Lesson 10: The Curse and The Covering (Genesis 3:16-24)Related Media
A sign on a convent read: “Absolutely no trespassing. Violators will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Signed, The Sisters of Mercy.” That sign reflects a problem Christians wrestle with, namely, confusion about the relationship between God’s grace and judgment.
Some say that God is so gracious that He overlooks our sin. These Christians pride themselves on their tolerance and acceptance of everyone, no matter how terrible their sin. Their theme verse is, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” Others emphasize God’s judgment of all sin. These folks are stern and judgmental, like their God. Their favorite verse is, “Prepare to meet thy God.”
Neither side reflects the full biblical picture of God. The first group stresses God’s love and grace, but loses His holiness. The second group emphasizes His holiness, but loses His grace toward sinners. The biblical picture is that God is both loving and holy, gracious and righteous, merciful and just. Since our view of God affects the way we live and treat others, we need to be careful to reflect the biblical revelation of who God is and how He deals with our sin.
Genesis 3 gives us the proper view of God. When Adam and Eve sinned, God did not strike them dead on the spot, as His holiness alone would have required. Nor did He say, “That’s okay, don’t worry about it,” as His love alone may have allowed. Rather, God dealt with their sin as a serious matter. He imposed the penalty their sin required; but He interposed His grace, so that the fallen couple could be restored to fellowship with Him. There was both the curse and the covering for their sin. These verses teach us that ...
God allows us to suffer consequences for our sin but also He provides salvation from sin’s ultimate consequences.
We need to keep both aspects in tension. In our day of “hang loose” Christianity, we need to remember that we cannot sin without consequences. Grace does not nullify the law of sowing and reaping. But also we need to remember that God is gracious, that He Himself paid the price for our sin, to deliver us from His ultimate judgment.
1. God allows us to suffer consequences for our sin: The curse (3:16-19).
As we saw last week, when Adam and Eve sinned, God graciously sought them, confronted them, and offered the promise of deliverance through the seed of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent. It was gracious because Adam and Eve deserved judgment, not a promise of deliverance.
But then God deals with the woman and then the man. He does not curse them directly, as He did with the serpent. But He does impose penalties for their disobedience. Even though God forgives the ultimate penalty of their sin, He still allows some of the consequences to continue.
We need to understand that the penalties imposed on Adam and Eve affected not just them, but every person in history after them. All sin is like that. We never sin in isolation. Even sin done in secret affects others. This talk about what goes on behind closed doors between consenting adults not being anyone else’s business is sheer nonsense. Sin always affects others, not only in this generation, but also in the generations to come.
Why did God curse these particular things? I think God cursed the woman’s childbearing process and the ground on behalf of the man because these things represent the chief role of each sex. The woman’s main role (biblically) is that of homemaker and mother; the man is to be the provider. That is not to say that the woman does not provide anything and that the man does not involve himself in the home. But these are the main responsibilities. In Genesis 1:28, the couple was commanded to be fruitful and multiply, and to subdue the earth. That command involved work, but not toil and pain. But now God introduces toil and pain as the necessary price to fulfill these primary roles.
A. The curse as applied to the woman (3:16).
The curse as applied to the woman involved two main areas: She would experience increased pain in childbearing; and she would be in a new relationship with her husband in which he is said to rule over her.
With regard to the first, the curse means that the physical pain of childbirth was magnified. Down through history, many women have died in childbirth. In spite of modern techniques, childbearing involves pain. One reason God may have increased the woman’s pain in childbearing was to give us an object lesson of the pain which God would now endure in order to bring forth spiritual children. His own Son, the second Person of the Trinity, would have to go to the cross and suffer not only the physical pain of the crucifixion, but also the indescribable agony of separation from the Father as our sin-bearer.
God mercifully tempers the pain with the great joy which children give. As Jesus said, “Whenever a woman is in travail, she has sorrow, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she remembers the anguish no more, for joy that a child has been born into the world” (John 16:21). The most joyous moments of my life have been the births of our three children. Children who grow up to follow the Lord are a great source of delight to godly parents. But as any parent knows, you open yourself to great risk of pain when you enter into the God-given miracle of bringing a child into this sinful world. Because of the fall, you can’t have the joy without the risk of pain.
The curse as applied to the woman not only affected childbearing, but also her relationship with her husband. The last half of verse 16 is difficult to interpret. Two views are the most likely. The first is that in spite of the woman’s increased pain in childbearing, she would continue to have sexual desire toward her husband. Sex was not cursed by God. The woman has as much right to enjoy sex in marriage as the man. Two things commend this view. The word “desire” is used in Song of Songs 7:10 to refer to the desire of a lover for his beloved. And, the woman’s pleasure in sex serves as a gracious blessing to offset the preceding curse of pain in childbirth. Just as God curses the ground, but graciously allows it to yield sufficient produce; and, He curses work with toil and sweat, and yet work also is a blessing in that it forces us to discipline our unruly fallen nature and it yields the sustenance we need; even so, God ordains pain in childbirth, but graciously allows the woman to enjoy the act that leads to conception.
The second plausible view is that “desire” is used in the same sense as Genesis 4:7 (its only other occurrence in the Old Testament), meaning the desire to dominate. The woman who usurped authority from her husband by eating the fruit is cursed with the inclination to dominate him, but he is ordained to rule over her. The strengths of this view are that it fits in with the last phrase of the verse and it uses “desire” in the same sense it is used a few verses later. If this is the correct view, it alerts us to the inherent tendency of the fallen nature of each sex: of the woman to dominate her husband; of the man to dominate his wife. Both militate against the beautiful “one flesh” relationship that existed before the fall (2:24). Thus as Paul ordains (Eph. 5:22-33) that to recover that intimacy, the wife must submit to her husband, and the husband must tenderly love and lead his wife.
I find it hard to decide between the two views because both have their strengths and both express truths taught elsewhere in Scripture. If the second view is correct, it does not justify the abusive dominance of men over women; nor does it lend support to the egalitarian view, in which it is claimed that there are no gender-based role distinctions because Christ overcame the curse. It means that godly women must now fight the tendency to dominate their husbands, and godly men must fight the tendency to dominate their wives. Both must learn to love one another in the context of the proper roles ordained by God.
B. The curse as applied to the man (3:17-19).
Adam sinned not only by eating the forbidden fruit, but by allowing his wife to have dominion over him. God says, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife” (v. 17). Sometimes listening to the voice of your wife is the wisest thing you can do! But it is wrong to listen to your wife when she contradicts God’s word. Adam abdicated leadership to her, deliberately disobeying God by setting his wife above God. God holds the man accountable for the direction a family goes. Many Christian men are passive with regard to the family. They don’t take responsibility to train the children. They focus on their job and leave the home to the wife. When problems come, they blame her. It is not wrong to delegate things to your wife, but there’s a big difference between delegating and dumping. When you delegate, you retain final responsibility; when you dump, you abdicate responsibility. Scripture clearly holds the man responsible for his wife and children.
The curse on the man covers two areas: the ground is cursed; and physical death is mandated. Just as the curse on the woman also affects the man, so the curse on the man affects the woman. The curse on the ground meant that man would have to toil to bring forth the crops to survive. I understand the curse to be much wider than just the thorns and thistles mentioned here as representative. As Paul explains in Romans 8:20-21, the whole creation was subjected to sinful man. An unfallen creation could not be ruled by a fallen lord. So everything in creation which is now opposed to man--from mosquitoes to viruses to natural disasters--stems from the fall. All suffering and pain ultimately can be traced back to the first sin.
The second part of the curse as it applies to the man is the affirmation of physical death. Our bodies will return to dust. Since the fall, death is the enemy of every person. We can spend our lives working toward certain goals, and yet be struck down any day by the most trivial of accidents. Death is no respecter of persons: young and old, rich and poor--all must face death. But as terrible an enemy as death is, even it has its side of blessing: It forces us to come to terms with God and eternity. Very few of us would do that if we didn’t recognize our mortality. Death shouts at us that we desperately need to be right with God.
So the curse shows us that God allows us to suffer consequences for our sin. Sometimes those consequences are directly related to some sin we have committed; at other times we just suffer the consequences of living in a fallen world. While God graciously tempers the severity of the consequences with glimmers of grace, the consequences are real. They remind us that with the holy God, sin is serious. But God’s grace triumphs in that He doesn’t leave us to suffer the ultimate consequences of sin:
2. God provides salvation from sin’s ultimate consequences: The covering (3:20-24).
At first glance, verses 20 and 21 seem out of context. But they fit in perfectly.
A. Salvation is through faith in God’s promise (3:20).
After the morbid words of verse 19, you would expect something like, “Now Adam called his wife’s name the Grim Reaper, because she was the mother of all the dying.” But instead of the Grim Reaper, Adam calls her “Eve,” which means “life-giver.” And even more strange, she has not yet had any children (see 4:1).
What does this verse mean? It is Adam’s response of faith to God’s promise to send a Savior through the seed of the woman (3:15). Adam heard and submitted to God’s penalty of death (3:19); but he also believed God’s promise that there would come forth from the woman one who would bruise the serpent’s head. And so by faith Adam named her Eve, the mother of all living, before she had conceived.
Salvation is now and always has been by faith in God’s promise. Before Jesus Christ came into the world, a person’s faith looked forward to the promised Savior. Since Christ, faith looks back to the Savior who came. But God always has granted salvation in response to a person’s taking Him at His word. It has never been based on keeping the commandments or on balancing out a person’s good works against his sins. Adam took God at His word. At that instant he was delivered from the ultimate consequence of his sin: eternal separation from God. God responded to Adam’s faith by providing a graphic object lesson of salvation:
B. Salvation is through God’s provision (3:21).
This verse shows how God met the practical need for clothing. But obviously it goes far beyond that. Just as man’s nakedness (3:7) goes beyond the physical and points to the nakedness of soul which resulted from sin, so God’s provision of clothing goes beyond the need for garments. It is a beautiful illustration of what God would do through the Lord Jesus Christ to provide salvation for all who stand before Him, naked due to their sin. This verse shows us four things (I have adapted the following four points from James Boice, Genesis [Zondervan], 1:189-192):
(1) Man needs a covering for his sin. The thought of standing with our sin exposed before the light of God’s presence should be more intolerable than the thought of going stark naked for a job interview at the White House. We all need some sort of covering for our sin.
(2) Man’s attempts at covering himself are inadequate. Adam and Eve’s fig leaves wouldn’t do. Man often tries the fig leaves of good works to make himself presentable to God, but God cannot accept that. All the good works in the world cannot erase our sin, which is the problem.
(3) Only God can provide the covering we need for our sin. He takes the initiative in properly covering man. He strips off the fig leaves and clothes Adam and Eve with animal skins. Adam and Eve did nothing; God did it all. We cannot receive God’s salvation as long as we offer Him our fig leaves. We must let Him provide everything, as He has in fact done in Christ.
(4) The covering God provided required the death of an innocent substitute. If, as I think we can assume, Adam and Eve witnessed the slaughter of these animals, it must have shocked them. This was the first time they had seen death. As they saw the animals (perhaps lambs?) having their throats slit and writhing in the throes of death, they must have gained a new awareness of the seriousness of their sin and of the greatness of God’s grace in providing for their sin. They learned that without the shedding of blood, there is no adequate covering for sin, but that God would accept the death of an acceptable substitute. Of course the blood of animals cannot take away our sin, but only the blood of Christ, to whom the animals pointed.
You are either standing before God clothed in the fig leaves of your own good works, or clothed in the righteousness which God provides in Jesus Christ. The only way you can hope to gain entry to heaven is to accept the covering God offers through the death of the Lamb of God.
C. Salvation is from the ultimate curse (3:22-24).
Having clothed Adam and Eve, God expels them from the garden. Art Linkletter saw a small boy drawing a picture of a car with a man in the front driving, and a man and a woman in the back. When Art asked who was in the car, the boy replied that it was God driving Adam and Eve out of the garden of Eden. That’s not quite how it happened!
First God states the problem: “the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil” (3:22). By eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, man had become like God in the sense that he related good and evil to himself. In the case of God, this is right, because He is the only perfect One who is the measure of all things. But in the case of man, it was sin. Now man knew evil like a cancer patient knows cancer, whereas God knew evil like the cancer surgeon knows cancer. The implication of God’s unfinished sentence (3:22) is that if they had stayed in the garden and eaten from the tree of life, they would have lived forever in their sinful bodies. So God banished them from the garden and Paradise ceased to exist on this earth.
But even this penalty contained a blessing. As Donald Barnhouse observes, “How often it is necessary for God to drive us out of an apparent good to bring us to the place of real good!” (Genesis [Zondervan], p. 28). Once sin had entered, to live forever would have been hell on earth. To set us free from sin and death, the Savior had to come who could rightly claim, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies” (John 11:25).
Barnhouse also tells the story of Sir Edward C. Burne-Jones, a prominent 19th century English artist, who went to his daughter’s home for tea. During the tea, his little granddaughter misbehaved, so her mother made her stand in the corner with her face to the wall. Sir Edward did not interfere in his granddaughter’s discipline. But the next day he arrived at the house with his paints, went to the wall where the little girl had been forced to stand, and proceeded to paint a number of pictures that would delight a child--a kitten chasing its tail; lambs in a field; goldfish swimming; etc. If his granddaughter had to stand in the corner again, at least she would have something to look at (Let Me Illustrate [Revell], pp. 145-146). Judgment was tempered by grace.
Because of the fall, we are all under the curse of sin. But while God allows us to suffer the temporal consequences of sin to warn us and to turn us from sin, He also paints a picture of grace by providing the covering we need to protect us from sin’s ultimate consequence. Today you are either standing before God in the fig leaves of your own good works, in which case you are under sin’s full curse if you should die; or, you have come to Christ, the Lamb of God, and have allowed Him to cover your sin with His shed blood. Along with the curse, God provides the covering. Make sure you’re under God’s merciful covering!
- How can we hold to God’s grace without excusing our sin, and to His holiness without hindering intimacy with Him?
- Does the curse doom husbands and wives to rivalry for power? Is a husband supposed to exercise his authority to get his wife under his rule?
- Some argue that the curse of a woman being under her husband’s rule is abolished in Christ (Gal. 3:28). Is this valid?
- Does God soften the harvest of sowing and reaping (Gal. 6:7-8) for the believer? Base your answer on biblical examples.
Copyright 1996, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation
Lesson 11: Sin Crouching At The Door (Genesis 4:1-15)Related Media
Several years ago California farmers were threatened with a potential disaster in the Mediterranean fruit fly. It probably entered the state with someone who lied about not having any fruit when they crossed the border. Then the larvae hatched and multiplied quickly. It took a rapid, all-out effort to save California’s fruit crop.
As you may know, the larvae of fruit flies and other insects do not eat their way into the fruit from the outside. Rather, the insect lays the egg in the blossom. The fruit grows around it; sometime later the worm hatches inside the fruit and eats its way out.
Sin is like that. It begins in the human heart and, if unchecked, works its way out in thoughts, words, and deeds. As with the Med-fly, it takes quick, vigorous action to deal with it and root it out. If you let it go, it gets the upper hand, resulting in terrible destruction.
We see the terrible effects of unchecked sin in the story of Cain and Abel. Because of the sin of his parents, Cain was the first person born in sin, as all since then have been. His tragic murder of his brother was even more tragic because of the high hopes connected with his birth. Imagine the joy and hope of that first couple as they looked into Cain’s tiny face and reflected on God’s promise to send a deliverer through the seed of the woman. Many Bible scholars think that Adam and Eve mistakenly thought Cain was the promised deliverer (Gen 3:15). His name means “acquired.” In light of God’s promise, it probably means, “I’ve gotten him!” Genesis 4:1 may be translated, “I have gotten a man with the Lord”; or, “I have gotten a man, the Lord.” She thought that Cain was the deliverer. And yet, as we know, she had not given birth to Christ, but to a murderer.
That’s the frightening possibility that every parent since Adam and Eve faces. We all have high hopes for our children. We want them to grow up to live productive, happy lives. But since the fall, there is a worm in the fruit. Sin resides in the heart of every newborn, and it is only a matter of time until it eats its way out. If a child grows up without trusting in Christ and learning how to check the power of sin within his heart, it will result in great ruin in his own life and in the lives of others. The story of Cain and Abel tells us that ...
Unchecked sin stemming from within leads to devastation without.
1. Sin stems from within.
Adam’s sin was imputed to the entire human race so that each person is born in sin (Rom. 5:12; Eph. 2:3). David, whom God called a man after His own heart, lamented, “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5). Jeremiah groaned, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9, NKJV). The Apostle Paul sums up the human condition: “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.... For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:10-12, 23). This is the doctrine of total depravity.
Total depravity does not mean that every person is as bad as he can be, nor that sinful people are incapable of good deeds. Rather, it means that there is nothing in the human heart capable of earning God’s favor. The human heart, by nature, is hostile toward God and unable to please God (Rom. 8:7-8). You can give a pig a bath and dress it in a tuxedo, but unless you change its nature, it will go back to wallowing in the mud. As sinners we can dress up in good deeds and look good on the outside, but unless God gives us a new nature, our hearts are corrupt. We sin because we are sinners by nature.
Jesus taught the same thing when He said, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these things proceed from within and defile the man” (Mark 7:20-23). Sin stems from within.
That was Cain’s problem. We read that when the brothers brought their respective offerings, the Lord had regard for Abel’s sacrifice, but not for Cain’s (4:2-4). Some commentators argue that the type of sacrifice had nothing to do with God’s acceptance of Abel and rejection of Cain. Rather, they say, it was the heart condition of each man. Abel’s heart was right before God, whereas Cain’s was not.
