Judgement And Grace
The Floods Interpretive Center has recently opened in St. Agathe. I have not had an opportunity to visit it, but I understand that they have a series of story boards with pictures and write ups about the various floods which have been in the Red River valley. Although I have to admit that I personally have not experienced a flood, I know that most of you know all about floods. You have told me the stories about the floods, I have seen pictures. I know that if I say 1950, 1979, 1997, you will associate these years with floods.
If local floods are burned in our memory like this, you would think that a universal flood would be in the memory of the people of the earth and in fact it is. One writer says, “Stories of a great flood are known from cultures around the world…”
In a web article on the flood, produced by National Geographic, I found the following articles of flood stories which come from different cultures.
The Hindu’s tell about how “Manu, the first human, who saved a small fish from the jaws of a larger fish. After hearing the smaller one beg for protection, Manu kept the fish safe, transferring it to larger and larger containers as it grew, finally returning it to the ocean.
Because of this kindness, the fish returned to warn Manu about an imminent flood and told him to build a boat, stocking it with samples of every species. After the flood waters rose, Manu tied a rope to the fish's horn. The fish led him to a mountain and told Manu to fasten the ship's rope to a tree so that it would not drift. He stayed on the mountain while the flood swept away all living creatures. Manu alone survived.”
Greco-Roman writing tells how “Zeus decided to punish humanity for its evil ways. Other gods grieved at the destruction because there would be no beings to worship them. Zeus promised a new stock, a race of miraculous origin. He was going to use thunderbolts when he remembered one of Fate's decrees: that a time would come when sea and earth and dome of the sky would blaze up, and the massive structure of the universe would collapse in ruins. With Poseidon's help, he caused storm and earthquake to flood every part of the land except the summit of Mount Parnassus.”
One of the best known flood stories outside of the Bible is the Sumerian. “In the eleventh tablet of the Semitic Babylonian epic of Gilagamesh is a flood story. The gods resolved to cleanse the earth of an overpopulated humanity, but Utnapishtim was warned by the god Ea in a dream. He and some craftsmen built a huge ark. Utnapishtim then loaded it with his family, the craftsmen, and "the seed of all living creatures." The waters rose up, and a storm continued for six days and six nights. The gods repented and wept upon seeing the global destruction of living beings and stilled the flood on the seventh day. The waters covered everything but the top of the mountain Nisur, where the boat landed. A dove was loosed, but it returned, having found no place to rest. A swallow was sent, but it too returned. Seven days later, after having loosed a raven that did not return to the ark, the people began to emerge. Utnapishtim made a sacrifice to the gods. He and his wife were given immortality and lived at the end of the earth.”
“The ancient Mayan civilization also had a flood story. “God sent the flood because the people made from wood (an early version of humans) had no souls, minds or hearts and had forgotten how they were made. They wanted to escape, but the animals that they had starved and beaten, the pots they had burnt, and the trees they'd stripped refused to help them. Only a few escaped the flood, and it is said that their descendants are monkeys.”
The Navajo, a North American aboriginal people also have such a story. “For their sins, the gods expelled the Insect People from the first world by sending a wall of water from all directions. The Insect People flew up into the second world. Later, in the fourth world, descendants of these people were likewise punished. They escaped the floodwaters by climbing into a fast-growing reed. Cicada dug an entrance into the fifth world, where people live today.
As a civilization we have this collective memory of a flood. It seems to me that since nearly every society has such a memory that it reinforces our belief that it actually did happen. There are many similarities in these stories, including mention of a boat and a mountain. It is interesting that in a number of them the reason for the flood is mentioned as sins or wicked deeds. These are interesting things, but more important is the question, “why did the flood happen and what does it have to do with us today?”
I. The Earth Was Corrupt In God’s Sight 6:11
A. The Corruption Of The World
When God had completed creation, he stepped back and looked at what He had made and said, “it is very good.” There was a brand new earth. Everything was wonderful. It worked just the way it was supposed to work and it looked so good.
Have you ever had something new that you liked and it got spoiled soon after you got it. I once got a jacket. It was a good jacket. It was warm, had lots of nice pockets and it looked great. We had made a fire and I was wearing my new jacket and during the course of the evening, a spark got on the jacket and melted a little hole in the front. My new jacket was ruined and I was very disappointed.
When my niece got married a few months ago, my sister had made herself a new dress. When the couple came out of the church, instead of using rice or confetti, they had given each of us a bottle of soap and a bubble maker and we were to blow bubbles at them. My sister got a whole bunch of soap on her new dress and I was disappointed for her because it looked to me like she had ruined her new dress.
