If you are visiting with us this morning, you should know that we are a few weeks in to a series “You Are Here: Finding Our Place in the Biggest Story Ever Told.” And what we’re doing in this series is exploring the idea that the Bible is one story, Jesus Christ is the main character, and we are still in that story today.
So far, after a couple of weeks of introduction, we’ve considered creation and the fall. Today, we come to the story of Noah.
If you’re like me, and have been hanging around the church for long enough, you’ve probably heard the story of Noah a fair bit. This is another one of those stories that has become familiar to the point of humour. So let me ask you some questions: based on what you’ve heard, what you’ve read, what you’ve been taught, what is the main point of the story of Noah? Why is it in the Bible? What is God telling us in this part of Scripture? And how does this story fit into the bigger story of the Bible as a whole?
I think it’s safe to say that in most of the books and Sunday school lessons I took in as a child, I was taught that the main point of this story is that we should obey God even when it’s hard, just like Noah did. If God tells us to build a boat, we should do it, even when it doesn’t make sense.
But I’m not so sure that’s really the main point of this story. And today, as we consider the story of Noah as it fits into the storyline of the Bible, I think we’re going to see an account that is far more rich and meaningful and relevant to us today than maybe any of us had imagined.
Did This Actually Happen?
So that’s where we’re headed today. But before we dig in, I want to quickly touch on a big question that many people have on their minds when we come to this part of the Bible: did this really happen? Is this part of God’s word a historical account? Was there really a global flood as described here?
My answer to that question is, “Of course it happened.” Throughout Scripture, Noah is repeatedly referred to as a real person, and the flood is repeatedly referred to as a real event. So Scripture is pretty firm on this point.
And the interesting thing is that when we look outside of Scripture, we see a lot of confirmation of this as well. Dozens of ancient civilizations from all different parts of the world have a story about God or a god who judged the wicked world through a global flood but saved one man by telling him to build a boat. This all suggests that this really happened, and the memory was preserved around the world.
And then there’s also some good evidence from the realm of geology for a global catastrophic flood like the one described here. We learned after Mt. St. Helens that many of the things that they thought took millions of years can actually happen in mere weeks, given a major catastrophe. And so the whole realm of flood geology has some fascinating insights on how a global flood can help explain how the earth can be much younger than it supposedly looks.
All that to say that yes, this part of God’s word is history. This really did happen. But today, we’re going to focus on asking what it all means, and how this story fits in to the big story of Scripture, and sets the stage for everything that happens afterwards, including the fact that you and I are alive.
Longing for a Savior
To begin understanding the story of Noah, we really need to pick up on where we left off last week. We saw in Genesis 3 that after Adam and Eve fell from innocence, God cursed His creation, and promised Adam and Eve that their lives would be filled with pain and struggle because of their sin. But right in the midst of that, He also promised a Saviour. He promised that there would be an offspring of the woman who would crush the deceiving serpent.
And we shouldn’t be surprised to see that form that point on, people were eager for this offspring, this saviour, to come.
We see this in Eve’s optimism in Genesis 4:1, when she gives birth to Cain, and says “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” Eve’s words here might suggest that she was hoping Cain, her first child, would be this promised serpent-crusher. And why wouldn’t she have hoped for that?
Oh, but how disappointed she must have been. Cain was the opposite of a saviour. He gave in to sin’s power and crushed his brother instead of the serpent.
But then when she gives birth to Seth, she says “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him” (Genesis 4:25). You hear that word “offspring,” taken right out of God’s promise about the serpent-crusher? It sounds like she’s hoping that Seth is going to be the saviour.
Just take that in. We’re headed for the Christmas season in a few months where we’ll sing “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus.” Did you know that we’ve been expecting him for this long?
But Seth was not the saviour. We read in Genesis 5 that Seth had a son, and other children, and then he died. The curse took him down. And Seth’s son had a son, and other children, and then he died. And on and on it goes throughout the rest of that chapter, recording generation after generation, until we get to a man named Lamech.
And at the very end of the chapter, we read this: “When Lamech had lived 182 years, he fathered a son and called his name Noah, saying, ‘Out of the ground that the LORD has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands’” (Genesis 5:28–29).
This is the very first place we meet Noah. As a baby. And his father naming him a name the means “rest,” in hope that this baby would be the one who would deliver them from the curse. Lamech hoped that his son would be the saviour.
And it’s with this in mind that we turn to chapter 6 where we read, in verse 5 and following,
“The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.’ But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.
“These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:5–9).
A Second Adam
And so the story goes on from there, and I’m sure you’re familiar with it. God tells Noah that He is going to destroy all flesh in a flood, but that He will save Noah and his family and two of each animal in a boat that God is going to create.
God is going to press reset. God is going to start over, and He’s going to start over with Noah.
And so that’s what happens. Noah and the animals go into the ark, and then God covers the earth with water again, just like it was in the beginning.
