Genesis 6-7:24 - Both/And
[Text: Genesis 6:9-7:24]
At the time of Israel’s exodus from Egypt, a flood story existed in nearly every ancient Near East culture. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the ancient Sumerian text, the flood happens because there are too many humans who are too loud and have gotten on the nerves of one of the gods. Is this just another version of the same story? The people of God need to know if the LORD God is any different than the annoyed gods of the ANE.
Introduction: Forgive the simplicity of this illustration, but PB&J is the quintessential sandwich; the choice of preschoolers (and my father) for years and years! There are variations of course; choices to make: crunchy v. creamy and the endless jelly options, but fundamentally, they are all the same. And the combination of the two ingredients together is necessary for the character of the sandwich. If you have just peanut butter, the heaviness sticks with you. It can give you that feeling in your mouth like your tongue is permanently stuck to your palette and might never be free again. But if you are a fan of just jelly sandwiches, the overwhelming sweetness isn’t fully satisfying. You need the weight of the peanut butter to contrast the sugary goodness of the jelly. Peanut butter AND jelly. They belong together and shouldn’t be separated. Don’t let anyone offer you a sandwich and expect you to choose between them. Tell them you need both!
Our culture often wants to force a choice between worshipping a God who is just and a God who is compassionate. Some think of God only in terms of His compassion. The assumption is that since “God is love” (which is true) then His love compels him to give his favor to us and to all people (except, conveniently, those who happen to disagree with us). Others (sadly, many within the larger church) focus so much on the justice of God that His compassion is reserved only for those who follow the rules best. In those contexts, sin and rebellion against God is reduced to very obvious, external ways of running from God and what gets minimized is the constant bent of our hearts toward running from God and unbelief. With sin so shallowly and narrowly defined, it becomes easy to believe that we aren’t really that needy. Our sin is so small a thing that our Savior, if we admit that we need one, is just as small. So a God of pure justice and no compassion becomes a distortion of God’s nature just as much as the sole emphasis being on God’s compassionate love for people.
What both errors have in common is this: the view of God is based on a very optimistic view of self. But our brokenness runs much deeper than we like to think it does. Some disown sin altogether and just assume that God accepts people unconditionally. Most of us are willing to admit that we aren’t perfect. But we like to think about brokenness in terms that we can see and label saying, “Oh, that’s sin for sure.” Some of us do that so that we can justify ourselves thinking, “Well at least I’m not like that.” Others think, “If I can just avoid this one thing I do then God will like me more,” so that sin becomes a wall we can climb over. All that stands between us and perfection (and therefore acceptance with God) is one little character flaw. In other words, some of us like to think we’re a little closer to righteous Noah than to the rest of humanity in his time that had marred the beauty of God’s song. So we see the judgment of God as overkill, the actions of a punitive, tyrannical, vengeful God.
But in this passage is a fuller picture of God. We find out that God is perfectly just and God is perfectly compassionate.
And understanding who He is helps us understand both who we are and what we really need.
First, consider how right God is in His judgment. He is perfectly just. At the beginning of chapter 6, when this passage was introduced, God was grieved in His heart that the beautiful song of peace that existed in the beginning and made man’s relationship with God and with each other flourish had become so corrupted that the new, broken song of men filled the earth instead. We saw that the intentions, not just the actions of mankind were bent away from God and from good.
In this passage, God moves to act against that broken song. In 6:11-12, when it says “the earth was corrupt in God’s sight,” we are invited to see things from his perspective. When the word “corrupt” is used, it carries the connotation of being “marred” or “spoiled.” Like a Rembrandt obscured by graffiti, God’s masterpiece, Man, has become unrecognizable. Instead of imaging God to all of creation in goodness, the violence of men fills the earth. Lamech’s boast from chapter 4, “I have killed a man for wounding me…” becomes the status quo and the image of God in fellow humans is regarded as nothing.