The situation at creation quickly changed from “it is very good.” Adam and Eve disobeyed God and that began to spoil everything. Cain ruined it when he killed Abel. Lamech ruined the good creation when he avenged a wound by killing the man who inflicted it and whatever the sons of God were doing with the daughters of men in Genesis 6, it was not a good thing and they further ruined it.
It got so badly ruined that God says repeatedly in Genesis 6 that the beautiful world he created is a mess. In verse 5 he indicated the comprehensive nature of the evil of people when he said, “every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” Notice all the terms which indicate this comprehensive evil - every thought - of his heart - only evil - all the time.
In verse 6 we notice that God was sorry that he had made man. Although God does not change his mind, we see His great sorrow at the terrible choice people have made. His heart was broken, just as our heart would be broken at having something precious to us spoiled.
In verse 11, it says that the earth was corrupt or ruined. This is where we get the imagery I mentioned before of a garment that is ruined. What God had made as good was totally spoiled. It was very disappointing to Him.
In verse 12 the phrase “God saw” echoes the same words in 1:31. There God saw that it was good, now God saw that the earth was corrupt and evil.
In verse 13, the specific mention of the violence on the earth reminds us of the violence which had begun with Cain and escalated with Lamech and had not stopped there.
Sin had destroyed the good thing God had made. It was ruined.
B. The Corruption Of The World Today
As we think about this reality, and look around us, we know that things are not much different. Today we read of the horror of terrorist attacks, the evil of drug pushers, the violence of gang wars and the immoral destructiveness of child pornography. We still live in a spoiled world.
II. I Am Surely Going To Destroy 6:13
A. The Story Of The Flood
As a consequence of this awful condition, God determined to wash the evil away. He promised to destroy all that he had made. This promise is given in 6:7 where he says, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them.” The promise is repeated in 6:13, “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.”
Then the destruction begins. How does it happen? The Bible tells us that there were two sources of water. One was the springs of the deep opening up, the other was that it rained for 40 days. This summer we have had a cool, wet summer and people have laughed at the concept of global warming. In fact, the wet summer is a good indicator of global warming. If the overall temperature of the earth increases, then the ice cap and the glaciers begin to melt. This changes the solid water into liquid water in the earth’s system and it rains more. If God would cause the polar ice caps to melt, and as a result it rained for 40 days, we can begin to imagine the devastation caused by flooding.
The time line for the flood is given in great detail. It started in the 600th year of Noah’s life. On the 17th day of the 2nd month the rains started and the floodgates opened and it rained for 40 days and nights. In 7:18 we read that the waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than 20 feet.
Then we read that the rains stopped and the flood waters began to drop. What took 40 days to put in place took a long time to dry up and we read in 8:14 that on the 27th day of the 2nd month - a year later - the earth was dried up sufficiently so that they could leave the ark again.
When we hear of hurricanes or floods or other disasters, after they are over, we often hear a report of the resulting losses - so many million dollars of damage to property, so many days of work lost, so many lives lost. The result of this devastating flood is recorded in 7:21-23, where we read, “Every living thing that moved on the earth perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; men and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds of the air were wiped from the earth.”
God had seen enough of the evil of man and judged the world for its wickedness. What he had previously put into place in an orderly way in creation, was reversed - the waters were not separated from the land anymore, the animals he had created were destroyed, the plants were destroyed under the water. In that day, people would have been going about their business. There appears to have been no warning. One day it started to rain, a week later, they were probably getting tired of it, two weeks later, they began to move to higher ground and four weeks later, the higher ground was gone and they perished, unable to do anything about it because it was too late.
If you ever have an operation, I know that you will want the operating room to be sterile, the equipment to be sterile and the doctor to be wearing sterile scrubs, clean gloves and to have washed thoroughly. If these things don’t happen, there can be all kinds of trouble following surgery. What we learn from the story of the flood is that God has the same kind of hatred of evil. He brought the flood in order to wash away the evil of the world because he hates sin because it is so devastating.
B. God’s Warning To Us
As we have noted before, the situation of “It is good” is still spoiled today. How can God stand the evil in our world today? Once in the past he washed the evil away. What about the evil today?
The story of the flood is mentioned several times in the New Testament. Listen to the warning given in II Peter 3:6, 7, “By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed…By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.”
It is in this way that the ancient story of the flood serves as a warning to us today. It shows us that God hates evil and just as he destroyed it in the flood, the day is coming when he will judge that evil again. How aware are we that God’s desire is to have a world that is pure and perfect?
In Matthew 24:37-39, Jesus said, “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.”
God hates sin and will destroy it. The flood came not only to destroy evil at that time, but is a warning to us today that God will destroy evil. One day, He will come again and all evil will be put out of the way so that it will not be a problem any more.
