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The third account: Noah (Genesis Chapter 6: verse 9 through Chapter 9, verse 29)
Genesis chapters 6–8 tell the story of the great flood. It’s interesting to note the name Moses gives to this section of his book. He doesn’t call it “the disaster of the flood” but “the account of Noah.” Moses’ emphasis is not on the nightmare of judgment, the global catastrophe that destroyed a world population estimated at three billion people and permanently altered the face of the earth. Instead Moses emphasizes the deliverance God accomplished through Noah, the man who found favor in the
eyes of the Lord. As Moses describes it, this is not the story of the flood. This is Noah’s story—including his faith, his obedience, his deliverance, his sin, and the
solemn covenant God made with him.
Genesis Chapter 6 verses 9 through 16
This is the account of Noah.
Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God. Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth.
Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So 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. So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high. Make a roof for it and finish the ark to within 18 inches of the top. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks.
The account begins with a capsule description of Noah. He was righteous. In the Bible this is a courtroom term. Noah, a sinner, had been pronounced innocent by God. God wanted Noah, as he wants us, to believe him, to trust his promise of help and forgiveness through the promised Savior. “By faith Noah . . . became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith” (Hebrews Chapter 11, verse 7)
Noah is further described as “blameless” (KJV: “perfect”). Both of those translations are unsatisfactory. Noah was a sinner, neither blameless nor perfect. The adjective Moses uses to describe Noah comes from a verb meaning “to be complete.” Noah was “righteous-complete.” Noah was a devout man. His saving faith in the promised Messiah was not confined to his heart but showed itself in every phase of his life. This devout child of God also practiced his faith by fathering and rearing three sons.
God-fearing parents have always had a tough job training children in the fear of the Lord in an ungodly world. Noah’s job of parenting, however, was infinitely tougher than any other parent has ever faced because he and his wife stood absolutely alone in a world that had turned against God. Noah’s contemporaries showed contempt for God and selfishness, even violence, toward one another. God saw that the ailment afflicting Noah’s world was not a light case of the spiritual measles but terminal cancer.
It was then that God spoke to Noah. He took Noah into his confidence and informed him of the judgment that lay just ahead. He took this action as the Creator whose creatures had forfeited their right to live by refusing to acknowledge their Creator and Master. But God also assured Noah that the well-deserved judgment he was about to bring on the world would serve his great, good plan to deliver his people, to keep them from being swept along in the rampant unbelief and godlessness of the time.
God did not immediately reveal to Noah exactly how he was going to destroy the world; those details would come later. From the building project God outlined for him, however, Noah could draw his own conclusions. He was to build a large seagoing barge—450-feet long (as long as a football field and a half), 75-feet wide, and as tall as a four-story building. The storage capacity of this vessel would be a million and a half cubic feet approximately the equivalent of a 14,000–ton vessel. This was not a ship, whose purpose would be to sail from point A to point B; this was a barge, a huge box, the only purpose of which was to float, thereby preserving the lives of its precious cargo.
To accommodate a vast variety of passengers, the ark was to have three decks. To allow for light and exchange of air, there was to be an 18-inch opening all around the ark immediately below the overhang of the roof.
Genesis Chapter 6, verses 17 through 22
I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.” Noah did everything just as God commanded him.
Now God revealed the specifics of his awesome plan: he was going to use water to destroy the earth. Noah’s ears must have tingled as God spelled out the details: “I am going . . . to destroy all life under the heavens. . . . But I will establish my covenant with you.” God referred to his covenant as though it were a known quantity to Noah. One gets the impression that God had previously made a solemn agreement with Noah, perhaps at the beginning of the 120-year grace period, and here promised to implement the provisions of that covenant—to preserve in the ark a tiny remnant of his creation.
God specified who the occupants of the ark were to be. Most important, of course, were the eight members of Noah’s family. Noah was also to take a wide variety of animals and birds into the ark, so that the earth could again be populated with them after the flood. Initially God instructed Noah to take on board one mated pair of each kind; later on God modified these instructions.
To reassure Noah that he wouldn’t have to conduct extensive trapping expeditions, God informed him that the animal passengers would come to him. Noah would otherwise have been unable to select the precise mated pairs with the genes present in their reproductive cells to provide for all the variations in size and color we see in their offspring today.
God’s final instructions to Noah concerned the feeding of the ark’s occupants during the months they would spend aboard the ark. Noah was not to rely on God to feed them miraculously but was to assemble food supplies sufficient to last for more than a year. Noah and his seven relatives were going to have plenty to do aboard the ark. They would have little time to feel sorry for themselves or, for that matter, to be bored. In this we can again see the wisdom of a loving Creator.
The Bible record does not tell us whether God used any other means to make Noah’s work of feeding the animals easier. Were all the animals aboard the ark full-grown, or could there have been younger animals with smaller appetites? It might seem reasonable that during their lengthy stay in a confined area, some of the animals hibernated.
The closing verse of the chapter records the fact that Noah responded to God’s commands with glad obedience. The statement reminds us of God’s description of Noah earlier in the chapter: he was devout. His life matched his faith. Noah can teach us something here. If our goal in life is to live to the glory of God, then, like Noah, we will seek to learn what God’s will is and to get in line with it.
Genesis Chapter 7, verses 1 through 5
The LORD then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. Take with you seven of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and two of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth. Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.”
And Noah did all that the LORD commanded him.
The 120 years of grace God had mercifully granted the unbelieving world were over. Only seven days remained before the great flood, and God had some final instructions for his faithful son and servant. Some of these instructions were a repetition of things God had said earlier, to reassure Noah that he was on the right track and that he was not acting on his own. God reassured him also that through faith in the coming Messiah, Noah was acceptable in his sight.
