The Days of Noah: Why God Sent the Flood
July 28, 2002
This is the first of several sermons on Noah and the flood. As we begin our study of this important event, I’d like to focus our attention on a very crucial point: If this story is true, that is, if it really happened, if there once was a great flood that covered the entire earth, then what the Bible is describing in Genesis 6-9 is the single greatest natural disaster in the history of the world. It is so great, so vast, so enormous, that no other event in earth history comes close to it. It’s Number One and there really is no Number Two.
A few days ago I began surfing the Internet to see if I could find a listing of the Top Ten Natural Disasters. Sure enough, I found such a list. It included a typhoon in Hong Kong, a landslide in Peru, a tsunami in Japan, a volcano in Indonesia, an earthquake in China, a cyclone in Bangladesh, a drought in Africa, a flood in China, a hurricane in Bangladesh, and as the greatest natural disaster of all time, a famine in China that killed an estimated 40 million people. As I studied the list, it struck me as incomplete. If we accept the biblical record, then no such list could be complete without including Noah’s Flood in the Number One spot. The other disasters were all local in nature. But Genesis describes a vast flood that covered the entire earth.
The event itself is so stupendous as to be mind-boggling. As you try to think about a flood of that magnitude, one question keeps floating to the surface. Why would God do such a thing? We know that the flood was a judgment on human sin. But what could the people of the pre-flood world have done that was so horrendous that it made God decide to hit the “Delete” button and wipe out all humanity with the exception of Noah and his family? What sort of sin brings on a judgment like the flood?
I. The Words of Jesus
In order to answer that question, let’s take a look at the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:37-39. This passage is part of a longer section called the Olivet Discourse, a private message given by Jesus to his disciples on the Mount of Olives two or three days before he was crucified. The subject is the return of our Lord to the earth at the end of the age. In order to help them understand that future event, Jesus draws a fascinating comparison with the days of Noah. He tells his disciples that the past is the key to the future.
“For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so shall the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:37-39 NASB). Study the days of Noah because what happened in those days will happen again at the end of this age. The spiritual conditions of the pre-flood world will be replicated in the days preceding the return of Christ to the earth. And what do we find when we examine the world of Noah’s day? Write over it this phrase in large letters: BUSINESS AS USUAL. They were eating and drinking (nothing wrong with that), marrying and giving in marriage (nothing wrong with that). They were buying and selling and continuing in all the usual activities of human life. Children went to school each day, businessmen made deals, teachers taught, doctors dispensed healing, farmers tended their crops. They evidently paid no attention to “crazy Noah” and the big boat he was building in his backyard. Maybe he was regarded as a local whacko whose oddities were tolerated and made the butt of cocktail-hour humor. As he warned them of impending judgment, they paid him no mind whatsoever. But at last the day came when Noah entered the Ark. “The rains came down and the flood came up.” I’m sure in that day the people started beating on the door but it was too late. One translation of verse 39 says “they did not know.” What a damning indictment.
It was an age of enlightenment. But they did not know.
It was an age of great progress. But they did not know.
It was an age of music, fine arts and literature. But they did not know.
It was an age of military might. But they did not know.
It was an age when mighty men roamed the earth. But they did not know.
They knew so much but understood so little. They knew more and more about less and less until they knew everything about nothing and nothing about what really mattered. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. They had no time for God until it was too late.
That is the world of Noah’s day. They were wise fools who did not heed the warnings of the preacher of righteousness. Then the flood came and took them all away.
II. The World That God Washed Away
Genesis 6:1-8 offers the Bible’s most detailed answer to the question, “Why did God send the flood?” As we have seen in previous sermons from Genesis, there was a rapid spiritual degeneration after the first sin. Once sin entered the human bloodstream, it quickly spread until it dominated humanity. At first the serpent had to talk Eve into sin, then Adam sinned deliberately, then God couldn’t talk Cain out of sin, then Lamech boasted about his brutality. But now, with the passing of a few generations, the entire world has become a cesspool of sin. Things have become so evil that God decides to start all over again.
