Bible Studies on Genesis 1–11 – Lesson 13: Saved Through the Water (Part One)

READ GENESIS 5:28–6:22

In an earlier lesson (#1) we noted what appears to be a very deliberate structure to the book of Genesis, in that the text was divided by the phrase “These are the generations of...” or “This is the account of...” This phrase has already appeared in Genesis 2:4 and 5:1.
We find it again in Genesis 6:9, “This is the account of Noah.” At the end of the first “generation/account” section we came across what I called an “epilogue of shame.” Genesis 4 traced the genealogy of the cold murderer Cain, a line that ends with boastful Lamech. Yet the Bible adds a small glimmer of light in the text when it tells us that Seth is born to Adam and Eve as a replacement for the murdered son Abel. “At that time men began to call upon the name of the LORD” (Gen. 4:26).

Two hearts...two purposes

The generation/account section that runs from Genesis 5:1 through 6:8 also ends with a brief epilogue of shame in Genesis 6:1–7. Spiritually the human race had degenerated until we read this evaluation of the human race by the LORD in Genesis 6:5, “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” The King of creation was genuinely grieved about this state of affairs throughout His creation-kingdom, and He resolved to destroy all living things from the face of the earth. Yet once again we encounter another glimmer of light in the text just before we move on to the next generation/account section. “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD” (Gen. 6:8).

Man’s heart is described as completely corrupted. Man's heart was headed in the wrong direction, always and in every way. This is an absolute depravity that must have made daily existence for people a great struggle. What was man’s chief purpose in this sinful state? To glorify himself and enjoy himself as long as he could. Genesis 5 with its somber echo, “and he died,” caused people to live with this purpose: eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow (or at least some day) we die.

But Genesis 6:6 describes God's heart. God’s grief was generated by His holiness and zealous hatred of sin, but it also arose out of the fact that He saw the creature made in His image, living in cross-purposes with His own will. His heart was “filled with pain.” This is important to note because when we read of God’s intention to destroy humanity in the flood, such awesome action was not done out of sadistic pleasure. God would have His justice satisfied, but He does not delight in the death of the wicked. “His heart was filled with pain.” Even today, our sins of bitterness, rage and anger continue to give the Holy Spirit grief (d. Eph. 4:30).

Will Noah bring us comfort?

Often in the Biblical story we meet characters whose names are significant, either because of the circumstances of their birth, or because of their changed roles in redemptive history (e.g., Abram becomes Abraham), or because the name is prophetic of something future. When Noah was born, his father Lamech spoke of his hope and faith that Noah would bring comfort (the name Noah sounds like a Hebrew word that means “comfort”). God had cursed the ground so that it would produce thorns and thistles. Work would go forward, but such labor would now be toil: difficult, painful, frustrating and tiring. In the end mankind would still die and return to the dirt from which we are all made (d. Gen. 3:17).

Living under God’s solemn curse can never be easy. Rather, it is crushing. Man’s pride may seek many devices to hide the reality of cursed living, and humanity may try to live in denial (“God would not punish us, in any case”). But to the godly (and apparently Noah’s father Lamech still had some knowledge of a godly state of affairs), living under God’s common judgment in everyday life is felt daily and in many situations. The godly know that only in reconciliation with this just King can there ever be comfort and rest from sin a~d its consequent painful toil. Just as Eve had exalted with hope in the birth of a man (her firstborn, Cain) with the help of the LORD, so Lamech finds a name for his son that speaks of humanity’s hopes.

Despite the overwhelming predominance of sinfulness in the human race, one man stood out. Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. Like Enoch before him, Noah walked with God. That is to say, his daily patterns of life arose out of a desire to serve God and honor His will for life. His attitudes and behavior were in sharp contrast to the violence and moral degradation of his time. To be sure, Noah was also conceived and born in sin, as were his ancestors and the people of his day. He was not sinless in an absolute sense. But his heart knew the true and only God, and he brought his lifestyle into conformity with the heart of God, to the extent that God had made His will known. This was the result of God’s grace, unmerited mercy. God’s sovereign condescension in love to Noah created a man whose life was righteous, a life that was like a star shining in the darkness (d. Phil. 2:14–16).

