Noah or Not Noah? (Genesis 7:17-23)
Topic: One Lord: What is Man? Passage: Genesis 7:17–23
I. Noah in the Nursery
Before our first child was born, like most new parents, we were shopping for items to complete a nursery. Obviously finding a good crib was at the top of our list. But as you may know, when you're looking at cribs, many stores will present you with themes for your nursery. Those themes may be generic like ladybugs for example, or more specific in terms of licensed characters (like Disney's Winnie the Pooh). Well, one of the themes we saw in multiple stores was Noah's ark. I bet you can picture it: a mobile with boats and rainbows, a pillowy crib guard with different animals walking two by two, and maybe a decorative blanket showing white-bearded Noah (or Noah and 'Mrs. Noah') standing midship on his wooden boat, surrounded by cute, cartoonish animals (with the giraffes, of course, extending their necks through some window, heads rising up over the rest of the floating zoo).
Now, given the frequency with which we saw this theme, it was clearly a popular option. But it bothered me, not because it wasn't cute—it was—but because it was barely biblical. Yes, the theme designers had gotten some basics right (Noah, his ark, the animals, the rainbow), but the mood was completely wrong. Someone who was not familiar with the biblical account would think, based on the nursery décor, that Noah was simply the owner of a floating zoo, that moved from port to port, mostly on rainy days. The imagery as presented communicated ideas like harmony between man and nature, or a celebration of life. But the story of Noah we find in the book of Genesis is not a celebration of life. It is a story of condemnation and death. No, probably not ideas suitable for your new baby's nursery, but interestingly, these are critical ideas when it comes to new life.
Look with me at the biblical account concerning Noah. We find that story in Genesis chapters 6-9. This morning we will focus on a passage from chapter 7, specifically, verses 17-23.
II. The Passage: “He Blotted Out Every Living Thing” (7:17-23)
This is what we read about the floodwaters that God sent. Genesis 7:17...
The flood continued forty days on the earth [that's simply restating v. 12—where we read that it rained for forty days and forty nights). The waters increased and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth.  The waters prevailed and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the face of the waters.  And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered.  The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep.  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. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark.
Someone who was unfamiliar with this story might remark, “I've heard about really bad earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and even huge tsunamis, but that sounds like the worst natural disaster ever.” The problem with that statement, of course, is not their assessment of the severity of the disaster, but designating this flood as a “natural disaster”. It wasn't. It was a decidedly supernatural disaster. Look back at 6:17. This is what God declares there...
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.
Now, please remember, the One speaking here is the same God who, only five chapters earlier, created “everything that has the breath of life” (1:30). Why is he now going to destroy all life with a cataclysmic flood? We find the answer several verses earlier in Genesis 6. Look at verse 5...
The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. [verse 11 expands on this...]
Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. [Notice how 6:12 repeats that word “corrupt” (actually twice), and then v. 13 repeats the specific charge...]
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.”
Though it isn't often talked about, “violence” is the only specific charge provided here to help us understand broader terms like “wickedness” and “evil”. In a culture like ours, one that often glorifies violence, that should get our attention. But it shouldn't be surprising to the reader of Genesis, for this flood account is bracketed by Cain's murder of Abel and Lamech's boast of killing in chapter 4, and on the opposite end, God's prescription of capital punishment for murderers in chapter 9.
So should we imagine that the world at this time was simply defined by pure anarchy, a kind of murderous feeding frenzy? Well, that's not how Jesus described it in Matthew 24:37–39 (one of your passages from last week's reading plan). Jesus said,
For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark,  and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
That world was not some caricature of evil. It was a society of community and celebration, even of marriage. But strangely, it was also a society marked by violence; by a disturbing disrespect for human life. And whatever you may have thought looking in from the outside, it was so corrupt that, according to God's judgment, it deserved to be totally destroyed. With that in mind, think with me for a few minutes about what we learn from our main passage about God's judgment against this wickedness, against this violence, against this corruption. From 7:17-20 we learn...
1. God's Judgment is Overwhelmingly Inescapable (7:17-20)
When this flood came, it didn't matter if you climbed to top of the tallest tree or hiked to the top of the highest mountain. The writer makes that clear with his description in verses 19-20.
Unlike the images of flooding we often see on our screens today, in Noah's time, there was no one awaiting rescue on the roof of their home. There wasn't any higher ground to which you could evacuate. When God brings this kind of judgment against human evil, it is inescapable.
But I also want you to notice, as we read in verses 21-23, that...
2. God's Judgment is Radically Purifying (7:21-23a)
Re-read with me verses 21-23a...
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.
The emphasis there is unmistakable. But why? Why in the world would God kill everything because of mankind's wickedness? Bugs and birds, cattle and carnivores, are never talked about in Scripture as moral agents. So why are they being punished for human evil? Well, I think the judgment we see here is built on the premise that human beings were given (Genesis 1:26),
“dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created our world with this connection between people made in his image, and every other living thing. I think that means the punishment here is not teaching us about the reality of some kind of animal guilt, but about the extent of human corruption. As 6:11 stated, “the earth was corrupt in God's sight”. Brothers and sisters, friends, in God's pure white creation, the black ink (or maybe the red ink) of our sin sprays and splatters and drips and pools on and over everything. All life is tainted because of us. This is why the Apostle Paul talked about a “creation... subjected to futility” in Romans 8, a creation in “bondage to corruption”. That is how poisonous, how cancerous, how defiling your sin and my sin really is.
