Genesis 6:11-9:29: “Judgment and New Life” · February 18, 2009
The story of Noah continues with the utter corruption and violence of the earth. God carries out his threat to destroy the creation he has made (Genesis 6:7). A cosmic flood is sent as God’s judgment upon the earth (the flood actually begins with the “fountains of the great deep” bursting open, Genesis 7:11). We learn that Noah, having found favor with the Lord (Genesis 6:8), obeys God continually. Noah and his family are gathered safely into the ark and saved from the earth’s destruction. The account of Noah is referred to throughout the Scriptures as an example of both God’s judgment and gracious salvation (Isaiah 54:9; Matthew 24:36-39; Hebrews 11:7; I Peter 3:18-22). Noah is a symbol of God’s salvation but he himself is not that salvation nor is he ultimately a savior. Even after the flood, the human condition is not improved. Noah becomes drunk. One of his sons defiles him. God nonetheless has established an everlasting covenant that never again shall a flood destroy the world (Genesis 9:11). Noah is the guarantee that human history will continue. More importantly, God’s plan of salvation will continue to unfold.
The Coming of the Flood – Genesis 6:11-22, 7:1-16
- God sees that the world is corrupt and full of violence. God then gives instructions to Noah, “a righteous man” who had “found favor with the Lord.”
- God will destroy everything on earth (Genesis 6:17). Obviously the sea and water animals will survive. It is interesting but not clear why the distinction is drawn between animals that have the “breath of life” and those that do not. Noah is to take his family with him into the ark. There is no suggestion that Noah should warn the inhabitants of the earth of their impending judgment. This was also the case with Sodom and Gomorrah. Contrast their fate with that of Ninevah, to whom God sent Jonah with a call for repentance. This strongly suggests that there is a level of corruption beyond which there is no longer an offer of repentance and redemption, or that calls for repentance have been ignored for so long that God becomes silent as he moves to judgment (Isaiah 1:15; Amos 8:11-12; Revelation 8:1).
- The critical statement about Noah is that “he did all that God commanded him.” Noah is presented as an example of faith in Hebrews 11:7. We are never told that Noah understands what God is doing. He is obedient to God’s Word even if it doesn’t make sense to him (as Bill Cosby so effectively notes in his famous routine).
- Noah is commanded to take “seven pairs” of the various kinds of animals. God adds that in “seven days” he will send rain on the earth for forty days and nights and every living thing will be destroyed. The number seven signifies perfection.
- We’re told that Noah was six hundred years old at the time of the flood. These numbers may also be symbolic. Noah and his family along with the animals go into the ark. The flood actually begins with “all the fountains of the great deep” bursting open. This suggests a return to the watery chaos at the opening of Genesis. The windows of the heavens are opened. There is some thought that the flood was the result of a major eruption on the floor of the Mediterranean Sea which then caused the clouds to send rain. Not surprisingly, such a major event was remembered throughout the ancient world. In The Gilgamesh Epic, the gods decide to destroy the earth because humans are too noisy. They send a flood and only Utnapishtim and his household are saved by being told to build a large boat. The Greek version has Zeus angered at the behavior of humans and sending a flood, but the son of Prometheus, Deucalion, is warned and builds an ark. These other accounts are mythical variations of the Noah story. The striking thing is that there are many versions of the story which supports the idea that the flood really happened.
- At the conclusion of all Noah’s preparations, God shuts the door of the ark (Genesis 7:17). All the preparations in the world are fruitless unless God intervenes. God alone has the power (Numbers 11:23).
The End of the Judgment – Genesis 7:17-22, 8:1-32
- We read that the flood continued for forty days covering “all the high mountains” (Genesis 7:19). It is not necessary to think in terms of the flood covering what we know of the whole earth. The idea here may be a flood covering the known world. Only Noah is left. This is a pattern of God’s extreme judgment. In the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, only Lot and his family survive (and even then, Lot’s wife looks back).
