Commentary on Genesis 6-8 (The Flood)

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

In verses 5-7 in chapter 6, we learn that God is deeply grieved by the wickedness of mankind.  Since the days of Adam and Eve, mankind has become more and more sinful.  The wickedness has become so extreme that God decides he will exterminate the entire human race.  Only one family will escape his judgment: the family of Noah.

Why is Noah to be spared from the impending flood?  “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.”  The answer is simple: Noah obeyed God, and this is what God desires from human beings.

In verses 11-22, Noah receives detailed instructions from God on how to build the ark that will house his family and the animals that God will spare from the flood.  The details are provided by the author to demonstrate the meticulous obedience of Noah.  Noah is an example to the reader of how a person is to follow God.

In verse 22, we read, “Noah did everything just as God commanded him.”  The fact that Noah was spared from the flood because he did as God commanded is repeated three more times in chapter 7 in verses 5, 9, and 16.  Obedience to God is a central theme for the book of Genesis and the entire Pentateuch.

In chapter 7, the flood begins and Noah’s family is safe inside the ark.  God gives specific instructions about taking extra “clean” animals on board the ark so that Noah’s family will not have to eat “unclean” animals during the flood.  These instructions foreshadow the instructions by God to bring unblemished animals to be sacrificed at the tabernacle constructed by the Israelites as they wandered the desert for 40 years.

Remember that Genesis 7 was most likely given to the Israelites during the 40 years in the wilderness, so it is important to consider how they would have heard the account of Noah, given their experience in the wilderness.  Likewise, the forty days and forty nights of rain parallel the forty years in the wilderness.

As the flood is described, we don’t hear about those who perish until verse 21 of chapter 7.  Here we are reminded of the animals and humans that were killed, and that only Noah’s family and the animals on the ark are saved.

In chapter 8, the inhabitants of the ark are finally able to emerge.  Verse 1 reminds us that God remembered Noah and sent a wind over the waters so that they would recede (reminiscent of the parting of the Red Sea).  Noah must wait for God to act before the ark rests on dry land and everyone can exit.

Theologian John Sailhamer notes, “The image that emerges from this narrative is that of a righteous and faithful remnant patiently waiting for God’s deliverance.”  Henceforth, the Flood, in the Bible, symbolizes God’s judgment of sin, and Noah symbolizes the salvation of the faithful.

  • sean

    I’m curious to know if you believe Noah’s story was more akin to a parable or actual literal truth. You do discuss the importance it had for the people the story was first related to. It seems, given the dimensions of the boat in the Bible, that mathematically, if we look at the rate of speciation, the numbers don’t add up as to how that many animals (even just the land ones) and all their food could fit onto the ark and map to the diversity of life we see today. I don’t know exactly what time-frame you propose for how long ago genesis was, but that could certainly have an impact on the viability of this model. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this.

  • I believe the Flood was a massive, but localized flood that wiped out the entire human race except for Noah’s family. Obviously humans were more concentrated geographically at that time, so a local flood would work.

    With regard to the animals, I think they consisted of the kinds of animals that lived with and around human beings at that time.

  • Robert A

    Sean’s inquiry about the historical time-frame is important and you do not address it. Nor is your response regarding the numbers of creatures the Ark would have had to accommodate credible. Archeological evidence shows humans had spread far and wide tens of thousands of years ago. Do you really think “a local flood would work” or is your definition of “local” all of Africa and Eurasia? To take this ancient folk tale literally, rather than, as Sean suggests, a parable, flies in the face of mountains of scientific evidence.

  • Andrew Ryan

    Why do you think all the marsupials are found almost exclusively in Australasia and the New World? How does that fit the flood narrative?

  • I have no idea when the flood occurred, and it just doesn’t matter. What matters is that it did happen at some point in the distant past.

  • No animals that lived in Australasia or the New World would have been on the ark. Again, it was a local flood.

  • Andrew Ryan

    Was it big enough to have joined sea water and lakes/rivers etc? If so, that poses a problem for the fish.