lot like our Lord Jesus. From outward appearances, our Lord was not someone whom we would have found physically attractive:
2 He sprouted up like a twig before God,
like a root out of parched soil;
he had no stately form or majesty that might catch our attention,
no special appearance that we should want to follow him.
3 He was despised and rejected by people,
one who experienced pain and was acquainted with illness;
people hid their faces from him;
he was despised, and we considered him insignificant (Isaiah 53:2-3).
Can you imagine how the folks of Noah’s day reacted to the building of that ark! First, it was so big. Second, it was so ugly. Third, it seemed so useless. Fourth, it was offensive because of what it signified. It was an outward sign of God’s coming judgment upon the world. Noah was a most unusual “preacher.” Every day he spent working on that ark was another sermon, another warning of the coming wrath of God upon sinners. Who wanted a constant reminder of their sins and of God’s coming judgment?
That ark must have become a regular tourist site. Folks may have come from far and wide to look at it, and probably to laugh at it. They might even have come to hear this “crazy fellow,” Noah, who warned those who looked on that God was going to judge the earth. If Noah lived in our day, the city council would have tried to change the zoning laws so that the ark would have to be torn down. But bye and bye, people who lived nearby probably just began to ignore it. After all, who thought it would ever be completed? Who could imagine that it would ever be needed?
I don’t wish to say much about the ark and its appearance, but I do wish to mention that the ark was a very utilitarian vessel, and it didn’t possess some of the accessories that we might have wanted. For example, it had only one door. It seemed to have no lower windows, and perhaps an 18-inch opening at the top for ventilation (which one would need in a vessel full of animals). It seems to have had only one window,44 and from what I can tell, this window was so high that Noah could not look out from it and see the ground (or the waters) beneath the ark. You will remember that Noah had to send out a dove (from the window), to see if the waters had receded. He could not see outside for himself. And in the end, it was God who gave the instruction to leave the ark and go outside (8:15ff.).
I think all of these design features of the ark were very functional. For example, you would not want doors or windows in a vessel that needed to repel the torrential rains or which was to endure stormy waters. You would not want many places for leaks or for torrents of rain or waves to pour in. Thus, all the lower levels would have no openings, except for one door (and we’re not sure exactly where it was located). There was yet another reason for the design of the ark. Once the flood commenced and men realized that Noah had been right, they would have desperately sought to get on board the ship, but I’m convinced that its design made it impossible to do. Finally, there were no picture windows on board the ship because the sight of the storm would have been terrifying, and the sight of his neighbors perishing outside would have been too painful to witness. I believe God designed the ark so that Noah and his family would not see the destruction of all life outside the ark. I am inclined to think that this will be true in the future as well. I doubt that heaven will have a picture window, overlooking hell, so that all in heaven can watch the agony of the lost. It may be that hell has a picture window, looking toward heaven, however (see Luke 16:23).
Along with His instructions regarding the design and construction of the ark, God gave Noah a promise. The Noahic Covenant would be formalized with Noah after the flood, but God wanted to assure Noah of the outcome before the onslaught of the flood. How much easier it is to undergo trials and tests when we know the outcome ahead of time. God promised Noah that He would make a covenant with him and his family, and then instructed him to gather food and pairs of every breathing creature to put on board the ark. Of the clean animals, Noah was to take seven pairs (7:2-3); of the unclean animals, one pair each (6:19-20).
After many years of construction, the ark was finally completed. God commanded Noah to take the animals into the ark, and Noah did so (7:1-9). It was not until seven days had passed that the flood commenced. It would seem that it took a week to load all of the animals on board. Perhaps God was giving the animals time to settle down before the trauma of the flood came. The day that the floods did come was the day Noah and his family entered the ark, and God shut the door. The day of salvation abruptly ended for the people of the earth. For 40 days and nights, the heavens gushed with rain, and waters also emerged from beneath the earth (7:10-23). If the floodwaters came over a 40-day period, they prevailed for another 150 days (7:24).
