The story of the flood (Gen. 6-9) is a story about wrath. Because of the wickedness of human beings, God pours out His judgment on the whole earth. At the same time, though, the story of the flood is a story of mercy and deliverance. Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord and was a righteous, blameless man, so the Lord delivered Him from the judgment that fell. Both aspects of this story are important. As we saw last week, there is much we learn from the reality of God’s wrath – which is the main focus of chapters 6-7. There is also much we learn from the reality of God’s deliverance and mercy – which is the central focus of chapters 8-9. This last half of the flood story teaches us a great deal about God’s character while also reminding us again about the reality of sin and its consequences.
Genesis 8 begins with a declaration that after the waters prevailed on the earth (Gen. 7:24), God “remembered” Noah and all the others on the ark and caused the waters to begin subsiding. Just as He had promised, God preserved Noah and his family – bringing them safely through the deluge and bringing them safely back to dry ground (Gen. 8:13-19). This is a clear picture of the character of God. First, He always keeps His promises. He promised that Noah would be delivered (Gen. 6:18), and it happened. God cares for His own, and He will not let them be ultimately defeated. Instead of being destroyed by His wrath and judgment, they are delivered. This was the case for Noah, and it is the case even now. Peter uses the flood story as a reminder that the same God who was able to preserve Noah in the flood is able to rescue His people now in the midst of trials (2 Pet. 2:5,9). God loves and cares for His own, and they can be confident of His help and protection and ultimate deliverance.
The story also shows us what it means to rightly follow God. Noah – rather than scoffing at the judgment God promised – believed. He took God’s words, accepted them as true, and acted as if they were true. Out of his reverent fear for God, Noah built the ark as an act of faith (Heb. 11:7) – his faith actually led to his obedience. Numerous times, the text says Noah did “as God commanded” (6:22; 7:5,9,16; 8:15-19). He built the ark as God commanded. He entered the ark as God commanded. And He exited the ark when God commanded. This is a clear reminder that following God is more than mere lip-service. Truly walking with God – being “righteous” and “blameless” – must begin with faith, because without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). Noah believed, and we must believe as well. But that faith – if it is worth anything – must lead to active obedience. There is a faith that does not lead to obedience, and the Scriptures say it is dead and useless (James 2:14-26). True faith produces fruit – it did with Noah and it does now. We should walk in obedience just as Noah did, and we should do it because we believe.
The story also highlights the reality that God’s purposes cannot be thwarted. Upon leaving the ark, Noah offers a sacrifice that brings about God’s favor – even on undeserving sinners, in spite of their sin (8:20-22). Even though the heart of human beings has not changed (compare God’s statement in Gen. 8:21 to the statement in Gen. 6:5), God vows to never again send such a destructive flood. What brings about this merciful promise? It is the sacrifice made by Noah. Through the sacrifice of a “clean” (perfect, unblemished) sacrifice, the judgment of God is turned away from sinful, judgment-deserving people. Then, in response to this offering of atonement, God blesses Noah and commissions him with the same task as Adam (9:1-7). He makes a covenant with Noah vowing to never again destroy all life with a Flood, and giving the rainbow as a reminder of this promise (9:8-17). Even though His creation had almost entirely turned against Him, God made a way for His glorious purposes to continue. Nothing can stop Him or thwart His plans.
And even the seemingly bizarre end of this section turns out to have incredible importance. Sadly, the story ends with great sadness as Noah “falls” like Adam and drinks himself into a stupor – leading to the sin of his offspring, Ham (9:18-29). This strange story is intended to highlight that the end has not yet come. Noah is not the promised seed of the woman who would crush the serpent for good (Gen. 3:15). Even though Noah’s father hoped for better (Gen. 5:29), Noah did not bring ultimate rest. Jesus is the one who brings that. Even though Noah is an example of true faith and faithful obedience, he is not our hope. Jesus was perfect – and through His perfect sacrifice has perfected for all time those who will trust in Him. Noah was saved, but Jesus saves. As then, so now: God will deliver those who trust and obey – not by means of an ark made of wood but by means of a Savior who sits at God’s right hand in heaven with all things subject to Him and pleads the case of those who appeal to Him in faith for deliverance (1 Pet. 3:18-22). Like Noah, we are sinners. But like Noah, we can be saved by grace through faith in the promises – and the Promised One – of God.