I’m sure that all of us are somewhat familiar with the broad strokes of the story of Noah. The ark, the animals, the flood—these memorable images have become a part of our cultural imagination, even to this day.
But I’m not sure that we’re all quite as familiar with Genesis 6, 7, 8 and 9, the chapters in the Bible that actually give us this story.
A few years ago I was looking at a very nicely illustrated children’s book that re-told the story of Noah’s flood, and it actually did a good job of getting most of the details. And then, on the final page, it came in for a landing with the moral of the story. And it said something like, “Noah took care of the animals in his day, and we should take care of the animals in our day, and here’s all of the endangered species that we should care about.”
Now, I don’t think we shouldn’t care about endangered species. But I also don’t think that’s the point of the story of the flood. And it’s a good reminder for us today, as we turn to Genesis 7—the part of the story that actually records the flood itself—to pay careful attention to how the chapter itself is written, what the author of Genesis wants us to notice, and what—according to the rest of the Bible—the enduring lessons of this story are for the rest of us.
A. Final Instructions
Now, let’s remember that verse 22 of chapter 6 left us off with these words: “Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him” (Genesis 6:22). Noah built the ark by faith in the promises God had given him.
We don’t know how long it took him to do it. Years? Decades? A big part of his life would have been given to building this big boat, by faith.
Do you wonder if he ever doubted? Did he ever question whether he had actually heard God and whether he was doing the right thing? Maybe, but that’s not what we’re told. What we’re told is that he actually did it. He did all that God commanded him.
And then—then, after this long period of obedience—God speaks to Noah again. And chapter 7 opens with the final instructions given to Noah as the time to board the ark arrives:
“Then the Lord said to Noah, ‘Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate, and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate, and seven pairs of the birds of the heavens also, male and female, to keep their offspring alive on the face of all the earth. For in seven days I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground.’ And Noah did all that the Lord had commanded him” (Genesis 7:1–5).
There’s four things we want to note from these final instructions.
1. Ongoing Righteousness
First, the command to enter the ark is combined with a repeated statement here about Noah’s righteousness. “Go into the ark… for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation.” Noah continued to be righteous during these years of building the ark.
He had been righteous in the past, but the sense you get here is that his present, continuing righteousness is what matters right now. Who he had been didn’t matter so much as who he was.
2. Clean and Unclean Animals
Second, in verse 2, God tells him to bring with him severn pairs of all “clean” animals. Before this, he had only been told to bring a single pair of all animals, but Hebrew literature often stores up important details like this and reveals them in unexpected moments. Now we’re told he’s to bring seven pairs of all clean animals.
The difference between clean and unclean animals won’t be fully explored and explained until the book of Leviticus, but apparently at this point there was already a basic understanding that some animals were in a different category than others.
Now we might ask why Noah needed extra clean animals. And the best answer from the text itself is that he needed them for sacrifices. We’re going to read next week in 8:20, “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar.”
Now just think about this: the fact that God is telling Noah to bring extra clean animals is a big hint, a clue, that sacrifice is going to be needed in the world after the flood. Which is a big hunt, a big clue, that sin is going to be an ongoing reality in the world after the flood. And we’ll see a lot more on that next week.
3. Forty Days and Nights
Third, in verse 4 we’re introduced to this time period of “forty days and forty nights.” Forty is a significant time period in the Bible. Moses is on Mount Sinai forty days (Exodus 24:18). Israel spies out the land for forty days (Numbers 13:25). Elijah, who spearheads the age of the prophets, takes forty days and nights on his journey back to Mount Sinai (1 Kings 19:8). Jesus fasts for forty days and nights (Matthew 4:2), and after His resurrection He appeared to His disciples over a period of forty days (Acts 1:3).
So this time period of forty days and nights is often associated with a new era. The dawning of a new epoch. And from the perspective of the whole Bible, this forty-day period here helps us understand this flood as the start of something new. A new beginning.
4. Ongoing Obedience
Finally, in verse 5, once again Noah’s obedience is highlighted. “And Noah did all that the Lord had commanded him” (Genesis 7:5).
Noah obeyed, all the way, the first time. That’s biblical obedience. Noah didn’t need to be begged or bribed. God told him to do something, and just he did it all the way the first time.