Genesis 1:2 says that in the very beginning, “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”
So God brings the world back to that spot. And then, in Genesis 8:1, it says that the He made a “wind” to blow over the earth. “Wind” and “spirit” are the exact same word in Hebrew. The wind blowing over the watery earth is intentionally making us think about the Spirit of God hovering over the waters. This is all painting a picture of God starting over, re-creating His word like He did in the beginning.
And then God causes the waters to recede, and divides the water from the dry ground, and causes plants to grow again, just like He did in the beginning.
And when it’s time for them to leave the ark, God tells him to let out the animals “that they may swarm on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth” (Genesis 8:17), words that again sound just like God’s words of creation in Genesis 1.
And then in chapter 9:1, we read that “God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” Again, almost identical words as the ones spoken to Adam and Eve.
There’s more connections that we could explore, but I’m hoping you’re getting the picture here. The flood was an act of re-creation. And Noah is a second Adam. Noah is the new father of all of humanity. Noah is the new ruler over the animals and the world. Noah, by the way, is also a prophet who hears directly from God, just like Adam, and in a minute we’ll seem him performing the work of a priest, just like Adam. Noah has taken on each of Adam’s roles and become a new Adam.
And so if we put all this together, we should be asking, was Lamech’s hope realized? Was Noah the promised offspring, the saviour they had been looking for? Has the curse been washed away, and things are finally back to happily ever after?
If you were reading this story for the first time, it would be easy to think so.
“Evil from His Youth”
But then you’d be really disappointed when you got to the end of chapter 8, where we read about the very first thing that happened when Noah got out of the ark. Listen to these words, beginning in chapter 8 verse 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. And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man—” (Genesis 8:20-21).
Stop right there. Is sounds good, doesn’t it? God says that He will never curse the ground again because of man. And we could easily jump to the conclusion that this is because man is never going to do anything again that deserves God’s curse.
But not so fast. Read the rest: “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease’” (Gen 8:21–22).
God is promising that He will never again curse the ground because of us, not because we’ll never deserve it again, but because we’re going to deserve it again. God knows that in spite of the fresh start, nothing inside of us has changed. Our hearts are still given over to evil. He knows that it won’t be long until we deserve a flood just as much as the people He just destroyed. And that’s why He is making this promise.
And sure enough, as we keep reading the story, our high hopes for Noah get dashed. Noah plants a vineyard and then gets drunk and humiliates himself. And his son Ham mocks him for it before his brothers. And when Noah is sober again, he curses his son in language reminiscent of God’s curses in Genesis 3. And the very next story we read is the Tower of Babel.
So much for a fresh start. So much for Noah being the saviour we hoped for.
We Are the Problem
But what we need to see is that our disappointment in Noah is a crucial part of the unfolding story of redemption. Because Noah’s failure to make things right shows us something we couldn’t have learned any other way. It shows us what our problem is.
You see, our problem is not just the serpent. It’s not even just the curse. The problem, like we saw last week, is inside of us. The problem is us. The problem is that, like it or not, we are all born sinners because of what we’ve inherited from Adam and Eve. And even people like Noah, who trust God and walk uprightly—even they have sin that they need to be saved from.
So the problem with the world isn’t out there somewhere. The problem with the world is us.
I think that we need to hear this message today. Our culture today is awash in the assumption that people are basically good, and all of our problems can be blamed on things outside of ourselves. We’re trained to not take responsibility for ourselves, but to blame our problems on other people, on our parents, on society, on whatever. And we’re led to believe that if we can just fix all that stuff out there, and give people enough good opportunities, then they’ll turn out ok.
There are also many people who have the opposite set of assumptions. They don’t blame the world for their problems. Instead, they sort of view themselves as the solution to the world’s problems. “If people were only more like me, if people would only listen to me and my opinions,”—or even—“if I were in charge of things, then this world would be way less of a mess.”
The story of Noah completely destroys both of these ways of thinking. If God were to wipe out the rest of humanity and start over just with you, and there was nothing to blame your problems on, and you got to be the king of the whole world and decide how things would work, guess what: you wouldn’t do any better than Noah. You’d make a mess of things too. And even if you didn’t, your kids or your grandkids or your great-grandkids would.
Because, the problem with the world is us.
I’ve always appreciated the story about the newspaper which asked some important authors to write in and give their diagnosis on what the problem with the world is. And it’s reported that G.K. Chesterton wrote back this reply:
“Dear Sir, I am. Yours, G.K. Chesterton.”
What Chesterton was pointing to there is the same truth as we’re seeing in Noah’s story. We are the problem. The intentions of our heart are evil from youth.
And so with all of this in mind, we come back to what is perhaps the most important part of this story, and it’s God’s covenant with Noah.
We started to see this above, when God stated that he would never destroy all life like that again, and that while the earth remained, He would continue to uphold the pattern of seasons.
And God makes this formal in a covenant, which we read about in chapter 9:8-11:
“Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, ‘Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’”
A covenant, you’ll remember, is a special relationship between two parties that’s held together by promises and commitments. Like marriage. Marriage is the one covenant that most of us are familiar with.
And as we are going to see in this series, covenants are incredibly important in the storyline of the Bible. In fact, the covenants are really the frame on which the whole story hangs.
