Theme Party for August 27 (’14)
Text: Genesis 6
Noah’s Ark. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who hadn’t heard of this story, even when I lived in Muslim lands. Many have an opinion on it; controversies and arguments abound. Some of the controversies are these (no importance to the order):
1. Who were the Nephilim (6:4)?
2. Who are the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men” (6:4)?
3. Did angels have sexual relations with men (6:2-4)?
4. How could God be “sorry” for what he had made in Man (6:6 & 7)?
5. What had Noah done to “find favor” with Yahweh (6:8)? (This might only be a controversy in branches of the church that preach salvation by mercy instead of salvation by works.)
6. How could an ark hold all the animals of the earth (6:19)?
7. Some of the above issues lead to a 7th controversy discussed by scholars and the rest of us: was the Flood universal, or was it localized?
We may write about these at a future time, but there’s one problem inherent in each of the above: they all miss the point. The point of this passage is not to introduce controversies, but to proclaim God’s solution to a problem with the Earth and to a problem with Man. Put another way, this chapter doesn’t give new problems, it solves old ones. To focus on any of the above 7 completely misses the forest, but not because of focusing on trees. Instead, it misses the forest while focusing on trees that don’t exist.
The first problem God solves in this text is a problem with the Earth: it had become corrupted and filled with violence. 6:13 says, “I have determined to make an end to all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them.” 6:12 says the earth was “…filled with violence” and was “corrupt.” Moreover, it shouldn’t be a surprise this is the case when we are also told in 6:5 that “the wickedness of man was great in the earth….” In short, wherever Man was, the earth had become tainted, stained, and corrupted to the point God’s view of it was anything but flattering: filled with violence. Sin, then, had won. It appears the promise of Genesis 3:15 had failed: there wasn’t any enmity between the Seed of the Serpent and the Seed of the Woman. The former had an unqualified victory. Satan had managed to build his anti-Kingdom. If you miss this because you’re so concerned about whether angels are having sex with human beings, you may be part of the problem and may not appreciate the solution.
Greg Beale has argued persuasively that the earth was a temple (specifically, the Garden in Eden was a replica-reflection of God’s heavenly dwelling). For his temple (Eden) to become filled with violence and corruption was a horrendous thought. It would have been bad enough that the climax of his creation (Man and Woman) rebelled against him. In Genesis 3, he had to act. He could not leave them there with what was sure to occur: violence and further corruption (as we see in Genesis 4). So, Yahweh threw out Man and Woman; he exiled them. He preserved his sanctuary and the holiness of his temple by cursing the Serpent and casting out his people, yet doing so in a way that promised a future hope and redemption saying, “I will put enmity between your seed and her seed; you shall bruise his heel, but he (the seed of the woman) will crush your head” (Gen 3:15). This is the first Gospel; the first good news and the hope of all God-fearing men coming out of Adam and Eve. By Genesis 6, those God-fearers had been reduced to one. Let that sink in. No matter how evil Republicans are, no matter how Anti-Christ you think Democrats are, no matter how bad you think this world is, it is not remotely like that one was.
Everywhere Man and Woman went, corruption followed. It is so bad by Genesis 6, God must act to cleanse the earth of corruption—he must purify the poisoned. It must be bigger than exile—worse than what came before—because there was no where else for Yahweh to exile Man. We had filled not Eden, but the whole earth. The cleansing had to be wherever we were, and we and our toxic sin had gone everywhere. A worldwide (whatever that means…) judgement event was predictable and logical, then, based on God’s prior cleansing in Eden as well as from his promise in Genesis 3:15 to restore what had become destroyed. This fact is clear considering that God soon would give Noah the same command he gave Adam and Eve: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the Earth” and the beasts will fear them (cf. Gen 9:1-3 with Gen 1:28-30). Check both those references and it is clear that Noah was a new Adam in a type of Eden. So, while the Flood took care of an immediate consequence of violence upon the earth, and the unholy spread of man across the earth, it didn’t fix the core problem with Man. Noah couldn’t build a boat small enough to cure Man’s heart and wicked nature.
We wonder if Noah asked himself or God, “What happens when the earth is filled again?” Noah did, in fact, bring temporary “rest.” He and only his family were left. Violence stops temporarily. But what about after he and his sons had been obedient to Yahweh’s command to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth”?
For all their talk of Jesus’ blood being necessary to atone for man, some evangelicals seem to think it vital that the Flood be universal/world-wide. I’ve heard it said at a prominent Bible college I attended, “If you don’t believe the Flood was worldwide, you’re a liberal who undermines the Gospel.” Not quite. It is absolutely true that blood is needed to save us; water couldn’t do it. But even if the Flood was over the entire globe, it still wouldn’t have done the job of fixing the problem with Man. Even with a worldwide flood, it would not fix the problem of a globe filled with violence and corruption; it was temporary. Temporary judgment for a temporary fix to a long-term problem. Notice later in 9:12-17 that God says he won’t ever destroy the earth again with water. He’ll still destroy the earth, and he’ll do it with fire (see 2 Peter 3:1-7 where the future destruction of earth is directly compared to the earlier destruction by water in Noah’s day). World-wide flood? Sure, but that wasn’t the point. The point of the flood was to preserve the promise of Genesis 3:15….The point of the flood, whether local or universal, was to cleanse the Earth and preserve the Seed of the Woman/God. This is why it was Noah who was preserved. Noah was from the Line of Seth, the replacement for Abel (Gen 4:25), and it was Seth’s line that began true worship of the Living God (4:26). Noah is a direct descendent, and, from all accounts, the only one left willing to give such worship. Genesis 5 gives way to Genesis 6, and there is Noah, pleasing Yahweh in his worship. Atonement is still needed, and it would be given.
Many years later, another son of Seth would talk of worship—the kind that pleases the Heavenly Father, that of spirit and truth. There was great confusion and violence upon the earth then, too, and relief and rest were needed. But a boat wouldn’t float this time. A permanent solution was needed, and a permanent solution was accomplished. In the fullness of time—when the time was just right—this Son did what no other could or had done. Instead of a wooden boat to save only one man and his family, God gave a wooden cross to save the entire human family, and to save them to worship in spirit and truth.
There is also another judgment coming. As referenced earlier, 2 Peter 3 is clear. This can’t be written off as apocalyptic symbolism. There is a real judgment coming. Peter writes a letter; it isn’t a vision like Revelation. But like the ark and Noah, those who trust in the Messiah will be preserved.