Saved from the Water by the Water, Genesis 6-9, 1/26/14

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Jan 262014
 

Rev. Jeff Chapman ~ Faith Presbyterian Church

 

5 The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. 6 And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 So the Lord said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord.

 

9 These are the descendants of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God. 10 And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

 

11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth. 13 And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth. 14 Make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. 15 This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. 16 Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above; and put the door of the ark in its side; make it with lower, second, and third decks.

 

17 “For my part, I am going to bring a flood of waters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. 19 And of every living thing, of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. 20 Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground according to its kind, two of every kind shall come in to you, to keep them alive. 21 Also take with you every kind of food that is eaten, and store it up; and it shall serve as food for you and for them.” 22 Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him. (Genesis 6:5-22, NRSV)

 

In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve sin and turn their backs on God and all creation unravels towards destruction.  In Genesis 4, we read the very first accounts of life after humans have been expelled from paradise.  Adam and Eve’s son, Cain, becomes jealous of his brother, Abel, and lures him out into a field to murder him in cold blood.[1]  Things start out bad and go downhill from there.  The corruption escalates so quickly, in fact, that by the beginning of chapter 6 God can no longer sit back and watch.  In verse five we read, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.”

 

I will let you be the judge of humanity today.  I’ll certainly let you be the judge of yourself.  But the judgment here is clear.  At least at one point in history, the people on this earth were utterly wicked.  This was not simply a matter of  momentary lapses in judgment and character.  The thoughts of their hearts were continually evil.  People thought evil.  People imagined evil.  It was evil, evil, evil from sunrise to sundown.  All the things that God hates most blanketed the earth.

 

In response, God becomes sorry, sorry that he has made humankind.  And not just sorry, but brokenhearted.  God is a parent who has watched his own children become so wretchedly evil that he finds himself sorry that he ever had children in the first place.  Can you imagine?

 

Now, I’ll be honest with you here.   I don’t understand this.  God is sovereign, beyond time and space, all-powerful, all-knowing.  Certainly God, who sees the future as plainly as the present must have known this was coming.  God could not have been surprised by the evil of humanity.  So then how is it that God can regret doing something which turned out exactly as he knew it would turn out?

 

I do not have an answer to that question.  I doubt that I ever will.

 

I do believe that God’s grief comes, at least in part, from the fact that God knows he is going to have to bring stern judgment on that which he loves.  You know, when a child intentionally rebels and does something malicious and hurtful, a parent, if that parent is a good parent, brings stern discipline to that child but does not relish doing so.  When I was a kid and my own parents used to say, “This is going to hurt me more than it is going to hurt you,” I thought they were full of it.  Now a parent myself, I understand.  God loves his creation.  God’s creation has turned from him and embraced wickedness.  God is deeply saddened by what God must now do.

 

Nevertheless, God decides to destroy creation.  There is no way to soften it.  Evil is so deeply entrenched and things are only going to get worse.  The only option left for a righteous and holy God confronted with such evil is to destroy the source of that evil.  We are far less righteous than God, and yet we understand this when we realize that if pure evil were to unfold before us, even we would be left with no choice but to destroy such evil.  If a man is brutally attacking and killing another person and the only way to stop that man is to kill him, most of us would understand what had to be done.  We would not celebrate it, but we would understand it.   In the end, an utterly good God determines to destroy an utterly wicked human race.  Ultimately, who are we to question the Creator’s right to do with his creation what he sees fit?

 

Before we despair, however, in the midst of the judgment suddenly there is hope.  Because we learn that there is one man among all men, a man named Noah, who is different from the rest.  Noah alone has found favor with God.  He is a righteous man, blameless in his generation.  Noah is a man who walks with God.  Was Noah perfect, free from sin?  I can’t imagine that he was. He was not good enough to earn God’s favor.  In fact, we’re not told that he earned God’s favor, but that he found God’s favor.  God had determined to show grace to Noah.

 

And so at the very same time we learn that God has determined to pour out his judgment and condemnation upon the wicked world we discover that mixed in with God’s judgment is God’s salvation.  Mixed in with God’s condemnation is God’s grace.  At the very time God pours out his wrath on humanity, God works in an unexpected way through one righteous man to ultimately save humanity.  We are about to see judgment and salvation executed in the very same act.

 

God comes to Noah one day and gives Noah an assignment.  God wants Noah to build an ark.

