Noah lived at a time when the whole earth was filled with violence and corruption. Yet Noah did not allow the evil standards of his day to rob him of fellowship with GOD. He stood out as the only one who "walked with GOD" (Gen. 6:9), as was true of his great-grandfather Enoch (Gen. 5:22). Noah was a just or righteous man (Gen. 6:9). The LORD singled out Noah from among all his contemporaries and chose him as the man to accomplish a great work.
When GOD saw the wickedness that prevailed in the world (Gen. 6:5), He disclosed to Noah His intention to destroy the world by a flood. He instructed Noah to build an ark in which he and his family would survive the catastrophe. Noah believed GOD and obeyed Him and "according to all the GOD commanded him, so he did" (Gen. 6:22). He is therefore listed among the heroes of faith (Heb. 11:7).
With unswerving confidence in the Word of GOD, Noah started building the ark. For 120 years the construction continued. During this time of grace, Noah continued to preach GOD's judgment and mercy, warning the ungodly of their approaching doom (II Pet. 2:5). He preached for 120 years, however, without any converts (I Pet. 3:20). People continued in their evil ways and turned deaf ears to his pleadings and warnings until they were overtaken by the Flood.
When the ark was ready, Noah entered in with all kinds of animals "and the LORD shut him in" (Gen. 7:16), cut off completely from the rest of mankind.
(Gen. 8:20) and made a sacrifice, which was accepted graciously (Gen. 8:21). The LORD promised Noah and his descendants that He would never destroy the world again with a flood (Gen. 9:15). The LORD made an everlasting covenant with Noah and his descendants, establishing the rainbow as the sign of His promise (Gen. 9:12-17). The LORD also blessed Noah and restored the creation command, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth" (Gen. 9:1). These were the same words He had spoken earlier to Adam (Gen. 1:28).
Noah became the first tiller of the soil and keeper of vineyards after the Flood. His drunkenness is a prelude to the curse that was soon to be invoked in Canaan and his descendants, the Canaanites (Gen. 9:18-27). The Bible is silent about the rest of Noah's life after the Flood, except to say that he died at the age of 950 years (Gen. 9:28-29).
In the gospels of the New Testament, the account of Noah and the Flood is used as a symbol of the end times. Warning His hearers about the suddenness of His return, Jesus referred to the sudden catastrophe that fell upon unbelievers at the time of the Flood: "As the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be" (Matt. 24:37).
The cataclysmic deluge described in Genesis 6-9 as GOD's judgment on the earth is mentioned elsewhere in the OT (Gen. 10:1,32; 11:10; Pss 29:10; 104:6-9; Isa 54:9) and in the NT (Matt 24:38-39; Luke 17:26-27; Heb 11:7; I Pet 3:20; II Pet 2:5; 3:3-7). That more verses are devoted to the flood than to the creation (Gen 1-2) or the fall (Gen 3) suggests the significance of the account.
The Old Testament Account. Because of the great wickedness of humanity (Gen 6:5,11), GOD resolved to destroy all living beings (6:13) with the exception of righteous Noah and his family (6-9,18). GOD instructed Noah to make an ark of cypress wood (6:14; "gopher wood", KJV). He told Noah to take his family and seven [pairs] of every clean species and two of every unclean species of animals, birds, and creeping things, along with provisions for the duration of the flood (6:18-21; 7:1-3). The rains lasted forty days and nights, covered "all the high mountains under the whole heaven" (7:19), and destroyed every living creature on land (7:21-23). When Noah and his family emerged from the ark after a year and ten days, he built an altar and offered sacrifices to GOD (8:14-20). GOD blessed Noah and his family (9:1) and made a covenant that He would never again destroy the earth by flood (8:21; 9:11). GOD gave the rainbow as a visible sign of that covenant (9:12-17).
Date and Extent of the Flood. It is impossible to determine the exact date of the flood, since no archaeological or geological materials have been found that would enable its accurate dating. Estimates have placed it between 13,000 and 3000 B.C.
The extent of the flood has been debated. Arguments for a universal flood include: (1) the wording of Genesis 6-9, which is best interpreted as a universal flood (compare 7:19-23); (2) the widespread flood traditions among many, widely scattered peoples that are best explained if all peoples are descended from Noah; (3) the unusual source of water (Gen 7:11); (4) the length of the flood, whereas a local flood would have subsided in a few days; (5) the false assumption that all life resided in a limited geographical area; and (6) GOD's limitless ability to act within history.
Arguments against a universal flood have persuaded some scholars to accept a limited flood. Some arguments are: (1) the amount of water needed to cover the highest mountain, which would be eight times as much as there is on earth; (2) the practical problems of housing and feeding so many animals for a year; (3) the destruction of all plant life submerged in salt water for over a year; (4) the view that destruction of the human race required only a flood covering the part of the earth inhabited at that time; and (5) the lack of geological evidence for a worldwide cataclysm. While all of our questions cannot be answered, the biblical data points in the direction of a universal flood.