That’s how we need to obey God. That’s how children need to obey their parents. Anything less isn’t actually obedience.
“And Noah did all that the Lord had commanded him” (Genesis 7:5).
B. The Judgement Begins
Now we come to the second major portion in our passage today, verses 6-16, where we see the actual beginning of the judgement of the flood. And there’s two main elements within this section that we want to pay attention to.
The first has to do with repetition, and how verses 6-10 are largely repeated in verses 11-16. Notice verse 6: “Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters came upon the earth.” Verse 11: “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened.”
Verse 7: “And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him went into the ark to escape the waters of the flood.” Verse 13: “On the very same day Noah and his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them entered the ark.”
Verses 8 and 9 talk about the animals going into the ark with Noah, just as verses 14-16 do with even more detail and repetition and words that echo the creation account go Genesis 1. Verse 9 reminds us that this was done “as God had commanded Noah,” just as verse 16 says that “those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him.”
What we need to understand is that all of this is very deliberate. Just think about what’s going on in the story: the last remnant of an old world is fleeing for their lives into a boat that is going to shield them from God’s wrath while an entire world is destroyed beneath them. This is big, weighty stuff.
If this were a movie, this scene of entering the ark would likely be filmed in slow motion with a big orchestral soundtrack in order to help us really savour the weight and the seriousness of this moment.
And the way the author of Genesis helps us feel this weight is by writing it like he has, with all of this repetition and detail. He doesn’t want us to miss any part of this solemn procession as Noah, his family, and all of the animals board the ark in obedience to God’s commands.
We also shouldn’t miss the small but important note at the end of verse 16—“And the Lord shut him in.” Noah and his family and the animals were shut in and kept safe in the ark by the grace and power of God.
Secondly, when we read these chapters with all of their repetition, one thing that’s hard to miss is how the author of Genesis seems to think that this flood was a real historical event. If “Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters came upon the earth” (Genesis 7:6) wasn’t enough, verse 11 gives us the exact day: the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, second month, on the seventeenth day of the month.
That doesn’t sound like a myth to me. That doesn’t sound like “once upon a time.” No, this sounds like history. And that’s how we should read it. The perspective of the author of Genesis, and of every other Biblical writer who refers back to this, is that it actually happened.
It was very interesting for me over the past couple of weeks to study this passage and to read various Bible scholars say, basically, “there is no evidence from geology that a worldwide flood ever truly happened.” Some Bible scholars try really hard to argue that this was just a local flood, despite statements like verse 19: “And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered,” and despite the fact that if it was just a local flood, Noah could have just moved somewhere else instead of building the ark.
Now, I’m not going to get into a huge discussion on science and geology this morning, except to say this: most of modern geology assumes that the earth as we see it today was shaped by long and slow processes that happened over million and millions of years.
But since the events of Mount Saint Helens 42 years ago, we’re been learning that many of these processes that we thought took a long time can actually happen in a very short period of time. After Mount Saint Helens erupted, canyons were carved and trees were fossilized and other processes took place in months, weeks, days, sometimes even hours which were once assumed would take literal ages.
And over the past number of decades, creation scientists and flood geologists have done a lot of good work to show that the world may not be near as old as we’re commonly told, and that a massive catastrophe like the flood, with all of its after-effects, can plausibly explain many of the features we see on our planet today.
Just think about verse 11—“on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth.” This was not just rain from the sky.
This verse describes underground water reservoirs bursting out, and suggests a splitting or a tearing of the earth in the processes. This is a big catastrophe that would completely re-shape the face of the planet.
If you want to pursue this idea further, a recent documentary called “Is Genesis History?” walks through a number of good evidences for a young earth that has been shaped by Noah’s flood. You can watch it for free on YouTube. It’s not perfect, and I could quibble with a few small things here and there, but overall it’s really well-done and a good portrayal of an important perspective we need to hear.
In the end, Genesis 7 doesn’t tell us exactly when the flood happened and exactly what it’s effects were on the planet, and its okay for us to admit that we don’t have all of the answers. Creation scientists and flood geologists still a fair bit of work to do as they study the planet and the Bible.
