We now enter the third primary section of the first eleven chapters of Genesis: the Flood. The following five chapters of Scripture will deal with God’s judgment upon all of humanity in the form of a great deluge and the sequential events that occur around it. In many ways, this is a great reordering of creation. God brings the earth back to its primordial waters, recreates, and pronounces a new covenant. But it is also a testament to the wickedness of humanity because, after all that Noah experiences, he still sins before God. Thus, the emphasis is upon the grievous nature of human depravity and the need to restore our standing with God. While throughout the narrative Noah seems to be a candidate for the promised Offspring, he also disqualifies himself through sin. Within this chapter specifically, we will study the deplorable condition of the earth, which causes God to pronounce His great judgment, and how God sovereignly elects Noah.
THE NEPHILIM // VERSES 1-4
We now arrive at one of the most puzzling texts in all of Scripture. We are told that the sons of God took the daughters of men as their wives; this produced a race of mighty men known as the Nephilim. Questions have continuously been raised concerning each party involved. Because in Numbers Israelite spies claim that the Canaanites were like Nephilim and made them look like grasshoppers, many have assumed that the Nephilim were giants. However, we are only told here that the Nephilim were mighty men of old. We must be very wary of taking assumptions from one text and applying them to others as fact.
The next question to ask is who are the sons of God?
There are three predominate answers given.
First, they were kings and rulers. This view takes its leanings from ancient Canaanite literature in which kings are often called sons of God. Thus, it could be said that the ancient kings were taking as many women for themselves as they were able. For me, this is the least likely view.
Second, they were angels. Throughout the Old Testament, sons of God are used as a term for angels, so some would say that it should also apply here. Of course, these would be fallen angels who found women to be attractive and such would give the Nephilim a supernatural distinction. However, Jesus’ words regarding angels not being able to marry seem to suggest that they are asexual creatures.
Third, they are the descendants of Seth. This view seems to work best considering the distinctions placed between Seth and Cain within Genesis thus far. It is likely that men from the godly line of Seth sinned by lusting after women in the line of Cain. Either way, it is clear that the relations that caused the Nephilim were sinful. Should these verses be referencing the mixing of Seth and Cain’s descendants, there would be a strong undertone of sexual immorality pervading humanity. Even those in the godly line of Seth were following the lust of their flesh, abandoning God in order that they might have any wife they choose.
Questions have also been asked regarding God’s response in verse 3. Did God mean that He would permanently cap the human age at 120 years? Though today it seems that 120 years is an unsurpassable number, there are numerous men past this point in the Bible who live beyond that number. Instead, I would suggest that God is giving the number of years before the flood. As He will tell Noah in the next few verses, His patience with people has run out.
GOD’S REGET // VERSES 5-8
This is one of the strongest words against sin in the entire Bible. First, the LORD makes His evaluation of humanity, and it is filled with nothing but pervasive wickedness. The massive degree of wickedness leads God to decide to destroy all living things from the earth. It is here that many modern readers will take issue with God, asking why God would do something so extreme. However, notice first that God is called the LORD here. Thus, this is not God pronouncing judgment simply as a transcendent deity; instead, He is judging as an intimate and personal God and a loving Father. Also, this is the omniscient God, who looks into men’s hearts. The evil of these men was not simply actions. Their thoughts and intentions were evil. They were totally corrupt. God is not merely angry; He is grieved. He is so heart-broken because of their sin that He regretted making them. This would be like a parent telling their child, through the deepest possible sorrow, that things would have been better if they had never been born. It is worth noting that God’s regret in this section is anthropomorphic in nature. God knew that humanity would come to this point before He began creation; thus, God would not experience regret as we would. Instead, God is revealing to us the depth of His sorrow in language that we might understand.
The situation appears to be the end of humanity. But Noah found favor. The word “favor” is the Old Testament equivalent of the New Testament’s concept of grace. Many people have read this verse and imagined Noah as the sole righteous man among the godless multitude. However, that is not how this text reads. Everyone is declared to be evil before God, including Noah. The miracle is that God gave Noah grace. Because of nothing that Noah did, God showed unmerited favor to him. God chose Noah.
NOAH WALKED WITH GOD // VERSES 9-10
The declaration is now that Noah is a righteous man. This stands in sharp contrast to the wickedness of the others being presented. Is this why Noah was saved? The verse seems to be saying that Noah was a good guy who had a good relationship with God, so God decided that he deserved to survive the flood. Nothing could be further from the truth. Noah is a wicked sinner, just like everyone else, and the only reason that he is called blameless is because of God’s grace given in verse 8. Noah’s righteousness here is a result of the grace already received. By God’s unmerited favor, Noah was declared righteous before God, even though he was not. Think of it like this. If Noah was truly righteous on his own, how could God show him grace? Noah would be the only one not deserving of the flood, meaning that Noah’s salvation would be earned. If this were true, it would be unjust for God to destroy Noah. But Noah was given grace. He could not survive the oncoming deluge without the undeserved election and justification of God.