What happened to bring on such a drastic judgment? Here are five phrases that help us grasp the reason God sent a worldwide flood.
A. An Abuse of Marriage
“Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose” (Genesis 6:1-2 NASB). Before we consider the controversial aspects of these verses, note the last two phrases. These marriages were made on the basis of nothing more than pure physical attraction. A man saw a woman and said, “I like her. She’s beautiful. She’s a babe. She’s hot. I want her. She’s mine.” And he took her for himself. Forget about wisdom or training or education or ability or character. Don’t worry about personality or family background. And certainly don’t bother about godliness. Those things just get in the way. Marriage is now little more than the satisfaction of pure animal appetites. Man sees woman. Man wants woman. Man takes woman. The last phrase suggests a certain jumping of the boundaries God had established. We know from Genesis 4 that Lamech felt free to take more than one wife. What would stop a man who lives only on the level of fleshly desire from having ten wives? Or 20? Or 30 (if he could afford them)?
The real question regarding these verses involves the mysterious statement that the “sons of God” saw the “daughters of men.” To whom do these phrases refer? In the history of biblical interpretation, there have been three main answers given to this hotly debated question. First, some Bible students suggest that this refers to the intermarriage of believers with unbelievers. In this view the “sons of God” are the godly line of Seth and the “daughters of men” represent women from the ungodly line of Cain. The subsequent judgment comes because of the widespread spiritual contamination caused by such deliberate compromise. In favor of this view is the fact that the preceding chapters clearly show the development of two lines—the godly and the ungodly. And we know from many other warnings in the Bible that God forbids believers to deliberately marry unbelievers. This is always wrong. For a believer to knowingly marry someone who does not love the Lord is a compromise that leads to years of heartache. Sometimes our Christian young people get “moonstruck” with love and do some very foolish things. Nothing can be more foolish than a believer thinking that marriage will somehow convince an unbeliever to come to Christ. It rarely happens. In my experience, for every time it happens, there are a dozen times that the believer ends up in a divided marriage, with the children pulled in two different directions, with the unbelieving spouse unwilling to come to Christ, and the believer struggling to maintain his or her faith. This is not surprising since it’s always easier to drag someone down than to lift another person up.
I agree with the concern behind the first view but it does not seem to me to be the most natural reading of Genesis 6:1-2.
Second, some scholars suggest that the phrase “sons of God” is a technical term from the Ancient Near East that describes human rulers who were despots. We might call them “big-shots” today. These were the ancient tribal chieftains who were bullies and braggarts. The “daughters of men” refers to the multiple wives and concubines who made up the earliest harems. Again, this is a plausible view but it depends on evidence from outside the Bible.
Third, the oldest interpretation, suggests that the “sons of God” refers to angels who rebelled against God (we would call them demons), inhabited human bodies, married human women, and gave birth to the “nephilim” of verse 4 who roamed the earth as ancient tyrants and bullies. On its surface, the view seems strange and even bizarre but it is, in my judgment, what this passage is teaching. For one thing, the term “sons of God” in the Old Testament in all its other occurrences always refers only to angels. And this interpretation accords very well with Genesis 3:15, which emphasizes Satan’s long “war” against the “seed of the woman” that will eventually produce the Messiah. What better way to destroy the coming Messiah than to utterly corrupt the human race through the introduction of demonism? And this truly is the oldest interpretation. This is how the Jewish scholars who translated the Old Testament into Greek (the Septuagint) understood the text approximately two centuries before the birth of Christ. This interpretation also helps us understand two cryptic passages in the New Testament:
“For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly” (II Peter 2:4-5 NASB).
“And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day. Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 6-7 NASB).