But what is quite clear is that, according to Genesis 7, this flood really happened on a real day. It was a truly global event, and everything died except for those kept alive on the ark.
C. The Judgement Complete - vv. 17-24
And that brings us to the third and final section in our passage today, which portrays the judgement of the flood reaching completion. Once again, beginning in verse 17, the author of Genesis uses repetition to give us a step-by-step time-lapse shot of the water getting higher and higher.
- Verse 17 - “The flood continued forty days on the earth. The waters increased and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth.”
- Verse 18 - “The waters prevailed and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the face of the waters.”
- Verse 19 - “And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered.”
- Verse 20 - “The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep.”
And by the time we get to verse 20, the point of this careful repetition is clear: the waters have triumphed over everything. Even the highest mountains.
Now, just a comment here. You might be thinking “the mountains? Really? Even the Rockies and the Himalayas?” And here’s where a bit of geology can actually come in handy. The mountain ranges of the earth were not always mountain ranges. There are fossils of fish and sea lilies in the Himalayas—like up around Mount Everest. Everyone agrees that these mountains were not always so high—at one point they were at the bottom of an ocean, before the plates of the earth’s crust crashed into each other and formed these big pile-ups we call mountains.
Traditional geology thinks that this process happened over an incredibly long period of time. But again, there are a number of young-earth scientists who argue that these mountain ranges were formed fairly rapidly by the flood and its after-effects.
This makes a lot of sense to me. At the time of the flood, the highest mountains weren’t all that high, and perhaps the deepest valleys weren’t all that deep, and so it wasn’t a big stretch to imagine waters covering the whole earth. And a big part of the process of the waters receding from the earth—which we’ll hear about next week—was the formation of higher and lower ground.
That seems to be what Psalm 104 is describing: “You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. At your rebuke they fled; at the sound of your thunder they took to flight. The mountains rose, the valleys sank down to the place that you appointed for them. You set a boundary that they may not pass, so that they might not again cover the earth” (Psalm 104:6–9).
And so at this point in Genesis 7, the high mountains weren’t as high as they are today, and so the waters could much more easily cover them.
And the reason that is important is because of what verse 21-23 tell us, again with a repetition that we’ve come to expect by now:
“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” (Genesis 7:21–23).
It’s not hard to get the point here, is it? God’s judgement is complete. It reached its goal. He did what He said He was going to do. Everything is dead.
And do you notice where we are again? We’re back in Genesis 1:2: “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.” So much of what God did in the six days of creation has been undone. The animals are gone. The people are gone. The division between waters and dry land has been erased. The earth is once again a formless and void orb of chaotic, shapeless water.
Except for the few in the ark: “Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark” (v. 23). A lonely boat drifts on top of an endless ocean that covers the entire planet.
And that’s where Genesis 7 leaves us—almost. This chapter ends with a note of hope: “And the waters prevailed on the earth 150 days” (Genesis 7:24). Which means that something started to happen after those 150 days. But that’s next week’s message. Today leaves us off with a picture of creation undone, and judgement complete.
D. New Testament Truths
So what are you and I supposed to do with this rather bleak picture this morning? To answer that question, we’re going to go to two passages in the New Testament that help us unpack and apply the message of Genesis 7 for our lives today.
The first is found in Matthew 24:36-44, if you’ll turn there.
“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 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. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:36–44).
A few weeks ago, when we were in Matthew’s gospel, we looked at this idea of the “coming” of Jesus, and how many of the references in Matthew to the “coming” of Jesus aren’t actually speaking about His second coming to earth but rather to Daniel 7, where the Son of Man comes to the Ancient of Days to receive an eternal kingdom.
My understanding of Matthew 24 is that up until verse 35, Jesus is describing that Daniel 7 coming. He’s describing the effects of His death and resurrection and receiving the kingdom from His father. And that’s all connected with the destruction of the temple in AD 70, which was what Jesus’ disciples had initially asked him about. And that’s why He caps off that whole first section of Matthew 24 by saying, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matthew 24:34). Everything up until verse 24 is going to happen to that generation.
But beginning in verse 36, Jesus begins to answer the other question his disciples had asked, which was about the timing of His coming at the end of the age. And that’s a different coming. It even has a totally different word in the original language. This is not His Daniel 7 coming to the father, but His second coming to earth.