So when God brings this kind of judgment against human evil, it must be radically comprehen-sive and exhaustive, so as to be radically purifying. But our passage also reveals that...
3. God's Mercy is Wonderfully Preserving (7:23b)
In the midst of this literal flood of divine judgment, we read about a single, solitary boat being tossed on the surface of these destructive waters. After the dark and depressing heaviness of verses 21-23a, we are reminded of God's mercy at the end of verse 23: “Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark.” As the context describes, Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their wives, along with countless, breeding pairs of animals were protected and preserved by God in the ark that Noah built according to divine instructions.
What an important reminder this is for us: the Bible is a book about both judgment and mercy. Though some of God's people can rightly be labeled as 'judgmental', and some preaching over the centuries has been dominated by the idea of God's wrath, God's word reveals both judgment and mercy. There is no passage in Scripture so dark with judgment that it can over-come the light of God's grace revealed regularly and powerfully in those same pages.
Why is this important for us? Because though God promised to never judge humanity again by means of a flood, as Jesus himself indicated, his return to our world will also be accompanied by a humanity-wide judgment. According to many passages in the New Testament, that coming judgment, a judgment of fire not water, will also be overwhelmingly inescapable and radically purifying. Do you believe that? But as in the days of Noah, God's mercy will also be wonderfully preserving in the midst of that future judgment. The Apostle Peter told his readers about how...
...God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.  Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves 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... (I Peter 3:20-21)
How can you and I be “brought safely through water” in terms of God's judgment? Through baptism. Now wait. Baptism saves us? No, not the water itself. That only removes dirt from the body. Peter is thinking about baptism as an expression of saving faith. And how are we preserved through saving faith? “...Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”. He was drowned in the floodwaters of God's judgment for us... but ultimately, he passed through them to a new life! Therefore, He and he alone will be our ark when this world once again experiences God's judgment against sin.
III. Where Do You See Yourself?
Now, there are many other things we could talk about concerning Noah, the ark, and this devastating flood; in fact, too many other things. We simply don't have time this morning to explore everything Scripture tells us about this story or other passages that are thematically connected to this story. But I think it's important each of us personally wrestle with this story.
To that end, let me ask you this: “When you read through this account, or as you've listened this morning, where do you see yourself in this story?” With whom do you identify? Are you Noah? Or maybe... not Noah? Consider a quote I saw online this past week from writer Trevin Wax...
Hell is full of people who think they deserve heaven. Heaven is full of people who know they deserve hell.
Brothers and sisters, friends, Scripture teaches us that to be able to identify with Noah inside the ark, we must first identify with everyone outside the ark, in that world ripe for judgment (repeat). The Bible confirms that we are “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:3) Do you truly believe that? Do you truly believe that if you lived in Noah's time, the fate you deserve is the very fate Noah's neighbors met: to be washed away and drowned in the floodwaters of God's perfect justice?
Some of you, deep down, don't really believe that. You may agree you're a sinner, but not to the same extent as these people were. Sure, you may deserve some kind of penalty, but not that kind of fate. But God's word exposes that kind of thinking. The problem with that assessment is that your view of God and your view of sin are too low, because your view of human beings (including yourself) is too high.
Others of you agree that you deserve the fate of those outside the ark, but you believe that for the wrong reasons.
You accept that, not because of God's judgments, but because of the judgments of other people. For a variety of reasons, many of us have come to believe lies about ourselves, lies that lead us to falsely condemn ourselves; and we use the Bible to support those views. But in such cases how we view ourselves is actually too low. Why? Because our view others is too high.
But because of God's grace, through His Spirit, many of you have accepted the ugly truth about your sin; about all your sin. Not only has God revealed to you, through his word, what is/is not sin, but you've acknowledged the depths of your sin, just how sinful your sins are in light of who God is, and how even deeds you once considered good were really driven by sinful motives.
I believe this has to be one of the reasons Noah is called “righteous” in chapters 6-7. Was Noah saved because he was morally perfect or pure? Absolutely not. The only perfect man is Jesus Christ. The righteous person of Scripture is not only righteous because of his or her response to the evil out there, but also because of his or her response to the evil inside their own heart. The righteous man or woman is a repentant man or woman; something sorely lacking in Noah's world. Thus, it was rightly destroyed by a just and holy God.
Brothers and sisters, friends, please allow the devastating and disturbing heaviness of your sin, and the devastating and disturbing heaviness of God's condemnation and wrath, let these things wash over you this morning. Only when you do that can you identify with a man like Noah; a man of faith. He believed God's message about judgment, and unlike his neighbors, in faith sought God's preservation.
Do you recognize that you are a sinner this morning? If you do, then what do you deserve? And if you believe what God has said, are you seeking His safety this morning? I pray you are. Here's good news: a new life, a new world awaits you through the ark that is Jesus.
Or maybe you already know that deliverance will be yours because of God's grace. If so, regularly remind yourself that a story like this is an important reminder of what you truly deserve. Let the ugliness in this story, showcase the incomparable beauty of God's grace. Let it inspire humility, sobriety, and thankfulness in your heart. Let it deepen our hatred of sin, and fan into flame our love for this God who can preserve sinners in the face of his just judgments.
Are you Noah? Not Noah? I pray by God's grace you can identify as both.
More in Our Bible Reading Plan (2022-2023)
January 29, 2023A Pure Worship of God (Deuteronomy 12:29-32)
January 22, 2023On a Scale From One to Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 4:12-14)
January 15, 2023Holiness and Love (Leviticus 19:1-2, 18)