 

Movie Clip here from Evan Almighty – Watch it at http://www.wingclips.com/movie-clips/evan-almighty/build-an-ark

 

Does that begin to help you get a sense of what Noah was being asked to do?

 

“Noah, I am going to destroy the earth.  Here’s what I want you to do.  I want you to spend the next 120 years of your life building a boat.  Make it out of gopher wood.  I want it to be 460 feet long and 246 feet wide and 147 feet high.  It needs to have a roof.  Trust me, you’re going to be glad that it has a roof.  Put a door in the side and make three decks, a lower deck, a middle deck and an upper deck.  Make plenty of rooms because the boat is going to have plenty of passengers.  You see, I am going to bring a flood on the earth to destroy everything that breathes.  But I am going to spare you and your family, plus two of every kind of animal which I shall bring you to fill the boat.”

 

This is what God commanded Noah to do.  Can you imagine?  Genesis 6:22 records Noah’s response, “Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him to do.”

 

It’s stunning really.  Understand, Noah lives in a place where there is no great body of water for hundreds of miles, a place where flooding is never a concern.  Noah is asked to give up his entire life and his reputation for a cause with no guaranteed outcome.  And yet Noah, without even asking a single question or expressing a single doubt, does everything God commands him to do.  In fact, throughout the entire story of the flood Noah never speaks once.  Not even once.  All he does is obey.  The obedience of Noah is absolutely stunning and it leads to the salvation of himself, his family, and all the animals.  His obedience insures the future of not only the human race but the animal kingdom as well.

 

120 years go by.  Finally the ark is done.  God tells Noah that it is time to gather everybody inside.  Once again, Noah obeys.  And then, just as God said that it would, it begins to rain.  And rain.  And rain.

 

I love the way writer Fredrick Buechner describes it:

 

Little by little the waters rose, first just spreading over the kitchen linoleum and trickling down the cellar stairs but eventually floating newspapers and pictures off tables and peeling wallpaper off walls until people were driven to the rooftops where they sat wrapped in blankets with their transistor radios on their laps looking up for a break in the clouds and reassuring one another that this must be the clearing shower at last.[2]

 

We could use some rain here in our part of the world these days, but not even we would want this rain, especially 40 days of this rain.  The waters rose until every human and every animal that walked on the earth, with the exception of those shut tight within the ark, was dead.  Everything was dead.

 

Can you believe we love to tell this story to our children?  We paint our nurseries and Sunday school rooms with animals marching into the ark by twosie, twosies, elephants and kangaoosie, roosies. We give our children toy arks to float in the tub at bath time.  Truth is, nobody who rightly comprehends the scene described here at the flood would ever want to associate the ark with child’s play.  This is a terrible, terrible event we have recorded here.  All I can picture is the utter quiet that must have covered the earth when every sound of creation, save but the rain falling on the water, was silenced beneath the waves.

 

The end of chapter 7 tells us that even after it finally stopped raining Noah and his family stayed shut up in the ark for 150 more days.  For nearly 6 months they were trapped on that boat.  Floating adrift.  Wondering.  Waiting.  Death all around.  No land in sight.  No word from God.  No signal as to what they were to do next.  However, in the beginning of chapter 8 we read that “God remembered Noah and all the wild animals…that were with him in the ark.  And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters [at last] subsided.”[3]

 

There are 73 times in the Old Testament when we come across the phrase “God remembered”.[4]  Whenever it is used it does not refer to remembering in the sense of reminiscing, the sort of remembering you do when your mind wanders back to earlier times of your life.  No, this is the sort of remembering that happens when you make certain you don’t forget that you have a roast in the oven so that you can you make certain to get home on time to take it out.  God doesn’t forget.  God remembers.  And because God remembers, God acts.  Specifically, God acts in the ways God has promised to act. God promised Noah that he would be saved and that is exactly what happens.  From Noah’s point of view all may have seemed lost.  After so much time he may have wondered if God had forgotten.  But God did not forget.  God never forgets.

 

Now, you may remember that at the beginning of creation, when the earth was nothing but wild and waste, waters covered the face of the earth.[5]  At that time, just like here, a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.  Wind, as you may also remember, is a word in Hebrew that can just as easily be translated breath, or spirit.  As Noah floated shut up in the ark, the Spirit of God began to move as it had done once before.  The first time the Spirit moved to create; this time it moved to restore creation.  The waters receded.  Noah sends out a dove, which soon returns with an olive branch indicating that dry ground is not far off.  In time, Noah and his family, and all the animals with them, leave the ark and walk the earth again.  At the same time the world is destroyed the world is given a fresh start.

