The Flood: Salvation through Judgment | Genesis 7-8
Brian Hedges | February 18, 2018
So, turn in your Bibles this morning to the book of Genesis. We have been working our way through Genesis 4 through 11 in a short little eight-week series on these chapters from Scripture, and last week we began our look at the story of Noah and the flood.
Now, the story of Noah, Noah’s ark, the flood, that’s a well-known, perhaps one of the most well-known stories in the Bible. It’s well-known, of course, because we use such stories in Sunday school, teaching children, I suppose because of the interest kids would have in all the animals on the ark.
It’s well-known, as well, as being one of the most controversial parts of Scripture, and especially for those who have doubts about Scripture or have doubts about the Bible or even objections to the Christian faith. So, all you have to do is get on YouTube and type in “Noah’s Ark” and you’re going to have videos of Bill Nye, “the science guy,” coming up, disputing the story of the ark and claims that Christians sometimes make about the ark. So there are lots of objections that people have to this story, and some questions that we have to carefully consider.
Last week we actually considered some of the moral objections that people have to the story of the ark, and that’s basically the story of judgment and the doctrine of God’s judgment, and we concluded that both Old Testament and New, both the God represented to us in Scripture, the Old Testament, and the Jesus of the New Testament teach a doctrine of judgment, and such a doctrine is not at odds with the love of God and the goodness of God; it’s actually necessary. If God is really good, God must do something about the presence of evil in the world. He must do something about the presence of injustice in the world. So the problem of violence was actually what prompted the flood, in Genesis chapter 6. And our great hope for redemption is found in the fact that God does, indeed, judge sin. And of course, he supremely has judged sin in the cross of Jesus Christ. So we have the hope of salvation through judgment, Christ bearing the judgment in our place.
So today I want us to take a slightly different approach to the flood narrative, and I’m going to begin by doing kind of a risky thing — I think probably not, for our group, because you love the Bible — but I’m going to read two whole chapters of the Bible to you, Genesis chapters 7 and 8. I want to take basically the whole narrative, Genesis 7 and 8. Now, they’re relatively short chapters, so I think this is 46 verses, but I want to read this through, and then I want to break it down into three steps and consider:
I. The Story of the Flood
II. The Problem of the Flood
III. The Theology of the Flood
So that’s going to be our approach, but I want us to have the text itself in mind, so I’m going to begin by reading it. You can follow along in your own copy of God’s word, or follow along on the screen. Genesis chapters 7 and 8.
“Then the Lord said to Noah, ‘Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate, and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate, and seven pairs] of the birds of the heavens also, male and female, to keep their offspring alive on the face of all the earth. For in seven days I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground.’ And Noah did all that the Lord had commanded him. Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters came upon the earth. And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons' wives with him went into the ark to escape the waters of the flood. Of clean animals, and of animals that are not clean, and of birds, and of everything that creeps on the ground, two and two, male and female, went into the ark with Noah, as God had commanded Noah. And after seven days the waters of the flood came upon the earth. 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 rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights. On the very same day Noah and his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah's wife and the three wives of his sons with them entered the ark, they and every beast, according to its kind, and all the livestock according to their kinds, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, according to its kind, and every bird, according to its kind, every winged creature. They went into the ark with Noah, two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life. And those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him. And the Lord shut him in. The flood continued forty days on the earth. The waters increased and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters prevailed and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the face of the waters. 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. And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark. And the waters prevailed on the earth 150 days.”
“But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided. The fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens were closed, the rain from the heavens was restrained, and the waters receded from the earth continually. At the end of 150 days the waters had abated, and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. And the waters continued to abate until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains were seen. At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made and sent forth a raven. It went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth. Then he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground. But the dove found no place to set her foot, and she returned to him to the ark, for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth. So he put out his hand and took her and brought her into the ark with him. He waited another seven days, and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark. And the dove came back to him in the evening, and behold, in her mouth was a freshly plucked olive leaf. So Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. Then he waited another seven days and sent forth the dove, and she did not return to him anymore. In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried from off the earth. And Noah removed the covering of the ark and looked, and behold, the face of the ground was dry. In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth had dried out. Then God said to Noah, ‘Go out from the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons' wives with you. Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh—birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth—that they may swarm on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.’ So Noah went out, and his sons and his wife and his sons' wives with him. Every beast, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out by families from the ark. Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.’”