That is true, but not the full truth. The Lord always desires obedience rather than sacrifice (1 Sam. 15:22). Cain’s wrong offering reflected his rebellious heart. But I believe God had given clear instruction about the type of sacrifice that He would accept. He had given Adam and Eve a graphic object lesson by clothing them with the skins of slaughtered animals, showing them that their fig leaves were not an adequate covering for their sin. Surely Adam and Eve had taught their sons what God had shown them about the proper way to approach Him. The young men had not just dreamed up on their own this idea of sacrifice. God had given them adequate instruction, either through their parents or directly.
This fact is confirmed by the author of Hebrews who writes, “By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous...” (Heb. 11:4). Faith takes God at His word and acts upon it. Abel could not have offered his sacrifice in faith unless God had clearly revealed to that first family that He required a sacrifice which involved blood through the death of a substitute. God declared that the penalty for sin was death. But God had shown that He would accept the death of a proper substitute in place of the death of the sinner. Those animals pointed forward to the death of the Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, who would come to take away the sin of the world. Cain and Abel both knew what God required. But only Abel came in the obedience of faith with his offering. Cain came with the fruit of his own labor, but it was in defiance of what God had specified.
Why did Cain do that? Beneath his wrong offering was a root of pride that lurks in every fallen heart. Pride tells us that we have something in ourselves that will commend us to God. Pride whispers, “You’re a pretty good person. Sure, you’ve got your faults, but nothing so bad as to send you to hell. Do your best, be sincere, and you’ll get into heaven. After all, if God is good, He wouldn’t condemn a decent person like you!” Such prideful thinking is at the root of every human religion, but it is totally opposed to biblical Christianity which plainly declares that we are all sinners by nature and by deed and that no sinner can save himself from God’s judgment. If we can offer God anything for our salvation, then Christ did not need to die as the substitute for sinners, thus satisfying God’s holy justice.
God didn’t accept Abel’s offering out of arbitrary unfairness. Nor did he accept it because it was Abel’s best effort. Abel was, by nature, just as much a sinner as Cain was. God accepted it because Abel offered it in faith in response to God’s word. It had nothing to do with Cain’s efforts or Abel’s efforts. It had everything to do with God’s just requirement for a blood sacrifice to be the only means of approaching Him.
Let’s suppose that you are a football fan, and you really wanted to go to the recent Superbowl. You went down to Sun Devil Stadium and started to walk through the turnstile. The ticket attendant says, “Where’s your ticket?” You say, “Oh, I don’t have one of those silly pieces of paper. But I want you to know that I am a committed football fan. I watch every game. I know the statistics on every player. There is no more dedicated fan than I.” He will say, “I don’t care; you need a ticket to get into the Superbowl.”
So you leave the stadium and go find an artist. You have him draw a ticket with a picture of a football player on it. He writes on it in neat letters, “Superbowl Ticket.” You go back to the stadium and hand that ticket to the man. He looks at it and says, “What’s this?” You say, “That’s my ticket. You said I needed a ticket to get into the game.”
You could argue with him all day that your ticket is prettier than those printed tickets everyone else is giving him. You’re probably right. But it won’t do you a bit of good. You can tell him how much effort and expense you went to in order to have that ticket made. He won’t care. The only way to gain entrance to the game is to present the ticket issued by the proper authority. It has nothing to do with your character. It has nothing to do with your dedication as a fan. It has nothing to do with the effort or expense you went to in order to produce your own version of it. It has everything to do with it being the ticket required by the management for entrance.
God has said that the only ticket into heaven is perfect righteousness. No one has it. No one can achieve it. But in His grace, God offers it as a free gift through the death of His Son, the only acceptable Substitute. Coming to God with that ticket robs us of all pride in our own goodness and good works. But it is the only ticket acceptable at heaven’s gate.
Cain didn’t like that. His pride in his own efforts made him angry when his ticket was rejected. He was angry at God, but also at his brother, who got in by showing the right ticket. His anger led him into depression--his countenance fell (4:5). He grew jealous. It all stemmed from his pride which tried to come God on his own terms. Sin stems from within.
2. Sin needs to be checked.
God could have struck Cain dead at this point for offering this improper sacrifice. But He graciously comes to Cain with a warning, to give him a chance to repent before it is too late.
A. God graciously warned Cain to check his sin.
The Lord asks Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?” Remember, God doesn’t ask questions because He lacks information. He asks questions to get the hearer to think rightly about matters. He was telling Cain, “Your anger and foul mood should tell you something about yourself. The reason you’re angry and depressed is that you weren’t willing to submit to My way and you didn’t get your way. And then you saw that I accepted your brother and his sacrifice and you grew jealous. It all stems from your pride, Cain.”
If you struggle with anger, ask yourself the question God asked Cain: Why are you angry? You’ll probably learn that you’re a lot more selfish than you care to admit. You may discover that your anger is a cover for some other area of disobedience in your life. It may be due to your wrong perception that God is dealing with you unfairly. “I’m as good a Christian as so-and-so. But look how God has blessed him. But all I get is suffering and problems. It’s not fair!” Never ask God to deal fairly with you! If He deals fairly, we all would go to hell! The only way to approach God is as an undeserving sinner seeking grace.
God’s warning tells Cain what he needs to do: “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (4:7). In this context, “doing well” means, “Go back and offer the right sacrifice and you will be accepted and your anger and depression will go away. Everything will be right between you and Me.” God is giving Cain the opportunity to repent.
There is an important principle here: By doing well, you will feel well. Cain was angry and depressed because of his sin. God didn’t put him in therapy and ask him about his childhood. Rather He said, “Act right and you will feel right.” If you will obey God and judge sinful feelings, your feelings will come around, and you will find yourself feeling good. But if you follow your feelings and disobey God, you will be plunged into guilt and depression. God doesn’t tell us to live by feelings, but by faith and obedience to His Word. Do well and you will feel well.
If you don’t do well, sin is crouching at the door. God pictures sin as a wild animal ready to pounce. It has a desire for you; it thirsts for your blood. It is your mortal enemy. But you must master it. Just as man was to have dominion over the beasts, so he must now gain dominion over the beast crouching within--indwelling sin.
God is saying, “Deal with your sin. Don’t let it go on, or you will soon find yourself in the grip of a monster you can’t control.” Sin always begins with wrong thoughts. If you let those wrong thoughts go on, they lead to wrong feelings. Wrong feelings lead to wrong words, wrong words to wrong actions, wrong actions to wrong habits. Sin is like an acorn from an oak tree that falls in the forest. If you pick it up immediately, it is easy; even a child can do it. If it has just sprouted, it is still relatively easy to root out. But if you let it alone for very long, it sends down deep roots and grows into a strong tree that requires a lot of work to take out. If unchecked sin gets a hold in your life, it is a major operation to root it out. So God is saying, “Deal with your sin now, while it is still in the mental stage. If you let it go on, it will destroy you.”
Some of you may be thinking, “What can I do? I’ve already allowed some sins to take deep root in my life. They’re far past the thought stage; they’re deep-rooted habits. To tear them out now would be as difficult as yanking a tree out of my yard.”
I don’t have time to answer that question fully in this message. But, briefly, there are two sides to dealing with deep-rooted sin: God’s part and your part. God’s part is to take away the penalty of your sin when you trust in Christ and to give you the Holy Spirit and the Word to produce holiness within you (Ps. 119:11; Rom. 8:1-4). Your part is to walk in dependence on the Holy Spirit and to deal radically with sin--yank out your eye; cut off your hand that makes you stumble (Matt. 5:29-30)! Jesus wasn’t suggesting that maiming yourself would solve your sin problem. Rather, He was saying that you need to get radical in dealing with your sin. Do whatever it takes to cut sin out of your life. Don’t flirt with it, don’t dabble with it, not even in your thought life. Throw the bum out! Otherwise, it moves in and takes over, making you its slave. But in spite of God’s gracious warning we see that ...
B. Cain willfully disobeyed God’s warning.
Cain refused to humble himself and bring the proper offering. Instead, “he told Abel his brother” (NASB, 4:8). We don’t know what he told him. It probably means that Cain invited Abel to go into the field with him. The sense is that he talked nicely to him. Abel didn’t suspect the treachery; and so Cain killed him without warning. The Greek word used to describe the murder in 1 John 3:12 is a word meaning to slaughter a victim for sacrifice, to slit the throat. Perhaps Cain thought angrily, “All right, God, if You want blood sacrifice, I’ll give it to You.” And he ruthlessly slaughtered his own brother in cold blood.
Cain’s sin shows the hardening process that has set into the human race in one generation of sin. It began in the context of worship, thus showing how sinful man trifles with the most sacred things. Eve had to be talked into her sin; Cain could not be talked out of it, even by God Himself. The victim was his own brother, guilty of no wrong toward Cain. While Adam and Eve tried to pass the buck, at least they told the truth and owned up to their sin. But Cain lies about it and never admits his sin. When God asks, “Where is your brother?” Cain replies with the insolent words, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” The arrogant insinuation is, “Can’t You keep track of Your own creation, God?” There is not one word of repentance.
So sin begins within, in the heart. If it is not checked, it moves into wrong emotions and wrong actions. Finally,
3. Unchecked sin leads to outward devastation.
Abel, a righteous man, was murdered. Adam and Eve were undoubtedly overwhelmed with grief. Their high hopes for their son the deliverer were dashed. He fled into a distant land, estranged from his parents. His descendents, as we will see, learned his arrogant and violent ways (4:23-24). But let’s focus briefly on the devastation in Cain’s life.
First, God curses Cain in the area of his greatest strength. He was a farmer; God says that the ground will no longer yield its strength to him. Farmers generally are tied to the land, to one location. God decrees that Cain will be a vagrant and wanderer. The wonder is that God didn’t execute Cain on the spot. God later gave to man the power of capital punishment for murder (Gen. 9:6). The only reason I know why God didn’t execute Cain was His great mercy. Cain got far less than he deserved.
And yet he complained that his punishment was too harsh (4:13)! Isn’t that just like sinful man! We sin and God sends some sort of judgment on us. And we complain and say, “God’s not fair” (Prov. 19:3). Cain is filled with self-pity and fear that he would get the same treatment he gave his brother (4:14). “‘There is no peace for the wicked,’ says the Lord” (Isa. 48:22).
God graciously appointed a sign or mark for Cain, as a warning that if anyone killed Cain, vengeance would be taken on him sevenfold. We don’t know whether this was a physical mark or some sort of confirming sign. But it was a mark of grace, by which God signified that His protective hand was on Cain in spite of his great sin. God, in His mercy, was giving Cain every chance to repent. But we read that “Cain went out from the presence of the Lord” (4:16).
What devastation sin brings into human lives! A man of great promise ends up as an estranged, hardened, fearful, guilt-ridden vagabond. Seventeenth century English poet, John Trapp, wrote, “To prosper in sin is the greatest tragedy that can befall a man this side of hell. Envy not such a one his pomp any more than you would a corpse his flowers.”
What are you doing with the sin crouching at the door of your heart? Either it will master you or by trusting in Christ and warring against it, you will master it. Have you come to Christ as a guilty sinner seeking mercy? Are you on guard against the beast that still dwells within? Are you dealing radically with it? Or are you dallying with it? There’s no middle ground! If God is speaking to you about your sin, don’t shut the door on God. Come in repentance to Him, and by His power, slam the door shut on your sin!
- What would you say to someone who said, “God is not fair in imputing Adam’s sin to the whole human race”?
- Why is the doctrine of total depravity essential to the gospel?
- Is all anger sin? How can we tell the difference between sinful anger and righteous anger? How should we deal with our anger?
- Is all depression sin? Is some depression sin? How does God want us to deal with our depression?
- Is it possible for a Christian to live without sinning? Can a Christian experience consistent victory over sin? How?
Copyright 1996, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation
Related Topics: Hamartiology (Sin)
Lesson 12: Progress Without God (Genesis 4:16-26)Related Media
There are three great enemies of the believer: The world; the flesh; and the devil. In the early chapters of Genesis, these three enemies are introduced to us in reverse order: The devil (chap. 3; the temptation and fall); the flesh (4:1-15; “sin crouching at the door”); and, the world (4:16-26; where we see the descendants of Cain making progress, but it is progress without God).
We live in a world of dizzying technological progress. In my own lifetime (I’m dating myself!), TV has gone from a novelty owned by a very few Americans, with a narrow selection of shows (almost all wholesome), to a domineering presence in almost all American homes, where it spews forth sensuality, violence, and anti-family programs which we watch for an average of over three hours per day per person. Somehow, I made it through college without the photocopy machine. I was through seminary and several years in the ministry before the personal computer became available. The last few years have brought the fax machine, the computer modem, and the Internet.
If you go back to my grandparent’s childhood years (100 years ago), it was a whole different world. There were no paved roads or cars, no airplanes (let alone space travel--my grandfather died insisting that men on the moon were just a TV fantasy). The telephone and electric light bulb were new inventions. Most modern household appliances did not exist. Even the radio was still future. Medical knowledge was in its infancy compared to today.
As Christians, we are called to live in this world and to use the things of the world, and yet not to be conformed to its man-centered ways. It’s easy to get squeezed into this world’s mold, so that God subtly gets squeezed out. To make progress without God is to be like the man who climbed the ladder of success only to discover that it was leaning against the wrong wall. Someone has said, “Is it progress if you get a cannibal to use a knife and fork?” Progress without God leads no where; true progress comes only through submission to God.
In Genesis 4:16-26 we see, in Cain’s descendants, the world caught up with progress without God. But at the end of the chapter there is a glimmer of hope in the descendants of Seth, a remnant of people who call upon God. These two strands of people--the worldly and the godly--write human history. They teach us that ...
Progress without God is illusory; progress with God is true progress.
1. Progress without God is illusory (4:16-24).
After murdering his brother, Cain refused God’s offer to repent. Instead, he “went out from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod [= wandering]” (4:16). To go out from the presence of God means that Cain turned his back on God. He and his wife had children and grandchildren, he built a city, his descendants developed a number of innovations, and life went on. It sounds a lot like our world. There is progress; but it is only apparent progress, because it is progress without God.
Before we go farther, we need to answer the questions you’re all wondering about: Where did Cain get his wife? and, Where did the people come from to populate a city? With regard to Cain’s wife, Genesis 5:4 states that during Adam’s long life, he had many sons and daughters besides those named in these chapters. Someone has conservatively estimated that in his 930 years (which I take literally) Adam could easily have over a million descendants. So Cain (probably before murdering Abel) married one of his sisters (or nieces), who went east with him. God had not yet forbidden incest, which later in human history would cause genetic problems.
With regard to the question of where the people came from to populate Cain’s city, the term “city” need mean nothing more than a walled enclosure with a few houses. Even in David’s time (ca. 1000 B.C.), the capital city of Jerusalem encompassed only about ten acres. So we’re not looking at a Phoenix! The people who lived in Cain’s “city” were probably his descendants.
While Cain himself defied God, his descendants weren’t all angry rebels. The names of several of them contain the root “El,” the Hebrew word for God, which would indicate that they had a form of religion (4:18). But the implication is that they did not know the living God. He was not central to them. They focused on the business of raising families, founding cities, pursuing careers, and developing cultures and inventions.
A. Cultural and technological advances promote the illusion of progress.
These people saw a number of beneficial advances. The population was growing. Families developed. Cities, where people banded together in a common endeavor, were now possible. Others domesticated livestock (4:20). Culture was advancing, as Jubal invented stringed and wind instruments (4:21). Tubal-cain began to make and use various bronze and iron implements. It all had the look of progress.
Sounds like our world, doesn’t it? There were children, cities, culture, and careers. We get married, have children, build “planned communities,” take the kids to music lessons, and pursue our careers. But when you do all these good things apart from the presence of the Lord, they become only the illusion of progress. The world tries to fill the emptiness of life without God with all these good gifts which God has given for the human race.
In fact, each of them can turn into a nightmare without God. Children can become brazen murderers, like Lamech (4:23-24). Cities can become hopeless jungles of poverty and violence. Culture--music, literature, and films--can be used to glorify filth. Careers can be used to further greed in the selfish scramble to the top. Inventions have brought us to the brink of destroying the human race. The problem isn’t in these cultural and technological advances. The problem is when these things are done apart from the presence of God. Progress without God is only illusory.
B. Man’s spiritual and moral failure expose the illusion of progress.
Derek Kidner (Genesis [IVP], p. 78) observes: “Cain’s family is a microcosm: its pattern of technical prowess and moral failure is that of humanity.” The spiritual and moral failure shows itself in four ways:
(1) Defiance of God. God told Cain that he would be a wanderer because of murdering Abel. But Cain went out and built a city to thumb his nose at God. But even if he settled in a city, Cain couldn’t escape the inner restlessness. Perhaps building a city was his attempt to protect himself apart from God’s protection, since he feared that he would receive the same treatment he gave his brother.
By naming the city after his son, it’s likely that Cain was also defying God. God had said that death was the penalty for sin. Cain attempted to thwart the curse by making a lasting name for his family line by naming his city after his son. The psalmist, in talking of the foolishness of those who live without God, says, “Their inner thought is, that their houses are forever, and their dwelling places to all generations; they have called their lands after their own names. But man in his pomp will not endure; he is like the beasts that perish” (Ps. 49:11-12).
Defying God is more stupid than trying to stop a speeding freight train by standing in front of it. You can’t win against God! Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil. 2:10-11). You can either do it voluntarily now, or against your will in hell. But you cannot defy God and win. The spiritual and moral failure of the fallen human race is also seen in its ...
