The world knows little about the Bible, but few are unaware of Noah’s ark. There are jokes about it, pictures of it, movies about the search for the ark, even ceramic representations of it. A knowledge of the flood is almost universal, even apart from the biblical account of the book of Genesis.
“But it seems as if we must conclude that the Genesis flood at least engulfed all of mankind, if not the whole earth, because of certain indications in the Genesis narrative and because on all continents and among almost all peoples of the earth flood accounts have been found. These accounts all refer to a destructive flood occurring early in the respective tribal histories. In each case one or a few individuals were saved and were charged with repopulating the earth. To date, anthropologists have collected between 250 and 300 such flood stories.90
This familiarity with the story is the greatest obstacle to our benefiting from a study of it in Genesis. We come to the text with our minds made up, thinking that there is little or nothing new about it that should change our thinking or behavior.
For example, we would suppose that the theme of the story is that of judgment and destruction and, to a degree, this is true. Hollywood would make much of this event. We would see all kinds of sinful acts graphically portrayed on the screen. When the plot could no longer sustain lust producing scenes, the focus would turn to destruction and violence. Families would be severed by raging torrents. Mothers would be torn apart from their babies. Buildings would shatter and collapse in the deluge.
While this may seem to be the thrust of the account, not one descriptive word can be found of the actual process which resulted in agony, suffering and death. Not one scene is played before our eyes of such devastation. Judgment is certainly a theme in this event, but, thank God, there is a much greater theme, that of the saving grace of God. While we dare not ignore the warnings of this text, let us not lose sight of its encouragement either.
While some have fixed their attention on the sin and devastation of the flood, others have concentrated on the mechanics of the deluge as over against its meaning. While I am certain that there is much of interest here to the scientific mind, let me simply caution you that much of that which is proposed in the name of science is still theory and speculation. I do not in any way wish to discredit or discourage such efforts. I only desire to say that we dare not build our lives on it, and to point out that this kind of approach does not focus on the principle purpose of the account of the Genesis flood.
A detailed analysis of the event is not the purpose of this lesson, but rather a broad view of the meaning and message of the flood for men of all ages. With this in mind, let us turn our attention to this event.
Broadly speaking this section deals with the necessary preparations for the flood. The reasons for the flood are given in verses 9-12. Revelation concerning the flood is given to Noah in verses 13-21. The order to enter the ark is given in Genesis 7:1-4. Genesis 6:22 and 7:5 records the obedience of Noah to the divine instructions.
Verses 9-12 of chapter 6 and the concluding verses of chapter 8 are the most crucial of this passage because they underscore the reasons for the flood and God’s underlying purpose for history. For this reason we shall devote the majority of our attention to the introductory and concluding verses concerning the flood and to the New Testament passages dealing with this same subject.
While the flood was intended for the destruction of mankind, the ark was designed to save Noah and his family and to ensure the fulfillment of the divine purpose for the creation and the divine promise of salvation of Genesis 3:15. The key to our understanding of the event is to grasp the contrast between Noah and those of his generation.
Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God (Genesis 6:9).
What an epitaph! Noah was a righteous man. Noah’s character is described by two words, righteous and blameless. The word righteous (Hebrew: saddiq)
… is a word commonly used in reference to men. It means that they conform to a standard. Since Noah conformed to the divine standard, he met with God’s approval. However, the term is basically forensic. Therefore, though there be divine approval, that does not imply perfection on Noah’s part. It merely implies that those things that God sought in man were present in Noah.91
Without any pretense of perfection, Noah was a man who took God at His word. He met God’s expectations for man, while the rest of mankind was wicked.
The second expression used of Noah is ‘blameless’ (verse 9). The Hebrew word is tamim. “Since the Hebrew root involves the idea of ‘complete,’ we are justified in concluding only that there was an all-sided life, well rounded out in all its parts, with no essential quality missing.”92
Stepping back from these two technical expressions, Moses summarized the righteousness of Noah by writing, “Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9).
Here is emphasized the fellowship between Noah and God, the intimacy of their union. Here also is reflected the continuity of the relationship. It was a daily walk, it was a dependable one.
Undoubtedly the relationship between Noah and God was based upon the revelation surrounding the creation of man and his fall. More particularly, it would include the promise of redemption in Genesis 3:15. Very possibly it involved other revelation that is not recorded for us by Moses.