This is God’s word.
Okay, so, three things to look at: the story of the flood, the problem of the flood, and then the theology of the flood.
I. The Story of the Flood
The first point will be brief. I just want to make a couple of observations about the storytelling, about the narrative itself, as we’ve just read it here in the book of Genesis. First of all, just think about the perspective of the story.
An Old Testament scholar named John Sailhamer has pointed out that the author of this story very "carefully guides us by tightly controlling point of view," so that we begin, in Genesis chapter 6, with something like a divine point of view. We see God’s point of view, God’s perspective on the wickedness, the corruption of the world as God discloses to Noah his plan.
But then, the perspective somewhat shifts in chapter 7, and just as Noah and his family are shut up in the ark, so are we. Through the rest of the story, we’re basically seeing things from Noah’s perspective. We’re not seeing the perishing of the world. We’re viewing this from something like a horizontal perspective, and it invites us to identify ourselves with Noah as those being rescued by God from judgment, rather than to identify ourselves with God looking down on others in judgment. It’s an important, and I think a creative, way that the author of this narrative puts things together and pulls the readers into the story.
It’s also important to note that this story is very artistically arranged. So, something else we need to note here is the structure of the story, the structure of the story. I want to just give you a couple of examples of this. Many scholars have pointed out that the structure of the narrative of the flood forms a chiasm; that is, there’s kind of a mirroring of the beginnings with the end all the way through the narrative.
So you can see this, for example, in this first chart, how the story begins with God’s resolve to destroy the human race, it ends with us resolve not to destroy humankind again.
A God resolves to destroy the human race (6:11-13)
B Noah builds an ark according to God's instructions (6:14-22)
C The Lord commands the remnant to enter the ark (7:1-9)
D The flood begins (7:10-16)
E The flood prevails 150 days, the mountains are covered (7:17-24)
F God remembers Noah (8:1a)
E' The flood recedes 150 days, the mountains are visible (8:1b-5)
D' The earth dries (8:6-14)
C' The Lord commands the remnant to leave the ark (8:15-19)
B' Noah builds an altar (8:20)
A' The Lord resolves not to destroy humankind (8:21-22)
(Adapted from Allen Ross, Creation & Blessing: A Guide to the Exposition of Genesis, p. 191)
So the middle of chapter 6 mirrors the end of chapter 8. You can just see that gradually, throughout this narrative, each piece mirrors the corresponding part, and it centers on God’s remembrance of Noah in Genesis 8:1. That’s really the centerpiece of the story. So it highlights here God’s faithfulness to Noah, it highlights Noah as the person who is being saved from this judgment, and God is the one who saves him. It’s a very creative and artistic arrangement of this narrative.
You can also see a chiastic use of numbers in the flood narrative. Numbers, of course, are very important in the book of Genesis.
7 days of waiting for flood (7:4)
7 days of waiting for flood (7:10)
40 days of flood (7:17a)
150 days of water prevailing (7:24)
150 days of water abating (8:3)
40 days wait in the ark (8:6)
7 days wait (8:10)
7 days wait (8:12)
So you have seven days of waiting, followed by another seven days of waiting, then 40 days of the flood, then 150 days of the water prevailing, followed by the reverse order, 150 days of the water abating, 40 days waiting in the ark, and then two more sets of seven days. Again, this is very deliberate. It’s artistically put together. It is a literary masterpiece, with all kinds of creativity.
Now, by the way, if you’re wanting this (I know this is way too much to write down; I’m seeing some of you taking pictures of this), all you have to do is email me; I’ll send you the slides, okay, or my notes. So don’t feel like you have to get all this down.