More than six months after the flood began, God remembered those He had rescued in the ark and began the process of removing the waters. God caused a wind to pass over the earth, causing the waters to recede for a period of another 150 days (8:1-3). The ark then came to rest on the mountains of Ararat (8:4). Noah then sent out a raven, but it came back to him because the earth was not yet able to sustain life. A dove was sent out and it did not return (8:12). Noah removed the cover from the ark and looked out, but no one left the ark for almost two months (8:13-14). Finally, God gave the order to leave the ark for the ground was now dry (8:15-19).
Noah had spent years building the ark, and when he left the ark and returned to the earth, the first thing he did was to build an altar on which he sacrificed one of every clean bird and animal (8:20).45 So far as I can tell, this sacrificial offering was voluntary on the part of Noah. That is, we see no command from God that he do so. God’s response revealed His pleasure with the sacrifice. God promised never again to destroy the earth in this fashion, even though man’s sinful nature remained. The promise of uninterrupted seasons (8:22) seems to suggest that the year of the flood completely set aside all the normal characteristics of the various seasons.
1 Then God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. 2 Every living creature of the earth and every bird of the sky will be terrified of you. Everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea are under your authority. 3 You may eat any moving thing that lives. As I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. 4 But you must not eat meat with its life (that is, its blood) in it. 5 For your lifeblood I will surely exact punishment, from every living creature I will exact punishment. From each person I will exact punishment for the life of the individual, since the man was his relative.
6 “Whoever sheds human blood
by other humans
must his blood be shed;
for in God’s image
God has made mankind.”
7 But as for you, be fruitful and multiply; increase abundantly on the earth and multiply on it.”
8 God said to Noah and his sons, 9 “Look! I now confirm my covenant with you and your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that is with you, including the birds, the domestic animals, and every living creature of the earth with you, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature of the earth. 11 I confirm my covenant with you: Never again will all living things be wiped out by the waters of a flood; never again will a flood destroy the earth.”
12 And God said, “This is the guarantee of the covenant I am making with you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all subsequent generations: 13 I will place my rainbow in the clouds, and it will become a guarantee of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 then I will remember my covenant with you and with all living creatures of all kinds. Never again will the waters become a flood and destroy all living things. 16 When the rainbow is in the clouds, I will notice it and remember the perpetual covenant between God and all living creatures of all kinds that are on the earth.”
17 So God said to Noah, “This is the guarantee of the covenant that I am confirming between me and all living things that are on the earth.”
This is our introduction to biblical covenants as this is the first covenant in the Bible. The Abrahamic Covenant will soon follow (Genesis 12:1-3, etc.). This is what is known as an unconditional covenant. That is, God promised to keep this covenant, regardless of what men do. In fact, we might say that this covenant is made, knowing that men will continue to sin (see 8:21). The actual promise is given in Genesis 9:9-17. It is a covenant not only between God and Noah, but between God and every living creature (9:9-10, 16). It is an “everlasting covenant,” between God and Noah, and every generation after him (9:12). It is God’s promise that He will never again judge the earth by means of a flood (9:11). The sign of the covenant, the assurance that God will keep His covenant, is the rainbow. Whenever it rains, men can look up and see the rainbow, and be reminded that this rain will not be for their destruction (indeed, the rains are the means by which God provides for their crops).
While the Noahic Covenant is not conditional, there are certain commands laid down for Noah and his descendants to keep. Noah and his family are a new beginning for mankind. To mark this new beginning, God changes some of the previous rules. At the first creation, man and animals were only to eat vegetable life, but not animals (1:30); now God tells Noah and his family that they may eat whatever meat they desire (9:3). This change in dietary rules is one of the indicators that a new covenant has been established. Thus, when the Law of Moses is given, men can no longer eat whatever meat they desire; they must eat only clean animals. And when the New Covenant is established, men may once again eat any meat they desire, except for meats offered to idols (Mark 7:14-19; Acts 10-11; 15:29; 1 Corinthians 8-10).