(2) Pride. As we saw last week, Cain was proud. He wanted to come to God on his terms, not on God’s terms. He wanted God to accept him on the basis of his best efforts. But no one can come to God on human merit. We can only come through the sacrifice God has provided, which robs us of our pride.
Cain’s pride was like a snowball, picking up mass as it rolls downhill. By the time it got to Lamech, it was an avalanche. Lamech not only sinned, but sinned boastfully. Verses 23 & 24 record the first poem or song in history. It is a “macho” song of the world’s first Rambo boasting in his strength. He calls his wives together and tells them how tough he is. The words may mean that he has already killed someone, or they may be the threat that if anyone messes with him, he will kill them. He is not simply saying that he will defend himself if he is attacked. Rather, he’s saying that if even a boy provokes him slightly, he will kill him.
But there’s more: not only is he boasting of himself over other men, but he is boasting against God. He refers to God’s promise to protect his ancestor, Cain, by punishing sevenfold. He is saying that he can take care of himself far better than God took care of Cain--seventy-sevenfold! This shows that he knew of God, but he chooses to exalt himself above God. What blasphemy and arrogance!
When a society or individuals in that society start boasting about sin, it has hit the bottom. I’m afraid our society is there. We flaunt sin on TV, and even Christians watch the filth until their noses grow accustomed to the stench. But God hates sin. Sin put Jesus through the agony of the cross. While we must show compassion to sinners (because we, too, are sinners needing mercy), we must never boast in the sin. The spiritual and moral failure of this early civilization is seen in their defiance of God and in their pride. Also,
(3) Polygamy and sensuality. Lamech took two wives. This is the introduction of polygamy in the Bible. While God tolerated polygamy, it was never endorsed, and the problems it caused are sufficient reason to conclude that it never brings about God’s purpose for marriage. Even though this was a drastic departure from God’s plan in giving one wife (and not more) to Adam, there is no indication that Lamech sought the Lord about doing it. He just did what he felt like doing.
The names of his wives and daughter reveal the sensual emphasis of this man. The names must be significant, since the Hebrews to whom Genesis was written would not have known these women, and nothing else is said of them. Adah means “the adorned,” or “beautiful one”; Zillah means “the shaded,” perhaps from her hair, or “tinkling,” perhaps from the sound of her voice. The name of the daughter, Naamah, means “lovely. The emphasis was on the lust of the flesh, on outward beauty and sensuality, not on the inner person or character.
Like no culture in history, we are bombarded with sensuality and appeals to the flesh. But as in this early culture, so today, this moral cancer is covered with the veneer of progress: “We’re free from the Victorian ideas of sexual purity. We’re free from the restrictive divorce laws which kept our parents bound in unhappy marriages.” And so we cast off God’s plan for moral purity, for marriage and the family under the banner of progress. The final indicator of the spiritual condition of these people is ...
(4) Perversion of culture into violence and selfish ends. It is not accidental that the development of bronze and iron implements (4:22) is followed by Lamech’s boast about murder (4:23-24). The development of bronze and iron implements was good for society. Many useful tools could help man cultivate the land and perform other tasks. But the same knowledge was used to develop swords and spears to kill. And so Lamech takes the good thing developed by his son and uses it wrongfully to defend his pride. The lyrics of the first song in history promoted violence! “Gangsta Rap” is as old as human civilization!
In our culture, inventions which could benefit man are twisted to promote destruction. The arts and music, which can be a wholesome expression of human creativity, are perverted into pornography and the degradation of people made in the image of God. And it’s all tolerated under the false covering of progress and free speech.
That’s the world system! It’s making great progress in many areas, but it’s progress without God. And so good things, legitimate things, are twisted and used for evil ends. The illusion of progress is promoted by the cultural and technological advances; but that same illusion is exposed by the spiritual and moral failure crouching behind it all. It would be depressing if the chapter ended there. But thankfully it does not. It ends with a glimmer of hope:
2. Progress with God is true progress (4:25-26).
By inciting Cain to murder Abel, Satan tried to thwart God’s promise to bring a deliverer through the seed of the woman. But God raised up another seed in Seth, whose name means “appointed.” Through Seth’s descendants we read, “Then men began to call upon the name of the Lord.”
Compared with building cities, founding cultural enterprises, and launching industries, “calling on the name of the Lord” doesn’t sound much like progress. It is not that those things are to be abandoned by God’s people. All too often Christians have let the world set the pace in the arts and sciences. Christians ought to be leading the way in every wholesome aspect of human enterprise. But the point is that if God is not at the center of such enterprise, it will be morally bankrupt. What looks like progress will not be progress at all. True progress has God at the center. Note three things about progress with God:
A. Progress with God requires believing God’s promises.
When Eve gave birth to Cain she thought he was the promised deliverer. She said, “I have gotten a man, the Lord” (4:1). Even though she was mistaken, it was a statement of faith. God had promised a deliverer through the seed of the woman. Eve believed God’s promise. But she gave birth to a murderer, not to the Savior. She could have grown disillusioned with God and said, “I believed God once and He let me down. Why should I believe Him this time?” But she didn’t. Rather she said, “God has appointed me another offspring [lit., “seed”] in place of Abel; for Cain killed him” (4:25). It’s interesting that Eve recognized Seth as the replacement for Abel, not for Cain. She knew that God could not use Cain to fulfill His promise of the seed. And her faith was rewarded, although not in her lifetime. In the fulness of time the promised Seed was born of a woman whose genealogy is traced through Seth to Adam (Luke 3:38).
You can’t make true progress in life until you take God at His word concerning His promise of the Savior. Jesus Christ, miraculously conceived in the virgin Mary through the Holy Spirit, is the eternal God in human flesh. God told Adam and Eve that they would die if the ate of the forbidden fruit. They ate; they instantly died spiritually, by being separated from God. They began to die physically. But God showed them through the death of the animals whose skins He used to clothe them that He would accept the death of an appropriate substitute. Jesus Christ is that substitute, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. You cannot come to God based on your own merit or works, as Cain tried to do. You can only come to God by trusting in the Substitute He has provided as the penalty for your sin. True progress starts there.
B. Progress with God requires acknowledging man’s frailty.
In biblical times, names were important. Seth named his son Enosh, which means “frail one” or “mortal.” Instead of boasting about his strength, as Lamech did, Seth readily acknowledged his weakness by naming his son, “Frail One.”
You cannot make progress with God until you learn how weak you really are. The problem with most Christians is not that they are weak, but rather that they think they’re strong. Until you know your weakness, you will trust in yourself, which is a sure route to spiritual failure. But as you become aware of the awful depravity of your heart, it drives you to trust completely in the Lord, who alone is your strength. When you are weak, then you are strong. That leads to the final aspect of progress with God:
C. Progress with God requires dependence upon the Lord.
“Then men began to call on the name of the Lord”. This may have been the beginning of public worship. The “name” refers to all that God had revealed about Himself. While the significance of the name “Yahweh” was not revealed to God’s people until Moses (Exod. 3:13-15), God’s character as the personal covenant God was known. Seth’s descendants began to call upon God as the personal, caring God, trusting fully in Him. If you are not growing in dependence on the living God, you’re not making progress in anything that counts for eternity.
Samuel Morse, inventor of the telegraph, was a man who acknowledged his own weakness and God’s strength, and thus trusted in the Lord. He was a pioneer in human progress. One day a friend said to him, “Professor Morse, when you were making your experiments, did you ever come to a place of not knowing what to do next?”
“More than once,” Morse replied, “and whenever I could not see my way clearly, I knelt down and prayed to God for light and understanding.” Then Morse added, “When flattering honors came to me from America and Europe on account of the invention which bears my name, I never felt I deserved them. I had made a valuable application of electricity, not because I was superior to other men, but solely because God, who meant it for mankind, must reveal it to someone, and was pleased to reveal it to me.”
In May, 1844, the first message to be sent over the telegraph, dispatched by Morse himself between Washington and Baltimore, was, “What hath God wrought!” That was true progress, because God was at the center of Morse’s life.
Someone has said, “I would rather fail in a cause that will someday triumph, than triumph in a cause that will someday fail.” How about you? Where are you putting your energy and time: into progress in the things of this world, or into true progress with God? Progress without God is no progress at all. The only progress that counts is progress with God at the center of our lives.
- Why are Christians often not on the cutting edge of science and the arts? Is it wrong for Christians to devote their lives to excellence in the these areas if it is not directly evangelistic?
- Some Christians have the notion, “Jesus is coming soon and the world is going to burn, so why work to improve things?” Is this a biblically tenable position? Why/why not?
- How can we keep God at the center of our lives in the midst of the pressures of our families, careers, etc.?
- What is “worldliness”? What does it mean to be “in the world” but not of it? See John 17:14-19.
Copyright 1996, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation
Lesson 13: The Epitaph of Sin (Genesis 5:1-32)Related Media
When asked what he would like his epitaph to read, Johnny Carson quipped, “I’ll be right back.” He won’t be back from the grave, of course. Nobody will. While we all may have differing epitaphs, there is really only one epitaph for the fallen human race: “He died.” Genesis 5 shows us that the epitaph of sin is death.
It’s a chapter many would be inclined to skip. Perhaps in your Bible reading, you skim these verses, wondering why they are in the Bible. Verses 1-3 tell us why: Moses takes us back to Genesis 1, before the fall, to show that God’s original purpose for man, created in His image, is now to be carried out through Adam’s line through Seth, not through Cain. But there is a marked difference since the fall: While Adam was created in God’s likeness (5:1), he became the father of a son in his own (Adam’s) likeness (5:3). While people after the fall retain a vestige of the divine image (Gen. 9:6; 1 Cor. 11:7; James 3:9), they also contain the image of their parents, born in sin. God’s purpose is now realized through those who by faith are of the line of Adam through Seth, not through Cain.
Adam’s descendants through Cain fall under the heading, “Cain went out from the presence of the Lord” (4:16). But even so, they made great progress in many areas. The line of Cain looks impressive on the surface. But it was progress without God, which is not true progress. The descendants of Seth fall under the heading, “Then men began to call upon the name of the Lord” (4:26). With a couple of exceptions, not much is said of these men or their achievements, except that they had children, lived so many years, and died. The line of Seth reminds man of his mortality. But through Enoch, it also shows the hope of eternal life for those who walk with God. Also, it was through the line of Seth that God raised up Noah, and through him came Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and, eventually, Jesus Christ.
Moses wrote these words to the Israelites who were poised to enter and conquer Canaan. They were prone to rebel and return to Egypt or to join the idolatry and immorality of the pagan nations around them. Moses wrote Genesis 4 and 5 to show them that they needed to follow the line of Seth, not the line of Cain. Moses is saying to his people, “As you go into a godless culture that will have many temptations, including the temptation to make progress without God, be careful! Remember that you will die, and that you live in this fallen world by calling upon the name of the Lord, by walking with God.”
His words are just as practical for us as they were for ancient Israel. We, too, live in a pagan world that tempts us to forget the shortness of life and join its progress without God. God is saying, “Remember as you live in this glittery world that you will die, and walk with Me.”
Because of sin we all must die, but those who walk with God have the hope of eternal life.
1. Because of sin we all must die.
God’s word is always true. Satan is a liar. God said, “... in the day that you eat from [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil], you shall surely die” (2:17). Satan said, “You surely shall not die!” (3:4). Chapter 5 shows who was right. God’s warning was no idle threat. The repeated phrase, “and he died” sounds like a funeral bell, tolling eight times throughout the chapter (5:5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 27, and 31). It tells us that ...
A. All must die.
We need to feel the force of God’s judgment upon sin. This chapter follows the godly line of Seth, of those who called upon the name of the Lord, not of those who went out from the presence of the Lord. But even so, we read over and over, “and he died, ... and he died.” Even though they lived long lives, they died.
We don’t like to think about death, especially our own! It used to be more common. Jonathan Edwards, at 19, resolved among other things “to think much, on all occasions, of my dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.” In the Middle Ages it was common for scholars and other men of prominence to keep a skull on their desk to remind them that they, like the victim, must die. The Latin name for such a skull was a memento mori, “a reminder of death” (James Boice, Genesis [Zondervan], 1:238). It sounds gruesome to us. But Genesis 5 is God’s memento mori, His reminder to us that all must die. Why?
B. Sin is the cause of our death.
Death entered the human race through Adam’s disobedience. Paul put it, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). “For the wages of sin is death ...” (Rom. 6:23). When Adam and Eve sinned, instantly they died spiritually--they were separated from God. But also they began to die physically. With them it was a longer process than it is with us, but it was set in motion the minute they sinned. Seth, born in Adam’s likeness, inherited a sin nature which he passed on to his descendants. Adam’s sin brought death to all.
Critics scoff at the long lives attributed to the patriarchs. While there could be some gaps between the names listed, there is no reason, except an arbitrary bias against the Bible, to doubt the ages given. There is good reason to believe that before the flood, conditions on earth were different than they are now. A cloud canopy could have protected the early human race from the aging process known to be accelerated by the ultraviolet rays of the sun. Also, God is the one who determines the length of man’s life (Gen. 6:3; Pss. 90:3, 10; 139:16). If God determined that the early human race live to be 900 to populate the earth rapidly and to advance civilization, and later He shortened that life span to teach us the penalty for sin, who are we to scoff at the historical record?
The point is that sin is the cause of death in the human race. A popular idea promoted in our day is that death is a natural part of life. We are born, move through life, and then we die. Man is just like the animals, going through the life cycle. But that line of reasoning dilutes the reality that death is God’s judgment on our sin. Death is not natural. It is a horrible reminder that we have wronged the holy God and that someday we all must stand before Him. We can try to block it out of our minds, we can joke about it, but we are still going to die. The only way to live wisely is to keep in constant focus that whether I have less than 24 hours, or a few years, it is certain that I am going to die and stand before a holy God. I’d better be ready to meet Him!
If this genealogy just recorded that each man lived, had some children, and died, it would be a bleak picture. But in the middle of this dismal pattern, there is a bright exception: “Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him” (5:24). If that were the only verse in the Bible about Enoch, what actually happened to him might be a mystery. But Hebrews 11:5 makes it plain that “Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death.” With Enoch the death bell did not sound. His life shows that ...
2. Those who walk with God have the hope of eternal life.
There are two distinctive things about Enoch: He walked with God (mentioned twice); and, he did not die; God took him.
A. We must walk with God.
(1) A walk with God is begun by faith. The world takes note of those who achieve in science or business or entertainment. It makes celebrities of notorious criminals. But God takes note of the person who walks with Him by faith. Hebrews 11:5-6 states, “By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God. And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” Enoch believed God; God rewarded him accordingly.
The starting place of a walk with God is to come to Him in faith. You must trust in the sacrifice He has provided for your sin in the Lord Jesus Christ, just as Abel, by faith, offered to God a bloody sacrifice, and was accepted on that basis (Heb. 11:4). You must put off any trust in your own goodness or works and rely solely on Christ’s death as the just penalty for your sin.
(2) A walk with God is helped, but not guaranteed, by a godly family. The people in this chapter are related to one another, as are the people in chapter 4. The contrast of the two families, Cain and Seth, shows us the importance of godly families. In just seven generations from Adam through Cain we come to the arrogant, violent Lamech. In seven generations from Adam through Seth we find the godly Enoch and, later, Noah. It’s not certain, but Enoch could have begun his 300 year walk with God after the birth of his son, Methuselah (5:22). Often the birth of a child makes us think about the kind of life we’re leading and the kind of example we’re going to set for our children. God uses that to bring us to repentance. God often works through families to call people to Himself.
There’s both good news and bad news in this observation. The good news is that any person can be the start of a godly line that will be used to turn many from their sin. Although you may have come from a godless family, if you will walk with God, your children and grandchildren can have the privilege of being raised in a godly home, where the love of Christ reigns. Of course that means that those of us who have had the privilege of being raised in a Christian home have a great responsibility to carry the torch ourselves and to hand it on to our children.
That leads to the bad news--that it only takes one generation to turn a godly family into a godless one. At the time of the flood (four generations from Enoch), Noah and his sons were the only ones on the face of the earth whom God saw fit to save. Enoch and his descendants had other sons and daughters than those mentioned here by name (5:22, 26, 30). Apparently they followed the way of the world, not the way of the Lord. Consequently they all came under God’s judgment in the flood. Matthew Henry notes, “Grace does not run in the blood, but corruption does. A sinner begets a sinner, but a saint does not beget a saint” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary [Revell], 1:47).
Did you know that the famous writer, Ernest Hemingway, came from a solid Christian family? His parents and both sets of grandparents were evangelical Christians. As a boy he sang in the choir, tithed his allowance, and read through his King James Bible. Yet he rebelled against his upbringing and became notorious for his profligate, godless life. Lonely, bitter, and depressed, he shot himself at age 61. His descendants are thoroughly pagan.
But, thankfully, it can go the other way. Hudson Taylor, founder of the great China Inland Mission, traced his spiritual roots through his mother back to his great-grandfather who was converted from a worldly way of life. Today, Taylor’s great-grandson is a prominent missions leader. Millions of souls have been won to Christ because Taylor’s great-grandfather established a Christian home.
What about you? Are you walking with God and raising a godly family who will walk with God? If you are single, I cannot overemphasize the importance of your marrying a mate who will join you wholeheartedly in walking with God and raising up children who walk with God. But even then it is not easy. That leads to a third observation:
(3) A walk with God is distinct from the crowd. Enoch stood out in his day. He lived at the same time as the lustful, boastful murderer, Lamech (they are both the seventh generation from Adam). Jude 14-15 records what Enoch prophesied: “Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.” He warned the ungodly of God’s coming judgment.