Here’s the point I want you to get. The details are important, inasmuch as they point us to a main point of the story. This is what I want you to get: the story of the flood, as told in Genesis, displays great intentionality and artistry on the part of the narrator. It is a skillfully woven narrative designed to highlight God’s faithfulness to Noah and his sovereign purposes in both judgment and salvation.
If you wanted to describe the message of the flood with one phrase, this would be it: “Salvation through judgment.” That’s what this story is about.
So that’s first. The story of the flood.
II. The Problem of the Flood
Now, the problem of the flood. I want to ask basically one question, but then kind of break it down into three questions. So, here’s the big question I want to ask: is the story of the flood credible? Because that’s what a lot of people will contest.
There are lots of places we could go with this. It’s overwhelming, the amount of literature that has been written, and I would encourage you to explore this a little bit if you have questions and especially if you have some doubts. But let me break it down into just three questions, and I want to try to give tentative answers, maybe more definite on some answers and tentative on others.
But here are the three questions. First of all, is the story of the flood history or mythology? Is this story history or mythology? Secondly, was the scope of the flood global or regional? And then thirdly, is the rescue of animals on the ark really plausible? Those are the kinds of questions that are often debated by both scientists and theologians, alright? And my answers might surprise you a little bit on some points.
(1) So, first of all, is the story of the Flood history or mythology?
The reason some people think it’s mythology is because it’s an undisputed fact that there are other ancient near eastern texts that have flood stories. The most famous of these would be The Epic of Gilgamesh. There are other ancient, mythological texts that also have flood stories, and, on a superficial level at least, there are correspondences between the flood story in Genesis and the flood stories in these ancient, mythological texts and documents.
So in light of this, some scholars assume that Genesis is just giving us another version of an ancient myth, a version that is tailored to the religion of ancient Israel, but is not a reporting of history, but is, instead, a creative theological use of myth.
Now, many scholars have pointed out the correspondence between the ancient myths and the Genesis story. That does not mean, necessarily, however, that the story of the flood is myth rather than history. Isn’t it reasonable to suppose that, with all of these other flood stories out there, along with the story of the flood in Scripture, that there actually is a historical event that lies behind all of them? That is a reasonable supposition to make, and it seems pretty clear, straightforward reading of Scripture, that the flood story is, in fact, history. It’s reported as history, it’s in historical narrative. To be sure, it has a literary structure to it, so we have to bear that in mind in our interpretation, but it seems pretty clear to me from Scripture that the flood is actually a historical event that took place.
James Montgomery Boice, in his commentary, actually lists over 200 examples of flood stories that are recorded in either ancient documents or traditions of various cultures around the world. I haven’t investigated all of those for myself, of course, but just the fact that there are so many records of a flood seems to give credence to the fact that Scripture is reporting history to us.
So, my answer to the first question is, it’s history, not mythology.
(2) Second question: was the extent, or the scope, of the flood global or regional?
That is, did it really cover the entire earth, or only a limited geographical area? Now, again, on a surface reading of the text it certainly looks global, with the water covering all the earth and so on.
However, and this is where I want to challenge your thinking a little bit, there are some things for us to consider before we choose for this to be a hill on which to die. The word for “earth” is actually the same word that is used elsewhere in the Pentateuch for “land,” so the promised land, the land of Canaan; it’s the same word. Land, earth; there’s not a word in Hebrew for the globe, as we think of the earth as the whole world, the whole globe. It’s the word for land. So when we read “earth” we shouldn’t, therefore, automatically assume the globe. Context has to determine which land is under consideration.
Furthermore, we know that Scripture uses language that sounds universal which is actually somewhat narrower in scope. Let me give you a couple of examples. First of all, in Genesis 41:56-57, you have the story of the famine in Egypt. You remember how God had sent Joseph ahead into Egypt to provide for the family of Jacob and of Israel.
So the text reads like this: “So when the famine had spread over all the land, Joseph opened up all the store-houses and sold to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth.”
Now, probably no one would read that and think that people actually came from South America all the way to Egypt in order to buy grain from Joseph. We read that and we understand that the text is talking about all the world in that part of the world, all of the earth under consideration from the perspective of the original readers. We understand that. It doesn’t take rocket science to figure that out.