There is a very special command given regarding blood, however. To curb the violence that characterized the pre-flood world, God not only condemns murder; He institutes the death penalty for those who are guilty of murder (9:6). To take a man’s life is to strike out against God, for man is created in the image of God (9:6). The value of human life is established by the consequence for taking human life. The life of the murder is required for his sin. Notice that while the law will undergird the institution of capital punishment, it is established long before the Law of Moses was given.
A profound significance is attached to blood in our text. Blood is viewed as the basis for life. To shed the blood of man or animal is to deprive it of its life. Man must not shed the blood of his fellow man, and he must not eat the blood of the animals that he eats. God here attaches great significance to blood, and time will reveal just how significant blood is. The shedding of blood by means of animal sacrifices will put off the punishment for sins, and the shedding of our Lord’s blood will be the ultimate payment for sin (see Hebrews chapter 9).
18 The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Now Ham was the father of Canaan.) 19 These were the sons of Noah, and from them the whole earth was populated. 20 Noah, a man of the soil, began to plant a vineyard. 21 When he drank some of the wine, he got drunk and uncovered himself inside his tent. 22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers who were outside. 23 Shem and Japheth took the garment and placed it on their shoulders. Then they walked in backwards and covered up their father’s nakedness. Their faces were turned the other way so they did not see their father’s nakedness. 24 When Noah awoke from his drunken stupor he learned what his youngest son had done to him. 25 So he said,
“Cursed be Canaan!
The lowest of slaves
he will be to his brothers.”
26 He also said,
“Worthy of praise is the Lord, the God of Shem!
May Canaan be the slave of Shem!
27 May God enlarge Japheth’s territory and numbers!
May he live in the tents of Shem
and may Canaan be his slave!”
28 After the flood Noah lived three hundred and fifty years. 29 The entire lifetime of Noah was nine hundred and fifty years, and then he died.
This incident in Noah’s life is of no small import to mankind. First of all, it is a reminder of the fact that, while Noah was a righteous man, he was not a perfect man. It is difficult, however, to determine the degree of his culpability. Had men learned to make wine before this time? I would be inclined to think so. Did Noah become drunk accidentally, or was he responsible? I think there is some measure of culpability here. Adam went into his garden, ate of forbidden fruit, and thereby sinned. Now we see Noah planting a vineyard, eating of its fruit, getting drunk, and lying naked in his tent.
Had it not been for Noah’s youngest son, Ham, Noah’s sin would not have been as public. It may have been obvious from the sounds within the tent that Noah was drunk, but his nakedness could only be seen by someone who violated the privacy of Noah’s tent. In Noah’s drunken state, his reputation and modesty rested in the hands of his sons. Ham found Noah’s sin amusing, and he took pleasure in it, and in making it known to his brothers. Ham’s brothers seem to exemplify the words of Scripture, “Love covers a multitude of sins” (Proverbs 10:12; 1 Peter 4:8). These men did not wish to see their father’s nakedness; they would not even look at his shameful state long enough to cover him. They took Noah’s garment (“the garment,” 9:23) and walking backwards, draped it over their father in such a way that they never saw his shame.
I have heard some pretty twisted interpretations of this text, and I believe it is my duty to tell you that they don’t stand up to scrutiny. You will notice that while Ham is the youngest son (9:24) who sinned against his father, it is his youngest son, Canaan (10:6), who is cursed. Noah’s youngest son enjoys his father’s shame and calls on his brothers to witness it as well. As a curse, Ham’s youngest son, Canaan, is cursed. This is the man from whom will come the Canaanites, that incredibly immoral people who will occupy the land of Canaan, and whom the Israelites are commanded to destroy. We can see from the patriarch of the Canaanites why these people were so immoral and corrupt, and why the Israelites were not to associate with them or intermarry with them.