That probably didn’t make Enoch the most popular fellow of his day! People like to hear upbeat messages on how they can succeed and be happy. They don’t like to be confronted with their ungodly ways. But the closer a man walks with God, the more he realizes how ungodly his own heart is, and how ungodly his own generation is. As he grows in holiness, he stands out as distinct from the crowd.
Thus a walk with God is begun by faith; it is helped, though not guaranteed by a godly family; it is distinct from the crowd. Finally,
(4) A walk with God is not spectacular. Can you imagine how we would write the biography in our day of a man who was translated bodily to heaven without dying? We certainly wouldn’t title it, “The Man Who Walked With God.” We might call it “The Man Who Flew With God.” We’re so caught up with the sensational and the shallow, but we ignore the things that are truly sensational in God’s sight. Walking with God for 300 years in the midst of an ungodly generation is what counts with God.
Walking is a graphic word picture of the spiritual life. It is not the quickest or flashiest way to get someplace. But it’s the way God ordained. Walking is a steady progression over time toward a goal (“Pilgrim’s Progress”). To walk with God means that our lives are going the same direction God is going. We are yielded in obedience to Him.
Walking with God also pictures intimacy and fellowship. Walking with a friend is a time for talking, for getting to know one another better, for sharing the things that are happening in your lives. Walking with God is a daily process of growing more intimate with God as you go through life. Of course you have to do your own walking. Someone else can’t do it for you. You must take the initiative, effort, and time necessary to walk with God. Enoch’s life shows that if we walk with God ...
B. We gain the hope of eternal life.
It’s interesting that the most godly man in this genealogy has by far the shortest life--365 years. (The next shortest is Lamech--777 years.) Walking with God is not a guarantee of a long life on earth; it is a guarantee of eternal life with God. In Enoch, as Calvin points out, there is “an instruction for all the godly, that they should not keep their hope confined within the boundaries of this mortal life” (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], 1:232).
Enoch is also a type of those who will be alive at the Lord’s coming and who will be taken directly to heaven without dying. This is the blessed hope of every believer, to be caught up “in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:13-17).
Those who do not walk with God do not have the hope of eternal life, but only the fear of judgment. Enoch prophesied of God’s coming judgment, and he did it through more than just his preaching: He named his son Methuselah. The most likely meaning of that name is, “When he is dead, it shall come.” What does that mean? Apparently God revealed to Enoch that He was going to send His judgment upon that godless world. Enoch responded by naming his son, “When he is dead, it shall come.” What would come? God’s judgment! If you figure out the chronology of the ages listed in Genesis 5 (assuming no gaps), you discover that Methuselah died the same year that God sent the flood to destroy the earth.
Do you know why Methuselah lived longer than any other person in recorded history? Because his life is a testimony of the patience and grace of God, who “is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). In the context Peter is discussing the flood and the certainty of God’s judgment. Peter is arguing that just as men then scoffed for almost 1,000 years at the fact that judgment had not come, so in the last times men will scoff and say that the Lord is not coming. But, just because judgment is delayed does not mean that it is not certain. Rather, it reveals God’s great patience and mercy. Repent before His certain judgment falls!
Years ago a London merchant named Henry Goodear scoffed at the Bible. But one Sunday, just to please his niece, he went to church. The young lady was greatly disappointed when she learned that the pastor’s message was based on Genesis 5. As she listened to the boring list of names being read, she wondered why God had permitted the pastor to pick that text on the day her uncle came to church. As they walked home, little did she know that every step of her uncle’s feet and every beat of his heart seemed to repeat the gloomy refrain, “And he died! And he died!”
The next day, Goodear could not concentrate on his work. That night he searched for a family Bible and read over those words, “and he died, ... and he died.” Goodear thought, “Now I’m living, but someday I too must die, and then where will I spend eternity?” That very night he asked the Lord Jesus to forgive him and make him his child. (Adapted from “Our Daily Bread,” Fall, 1978.)
The Bible says that “it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27). Don’t assume that your date with death will be many years in the future. It could be today. Jesus said, “He who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24). That promise is for you to claim today!
- Should we, like Jonathan Edwards, think often about our own death? Is this a biblical focus?
- What are some further implications of the “walk” metaphor of the spiritual life?
- Are we guaranteed that if we raise our children properly, they will grow up to follow the Lord? What is the most important ingredient in raising godly children? What is the most difficult aspect of raising godly children?
- Christians today are too caught up with this world and not caught up enough with the world to come. Agree or disagree?
Copyright 1996, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Lesson 14: Sin’s Full Course (Genesis 6:1-8)Related Media
A pastor friend and I used to eat lunch together once a month. After lunch we’d often continue our conversation as we took a walk. On one occasion he seemed fatigued and out of breath by an easy stroll, even though he was no older than I. He told me that he was fighting the flu. But several weeks later, when the symptoms did not subside, doctors discovered a massive lump in his chest. He had lymphoma, a form of cancer. They discovered it too late. After several rounds of chemotherapy, my friend died. To fight cancer, early detection and aggressive treatment are essential.
Sin is like cancer of the human soul. It often starts unnoticed, perhaps with a small compromise. There may be a few bothersome symptoms, but we dismiss them or excuse them as due to some other problem. But the cancer is there and growing, working corruption in the individual and also tainting his relationships. If unchecked, it will contaminate an entire society. The final result is God’s judgment. But, thankfully, throughout the process prior to God’s judgment, His grace gives us repeated offers to repent and be restored. This process is pictured in Genesis 6:1-8, which describes the world just prior to God’s judgment in the flood. It shows us that ...
Sin begins with compromise, goes on to corruption, and ends in condemnation, unless we respond to God’s grace.
We would do well to pay attention to these verses, since Jesus likened the days just prior to His return to the days just prior to the flood. He said, “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” (Matt. 24:37-39). Jesus is saying that the people of Noah’s day ignored God’s warnings. They went about the normal things of life, oblivious to the repeated warnings of judgment, until it was too late. The same thing will happen to many in the days just prior to Christ’s return. So the message to us is, “Make sure you listen to God’s warning about your sin. If you ignore the symptoms, it may be too late!” Our text reveals sin’s full course:
1. Sin begins with compromise.
We read that as the population grew, “the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose” (6:1-2). The first interpretive problem (of several) is, Who are the sons of God and the daughters of men?
It’s easy to lose the application of this text in the debate over the right interpretation. The debate is centuries old, with godly men holding differing views. But whichever view is right, the application is the same--that the human race before the flood was corrupted by sin, and that corruption began with compromise.
Three main views have been proposed. The first view is that the sons of God were powerful rulers, probably controlled or indwelled by demons, striving for fame and fertility. In some Ancient Near Eastern cultures, kings were called the sons of one of the gods, and even in the Bible, the Hebrew word “Elohim” is used for men in positions of authority (Exod. 21:6 [NASB margin]; Ps. 82:1, 6). The daughters of men refers to all women. The sin of these rulers was their lust for power and women; they were trying to achieve immortality through immorality. (Allen P. Ross, The Bible Knowledge Commentary [Victor Books] 1:36, defends this view.) The weaknesses of this view are that it seems forced on the text, it stretches the biblical terms, and it would not have occurred to Moses’s audience in reading the context of Genesis.
A second, more widely held, view is that the sons of God refers to fallen angels (demons) who came to earth in human bodies and cohabited with women, resulting in a superhuman race called the Nephilim (6:4). Many respected modern Bible scholars hold this view (A. W. Pink, Donald Barnhouse, Ray Stedman, James Boice, Charles Ryrie [Study Bible]). It goes back as early as the Septuagint in 200 B.C. Justin Martyr and Tertullian held this view in the early Church, but it was opposed vigorously by Augustine and Chrysostom and later by the Reformers. But there are some strong arguments in its favor or so many respected men would not hold it.
The strongest argument for it is that every other time the term “sons of God,” is used in the Bible, it refers to angels (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; Dan. 3:25; Pss. 29:1; 89:6). Also, several New Testament passages referring to the flood mention demons who disobeyed by abandoning their proper abode, thus incurring God’s judgment (1 Pet. 3:19, 20; 2 Pet. 2:4, 5; Jude 6). It is argued that these demons left their proper abode of the spirit world and cohabited with women. But, how could angels do this? In Genesis 19, the angels visiting Lot in Sodom were desired by the men of that evil city for homosexual relations. If you object that Jesus said that angels cannot marry, it is answered that Jesus said that in heaven the angels do not marry (Matt. 22:30). But neither will men and women marry in heaven. Thus, there is no inherent problem with angels cohabiting with earthly women.
Proponents also argue that in the context of Genesis, Satan wanted to thwart God’s promise to bring a deliverer by the seed of the woman by corrupting the human race with this superhuman race of giants. It was his insidious plan to bring immortality to the human race illicitly, bypassing God’s curse of death.
In spite of these arguments, I reject this view. I think it creates mind-boggling theological problems which have no biblical warrant. We do not need such a far-fetched view to explain the text adequately in its context. So why adopt it? First, there is the theological problem of how angelic beings can have sex with women. It is one thing to say that demons indwell human men who marry human women. But it is incredible and makes the Bible sound like Greek mythology to say that demons take on bodies and produce offspring with human women!
What were the offspring--half-angel, half-men? There is no such category in the Bible. Do they have some sort of angel--human souls? While the term “sons of God” refers to angels in other Old Testament uses, it refers to righteous angels, not to demons. (In Job 1:6 and 2:1, Satan is distinguished from the sons of God, as if he were not part of their number. In the other references [Job 38:7; Dan. 3:25; Pss. 29:1; 89:7], righteous angels clearly are meant.) “Sons of God” seems like a strange term for fallen angels. And while the exact term is not used of men, God’s people are called His sons in the Old Testament (Deut. 32:5; Ps. 73:15; Hos. 1:10 [in the Hebrew text, “children” = “sons”]). With regard to the New Testament references (1 Pet. 3:19-20; 2 Pet. 2:4-5; Jude 6), there are other adequate interpretations. So why introduce a mythological sounding concept full of incredible theological problems which has no other scriptural warrant when we don’t need to?
The third view, and most normal in light of the context, is that the sons of God refers to the godly descendants of Seth, who called on the Lord (4:26 & 5:1-32); the daughters of men refers to ungodly women, mostly from the line of Cain, who rejected God (4:16-24). The problem described here, which led to the corruption of the human race and the judgment of the flood, was the intermarriage of the godly line of Seth with godless women. Undoubtedly Satan was involved behind the scenes, as he always is when a generation turns away from the Lord (Balaam, Numbers 25). To say that Satan was involved in seducing men from a godly heritage to marry ungodly women is not fantastic; to say that fallen angels actually married human women is.
The biggest problem with this view is why Moses uses this term. It is an unusual designation. If it were not, everybody would agree on the interpretation! The best answer is that Moses used the term to underscore the high standards which the Sethites should have observed (H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis [Baker], p. 252; also, see Calvin). As “sons of God,” they should have known better than to marry godless women. But instead, they married on the basis of sexual attraction only, not on the basis of godly character. They “saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose” (6:2). The result was the compromise of godly standards which led to the corruption and judgment of the human race. Luke 3:38 seems to support this view. Luke traces the line of Christ back through Seth to Adam, but doesn’t stop there; he calls Adam “the son of God.” Thus Adam’s descendants through Seth are the sons of God who became corrupted through wrongful marriage alliances.
As I said earlier, it’s easy to lose the application in the process of working through the interpretation. But let’s not do that. No matter what interpretation you take, the application is the same: Sin begins with compromise. Satan often uses wrongful marriages as the area of compromise to seduce God’s people. It is an effective tool, since the sex drive and the emotions of romantic love are so powerful. I have seen many young people neutralized in their Christian lives by marrying “nice” unbelievers or worldly-minded professing Christians.
It is proper to be physically attracted to the person you marry. But to marry primarily because of physical attraction is a serious mistake. The typical short-lived Hollywood marriage ought to tell us that. But Satan uses this weapon over and over. A couple is physically attracted to each other, they get physically involved, they get married on that basis, and later there is often infidelity and divorce. Their testimony for Christ is polluted.
While the area of wrongful marriage alliances was where the line of Seth compromised, and is a major area where we can compromise, it is not the full extent of the application. When these men from the line of Seth, called “sons of God,” married these ungodly women on the basis of sexual attraction, they compromised their integrity. They had a name to live up to: “sons of God.” But their lives didn’t match their title. So they had to put up a front, to try to maintain the image of sons of God, while living on a natural, sensual plane. It is a short step from there to total spiritual corruption.
Guard your spiritual integrity! Integrity does not mean perfection, but it does mean walking in reality with God, and dealing biblically with your sin. Satan wants to undermine your integrity. He wants you to compromise your testimony on the job, and instead of confessing your sin, to cover it up or deny it. He wants you, as perhaps a church leader, to yell at your kids and verbally abuse them at home, but not to confess your sin and ask their forgiveness. Then you come to church and pretend to be spiritual. You’ve just compromised your integrity. Sin begins with compromise.
2. Sin goes on to corruption.
I will come back to verse 3; but note that in verse 4, Moses mentions the Nephilim. This is another major interpretive problem. Who were the Nephilim? Those who hold to the angel view say that they were a race of giants who resulted from the union of the angels with the daughters of men. But the text doesn’t say that they are the product of that union, but only that they were on the earth at that time and also afterward.
The word occurs only one other time, in Numbers 13:33. There the spies who return to the Israelite camp report that they had seen the Nephilim, and that they felt like grasshoppers in comparison to them. The word comes from a root word meaning “to fall upon,” and thus apparently points to men of violence, who had a reputation of falling upon their enemies. They may or may not all have been giants physically. But the point is, they were vicious men who would just as soon kill you as look at you. Moses’ point is that the generation prior to the flood was notorious for its violence (see 6:13). Their unchecked sin had grown into the worst sort of corruption. They had let themselves go in hardened, open rebellion against God.
This is further affirmed by God’s evaluation of that generation: “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (6:5). God looked beyond the actual deeds of wickedness and saw the hearts. What He saw was total corruption. Alfred Edersheim says of verse 5: “This means more than the total corruption of our nature, as we should now describe it, and refers to the universal prevalence of open, daring sin, and rebellion against God, brought about when the separation between the Sethites and the Cainites ceased” (Old Testament Bible History [Eerdmans], 1:39). Verse 5 is God’s description of the extreme corruption of that generation.
But it is also a description of the corruption of every human heart. Sin begins in the heart, or thoughts (Mark 7:20-23). It does not always reach the outward manifestation of Noah’s day (although our society is at least as far gone), but the heart of every person is the same as what God saw when He looked on that generation. After the flood, when the righteous Noah offered a sacrifice, God said, “... the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen. 8:21). This is God’s revelation of His view of what goes on inside every person, even those, like Noah, whom He has redeemed.
If you want to verify God’s viewpoint, look at the world around you--the violence, greed, sexual immorality, and self-centeredness. But you don’t need to look out there. Look at your own heart. Even though outwardly you may be reasonably respectable, is there anyone who would want their innermost thoughts to be broadcast? Though I have been a Christian for years and experience consistent victory over sin, I often have to fight against degraded, corrupt thoughts! I agree with Martin Luther who wrote, “Without the Holy Spirit and without grace man can do nothing but sin and so goes on endlessly from sin to sin” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 2, p. 40, cited in James Boice, Genesis [Zondervan], 1:250). Sin’s course begins with compromise; it goes on to corruption.
3. Sin ends in condemnation.
God determined to bring judgment on the whole world because of man’s corruption (6:6-7). When the Bible says that God “repented” (KJV), it does not mean that He changed His eternal plan. God is unchangeable in His person, perfections, and purposes. Nothing thwarts the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11). But from our perspective, sometimes it seems that God has changed His plan. To put it in terms which we can understand, and to reveal God’s heart response to human sin, the Bible says that God repents, or feels sorrow (1 Sam. 15:11, 29).
The point is, God doesn’t get a sadistic kick out of judgment. It grieves Him to see our rebellion and sin, and He only brings judgment after He has repeatedly warned and appealed to us to turn from our sin. When He does judge, His judgments are always just. He has a right to judge man, because He created him (6:7). But, even then, as He said to Ezekiel, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek. 33:11).
Thus sin begins with compromise; goes on to corruption; and ends in condemnation. But the section ends on a brighter note. The cycle can be broken!
4. We can respond to God’s grace.
“But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (6:8). The word favor means acceptance or grace. When used of God’s favor toward man it means His undeserved favor. Noah did not earn favor with God, he found it. He was just as much a sinner as his contemporaries (9:21). The difference was, Noah was willing to accept God’s view of his own sin and to turn from that sin to God, seeking His grace. The result was a righteous life.
This is the first time the word grace appears in the Bible. It is not the first time grace appears, since God’s grace is seen in His treatment of Adam and Eve in clothing them with animal skins rather than judging them for their sin. It is seen in His repeated dealings with Cain. It is seen in the long life of Methuselah, whose name means, “when he is dead, it [that is, judgment] will come.” His long life was a testimony to God’s gracious appeal over almost 1,000 years to this godless world to repent.
God’s grace is seen in 6:3, when the Lord says that His Spirit will not strive with men forever. The word “strive” means to judge, in the sense of striving to restrain men from their evil ways. God is saying that the human race had cast off any desire to live in the realm of the spirit, and was living as mere flesh, as totally given over to sin. He was warning that He would not continue to strive to check man’s unbridled sinfulness indefinitely. But, God adds, “his days shall be 120 years.” Some understand this to mean that his lifespan would now be 120 years. But I think God means that there will be another 120 years before the judgment of the flood for man to repent. That’s grace! If they had repented, I believe that God would have relented on His judgment, even as He did with sinful Ninevah in the days of Jonah.