You have similar things in the New Testament. So, for example, when the apostle Paul in Colossians chapter one talks about how the gospel has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, he’s doing this in the first century, he’s doing this before the Great Commission has been completed. The Great Commission has still not been completed. There are many people groups in the world that have not been reached with the gospel.
Even Paul, in Romans chapter 15, will tell us of his ambition to go to other parts of the world to preach the gospel where Christ has not been named. So when we read that the gospel has been proclaimed to all creation under heaven, we understand that he’s not actually speaking of every single person in all of the world.
Okay? So do you just see that? Here’s something I think we have to recognize in Scripture, that Scripture itself can use universal-sounding language, but context determines actually what that language refers to. It may not be the whole globe, it may not be every single person or every single creature; it may be, in fact, a region or the world as it is known in that time or the world that’s being considered in that context.
Now, opinions on the scope of the flood are divided, even among evangelical scholars. So let me give you just both sides of the debate.
On one side you have guys like Ken Ham, Answers in Genesis; you have preachers like John MacArthur or J. Ligon Duncan (I checked both these guys out, their sermons, this week) who argue pretty strongly for a universal flood, a flood that is global in its scope, so that the whole world experienced some cataclysmic judgment through a flood. These are Bible-believing guys. These are people who love Christ, who love the gospel, who love Scripture, and who hold that view pretty tenaciously.
On the other hand, you also have people such as Hugh Ross, who is a scientist and a progressive creationist, who argues from Scripture itself that the idea of a global flood is actually not biblical, and actually goes to texts to argue against the idea of a global flood. It’s interesting that some of these people use the same texts, they just interpret them in different ways. Now, Hugh Ross is also someone who loves Christ, who loves the gospel, he’s a conservative evangelical, but he’s a progressive creationist, he’s not a young earth seven-day creationist who takes the same view of the flood. If you want to read his arguments, you can see his book Navigating Genesis.
The NIV Zondervan study Bible, which I think is the best study Bible on the market, edited by D.A. Carson, just a couple years old; that study Bible, on the note on the flood, essentially says it looks like a global flood on the surface of the text, but then it points out how the universal language can be used in a more limited way, and says that it could, then, be a regional flood rather than a global flood. So it remains somewhat neutral on the question.
More definite in his opinion is Tim Keller. Now, I think most of us in this room have high respect for Tim Keller, if you’ve read The Reason for God or you’ve read The Prodigal God or if you’ve watched some of Tim Keller’s videos. Keller is obviously a conservative evangelical, he’s been a great leader in kind of the modern reformed movement. He’s been, perhaps, one of the most effective apologists for the Christian faith in the 21st century with his book The Reason for God. Tim Keller takes this perspective, the perspective that it is a regional flood. Here’s the quote.
“I believe Noah’s flood happened but that it was a regional flood.” So he believes it’s historical, non-mythological, but that it’s regional, not global. “I believe Noah’s flood happened but that it was a regional flood, not a worldwide flood. On the one hand, those who insist on it being a worldwide flood seem to ignore too much of the scientific evidence that there was no such thing. On the other hand, those who insist that it was a legend [or myth] seem to ignore too much of the trustworthiness of the Scripture. After Genesis 1, the rest of Genesis reads like historical narrative. If it is asked, ‘What of the biblical assertions that the flood covered every mountain over the whole earth,’ we should remember that the Bible often speaks of the known world as the whole world,” and then he gives this reference, Genesis 41:56-57 and so on.
Now, I’m not taking a definitive position here this morning. I’m just raising the question, and want to suggest here in just a moment that we have to be careful in how we think about these kinds of questions. I just want you to see that there are good, Bible-believing, Scripture-loving, gospel-preaching followers of Christ on both sides of the debate. Don’t make this a hill to die on.
(3) Here’s the third question: is the rescue of animals on the ark really plausible?
Again, this is an objection that people will have against the story of the flood. They’ll say, “How could Noah have gotten all those animals on the ark? There wouldn’t have been room for all the animals, for all the species of all the animals in the world. There wouldn’t have been room for him to get them on the ark.”