Some of the things God told Noah were modifications of what he had said earlier. A literal translation of what God said is this: “Of every kind of clean animal take to yourself by sevens, a male and his mate.” The words cause a bit of a problem for the reader. Does the expression “by sevens” modify “every kind of clean animal”? (Then Noah was to take seven of each clean animal.) Or does “by sevens” modify “a male and his mate”? (In that case Noah was to take 7 mated pairs, a total of 14.) Interpreters are divided on the question. The NIV puts one translation in the text, the other in a footnote. Unclean animals were to be taken “by twos.”
In the Law announced centuries later from Mount Sinai, God clarified the distinction between clean and unclean animals. The former were acceptable for food and for sacrifice: the latter were not. Remember that Moses wrote Genesis for people who had been at Mount Sinai. They knew the difference between clean and unclean animals, and we assume Noah did too—at least after God led the proper number of animals to him in the ark. The Lord preserved a larger number of those land animals that he knew would be in greater demand for food and sacrifice after the flood. Even those animals and birds that by nature fear humans and avoid them were led by God to come to Noah and enter the ark willingly.
Genesis Chapter 7, verses 6 through 16
Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth. And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood. Pairs of clean and unclean animals, of birds and of all creatures that move along the ground, male and female, came to Noah and entered the ark, as God had commanded Noah. And after the seven days the floodwaters came on the earth.
In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights. On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark. They had with them every wild animal according to its kind, all livestock according to their kinds, every creature that moves along the ground according to its kind and every bird according to its kind, everything with wings. Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark. The animals going in were male and female of every living thing, as God had commanded Noah. Then the LORD shut him in.
Many Bible students today treat chapters 1 to 11 as symbolic, as a sort of parable. But as you read the flood narrative, you recognize at once that this does not read like a parable. The precise dating of events by year, month, and day of Noah’s life, for example, convinces us that this is historical narrative. To call this a parable is to import a foreign element into Genesis and to force an interpretation on it that does not arise out of the sacred text. If I am free to call the flood narrative a parable, what’s to stop me from calling the teaching of Christ’s virgin birth, the account of Christ’s bodily resurrection, or the prophecy of his second coming a parable? And yet we must recognize that all these things are being taught in the Christian church today.
In the absence of any other chronological reference point, the onset of the flood is dated according to Noah’s life: the 600th year, the 2nd month, the 17th day. This precise dating will help us later to determine exactly how long the flood lasted.
Moses carefully lists the occupants of the ark. In the creation account, five different categories of animal life were listed (Chapter 1, verses 21 through 25): sea creatures, wild animals, domestic animals, those that creep along the ground, and birds. Four of these five categories are mentioned as being aboard the ark. The sea creatures, including amphibians, could have survived outside of the ark. As a special act of love to safeguard his children, and to bar entrance to anyone else, the LORD, the Savior-God, closed the door of the ark.
At precisely the time God had predicted, the floodwaters came on earth. Two sources are listed. “The springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened.” We know what the first source was; we’re not so sure about the second. In a series of gigantic convulsions, the huge reservoirs of water beneath the ground and all the surface waters exploded from behind the boundaries the Creator had originally set for them and flooded the earth. This may very well have provided the bulk of the floodwaters.
The second source of the floodwaters is more difficult to define. It is possible to think of the “floodgates of the heavens” as the cloud waters, the huge mass of atmospheric vapor held in suspension above the earth and periodically released in the form of rain or snow, only to evaporate and start the process all over again. This is the hydrologic system under which we live today.
In our comment on chapter 1, the possibility was discussed that the world from the time of creation to the time of the flood may have had a different hydrologic system. Many Bible students see evidence in the Old and New Testament that in the preflood world there was an immense vapor canopy arched above the earth, providing a sheltered, climatic environment for every living thing on earth. In that case, at the time of the flood, God released those vast quantities of water so that for almost six weeks water gushed from the heavens. This uninterrupted downpour added to the waters coming from below and brought the floodwaters on earth.
According to Genesis 7:24 and 8:3, the two sources of water were shut off at the end of 150 days. Some have seen a conflict between these two passages and 7:12, which speaks of a 40-day period. We conclude that the waters reached their maximum height after 40 days and that intermittent rains maintained the level of the waters at flood stage for another 110 days.
Genesis Chapter 7, verses 17 through 24
For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than twenty feet. Every living thing that moved on the earth perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. 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.
The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days.
When you read these verses, you sense that the author was struggling to find words that would adequately describe the awesome catastrophe that took place on earth. He tells us: “The flood kept coming . . . the waters increased . . . the waters rose and increased greatly.” The picture we get is that of huge masses of water, tidal waves on a rampage, carrying rocks and uprooted trees, raging and tearing away at the earth for almost half a year. Add to this the fact that the interior of the earth had been split open, perhaps by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, totally rearranging water and land masses. The tremendous weight of this massive layer of water, which covered even the highest mountains, would have compacted whatever lay beneath.
There were two immediate results of the flood, and they are stated very simply. “Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out.” The second effect of the floodwaters was the exact opposite of the first. As the waters increased, they lifted the ark high above the earth, “and the ark floated on the surface of the water.” We usually think of the flood as an awesome act of destruction. Now, to be sure, it was that. But it was more than that; it was also a marvelous and mighty act of deliverance. The same water that drowned billions of screaming, blaspheming unbelievers lifted the ark with its precious cargo high above all of the death and destruction.
The account of the flood occupies a prominent place also on the pages of the New Testament. Christ uses it as a type of the end of the world (Matthew 24:37-39; Luke 17:26,27). The days leading up to judgment day will be deceptively normal, and God’s great judgment will come unexpectedly, just as the judgment of the flood did. Christ’s apostles describe the flood also as a type of Baptism (1 Peter Chapter 3, verses 20 and 21; Romans Chapter 6 verse 4).