 

But here’s a question.  Why is Noah, from among all people, spared?  Ultimately, of course, Noah is spared by God’s grace.  God found favor with Noah and provided what was needed to ride out the judgment.  But obedience was also required, right?  God told Noah how he could be saved but Noah had to respond in faith and do exactly what God told him to do.  Humanity was given a future because Noah was willing to obey.

 

And this is precisely the point in the story where I stumble.  This is the point where I want to stop reading.  For I know that I do not have it in me to do what Noah did.  If God came to me and told me that the future of the human race depended on my righteousness and obedience then I’m afraid the human race is doomed.  And if I preach this story to you this morning in such a way that I get you to leave thinking that we have the story of Noah in the Bible so that Noah can be for us a model of faith and righteousness which we can follow, than I have sent you out of here with an assignment you will never be able to keep.

 

In Noah’s day God searched the whole world and found only one person, among all people, who was blameless.  You need to understand that all these years later nothing has changed.  As God has searched the whole of human history God has only found one person, among all people who have ever lived, who is blameless.  You see, the story of Noah is not ultimately meant to lift up Noah as a great savior.  It’s certainly not meant to suggest that we ourselves, if we just obey like Noah, can become ourselves great saviors.  No, the story of Noah is meant to point us to the one and only one who is the Savior.  The story of Noah, like all stories in the Bible, is meant ultimately to point us to Christ.

 

Stay with me here.  Thousands of years after the time of Noah, there was a wild man named John who went out into the wilderness of Palestine to preach repentance and baptize people in the Jordan River.  One day a certain man from Galilee showed up at the river among the crowds, wanting himself to be baptized.  John recognized him.  It was Jesus, the carpenter’s son from Nazareth, a man John knew he was not worthy to baptize.  Jesus insisted that he do so, however, telling John that he must do this in order for things to be made right again.

 

John ultimately agreed and Jesus was baptized by him that day in the Jordan.  And you know what that involved, right?  When Jesus was baptized he was plunged beneath the waters and he experienced for a moment what a person might experience if they were drowning in a flood.  John took Jesus and plunged him beneath the waters, held him there for a moment, but then lifted him back up above the surface where life is possible.  This is what baptism has always been about, death and life, judgment and salvation, all in the same action.

 

The scriptures tell us that in the very moment when Jesus emerged from the waters the heavens opened and a dove – of all things, a dove – descended from the sky just as a voice spoke from heaven and said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”[6]  The message was clear.  This Jesus was a man, a man among all men, who had found favor in the sight of the Lord.

 

Why had he come?  What was he to do, this one highly favored by God?  Well, God had determined to once again pour out his judgment and wrath on human sin and rebellion.  You see, after Noah left the ark things didn’t get better.  If you’ve read the story you know.  Before the waters of the flood had even dried out, people were up to their wicked ways again, grieving God’s heart all over again and leaving God no choice but to address the evil of his people.  God’s wrath would again need to be poured out in response to human sin, but just like before there was to be salvation in the midst of judgment, grace in the midst of condemnation.

 

This time God could not find a righteous man from among men on earth so instead sent his own Son, his eternal and divine Son, to become a man more righteous than any person who had ever lived.  As the story goes, this man was born to a virgin, grew to become a captivating teacher and worker of astounding miracles, and ultimately gave his life on a Roman cross.  In all of it he demonstrated radical obedience to a plan God had laid out before time and eternity.  He did not question his Father.  He obeyed his Father.  Just like Noah, Christ sacrificed his life for the fulfillment of God’s plan.  Noah picked up wood to build an ark.  Jesus picked up wood to build a cross.  Noah climbed on the ark when God told him it was time.  Jesus climbed on the cross when his Father told him it was time.   In both cases, God did not forget and leave them there.  Noah was shut up in a boat.  Jesus was shut up in a tomb.  But God did not forget.  When the time was right, God let them both out.