Of course, Noah’s grace does not stop with being declared righteous before God. Instead, the right standing that he now found led to a relationship with the Holy One: Noah walked with God. The same phrase was used of Noah’s great, great grandfather, Enoch. Thus, Noah’s communion with the Creator is being likened to the man who cheated death through the grace of God. This is significant because Noah also escaped death in the flood do to his walking with God.
THE FLOOD PROMISED // VERSES 11-17
The first thing that we must notice regarding these verses is the deplorable state of humanity. Twice it is noted that the earth is filled with violence. We have already discussed how sexual immorality was likely rampant in these days, but now God specifically mentions violence. What is the significance of saying that these people were violent? We must first understand that, while all sin is equally damning in the sight of God, not all sins are the same. A liar would likely find it unthinkable to murder in cold blood. Both lying and murder are sins, but they do not carry the same weight, emotionally or consequentially. Violence is often seen as the type of sin that requires a certain degree of heart hardness. Thus, in saying that the earth was filled with violence, we are essentially being informed of the extreme depravity of the human condition. Since this is the case, it is no wonder that God determines to destroy everyone and everything. Also, once more note that the entire earth pays the penalty for human sin.
We have already seen that Noah was chosen by God, declared righteous, and brought into a relationship with the LORD. Notice how Noah’s walking with God manifests itself in these verses: God communicates with Noah. Communication is a fundamental factor in any relationship and no less with between us and God. Had God not provided Noah any instructions for how to survive the impending outpouring of divine wrath, Noah would have been no better off. Likewise, Christian, a future judgment of God is foretold that will exceed the primeval deluge of Noah’s day. Like Noah, the only way to escape God’s wrath is by walking with God. Just as God gave clear instructions to Noah concerning the ark of his salvation, the Scriptures provide for us the very words of God about Christ our salvation. The Scripture-less Christian is like an ark-less Noah: dead.
As to the dimensions of the ark, there are a few points worth noting. First, its size was quite big. One cubit is about one and a half feet. So the length of the ark was relatively one and a half American football fields. Second, the ark was probably not much of a boat. Notice that God did not tell Noah to build any sort of steering apparatuses. God does not even instruct Noah to make the ark curved on the bottom for maximum ability to glide through the water. No, the ark was likely little more than a large box. God placed Noah inside a massive coffin-like vessel with no way of controlling it, no means of guiding it. Even in the ark, Noah was completely at the mercy of God. How fitting that inside the ark, really just an enlarged coffin, was the only means of life. So it is, Christian, life in Christ means death to self.
GOD’S GRACE TO NOAH // VERSES 18-21
Enter the grace of God. With so much of this chapter focusing upon the impending judgment of God, the LORD now speaks tenderly and lovingly to Noah, revealing also His plan of salvation. Here, God declares that He will establish a covenant with Noah and his family. I will refrain from discussing too much the importance of covenants in the Bible because we will do so following the study of the flood narrative. Nevertheless, I will remark that this is the Bible’s first usage of the word “covenant.” A covenant is, in essence, a promise or pledge between two parties. Thus, God is making a divine promise to Noah that He will keep a remnant of the earth’s inhabitants alive through the ark. As we have already witnessed in Genesis, God fulfills His promises. When Adam sinned, God promised death. Several centuries later, Adam died as God said. Fortunately, this aspect of God’s character is not limited to only His promises of judgment. In the midst of the bleak pronouncement of judgment, God declares that He will spare and protect Noah from the torrent of His wrath.
NOAH’S OBEDIENCE // VERSE 22
Noah obeyed everything that God told him to do. Is it not interesting that only within the final verse of the chapter do we find Noah’s obedience? Until this point, God acted upon Noah. God gave grace to him. God declared him righteous. God initiated a walking and talking relationship with him. God did, and now Noah does. The obedience of Noah only came after the grace and righteousness that he received from God. This is great and further evidence that Noah was not saved through his own actions.
However, lest we diverge too far in the opposite direction, Noah’s obedience was necessary. How is this so? If Noah was saved simply by the unmerited grace and favor of God, why then does his obedience matter? Herein lies the trouble between Ephesians 2 and James 2. If you are unfamiliar with these two texts, let me summarize. Ephesians 2 states that we are not saved by works but by grace through faith, while James 2 says that faith without works is dead and that we are justified by works. Though these two might, at first, seem contradictory, they are not by any means. Instead, they are both stating gospel truths. Yes, we are saved by grace, through faith, and not by works! However, a workless faith is not faith.
Think of the issue like this. If Noah did not obey the instructions that God gave to him, he would not have survived the flood. Yes, God gave to Noah grace and righteousness, and even the plans for how to build the ark were a grace of God. Yet Noah still had to build the ark in order to survive the flood. The proof that Noah was saved by God’s grace was found in his obedience. Had Noah not built the ark, it would have been the greatest evidence that he did not truly walk with God. Thus, as Christians, we cannot separate works from faith. On one hand, we can never be saved by our own works, but on the other hand, the one who is saved by grace will always display evidence of salvation through good works.