Flood & Promise
- Main Text: Genesis 6:5-22, 8:6-12, 9:8-17
- Accompanying Text: Matthew 8:24-27
The story of Noah is the proclamation of what is God’s response to a world that has embraced sin and evil. The text tells us that ‘what God has done has decisively changed the situation for all creatures.’1
Was there really a flood? What archaeological evidence is there? What about other flood narratives in ancient cultures? While these are interesting questions, and we should be keen to point out that we do not see the story as myth, when we seek to preach on the story of Noah, we are called present it neither as an historical account nor as a story that is focused primarily on Noah. At its heart it is about God.
Our passage begins with a description of what has become of the world since the fall and Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden. The opening line of verse 5, ‘and God saw’, is the same phrase that is used in Genesis 1, when God looks on Creation and saw that it was ‘good’ – the same phrase that is used when God created human beings, both male and female, in his image and saw that it was ‘very good’. Now, in 6:5, God looks upon Creation and sees the wickedness of humanity; that humanity has given itself over to sin. In 6:5, God looks upon a world that has diverged from the good will of its Creator and from the purpose for which it was created.
God’s response is described as being ‘grieved to the heart’ – the same God who in the New Testament weeps over the death of Lazarus, and weeps for Jerusalem, weeps for a world which has abandoned him (and consequently his goodness and holiness) and embraced a life of sin, evil and corruption. And so, God seemingly resolves to put the world out of its misery. To send a flood.
The Story does not end here though. Our story does not end here as it could have. In 6:8, we are told that ‘Noah found favour in the eyes of the Lord.’ Perhaps a better way to say this is: ‘‘grace found Noah’. God’s initiative of grace towards Noah is mentioned before there is any reference to Noah’s faith and righteousness (6:9)’2 . The rest of our passage in chapter 6 describes the corruption of the world, the coming flood and how God will rescue Noah.
In 6:18 we have the record of God’s covenant with Noah. This is the first mention of the word covenant (berith) in the Bible. David Atkinson writes on this section that ‘in a world that is devastated by disorder, threatened by destruction, perplexed and confused, and having lost its touch with God, God makes his promise. His world will not be totally destroyed. His creation will be renewed. In sovereignty and yet in intimate love, God is committed to the well-being of all his creatures… The covenant, then, is God’s promise of salvation. When God establishes his covenant, he moves into action to save. The word ‘establish’ means ‘stand upon its feet’; God is bringing his covenant to life—putting his promise to work.’2
Chapter 6 ends with Noah’s faithfulness (in believing in the coming flood) and his response (the building of the Ark) to God’s grace – as also described in Hebrews 11:7.
We pick up the narrative again in 8:6. In the intervening chapter the floods have come, and God has safely sealed Noah and his family in the ark with the animals (7:16). In the Bible, the imagery of sea and large bodies of water are often symbolic of chaos and disorder (e.g. Gen 1:2). The coming of the flood represents the undoing of Creation.
As we think of Noah in the ark, floating on the formless void of the flood, wondering whether he will ever see dry land again, we can also think of other ‘innocents’ who have suffered for the sins of the world. It is often the poor and the oppressed who suffer because of the sins of the rich and powerful. While we do not have an easy answer to such injustice, we do have hope in that ‘it is God who provides the ark.’2
Christians can identify with Noah in the ark. While we rest on the promises of God in Jesus Christ, we know that we still live in the realities of the flesh. Like Noah we are still surrounded by the chaos and destruction of our world, and we seek eagerly for the signs of the new creation to come. Also, like Noah, we are called to abandon our old life and embrace ‘life on the ark’. Our hope is that, in recognising the sovereignty of God over his Creation, we can be a blessing and an instrument of God’s salvation.
In 8:13 the ark lands on dry land, and Noah first act is one of praise (8:20). We pick up the narrative for the final time in 9:8 – the establishment of the covenant with Noah and his sons and the sign given to us of that covenant – the rainbow. T.F. Torrance speaks in his book Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ on the importance of understanding that the Hebrew word for covenant (berith) refers to a unilateral agreement (as opposed to bilateral contract). God makes the covenant not to destroy the world again by flood, even though he knows that humanity is still sinful (8:21), and that humanity will continue to turn away from its loving Creator. Yet the rainbow and God’s covenant with humanity through Noah shows his continuing commitment not to abandon Creation. Just as God remembered Noah in the flood (8:1), God remembers us in Jesus Christ and he will neither abandon nor forsake us.
Jürgen Moltmann, in a sermon he gave about the story of Noah, writes: “In the abyss of our disappointments we find God’s hope. In the deepest depths of appalling guilt, we find God’s grace. In the bitterness of suffering that offers no escape, we find God’s love. At the heart of everything is God’s unswerving ‘Yes’. And God stands firm.”3
How does the Story of Noah testify to Jesus Christ?
In many ways Noah prefigures Christ, in Hebrews 11 he is described as a ‘herald of righteousness’ and the story of Noah testifies strongly to Jesus Christ. Noah, like Jesus, suffered for the sins of the world. He went through both a kind of death in the flood and a resurrection to new life. Through him, God saved his family and all creatures. David Atkinson compares Christ to Noah saying: ‘Christian faith is commitment to Christ himself. He is the word, the promise, the ark; he is also the Obedient Man who through death has saved his family from the storms of divine judgment.’2 Just like Noah, in Jesus Christ we have the promise of new life and of a new creation.
- Isaiah 54:9-10
- Psalm 29:10
- Hebrews 11:7
- 2 Peter 2:5
- The Torah: Genesis: “in the beginning…” from creation to Abraham https://www.gci.org/articles/genesis-in-thebeginning- from-creation-to-abraham/
- Equipper sermon (See part 2) https://equipper.gci.org/2018/01/sermon-forfebruary- 18-2018
- Day by Day http://www.daybyday.org.uk/?p=14830
- Walter Brueggemann, Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: Genesis.
- David Atkinson, The Bible Speaks Today: the Message of Genesis. Digital Edition.
- Jürgen Moltmann, The Power of the Powerless.
- Thomas F Torrance, Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ.