The Wrath and Mercy of God | Genesis 7-8

The event described within these two chapters is one of the most monumental in all of human history. Some may find a global flood to be difficult to believe; however, the presence of similar versions of the story being present in nearly every culture speaks of its reality. Herein we see the wrath of God displayed. Such a full outpouring of God’s justice and anger is only again witnessed at the cross of Christ and will be seen in the second coming of Jesus. This is the description of the first apocalypse, the first time that the world came to an end. The unfolding episode must have been a complete horror to go through. Nevertheless, God is also merciful. In an act of pure grace, God chose Noah and his family to save from death in the flood. This is true of our God: His wrath is never displayed without opportunities for mercy given.

THE FLOOD OF GOD’S WRATH // VERSES 1-24

In continuation of the flood narrative that began in chapter 6, God now instructs Noah and his family to enter the ark. Within these verses, we receive a few pieces of information concerning Noah himself. First, God once again emphasizes the righteous nature of Noah. As we saw in chapter 6, Noah’s righteous is not of his own doing. God imputed righteousness to the Noah. Second, Noah was six hundred years old during the time of the flood. This would have to make the end of the world all the more difficult for him. For six centuries, Noah lived upon the earth. He had friends and siblings. It was several years prior that God first told Noah to build the ark. He did as the LORD commanded, preaching to the people around him. There was no questioning God, only obedience. But now it was time. God was now bringing Noah into the ark. God was mercifully sparing Noah from the death that he was bringing upon the entire world. Third, God gives to Noah a new task: gathering the animals. God now tells Noah that the flood is only seven days away, so he must gather animals for the ark. Contrary to popular belief, there were more than two of each kind of animal on the ark. There was only one pair of every unclean animal, but there were seven pairs of all clean animals. The reason for the distinction between clean and unclean is not mentioned here, though I would imagine it to be similar to the distinctions in the Levitical law.

By verse 11, the flood covers the earth. Before go further into these verses, I would like to analyze why God chose to use a flood. First, evil needed to be purged from the earth, and a flood provided an effective means for doing so. There is a quite literal sense in which God cleansed the entire planet with the waters of the flood. Indeed, the motif of cleansing water will continue to be used through the Scriptures. We even see this concept of cleansing through the sacrament of baptism. Second, God was, to a degree, undoing and redoing creation. As we discussed in the first chapter, the ocean was a concept of chaos for the ancient world, representing all that is volatile and destructive about nature. To display His sovereignty, God formed the world from the primordial waters of the deep. Now, in order to display His wrath, God is unleashing the deep upon the planet once more.

Now let us discuss a few points of notability within verses 11-16. First, notice the specificity of the flood’s date. Moses’ precise dating emphasizes that the flood was an actual event in human history. For further evidence that the flood was a real occurrence, almost every major civilization has their own account of a flood story. Some have pointed to these stories as proof that the Bible is inaccurate; however, I see them as evidence of the Bible’s accuracy. It only makes sense for something as dramatic as the flood to permeate future cultures’ mythologies. Second, the waters came from below and above. Not only did torrential rains come upon the earth but the ground also began to burst open, unleashing water. In short, God was able to flood the earth with alarming and deadly efficiency. Third, the LORD shut the door. There have been numerous suggestions for why it specifically mentions God closing the door of the ark. Was it because Noah did not create a means of closing the door and relied upon God? Or was Noah so distraught over the view of God’s wrath that God had to shut him in? There is no way of knowing for sure, but we can say that when God shut the door the entrance into His mercy was closed. So long as the ark’s door was open, there was hope for surviving the flood, but with the door closed, there was a final separation between Noah’s family and the people on earth. Likewise, Jesus describes Himself as being the door to the Father.[1] Presently, the way through Him remains open, but there will come a day when the narrow way will closed for the last time. Therefore, make every effort to enter by the narrow gate. Come to Christ while there is still time!

In verses 17-24, we learn that for forty days the flood continued to rise upon the earth so that the highest mountains were covered by about twenty feet of water. I can only imagine that some of the strongest and most fit people would have been able to reach these mountains. Perhaps they were able to climb upon the peaks, praying for salvation. Alas, the floods covered every piece of dirt. There was no refuge, no hope, besides the ark. After the forty days, the earth remains completely covered by the flood of God’s wrath for 150 days. For added emphasis, we are told specifically that the flood accomplished its purpose: every living thing that was outside of the ark was dead.