 

In the flood we see God’s wrath and grace poured out together, all at the same time.  At the cross we see the very same thing.  The wrath that drove the rains upon the earth in judgment of the wickedness of humankind is the same wrath that drove the nails into the cross in judgment of the wickedness of humankind.  And yet the same grace which led God to choose Noah from among all people to give the world a new beginning when he emerged from the ark was the same grace that led God to send Christ to live among all people, even die at the hands of those same people, so that the world would have a new beginning when he emerged from the tomb.

 

The flood is no bedtime story.  Neither is the cross.  The wrath of God, when it is poured out against sin, is brutally devastating.  When God sees the evil in our world, the sinful rebellion that is rooted in even the very inclinations of our hearts, God cannot ignore what he sees.  Sin always results in death.  There is no other way.  If you turn your back on God, death is not far behind.  But apparently, neither is grace.

 

If you’ve read the story of Noah before, you know that after God flooded the world God promised that he would never do so again.  In Genesis 8:21 God proclaims, “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth.”  In other words, it doesn’t work.  God could flood the world a thousand times, give us chance after chance after chance to get it right, and we never would.  On our own, there is nothing we can do to rid ourselves of the evil so deeply imbedded in our hearts.  God understands this and has determined that he must find another way to save what had been lost.

 

When the flood was over God promised Noah that he would never again send a flood to destroy the earth and as a sign, to remind Noah and his descendants of this promise, God set the rainbow in the sky.  The word here for rainbow in the Hebrew is the word qeset, a word that can be rightly translated as either rainbow or simply bow, as in bow and arrows.  As a sign of his promise, therefore, God chose what was in those days a symbol of violence.  Like a warrior who sets down his bow as a sign that he is ready for peace, God hangs his bow in the sky as a sign to his people that he is determined to find a way to make peace.

 

Listen carefully now.  By hanging his bow in the sky, God was not promising to ignore the sin and wickedness of humankind, as if a holy and righteous God could ever ignore sin and evil.  No, God’s anger and justice against the perpetual sin and evil of the world still would need to be exercised.  But as somebody once put it, God’s bow was no longer pointed down at his people.  Now it was now pointing up, up into the heart of heaven.[7]  It was now pointed at himself, at his very Son, the One righteous man among all men who would come when the time was right to stand and to die in our place so that we, in his place, could live.

 

Can you see that even within the story of Noah and the flood we have the very Gospel of Jesus Christ?  We do not have to become righteous to find God’s favor.  We could not do so even if we tried.  Instead, there is One who has come among us, One who is righteously obedient in ways we could never be, One who has followed God’s plan by giving his life and submitting himself in our place to the wrath of God.  The Gospel is not about what you have to do to earn the favor of God.  The Gospel is about what God has already done through the One who was highly favored.  Because of Christ, you have been spared condemnation.  You have been forgiven.  You have been given a chance at life.  You have been shown mercy.

 

Of course, a response from us is necessary, even essential.  You must have faith.  I must believe.  We must place our trust in the One who gave all for us.  Those who do, of course, are baptized.  Faith is marked in this Christian church, and in Christian churches around the world and down through history, by the sign of water.  That is not by coincidence.  Whenever someone is baptized in the church, the water reminds us, among other things, of Noah.  For we, like him, have been saved from the water by the water.

 

Amen.

 

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The Next Step

A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application

 

Read Genesis 6:5-22 again.  If you’ve got time, keep reading through to Genesis 9:17.  Try to see this old story from a new perspective.  What do you see?

 

God looks at the wickedness he sees on the earth and his heart is grieved.  We’re told that God was sorry for making humans in the first place.  What do you think all this means?

 

God declares, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created.”  Is God justified in doing so?  Is that a question we even dare ask?

 

Why did God choose Noah?  Would God choose you for similar reasons?

 

After hearing this message, do you believe that the story of Noah and the flood point us to Christ?  If so, how so?

 

In the flood we see God’s judgment (destruction of the flood) and salvation (Noah’s family is spared) occur all in the same action.  How does this same thing happen at the cross?

 

After the flood, why do you think God decided to never again destroy the earth in that way?

 

When you see a rainbow in the sky, what is it supposed to help you remember?

 



[1] Genesis 4:1-16.

[2] Fredrick Buechner, Peculiar Treasures, (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1979), p. 124.

[3] Genesis 8:1.

[4] Victor P. Hamilton, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament; The Book of Genesis (Chapter 1-17), (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), p. 299.

[5] Genesis 1:1-2.

[6] Read this account in Matthew 3:13-17.

[7] Sally Lloyd-Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), p. 47.