The violence of men in a spoiled earth is the symptom of a deeper heart issue, however. Actions flow out of the hearts of men that are hardened against God and His song. Their hearts have not embraced the LORD and have rejected the promise of restoration that He made in Genesis 3. Instead, they live life as if there is no God who made them, as if they belong to themselves and are accountable to no one.
So what would we have God do in this situation? If I think that he should just forgive them and let them go on in their rebellion and unbelief, then I’m asking God to be something less than perfectly just, which means that I’m asking Him to be less than God. A god who winks at this kind of brokenness is no god at all. No, because wrongdoing demands justice, God sent the flood to wipe away sinful humanity.
Let’s put this in human terms. Put yourself in a courtroom. You are witnessing a murder trial. The mother of a girl murdered in cold blood, a girl for whom life was just beginning, sits weeping in the corner as the judge shrugs off the sentencing of the guilty man saying, “Well, it really wasn’t that big of a deal. Just go home and let’s pretend this never happened.” Everything inside of you would scream, “This isn’t right! You can’t just excuse this kind of evil!” We know that we want justice.
And so does God. Look at how v. 13 is phrased. God says that he will make an end of all flesh because the earth is filled with violence through them. God is a just God and we begin to understand the offensiveness of sin when we look at what God does to do away with it. He is so just that He can’t allow such brokenness to continue. So by the end of chapter 7, Noah and those on the ark are the only living creatures on the planet.
The text focuses on the violence of men that had filled the earth because that was the reality at the time. But violence is only one expression of rebellion against God’s song. There are others. Some we are familiar with because they are always in front of us, obviously so. Sexuality apart from God’s design is one. Another form of rebellion is making any good thing an ultimate thing in our life as we try to replace God with comfortable bank accounts or “perfect” families.
But what if our rejection of God and our unbelief runs deeper? What if that rejection and unbelief even invades our best moments? A Christian brother once told me that he has grown weary of trying to discern how pure his motives are in a given decision. He simply knows that some of his motives are selfish and he can’t do anything to make himself think differently. Even his best decisions in life, when he is trying to follow after God’s heart, he admits, are tainted moments, marred and spoiled by a desire to have his own way. And that sin, because it is rooted in a rejection of God, deserves the judgment of a just God.
If we stopped here, we would be hopeless. If God is just and must punish rebels, no matter how small the disobedience in our own minds, then who among us could stand before such a God? But what separates the God of the Bible from the gods of the world is that He is both perfectly just and perfectly compassionate. Now let’s see how God is perfectly compassionate and floods the earth with His grace.
The passage opens with a rare description of a person. V. 9 tells us that Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation and that he walked with God. His blamelessness and righteousness is illustrated throughout the account. In 6:22 we see that he did all that God commanded him. That is repeated in 7:5 and 7:9 as Noah obeys God, builds the ark and takes all the animals into the ark as God had commanded.
It is tempting to say that Noah essentially saved himself through his own righteousness, that God is obligated to save good people. But Noah is not a moral free agent, whose goodness is somehow independent of God. No, Noah’s goodness flows from a heart that is already in a relationship with God through the same covenant of grace that we’ve already seen transform his ancestors. Noah, like Enoch before him, walked with God as a recipient of grace! Remember that before his righteousness is mentioned, v. 8 tells us that he found favor in God’s sight. The compassion of God always precedes righteousness and it always comes through God’s covenant with people.
So how is that compassion at work through the covenant? In v. 13 God reveals his plan to Noah and provides a means of salvation to him. If Noah and his family, along with the creatures, are in the ark, then the ark becomes their means of salvation from judgment. Note, that God had already determined to bring about this judgment. In 6:3 and 7 God speaks to himself about his justice, but in compassion for His lone person in the earth, God makes salvation known and speaks to Noah.
And God says to Noah, in 6:18, “I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife and your sons’ wives with you. And of every living thing….” The word “establish” here isn’t referring to some new work God is doing as if he is shifting to a plan “B” in His desire to restore life as it ought to be. “Establish” in this context is more like a ratification, a confirmation of that which is already in effect. So God is saying to Noah, “You are going to be the recipient of the same compassion that has been given to all those who embrace me, you and your whole family. And through you, all of creation will be renewed, people and animals.”