Both passages describe a very drastic judgment upon certain angels who not only sinned but “abandoned their proper abode.” Note that in the first passage, the angels are mentioned first, then comes Noah and the flood. In Jude the phrase “just as” joins the angels with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. And what was the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah? It was a form of “gross immorality” that consisted of going after “strange flesh.” That’s not just a reference to homosexuality. Genesis 19 tells us that the men of Sodom and Gomorrah were ready to rape the two angelic visitors who appeared in human form. Put it all together and it looks like this: In the days before the flood, certain angels rebelled against God and entered human bodies in a form of demon-possession, taking for themselves human wives. The resulting cohabitation produced a form of evil offspring called the nephilim who roamed the earth as giants, tyrants, and workers of enormous evil. For this hideous sin, the angels were sent to the pit of deep darkness and the existing civilization was wiped out in the great flood.
In the Gospels we learn that demons crave human bodies to inhabit. When the “legion” of demons was cast out of the Gadarene demoniac, they begged to be allowed to enter a herd of pigs (Mark 5:1-20). Since we know such things are possible, it should not surprise us that the total rejection of God led to bizarre sexual sin and an outbreak of evil unprecedented in world history.
One final note. I lean to this view because the context seems to demand some sort of extraordinary sin that would cause God to wipe out an entire civilization and start all over again. The hubris of those days was so great that men and women thought nothing of breaching the God-ordained boundaries on human conduct in the most evil way possible. Having said that, I also agree that this is a very difficult passage to interpret. We don’t have enough in the text to be certain about the meaning. This is one of those places where we wish Moses had added a few footnotes. (After I preached this sermon, one man told me that in years of listening to my sermons, this point about the fallen angels and human women was the hardest thing he had ever heard me say. Even though this is a fairly common interpretation, I guess he had never heard it before, and it troubled him greatly. I told him to go home and try not to worry about it too much. Many notable interpreters take the first view and they may well be correct. This is not an issue on the level of the Deity of Christ. No one can say with total certainty what the text means in Genesis 6:1-2. I simply have shared why I follow the third view.)
B. An End to God’s Patience
“Then the LORD said, ‘My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years’” (Genesis 6:3 NASB). In light of the bizarre morality of the pre-flood world, it is not surprising that God’s patience finally wore thin. The word translated “strive” may also mean “protect.” In that sense, this verse is both a warning and a promise of grace extended for a short period of time. I take it that the 120 years refers not to man’s new lifespan, but to the years remaining before the flood. Up until now, God’s Spirit has protected mankind from self-destruction, but at some point that protection will be removed and man will then be left to his own devices. Write over this verse “Romans 1” because the message is the same. When men rebel against God, sooner of later he “gives them up” to face the consequences of their own sinful choices. God will not protect us from ourselves forever. Sooner or later, the bell tolls, judgment day arrives, and we have to face the music. In this case, it meant that in 120 years, the flood would come and take them all away. Until then, God’s grace was extended by giving men a further period in which to repent. Note that the story of the flood is used in precisely the same way in II Peter 3:1-9. There we learn that the seeming delay in God’s judgment is not because he “winks” at sin but because he postpones judgment to give us more time to repent. But God’s patience will not last forever. Let those who walk in sin be warned. If you think God doesn’t see you or he doesn’t care or perhaps that he doesn’t even exist, you will one day be surprised by the sudden judgment of God. When hell opens to swallow you, it will be too late to cry out for mercy. To borrow a phrase from Langston Hughes, “God gave Noah the rainbow sign / Said, ‘No more water, the fire next time.’”
C. An Abundance of Charismatic, Corrupt Leaders
“The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown” (Genesis 6:4 NASB). Everyone agrees that this is a difficult verse to interpret. The word “nephilim” is simply a transliteration of a Hebrew word that means something like “the fallen ones.” It is sometimes translated “giants” and may in fact refer to a race of ancient men and women who were ten to 12 feet tall. I have mentally jotted beside this verse “Tower of Babel” because these “nephilim” were a race of ancient leaders who in their arrogance ignored God, built vast empires, acted as despots and tyrants, and embodied the worst traits of humanism—living as if God did not exist. They would agree with the man who said, “I am the master of my fate, the captain of my soul.” No doubt they were highly gifted individuals who could be charming when they needed to be but underneath were ravenous wolves, filled with corruption, violence, hatred and all manner of evil. Such men filled the earth in the days before the flood. Verse 4 seems to intimate that they were the offspring of the ungodly union of the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men.”