GOD REMEMBERS NOAH // VERSES 1-5

“But God remembered Noah” These are the words around which the entire flood narrative centers. The language used does not mean that God had forgotten about Noah. He did look down one day and remember that Noah was still floating around in the ark. No, instead, God’s remembrance always means His intervention. God’s mercy always follows God’s remembrance. It implies that God recalls previous promises made and intends to act upon them. Fittingly, chapter eight describes the abating of the floodwaters. After another 150 days, the ark docks itself upon the mountains of Ararat, but even so it was only three months after that the mountaintops were able to be seen.

In verses 6-12, the mountaintops became visible to Noah. He then conducts as series of tests to find out if there was dry land yet. First, he sent out a raven, which apparently did not return. No reason is given in the text for why the raven did not return. Many have speculated that since the raven is able to eat carcasses that perhaps this is how the raven survived. Next, Noah sent out a dove three times, waiting seven days between each release. A dove is not as hearty of a bird as the raven, so it would need pleasant conditions to survive. This is why it returned the first two times, though the olive branch likely meant that the water levels were quite lower. Finally, the third releasing of the dove results in it not returning. Thus, through these tests Noah was able to determine that the earth was almost ready to be walked upon once more.

We then read in verses 13-19 that Noah looked out from the ark and saw that the earth was now dry. At this point Noah has been on the ark for over a year, surely he will run off the ark now that he sees the dry ground. Noah does not flee from the ark; instead, he waits. One month later, God instructs Noah to leave the ark. Noah was faithful in waiting for God’s instructions. Why though would God make Noah wait another month to leave the ark? Perhaps, though the ground was no longer flooded, it was still not completely dried out. Thus, God may have kept Noah on the ark for a longer period of time because it was best for him. Nevertheless, at the command of the LORD, Noah, his wife, his sons and their wives, and all the creatures left the ark, prepared to repopulate the earth.

NOAH BUILT AN ALTAR // VERSES 20-22

If we were to place ourselves in Noah’s position, what would we do next? Having just witnessed the end of the world, you are currently standing upon the precipice of a new world that you were chosen to begin. Would you sing and dance for joy of no longer being on the ark? What a person does in a situation like this truly reveals their heart. For Noah, he worships God. Noah’s first action upon leaving the ark is to throw stones together as a makeshift altar and sacrifice animals upon it. The verse says that he took some of every clean animal and every clean bird. This could have been hundreds of animals that Noah sacrificed, an entire day of slicing animals’ throats. It is at this point that the modern reader will tend to find problems with the text. Why would God allow Noah to kill all of these animals? Did God not want to spare the animals from His wrath? Why is He now having them killed?

First, the sacrificial system in the Old Testament is meant to show humanity the gravity of our sins. The LORD adamantly informs that He has no inherent interest in the blood of sheep and goats. Only the sacrifice of Jesus Christ was able to fully appease the wrath of God. All other sacrifices are images that were meant to point toward that ultimate sacrifice.

Second, Noah’s goal is not to earn God’s mercy but rather is a reflection upon God’s mercy. The brutal slaughtering of the clean animals at the hands of Noah were an acknowledgement that his own blood should have been spilled. Noah, though no different from any other person, was spared from the wrath of God because of the unmerited mercy of God. Under the weight of walking onto an earth that is empty of life, Noah understood that he did not deserve to be alive.

Within the final two verses of the chapter, we are told that God smelled the aroma of Noah’s sacrifice and was pleased. David’s song of repentance, Psalm 51, gives us an indication as to the heart of Noah. In the psalm, David proclaims that the true sacrifice to God is a broken and contrite heart. God is not automatically pleased with offerings; the emphasis is on the condition of the giver’s heart. Thus, for God to find Noah’s sacrifice pleasing, Noah must have offered it out of a broken and humbled spirit. Noah was very much aware of his faults and even more aware of the unmerited grace of God.

God’s pleasure with Noah’s sacrifice leads Him to make a declaration of grace. First, God promises that He will never again curse the ground because of the sins of humanity. In chapter three, Adam’s sin resulted in God cursing the ground instead of Adam directly. With the flood, the entire earth paid the penalty for the widespread violence of mankind. God now proclaims that He will show grace to the earth instead. Second, God declares that the natural events of the earth (seasons, day and night, etc.) will not cease. This proclamation comes with a mildly ominous condition: while the earth remains. A basic truth of the Bible is that someday the earth will no long remain. Someday God will wipe away creation as we know be destroyed, and God will create a new heaven and new earth. Like the flood of these chapters, that final judgment will be terrible for those against God, but the salvation of God will bring believers into a perfectly recreated land.


[1] John 10:9

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