And that’s exactly what God does. God gives Noah the plan, uses Noah’s obedience and through the same waters that bring judgment upon evil, God floods the earth with His grace so that real life, life with Him, can flourish. Mankind’s evil won’t be the end of the Story. It will continue and God will rescue his broken children for himself.
But consider again the vehicle of his compassion, the ark. So compassionate was God toward Noah that 7:16 tells us that the LORD himself shut him in to save him. As Noah believed God “more than his eyes could see” and went into the ark, he and his family were carried through the judgment so that only they were left at the end of chapter 7.
As the story continues, we’ll see how God promises that this judgment against sin via flood was only a one-time deal. But God wasn’t fooled into thinking that the brokenness of humans would be fixed somehow through the flood. The larger Story tells us that there remains another judgment against rebels who are trying to find happiness apart from God. There is none and the attempt is rejection of the King. And on that coming day of justice an ark won’t be of any use when that Day comes. But praise be to God for making provision for us in Jesus! In Him the justice and compassion of God kiss as his death on the cross satisfies the demands of justice; the demand that sin must be punished. In Jesus’ death, God has punished sin once and for all, but in order for you or me to be carried through judgment into life, it must be through the vehicle of God’s compassion…the body of Christ which died on the cross and rose again to raise us to new life with him. When we rest and receive him alone as our Rescuer, we are united to him so that his death to sin becomes our death to sin and his life to God becomes our life to God. That is why Peter can say in 1 Peter 3, “Baptism (which corresponds to Noah’s passing safely through the water) 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….” Baptism is the sign and seal of our union with Christ by faith, of the forgiveness of our sins by his blood, our being made alive again by his Spirit, our adoption and resurrection to life in the age to come. All of these things come to us when we receive Jesus by faith. In him we pass out of judgment and into life.
Application: For those who have not embraced Christ, who are not “in him.” This is a call to consider the mercy of God that is shown toward people who live as if He does not exist and is not God. He is patient, but there will come a day when His patience gives way to justice and no one can say to Him, “What have you done?!”
But for those who have embraced Christ through resting and receiving him and the grace he offers, there are lessons to be learned.
- First, God knows how to deliver his people from trials, and we should not count his patience as abandonment. It was 120 years between God’s decision to judge the violence of the earth and the flood actually brought that justice. Consider what Noah must have endured in that time and remember God’s promises in Christ to come to you and renew this broken world once again, this time unchangeably so! The 1 Peter 3 passage references Noah in the context of suffering as God’s people in a broken and hostile world. We take heart because God sustained him, but more than that, Christ himself suffered so that he might bring us to God. We don’t have a Savior who is ignorant of our grief.
- Second, obedience is the right response when grace is given. God gave his favor to Noah, promised life to him in the covenant and Noah obeyed the LORD by building the ark which carried him through the flood. Obedience to God does not save you, but it is evidence of a heart that has embraced the LORD and put its hope in Jesus. We shouldn’t shy away from talking about obedience. We just have to remember that obedience to God doesn’t save us! We obey out of love because we are already saved and life works best when we follow God’s design for it.
My friend I mentioned, the one who told me that he has grown weary of trying to discern how pure his motives are in a given decision, he knows that some of his motives are selfish and he can’t do anything to make himself think differently. He admits that even his best decisions in life, when he is trying to follow after God’s heart, are tainted moments, marred and spoiled by a desire to have his own way. If God is only perfectly just, then he knows that all is lost. He can’t change himself to fit the form of perfection. But he believes that God is both perfectly just and perfectly compassionate in Jesus. And so, he is able to repent of his best moments, knowing that Jesus was punished and died to cover over his brokenness. He simply prays that God would bless his decision (and his weak effort at honoring God through it) and trusts that Christ has satisfied our perfectly just God so that his perfect compassion can flood our lives, fill us up and overflow in love and good works toward God and our fellow men.
 Sally Lloyd-Jones’ language from the Jesus Storybook Bible