For more information about the plausibility of a world wide flood, see "Answers in Genesis".
Theological Significance. (1) The flood demonstrates GOD's hatred of sin and the certainty of His judgment on it. (2) GOD's giving people 120 years to repent before judgment came demonstrates His patience in dealing with sin. (3) The sparing of one family demonstrates GOD's saving grace. (4) The flood reveals GOD's rule over nature and over humanity. (HBH p. 125)
In giving us the Scriptures, GOD used human writers who were at home in the world of the ancient Near East. The biblical writers addressed many of the same questions that were of interest to neighboring peoples: How did the world come to be? What is the special place of humankind in the World? What is GOD [or the gods] like? How does He [they] continue to relate to the world?
The biblical writers made use of some ways of speaking shared by numerous ancient Near Eastern accounts of creation and the flood. The faith and message of the biblical writers is, however, quite distinct from that of other ancient Near Eastern writers.
The biblical writers believed in one GOD. Their neighbors believed in many gods. The biblical writers viewed GOD as Creator and the world as His work. Their neighbors believed their gods were involved in creation but were not separate from the creation. Rather, their gods were personifications of elements of the created order.
The biblical writers knew GOD to be a moral GOD, who punishes sin but responds in grace to save His creation. Israel's neighbors believed in immoral gods, concerned with their own pleasure rather than the good of humanity.
Creation Stories. Isolated elements in the biblical creation account are paralleled by elements of ancient Egyptian accounts. For example, in a creation story from Memphis the god Ptah creates by his word and rests following creation. Egyptian creation accounts, unlike their biblical counterparts, are polytheistic. That is, they describe not only the creation of the world but the creation of the numerous lesser gods who personify nature. The mythological origin of these lesser gods varies. In one account they are body parts of the chief god Atum; in others they are Atum's breath, spittle, or tears; in still others they are products of sexual acts.
The primary Mesopotamian creation story, the Enuma Elish, is an epic intended to praise the god Marduk and is not essentially a creation story. In this epic the god Marduk battled the sea goddess Tiamat. Marduk prevailed, dividing Tiamat's body in half, with part becoming the sky and the other the earth. Subsequently, the rest of creation was made and ordered.
While one can say to both the biblical and other ancient Near Eastern accounts view the world as created, the differences far outweighs this similarity. The number and immoral behavior of the Egyptian and Mesopotamian gods stands in marked contrast to that of the Holy One of Israel. The Egyptian and Mesopotamian epics are profoundly mythological, whereas the biblical story is not. The biblical story is also unique in presenting GOD as preexistent and distinct from the created order.
Finally, the conception of humanity is fundamentally distinct. The Egyptian and Mesopotamian myths see humanity as an afterthought; human beings are mere by-products of a god's congestion or serve only to relieve the gods of daily drudgery. But the biblical story portrays humanity as creation's climax - the image of GOD. It is unlikely, then, that the biblical accounts are a simple reworking of earlier Near Eastern creation stories.
Flood Stories. The most important and complete Mesopotamian flood story is found in the eleventh tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic, a moving account of Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu's futile search for eternal life. This Mesopotamian flood account does not diverge nearly so widely from the biblical one as did the respective creation stories. In fact, the similarities are too striking to be coincidental.
In both stories GOD or the gods initiated the flood out of displeasure with humanity but informed the main character of the impending flood and admonished him to construct a massive boat covered with asphalt according to predetermined dimensions. In both stories the hero and his family were delivered from a deluge of lengthy duration, and the hero sent out a bird to see if the floodwaters had abated. In both stories the hero sacrificed and worshiped GOD or the gods after the deluge, and the hero was praised for his faithfulness.
On the other hand, the most fundamental difference between the two stories lies in the demeanor of GOD and the Mesopotamian gods. In the Bible, GOD is morally outraged by humanity's perversity. The gods in the Gilgamesh Epic are sophomoric, perturbed, and sleepless at humanity's noisiness. In Genesis, GOD's gracious will is to save those in the ark. The hero in the Gilgamesh epic discovered the coming flood despite the will of most of the gods. In the end the hero of the Gilgamesh epic became a god, quite unlike Noah's experience in Genesis 9.
Many of the details of the stories such as the dimensions of the ark and the length of the flood are also quite different. These differences are significant enough to make it highly unlikely that there was a literary connection between the two texts. However, the similarities argue for some association. Since the flood was a historical event, it is plausible that the memory of the event was preserved by the survivors and their descendants. (HBH p.123)
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