But, when sin was at its peak, we read that Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. That’s a great encouragement. It means that in spite of the corruption, the horrible violence, immorality and degradation around us, God’s grace for the individual still shines through. Where sin abounds, grace superabounds (Rom. 5:20). No matter how terrible your sin, you can find grace if you will turn to the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus did not come to save the righteous, but to call sinners to repentance. If you will agree with God’s view of your heart (6:5), and cry out to Him, “Be merciful to me, the sinner,” He will pour out His grace and salvation on you.
But God’s grace does have a limit. In Noah’s day, it was 120 years. The flood came and everyone was lost except Noah and his family. In our day, we do not know when time will run out. We do know that our day, like Noah’s, is a time of unparalleled corruption, with people going on about life without regard for God. And we do know that God “has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). We’re all infected with the cancer of sin. Only God can cure it. He is ready and willing, if you will respond to His gracious offer. The only other option is to let sin run its full course, resulting in corruption and final condemnation. God calls out to you, “Now is the acceptable time, behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).
- What are some ways we are tempted to compromise with sin in our society?
- What would you say to someone who argued that all people aren’t as bad as verse 5 indicates?
- Where is the balance between sharing God’s judgment and His love when we witness?
- Why is intermarriage with unbelievers such a serious sin?
Copyright 1996, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Lesson 15: Total Depravity (Genesis 6:5; 8:21)Related Media
A few years ago boxer Macho Comacho was being interviewed on TV. He was bragging about his wild past--a father at age 15, drugs, loose living. The sportscaster said to him, “But don’t you believe that as a sports hero, you have an obligation to be a model for our youth?” Comacho shot back, “Look, I did my dirt, but I ain’t no Hitler.”
Comacho’s response is the typical human response to the biblical doctrine of total depravity: “I may have my faults, but I’m not totally depraved!” It’s not surprising that the world thinks that way, since Satan “has blinded the minds of the unbelieving” (2 Cor. 4:4). But it is disturbing that the evangelical church has greatly diluted and, in some cases, denied this fundamental doctrine, the total depravity of every person since Adam and Eve’s fall into sin.
For example, one popular author and speaker attacks the idea that Christians are to view themselves as sinners or even as sinners saved by grace. He asks rhetorically, “Is that who you really are? No way! The Bible doesn’t refer to believers as sinners, not even sinners saved by grace. Believers are called saints--holy ones--who occasionally sin” (Neil Anderson, The Bondage Breaker [Harvest House], p. 44).
Nathan Hatch, saw this trend 17 years ago (“Purging the Poisoned Well Within,” Christianity Today [3/2/79], pp. 14-17):
The thriving evangelical book market offers a steady diet of positive inspiration, spiritual uplift, and successful Christian living. Evangelical visionaries, building multi-million dollar enterprises in television, church growth, and education, have latched onto an upbeat style that is more than vaguely reminiscent of Norman Vincent Peale and Dale Carnegie. One of these pastors recently defined faith as building self-confidence, resisting negative thoughts, and tapping the limitless possibilities within ourselves. In a similar vein, a prominent evangelist explained that what keeps people away from Christ is not hardness of heart but simply a misunderstanding of what he has to offer (p. 14).
Hatch goes on to point out that this view of human nature differs greatly from what Christians of the past believed. Men like Luther, Wesley, Whitefield, and Edwards “believed that human nature was fallen, and that the Bible’s view of man forsook glib moralism and took seriously ‘the chartless darkness of the human heart’” (p. 15).
I argue that one of the most important truths that needs to be re-emphasized in our day is the doctrine of the total depravity of the human heart. If we do not properly understand the Bible on this matter, we cannot fully understand the gospel for ourselves, let alone make it plain to others. Nor will we understand what the Bible teaches about sanctification (growth in holiness) if we are not clear on the evil that lurks within our hearts, even as regenerate people.
That doctrine could hardly be stated more emphatically than it is in Genesis 6:5: “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” We are not basically good, decent folks who will do what is right if we’re only given the chance. The very core of our being--”every intent of the thoughts of our hearts” is “only evil continually.” It’s not just that people have a mean streak or that we occasionally sin. God’s declaration is that “every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” In case we missed it or are inclined to apply it only to the Hitler’s of the world, God repeats the assessment after the flood with reference to the most godly man on earth, Noah, and his descendents, “the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (8:21).
Because the doctrine of total depravity is often misunderstood, I first will define it. Because it is often disbelieved, minimized, or attacked, I then will defend it biblically. Finally, because we live in a day that often despises doctrine as boring and impractical, I will apply it.
Total depravity defined:
1. What total depravity is not:
Total depravity does not mean that people are as wicked and sinful as they could be. Nor does it mean that people are incapable of doing good deeds. Even those who have never heard of Jesus Christ are able to love their children and even sacrifice their own lives for the sake of family, friends, or sometimes even for strangers. Many people who do not know Christ are honest, even when it costs them.
2. What total depravity means:
Total depravity refers to the nature of fallen persons, not to their deeds. The word “total” refers to the total person--that every aspect of the person--mind, will, emotions, body--is corrupted by sin; and to the total human race, that every person since Adam and Eve, except for Jesus Christ, has been born with a nature that is alienated from God and in rebellion against God. Also, depravity must be viewed in relation to God, not by comparing men with men. With reference to God, total depravity means that no one is able in and of himself to do anything to choose God, to seek God, to please God, to love God, to glorify God, or to merit His salvation. Left to himself, every person will seek the things of self and sin. We are as unable to seek God as a corpse can choose to get up and walk (Eph. 2:1-3). The Westminster Confession states it clearly. Speaking of Adam and Eve it says (VI:II, III, IV),
By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body. They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed; and the same death in sin, and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions.
So total depravity refers to the extent of the damage, not necessarily to the degree. To illustrate, if you put a drop of deadly bacteria in a glass of water, it contaminates the entire glass. You may add a spoonful of bacteria, which makes it more potent, but the little drop is enough to pollute it all. Adam’s transgression was imputed to his posterity, so that all are polluted by sin.
Adam was the representative of the human race, so that his sin was charged to all who followed. Some will protest, “That’s not fair!” But several things must be said. First, there is nothing unfair about the concept of representation. Our entire government is built on it. The decisions our elected officials make affect us. But you may still protest, “I didn’t vote for Adam to represent me.” But, God did! God determined that Adam’s choice would represent the human race. We have no reason to believe that we would have acted any differently had we been there ourselves. When our representative fell into sin, the human race was linked to him, so that all are born in sin. We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because by nature we are sinners. This is what total depravity means.
Total depravity defended:
We can only look at a few of the many verses in both the Old and New Testaments which defend this doctrine:
In Psalm 51:5, David laments, “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” We are born in sin.
Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” The word “sick” is used of an incurable wound; here, the meaning is metaphorical of sin that is beyond human hope of fixing. We’re terminal!
The doctrine is also inherent in Ezekiel 36:25-27, when the Lord promises, “I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from al your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” The sinner cannot follow God unless God performs a heart transplant and gives him His Spirit.
Jesus taught the depravity of our hearts in Mark 7:20-23: “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”
In John 8:34, Jesus taught that “everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin,” and that only He could set us free.
Paul, quoting from the Old Testament, spells it out forcefully in Romans 3:10-18 (citing only 10-13 here): “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.”
In Romans 8:7-8, he emphasizes the inability of the sinner to follow God: “... the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
In 1 Corinthians 2:14 Paul states that the natural man not only does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, but cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. In 2 Corinthians 4:4 he explains that Satan, “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, ...”
In Ephesians 2:1-3, he says that we were all dead in our trespasses and sins and that by nature we are children of wrath. In Ephesians 4:18, he states that unbelievers are “darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their hearts.”
While believers are freed from sin’s penalty and from sin’s power, so that we can now live to please God, our sin nature (or, “the flesh”) is not eradicated until we are with the Lord. Romans 7 clearly teaches this, as do many other verses, such as 1 John 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
If you compile all these and many other verses, we see that fallen man is incurably wounded; blind; ignorant and unable and unwilling to know; born in sin and with a nature oriented to sin; hard-hearted; enslaved to sin; polluted at the very core of his being; and, dead. The Westminster Confession (IX:III) sums it up: “Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.”
In spite of the overwhelming biblical evidence of man’s total inability to do anything about his state of alienation from God, man’s proud flesh keeps inventing ways around this doctrine. Many deny it outright and insist that people are basically good at heart. Others deny it by insisting that fallen men have the “free will” to choose God, and thus be saved. But this gives man a part in God’s work of salvation and a ground for boasting, which contradicts many Scriptures:
John 1:13: “Who were born [spiritually] not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
Romans 9:16: “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.”
Philippians 2:13: “For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”
1 Corinthians 1:27-31, where three times Paul stresses that salvation rests on the fact that “God has chosen,” so “that no man should boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus...”
Those who argue in favor of so-called “free will” say that it is pointless, absurd, and a sham for God to command men to believe in Christ if they are not able by their own free will to believe. This objection was soundly refuted by Martin Luther in his diatribe against the Roman Catholic scholar, Erasmus, The Bondage of the Will [Revell], where he argues, rather, that by commanding us to do what no fallen sinner can do, God brings us to something we proud sinners deny, namely, the knowledge of our utter impotence, pride, and independence from God. In his words, “by thus breaking him down, and confounding him in his self-knowledge, he may make him ready for grace, and send him to Christ to be saved” (p. 162). Or, in the words of Augustine (1,000 years before Luther), “God bids us do what we cannot, that we may know what we ought to seek from him” (cited by Calvin, Institutes [II:V:7]).
Of course, before Augustine the Apostle Paul dealt with this same objection. In Romans 9, after arguing that man cannot choose God by his free will, but that salvation depends on God’s choosing men according to His sovereign mercy, he states (9:19), “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?’” Note carefully Paul’s inspired answer, because it strikes at the very root of human depravity: “On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God?” (9:20). In other words, our very question shows the arrogance of our sinful hearts! If the righteous God chooses to damn the entire race of rebellious sinners, that is His just prerogative. If He chooses to save some who otherwise would helplessly perish in their sin, that is His right. But no one can boast by saying, “I chose God by my own free will.” Scripture is clear that if God had not rescued us by His sovereign grace, we all would have perished in our willful, proud rebellion against Him.
In the same vein, the Lord Jesus Christ stated (Matt. 11:25-27) that God had hidden spiritual truth from the “wise and intelligent,” and that no one knows God except “anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” Then He proceeded to command men to do what He just stated they cannot do: “Come unto Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”
Total depravity applied:
The doctrine of total depravity is at the very heart of the gospel, and thus the applications are many. But I must limit myself to four:
1. The doctrine of total depravity should cause me to despair completely of myself, my ability, my merit, and my will, and to cast myself completely upon Christ alone for salvation.
If my salvation depends upon my choosing Christ, it is most shaky, because I may decide to walk away from Christ and go my own way. But, if it depends upon Christ’s choice of me, wretched in my sin, with absolutely no merit of my own, then it is as certain as the promise of God who cannot lie. Scripture is abundantly clear, you can do nothing to save yourself from God’s rightful judgment. Only Christ can save, and He has promised to save all who trust in Him. If you say, “But I cannot even trust in Him,” you are right! Call out to Him for mercy and faith, with the man who said to Jesus, “I do believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). Or again, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” (Luke 18:13).
2. The doctrine of total depravity humbles my pride.
Ever since Eve thought that she could be like God, the human race has been infected with pride. Even many who profess Christ dislike this doctrine, because it removes every ground for boasting. Luther said it well (Bondage of the Will, p. 100, 101),
God has surely promised His grace to the humbled: that is, to those who mourn over and despair of themselves. But a man cannot be thoroughly humbled till he realizes that his salvation is utterly beyond his own powers, counsels, efforts, will and works, and depends absolutely on the will, counsel, pleasure and work of Another--God alone. As long as he is persuaded that he can make even the smallest contribution to his salvation, he remains self-confident and does not utterly despair of himself, and so is not humbled before God; but plans out for himself (or at least hopes and longs for) a position, an occasion, a work, which shall bring him final salvation. But he who is out of doubt that his destiny depends entirely on the will of God despairs entirely of himself, chooses nothing for himself, but waits for God to work in him; and such a man is very near to grace for his salvation.
So these truths are published for the sake of the elect, that they may be humbled and brought down to nothing, and so saved. The rest of men resist this humiliation; indeed, they condemn the teaching of self-despair; they want a little something left that they can do for themselves. Secretly they continue proud, and enemies of the grace of God.
3. The doctrine of total depravity causes me to fear trusting in myself.
As I grow to know my own heart, and the sin that still indwells me, I realize that if I am to know victory over sin, I must not trust in myself at all, but only in the Savior who said, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). The Apostle Paul warned, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). He affirmed from his own experience, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10), because when he was aware of his own weakness, he relied totally upon God’s grace and power, not at all on himself.
4. The doctrine of total depravity moves me to greater love and devotion to God for His amazing grace.
One of the problems of the weak gospel being preached today, the gospel that does not wound and totally disable the proud sinner from thinking that he has anything he can bring to God, is that those who profess faith in Christ have no idea of the awful pit from which He rescued them, and of that fact that He did it in spite of their sin, not because they were “worthy.” The truth is, even the best of us were worthy a million times over of spending eternity in the lake of fire! Forgiven little, such “Christians” love little!
The Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, said, “Too many think lightly of sin, and therefore think lightly of the Saviour. He who has stood before his God, convicted and condemned, with the rope about his neck, is the man to weep for joy when he is pardoned, to hate the evil which has been forgiven him, and to live to the honour of the Redeemer by whose blood he has been cleansed.” (C. H. Spurgeon Autobiography [Banner of Truth], 1:54). When we see the utter depravity of our sinful hearts, and then realize the abundant grace and mercy of our Lord and Savior, we will be caught up in wonder, love, and praise to Him for His glorious, sovereign grace! I pray that God will impress on each of us the biblical doctrine of total depravity.
- How would you answer someone who said, “It is not fair of God to condemn the human race because of Adam’s sin”?
- Is it mockery to call upon lost sinners, who cannot believe by their own power, to believe in Christ? Why/why not?
- If men are totally depraved, why do many unbelievers do good deeds? Do these good deeds disprove the doctrine? Why not?
- What Scriptures would support that unbelievers have a “free will” to believe in Christ? Which Scriptures deny it? How do you harmonize the two?
Copyright 1996, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Related Topics: Hamartiology (Sin)
Lesson 16: Standing Alone (Genesis 6:9-22)Related Media
To be faithful as a Christian in an evil day, you must learn to stand alone. You will repeatedly face pressure to violate your Christian standards and go along with the crowd. As a Christian teenager, you’re with some friends who are passing around a joint. What will you do when it comes to you? All the other kids are experimenting with sex and talking about their adventures. Will you go along with the crowd? Everyone has an illegal copy of an upcoming test. Will you join them in cheating?
Christian adults also face constant pressure to compromise their faith. At work, the boss expects you not to be totally honest in dealing with customers. On a business trip, your associates are all going to a porno movie and want you to join them. At family gatherings over the holidays, the rest of the family are gossiping about another family member. They’re telling off-color jokes. What do you do?
No one likes to be ridiculed or rejected. We all want to be liked and included. We don’t want others to think that Christians are a bunch of prudes who can’t enjoy life. So we’re easily tempted to go along with the crowd rather than to stand alone for Jesus Christ. But if we yield, we dishonor God and lose our distinctive witness for our Savior.
There is probably no greater example of a man who stood alone with God in an evil day than Noah. God, who sees the heart of every person, saw fit to save only Noah and his family. All others perished in the flood. Think of what it would be like to be the only godly family on earth! Noah’s life teaches us that ...
To stand alone in an evil day we must walk with God.
“Noah walked with God” (6:9). That phrase is used only of Enoch (5:22, 24), Noah, and the godly priests (Mal. 2:6). It is the secret of standing alone in an evil day. The first thing we learn is that ...
1. Standing alone is necessary because we live in an evil day.
Through repetition, the text underscores several points. Twice (6:11, 12) it mentions that the corruption on earth was in the sight of God. In the sight of men, things weren’t so bad. As we’ve seen, they were making great strides in many areas. They viewed themselves as progressive; but God viewed them as putrid. It is God’s view, not man’s, that matters. We only learn God’s view in His Word. Three times the text repeats that the earth was corrupt (6:11, 12), meaning morally degraded. The Hebrew word “corrupt” means to destroy. Derek Kidner puts it, “... what God decided to ‘destroy’ (13) had been virtually self-destroyed already” (Genesis [IVP], p. 87). Twice it is said that the earth was filled with violence (6:11, 13). Moral degradation and violence go together. When people cast off God’s standards for right and wrong, self becomes the standard. Self grabs whatever it can get, regardless of others. Violence is the gruesome result. Because of the degree of moral degradation and violence, God wiped out everything through the flood.
This text is especially applicable to us, because Jesus said that just as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be in the days prior to His return (Matt. 24:37-39). People were going on about life oblivious to God, “eating and drinking, ... 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.” They were living without regard to God and His impending judgment. What a description of our time!
The frightening thing is that there were grandchildren of the godly Enoch who were swept away in the flood. They knew about God. Perhaps some of them even claimed to know God. But they had blended in so much with the evil around them that they didn’t listen to God’s repeated warnings of judgment.
When Jesus returns, there are going to be many who claim to know Him, even those who have prophesied and cast out demons and done miracles in His name, who will say to Him, “Lord, Lord,” but He will say to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matt. 7:21-23). They thought they knew Jesus, but Jesus didn’t know them because they blended in with the wickedness of the end times! It’s not easy, but we must stand alone because we live in an evil day!
