(Here is another episode in my continuing exploration of the Bible. You can read my series introduction here. All Bible quote are NIV and cannot be used for commercial purposes. Read copyright information here.)
Noah and the Flood
9 This is the account of Noah and his family.
Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. 10 Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth.
11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. 12 God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 13 So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. 14 So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. 15 This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high. 16 Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. (NIV)
In my research into the legends of the Great Flood, I’ve come across a lot of information to suggest it may have occurred at the end of the last ice age about 12,000 years ago. Whether the flood happened as a series of natural glacial events, or if it was direct divine intervention, is completely irrelevant. The only important fact relevant to the story of the Great Flood is God takes personal responsibility for it.
In Genesis 6:13 God claims responsibility for the destruction about to be wrought. He causes it and thereby transforms from creator and divine father to judge and divine executioner. However, God grants a reprieve to Noah and his family.
Here, the scripture establishes Noah’s character and rehashes God’s reasons for destroying the world. What made Noah “righteous”? What standard of conduct had God issued to mankind at this point? So far in Genesis, we know disobedience and murder are wrong, but what other guidelines had God set thus far? There are two more behaviors we can add to the list of sins in Genesis 6:11 – corruption and violence.
I think it is important here to mention the scripture’s emphasis on corruption and violence, not just general wickedness. I think about the cruelty of ancient civilizations, and the horrors of the 20th and 21st centuries and I still wonder what was so terrible about this period that it called for such an extreme sentence upon humanity. Or maybe by now God has just grown used to our barbarism.
Like most of his forefathers, Noah had a stellar reputation among those of his time and was in good standing with God. I assume much of this was due to his upbringing. Other than that, we know little about him and his family. It says Noah was “blameless among the people of his time.” I take that as he had a sterling reputation, which implies the people of that time somehow knew the difference between good and bad. Perhaps this has something to do with tasting of the tree of good and evil.
This leads to the question – do humans have an inherent understanding of right and wrong, even when we choose not to act in the interest of righteousness? Is it hardwired into our DNA, or collective consciousness? According to Genesis 6, the people of Noah’s time knew what was right and wrong, and chose to do evil. Noah chose goodness, and was called by God to build the Ark.
Ark. What a funny name for a ship. Why not just call it a ship, or even a boat? The dictionary defines ark as “a place of protection or security; refuge; asylum.” (SPOILER ALERT: The term “ark” is used later in the Bible for something else completely.)
Genesis 6:14-16 is odd in its detail of the Ark. No physical object, or even person, has been described in such exacting detail up to this point. Two sentences betray the nautical purpose of the Ark: the need for pitch all around, and the reference to “decks” not floors. What did this Ark look like? According to a group of people in Kentucky who invested a LOT of money to build one, the Ark looked little something like this.
17 I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. 19 You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. 20 Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. 21 You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.” (NIV)
I’m not going to talk about the feasibility of the Ark, or if the whole world was really flooded, or if every creature in the world was really brought on board. I don’t think any of that is really important. That conversation will go absolutely nowhere. If this happened, I think it happened this way:
God said the world was going to end, and Noah and his family would be saved. That is Faith. God called upon Noah to do his bidding, and Noah obeyed. That is Obedience. God’s influence in the world, and the earth’s salvation, were accomplished by human hands through the influence of God’s spirit on a human heart ready and willing to receive it through faith and obedience. That is the take-away from Genesis 6.
22 Noah did everything just as God commanded him. (NIV)
Noah trusted God and, in the end, all the animals in the world as Noah knew them were brought aboard the Ark. Noah obeyed and the whole world, as Noah knew it, flooded. Noah did as he was told and God kept his promise. In the end, that’s all that matters.
For the first time in the Bible we hear the word “covenant” regarding a relationship between God and humans. Webster defines a Biblical covenant as a “conditional promise made to humanity by God.” Conditional on what? According to Genesis 6, the first covenant was conditional on Noah’s faith, obedience, and trust.
Conditional…that word won’t quit nagging me. I was always told that God’s love is eternal and unconditional. Yet, in Genesis 5 and 6, God says he regrets making humanity and planned to destroy us. Was his love, therefore, conditional? Is his love a covenant? Did he destroy the world because he no longer loved us, or did he spare Noah and the animals because he still loved us?
I go back to how we are created in his image, and how God’s actions are so similar to a parent. I know my love for my children is not a covenant, its unconditional. Oh, sure, I make covenants with my kids all the time regarding stuff and behaviors. God’s actions are more in line with a farmer destroying a diseased crop, and salvaging the few remaining good stalks to all start over.
That analogy seems to stick. Something else occurs to me, too. There is mention of sin, and judgement, but no mention of the devil or any other spiritual entity stirring up all this corruption and violence. Based on scripture, evil seems to radiate from humankind itself and nowhere else. Moreover, this evil is so bad it infects even nature itself, like a pathogen. It’s like God saving a few good files and wiping the hard disk in a last-ditch effort to purge a virus.
Maybe that is what it took to save humanity from itself. Perhaps the Flood was the toughest medicine of all, the toughest love of all. I mean, humanity is still here, aren’t we? It makes we wonder what manner of evil God saved us from, and what horrors we visited upon one another when the world was young.
Next week, Genesis 7 and the 40 days and nights that changed the world.
Brian Braden is the author of THE ILLUSION EXOTIC, the historical fantasy novel BLACK SEA GODS and several other exciting books. Please support this blog with your patronage.