Brought Safely Through Water

June 23, 2024 Speaker: Ben Janssen Series: Genesis Part 1: Primeval History

Topic: Covenants Scripture: Genesis 6:9– 9:17

9 These are the generations 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 the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on 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 through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth. 14 Make yourself an ark of gopher 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 300 cubits, its breadth 50 cubits, and its height 30 cubits. 16 Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above, and set the door of the ark in its side. Make it with lower, second, and third decks. 17 For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. 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 sort 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 sort shall come in to you to keep them alive. 21 Also take with you every sort of food that is eaten, and store it up. It shall serve as food for you and for them.” 22 Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.

We are in a sermon series on the first 11 chapters of Genesis, which are the introduction to the first book of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible which inform Israel about who they are and the reason why they exist. That is important to us as Christians because we take our identity and purpose from the great story of Israel. It is important to keep this in mind as we read these ancient documents so that we do not go to them demanding that they answer the questions we would like to have answered.

This is especially true as we look today at the famous story of Noah and the flood. It is one of the most familiar stories in all the Bible. It is a story that becomes vivid and alive in our minds as we read it. The problem is that many of the questions we have that come from that mental picture are not answered in the text, and the way we need to interpret it is in line with the things it does intend to tell us.

Amazingly, what we can see in this story is the entire gospel account—creation, fall, redemption, and the coming consummation—it’s all right here in this familiar story which teaches us about the problem of human wickedness, the decisive judgment of God, and the promise of a new covenant.

The Problem of Human Wickedness

‌First, the flood story speaks quite strongly and directly to the problem of human wickedness. God sends a devastating flood because the human beings are so devastatingly sinful.

Sin Runs Deep

As we saw last week, the flood story is set up not only by Genesis 3 and the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, but more immediately by the strange account in Genesis 6:1-8 which tells of the corruption of the promised seed of the woman by the same sort of mysterious evil represented by the serpent three chapters earlier. It’s as if the Bible is painting a picture of human wickedness that is complex, dark, mysterious, and multi-layered, exactly the kind of thing we encounter when we ponder the problems we see most naturally in other people but sometimes are quite aware are also all knotted up inside of ourselves just as much.

Now, it is self-evident that so much of what we see is wrong with the world is directly the result of human wickedness. There are so-called natural evils to be sure, and all of us have to reckon with those threats to our peace and well-being. But just consider for a moment how much we are troubled by what we would blame on other people. Just think of how wonderful the world would be if everyone was, you know, like you!

High View of Humanity

The author of Ecclesiastes observed that “God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes” (Eccl 7:29). Now consider that for a moment. “God made man upright.” The Bible takes a very high view of humanity. We were made in God’s image, a little lower than God, Psalm 8 claims. It’s hard to fathom precisely what all that means, but human beings are as much like God as it is possible for a creature to be. God intended for us to “image” him into the rest of creation.

If we were made for this purpose, with this kind of dignity, this kind of power, then what would it mean if indeed we have “sought out many schemes”? A fire in your fireplace is a wonderful thing, but what happens when the fire gets out beyond its limits? What was once a joy a blessing and a delight now becomes a devastating evil that must be dealt with quickly and severely. And you can’t put the fire back in the fireplace. It has to be eliminated, snuffed out.

That’s exactly what happens here in the flood story. God sends a flood not because he hates human beings but because human beings have become such a devastating threat to his creation. In Genesis 6:5, God observes “that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”‌

‌Unfortunately, many of us have thought of sin as only having devastating effects on ourselves and perhaps the people we are closest to. We see these realities much more clearly. But notice again what our text tells us that God sees. In verse 11, we read, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight.” Corrupt means ruined, spoiled. When God looked on his creation in Genesis 1, he repeatedly saw that it was good, good, good. But now, as he looks at it, it is corrupt and ruined and spoiled. Why? Because of human wickedness. The fire is out of control.

Violent Humanity

Verse 11 as well as verse 13 go on to say that God saw that “the earth was filled with violence.” Verse 13 specifically says that this is the reason that God determined to send the flood.

Now this word, “violence,” is never used in the Old Testament to refer to natural evil, to the devastation caused by earthquakes, tornadoes, volcanoes, hurricanes or even necessarily to the violence we see in the animal world.[1] We must not read into this an understanding of how God’s good creation was meant to be, as if the lion is corrupt because it eats its prey, nor that we are corrupt for eating anything other than plants. The flood story cannot be used to argue for veganism.