There were many lessons for the Israelites to learn from this account of Noah and the flood. It was the first of the covenants that God made with mankind. This covenant was one that was totally bound up with the faithfulness of God and not with the faithlessness of men. This event gave some background to the Law that God gave Israel at Sinai. The basis for capital punishment is found here. The distinction between clean and unclean animals was already practiced at the time of the flood. It is yet another instance of sacrificial offerings being made to God, for His pleasure. The Noahic Covenant was the basis for Israel’s assurance that God would not wipe out the whole creation with a flood ever again.
The flood itself was an example of God’s power and His sovereignty over all creation as its Creator. God had the right and the power to destroy the earth and all that lived on it. The God who turned the chaotic watery mass into an orderly creation is the God who can reverse the process, and destroy all life on earth by means of a flood. This same God is the One who can part the waters of the Red Sea (Exodus 14), and of the Jordan River (Joshua 3), to let His people pass through. He is the God who can be trusted to supply the early and late rains, so that the Israelites’ crops will grow (Deuteronomy 11:14). God is able to make a desert in the midst of the sea, and can produce streams in the desert (Isaiah 43:19-20).
The account of the flood surely contained an important message for the Israelites concerning God’s judgment and His mercy. They were to see that God is a holy God, who will endure man’s sin for a season, to give sinners the opportunity to repent. But there will be a payday, someday. The Israelites should learn that while God is patient, He will judge sinners. This applied to the Canaanites:
12 When the sun went down, Abram fell sound asleep. Then great terror overwhelmed him. 13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign country. They will be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years. 14 But I will execute judgment on the nation that they will serve. Afterward they will come out with many possessions. 15 But as for you, you will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will return here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its limit.” 17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking firepot with a flaming torch passed between the animal parts. 18 That day the Lord made a covenant with Abram: “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates River— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites” (Genesis 15:12-21).
The Israelites were poised to possess the land of Canaan. They now understood the origin of the Canaanites, and they understood even more fully why these people must be destroyed. They must not allow them to remain in the land, and they dare not intermarry with them. The Israelites should also learn from the flood that God protects the righteous and delivers them from judgment. As in the case of Noah and his family, there may only be a remnant saved, but God will keep His promises through the preservation of a godly remnant. That He has always done:
27 And Isaiah cries out on behalf of Israel, “Though the number of the children of Israel are as the sand of the sea, only the remnant will be saved, 28 for the Lord will execute his sentence on the earth completely and quickly.” 29 Just as Isaiah predicted,
“If the Lord of armies had not left us descendants,
we would have become like Sodom,
and we would have resembled Gomorrah” (Romans 9:27-29).
It should go without saying that many of the lessons for the Israelites of old apply to the saints of today. But let us look back upon this text, both from our point in time and from the vantage point of the fulfillment of God’s plan of redemption in Christ.
I believe this passage speaks to us about two very important and controversial issues: abortion and capital punishment. Both of these issues stem from the fact that man is created in God’s image:
“Whoever sheds human blood
by other humans
must his blood be shed;
for in God’s image
God has made mankind” (Genesis 9:6).
I have heard a lot of technical jargon used in discussing the matter of abortion. One issue often raised is the question of when life begins. I think our text may make the issue simpler than that. God says that murder is the shedding of blood. The way that man deals with blood – even the blood of slaughtered animals – is a matter of reverence for life and for God’s Word. To shed innocent blood is to strike out against God. If the life is in the blood as our text tells us (9:4),46 then life begins when there is blood. As I understand our text and its implications, any abortion that involves the shedding of the blood of the unborn child is murder, apart from extreme exceptional conditions (such as the unpleasant choice of saving the life of the baby or its mother).