2. Standing alone is possible because Noah did it.
“Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time” (6:9). The word righteous is used in two ways in the Bible. It is used of the righteousness of faith, that is, of imputed righteousness (Rom. 3:21-4:25). When a person trusts in Christ as his sin-bearer, God credits the righteousness of Jesus Christ to his account. We know that Noah had been justified by faith because Hebrews 11:7 says that his obedience in building the ark shows that he was “an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.”
But the word righteous is also used of the right conduct which stems from being justified (declared righteous) by faith. It means “conformity to a standard” and points to the observable behavior of those who live by God’s revealed standards of right and wrong. When verse 9 says that Noah was righteous, it is referring to this type of righteousness. It would be wrong to say that Noah found favor with God (6:8) because he was a righteous man. Rather, because he was the object of God’s undeserved favor, he lived a righteous life. His faith showed itself in good works and moral behavior. That’s always God’s order--grace first, then saving faith, then good deeds (Eph. 2:8-10).
Noah was not only righteous, but also blameless, which means “complete” or “whole,” that Noah had integrity. The phrase “in his time [or, generations]” means that Noah’s contemporaries viewed him that way. Many of them probably thought he was crazy, but they couldn’t deny that he lived what he believed. That Noah was righteous and blameless does not mean that he was perfect. He sinned just as we do. But Noah confessed his sin to God and he obeyed God. Noah’s righteousness and blamelessness are summed up in the words, “Noah walked with God.”
The text probably repeats the names of Noah’s three sons in verse 10 (see 5:32) to remind us of the effect that Noah’s godly life had on them. They easily could have been influenced to leave their father in his crazy project of building this ocean liner on dry ground and to blend in with the world. The reason they stayed with Noah and got on board the ark was that they saw in their father a life that rang true.
If we want children who learn to stand alone in our evil day, we’ve got to be parents who live our convictions, as Noah did. Kids are smart; they read our lives much more than our lectures. They can smell phoniness a mile off, and they want no part of it. But if they see reality with God in us, there is a much better chance that they will stand alone against the tide of ungodliness in our times.
Standing alone is hard in any day. But Noah’s example proves that it is possible. But how do we do it? A step at a time.
3. Standing alone is achieved by walking with God.
As we saw with Enoch, walking with God implies faith in God, obedience to God, and fellowship with God. With Noah’s walk with God, three things shine through: faith, obedience, and perseverance. First, faith:
A. Walking with God begins and continues through faith in God’s Word.
Like Enoch, Noah is listed in the faith “Hall of Fame” in Hebrews 11:7: “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.” Note two aspects of Noah’s faith:
(1) Faith in God’s Word concerns the unseen. Noah was warned about “things not yet seen.” God threatened to destroy the wicked and promised to save Noah and his family through the ark (Gen. 6:13-18). All this was in the future. Noah had no tangible signs to verify that this would happen. All he had was God’s word. But he built his whole life around it. Alexander Maclaren writes, “The far-off flood was more real to him than the shows of life around him. Therefore he could stand all the gibes, and gave himself to a course of life which was sheer folly unless that future was real” (Expositions of Holy Scripture [Baker], p. 54).
Could you say that about your life--that it is sheer folly unless heaven and hell are real? We’ve gotten away from this. We emphasize the present benefits of being a Christian. Christianity is being marketed as a product that can do everything from help you lose weight to make you a successful salesman. But you won’t stand alone in our evil day unless by faith you are staking everything on what God says about future judgment.
(2) Faith assumes that we hear and know God’s Word. Hearing and knowing what God said, Noah acted upon it. We have God’s written Word. But if you don’t know the Word, it won’t have any effect on your daily attitudes, behavior, and relationships. Let’s say you watch one hour of TV each day (the national average is three hours per day!), plus a weekly movie. You spend another hour daily reading the newspaper and various magazines. Plus, you spend time listening to the radio while driving, etc. You read your Bible once or twice a week for 10-15 minutes. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to figure out what is going to influence your life the most! We are so bombarded with the world! You won’t stand alone against the evil of our day unless your intake of the Word is sufficient to offset your intake of the world.
I urge you to saturate yourself with the Bible every way you can. Get it on tape and play it while you drive. Read it daily, asking God to give you His wisdom on how to live in this evil day. Memorize key verses so that God can bring them to mind when you’re tempted to sin.
B. Walking with God requires complete obedience to God’s Word.
Twice we are told that Noah did according to all that the Lord had commanded him (6:22; 7:5). When you think about it, what the Lord commanded him was incredible. Can you imagine Noah telling Mrs. Noah that he was going to build a ship 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high? You hear about guys who build a fishing boat in their back yard, but this was ridiculous! This wasn’t a weekend hobby; it was a full-time job for 120 years! Most of us would have argued with the Lord: “It’s not feasible! It’s not logical! It’s too costly! It will take too long!” But no matter how difficult, illogical, or costly, Noah did “according to all that God had commanded him.” Walking with God requires that kind of complete obedience.
The task God gave Noah was enormous. If you parked the ark on the street out front, it would go from the corner of Benton to the Beaver Street Brewery. The street is 30 feet wide, so it would be two and a half times the width of the street. And it would be three stories high! In fact, as far as we know, it was not until 1858 that a vessel of greater length was built: the “Great Eastern,” which was 692 by 83 by 30 feet (James Boice, Genesis [Zondervan], p. 262]). While the ark was a floating box, not a pleasure craft, studies have shown that its proportions are ideal for a seaworthy vessel. How would Noah or anyone else at that time have known how to build such a large seaworthy vessel apart from revelation from God?
Critics have called Noah’s ark a myth, saying that it would be impossible to fit all the known species of animals in such a vessel. If you’re interested in a detailed treatment, I refer you to The Genesis Flood [Baker], by John Whitcomb and Henry Morris, two scientists who show that it is not incredible. We don’t know exactly what the Bible means by the word “kind” in reference to the animals (6:20). It could refer to families of animals, from which the various species could later develop. The Bible is clear that God created the various kinds of animals distinct from one another, but there could have been change within the kinds. Authorities on taxonomy estimate that there are less than 18,000 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians alive today. Even if that number is doubled to allow for extinct species, the ark would need to hold about 75,000 animals. Given the dimensions of the ark, it easily could hold as many as 125,000 animals the size of a sheep. Since the average size of land animals is less than that of a sheep, no more than 60 percent of the ark would be needed to hold the animals, with the rest being used for food and water storage (Morris, The Genesis Record [Baker], p. 185).
As for the problem of how Noah went about collecting all these species, verse 20 indicates that God caused the animals to come to him. That’s a miracle, but certainly God could do it. As for how Noah could have collected food for all those animals and fed them all on board, it is possible that God caused the animals to go into a type of hibernation so that they didn’t require as much food and water (Whitcomb & Morris, p. 71). Also, it is possible that, as will be the case in the millennium, the carnivorous animals ate grass before the flood. We don’t know, but it is not impossible. (Man was vegetarian before the flood.) At any rate, the story is not incredible or mythological. There are reasonable explanations for the many problems.
We don’t know the meaning of “gopher wood” (6:14; NIV = “cypress”). But the Hebrew word for “gopher” as well as the word “pitch” (tar that Noah covered the wood with) both come from the Hebrew root word for “atonement,” which means “to cover.” So you could say that those who were protected by the “atonement” wood and “atonement” pitch were delivered from God’s judgment.
As such, the ark is a type of the Lord Jesus Christ. Just as everyone who was on the ark was saved and everyone not on the ark was lost, so everyone who, in the obedience of faith, has put himself under the covering of the blood of Jesus Christ will be saved from God’s future judgment; everyone who is outside of Christ will be lost. It doesn’t depend on one person being better or worse than another person. There were probably some nice people who didn’t get on board the ark. There are some wonderful people who have never trusted in Christ for salvation. It all depends on whether you are “on board” or not, covered from God’s judgment by the means He has ordained.
If Noah had said, “I believe what God says about the coming flood,” but he hadn’t followed through in obedience, he would not have been saved. If he had started, but got tired of the whole thing and quit part way through, he would not have been saved. He and his family were saved from the flood because he obeyed God completely. In our day there is a false security being offered to people under the label of eternal security. Somebody prays to receive Christ and we tell them that they are saved and eternally secure. They may be; but they may not be. If there is no subsequent change in terms of obedience to God, there’s reason to doubt the reality of their salvation. We are saved by grace through faith apart from works, but faith that saves works. The proof of your faith is your obedience.
Walking with God begins and continues by faith in God’s Word; it requires complete obedience to God’s Word.
C. Walking with God requires perseverance.
The metaphor of walking suggests the long haul. You may run for short distances, but if you need to go far, walking is more effective. God warned Noah of the impending judgment and told him to start building the ark 120 years before the flood (Gen. 6:3). By faith Noah started working and kept going. When his sons were old enough, they helped him. Noah just kept on until it was done.
The New Testament says that he was a preacher of righteousness (2 Pet. 2:5). He preached righteousness for 120 years and didn’t have a single convert. It is likely that he had many scoffers. It must have been a favorite pastime to go over and watch old Noah working on his ark. It probably had never rained yet on the earth (Gen. 2:6). Everyone must have thought Noah was bonkers to spend his life building an ocean liner on dry ground on an earth that didn’t know rain! The pressure to quit would have been tremendous. Yet he kept plodding on.
It’s easy to make a profession of being a Christian. It’s not too difficult to remain a Christian for a few months or even a few years. But it’s another matter to walk with God through the years in spite of trials, hardships, ridicule, and no visible results. We need what has been called “a long obedience in the same direction.” We need perseverance!
Let me put it plainly: If you don’t consistently spend time alone with God in His Word and in prayer, you don’t have a walk with God! If you don’t have a walk with God, you will not be able to stand alone as Noah did. You will be more conformed to this evil world than you are to Jesus Christ. Peter writes that just as the early world was destroyed by the flood, so “the present heavens and earth by [God’s] word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (2 Pet. 3:7). His conclusion is, “Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness” (3:11).
If you worked for a company that you knew was going to be dissolved by bankruptcy, your attitude toward that company would change. You wouldn’t put your future hopes in it, because it has no future. If you heard that the government was going to shut down a bank because of insolvency, you wouldn’t rush to invest your money in that bank. God has said that this evil world is doomed. He has promised “a new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13). Like Noah, we must redirect everything in our lives--our time, our money, our goals--in light of God’s warning of judgment and His promise of deliverance in Christ. We must stand alone in this evil day by walking with God.
- We’re called to be in the world but not of the world. But are there situations where we must isolate ourselves from the world? When and how?
- How can a Christian know if it is right to join in a particular activity? How can we gracefully abstain when necessary?
- How can we help our children to stand alone? Which activities should we forbid them to participate in? When should we let them make up their own minds?
- How can a person know that he is “on the ark”? In other words, how can we have assurance that Christ is truly our Savior?
Copyright 1996, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Lesson 17: God’s Warnings (Genesis 7:1-24)Related Media
A woman who works for the IRS in Utah has the job of communicating with delinquent taxpayers. On one occasion she called Anchorage and was patched through to a ham operator in the Aleutian Islands. Two hours later the ham operator raised the taxpayer’s home base and from there reached him at sea with his fishing fleet. After the woman identified herself as being with the IRS in Utah, there was a long pause. Then over the static from somewhere in the North Pacific came: “Ha! Ha! Come and get me!” (Reader’s Digest [10/82].)
Like that tax-dodger, a lot of people think that judgment will never happen. Some may be able to dodge the IRS. But no one can dodge God’s day of reckoning. But people look around and see the wicked literally getting away with murder. The unrighteous often seem to fare pretty well in this life. And so people mistakenly conclude that judgment will never happen. They mistake God’s patience and grace in delaying the day of judgment to mean that it will never take place and that they can sin without consequence. But the familiar story of the flood is given to warn us:
Because God’s judgment on the earth is a fact, we must take the means of escape He has provided.
Unfortunately, the story of Noah and the great flood is often regarded as a fairy tale, not as fact. But it is in the Bible to show that…
1. God’s judgment on the earth is a fact.
A. The flood is the past example of the fact of God’s judgment on the whole earth.
At no other point in history has God’s judgment on the earth been as severe and widespread as it was at the flood. At various times God has judged individuals, groups, and even whole nations. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed when God rained fire and brimstone on them. God ordered Israel to destroy the Canaanites because of their sin. Israel itself was judged by the Babylonian captivity. Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70 because of rejecting the Messiah. There are many more examples in the Bible. But no other judgment in history was as widespread and severe as that of the flood. As such, the flood stands as the past example, bar none, of the fact of God’s judgment on the whole earth. Just as He judged the whole earth with the flood, so He will judge the whole earth in the end times, and none will escape.
I am going to take more of a biblical rather than a scientific approach. For our purposes, let’s look at three points:
(1) The flood was historical. While there are some difficult problems to consider, I think we must take the biblical account at face value. The text clearly presents this as an eyewitness, historical account, not as a parable or fairy tale. For example, the precise date (7:11), as Derek Kidner states, “has the mark of a plain fact well remembered; and this is borne out by the further careful notes of time in the story” (Genesis [IVP], p. 90). While the miraculous is obviously present (especially in the way God gathered the animals to Noah), there is nothing mythical about it.
Also, the New Testament clearly interprets the flood as historical. Both the apostle Peter and the Lord Jesus refer to it as an example of the way people in the end times will scoff at God’s judgment (2 Pet. 2:5; 3:3-10; Matt. 24:37-39; Luke 17:26-27). Either Jesus was mistaken; or He was deceptively using something He knew not to be true as if it were true; or He knew what He was talking about when He referred to Noah and the flood as historically true.
Outside of the Bible, there is the widespread evidence of flood stories in many cultures. While there are variations in the stories, as would be expected over thousands of years, the wide distribution of these stories from every continent of the world points to a common source (see Tim LaHaye and John Morris, The Ark on Ararat [Thomas Nelson], pp. 233-239).
Geologically, there is debate even among Christian scholars about the evidence for a worldwide flood. Some, such as the late Bernard Ramm, argue for a localized flood because they see a number of scientific problems with a universal flood. But there are many lines of geologic evidence which may point to a universal flood and which are not easy to explain in any other way. I cannot deal with the technical aspects of it here, but refer you to John Whitcomb and Henry Morris’s The Genesis Flood (Baker, 518 pp.) if you want more detail.
Just over a century ago, the German scholar, C. F. Keil, put the scientific issue in focus when he wrote, “However impossible, therefore, scientific men may declare it to be for them to conceive of a universal flood of such a height and duration in accordance with the known laws of nature, this inability on their part does not justify any one in questioning the possibility of such an event being produced by the omnipotence of God” (Keil & Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament [Eerdmans], 1:146-147).
But, biblically the evidence for the flood as historically true is incontrovertible. Culturally, there is a massive body of independent traditions which points to a common historical event as their source. Geologically, evidence does not definitely prove the flood, but neither does it disprove it. And there is much evidence that supports the flood.
(2) The flood was universal. Not only was the flood an actual historical event; it was also universal, or worldwide. While I am inclined toward Whitcomb and Morris’s scientific arguments, I am not basing this point on geology, but on the Bible. I think the biblical evidence is clear that the flood was worldwide in scope.
For one thing, the language of the text could not be stronger in describing a flood of universal proportions. While the words “all” and “every” are sometimes used in a relative sense in the Bible, Genesis 7 uses deliberately strong, repetitive language to describe the extent of the flood. In verses 2 and 3 God says that Noah must take some of every kind of animal “to keep offspring alive on the face of all the earth.” That would not be necessary if the flood were only local. In verse 4, God tells Noah that He is about to blot out every living thing that He has made. Why have Noah go to all the bother of building an ark of this size if the flood was merely local? The animals could just as easily have fled the area (along with Noah and his family) and returned afterward.
Verses 11 and 12 say that the source of the flood was not only 40 days and nights of rain, but also the breaking up of the great deep. This points to massive changes in the oceans and subterranean vaults of the earth, and describes much more water than that of a local flood. Verses 19 and 20 say that all the high mountains everywhere under the heavens were covered to a depth of 15 cubits (about 23 feet, perhaps the draft of the loaded ark). (The mountains on earth before the flood were not necessarily the same as afterwards; see Whitcomb and Morris, pp. 266-270).
Then there is the time which it took for the flood waters to abate. The water prevailed upon the earth for 150 days (7:24). This means that it took 110 days after the rain stopped for the water to recede enough for the ark to touch down on Mount Ararat (8:3, 4). It took another ten weeks for the water level to go down enough for the tops of other mountains to become visible (8:5). All told, it was just over a year before it was safe for Noah and those on the ark to disembark (8:14-15). No local flood would require that much time to subside.
Verses 21 and 22 say that all animals in whose nostrils were the breath of life died. Verse 23 sums it up by saying that God blotted out every living thing from the land “from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky ... and only Noah was left, together with those that were with him in the ark.” How much more plainly could you say it?
In addition, Genesis 8 implies that Noah and those with him in the ark were the only living creatures on earth after the flood (esp. 8:1, 15-17). God’s promise not to destroy the earth in this manner again (8:21-22; 9:15-16) would not be true if the flood was merely local, because there have been many severe local floods in history. Genesis 9:19 and 10:32 state that the whole earth was repopulated from Noah’s three sons. So the biblical evidence that the flood was universal is overwhelming. (See Henry Morris, The Genesis Record [Baker], pp. 199-203, 683-685, for much more biblical support.)