D. A Headlong Rush into Evil
“Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5 NASB). Nowhere else in the Bible will you find such a clear description of the doctrine of Total Depravity. Here is mankind as God sees it. This is the human race wholly apart from God’s grace. In Genesis 1 we are repeatedly told that “God saw” what he had made and it was “good” and “very good.” By Genesis 6 when God looks on the earth, he sees his creation turned into a foul cesspool of evil. If you want to know what sin is like, study this verse:
1) Sin is internal. It is a matter of the heart first and foremost. “The thoughts of his heart.”
2) Sin is pervasive. It touches every part of our existence. “Every intent of the thoughts of his heart.”
3) Sin is continual. It consumes man and controls him. “Every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
This is what you are apart from God’s grace. Any “good” you may do is stained with the dirt of your own sinful inclinations. You have never done a truly good deed in and of yourself and you never will. All that we do is tainted with self-interest. Even our good deeds are but “filthy rags” in the sight of Almighty God (Isaiah 64:6). Your heart is so wicked that you don’t even know the half of your own sin. In the words of Anselm of Canterbury, you have not yet considered how sinful you are. Do not read Genesis 6:5 and say, “Those people must have been terrible.” Read it and then look in the mirror. There is no difference. That’s the whole point of Romans 3:23. No difference between them and us. No difference between then and now. No difference between the savage in the jungle and the corporate executive who is under indictment. Take away his MBA, his fine Brooks Brothers suit, his shiny BMW, and underneath beats the heart of a sinner. All the thoughts of his heart are evil continually.
E. A Shocking Judgment From Heaven
“The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. And the LORD said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them’” (Genesis 6:6-7 NASB). Ponder these phrases carefully: “The Lord was sorry” and “He was grieved.” God’s grief is a sign of his great love. The Lord is no robot. He is not some unfeeling God in heaven who sets the world in motion and then watches in benign disinterest while men and women destroy themselves. His heart breaks over the sin that covers the earth. He weeps over broken homes, broken promises, suffering children, and the wreckage of human sin that covers planet earth and turns it into a massive junkyard of pain, sadness, shame and guilt.
So now God decides to “uncreate” the earth. Think of what this means. Whole cities destroyed. Homes washed away. Roads covered. Buildings inundated. Whole villages flooded. Men, women and children vanishing beneath the waves. The whole earth under the waters of judgment. Nothing like it had happened before and nothing like it has happened since. It was a catastrophic judgment that enveloped the entire globe and washed away every vestige of human civilization.
Noah Found Grace
And only one man and his family are spared. “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD” (Genesis 6:8 NASB). The word translated “favor” actually means “grace.” Noah found “grace” in the eyes of the Lord. Because this is the first mention of “grace” in the Bible, it is hugely significant. The word means “undeserved favor.” It describes the blessing God gives to those who don’t deserve it. It is the “contrary-to-merit” favor of God. Do not read this verse and think, “Noah was a really good man, a righteous man, and because he obeyed God, he earned God’s grace.” That’s impossible. It doesn’t happen that way. Noah didn’t “earn” anything. Grace was given to him the same way it is given to people today. Either grace is a gift or it isn’t grace. Instead of saying, “Noah found grace,” we should say instead, “Grace found Noah.” That would be more appropriate. Grace found him and saved him and his whole family.
Let us learn two important truths from this verse: First, grace is available in the darkest hours. Even though the world was rushing headlong into judgment, Noah found grace. There is never a pit so deep that the love of God is not deeper still. Do not say, “I am too bad a sinner to ever be saved.” You don’t know that. Don’t say, “God could never forgive me.” Yes, he can. And he will, if you will cry out to him. And don’t say, “My husband is too far gone to ever be saved” or “I’m going to stop praying for that person because she is a hopeless case.” You don’t know that. While there is life, there is hope. Leave the final judgment in the hands of the Lord. Keep praying. And if you do not know the Lord, seek him while he may be found. Turn to him. Come to him. Trust in him. This is the day of grace. Though a thousand perish at your side, though your friends and family turn away, there is hope for you and plentiful grace if you will only come to Jesus.