The righteousness of Noah was based more upon his faith in God than in a fear of the consequences of disobedience, I believe. To my knowledge, Noah had no idea that divine judgment was to be meted out upon the earth until God disclosed it to him personally (verses 13ff). This revelation of the outpouring of divine wrath was given as a result of the relationship Noah had with God. Had men been aware of the flood that was coming, they may well have obeyed God out of mere fear of punishment. The relationship between Noah and God was not motivated by such fear, but by faith. Faith, not fear, is the biblical motive for a relationship with God (although there is such a thing as godly fear).
Let us be very clear about the righteousness of Noah. It was that righteousness which resulted from faith.
By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith (Hebrews 11:7).
It was not Noah’s works which preserved him from judgment, but grace. “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:8). Salvation has always been by grace, through faith; not of works, but unto good works (Ephesians 2:8-10).
In contrast to Noah’s righteousness was man’s rottenness: “Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth” (Genesis 6:11,12).
Noah, alone, was righteous in his day. “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” (Genesis 7:1).
What this says of his family I do not know, but one can hardly believe that all who were in the ark would not have believed in God, at least after the flood! There was no other righteous person to be brought into the ark, for no one else walked with God. All of those who were said to be righteous in chapter 5 died before the flood occurred.
In and of themselves men were rotten or corrupt. What God determined to destroy was already self-destroyed.93 Man’s relationship to his fellow man could be summed up in the word ‘violence’.
I want you to note that Moses nowhere specifies the sins of this age. Such might incite our curiosity or lusts. More than this, I do not believe that the people of that time were destroyed because they had become a totally decadent society. The sinner who beats his wife, or practices homosexuality, or exists with only a bottle on skid-road is not necessarily the most wicked person in the eyes of God. I suspect that there were many among those who perished who were religious. I imagine that the society of that time was little different in its character than many others, with one notable exception—it seemingly had no restraint. The point is that men who are polite, clean-shaven, kind to older ladies, and so on, but who cheat on their income taxes or make a profit at the expense of someone’s dignity, are just as much sinners as those whose sins are socially acceptable.
The primary expression of man’s sin is in his rebellion and independent spirit toward God. He supposes that while God may exist, He does not care about man’s conduct or beliefs. If God does care, He does little about it. And worst of all is the conclusion that it is none of God’s business anyway.
Notice the condemnation of God of this kind of attitude:
Then He said to me, ‘The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is very, very great, and the land is filled with blood, and the city is full of perversion; for they say, “The Lord has forsaken the land, and the Lord does not see!” But as for Me, My eye will have no pity nor shall I spare, but I shall bring their conduct upon their heads’ (Ezekiel 9:9).
Man’s evil inclinations are fanned into a blazing inferno by the suggestion or belief that while God may exist, He neither cares about sin nor intervenes into human history to deal with it. Such thinking is fatal.
God did not conceal His purposes from Noah. To him He revealed His determination to destroy the wicked civilization of that day and yet to preserve both Noah and the seed through whom the promise of salvation would be realized. To Noah it was revealed that this destruction would come about by a flood, and that salvation for him and his family would be by means of an ark.94
While all of the instructions for the ark would not need to be recorded for us, we should notice that the details given are specific, even to the matter of the gathering of food. The ark was an incredible vessel, 450 feet in length, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high (6:15). It would serve to save both man and animals.
The ark, now complete, having been constructed over many years according to the divine design, is entered at God’s command (7:1) by both man and animals. Before the flood began, God shut the door. I would imagine that had God not done so, Noah would have opened it to those who later wanted in, but the day of salvation must come to an end.
The source of water seems supernatural. It may well be that it had never rained before (cf. 2:6). Now the rain came in torrents. In addition the ‘fountains of the deep’ (7:11) were opened. Water, both from above and below, came forth for forty days (7:12). The waters prevailed on the earth for a total of 150 days (7:24), and then subsided over a period of months. Five months after the flood commenced the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat (8:4; cf. 7:11). It took considerable time for the waters to recede and for the ground to be dry enough to walk on. It was a little more than a year that Noah and his family spent on the ark. At the command of the Lord they gladly (I am certain) disembarked.
Noah’s first act upon setting foot on the earth was to offer sacrifices to God. It was a further evidence of his faith, and surely an expression of his gratitude for the salvation that God had provided.
In response to the sacrifice of Noah, God made a solemn promise. I want you to understand, however, that this was a commitment made within the Godhead—it is a promise God resolved to Himself. The expression of this determination is given to Noah in chapter 9. This is what God purposed within Himself:
And the Lord smelled the soothing aroma; and the Lord said to Himself, “I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease (Genesis 8:21-22).
God’s resolve is that He will never again curse the ground or destroy every living thing as He has just done. Why would God make such a commitment? Surely He was not sorry for what He had done. Sin had to be judged, did it not?
