1.8 Noah and the Flood
Gen 6-9 describes the Great Flood, and the saving of Noah and his family through the ark.
God said to Noah, "I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth" (Gen 6:13).
There is considerable speculation about the inhabitants of earth before the Flood. See the Indepth section. What is more to the point is that the little seed of sin sown by Adam and Even 1000 years earlier had become a great harvest of evil deeds that filled the earth:
"Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight and was full of violence" (Gen 6:11).
Note the progressive nature of sin -- it is no different after the Flood than before it. It spreads like a highly contagious disease, like the "Black Death," except that it is contracted voluntarily. It contaminates all who succumb to its appeal. And at the time of Noah, God had no answer to the universality of sin except to destroy its source (all humanity) and start over again.
The Flood was an example of divinely sanctioned genocide:
Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; men and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds of the air were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark (Gen 7:23).
There are six interesting aspects of this ultimate act of divine judgment:
1. The depth of human sin: every inclination of man's heart was evil. The Reformation term for this power of evil over man was "total depravity." All of our nature is affected and corrupted by sin. Even our good characteristics are tainted.
2. The extent of sin. The power of corruption not only went deep into each man, but extended to all men but one. Even the non-human creation was infected. This shows the power (dominion) that man has over the world, an authority that can be used either for good or evil. For instance, in Noah's day, in pagan rituals men would have used animals for sacrifices, wood for burning, flowers as decorations and vegetables as offerings-- thus perverting good things that God had made into vessels of rebellion. Therefore God's judgment on man had to extend beyond humanity and consume His creation.
3. God's response to universal sin was sorrow and judgment.
The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the Lord said, "I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth--men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air" (Gen 6:6-7).
Man's conduct had been so bad that God considered His creation unredeemable. He had no other plan -- such as discipline, punishment, purgatory, forgiveness. Instead, He decided to erase the whole mess and start over again.
Some modern readers reject the God of the Bible, or at least of the Old Testament, because of God's acts of destruction such as the Flood. They substitute a non-judgmental deity of universal love, a god who tolerates any and all human extremes, except lack of tolerance. That is the only unforgiveable sin. Yet to deny or minimize the justice of God says less about Him and Scripture, and more about our own capacity for building a deity in our own image.
4. Nevertheless, God spared one man who had remained untainted by the universal corruption around him. How did Noah manage this? Scripture says "he walked with God" (Gen 6:9). God was the source of his righteousness. The theme of the "righteous remnant" or the "holy seed" is repeated frequently in Scripture. While all the rest of mankind was rejected and destroyed around him, Noah was the "righteous remnant" in his generation. He and his family were spared. And not them alone, but also two of each species of animal, whom Noah gathered and cared for. Here we see that Noah continued the task originally given to Adam and Eve -- caretaker of creation.
So in the presence of judgment and destruction there was the promise and experience of mercy. It was a two-fold work of God, each element opposed to the other and occurring simultaneously. This too is the hidden reality behind every age of history.
5. The Flood confronts us with the severity of divine judgment, and the seriousness with which God takes His own holiness. However, the next lesson we learn from the Flood is that God ends up regretting, if not actually repenting, of such a drastic verdict enacted on mankind.
The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: "Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done" (Gen 8:21).
"Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth" (Gen 9:16).
Here is the tension within God Himself between love and justice, mercy and righteousness, which is to find its culmination in the person of Jesus Christ. But even in Genesis, as God regarded the destruction of the men, plants and animals He had made, He was not gloating over the devastated landscape. There was regret and sorrow over the necessity of judgment and its cost. And He decided He would never do it again. Even though He realized man's nature had not changed (Gen 8:21), God put a limit on His own righteous judgment.
6. To emphasize the seriousness of His own decision, God enacted a unilateral covenant with Noah as the representative of mankind.
"I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth" (Gen 9:11).
This is the first Biblical covenant. The rainbow is its sign. The fulfilment of this covenant is not dependent on any human action. The nature of humanity has not been changed by the judgment just enacted. This makes us wonder what good came out of the Flood. It is like temporarily relieving the symptoms of a disease, without casting it out of the body. Sooner or later, it will come back. So it is with sin and human character. Indeed, it does not take very long for sin to re-establish itself upon the earth, starting in Noah's own family.