25. Genesis 6:14-22

II. A. continued

2. God’s Call to Noah (Genesis 6:14-22)

When God called Noah He was careful to communicate three distinct things. The first was to convey to Noah exactly what he was commissioned to do in some detail, not only to build an ark, but an ark of a specific size, with a specific design, out of a specific material, etc. We don’t know where Noah lived when he was called. He might have lived near the coast and possibly knew something about building ships. The earliest evidence for sails and sailing ships suggest they were invented between 3000 and 4000 b.c., many millennia after Noah. Even if Noah were familiar with ships – or more likely boats – this one would have been enormous, probably larger than any that had ever been built. It could not have been rowed; its only purpose was to stay afloat.

Secondly, in 6:17 God said, “And behold, I, even I am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall perish.” This is a very emphatic way of taking the responsibility for what was about to happen, and it deserves some consideration. The destruction of the earth in the Flood was an act that God deliberately and voluntarily entered into. He was not forced into it by the overwhelming evil of mankind; nor was He forced into it by His strong emotional revulsion to the violence and evil in the world. His grief was certainly real, but the decision to send the Flood was His own. Our understanding of death is limited by our perspective, and it is difficult for us to appreciate that there are times when death is the lesser of an assortment of evils. I am not speaking here of how we may think death is preferable for someone we hate, an enemy who has done something wicked to us. Death was preferable at this time because of God’s desire for mercy, the desire  to make the suffering cease.

Death is an evil thing; death is an enemy to us and to God. But there comes a point in moral degeneration in which the suffering is simply too great to be allowed, and physical death becomes the most merciful option. Moral degeneration is most like a cancer. As long as it can be held in remission, as long as the symptoms and the pain can be controlled, we can live with it. But when it gets out of control, when the pain goes beyond the reach of the drugs we use, then we look to death as the best that life has to offer. I am not an advocate of physician-assisted suicide because I assume that death is an option that only God can be trusted to choose. When does it come to the point that we give up hope in God’s healing? How can we have the wisdom to know what God might do in a terminal illness? This is an issue that we struggle to think through clearly. The first thing we must come to grips with in thinking about euthanasia is that the advocacy for euthanasia frequently springs from a very Godly desire, the desire to be merciful. Is it the right position to restrain the impulse to mercy on the grounds that we lack the wisdom, or on the grounds that the impulse to mercy may just be a disguise for the impulse to murder? Perhaps so, but we must be very careful how we think about this issue.

But moral degeneration is worse than cancer and God sometimes does what we dare not permit ourselves to do. With cancer, though the pain may become unbearable, it will end eventually on its own; but there would seem to be no end to how far moral degeneration can go, no end to the depths of pain that humans can bear as the result of evil, and no limit to the scale of the suffering. The twentieth century gave a glimpse of how deep the misery can go in a world of wars and mass murder and genocide. If it is mercy to contemplate helping a man with cancer to die, if we remember the horrors of Cambodia or Germany or Russia or Rwanda or a hundred other places, then we understand a little of how God felt before the Flood and why He did it.

In taking such pains to assume responsibility for the Flood, God was also admitting that He had done nothing to prevent the necessity of the Flood. It was God’s choice to let us go, to allow our degeneration to proceed to the point that a mercy killing was desirable. It need not have been like that; God could have intervened to restrain the expression of evil, and after the Flood He did take specific steps to inhibit the spread of evil. As horrible as the Flood was, God felt that it was important for us to see the effects of unrestrained evil, the results that come from our own hearts running rampant. We needed to understand that apart from God’s grace restraining our evil impulses the whole human race would end up in perpetual horror. We needed to know, to experience, how desperate our situation is, that without God’s active intervention in human affairs we have no chance of surviving in anything like a human condition. As horrible as the conditions must have been and as the Flood was, God felt that we needed the symbol, the revelation, that the Flood conveyed.

The days before the Flood were a time, the first and only time in history, that God gave us up to our own desires. In the New Testament letter to the Romans St. Paul defines the wrath of God as God “giving us up”, letting us have what we want, letting us experience the natural moral consequences of our evil desires. The days before the Flood was a time in which the world was under the wrath of God. We reside in hell whenever we are left on our own. Correspondingly whenever the human race makes steady progress toward civilization or justice or social decency it is because it is riding piggyback on God. We absolutely cannot do anything good on our own, individually or collectively. Henceforth all around the world people would have stories of the destruction of the earth in a Flood, and they would know that man’s place on the earth was precarious, that evil was crouching at the door of the world like a lion to eat it alive.