Well, first of all, if it was a regional flood, that could take care of part of that objection. If it was a regional flood it presumably would have been all the animals within a region who would have been preserved. I’m not saying that’s the case, I’m just saying that’s one of the options.
However, even if we concluded that all species of animals, however we define species, would have needed to be on the ark, when you look at the size of the ark it becomes pretty clear that there was, in fact, plenty of room. The ark was some 450 feet long. That’s about the size of one-and-a-half football fields, okay? So, 450 feet long, with a total deck area of over 95,000 square feet.
People have broken this down in a number of different ways, but some people have deduced that 240 sheep could fit comfortably on the average size of a two-deck railroad car; 240 sheep. And of course, most of the animals in the world are smaller than sheep are. But if you could get 240 sheep on one railroad car, and then the size of the ark would hold something like 560-something of these railroad cars, if you just do the math, 569 times 240, you end up with a really, really high number of animals that could have fit on the ark, up in the tens of thousands.
So, the point here is that there actually would have been room for a vast number of animals. This really doesn’t become a significant objecting when you just start doing the math.
Okay, now let me just conclude this point with two exhortations for us. And this is really what I want to get to under this idea of the problem of the ark, okay? Two exhortations.
Number one: We should be honest and faithful in our study of the text of Scripture. Alright? And both of those words are important: honest and faithful. We have to be honest with Scripture, and at the end of the day we go with what Scripture clearly teaches. We’re not going to try to compromise Scripture because of the supposed claims of science. We want to hold to what the text clearly teaches.
But also faithful, alright? Faithful means faithful to study. Faithful means diligent. Faithful means faithfulness to the text itself in its original intent, not to our inherited interpretations of the text. So, in other words, you want to be careful that you don’t try to twist the Scripture to fit into a preconceived view. You want to be careful that you actually consider the various interpretive options of the text, but you want to stick to what the text actually says. Let’s be honest and faithful in our study of the text of Scripture.
And then secondly, we should be humble and respectful in our claims about the text of Scripture. We should be humble; that means we should be careful not to make arrogant claims. Now what would an arrogant claim be?
Well, an arrogant claim would be an overconfidence claim, okay? Overconfidence; being absolutely sure that your interpretation is the right view, when you haven’t read all of the data. There’s a lot of stuff out there. I haven’t read it all. It’s overwhelming; you know, I have a week to prepare this sermon, and it’s overwhelming, the amount of information that is out there. I haven’t read it all, and so it was pretty humbling, because I realized that there are people who are a whole lot smarter than me who take a variety of different views on the text. So I think it would be somewhat arrogant to say, “Yes, I have the answer,” and it would be arrogant for you to do that as well.
So be humble in whatever claims you make, and be respectful. By respectful I mean be respectful of other views. You may believe it was a worldwide flood; okay, that’s fine. There are good reasons in the text to think that. It’s not the only interpretation, but there are good reasons in the text to think that. But don’t thumb your nose at another Christian who doesn’t believe it was a worldwide flood, who says it was a regional flood, and say, “Well, that person doesn’t believe in the Bible,” or, “That person is compromising Scripture,” or, “They don’t believe in the inerrancy of Scripture,” when in fact there are people who do believe in the inerrancy of Scripture who take a different view than you do. It’s simply a different interpretation. We must be respectful.
Perhaps some of you have seen or heard the comedian Mark Lowry. Mark Lowry one time said of fundamentalists, “They’re not always right, but they’re never in doubt.” That shouldn’t be the description or the characterization of us. We don’t want to be people who are never in doubt. It’s okay to have doubts about some things. We want to have confidence in the things that are absolutely clear in Scripture. We want to be humble in our claims about things that are less clear.
Okay, so two exhortations: be honest and faithful in your study of the text, be humble and respectful in your claims about the text. Okay, I’m done with the problems of the flood.
III. The Theology of the Flood
Here’s what I think is most important: the theology of the flood! We’ve already looked a little bit at what the theology is last week. We talked about the wicked world, the sorrowful God, the righteous remnant. The story of the flood is a story of salvation through judgment.