Notice how our Lord later applies this principle (the life is in the blood) to man’s salvation:
51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats from this bread he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52 Then the Jews who were hostile to Jesus began to argue with one another, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood resides in me, and I in him” (John 6:51-56, emphasis mine).
The life is in the blood. Eternal life is in the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is eternal. To eat His flesh and to drink His blood is analogous to trusting in His death on the cross of Calvary as the atonement for our sins.
How often the argument is raised: “You believe abortion is wrong, and yet you are in favor of capital punishment. Isn’t that inconsistent?” It most certainly is not. Taking the life of an innocent child by abortion is murder. Taking the life of a murderer is not. It is an act of obedience to God. It is the measure of the value we place on the innocent blood that the murderer has shed. Capital punishment is not my preference; it is God’s command.47 Capital punishment is the measure of how much God values life. And in the context of Genesis 4-9, it is one means by which God restrains the violence of men.
The story of Noah’s drunkenness and nakedness and of Ham’s sin and judgment, is instructive, if we will listen. It certainly instructs us as to how we should deal with the sins of others. Love should cover a multitude of sins, just as Noah’s two sons covered the nakedness of their father. Today, we are confronted with nakedness and encouraged to enjoy it. Pornography is but one sordid part of a much larger problem. We should seek to avoid seeing sin and nakedness with great effort. We should be much more like Noah’s two sons, and much less like Ham. And we, men and women alike, should remember that clothing was given to us to cover our nakedness, not to call attention to it. What Noah did in his drunken state, many people do with conscious intent. How often we are “naked and not ashamed,” and it is nothing like the pre-fallen state of Adam and Eve.
Peter uses the Old Testament account of Noah and of the flood to make an important statement to New Testament saints:
1 But false prophets arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. These false teachers will infiltrate your midst with destructive heresies, even to the point of denying the Master who bought them. As a result, they will bring swift destruction on themselves. 2 And many will follow their debauched lifestyles. Because of these false teachers, the way of truth will be slandered. 3 And in their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words. Their condemnation pronounced long ago is not sitting idly by; their destruction is not asleep. 4 For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but threw them into hell and locked them up in chains in utter darkness, to be kept until the judgment, 5 and if he did not spare the ancient world, but did protect Noah, a herald of righteousness, along with seven others, when God brought a flood on an ungodly world, 6 and if he turned to ashes the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah when he condemned them to destruction, having appointed them to serve as an example to future generations of the ungodly, 7 and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man in anguish over the debauched lifestyle of lawless men, 8 (for while he lived among them day after day, that righteous man was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard) 9 —if so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from their trials, and to reserve the unrighteous for punishment at the day of judgment, 10 especially those who indulge their fleshly desires and who despise authority (2 Peter 2:1-10a).
Just a little later in his epistle, Peter tells us that wicked men will mock at God’s warnings of divine judgment:
3 Above all, understand this: in the last days blatant scoffers will come, being propelled by their own evil urges 4 and saying, “Where is his promised coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation.” 5 For they deliberately suppress this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago and an earth was formed out of water and by means of water. 6 Through these things the world existing at that time was destroyed when it was deluged with water. 7 But by the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, by being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly (2 Peter 3:3-7).
Our Lord likewise informs us that in the last days, men will be oblivious to the coming wrath of God:
22 Then he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. 23 Then people will say to you, ‘Look, there he is!’ or ‘Look, here he is!’ Do not go out or chase after them. 24 For just like the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. 25 But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. 26 Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 People were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage—right up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all. 28 Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot, people were eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building; 29 but on the day Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. 30 It will be the same on the day the Son of Man is revealed. 31 On that day, anyone who is on the roof, with his goods in the house, must not come down to take them away, and likewise the person in the field must not turn back. 32 Remember Lot’s wife! (Luke 17:22-32).