The problem with the flood was that its effect was only temporary. The problem was not with creation, but with sin. The problem was not with men, but with man. To erase the slate and start over is inadequate, for what is needed is a new man for creation. This is what creation eagerly awaits.
For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God (Romans 8:20-21).
God has therefore determined to deal differently with sin in the future. While sin has suffered a temporary setback at the flood, it will be dealt a fatal blow at the coming of Messiah. It is at this time that men will become new creatures (II Corinthians 5:17). After men are dealt with, a new heaven and a new earth will be provided as well (II Peter 3:13).
God’s promise of ultimate and final salvation is renewed in response to Noah’s expression of faith through a sacrificial offering. Until that day when this salvation is accomplished, God assures man that measures like the flood will not occur again.
First of all, the flood is a reminder to us of the matchless grace of God. While unbelievers found judgment, Noah found grace (Genesis 6:8).
To a certain extent, all of the people of that day experienced the grace of God. It was not until 120 years after the revelation of a coming judgment that it actually came upon men. That 120 year period was an age of grace in which the gospel was proclaimed.
The difference between Noah and those who perished was their response to God’s grace. Those who perished interpreted God’s grace as divine indifference. They concluded that God neither cared nor troubled Himself at the occasion of men’s sin.
Noah, on the other hand, recognized grace for what it really is—an opportunity to enter into an intimate relationship with God, and at the same time, to avoid divine displeasure and judgment. Noah’s years were spent in walking with God, building the ark, and proclaiming God’s Word.
The grace of God is clearly evidenced by this promise: “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22).
Here is the irony of our day. As in the days of Noah, the perishing unbeliever looks at life as it is and asks “How could God be there at all and not do anything to right things—to set things in order?” He concludes that God is either dead, apathetic, or incapable of dealing with the world as it is, disregarding the warning of II Peter 3:8,9:
But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow about His promises, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (II Peter 3:8,9).
As Noah, the believer recognizes that life as it is a reflection of the sovereign control of a gracious God over all of life:
For in Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him (Colossians 1:16-17).
The continuation of all things as they have been—day and night, summer and winter, springtime and harvest—causes the Christian to bow the knee to God in praise and submission to His providential care. The non-Christian, however, has twisted this promise of God’s providential care into an excuse for sin:
Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation’ (II Peter 3:3-4).
They fail to recognize that men are given this time to repent and to be reconciled to God. But just as the time of grace finally expired in Noah’s day, so it will for men today:
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up (II Peter 3:10).
Our Lord taught that the days preceding the flood would be just like those preceding His final appearance to judge the earth:
For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, they were marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be (Matthew 24:37-39).
These days were not described in terms of debauchery or decadence, but of normality—business as usual. Men in the last days will be doing what they always have. There is nothing wrong with eating and drinking, giving in marriage, or buying and selling. What is wrong is doing so without God, and supposing that we may sin as we please without paying its penalty. The age of grace will end. Let us respond rightly to God’s grace.
Second, we are instructed in the matter of the wrath of God. We learn from the flood that while God’s wrath is slow, it is also certain. Judgment must eventually be meted out to those who reject God’s grace.
Be very clear that while wrath and judgment are certain, they do not delight the heart of God. Nowhere in this passage is there one scene of suffering and anguish described in detail. Even Noah’s eyes were kept from beholding the torment suffered by those who died in the flood. The ark had no portholes, nor picture windows to look out on the destruction God wrought. The only opening was that at the top of the ark to allow light to shine in.
God does not delight in judgment, nor does He needlessly dwell upon it, but it is a certainty for those who resist His grace. Do not deceive yourself, my friend, there is a time when the offer of salvation will be withdrawn.
Sometime ago I visited a women who was dying of cancer. I was unable to share the gospel with her on my first visit because she had to be taken to therapy. When I knocked at the door on my second visit, her husband came and opened it far enough for me to see the woman, obviously failing in her sickness. When he asked her if she wanted to talk to me, she shook her head no. I never saw her again before her death.
Many people seem to think that they will wait until one foot is in the grave and the other is on a banana peel to be saved. It usually doesn’t happen that way. God still closes the door of salvation. When we have lived our lives in sin and rebellion against God, we most often will not be given the luxury of making a deathbed decision. It sometimes happens, I grant, but seldom.
Then, too, God’s judgment is often allowing things to take their own course. The account of the flood seems almost like creation reverted to the conditions of the second day of creation (cf. Genesis 1:6-7).