Let me just show you in the text (I’m going to take about seven or eight minutes to do this, and then we’re done) three movements you can see very clearly in the story of the flood, and they are movements that, within the language of the text itself, show us the basic flow of thought and highlight the theology for us. I’m taking my wording here from Kenneth Matthews.
(1) First of all, the waves of judgment. The waves of judgment. You see this in chapter 7, when the flood actually comes. The key thing to note here is the word “prevail” in verse 18, verse 19, verse 20, and then again in verse 24. “The waters prevailed on the earth 150 days.”
What we have to remember here is that waters, especially for the Hebrew mind, were symbolic of chaos. They were symbolic of forces of evil or of judgment or of the wrath of God. So, for example, in the darkest psalm in all of Scripture, Psalm 88, you have this statement: “Your wrath lies heavy upon me and you overwhelm me with all your waves.”
You often find this in the Scriptures. The psalms talk about the waves and the billows of God, the waves of judgment. They see God as the Lord of the storm, and the storm comes with fury against people as an act of judgment. They are the waves of judgment.
And the way the text reads here in Genesis chapter 7, the waters prevailing, the word “prevail” carries the idea of triumph. It’s almost as if the author personifies the waves and sees them as God’s army marching in on the earth to bring judgment to the land.
And yet Scriptures over and over again affirm God’s sovereignty over the flood, God’s sovereignty over the waves, that he is the Lord who sits enthroned over the flood, as we read this morning in Psalm 29. “The voice of the Lord is over the waters,” also Psalm 29. So we see God’s sovereignty over the flood and that these waves are waves of judgment, waters prevailing against the earth.
The whole narrative here and the very way it’s worded I think is given to show us that God is enacting judgment on a wicked society on a sinful people. That’s first.
(2) But we don’t have only waters of judgment or waves of judgment; we also have the winds of salvation, or the winds of rescue. You see this in Genesis 8:1-4, the very centerpiece of the narrative.
Verse one, “But God remembered Noah.” [It’s] the first occurence of that word “remembered” in Scripture. “God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark, and God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided.”
That word “wind” is very important. The word “wind” there is the same Hebrew word that’s used in Genesis 1:2, “And the Spirit of the Lord moved over the face of the waters.” It’s the same word; the wind of God, the Spirit of God, the breath of God, the ruach of God. Alright?
So, I think there are reasons that that’s there in the text. It’s there to echo for us the creation story. And in fact, when you read through Genesis chapter 8, it’s really clear that there are all kinds of links between Genesis 8 and Genesis 1. So you have the recounting of animals, you have seven days mentioned a number of times. At the end of the story you have a commission to Noah. You have a blessing in Genesis chapter 9.
I mean, so when you read Genesis 8 into chapter 9 it’s pretty clear that Noah is functioning as something like a new Adam and that God is now beginning again. It’s a new creation. It’s salvation, you see, but it’s salvation that has come through judgment as God has used the waters of judgment to both destroy the earth, but also those are the very same waters that have borne up the ark, that have carried Noah and his family to a place of safety. So, the winds of salvation. God here has rescued all these links that you see between Genesis 1 and Genesis 8.
(3) And then finally, at the end of Genesis 8 you have a word of promise. Look at verses 20 through 22: “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal, some of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma…” You just stop right there. All the language I just read are clear echoes to the book of Leviticus. You have to remember that the first audience, the first readers of this, were the exodus generation, the Israelites to whom God gave the law.
So there are links here. Here is an altar, a sacrificial altar, clean animals being offered; the Lord smells this pleasing aroma, and then God speaks, verse 21: “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease.”
So here’s a promise. It’s a promise of God’s faithfulness, that he is going to preserve, he is not going to destroy the earth in this way again.
Now, all three of these things, all three of these movements in the text, the waves of judgment, the winds of rescue or salvation, the word of promise; all of them combine together to show us how God saves his people through judgment, pointing us to the great fulfillment of this salvation in Jesus Christ.