Thus the flood was both historical and universal. There’s a third fact to observe:
(3) The flood came suddenly, but not without warning. God had been warning that evil world for almost 1,000 years. Enoch preached against the ungodliness of his day. He named his son Methuselah, which means, “when he is dead, it [judgment] will come.” As a testimony of God’s grace and patience, Methuselah lived 969 years, longer than any other human being. Finally he died in the year of the flood. But God’s warnings were ignored.
Noah’s ark was finally finished after 120 years. People watched as the animals migrated toward the ark, two by two. Can’t you hear the people hooting, “Hey, everyone, Noah’s finally getting ready to sail!” Remember, there wasn’t a drop of rain yet. The ark sat there on dry ground. The day of the flood dawned just as every other day had. Then God closed the door of the ark, the rain began, and the earth quaked as the deeps were opened. Judgment came suddenly, but not without warning.
Why is this important? It’s important because the flood is the one great historical example of God’s future judgment for the whole earth.
B. God’s future judgment will be historical, universal, and will come suddenly, but not without warning.
Just as none escaped the judgment of the flood, so none will escape God’s coming judgment. In the flood, every person on the face of the earth had to come to terms with God, either by accepting His means of escape (the ark), or by perishing in the flood. In the coming judgment, all will appear before God’s bar of justice. Those who are protected by God’s means of escape, the Lord Jesus Christ, will be protected from that judgment. Those who have not trusted in Christ will be condemned.
It will be a historical event: God “has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).
It will be universal: He will judge “the world”--every person who has ever lived. Those who have taken refuge in Christ will be spared, but all who are outside of Christ will appear before the Great White Throne, where those whose names are not written in the book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:11-15).
It will be sudden, but not without warning. There is the warning of the Scriptures. Even many who do not read the Bible know the story of the flood, which serves as a warning to them. But over and over Jesus and others in the Bible warn of the certainty of the coming judgment.
There is the warning of those who live godly lives. Surely Noah’s life served notice on that ungodly generation that their lives were not pleasing to the Lord. His obedience in the face of an almost impossible task which took 120 years stood as a testimony that they needed to repent. Even the march of the animals to the ark, obedient to their Creator’s command, bore witness to that generation that God was about to do something significant.
There is the warning of our own advancing mortality. Those in Noah’s day lived much longer than we do, but they all had one thing in common with us: they all died. As George Bernard Shaw observed, “The statistics on death are quite impressive: one out of one people die.” We look in the mirror each day and see new wrinkles and increasing gray hair (or lack thereof). Our muscles and joints ache over things that used not to phase us. Our eyesight dims. We can’t hear quite as well. And I forget the last thing--oh, yes, we start to forget things. These are all warning signs that death is ahead, when we must face eternity.
Then suddenly, after all these warnings, a day will dawn for each of us that will not start any differently than any other day. But before that day is over, we will be face to face with God. Either Jesus Christ will have returned to judge the earth, or we will die and stand before God. Are you ready for that day? The Book of Revelation clearly shows that the world will be prospering right up to the final hour when judgment falls. People will be living in luxury and sensuality. Then, in one day, in one hour, God’s judgment will fall (Rev. 18:8, 10, 17, 19). To be ready, ...
2. We must take the means of escape God has provided.
The story of the flood shows us that before He brings judgment,
A. God graciously provides a means of escape from His judgment.
Noah didn’t think up the idea of the ark himself. Clearly, the ark was God’s initiative. He revealed it to Noah. He designed it and gave him the directions he needed. No human plan would have saved Noah or anyone else. They could have climbed the highest mountains; the flood went 20 feet over the tops of those mountains. There was no means of escape except the means God provided, and it was sufficient.
God’s grace is seen in not closing the door until the last possible moment. The people watched Noah working for 120 years. They watched the animals streaming in from all parts of the globe. They watched Noah and his family board the ark. The door was still open for any to come aboard. Nobody did. They watched as the Lord shut the door (Gen. 7:16). The rain started. It was too late.
Even though the door was open until the last possible moment, there is a sense in which those outside the ark had sealed their own doom years before the flood. There are very few deathbed conversions. A person fixes his mind in unbelief so that he can continue in his sinful ways. He deliberately ignores warning after warning. Perhaps he thinks that when he has one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel, he will repent. But by then it’s too late. God has closed the door of salvation.
In reference to the last minute conversion of the thief on the cross, one of the Puritans wisely observed, “We have one account of a deathbed repentance in order that no man need despair; we have only one, in order that no man may presume.” God’s grace does have a limit. We cannot go on and on in our sin, ignoring God’s gracious warnings, without consequence. Today is the day of salvation!
B. We must take God’s means of escape.
There was only one means of escape provided by God. It was not especially fancy or inviting: A great big box daubed with pitch. A luxury liner like the Queen Mary might have attracted a few more. A good advertising campaign, along with a few shows on board may have drummed up a bit more interest.
And there was only one door. The proud lions and the lowly lizards all entered the same way. It was very narrow and restrictive. Some of Noah’s neighbors may have said, “All that matters is that a person is sincere and tries to do the best he can. Noah’s way is just too confining.” They perished in the flood. Others urged tolerance. They said, “Noah’s message is too judgmental. We need to preach love, not judgment.” They perished in the flood.
It wasn’t enough to know about the ark. Many in Noah’s day knew about the ark, but they never got on board and they perished in the flood. It wasn’t enough to admire the ark. Many marveled at the size of the ark, but they never got on board and they perished. It wasn’t enough to intend to get on board the ark some day. There were some who had good intentions, but they were just too busy; they were lost in the flood. Others said, “I don’t want to give up my business; it’s just beginning to turn a healthy profit.” They perished in the flood. Others said, “I’ll get on board when my mate decides to come.” But their mate never decided; they perished in the flood. The only ones who were saved were those who got on board the ark before the flood.
God has ordained one means of salvation from the judgment to come: The Lord Jesus Christ, crucified for sinners. Whether you’re wealthy or poor, moral or immoral, educated or uneducated, there is only one way to heaven, the way of the cross of Jesus Christ. He is the only means of salvation God has provided.
The question is, Have you gotten on board? That will be the only issue when God’s day of judgment comes suddenly. Are you trusting fully in Jesus Christ as your only hope of deliverance from God’s wrath? Have you left your sin, left your busy pursuits, left your business, left anything that hinders you, and come to Christ who alone can save you from the wrath to come? That is the only question which matters in the day of judgment.
God invited Noah and his family aboard the ark with the words, “Enter the ark” (7:1). The KJV puts it, “Come into the ark ....” That’s His invitation to you today. God has not yet closed the door of salvation. At the end of the Bible, after warning of the judgment to come, God’s final appeal is, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost” (Rev. 22:17). But lest you put it off, the Bible goes on in the next to the last verse to warn, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly” (Rev. 22:20). The Lord Jesus is coming to judge the earth; He invites you to come aboard before He comes to close the door. Come to Christ now!
- Do we under-emphasize God’s judgment? How can we properly emphasize it without sounding like “hellfire and damnation”? (Or should we sound like that?)
- How can we tactfully warn our friends and loved ones of judgment without being judgmental?
- How would you answer a critic who said that you were being an obscurantist to believe the biblical record of the flood when there is not overwhelming scientific proof?
- How would you answer a critic who complained that God was not fair to drown people thousands of miles from the ark who probably had no opportunity to get on board?
Copyright 1996, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Lesson 18: When You Feel Forgotten By God (Genesis 8:1-22)Related Media
Have you ever felt forgotten by God? Once in a while you hear a heart-wrenching story of a child who has been abandoned by his parents. Well, thankfully, God never abandons His children. But probably you’ve felt forgotten by God at times. You prayed, but God didn’t answer. You read the Bible, but it didn’t speak to you. The trials in your life made you think that God went on vacation and forgot about you and your problems.
Noah may have felt like that after being on the ark for a while. The whole world had been destroyed by the flood. The rain had beat down in torrents upon that lonely ark for 40 days and nights. Finally, the rain stopped and the only sound was that of the water sloshing against the sides of the ark. Noah probably expected to hear from the Lord about then. But if God spoke to Noah, the Bible doesn’t report it. When God finally speaks to Noah again, telling him to come off the ark (8:15), the impression you get is that He hadn’t spoken since the last time recorded in the text, over a year before, when He told Noah to get on board (7:1).
What do you suppose Noah was thinking during all that time on the water? At times he probably felt forgotten by God. Maybe you’re there right now. You need assurance that God hasn’t forgotten you. That’s what Genesis 8 is all about. We read words of hope in verse 1: “But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark.” Not just Noah, but the animals! It reminds us of Jesus’ words that the Heavenly Father’s eyes are on each sparrow, so you know that He cares for you. And while the Lord remembered Noah, we see Noah waiting patiently and obediently in the ark until God tells him to go out. Then Noah offered a sacrifice to the Lord. So the two themes of Genesis 8 are that God remembers Noah and Noah remembers God. We can apply it by saying:
Since God in faithfulness remembers us, we by faith must remember God.
The dominant theme of the chapter is that:
1. God in faithfulness remembers us.
When the text says, “God remembered Noah,” it does not imply that somehow He got busy with other things and Noah slipped from His mind for a while. Then something reminded Him and He snapped His fingers and said, “Noah! I forgot all about him down there!”
Rather, in the Bible the word is used often of God in the sense of God taking action on His promises. When God was about to destroy the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, He “remembered Abraham” and spared Lot on his behalf (Gen. 19:29). When Rachel wanted to bear children, but could not, we read that “God remembered Rachel” and she conceived (Gen. 30:22). When Israel was in bondage in Egypt, we read that “God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Exod. 2:24). When Mary conceived Jesus by the Holy Spirit, she praised God who remembered His mercy as He had spoken to Abraham and his offspring (Luke 1:54-55). The penitent thief on the cross asked, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). In every case, the idea is the same: God remembers in the sense of taking action on His promises.
So here, God remembered Noah and those on the ark. It points to God’s faithfulness. From our point of view, it may seem that God has forgotten. Perhaps He has been silent for a long while. But He will act on our behalf in His time. He remembers. He is faithful to those who are His. God’s faithful remembrance is seen in three ways in Genesis 8: in His past salvation; in His promise of future preservation; and in His present provision.
A. God’s faithful remembrance is seen in His past salvation.
God’s past salvation is seen in the ark. Noah and everyone on board the ark had been spared God’s judgment. It was not a luxury liner, but those on board were safe. As Noah and his family felt the ark come to rest on the mountain, even though God was yet silent, they knew one thing for certain--by God’s grace they had been spared His awful judgment. If you have trusted in God’s only means of salvation, the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, even if God seems silent at the moment, you can rest assured that you are safe in Jesus Christ.
A man once came to D. L. Moody and said he was worried because he didn’t feel saved. Moody asked, “Was Noah safe in the ark?” “Certainly he was,” the man replied. “Well, what made him safe, his feeling or the ark?” The man got the point. It is not our feelings that save us. Christ saves us by His sovereign grace, and if we have trusted in Christ, we know that God in faithfulness to His promise has saved us from His judgment.
When it seems like God has forgotten you, stop and think about the salvation God has granted to you in Jesus Christ. It is not based on anything in you. Noah found grace (6:8), and so has every person who has trusted Christ as Savior. John Newton, preacher and author of “Amazing Grace,” was a drunken sailor and slave trader when God saved him. He wrote a text in bold letters and put it over the mantle of his study, where he could not fail to see it: “Thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt and the Lord thy God redeemed thee.” Newton wanted to remember God’s faithfulness as seen in His past salvation.
B. God’s faithful remembrance is seen in His promise of future preservation.
As he came off the ark, Noah must have had some mixed emotions. On the one hand, he was grateful for God’s deliverance. But on the other hand, he must have felt a bit apprehensive. God had wiped out every other person and all other animals on the face of the earth. Noah must have thought, “What if we disobey Him? Will He wipe us out?”
But those whom God saves, He keeps. Our final preservation doesn’t depend on our grip on God, but on God’s strong grip on us (Jude 24). It doesn’t rest on our great faith, but on His great faithfulness. In 6:18, God said to Noah, “I will establish My covenant with you.” While this is the dominant theme of chapter 9, God mentions His promise here in 8:21, when He vows never again to curse the ground on account of man or to destroy every living thing as He did in the flood.
Note that God’s promise of sparing the earth from such severe judgment is not conditioned on Noah’s or anyone’s obedience. In fact, God promises to do it in spite of man’s sinfulness. The Hebrew word translated “for” (8:21, NASB) can be translated “though” (see Josh. 17:18, “though”). So God is saying, “Even though I see that man’s heart is still the same [the flood did not eradicate man’s sinful nature], I will look ahead to the atoning sacrifice of Messiah and will spare the earth and its inhabitants for Messiah’s sake.”
Aren’t you glad that your future deliverance from God’s judgment depends on God’s faithfulness, not yours? While those who truly know Christ will be growing in obedience, there isn’t a saint who has a perfect track record. Satan likes to come and say, “You claim to be a Christian? Look at your sins! How can you possibly expect God to save you?” At such times of doubt, I have to say to Satan, “I’m not trusting in my track record to commend me to God. I’m trusting in the faithfulness of the God who has said, ‘Their sins and lawless deeds I will remember no more’ (Heb. 10:17). I’m trusting in His Word which declares that ‘He who began a good work in [me] will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 1:6). So, Satan, if you can disprove God’s faithfulness, I’m in trouble. But if not, be gone! You have no basis to trouble me.”
Thus God’s faithful remembrance is seen in His past salvation and in His promise of future preservation of His people from judgment. But also,
C. God’s faithful remembrance is seen in His present provision.
God had provided all that Noah and his family needed to survive, both on the ark and once they set foot on dry ground again. The earth again sprouted with vegetation, as seen in the olive leaf in the dove’s beak. (The olive tree can sprout even under water.) The olive leaf showed Noah that the water had greatly subsided, since olive trees grow at lower elevations than where the ark came to rest.
God’s provision is also seen in that He had instructed Noah to take seven clean animals on the ark, rather than just two. He used one of the seven for his sacrifice (8:20). But in 9:3, God ordains that man may now eat meat. Thus the clean animals provided food for the survivors of the flood until they could grow new crops and until the animals multiplied.
God’s provision is also seen in His promise (8:22) that “while the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.” We often forget, as A. W. Pink put it, that “behind Nature’s ‘laws’ is Nature’s Lord” (Gleanings in Genesis [Moody Press], p. 113). God gives us many reminders of His faithfulness: Each new day, every changing season, and the food we eat should remind us that He is a faithful God who provides for all our needs.
Genesis 8 reminds us of the creation account in Genesis 1. In both accounts, the earth is covered with water. In Genesis 1 the Spirit moved; here God caused the wind (same Hebrew word as “Spirit”) to blow. In both accounts the dry land is separated from the waters, vegetation sprouts and the earth is prepared for man. Both chapters show us God’s gracious provision for His creatures.
Often when God is silent in our lives, it’s because He wants to bring us into a situation where He makes all things new. But sometimes He has to destroy the old before He can remake the new. But we can count on His faithfulness during the silence, knowing that He has saved us in the past, He has promised to preserve us in the future, and He is providing for us in the present. Noah clung to those assurances when God was silent for that long year in the ark. You can cling to those assurances right now, if it seems as if God has forgotten you.
So first we see God’s remembrance of Noah; we also see Noah’s remembrance of God. Since God in faithfulness remembers us,
2. We by faith must remember God.
Noah’s remembrance of God is seen in three ways in this story, ways we can imitate as we seek to remember the Lord.
A. We remember God by trusting in His salvation.
Noah obedient faith is seen in his building the ark and by getting on board when God told him to. If he hadn’t trusted God’s word by doing that, he wouldn’t have been delivered from the flood.
God has provided Jesus Christ as the “ark” which will carry you safely through the judgment to come. Just as Noah had to believe God by building the ark and getting on board, so you must believe God by “getting on board” Christ as the only One who can deliver you from God’s judgment. In the world’s eyes, the ark was Noah’s folly. But in God’s plan, that which was foolishness to the world was His means of salvation. Even so, as Paul said, “The word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). If you have never by faith entrusted your eternal destiny completely to Jesus Christ, laying hold of His death in your place, you must start there.
B. We remember God by waiting patiently and obediently for God’s timing.
Once God has saved us, like young children, we want everything instantly. We want all our problems solved now. We want answers to our questions now. But God shapes us by making us learn to wait on Him. After a year in a crowded, dark, smelly ark, Noah must have had a bad case of cabin fever. But we find him patiently and obediently waiting for the Lord to give the word. God didn’t dry up the water instantly, but used the wind and other natural processes. It took time. That’s usually how God works.
Finally Noah sent out a raven. Ravens will alight on anything, no matter how foul. Perhaps it landed on carcasses floating on the water, and fed off them, but it never returned to the ark. Next Noah released the dove. Doves want a clean, dry place to land. Not finding such a place, the dove returned. Noah kept waiting. Seven days later, he tried again. This time the dove returned with an olive leaf. Noah waited seven more days. This time the dove did not return. Still Noah waited. In the 601st year of his life, on the first day of the first month, the water was dried up (8:13). Still Noah waited. Finally, on the 27th day of the second month, God told Noah to disembark (8:14-16). Only then did Noah leave the ark.
God had shut Noah in; God must bring Noah out by His command. Noah kept waiting on God even when God was apparently silent. Obedience during the silent times is the best guarantee that you’ll obey God in those critical moments which determine the course of your life. If God has shut you in to some difficulty, wait patiently and obediently upon Him to bring you out in His way and time.
Maybe God has shut you up to being single, but you want to be married. But God doesn’t seem to be listening to your prayers. If you disobey God and take matters into your own hands by dating unbelievers, you will thwart what He is trying to teach you about waiting on Him and you may miss His provision for you later. In the silent times, we must remember the Lord by waiting patiently and obediently for His timing.