Jesus tells us that in Noah’s day, men had no sense of impending judgment. This was not because they had no warning. There was the ark in their sight, and Noah, whose works and words were a sermon. In spite of all the warnings, men went on with their lives as though there were no danger. It is as though Satan had said to them once again, “Thou shall surely not die!” The flood is a strong reminder that the promised judgment of God will most certainly come. God knows how to spare the righteous, but He also knows how to “reserve the unrighteous for punishment at the day of judgment.”
I love the fact that Peter calls Noah a “preacher (or herald) of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5). I don’t believe that Noah had a pulpit, or that he went about the city with a sandwich board with words of condemnation on it. I believe Noah was a preacher of righteousness by the way he lived his life. Day after day, Noah lived in accordance with the Word of God. He believed that there would be a flood, even though he had never seen one. He believed that the ark was God’s means for saving him and his family. His lifestyle loudly proclaimed that he was living his life in the light of the future, as God had declared it. I wonder how many people would be indicted by our lifestyle. Do we live as though all of the material things of this life will be burned with fire? Do we live in a way that seeks to warn sinners about the coming judgment of God? Noah is a man we should imitate, not by building an ark, but by living as though biblical prophecy is true. There is a greater day of judgment coming upon the whole world. God will spare us from His wrath, but sinners will surely perish. Let us live as though this is true.
As I was preparing this lesson, it occurred to me that the Noahic Covenant is very relevant to saints today. We would not be here if it were not for this covenant. The Noahic Covenant was not just for the benefit of Noah, or even the Israelites of Moses’ day. The Noahic Covenant was the divine assurance that God would never again bring universal judgment upon sin by destroying the world until He did so in the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is very clear in Genesis that man persisted in his sin after the flood. When God promised that He would not destroy the world with a flood, He knew that men were sinners from birth. But this covenant assured men that He would not bring universal judgment upon this world until He did so in the person of Jesus Christ. When our Lord died upon the cross of Calvary, He was bearing the wrath of God for sinners. How often this world should have been wiped out in divine judgment from the days of Noah until the time of the cross, but God patiently waited for the day when His Son would die on the cross of Calvary. Our Lord will return, and this time it will be to judge the world, but only after He has made atonement for man’s sin, and after men have rejected the offer of salvation.
As I was reading one of the better commentaries on our text in Genesis, the writer made a point of the fact (as he saw it) that all of Noah’s family was righteous – that they were the righteous remnant God spared. He went on to say that they all obeyed God’s commandments. But as I looked at the text, it did not say this:
The Lord said to Noah, “Come into the ark, you and all your household, for I consider you godly among this generation (Genesis 7:1, emphasis and comments mine).
The New American Standard Bible reads this way:
Then the LORD said to Noah, “Enter the ark, you and all your household; for you alone I have seen to be righteous before Me in this time.
The word alone is in italics because the translators supplied it. They included it because “you” is singular, not plural. Noah’s family is not saved because they are righteous, but because Noah, alone, is righteous. And if there is any question about this, Ezekiel makes it most clear:
12 The word of the Lord came to me: 13 “Son of man, when a country sins against me by acting faithlessly, and I stretch out my hand against it, and break its staff of bread, cause it to experience famine, and kill both man and beast in it, 14 even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would save only their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign Lord. 15 “If I were to send wild animals through the land and they killed its children, and it became desolate so that no one traveled across it because of the animals, 16 as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, even if these three men were in it, they could not save their own sons or daughters; they would save only their own lives, and the land would be devastated. 17 “Or if I were to bring the sword of war against that land and say, ‘Let a sword pass through the land,’ and I kill both man and beast in it, 18 even though these three men were in it, as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, they could not save their own sons or daughters, they would save only their own lives. 19 “Or if I should send a pestilence into that land, and poured out my furious anger on it with bloodshed, to kill both man and beast in it, 20 even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, they could not save their own sons or daughters; they would save only their own lives by their righteousness (Ezekiel 14:12-20, emphasis mine).