- There is the great statement that “God remembered Noah” (Genesis 8:1). To remember in this sense is more than just to recall. God remembers always in the context of his promises. Judgment will end but the promises of God are forever (Exodus 2:24, 6:5; Psalm 25:7, 30:5; Luke 23:42; I Corinthians 15:26). Others may forget us, but God will always remember (Psalm 27:10).
- As in the original creation, God sends a wind (the same word as spirit) over the earth and the waters subside. After forty days, Noah sends out a raven. Then he sends out a dove which returns because the trees have not yet appeared. Noah sends the dove a second time and it does not come back. God then tells Noah that he and his family can leave the ark (Genesis 8:15-16). The important thing to note here is that it is not the ark which delivers Noah. He and his family are in the hands of God throughout all this. Noah and his family receive the same instruction that God gave to Adam and Eve: “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28, 8:17). Creation is beginning again.
- Noah then offers sacrifices to God (Genesis 8:20). God accepts the sacrifice and promises never again to “destroy every living creature.” Yet human nature has not changed. It is still the case that the “inclination of the human heart is evil from youth” (Genesis 8:21; cf. Jeremiah 17:9).
There are many lessons in the story of Noah:
- God is righteous and he will not tolerate sin. The pattern of God’s judgment will recur again before the return of Jesus Christ (Matthew 24:38-39).
- The ark symbolizes God’s salvation and the waters of chaos also symbolize the waters of baptism through which we identify with the death and resurrection of Christ (I Peter 3:18-21; II Peter 2:4-10).
- Noah’s willingness to obey God’s Word is a model for us of faith (Hebrews 11:7). We are never told that Noah understands all that is happening. Throughout the entire event he remains obedient to God.
God’s Promise and Human Brokenness – Genesis 9:1-29
- God blesses Noah and his sons (Genesis 9:1). God reiterates several themes from the original creation. Noah and his family now inherit the mandate given to Adam and Eve to have dominion over the earth and to be fruitful and multiply.
- This new creation still has continuity with the previous fallen creation. Since violence began with Cain and Abel and spread throughout the world, God now adds a commandment against the shedding of human blood (Genesis 9:6). Noah and his family are reminded that they are made in the image of God.
- God then establishes his first covenant with humanity. This is a critical moment in the plan of salvation. God will later make a covenant with Abraham and with Moses. These will all lead to the “new covenant” in Jesus Christ (Luke 22:20). Each individual covenant is a form of the one ultimate covenant which is God’s promise of a Savior (Genesis 3:15). The covenant with Noah is a guarantee that God will never again send “a flood to destroy the earth,” (Genesis 9:11). The sign of this covenant will be the rainbow (Genesis 9:12-17).
- God remains faithful. Humanity, though, remains broken. Noah is “a man of the soil” (Genesis 9:20). He grows a vineyard and then becomes drunk on the wine. His son, Ham, the father of Canaan, “sees his nakedness.” This phrase and the similar one of “uncovering the nakedness” (Leviticus 18:6-18) mean more than just looking at a person’s nakedness. The phrase is a parallel of having “sexual relations” (Leviticus 18:19-20). Some form of perverted incest is clearly implied since Noah, upon waking, sees “what his youngest son had done to him” (Genesis 9:24). This also explains the very careful reaction of Shem and Japheth (Genesis 9:23).
- Noah lives nine hundred and fifty years (Genesis 9:29). Humanity has been saved from extinction. They have not yet been saved from sin.
Questions for Us –
- What do you think God means when he says that “the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth” (Genesis 8:21)? Do we understand the truth of this statement? Does it seem too harsh? Why?
- Scripture says repeatedly that Noah alone was righteous before God (Genesis 6:9, 7:1). What lessons can we learn from the example of Noah choosing to serve God when everyone else around him was corrupt?
- Peter speaks of the flood being a symbol of baptism (I Peter 3:20-21). How is the flood both a symbol of judgment and of salvation?