Revealing the divine will

It was in this context of grace which created a godly person, that Noah found favor (grace) in God’s sight. Thus God came to Noah to reveal His intention and will regarding the earth. Later on the LORD would come to Abraham and would share with him His intentions of destroying wicked Sodom and Gomorrah. In Genesis 18:17 we read, “Then the LORD said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?’” God had already prophetically revealed that Abraham would receive the promised land and that he would become the father of a great nation. But Abraham also was made privy to the fate of the wicked, thereby prompting Abraham to begin a sustained intercession for the wicked city of Sodom. So too in Genesis 6 God showed Himself as friend and covenant partner to Noah (the word covenant comes up in verse 18).

In these two examples of Noah and Abraham we see a pattern, on a small scale, of something that is true on a larger scale. God gives the righteous greater insight and knowledge into the reality of things, including the things that are to come. During the period of the monarchy, God would do the same by speaking to His servants, the prophets. By providing us with divine counsel, God enables His chosen people to regain the prophetic role, a role that was lost in the sinful rebellion by Adam and Eve, but a role that is truly regained in union with Jesus Christ, our “chief Prophet and Teacher” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 12).

This fact helps us to understand more clearly the events of Genesis 6 (indeed, to understand all of the Bible!). For the Bible is not a morality tale of “good guys” versus “bad guys.” It is a grand story of what God has done in Jesus Christ throughout redemptive history for the salvation of His elect and the redemption of His creation. Genesis 6 happens because of Jesus Christ, the descendant of righteous Noah. For the sake of the Christ who was to come, God came to Noah to give him a revelation about the world-destroying flood, and instructions concerning the ark in which Noah and his family would be saved from death.

Noah, heir of righteousness

Because Noah had received insight into God’s intentions, he in turn began to build the ark. Hebrews 11:7 reads, “By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” I have heard this expression: “It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.” Faith is not a leap into the dark as such. It is rather a trusting in things that are not seen because of the trustworthiness of the One who speaks. Thus, if God says, “Leap into the dark, and I will be there to catch you” then we can leap because we trust our heavenly Father.

Presumably it would be another 120 years from the time of God’s announced decision to destroy the wicked human race, and the beginning of the flood itself. Yet Noah believed God’s Word, responding in “holy fear” by building the ark. His efforts were probably scorned and ridiculed by the society around him. Yet when God’s people live in fear of God, they need not fear man, either his ridicule or his scorn. Such faith in Noah’s heart strengthened him with resolve to do what God had commanded. 

Noah, preacher of righteousness

Not only did Noah demonstrate his faith by building the ark in holy fear. he also began a campaign of preaching to the people of his generation. II Peter 2:5 says that God destroyed the world of ungodly people, but He “protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others.” Genesis itself does not tell us in what capacity or to what extent Noah “heralded” the message of God's impending judgment. Obviously his life was a testimony to God’s righteous ways, and the building of the ark spoke great volumes to his generation concerning what lived in Noah’s heart. But Peter suggests that Noah also spoke of these things. Yet we must sadly conclude that only his immediate family was persuaded. No one else followed Noah’s message and manner of faith: they remained eating, drinking, marrying and giving in marriage until the flood came and swept them all away. Only divine grace opens our hearts and the eyes of faith to believe what on the surface must seem incredible. 

The ark: designed to preserve life

How often we may have picked up ideas of what Bible characters and physical objects are like from the Bible storybooks we read (or heard read as children), or from pictures in Sunday School material. If you have ever seen an artist’s conception of Noah’s ark, you have noticed that it is often (not always) portrayed as a huge boat with a prow. It is more likely that the ark was built like a huge barge or a floating chest of enormous proportions. It was not a ship that was going sailing on the ocean, nor was it a boat that needed to be launched from a dock.

Another place in the Bible where the same word is used for a similar ark is the little floating chest in which the infant Moses was placed in Exodus 2. This little box was made of reeds lined with pitch in order to be watertight. It is interesting that two great figures in redemptive history, Noah and Moses, find themselves in floating barges (one enormous, the other quite small) to escape death.

The ark was a three-decked structure, a kind of layered floating platform, filled with rooms to house the human residents and the various male-female pairs from the animate non-human realms of God’s creation-kingdom. Again, we could let our imagination run rampant about all the logistics of this (e.g., How much food had to be stored? How did these wild animals react to each other?). But the Biblical text fails to satisfy our curiosity on these matters. The very fact that the animals and birds came in pairs demonstrates extraordinary providence from God. Did God also quiet or temporarily tame them for the duration of the flood? We are not told. It is likely that very young (and th us smallest?) representatives of each species came into the ark so that they might be the healthiest and longest to live as “first parents” of their species after the flood. But even I should not let my speculations get too far from the text!
What is clear is that a male-female pair from all the animate species, beginning with believing Noah and his family, was to enter the ark to escape the great cataclysm of universal flooding. Just as the world of wicked humanity and the old creation with it were to die, so too, in the ark a believer and his household with the (post-flood) “first parents” of the other animate species were to enter the ark to live. Genesis 6:20,21 put it this way: the creatures will come to Noah “to be kept alive.” He was the key figure in building the ark and storing up the right kinds and sufficient amounts of food for them. While God was in sovereign control of all things in the world, yet in a real and practical way, everything hinged on the obedience of righteous Noah. What a responsibility!