What it is teaching us is the priority that God puts on human justice. Violence is a term that stands for any kind of activity that hurts one’s neighbor, whether by force, exploitation, or taking advantage of someone who is naïve.[2] God’s concern is with the corruption that is in the world because of human wickedness against other human beings.

However, human violence corrupts the earth so that even the rest of creation becomes corrupt. We read in verse 12, “And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.” The word flesh here, throughout this passage, refers to both human and animal life. Because of human violence—human sinfulness against one another—all of creation is thrown out of order. All of creation has, in God’s view, become so disordered that the situation has become irredeemable.[3] God’s good creation cannot be saved.

The Decisive Judgment of God

But that’s not the end of the story, of course, and the flood account not only tells us about the problem of human wickedness. It also tells us about the decisive judgment of God. There is no doubt whatsoever that the flood is to be read as telling us about the judgment of God. But when we begin to think about a God who brings devastating judgment like this, we need to do so carefully, letting the story inform our understanding of God and the actions that he takes.

God’s Grief

So, we begin by taking careful note about how God feels about the situation. Genesis 6:6 says that when God saw the wickedness of humanity, he “regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” Let that sink in for a moment. The God of the Bible is the Creator God who is very, very interested in his creation. He is not a God far removed, unaffected by what he sees. In chapter one, over and over again as God brings his creation into working order, the text says that he saw it was good. The sense is that God is pleasantly surprised by the goodness of his creation. And now the text is telling us that God is horribly shocked by what has happened to it.[4] In verse 7, God says that he is “sorry” that he made human beings given how much wickedness has come through their corruption.

These are the kinds of things that drive systematic theologians crazy. Is God omniscient? Does he know the future? Does God have “emotions”? If God is all powerful, how could he ever let things become like this?

Those are probably not far from the kinds of questions that have troubled many of you. And they should, because if your theology does not have room for a God who feels so deeply the pain of human sin and wickedness, then you need to change your theology so that it lines up more with the God we read about here.

God’s Wrath

The God of the Bible loves his world, so he is understandably grieved that he made man because of what they have done to his creation. Does he love the non-human creation more than humans? Not at all! But the way he made the world is so that it would be ordered through his image bearers. Their corruption and decline from his image are his concern, not just because of what this has done to them but because of what this has done to everything.‌

So, the God of love must act. At this point, again, we are tempted to read the story looking for answers to questions we are most interested in. We want to solve the problem of evil and its origins with our philosophical ponderings and theories. That’s all well and good, but the questions that the original readers of Genesis would have been concerned about were not about where evil came from, focused so much on the past. Their concern was more with the present and the future: since there is so much evil in the world, what will the Creator God do about it?[5]

Verse 13 is the answer to that question. God says, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh. . . . Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” This is the wrath of God, and this is what the flood itself means. God will take decisive judgment against all that is evil and brings corruption.

The flood account is quite lengthy, beginning with verse 14 of chapter 6, where God begins to give directions to Noah on how to build a giant boat, all the way until verse 19 of chapter 8 when everything is out of that same boat. We modern readers like to get into the details and figure things out, but in doing so we so often miss the message that is being communicated to us. And it is the message, not the historical events themselves, that we need to keep in focus. As John Walton reminds us, it is not the historical event that is inspired but rather the interpretation of the event that carries the authoritative word of God.[6] (By the way, let this be a caution against any supposed interpretation of any non-biblical historical event. This flood comes with that inspired word. The calamities that come in our day don’t.)

So what isn’t our primary concern are the many attempts at trying to reconstruct the event and the ongoing debates about whether this is a global or local flood or if Noah really built a wooden boat that big (bigger than any other wooden boat built in the history of humanity up to the present day)[7] or whether there is any geological evidence for a flood like this, or to go on some expensive quest to go looking for remains of the ark in the mountains of modern-day Turkey so we can finally prove the Bible is true.

Many Bible-believing Christians get hung up on arguing for some specific interpretations of the flood account and completely miss the point that is intended by the original author of Genesis.

God’s Mercy

It is easy enough to see that the flood story is an account of God’s wrath, but it is just as much about God’s mercy. God declares that he is going to destroy the earth (Gen 6:13); the New Testament says that’s exactly what he did. “The earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God,” Peter says, “and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished” (2 Pet 3:5-6). The flood story is a story of uncreation. It is the reverse image of Genesis 1. If something is ruined beyond repair, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing else that can be done. If your car is totaled, what can you do next? You can get a new car. That’s what God does here. He is bringing in a new creation.

And Peter would have us consider in the midst of it all the mercy of God. If God “did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah . . . then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials” (2 Pet 2:5, 9). God knows how to bring you and me into the glories of a new creation.

