Biblical Questions

The Flood of Noah’s Day: Extent and Purpose

A while back I mentioned that as I was scouring the blogosphere I had come upon a skeptic’s challenge to answer what they deemed tough questions for the Christian faith. My first go around dealt with God’s omnipresence and omniscience in relation to the question presented in the garden: “Adam, where are you?”; “Adam, who told you that you are naked?”; etc. (https://kristafal.wordpress.com/2019/01/10/why-god-asks-questions). This time we are going to deal with the Flood (the deluge) of Noah’s day. In particular, its purpose and intent.

The general assumption that I am dealing with entails the idea that God planned the Flood for a reset, and yet obviously failed for sin is seen once again in Noah’s family; the family that God had went to great extents to save.

Why did God send the Flood? What was the extent of the Flood? Was God’s purpose to make a perfect world (“to reset”) by ridding the world of sinners? All of these questions are vitally important to understanding God’s purpose and intent in sending the Flood.

One of the most interesting details about this historical account in Scripture is the amount of space devoted to it.1 Things are often repeated over and over again, to the point of ad nauseum, but they are done so for emphasis. Look at it this way, when I want to make sure that my children are comprehending the message they are receiving from me (or their mother) the subject matter will often be repeated at various intervals. Why? So that the intended meaning gets through. It is harder to ignore instructions and say “I misunderstood” when specific steps have been repeated over and over again.

So, why did God send the Flood?

Short answer….it was an act of divine judgment (i.e. the wrath of God), and yet at the same time an instance of divine mercy. Both are demonstrated in the great Deluge of Noah’s day.

DIVINE JUDGMENT

  • “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6.5).2

That is to say, every imagination, every fantasy, every desire was turned not to the God who created them, but to every lustful passion that could spring forth from a corrupt heart. This is why God said just a few verses earlier…

  • “My Spirit shall not abide with humankind forever in that he is also flesh. And his days shall be one hundred and twenty years” (Gen 6.3; LEB).

This declaration by the Lord is not a determination of how long men’s lives would be shortened to. The purpose of the statement is that in the near future (120 years to be exact) God would remove His life-giving spirit from man. The breath of life would be extinguished from those living at this time.

In God we live, move and breath (cf. Acts 17.34), and in separation from Him we die. This separation leads not only to spiritual death to which all the sons and daughters of Adam are born into this world—i.e. still-born3—but also results in physical death where the spirit is separated from this body of flesh in which we all do now dwell (cf. Eccl 12.7). The final death is eternal in magnitude which is rightly defined as eternal separation from the goodness, mercy and gracious love of God—i.e. the lake of fire (cf. Rev 20.14; 21.8).

What is promised by the Lord in the opening verses of Genesis 6 is that judgment is coming. Righteous retribution against creatures who refuse to acknowledge the God who created them and gave them life (cf. Prov 10.27). At the end of the grace period (120 years) God promises that He will “blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them” (Gen 6.7). This specific thread of truth is repeated several times over the next couple of chapters, as God reveals His plans to Noah and the subsequent readers of the Mosaic text (cf. Gen 6.13, 17; 7.4; 21-23; 9.9-11). We will look at some of these texts in a moment, but let us first turn out attention to Noah.

DIVINE MERCY

All of the earth’s citizens at that time were distinguished from one man, Noah, who was so named because his father believed, “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands” (Gen 5.29). The Hebrew for Noah (No-akh) sounds like rest, and therefore is meant to convey the idea of rest and/or comfort. Our English word carries similar meaning in that rest can mean “peace.” Most certainly, that is what Noah enjoyed when God was gracious to him (rest in God, comfort in God, even peace in God).

After offering His assessment of the rest of Adam’s race, we are told that the Lord looked upon Noah and made a distinction:

  • “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen 6.8)

What does that mean? How did Noah find favor in God’s eyes? Did he look under a rock? Did he see it in a cloud?

The concept of Noah finding favor is not humanly stressed. That is to say, finding the favor of the Lord is not something we do, but something He gives. Favor equals grace. Grace always is something that God gives, not something that man grabs for. If the grace of God were something man grabbed for, then it would no longer be a gift that God bestows upon His creatures. We may obtain it, to be sure, but only as God freely gives. Therefore, we read that Noah as a result of the grace of God “was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. [He] walked with God” (Gen 6.9).

What was the extent of the Flood?

In Genesis 6:13 God discloses His plan to Noah saying, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” Did you catch that? The extent of the Flood is the entirety of the earth. Some say that God only sent the Flood to destroy sinful people, not the earth. This is the proposal of those that deny a global Flood.

“Hold on a minute, why would God want to destroy the earth? Why would he want to destroy the animals? That doesn’t seem right. That doesn’t seem necessary, let alone fair!”

This is the same argument levied against the idea that God would judge all men guilty in Adam, because of Adam’s sin (Rom 5.18). Doesn’t seem rational. Doesn’t seem fair.

In response I must ask, “According to whom? Rational or Fair to whom? To God or man?” To be sure it is an affront to man, but this only solidifies that our reasoning has been severely skewed as a result of the Fall. But, God is judge not us. He determines the basis for rationality, logic and truth. He defines the meaning of goodness, kindness and love. He reserves the right to lay at the feet of man and all those under him just condemnation for sin.