Noah, a type of Christ?

The above discussion suggests that in several ways Noah typifies Christ. When we speak of Biblical types, we are referring to those persons, events and institutions of the Old Testament historical era that anticipate, or look forward to the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. One might say that Christ left an impression or an imprint of Himself in earlier moments of history. It is through the obedience of one Man, Christ, that we are saved (d. Rom. 5:15ff; I Cor. 15:20–22). So it was with Noah and his obedience: his household (a congregation of only eight people!) and the rest of creation were saved from death in the flood. All creatures had to come to Noah, enter the ark and stay with Noah, and be fed by Noah.

Does this not picture the relationship of the Christian church—and every Christian personally, along with the creation itself—to Christ? “Without Me you can do nothing,” says the Lord. “Apart from Me, you cannot live.” In John 15: Iff., Christ reminds us that our life is drawn from the nourishment of the Vine which is Christ Himself. The world of Noah’s day had become corrupt and rotten. Violence was prevalent in many places. Death reigned in men’s hearts (d. Eph. 2:1). But in Noah’s time, that one righteous man became the narrow doorway through which the rest of history could flow and be rescued. In our day Christ Jesus is that narrow door, the only way back to the Father.

Covenant established

The Bible uses the actual word covenant for the first time in Genesis 6:18. But we should notice that the force of the phrase used in verse 18 (“But I will establish My covenant with you”) is not such that covenant appears as something brand new, coming to Noah out of nowhere. A covenant is a relationship of life between God and His people, sovereignly initiated by Him but carried out in history with real human beings of His choice. Thus covenant (and that of grace!) is already presupposed and anticipated in the “mother promise” of Genesis 3:15: a Seed from the woman will arise in history to triumph in victory over the seed of the serpent. But to get from Eve to Christ. God creates a line of people with whom He lives “in covenant,” this relationship of merciful friendship and life. Along the way of this history, God introduces various formalities of the covenant. But the point is this: even before the formalities of covenant are enacted along the road of redemptive history, God is seen again and again acting according to a covenant. So He speaks before the flood of securing (“establishing”) the covenant in 6:18, but it is not until after the flood that God spells out what His covenant with Noah, with Noah’s seed, and with all creation will mean (we will look at this in a later lesson on Gen. 9:1–17).

POINTS TO PONDER AND DISCUSS

1. Psalm 2 describes the LORD'S reaction to all attempts at sinful rebellion against His anointed one. First He laughs, and then He gets angry. Where else in the Bible do we read of God’s “emotional state”? What does this reveal about God and His interaction with us in history? Does God laugh today at human sinfulness, or is He angry? How does Psalm 2 conclude as to what is a wise response to the LORD and His Son?

2. Genesis 6:9 says that Noah was a “righteous man, blameless among the people of his time.” Something similar is said of Job (Job 1:1). Read Psalm 18:20–24 and Psalm 26. In these two Psalms we note that the psalmist appeals to his “blameless life,” and he claims that God rewarded him according to his righteousness. How do we understand such expressions, if all of us (even the Psalm writers) are sinners?

3. Eschatology is the teaching of the Bible on the last things. What are the “signs of the times,” those things that will occur in history which signal the end of this age? Are some (or all) of these “signs of the times” occurring today? What things must happen before Christ comes back again? See Matthew 24; II Thessalonians 2:1–12; Belgic Confession, Article 37.

4. Will the human race become more and more corrupt before the end of history. or will it become gradually better as the Gospel message continues to go forward throughout the world? Support your answer with Scripture.

5. Psalm 147:19–20 say that the LORD has “revealed His word to Jacob, His laws and decrees to Israel. He has done this for no other nation; they do not know His laws. Praise the LORD!” God befriends the righteous and tells them things the world does not know on its own. God’s people know about the good news of Jesus Christ. His Person and work; and they know about the coming judgment before God’s holy throne. What must believers do with this knowledge? What does the Bible say about those who fail to make this known?

Mark D. Vander Hart

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