The Flood (cont’d), 1-22

Gen 8:1 But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.

God remembered Noah – ‘The theological (and literary, chiastic) heart of the flood account is found in the phrase “God remembered Noah.” (Ge 8:1) The memory theology of Scripture does not imply that God has literally forgotten; for God to “remember” is to act in deliverance. (see Ex 6:5) The structural positioning of God’s “remembering” at the center of the narrative indicates that the apex of flood theology is not punitive judgment but divine salvific grace.’ (EDBT)

By the way, this phrase ‘God remembered Noah’, is labelled an ‘absurdity’ by the Sceptic’s Annotated Bible (‘Yeah. He probably said something like, “Isn’t Noah the guy who built the ark?”‘).  But this is in itself so childish as to scarcely require comment.  What the text means, of course, is that ‘God brought Noah to mind’ – an anthropomorphism, no doubt, but by no means an absurd one.

Preaching on the Flood story

Rolf Bouma writes:-

When preaching on the story of the Flood, it is easy to get lost in the debates over particulars. …To tackle all the peripheral issues threatens to turn a sermon into a geology lecture. Other settings are better suited to addressing those questions, and those are best addressed open-endedly.

A brief explanation of ancient Near Eastern cosmology can be helpful to contextualize the story. If there are those who are tempted to think that a cosmology embedded in the Bible must be inspired and definitive, one can note that cosmology has changed by the New Testament. The Bible itself isn’t wed to a particular structure of the universe.

What is important is to keep the theology of the text front and center, and in that theology there are at least three non-negotiables from the flood narrative. First, human sin and violence threatens to undo a good creation (the flood is a de-creation event, a return of the waters mentioned in Genesis 1:2). Second, God remembers Noah, and never forgets his promises. Third, the end of the flood is a covenant with the whole earth regarding the stability and endurance of the natural order.

Gen 8:2 Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky.

Gen 8:3 The water receded steadily from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down,

Gen 8:4 and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.

Gen 8:5 The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible.

Gen 8:6 After forty days Noah opened the window he had made in the ark

Gen 8:7 and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth.

Gen 8:8 Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground.

Gen 8:9 But the dove could find no place to set its feet because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark.

Gen 8:10 He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark.

Gen 8:11 When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth.

Gen 8:12 He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.

Gen 8:13 By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry.

Gen 8:14 By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry.

Gen 8:15 Then God said to Noah,

Gen 8:16 “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives.

Gen 8:17 Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you— the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number upon it.”

Gen 8:18 So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives.

Gen 8:19 All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds—everything that moves on the earth- came out of the ark, one kind after another.

Gen 8:20 Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it.

Noah built an altar to the Lord – ‘The boat-builder now builds an altar’ (Atkinson). The altar was possibly a mound of earth or of stones.

‘This is the first mention of the altar, or structure for the purpose of sacrifice. The Lord is now on high, having swept away the garden, and withdrawn his visible presence at the same time from the earth. The altar is therefore erected to point toward his dwelling-place on high.’ (Barnes)

Noah had entered and exited the ark at God’s specific command. But now, spontaneously and without compulsion, he builds an altar and offers sacrifices on it. We might have thought that his first action would have been to build himself a house; but he begins by building an altar. It is good, whenever we have received mercy from God, to offer our thanks and praise freely and willingly.

In offering some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he was sacrificing one seventh of those which had survived the flood, Gen 7:2,3.

‘He offered only those that were clean; for it is not enough that we sacrifice, but we must sacrifice that which God appoints, according to the law of sacrifice, and not a corrupt thing.’ (MHC)

Gen 8:21 The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma – ‘Paul (Eph 5:2) has applied this strong Oriental figure to describe the acceptable nature of the sacrifice of Christ, and thereby led us to see in Noah and his preservation in the ark a type of Christ and the salvation which is only to be obtained in the Gospel Church.’ (JFB)

“Never again will I curse the ground because of man” – Is the reference here to the punishment which followed the disobedience in the garden of Eden (Gen 3:17), or to the flood? In view of the context, the latter is more likely, even though the flood is never referred to as a ‘curse’.

Noah might have supposed that the human race was so wicked, that God might curse it with another flood at any time. But God here shows that he is more disposed to mercy than to judgement. The latter is his ‘strange work’; in order to pursue the former he will send his own Son, ‘so that the world through him might be saved’.

This is not a promise to abolish all disasters, but to limit them.

“Every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood” – See Job 14:4 Ps 51:5 Mt 12:39 15:19-20. Here, at the conclusion of the account of the Flood, the author returns to a theme that was emphasised in the prologue, Gen 6:5. Although God will be favourably disposed towards the human race, he will not lightly overlook our inherent wickedness. Indeed, as Calvin remarks, God might well punish humankind with ‘daily floods’ if were nor for the grace revealed in the first part of the present verse.

‘The same condition, which in the prologue is the basis for God’s judgement, in the epilogue reveals God’s grace and providence. The contrast between God’s punishing anger and his supporting grace, which pervades the whole Bible, is here presented quite untheologically, even almost inappropriately. It seems almost like indulgence, an adjustment by God towards man’s sinfulness.’ (von Rad)

‘What does this mean for us? It means that in spite of all our justifiable mistrust in human history and the history of nature, our fundamental confidence in reality can be greater still. Reality in its deepest foundations is worthy of trust, for it is good. In the abyss of our disappointments we find God’s hope. In the deepest depths of appalling guilt we find God’s grace. In the bitterness of suffering that offers not escape, we find God’s love. At the heart of everything is God’s unswerving “Yes.” And God stands firm.’ (Moltmann)

‘As Richard Bauckham has written, the Noah story assures us, in our nuclear age, of God’s commitment to human survival on earth. The horror of nuclear weapons is their affront to the dignity of human beings and to our commission to cultivate the protect God’s world. “To read the Flood narrative with sensitivity to its original import is to acquire a renewed sense of the world in which we live as God’s gift to us. As we see its destruction withheld only by God’s patience and mercy, we find the world we take for granted becomes once again the world continually granted to us by God’s grace.”’ (Atkinson)

Gen 8:22 “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”

See Lam 3:22-23.

Scientifically speaking, the seasons depend on the consistent revolution of the earth about its axis. Even the great submarine earthquake of 26/12/04, which caused such devastation because of the great tsunami that it caused, altered the earth’s speed of rotation by only a fraction of a second.

‘See here how changeable the times are and yet how unchangeable. First, The course of nature always changing. As it is with the times, so it is with the events of time, they are subject to vicissitudes-day and night, summer and winter, counterchanged. In heaven and hell it is not so, but on earth God hath set the one over against the other. Secondly, Yet never changed. It is constant in this inconstancy. These seasons have never ceased, nor shall cease, while the sun continued such a steady measurer of time and the moon such a faithful witness in heaven. This is God’s covenant of the day and of the night, the stability of which is mentioned for the confirming of our faith in the covenant of grace, which is no less inviolable, Jer 33:20,21. We see God’s promises to the creatures made good, and thence may infer that his promises to all believers shall be so.’ (MHC)