And Jesus says “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36). In other words, He can’t give them a sign for His second coming, because He doesn’t even know when it’s going to be. That’s one of the pieces of knowledge He has given up, and only the Father knows.
So what’s it going to be like? Verse 37: “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” (Matthew 24:37–39).
Other than the fact that Noah was building a boat, there was no sign of the flood’s coming. No indication that the world was about to be totally swept away. Up until the day of the flood, it was life as usual: eating, drinking, marrying. People were totally clueless until the flood came and swept them all away.
And so will be the second coming of Jesus. People will be going about their ordinary lives when everything will change.
Verses 40: “Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left” (Matthew 24:40–41).
These verses could be describing faithful people being “taken” up to be with Christ in a rapture event. Or, given the context of the flood, they could be describing the wicked being swept away in judgement. But what’s certain is that it’s life as usual. People will be going about their normal lives, working in a field, making flour, when the world-changing event—the return of Jesus—comes upon them suddenly.
So what’s Jesus’ point? “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:42–44).
Here’s how we can sum this all up: we are all like Noah. We’ve all been warned about what’s coming next. But we don’t know when it will happen. And so we live our lives in a state of readiness, building all of our goals and plans and priorities around the return of our Saviour.
We must live at all times in a way that if Jesus showed up, we wouldn’t be embarrassed. Because the one thing we know for certain about Christ’s return is that it won’t be when we’re expecting it. So don’t get lulled to sleep by the plans and priorities of the world. Live ready for His return..
2. Now there’s a second New Testament truth we want to turn to as we close today, from 1 Peter 3:18-22, which I’ll read for us here.
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when 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, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him” (1 Peter 3:18–22).
This is one of those really dense passages in 1 Peter which would take a lot to really pull apart and understand.
We’re planning to preach through 1 Peter next fall and I’m looking forward to the challenge.
But here’s what we want to notice now. Look at verse 20, which talks about the eight people being brought safely through the waters of judgement. The ark protected them, and so even though the waters were around them and beneath them and above them, yet they were brought safely through that water.
Baptism, says verse 21, corresponds to this. When we are baptized, we, too, are passing through the waters. But those waters don’t kill us. They don’t drown us. We come up again, safe and alive. Why? Because verse 18—Christ died—and verse 21—Christ rose again.
And so it’s not the physical act of water on our bodies that saves us, as Peter argues in verse 21. Rather, it’s the spiritual significance of crying out to God for salvation through the resurrection of Christ. And in baptism, we re-enact the way that we are brought safely through the judgement of God by the death and resurrection of Jesus.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to sum it up this way: Jesus is our ark. Outside of Christ, we are hopelessly lost. Outside of Christ there is only the flood of judgement. But in Christ, we are saved from judgement and carried through to the new life on the other side.
The flood of God’s judgement is coming. It’s coming to our earth in a global way when Christ returns, and it comes to each and every person when they die and stand before God.
You cannot survive the flood of God’s judgement on your own. Your only hope is to run to Christ and find safety in Him. Find safety in Christ, who was battered and tossed on the waves of God’s wrath as He hung on the cross, and who was laid low beneath the flood of judgement for three days like Jonah. But up He arose on the third day, and today He is a safe place for all to find refuge in Him.
Many of you know this. Some of you might need to hear for the first time the call to run to Christ for safety. Some of you know the Lord, but you need to hear this again. Perhaps life is really hard for you today. Maybe your body is falling apart. Maybe your family is falling apart. Maybe it feels like everything is against you.
Perhaps your Heavenly Father is disciplining you. But if you are in Christ, He is not destroying you.
“For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,” says 1 Thessalonians 5:9. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
God is not against you, because Jesus bore the oceans of judgement as your substitute on the cross. You can know that whatever difficulty is happening in your life today, it is not destructive. It is constructive, a tool in God’s hands to shape you to be like His son. To make you more ready for His return.
Is that good news? To know that, whatever this coming week holds for you, if you are in Christ by faith, your Father is for you, not against you, and is working all things for your good.
Run to Jesus this morning. You’re not safe anywhere else. Run to Jesus.