The point could hardly be made more plainly. Noah’s family was saved because Noah was righteous, not because they were righteous. The righteousness of this one man made him a righteous remnant of one. His family was a remnant, but because of his righteousness, not theirs. Think of it for a moment. In all the world of that day, there was only one man that God could call righteous. And that one man was the salvation of the human race. Because of Noah’s righteousness, his family was spared, and by means of his family, the earth was repopulated.
Is this not a picture of Christ? In all the history of mankind, there has never been one man who was truly and totally righteous, save One, our Lord Jesus Christ. It is because of His righteousness that any man can be saved. It was because He alone was righteous that His sacrifice on the cross of Calvary can pay the debt for our sins. He was the “spotless Lamb of God,” who takes away the sins of the world. When we observe communion, we use unleavened bread. This is to symbolize the fact that He was without sin. It is because He was without sin that He could die for our sins. Noah was a prototype of Christ because he showed us that men can be saved by One man, who is truly righteous.
The story of Noah in Genesis is about the judgment of God, but the emphasis falls on God’s salvation of Noah and his family. We are not given a graphic description of the cries of the wicked, as they pled for mercy, or their efforts to cling to the ark. We are taken inside the ark, and not outside. But having emphasized the salvation of God, we dare not overlook or minimize His judgment on the earth.
We have a miniature “Noah’s ark” in our house, and our little granddaughter, Lindsey Grace, loves it. She cannot play with it by herself, so she has to ask one of us to take it down for her, so that she can look at it. She loves that ark and can name all the animals whose heads protrude from it. But I have to tell you that the story of Noah and the ark is not really a “cute story.” It was not written so little children could look at animals, as though they were going to the zoo. It is the story of man’s sin, and of divine judgment, and the salvation of a few because of One man. Let us never forget the sobering message of this story.
38 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Robert L. Deffinbaugh, teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel, on November 12, 2000.
39 Some conclude from this that it took 120 years to build the ark. I think that’s possible, but I’m not certain that I hold to this dogmatically. I’m sure it did take a good while to build that ark, however.
40 I said earlier that I would not spend any time on the identity of the Nephilim. In my series on the Book of Genesis, I concluded that the Nephilim were a super race, the product of the union of the “daughters of men” and the “sons of God” (i.e., fallen angels). This may be the case, but when our Lord speaks of the days of Noah, he simply refers to the normal processes of life, including marriage, but makes no reference to angels (see Matthew 24:37-39; Luke 17:26-27). This causes me to be somewhat less certain about the identity of the Nephilim. I am also troubled a bit by the fact that the Nephilim reappear in Numbers 13:33. If this super-race was the result of a union of angels and women, why did it reappear?
41 The Hebrew word is not the same here as in Genesis 6, but the concept is the same, in my opinion.
42 I would rather not pursue this matter thoroughly at this point in time. Suffice it to say that man’s sin corrupts everything it touches. This is why God commanded the Israelites to kill all the Canaanites and their animals (see Deuteronomy 20:16-18).
43 Literally, the expression is “all flesh.” We would err in assuming that “flesh” is limited to human beings, for it is also employed with reference to the animal kingdom (see 6:19; 7:15, 16, 21).
44 See Moses’ reference to “the window” in Genesis 8:6.
45 One cannot help but be fascinated with how much of the Law of Moses is anticipated early in the Book of Genesis. There are animal sacrifices made, both by Abel and now by Noah. There is the first observance of the Sabbath by God (Genesis 2:1-3). And now we find a distinction between “clean” and “unclean” animals. The Law of Moses did not introduce everything as something new. Some things were already in place and were merely ratified by the law.
46 See also Leviticus 17:11, 14; Deuteronomy 12:23.
47 This is not to say that every execution is just, and that condemned murderers have been given due process of law. I believe that there is inequity in the legal system, weighted in favor of those who are rich, and against the poor. But having said this, I must recognize and respect God’s command here that those who shed blood should suffer the shedding of their own blood.