In the book of Colossians we are told that our Lord Jesus Christ is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe (Colossians 1:16-17). Men who reject God live as though God did not exist at all. In the Great Tribulation, God is going to give men seven years to discover what living without God is like. God’s restraining and controlling hand will be withdrawn and chaos will reign. God’s judgment is often giving men both what they want and what they deserve—the natural consequences of their deeds.
Finally, let us consider the subject of the salvation of God. In the case of Noah we must observe that God’s way of salvation was restrictive. God provided only one way of salvation (an ark) and only one door. Men could not be saved any way they wished, but only God’s way. Such is the salvation which God offers men today.
Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me’ (John 14:6).
The salvation of the ark was also instructive. It provides us with a picture of the salvation that was accomplished in Christ. It was for those in Moses’ day a type of Christ. The difference between those who were saved and those who perished in the flood was the difference between being in the ark and being outside it.
Those who were saved and those who died all went through the flood. But those who survived were those in the ark which sheltered them from the effects of God’s divine displeasure on sin. Those outside the ark, as well as those within, knew the ark existed and were informed that God had warned of a judgment to come. Some chose to ignore these facts, while Noah acted upon them.
So it is today. God has said that there must be a penalty for sin—death. Those who are in Christ by faith have suffered the wrath of God in Christ. On the cross of Calvary the wrath of God was poured out upon the sinless Son of God, Jesus Christ. Those who trust in Him have experienced the salvation of God in Christ. Those who refuse to trust in Him and be in Him by an act of the will, must suffer the wrath of God outside of Christ, our ark. Knowing about Christ no more saves a man than knowing about the ark saved men in Noah’s day. It is being in the ark, being in Christ, that saves!
God’s way of salvation was not a glamorous one. I believe that many would have been on board the Queen Mary if Noah had built it, but not on the ark. There was little appeal to the eye on that ark, but it was sufficient for the task of saving men in a flood.
Many refuse to be saved if it cannot be achieved in some glorious way, one that is appealing and acceptable. I would not want to spend a year cooped up with noisy, smelly animals any more than you, but that was God’s way.
Our Lord Jesus, when He came to offer salvation to men, did not come as One Who had great personal magnetism or appeal either. As Isaiah spoke of Him 700 years before His coming,
He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him (Isaiah 53:2).
Many would come to salvation if it appealed to them in the flesh. God’s salvation is not of this kind.
Sometimes Christians fail at this same point. They think that God’s way is a glorious one all the way. All miracles and magnificence. No suffering, no pain, no agony, no heartache. I must tell you that God’s way is not always as glorious as we might wish, but it alone is the way of deliverance and peace and joy.
And this salvation which God provided was one that was entered into by faith in God’s revealed Word. Noah probably never had seen rain, nor heard the clap of thunder. But God said that there was to be a flood and that he was to build an ark. Noah believed God and acted on his faith.
Noah’s faith was no academic faith—a mere faith in principle, but an active faith—a faith in practice. He spent 120 years building that ark, committing himself to the God he knew. Our faith, too, must be active.
Noah, we are told, was a preacher. I do not believe that he often spoke from behind a pulpit, but from behind a plank and a hammer. It was Noah’s lifestyle that condemned the men of his day and warned of the judgment to come. Noah’s whole life was shaped by his certainty that judgment was coming.
We who are Christians know that our Lord will again return to judge the world. I wonder how much it has affected our daily lives? Can your neighbors and mine tell that we are living in the light of a coming day of judgment and of salvation. I sincerely hope so.
90 Howard F. Vos, Genesis and Archaeology (Chicago: Moody Press, 1963), p. 32. Vos, in the following pages gives an excellent summary of some of the most significant ancient accounts and suggests their relationship to the Genesis account.
Leitch further defines the concept of righteousness:
“In its general use, it represents any conformity to a standard whether that standard has to do with the inner character of a person, or the objective standard of accepted law. Thayer suggests the definition, ‘the state of him who is such as he ought to be.’ In the wide sense, it refers to that which is upright or virtuous, displaying integrity, purity of life, and correctness in feeling and action.” A. H. Leitch, “Righteousness,” The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975, 1976), V, p. 104.
93 “The Hebrew for corrupt(ed) (or ‘destroyed’) also makes it plain that what God decided to ‘destroy’ (13) had been virtually self-destroyed already.” Derek Kidner, Genesis (Chicago: Inter-Varsity Press, 1967), p. 87.
94 Interestingly, the word used in this account for the ark (teba), is found only elsewhere in Exodus chapter 2 of the ‘ark’ into which the baby Moses was placed by his mother to preserve the child from the Egyptians.