UNDERSTANDING HEADSHIP

This is why the Flood was necessarily global in scope. This is why the Flood included the life of all land animals and birds of the air, even the very earth itself. In the beginning, when God created mankind He gave them dominion (the right to rule) over all things created on earth, even the earth itself:

  • “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Gen 1.26; italics added).
  • “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen 1.28; italics added)

God gave to humankind (male and female) created in His image the right to rule over earthly creation. This dominion (rule) was passed onto His image bearers in the hope that they would demonstrate the same type of sovereignty that the Creator of all creation demonstrates on a creaturely scale. In other words, God placed all things on earth—including the earth itself—under the headship (role of authority) of man.

One of the things that my dad taught me growing up is that where the head goes the body follows. He taught me this in learning self-defense, but the mechanics of it is true in leadership as well. Poor leaders (the head) will result in poor results (the body). When man rebelled in the garden the only thing that sustained them was the grace of God. God is not required to continually give grace to His creatures. If this is a requirement that He must do, then it is no longer rightly defined as a free gift but a right.

The utter rebellion seen in the days of Noah was just cause for God’s destructive efforts. The miracle is that God decided to be merciful to anyone, let alone a family of eight. Notice that this family of eight was saved because the head of the family found grace and that grace which led to righteous living effectively profited the body as a whole (Noah’s wife, their sons and their son’s wives were saved).

So, my point thus far is that it is right for God to judge others in light of what the head has done. We see this in Adam’s rebellion. We see this in Achan’s rebellion (Josh 7.20-26). And, we likewise see this in Jesus (the last Adam) obedience. If we do not like the fact that we are judged guilty under the head of Adam, then we will likewise—if we are consistent—not like being judged righteous under the head of Jesus. What we see true in these two heads, we see demonstrated in the Flood of Noah’s day. All the earth was destroyed in that day, and any that were not on the Ark, be they animal or man, had their breath extinguished. All who were under the head of Noah, who was under the head of God was saved, and the result was the salvation of all the animal kinds.

THE FLOOD WATERS

Water always seeks a level playing field. We find the same truth demonstrated with heat, air, even electricity.4 Water when it fills the cup takes the form of the cup in which it was poured. Water when poured out flows to all the low spots first and then levels out as the waters quit coming. The same is true in historical account of the great Flood.

  • “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. And it rained upon the earth forty days and forty nights” (Gen 7.11-12).

Rain came from above, and rain came from below. The skies poured forth her water, and the great deep let loose her own. This continued nonstop for forty days and nights, but the overflow of water was not finished until day 150 (Gen 7.24). Until that time the water level continued to rise:

  • The waters prevailed and increased greatly on the earth…And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep” (Gen 7.18a, 19-20). NOTE:
    a cubit was from elbow to tip of finger, they ranged anywhere from 18-24 inches. This makes the total depth conservatively 22 ½ feet above the mountains.

The result? We are told that as “the waters increased and bore up the ark…it rose high above the earth” (Gen 7.17b). Those inside were saved, but outside all was death:

  • “And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, all mankind. Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died” (Gen 17.21-22).

The same God who saved Noah and his family aboard the ark, is the same one who erased all living things from the face of the earth (Gen 7.23). Obviously, all sea creatures were exempt; although, a great many died under the tumultuous conditions. That was the extent of the Flood.

As a side note, I should add the following. There is no biblical evidence to support the concept of a localized (universal—if your Hugh Ross) Flood. If it were, then an ark would be unnecessary (saving either man or animal), as they could travel to a place where the flood waters would not reach. You may believe such things, but the sand on which you stand will not uphold you in the end.

What was God’s Purpose in Sending the Flood? A Reset?

The purpose in flooding the earth was not to reset things back to Edenic conditions. That would be an impossibility. Such reasoning ignores the fact of sin’s entrance into the world, and the bondage to which all earthly things have been entangled. The only hope for restoration is found in Jesus the Christ.

Does God give us all the details of why He did what He did? No, nor should we think that He ought. What is given is sufficient for faith, but necessarily limited in the sovereign counsel of the Triune God of Scripture.

Do we learn anything from this event? Much. We learn the seriousness of our sin and God’s response to it—death/separation from life. We learn the depths of God’s gracious mercy and the results of it—life. We learn of the passage way to which one secures mercy, of which the door of the ark necessarily points to, is the means that God has established (alone).

Just as the pitch applied to the hull of this saving vessel provided a protective covering, so too does the blood of Christ applied to the believer provide protective covering. In Christ, as those in the ark, life is promised, life abundantly, life everlasting. Through Christ true rest, comfort and peace is afforded, but to all else death (eternal death) is promised:

  • “Enter the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the ways is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matt 7.13-14).
  • “I am the door [gate]. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10.9)
  • “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14.6).

This is the picture granted to Noah and his family as God hung His war-bow in the clouds. This, in an ultimate sense, is the purpose of the Flood…to point us to Christ. And, to serve as a warning to those who refuse Him.

ENDNOTES:

1 There are nearly four chapters given to this specific topic; whereas, there are only two chapters devoted to God’s creative works.

2 All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

3 We would be wise to pay special consideration to what Paul says in Romans 8:1-11 where he very pointedly explains what our condition is before Christ (our utter deadness due to our sinful natures and as a result rebellion towards God’s Law-Word), and after: “But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness…he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you”” (Rom 8.10, 11). Though, this certainly points to the Resurrection in the end where all things are consummated, this is not Paul’s immediate outlook given the context of his dialogue.

4 Heat will always level out in a given space, however as its energy is dissipated entropy results. Vacuums are abhorred in nature, air always seeks to fill the void, to equalize in pressure. Electricity always goes in the path of least resistance, it is similar to a river current seeking a destination, but eventually it enjoys dwelling in an even playing field between two points where no resistance is felt.

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