Noah’s Ark is one of the most well known stories in the entire Bible. In modern times, it’s a controversial story where skeptics deny that it ever actually happened. Many Christians doubt this story and instead treat it as mythology.
I can certainly appreciate that the story seems fantastical and hard to believe. But so does the story about Jesus dying and being resurrected. So does the idea of a virgin woman becoming pregnant. Those stories are essential elements of the Christian faith. What’s more, for people who do believe that it’s a true story, there are still many questions which remain. Was the flood global or was the flood “the world” as people would have known it in ancient times? If the flood was not worldwide, were there still people alive in the world? Would a loving God truly flood his own planet?
These are thoughtful questions. In this post, I want to acknowledge that there are many different views of this story, but it is my goal to write about Noah and the Ark in a way which is faithful to how it is represented in the Bible.
By the time we come to Genesis 6, the world is already fallen and we’ve seen an increase in sin within the world.
Chapter 6 begins by describing the grim circumstances of the world.
Genesis 6:5-6 says:
5 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. 6 And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.
I’ve heard Genesis 6:6 described as the saddest verse in the Bible. God regretted the creation of man and was grieved. This points us to the personal nature of God and how sin is an offense to a holy God. That God had made a good world and that humanity has corrupted that due to sin.
But before God had created man, he knew this would happen. God is all knowing. It didn’t surprise God what had happened. Nevertheless, it grieved the Lord. And so the Lord will bring a judgment on the world.
7 So the Lord said, “I 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.”
This is not God flying into a rage or being arbitrary. It is a just judgment from a morally perfect God towards a sinful world. We also see these verses as an undoing of creation. In creation, God makes a world that’s good. In this passage, we see a world that is corrupted. In creation, God creates and sees that it is good. Before the flood, God sees the wickedness of the world. In creation, God makes dry land. In the flood, God takes it away. In creation, God hovers over the waters. With the flood, God will unleash the power of the rains.
But in the face of so much sin, there’s one hopeful note through a man named Noah:
But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord (Genesis 6:8).
The Lord will be gracious to Noah and to his family, in spite of the sinfulness that is in the world.
Genesis 6:9 further describes Noah:
9 These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.
When the passage says that Noah was “righteous” and “blameless,” that does not mean that Noah was without sin. But it does point to Noah having a faith in the Lord. In Genesis 15:6, we will learn that Abraham believed in the Lord and it was counted to him as righteousness. Is it reading too much into things to think that this isn’t at the heart of the righteousness of Noah?
It’s something that could be debated but that’s how I take this verse. It is pointing to the grace of God. Noah doesn’t deserve this favor in the eyes of the Lord, but because he has faith and is walking with God, the Lord is gracious to him.
Genesis 6:10 reminds us of the three sons of Noah. They are important to the story because they will join Noah in this new humanity after the flood.
A corrupt world
While Genesis 6:8-10 is hopeful and optimistic, beginning in verse 11, the passage takes us back to the harsh reality of a sinful world.
Genesis 6:11-12 says:
11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.
Once again, this language reminds us of creation.
Genesis 6 says now the earth was corrupt.
Genesis 1:2 says: 2 The earth was without form and void
Genesis 6 says that God saw the earth and, and behold, it was corrupt.
Genesis 1:4 says: God saw that the light was good
In his commentary of Genesis, John Sailhamer describes the following section and says “It seems clear from the way the author begins the account that the main purpose of the story of the Flood is not to show why God sent a flood but rather to show why God saved Noah.”
It’s easy to look around the world today and to be frustrated and disheartened by the sin that is all around us. Wars, human trafficking, exploitation, murder, crime, societal breakdowns. It’s appropriate to be grieved by these realities. But we should not be surprised by them. Because these issues are not new. Sin is not new.
Sometimes we like to look back on past generations as if they were this golden age of superior morals. But people are people and sin is sin and the world is fallen. It can so often be so easy to look back on past times with rose colored glasses. As our world has gotten more technological, it can also be easy to have more awareness of specific types of sin happening in the world. Before the flood, God sees the incredible sinfulness of the world.
The fact that God judges sin is something that humanity doesn’t like. We like to lift ourselves up, we like to think we’re good. We like to think that people can be good enough on their own. But the Bible teaches that all sin and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23). And a righteous God is justified for bringing judgment.
But God is also gracious and merciful. In this passage, we see both. We see judgment and mercy.
Thanks for reading!
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For further reading:
John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990).