Third and finally, though God emphatically took responsibility for the Flood, He was quick to add in the very next verse, “But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall enter the ark – you and your sons and your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.” Though it was His choice to destroy the world, He made it clear that things were going to be different starting at that point. One purpose of the destruction was to put everything into better circumstances for a second go at it, this time with a formal relationship, a covenant between the world and God. The mere mention of a covenant conveyed that God had no intention of letting things go on as they had before the Flood. The degeneration that had been allowed before the Flood had served its purpose. God, of course, can do as He wishes. Having a covenant is not a way of giving God permission to interfere, it is not some trick He uses to get around our otherwise impermeable defenses. Having a covenant is the way God tells us how He is going to interfere. “Covenant” means “relationship”. He was going to spell out exactly how our new relationship with Him was to proceed. There would be a covenant again that God would use as a bridge to interfere in world events, and that would provide a mechanism to restrain the unbridled growth of evil.

It was going to be very typical as covenants go. Though Noah alone was pronounced righteous in his generation, God rescued his whole family. The language is emphatic that it is Noah who was in favor and Noah only.  In Genesis 7:1 the word for “you” is singular: “Then the Lord said to Noah, ‘Enter the ark, you and all your household, for you alone I have seen to be righteous before Me in this time.’ ” Noah’s wife, his sons, and also his sons’ wives were all saved from the Flood because of Noah, not because they were righteous in their generation but because Noah was righteous in his generation. It is completely typical of grace, it is completely typical of covenants, that they always splash when they hit, covering not only the recipient of grace, but all those who are near him.

Though God did not establish the Covenant formally until after the Flood, the way He chose Noah and his family to rescue was a covenant-like act of mercy. God always behaves toward us in a covenantal way because His character is covenantal. Since His intent was to establish a covenant, He called Noah and rescued him and all those connected with him. Covenants are never personal in the sense of “this is mine; you get yours”. It is typical of God throughout the Scripture to bestow favor on an individual, not because of what that individual did, but because of what someone else connected to him did. If every sin makes victims out of innocent bystanders, then grace makes lucky winners out of guilty bystanders, but even more so. No one ever acts for himself alone in anything he does and this is why the phrase “personal relationship” does not adequately describe our connection to God.

Noah was to take a pair of every animal so that they would repopulate the earth, but he was to take seven pairs of every clean animal. So far as the Bible says anything, the distinction between clean and unclean animals was not spelled out until the Law of Moses thousands of years after Noah. Possibly when Moses wrote down this oral tradition (as I assume he did), knowing the difference between clean and unclean animals, he simply pointed out what God was doing, and as far as Noah knew God was choosing some animals to come in fourteens for unknown reasons. The clean animals were the ones that would later be required as sacrificial animals but, being also domestic animals, it would be natural that they would have become the typical sacrifices from the earliest date, and so the inclusion of extra sheep and goats would not have seemed odd to Noah regardless of whether God called them clean or not. But possibly there had been some other revelation to people in general as to what were acceptable sacrifices. The concept of cleanness in relation to dietary laws would have been out of place before the Flood for other reasons.

Using Noah to rescue not only his family but also the creatures sets this new Covenant squarely in line with the original Covenant of Creation. It was not only people God was rescuing in the Flood; it was everything, all the other creatures on the earth. It was not only people God planned to redeem but the whole creation. It was a cosmic covenant. The animals taken on to the ark were stand-ins, proxies, for all of it: the stars, the depths of the sea. When God makes something, He is committed to it. He never abandons even an earthworm to death.

One Comment on “25. Genesis 6:14-22”

  1. Caddo Veil Says:

    Hi Carroll–how are you today?

    I liked what you said about death not always being the worst case scenario–and also the part following, about the covenant God made.

    When my dad was dying of cancer, I was praying for a miraculous healing. My sister, who is not a born again Christian, prayed for dad’s merciful death. She wanted him (& all of us) out of his suffering. I was more concerned about what my mom & younger siblings were going to do without dad around. Both us were well-intentioned in our prayerful desires.

    I also liked how you described the “ripple effect” of grace. The huge generosity of God’s heart, is an example to us–something I surely strive for.

    Okay, moving to the “egg pie” question. I have no recipe in my books for it, as you specifically said it was not “custard”. So I “googled” it–my immediate findings were for the egg custard pies, or egg quiches. Maybe a lengthy research would turn up the recipe you have in mind–if you find it, I’d be curious to learn more.

    Here’s my question for you: would you mind if I post your reply comment to my “couplet” over at Out of Stepper? I would of course credit you. It’s just so good, Carroll, that I think it should be shared “globally”. And I really do plan to put it on my fridge where I can see it often–it’s such an excellent reminder, when my perspective slips a mite!

    I won’t do anything until you give your permission! Have a wonderful day–God richly bless you!


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