III. I Will Establish My Covenant With You 6:18
A. A Few Were Saved
But there is more to the story. Not everything was destroyed in that flood. The other day on Jeopardy in a Tricky Questions category, Alex Trebek asked, “How many animals did Moses bring into the ark?” both contestants who answered gave a number, but they were both wrong of course because it wasn’t Moses who had the animals in the ark, it was Noah. The story tells us that Noah, his wife, his 3 sons and their wives - 8 people in all and a mating pair of every animal and 7 of every clean animal survived the flood.
How did it happen? Why did it happen? The text describes the ark that Noah built. It describes how Noah gathered all the food that was necessary for the animals and then tells us in vs. 20 that the animals came and Noah put them in the ark. In this way, all those we have listed survived the flood.
With all the wickedness in the world, we wonder why these survived.
The first answer is that God is gracious. II Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
Why was it Noah who was delivered through the flood? The answer is that Noah was righteous and this is a major theme in this passage as well. In Genesis 6:8 we have the word that “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” and in the next verse we are told that “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time.” We are told in the same verse that he “walked with God.” The only other person in the Bible about whom it says this is Enoch - who walked with God and therefore that he did not even die.
Noah’s righteousness is illustrated in his obedience. Genesis 6:22 says, “Noah did everything just as God commanded him” and 7:5 says, “Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.”
B. God Remembered Noah
After the flood and Noah being delivered from it in the ark, God remembered Noah. The restoration of the world after the flood and God’s re-establishment of order and life on earth is also described in the story. After a year, the waters had dried up and Noah and his family and all the animals left the ark and began to live on the earth again. God re-established his covenant with them. God blessed them and once again repeated the words found in the creation account. He told them again to “be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.” He gave them food and reminded them once again that they were in the image of God.
But there were also differences, new aspects to the covenant that God established. Now they could meat as well as plant life. There seems to now be a different kind of relationship between man and animals in that the animals now fear people. There is a strict code on relationships between people. Lamech’s boast that he killed a man for wounding him is not now permitted. The spread of violence is limited to life for life. Of course, Jesus changed that again and taught us about forgiveness, but that is another story.
God also included another promise when he indicated that he would not destroy the earth again like he had in the flood until the day of the final judgement. Thus the principle of God’s judgement on sin remains, but we don’t need to fear that every act of evil will be quickly judged. As one writer said, “the rainbow is a pledge that the order of nature shall continue.” God’s grace comes in to give time and opportunity for repentance.
C. Those Who Are Saved
I have been given to understand that floods in Manitoba are always predictable. We have some warning and time to get ready for the flood. The same is not true for floods in the mountainous regions of BC. A heavy rain can bring sudden flooding on a region without warning.
We have already noted that there is a warning in the story of the flood. Just as the flood suddenly came on people who were not prepared, so Christ’s second coming will bring in a day of judgement on those who are not ready.
But the story also contains a word of hope. We do not know when Christ’s second coming will usher in the final judgement, but we do know that now is the time to make sure that we are ready for that day of judgement. The story of the flood is used in the new Testament for two purposes. One is to warn people of the sudden and inescapable coming of God’s judgement on evil. The other is to remind us that it is the righteous who survived the flood and that by living in faith, we can survive God’s judgement on evil. Hebrews 11:7 says, “By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.”
In a similar way, we need to make sure that we are walking in faith and righteousness so that when the final judgement on sin comes, God’s grace will receive us into His eternal kingdom. If we have faith in Jesus Christ and live in that faith, the day of judgement will not be something we fear, but something we anticipate because we will rejoice that God’s pure and perfect world will be established and we will be a part of it.
The story of the flood is in the collective conscience of humanity. It is not there merely as an interesting story. It is there to give us an important message from God. God hates the awful mess that we have made because of our sin. He has judged its evil and destroyed those who engage in it in the past through the flood. God has not changed. He still hates evil and will destroy it again. The New Testament has given us more information and told us that one day Jesus will return to this earth and will take everyone with him to the great day of judgement. All those who are implicated in the evil of the world will be judged. Many who do not pay attention to God’s revelation on earth and who reject God will be surprised by this day. But Scripture and the Flood are there to warn us to be ready.
The story of the flood also teaches us that there is a way of escaping the destruction of God’s wrath on evil and that is by living in righteousness. Just as Noah was saved from the flood because of his faith, so also today all those who believe in Christ and in his atoning sacrifice for sin will be saved from God’s judgement on sin when Christ returns.
The story thus serves an important function in our lives. It helps us avoid evil when we know how much God hates it and it encourages us with hope as we realize that we can be ready for the day of God’s judgement. Are you ready?