And God’s covenant with Noah is the first of these covenants explicitly mentioned in Scripture.
That doesn’t mean it’s the first covenant, period. There’s good evidence that God had made a covenant with Adam, and that what God is doing here is making good on that covenant by establishing it again with Noah.
And one of the ways we see that is by looking at the terms of the covenant, and seeing how God’s covenant expectations for Noah are so very similar what God said to Adam in Genesis 1 & 2. If we look at the beginning of chapter 9, we see that God expects:
- Noah and his sons are to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (9:1)
- They are to have dominion over the animals (9:2)
- They are to eat what God provides for them (9:3), which now includes animals (9:4)
- They are prohibited from eating blood (9:4)
- They must not murder each other like people did before the fall (9:5)
- They must exercise justice in holding murderers responsible for their crimes (9:6)
- Finally, God repeats the command for them to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (9:7)
So that’s Noah’s end of the covenant, and again, it’s really just a modified form of God’s covenant with Adam.
And then, in verse 11, God outlines His part of the covenant: what His obligations will be: “I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
God promises that He will never again destroy the earth with a flood again. Now just think about this. God is promising that he will never destroy the earth again. And the fact that he needs to make the promise assumes what we’ve seen already, which his that we are going to get into a spot where we’re going to deserve another flood. Right? If we were never going to deserve another flood, He wouldn’t need to make this promise.
And He makes this even more clear by describing the sign of the covenant, which is a rainbow. “And God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth’” (Genesis 9:12–16).
The rainbow is like a wedding ring—It’s a sign and a seal of the covenant, and every time He looks at that rainbow He’ll be reminded of His promise not to destroy us.
We know that God doesn’t forget, and so this sign is really more for us than it is for Him. But it’s all pointing to the fact that human sin is going to continue, and we’re going to deserve destruction again, and we need the rainbow as a reminder of God’s promise that He’s not going to do that again.
And so what God is really promising here is grace. He’s promising to not destroy us all, even though we deserve it. He’s promising to uphold His creation and to keep bringing the seasons, one after the other, even though we don’t deserve it. He’s promising grace.
And so what this means is that human history can move forward, in spite of our sin, without us constantly being worried that God is going to wipe us all out again. As one pair of authors have written, “the covenant made with Noah creates a firm stage of history where God can work out his plan for rescuing his fallen world.”1
So when we see it this way, do you see how big the covenant with Noah is? Everything that’s coming depends on this. All the other covenants still to come- with Abraham, and Israel, and David, and then the New Covenant through Christ—they all depend on the covenant with Noah. They all depend on the fact that God is going to keep the world going and keep us going despite what we deserve.
So God’s covenant with Noah is massive. It’s the reason we’re alive today. Our generation, just like many generations before us, have deserved destruction just like Noah’s generation did. Just think about abortion. Our hands are dripping with more innocent blood than perhaps any generation before us. And the only thing keeping us alive is this promise made, thousands of years ago.
As a kid I always thought this thing with rainbows was a bit cheesy. It’s not. Every time we see a rainbow we should remember, “I’m breathing right now because of that promise.”
And so I think that’s one of the big truths we should take home from this story: thankfulness. Thankfulness for God’s grace. And isn’t that appropriate today, on thanksgiving?
We don’t deserve another harvest. We don’t deserve the seasons to keep coming after each other like this. We don’t deserve the sun to keep rising and the earth to keep spinning around the globe. All of this is being directly upheld by a gracious God who today—right now—is choosing to not give us what we deserve.
This adds a very important dimension to what we considered last week. Yes, the world is cursed. But it’s also upheld by grace.
So this weekend, don’t shrug off Thanksgiving. Don’t take it lightly. Remember just how much grace God has shown the human race to keep us alive up until today, to keep this world working up until today. It’s all just hanging on God’s grace.
And as you go throughout the rest of your week, don’t forget about this. It’s hard to feel grumpy and to complain when you remember that you deserve death, and God is graciously keeping you alive. Even just think about complaining about the weather. The fact that we have weather is God’s pure grace. That perspective changes things, doesn’t it?
One more thought as we wrap up. Let’s not forget what’s probably the most important part of this story. And it’s the way that Noah shows us what kind of a saviour we need.
Noah was an almost-second-Adam who was the father of an almost-new-humanity on an almost-new-earth. But his failure to break the curse and crush the serpent points us forward to look for a real second Adam who will be the father of a truly new humanity, Someone Who will pay the price for our sin and make us new from the inside out, who will really crush the serpent and break the curse and cancel death create a truly New Earth where righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13).
And so the story of Noah is about Jesus. Jesus shines all the brighter against the backdrop of this story. And so this story should make us all treasure Christ in a fresh way.
We’re going to stand and worship together now to close, celebrating the great and gracious faithfulness of the God who planned this all out and keeps His covenant and sent His own son for us and has promised us a glorious future. Let’s praise Him now.
1 Peter J. Gentry, Stephen J. Wellum. “Kingdom through Covenant.” p. 169