The Promise of a New Covenant

‌How will he do it? Do you know? Do you know the way of escape from the wrath of God against the wickedness of humanity? It’s all right here in the story.

Noah Found Grace

According to Genesis 7:21–23, God wiped out everything.

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.

Well, not quite everything.

Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark.

And that is hugely significant.‌

Was Noah not corrupt? Genesis 6:8 says that he “found favor in the eyes of the LORD.” Why? Well, verse 9 says that “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation.” Like Enoch, he “walked with God.” Again, we want to try to make sense of this. Did Noah earn his salvation? Then in what sense could this be called “favor” or “grace”?

But the bigger point here is that God is determined to not scrap his original plan of creation. He still intends to work through his chosen people to somehow eliminate evil from within creation and restore order, justice, and peace. This is what the message would have meant to the original audience of Genesis, gloriously rescued from slavery in Egypt and on the verge of entering the Promised Land.[8] And it is the message that applies just the same to us Christians.

A New Covenant

When we look at the beginning and end of the flood story, we encounter a very important biblical term, indeed the first time we find it explicitly mentioned. It is the word covenant, and we see it first in Genesis 6:18. When God informs Noah that he is going to undo creation, God also tells him that he will spare Noah and his family and afterward “establish my covenant with you.” Now, at the end of the flood story, God does exactly that.

When we read about this in Genesis 8:20-9:17, it undoubtedly raises many, many questions for the modern reader, questions which the original audience may not have asked themselves. It is fine for us to ask them, and some of them we probably will, but we need to make sure we are not missing the most relevant issues

The Noahic covenant begins as Noah builds an altar and offers up animal sacrifices. God accepts his sacrifice, as he did Abel’s in Genesis 4, and makes a promise beginning in verse 21. Several items here are noteworthy. First, God promises to sustain creation and never again do what he has just done with the flood. He repeats that promise in 9:11. God is never again going to do this again in spite of the fact that he knows quite well that “that the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth” (Gen 8:21).

It certainly doesn’t mean that God is just going to put up with evil and corruption, but he is going to deal with it in a different way, working from within creation to bring salvation to the world.

The Sign of the Covenant

The Noahic covenant tells us a lot about the world we live in today, including the purpose of civil government to restrain evil. But the word covenant is the important word here. God has made a promise and given a sign to validate it. The rainbow is the first occurrence of what we might call a sacrament, a sign of God’s covenant with humanity. A sign of God’s grace to work through humanity, sinful though we are, to bring salvation to the world.

One of the interesting features of the flood story is the detail given in Genesis 7:17. As the flood continued to wreak havoc on earth, “the waters increased and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth.” Lifted up above the highest mountain, hovering somewhere between heaven and earth, where the ancient people thought to be the sole abode of the gods, God’s chosen people are now taken, a sign that the seed of the woman would yet prevail over the seed of the serpent.

Am I reading too much into that little detail? Perhaps. But then again, Peter tells us this:

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). And he says this, explicitly in the context of the flood story. And then he applies it directly to his Christian audience.

Baptism, which corresponds to this, now save 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 (1 Pet 3:21-22).

Christian baptism is ultimate sign of God’s new covenant, foreshadowed in the flood story itself. To be baptized is to be united to the one who, having been raised from the dead, has been lifted high above the mountains, above all “angels, authorities, and powers,” above “every name that is named” (Eph 1:21). It signifies God’s promise to you, to keep you safe from every attack of the dark powers. But it commits us to Christ and to his victory over those dark powers, to living purposely, steadfastly in his way. If you are baptized, then you are obligated to live the rest of your life “no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (1 Pet 4:2).

It is a high calling indeed. But it is a calling of grace, in which God has chosen us to be participants in his new creation that has come from within creation itself through the incarnate God, risen from the dead, and ascended into heaven.

That is, of course, the gospel story. And it’s all right there in the ancient flood story. You and I, brought safely through water, now are called to implement Christ’s victory in the time we’ve been given. Let us do so prayerfully, for the glory of our God.


[1] R. Laird Harris, ed., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 297.

[2] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 1, ed. Bruce M. Metzger, David A. Hubbard, and Glenn W. Barker (Dallas: Word Books, 1987), 171.

[3] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 278.

[4] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 171.

[5] N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 251.

[6] Tremper Longman III and John H. Walton, The Lost World of the Flood: Mythology, Theology, and the Deluge Debate (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2018), 23.

[7] Longman III and Walton, Lost World of the Flood, 39.

[8] Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, 251–52.

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