C. We remember the Lord by offering a sacrifice of gratitude.
Noah got off the ark and offered a sacrifice to the Lord. You may think his action was a matter of course. But it was hardly a matter of course. Noah would have been a busy man once he set foot on dry ground again. He had to build a shelter for his family. They had to tend to the domestic animals. They had to move everything off the ark to their new homes, and there was no Bekins! And yet Noah took time to remember the Lord by building an altar and offering sacrifices.
Noah’s sacrifice showed that he still must approach God through shed blood. Noah wasn’t presuming on some new privileged relationship with God since he had survived the flood. He still knew himself to be a sinner, and he offered sacrifices as the only way he could approach a holy God. Noah’s sacrifice also was an expression of gratitude for God’s salvation. Noah knew his own heart. There was no reason God should have spared him, but He did. And so Noah expressed his thankfulness with this sacrifice.
In the same way, God wants us to remember Him by coming to Him through the blood of Jesus Christ as our only basis of approach. He wants us to reflect often on our deliverance from judgment, and to “continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Heb. 13:15).
One of the ways God ordained for us to do that is through the Lord’s Supper (also called the “Eucharist,” from the Greek word for thanksgiving). When we come to the Lord’s Supper, we reflect on His salvation for us in the past; on His promised coming and the future salvation we will enjoy; and on the present provision He has given us for life and godliness. We remember Him and give thanks for His salvation.
Like Noah, most of us have a million other pressing things we could be doing with our time. It’s so easy to get busy with life and forget the Lord and His blessings to us. Forgetting, we grow ungrateful. And ungratefulness leads us away from God. We must guard against thankless hearts by regularly setting aside time in our busy schedules to remember the Lord and the great salvation He has granted us. Since God in faithfulness has remembered us, we by faith must remember Him.
At times we’ve all felt abandoned by God. The nation Israel felt that way. Isaiah wrote, “But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, and the Lord has forgotten me.’” But God answers, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you” (Isa. 49:14-15). God remembers His children. Even when He seems to have forgotten us, we, His children, can rest on His faithful Word and obediently remember Him.
Frances Havergal, the hymn writer, could have felt forgotten by God. She died in her early forties. On the last day of her life, she asked a friend to read Isaiah 42 to her. When the friend read the sixth verse, “I the Lord have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee,” Miss Havergal stopped her. She whispered, “Called; held; kept. I can go home on that!” And she did go home on that, resting in the faithful remembrance of her God. One of her best loved songs is, “Like a River Glorious.” The third verse reads,
Every joy or trial falleth from above,
Trac’d upon our dial by the Sun of Love;
We may trust Him fully all for us to do;
They who trust Him wholly find Him wholly true.
It was true for her; it has been true of every one of God’s elect, whom He has faithfully remembered. If you know Christ, it is true of you, even when God seems to forget you. You can trust Him and find Him wholly true.
- Tell of a time when you felt forgotten by God. What did you learn?
- Why does God make us wait on Him? How can we know whether God is telling us “no” or “wait”?
- What would you say to a person who felt that God was unfaithful because He did not answer prayers to heal a loved one?
- How can we build more gratitude into our lives?
Copyright 1996, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Lesson 19: The Sanctity of Human Life (Genesis 9:1-7)Related Media
In 1994, a 16 year-old Philadelphia youth tried to extort money from an ice cream truck driver. When the driver refused, the boy shot him. As this father of three lay dying, the neighborhood teenagers gathered around and mocked his agony in a rap song they composed, “They killed Mr. Softee.” A fellow ice cream truck driver and friend of the dying man came on the scene shortly after the shooting. He told reporters, “It wasn’t human. People were laughing and asking me for ice cream. I was crying.... They were acting as though a cat had died, not a human being.”
We live in a day when human life is no longer regarded as sacred. The devaluing of life is spreading not only through violence in the ghettos, but also through abortion on demand, which results in the deaths of 1.5 million babies in America each year. On the other end of life, the push for euthanasia is further eroding the sanctity of human life.
All of these problems stem from the erosion of the Bible as the standard for truth in our society. If you throw out the Bible and accept evolution, then man is just an animal and there is no basis for human morality, other than cultural norms. Without the Bible, there is no basis for affirming that humans are created in the image of God and that human life is thus sacred. For the survival of our nation and culture, we desperately need to understand and proclaim the biblical truth regarding the sanctity of human life.
When Noah and his family emerged from the ark, all human and animal life, except for that on the ark, had been destroyed. It was a new beginning for the human race which God had judged because of its corruption and violence (6:11-13). It is significant that one of the first things God affirmed to Noah was the sanctity of human life. God wanted to establish a foundation for the proper view of human life before the earth was repopulated. Our text shows that ...
Since God values human life, so must we.
God blessed Noah and his sons (9:1). God’s blessing here provided for the propagation, priority, and protection of human life. Verses 1 and 7 show that human life is to be propagated to promote God’s purposes on the earth. Verses 2-4 show that human life has priority over animal life. And verses 5 and 6 ordain that human life is to be protected through capital punishment for murder. These verses raise some controversial issues. I encourage you to wrestle with the totality of Scripture in arriving at your conclusions.
1. Since God values human life, He ordained it to be propagated to promote His purposes (9:1, 7).
In Genesis 1:28, God blessed Adam and Eve, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply.” This blessing involved their raising godly offspring who would be stewards for God on earth. Here, starting over after the flood, God repeats the blessing for Noah and his sons. Godly families are at the heart of what God is doing on this earth, because it is in this context that children are loved, come to know God, and are trained in His ways. Thus God ordained the propagation of the human race through families to promote His purposes.
These verses raise the question: What about birth control? The text seems to say (and many sincere Christians take it to mean) that God’s people should have as many children as possible. How you apply this can greatly affect your life!
First, we need to understand that Genesis 9:1 & 7, although they sound like commands, are really a form of God’s blessing. God is saying, “May you be fruitful and fill the earth.” Even though He had just wiped out everyone on earth because of their sin, God is reaffirming human life by giving this blessing to Noah and his sons. This blessing was given (both here and in Genesis 1) when the world was not populated. Now that the world is not in need of increased population and birth control is a medical option, it can be argued that we need prayerfully to plan how many such blessings we produce!
Some argue, “If children are blessings, then why not have all the blessings God will give us?” But we obviously limit other blessings God gives, such as food, sleep, material possessions, and leisure pursuits. Since the Bible requires us to provide for our children (1 Tim. 5:8 is primarily financial, but can include the emotional and spiritual), we must consider our ability to do so.
Some also argue that to use birth control is to usurp God’s sovereignty and play God. But modern medicine gives us many theologically staggering options that didn’t exist a few years ago. Although God has sovereignly ordained how long we live, most of us don’t hesitate to use medicine to extend our lives if we have the option. The same applies to birth control. God has sovereignly ordained how many children we have, but perhaps birth control is the means He ordained of arriving at that number!
We need to distinguish between preventing conception and destroying life once conception has occurred. Before conception, no new life is involved. But once conception occurs, a new human life has been formed. It only requires time and nurture to become what all of us are. This means that certain types of birth control are immoral. Obviously abortion is unacceptable. But so are any methods which allow conception to take place but prevent implantation. They are really forms of abortion. Any form of birth control that destroys a developing human being is unacceptable for Christians.
Since no method of contraception (except abstinence) is totally effective (I know some who had children after supposedly being sterilized), any couple who chooses to have sex must accept the possible responsibility of conceiving children. This is one reason why sex must be reserved for marriage. If you choose to have sex and that choice results in the conception of a child, you’ve both (father and mother) just incurred a serious responsibility before God! To abort that child is to shed innocent human blood, which God condemns (9:6). So sex must be reserved for marriage, and a couple should not marry until they are able to accept the possible responsibility of children.
A main factor in determining whether or not to have children is to examine our motives. If we use birth control because children would interfere with our upwardly mobile life style, we’re living for self and pleasure, not for God. We must adopt God’s view of children, that they are a blessing (Gen. 9:1; Ps. 127:3-5) and reject the common worldly view, that children are a burden and a hindrance to personal pursuits. There is no question that children are a responsibility and that they interfere with my life style! But God uses my children to teach me how selfish I am and to show me the need to crucify my flesh and live under the lordship of Christ. Worldly, selfish motives are not a good basis for choosing not to have children.
Sometimes, I might add, people want to have children for selfish reasons. A couple may think that a child will shore up their shaky marriage. Perhaps the husband thinks that a baby will get his wife off his back, so he can selfishly do whatever he wants. Sometimes people want children to receive the love and attention they missed as a child. So they desperately try to meet their own emotional needs through their children, and are devastated when the children leave home. So we must examine our motives both for wanting to have children and for not wanting children.
There are some other factors to consider. The Bible’s command to provide for our families (1 Tim. 5:8) includes finances, but also extends to emotional and spiritual provision. Concerning finances, we don’t need to provide designer clothes and a Harvard education, but we do need to consider meeting basic needs. The physical health of both mother and father may be a consideration. Also, some women may thrive in mothering ten children (they love chaos and noise!), while others in terms of their personalities and abilities could provide well for two or three children, but a houseful would push them over the brink.
A final factor to consider is that the Bible teaches that marriage and sex in marriage have other legitimate purposes besides procreation. Marriage is for companionship and God designed the sexual union both for intimacy and pleasure. It’s a deterrent to sexual temptation. Therefore, I believe that a Christian married couple may responsibly use a method of preventing conception (not abortion) if they’ve prayerfully and carefully weighed their motives so that their decision is not based upon selfishness, materialism, or worldly attitudes toward children.
Don’t forget the point we began with, that human life is to be propagated to promote God’s purposes. This means that most Christian couples should want to have as many children as they can care for, to see those children raised to love and serve Jesus Christ. While some children may not be planned, for Christians all children should be valued and loved since they are God’s gift.
2. Since God values human life, He ordained it to take priority over animal life (9:2-4).
God put the fear of man on wild animals and put all animal life under man’s control. He also gave permission for man to eat meat. Before the flood, man and animals may have been vegetarian (see 1:29-30). But now man is given meat for sustenance. Some may choose to be vegetarian for health reasons, but there is nothing more spiritual about not eating meat.
God ordains that man may not eat the flesh with its life, that is, its blood (9:4). This pointed ahead to the sacrificial system God would ordain under Moses: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement” (Lev. 17:11). God requires that the soul that sins shall die. But He has graciously made provision through the shed blood of an acceptable substitute, the Lord Jesus Christ, so that all who trust in Christ’s death on their behalf do not have to face judgment.
Another lesson of these verses is that God made animals to serve people, not people to serve animals. Certainly we should protect animals from wanton destruction and be kind to animals (Prov. 12:10). But animals are given to serve us, not vice versa. In our day, the animal rights movement has often put saving animals above saving people. It’s ironic that those who advocate saving baby seals also often advocate destroying human babies through abortion. And while I don’t mean to disrespect a people, the Hindu religion with its sacred cows, is a pathetic example of people serving animals, when those very animals were given by God to feed hungry people.
Thus after the flood, God reestablished the value of human life by ordaining that it should be propagated to promote His purposes and that human life is to take priority over animal life.
3. Since God values human life, He ordained it to be protected through capital punishment (9:5-6).
God here ordains human government. In delegating authority to man over the highest good that man has, namely, life, God implicitly gave authority over lesser things as well. Government is given by God to check man’s sin and to protect man from himself. God is saying that because man is created in God’s image (though that image is marred by the fall) human life is valuable. Thus one who murders another person must pay the ultimate penalty by forfeiting his own life in exchange.
The value we place on something is reflected by what we will give in exchange for it. If I give $10,000 for a car, it shows that I think that car is valuable enough to exchange the necessary labor and time it takes me to earn that amount of money. If I take your life and our society says that I must spend seven years in prison at taxpayer expense, it reflects the value society puts on human life, which in our day doesn’t seem to be very much.
In all fairness, I must say that not all evangelical Christians agree on capital punishment. Some argue that it has been replaced by Christ’s ethic of love for our enemies. We are not to take vengeance. It is barbaric and brutal to kill a killer. To take a man’s life is to deny him the opportunity to repent. Or if he has repented, to take his life is to kill a brother in Christ.
Also, for which crimes is capital punishment to be mandated? In the law of Moses, the death penalty was prescribed for many crimes other than premeditated murder, including fornication, adultery, rape (Deut. 22:13-27), and homosexuality (Lev. 20:13); hitting, cursing, or rebelling against one’s parents (Exod. 21:15, 17; Lev. 20:9; Deut. 21:18-21); cursing God (Lev. 24:10-16); and, sabbath-breaking (Num. 15:32-36). Most of us would be dead!
Christians who oppose capital punishment also point out that God didn’t always carry it out, even for murderers, such as Cain, Moses, and David. Jesus urged leniency for the woman caught in adultery, even though the law mandated death. Apart from the Bible, it is argued that the death penalty is not a deterrent, and that it is unfairly applied in our country. Also, what if a mistake is made and an innocent person is executed? For these reasons many Christians are opposed to capital punishment.
While we need to consider these points, I still think that capital punishment is to be used by governments as a means of protecting the value of human life. God says that even an animal that kills a person must pay with its life (9:5; see Exod. 21:28-32). Genesis 9:5-6 clearly shows that God highly values human life; so must we, by imposing the death penalty for murder.
The New Testament also upholds the authority of governments to impose the death penalty. In Romans 13:1-4, Paul, living under Nero’s violent reign, argues that Christians must be subject to the governing authorities, because they are ordained by God to avenge wrongs and bring wrath, including the sword, upon the one who practices evil. Paul himself told Festus that if he had done anything worthy of death, he was willing to die for his crimes (Acts 25:11).
What about the arguments raised against capital punishment? Concerning love and compassion for our enemies, we need to distinguish between personal and governmental actions. If you followed that logic to its conclusion, you couldn’t punish any criminal: “Let them all go, because we’ve got to show compassion.” But what about compassion and love for the victims and their families? Concerning vengeance, personal vengeance is wrong, but the whole point of government is to replace vengeance with justice and due punishment. Just and proportionate punishment provides a foundation of ethical responsibility that gives moral significance to human actions. If you take away the death penalty, murdering someone becomes insignificant.
When opponents of capital punishment say that it is barbaric, I say, “The murderer was the barbaric one.” He killed a person innocent of breaking the law, whereas the state is killing a guilty person to uphold the law. Not to make that distinction leads to the breakdown of the principle of law and justice.
Concerning the opportunity for the murderer to repent, you could argue that a man is more likely to repent if he faces execution. But I don’t see this argument as valid either way. It is sad if a truly repentant man is executed, and such factors may need to be taken into account. But God doesn’t always remove the consequences for sin, even though He forgives the sinner.
Which crimes should be capital offenses? At least first degree murder ought to be in order to uphold the value of human life. I would favor either executing or castrating repeat offenders of rape and child molesting, but I can’t defend that biblically. Concerning the matter that capital punishment was unevenly applied in the Old Testament, you don’t build a system of justice on the exceptions. Cain and David deserved to die but were shown exceptional mercy. Moses’ murder of the Egyptian could be argued to be in defense of another person. God is concerned about justice, and the death penalty should be applied evenly (not along racial lines) after a fair trial and convincing guilt.
Whether the death penalty is a deterrent or not is beside the point. If it were carried out uniformly and swiftly, I think it would be a deterrent (Deut. 21:21; Eccl. 8:11). It at least would deter the murderer from doing it again! There is always the risk that an innocent man will be executed. For that reason, proper judicial procedures must always be followed, and if there is even slight doubt, the person must not die. But we need to think about this rationally, not emotionally. Many decisions made by government leaders affect lives. A budget decision for research on disease means that some people will live and some will die. A decision to build a skyscraper or dam means that some probably will die during construction. On rare occasions a few innocent people may be killed by capital punishment, but many more innocent people would be killed by murderers who were allowed to live without capital punishment.
You’ll have to think it through biblically. My conclusion is that the arguments against capital punishment are not persuasive enough to overturn the clear teaching of Genesis 9:6 and Romans 13. It’s necessary to uphold the sanctity of human life.
While it’s important to think biblically about these matters, I don’t want this message to be theoretical. What can you do to affirm the sanctity of human life?
Some of you should get involved in the pro-life movement. We need an evangelical pro-life pregnancy counseling center in Flagstaff. We all should vote for pro-life candidates and write letters to legislators and to newspapers defending the unborn. Vote against judges and legislators who are soft on crime. And pray! It’s a spiritual battle. Pray for government authorities. Pray for justice to be carried out in our land. With prayer and obedience, we can see the sanctity of human life restored in our country.
I want to say a final word to anyone who may have had an abortion or who counseled someone else to do so. You may have done this in ignorance and now you realize how wrong your action was in the sight of God, who values human life. God takes all sin seriously, as His judgment in the flood shows. But He also is gracious and forgiving to all who will turn from their sin and seek Him. Even murderers have found grace at His throne. Through Christ’s death, God can maintain His justice (because Christ paid the penalty), but also His love (by extending a free pardon to all who will accept it). No matter how great your guilt, God’s grace is greater. Right now you can receive the gift of forgiveness He offers you in the Lord Jesus Christ.
- Have Christians bought into the world’s view concerning family planning? Are there other biblical factors (than those mentioned in the message) which need to be considered?
- Discuss the pros and cons: Should Christians ever use sterilization as a means of birth control?
- Is hunting permitted or forbidden by Scripture? What about medical research on animals?
- Where do you stand on capital punishment? Why? Should mercy (a reprieve) ever be extended to a convicted murderer?
Copyright 1996, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.