And the New Testament writers make the connection clear. Let me give you one text as we draw to a close. This is 1 Peter 3:20-22. Peter writes of God’s patience, that “waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this,” Peter says, “now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.”
Now, you can go back and listen to the sermon on that passage if you want full explanation of what Peter means there. He obviously doesn’t mean that the water of baptism itself has saving efficacy. He doesn’t mean that the water regenerates you or the water justifies you. I think what’s clear in Scripture is that the water of baptism is a sign. It’s a sign that points to salvation. But in Peter’s understanding here, it’s a sign that points to judgment as well. It points to judgment in connection to the judgment that Jesus faced for us, and then was resurrected out of.
So here’s the picture: the world is submerged in water, in judgment, and the ark is an ark of safety, of rescue, that carries Noah and his family through the judgment.
Jesus Christ is submerged in the waves and the billows of God’s wrath in judgment, but through it he carries us through the waters of judgment, so that by being united to him in resurrection life we are saved from judgment.
Baptism is a symbolic picture of that that shows us being submerged and buried with Christ, so that his judgment counts as ours, and then raised with Christ in newness of life, so that his resurrection guarantees ours.
That’s the picture, so that when we observe the sacrament of baptism what we’re really seeing, we’re seeing someone who is identifying with Christ, who rescues us from judgment by being judged in our place, so that Christ is the ark, Christ is the rescuer, Christ is the one who redeems us by enduring judgment for us. We are saved through judgment by being united to Christ.
And did you know that many of our hymns actually capture this kind of language for us? I’ll end by just giving you two examples, one of which we’re going to sing in just a few moments. Here’s one example: you know the great hymn “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less” [The Solid Rock]. There’s a great line that goes like this:
“His oath, his covenant, his blood
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.
On Christ the solid Rock I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.”
Christ is the one who saves us from the flood! He saves us from the flood judgment. He rescues us from it. His oath, his covenant, his blood. It’s his word of promise. It’s Christ who is the rescuer.
Or here’s a second one, we’ll sing this in a moment, Charles Wesley’s great hymn:
“Jesus, lover of my soul,
Let me to thy bosom fly.
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high,
Hide me, O my Savior, hide,
‘Til the storm of life is past.
Safe into the haven guide;
O, receive my soul at last.”
What is that? It’s a picture of Christ; Christ as the ark who rescues us. Christ is the one who carries us through the waves and the billows and the storms of life and of death and of judgment. Every storm that we face, especially the storm of the wrath of God. We are saved from the storm, through the storm as we hide ourselves in Christ.
That’s the main thing for us to get from the story of the flood. The story of the flood is the story of salvation through judgment. It’s a story of God’s rescue and his project of a new creation after the judgment, and our only hope is if we find our rescue in Jesus Christ. Have you trusted in him this morning? Have you believed in Christ? Have you fled to him for refuge? Have you hidden your soul in him?
So Father, we’ve considered a lot of things this morning about this story and how we are to interpret it, how we are to apply it. I pray that in all of this information we would not miss this, the one central truth of this story and of every story in Scripture, that Christ is our hope, that Christ is our salvation, that Christ is our life. I pray this morning that for any who have not found rescue from judgment through Christ, that they would flee, not to their own works, but would flee to the work of Jesus Christ in all of its sufficiency, his death and his resurrection on our behalf.
Just as we have thought this morning about how baptism is a sign pointing us to our union with Christ in his death-defeating death and his life-giving resurrection, so, as we come to the sacrament of the table this morning, we view it as a sign of the gospel, a sign of the new covenant made in Christ’s blood, that Christ, who is our life, broke his body and poured out his blood for our sakes; that Christ, who is our life, nourishes us with all the work that he has done for us; that through faith in Christ and by the Holy Spirit was have communion with Christ in his death. We participate, we are united to him.
So as we come to the table this morning may we come in faith, may we come in hope, may we come in confidence that in union with Christ we are rescued from judgment, we are brought into life, we are nourished in that life by the Spirit of our risen Savior. So draw near to us in these moments, we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.