Second, grace is the only means of escape. Was Noah somehow “better” than his contemporaries? No, he was a sinner just like them. But he found grace and was spared. He turned to the Lord and was delivered. Hebrews 11:7 tells us that “by faith” Noah saved himself and his family. What Noah did, you can do. By grace we can be delivered even in the darkest days and from the deepest pit of sin. I admit that grace is a hard concept for us to grasp. I define it as God doing for us what we could never do for ourselves. It is God coming to our rescue when we were trapped in sin.
Trapped 240 Feet Below the Surface
Perhaps an illustration will help. It’s Wednesday and you are a coal miner in Pennsylvania. Today you are working 240 feet underground. By accident a drill pierces through the wall of an abandoned mine shaft nearby. Suddenly millions of gallons of water rush toward you. Quickly you and your eight buddies run for safety. It’s clear you will never make it to the mine entrance. In desperation you clamber over the rocks, searching for an air pocket as the water rises around you. At length you find a tiny space with a little bit of air. There you and your friends huddle together. It is cold and dark. As the water continues to rise, you wonder how long you can survive. Slowly the truth hits you. You are 240 feet underground. There is no way out. You can do nothing to save yourself. You cannot swim to safety. You cannot dig your way to the surface. You are trapped in the darkness. If someone far above you does not come to your rescue, you will die where you are.
And that is exactly what happens. Far above you rescue workers drill an air hole, sending in hot air that keeps you warm and pushes back the rising water. Unknown to you, hundreds of people work together to dig first one rescue shaft and then another. Finally, they break through, the capsule is lowered, and you are lifted to safety. When you were trapped, they came for you. When you could do nothing, they rescued you. When your life was nearly gone, they dug through and found you. Someone far above came for you and you were saved.
This is the grace of God. When we were trapped in the darkness of sin, Someone far above us came down from heaven to rescue us. He left the comforts of heaven to dig through the layers of sin and guilt to set us free. Jesus knew where we were. He came to us in our darkness and he shined the light of freedom upon us.
We were trapped by sin and living in the darkness.
The waters of judgment were rising around us.
There was nothing we could do to help ourselves.
If someone from above does not come for us, we’re going to die.
Someone came. His name is Jesus.
He dug down to where we were to set us free.
This is the grace of God!
As it was … So it is
One final word and we are done. I began this sermon by noting the words of Jesus in Matthew 24. As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be when Jesus returns. If you want to know what the future looks like, go back to the past. The days of Noah are the key to understanding the days to come.
What are the marks of the “days of Noah?” Here is my answer:
1) The world completely unprepared for the coming judgment.
2) Widespread moral perversion and the breakdown of the family.
3) A sharp rise in Satanic activity and growing interest in the occult.
4) Shocking failure of leaders we thought we could trust.
5) Rejection of God’s authority in the name of “freedom.”
6) Believers standing alone against the world.
As it was … So it shall be.
As it was … So it is today.
I believe the “days of Noah” are upon us right now. And that’s one reason I believe we are living in the last days before the return of the Lord Jesus Christ to the earth.
Do not despair. If you know the Lord, stand strong. Speak the truth. Follow God’s call and do not let the world’s hostility intimidate you. These are wonderful days to serve the Lord. Think of it. We may be the generation privileged to see Christ return to the earth. If so, let’s be busy about our business, spreading the Good News, working for the Kingdom, being salt and light, serving the Lord with joy wherever we go.
And the best news for all of us is this: Grace is available for those who want it. This week I ran across a sentence that arrested my attention: “You are more sinful than you can ever believe and you are more loved than you could ever hope.” Both sides of that statement are true. You are more sinful than you think and God loves you more than you could imagine. If you want the grace of God, it’s yours for the asking. Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. What about you? Amen.