When I think of Noah’s flood , I think of Basil Wolverton’s drawings from The Bible Story. Maybe not everyone has that sort of association, but for me, the childhood sight of those faces in deep distress as their world was being drowned is an image that has been permanently seared into my memory, and I suspect I’m not alone in that. The mental images of the flood are varied, and probably depend on what aspects of the history contained in the Bible people are most interested in. For some, the flood is an opportunity to engage in comparative religion with the Babylonian stories recorded in the Epic of Gilgamesh or with other heathen religious traditions around the world that have comparative version of flood stories (including one story within the Greek mythological corpus). For others, the flood will bring to mind visions of Noah’s Ark on the mountainside of Ararat in the troubled border regions between Turkey and Armenia. For others, its symbolism of doves with olive branches and rainbows will be appropriated for some sort of political goal, and for still others it is a reminder both of the reality of God’s judgment and the general standards that God requires all men to obey.
As is often the case when we look at the Bible, I don’t think we have to choose particular meanings. A story as epic as that of Noah’s flood and its aftermath does not have simply one layer of meaning or importance, but has all kinds of relationships that can be teased out and understood. For one, it should be understood that the Bible considers the flood unambiguously to be history. Isaiah 54:9 tells us: “For this is like the waters of Noah to Me; For as I have sworn That the waters of Noah would no longer cover the earth, so have I sworn That I would not be angry with you, nor rebuke you.” Ezekiel 14:14 uses Noah as a cautionary tale of judgment: “Even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness,” says the Lord God.” Jesus Christ uses the history of Noah as a parallel to His own return in Luke 17:26-27: “And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.” Finally, Peter in 1 Peter 3:18-20 makes the flood a direct comparison to the work of Jesus Christ: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. “
Another interesting aspect of Noah’s flood and its aftermath relate to questions of law. For example, the prelude to the flood is the first time when the laws of clean and unclean meats are specified, a reminder that such laws relate to all of mankind and not only the Jews. As it is written in Genesis 6:19-20: “And of every living thing of all flesh you shall bring two of every sort into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. Of the birds after their kind, of animals after their kind, and of every creeping thing of the earth after its kind, two of every kind will come to you to keep them alive.” And as it is written in Genesis 7:2-5: “You shall take with you seven each of every clean animal, a male and his female; two each of animals that are unclean, a male and his female; also seven each of birds of the air, male and female, to keep the species alive on the face of all the earth. For after seven more days I will cause it to rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and I will destroy from the face of the earth all living things that I have made.” And Noah did according to all that the Lord commanded him.” Here we see, for the first time recorded in scripture, a distinction made between clean and unclean animals, and that distinction allowed Noah to bring extra clean animals for food for himself and his family.
After the end of the flood, Noah continues to provide interesting commentary on matters of law as it applies to humanity as a whole. Genesis 9:1-11 gives a covenant between Himself and Noah as follows: “So God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth, on every bird of the air, on all that move on the earth, and on all the fish of the sea. They are given into your hand. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man. “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man. And as for you, be fruitful and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth and multiply in it.” Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying: “And as for Me, behold, I establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you: the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, of all that go out of the ark, every beast of the earth. Thus I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”” There are a few notable aspects of this covenant. For one, it is with not only Noah and his family but with the animals as well, including a promise that there would never again be a flood to cover the whole earth. Likewise, there is a command to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, something some people do better than others. There was also a prohibition from eating meat with blood–an aspect of slaughtering, and a reminder that earthly kingdoms have an obligation to put to death murderers who shed those created in the image and likeness of God. So, obviously this is of great interest.
There is one aspect of the story of Noah that remains intensely politically charged besides the issue of the applicability of God’s food laws to all of humanity and the charge that human governments have of using the death penalty on murderers, and that is the short-sighted way that the rainbow has been appropriated by contemporary sexual deviants. The sign of the rainbow is referred to in Genesis 9:12-15: “And God said: “This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. It shall be, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow shall be seen in the cloud; and I will remember My covenant which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.” A relevant word of caution about trying to appropriate this symbol would be Genesis 8:21b: “Then the Lord said in His heart, “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done.”
Yet although God has promised never to flood the earth again because of the evil imaginations of mankind, something that is undoubtedly true of those who use the rainbow as some sort of taunt, God has not abdicated any form of judgment on those who reject His ways and behave in ways He considered abominable. As it is written in 2 Peter 10:13: “ But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” Those who stake their claim on the promise that God has made concerning floods would do well to consider the promise that God will purify the earth of sin through a refining fire that will burn up the earth and the sinful works that are in it. The first time God refined the world through a flood. The second time He will refine it through fire. Let us make sure we are not among those things that are burned up in it. Unfortunately, those who reject God’s ways are likely not the sort of people to heed Peter’s warning in 2 Peter 3:5-7: “For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.” The message of the flood speaks to us still, even in our own wicked times.
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