Bible Studies on Genesis 1–11 – Lesson 14: Saved Through the Water (Part Two)


Genesis 7 really cannot be separated from the material in Genesis 6 and what follows through Genesis 9:17. Therefore, in this lesson we continue to examine several aspects that emerge in the flood story. We are again impressed with the seriousness in attitude and action which God demonstrates with regard to sin; but we are also humbled by the fact that He was still determined to bring to completion His grand plan of saving the world through the Seed, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Symbols of kinds and times

In Genesis 6:19–20 we read that all the animals and birds were to come to the ark in pairs, with the obvious reason being an anticipation of filling the world again after the flood. Genesis 7:2–3,8 mention an additional detail. Seven of every kind of clean animal and bird were also to come into the ark. The word clean in Scripture has reference to what is properly fit and prepared to appear before the Lord in worship. Only clean animals could be sacrificed to the Lord, and after the flood Noah was to sacrifice to the Lord in worship. It would be completely improper for him to offer a sacrifice of an unclean thing after the great flood! Furthermore, in Genesis 9 man is given permission to eat meat, but he may only eat the meat of clean animals, the blood properly drained. Again, it would be necessary that there be extra clean animals available for such a food supply. In Leviticus there would be elaborate prescriptions given to God’s people about what is clean and unclean before a holy, covenant God.

We also take note of several numbers that are significant, at least significant beyond this present story. After Noah and his family enter the ark, there are seven days before the flood begins. Seven takes us back to the weekly, sabbatical pattern of time, and it represents completion. In addition the rain lasts for 40 days and nights. In later redemptive history, Israel is in the wilderness for 40 years, thus out of the bondage of Egypt, but not yet in the promised land of Canaan. Our Lord Jesus was tempted in the wilderness for 40 days and nights at the outset of His ministry (an historical echo of Israel’s probation in the wilderness). While we should be cautious not to press the significance of numbers whenever they might appear in the Biblical text, perhaps 40 comes to have the significance of representing a period of testing, of not yet being in the place of rest, the goal of our journey. An interesting fact: about 40 years after Jerusalem crucified our Lord, the city of Jerusalem is destroyed by the Romans (A.D. 70). Having received a period of probation, Jerusalem failed to accept her Messiah, so then God’s judgment fell upon her.



The obedience of faith

Genesis 6 ended in verse 22 with a statement that is significant for us to understand what is happening in the flood narrative. Genesis 6:22 says, “Noah did everything just as God commanded him.” Notice two things in this statement. First, it is the LORD God who initiates everything in terms of announcing the destruction that is to come. Building the ark to escape the flood is not Noah’s idea. The rescue is divine in its conception. Secondly, the Biblical text tells us here that Noah did what God commanded him. Genesis 7:5,9,16 point this out as well.

The importance of this can be sensed if one were to read the flood stories that arose among ancient Mesopotamian peoples. In Mesopotamian myths there are many gods, usually arguing and fighting among themselves. The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic tells us that the gods destroyed mankind because there was too much noise in the human race. If only we had been quieter! Furthermore, the “hero” in the pagan floodstories has his emotions and feelings described in vivid ways during his ordeal.

But the Biblical text is more sober in its telling. The flood story is not a romance; it is not a tale of high adventure. We do not know what Noah was thinking or feeling. He is silent in the narrative. Again, what Noah’s wife and family may have been wondering during the many years of the ark’s construction, we do not know. We may well speculate, but it remains just that: interesting speculation.

The repeated refrain concerning God’s command and Noah’s obedience must not be lost on us as well. When Hebrews 11 lists Noah as among those who “by faith” did tremendous things in redemptive history, we learn that faith is not merely knowledge of important Biblical teachings. Faith is not simply a lovely warmth in one’s heart. It is not only an attitude toward God and His Word. A mature faith results in works of obedience. Faith takes hold of God’s Word, but that faith then, in turn, begins to work in love (Gal. 5:6). Faith without works is dead (James 2:14ff). Had Noah only thought that God’s Word was true, but then never acted upon that kind of faith it would have been a dead faith. And Noah and all his family would have been dead as well. Faith alone makes one right with God, but a true faith is never alone in the life of a true child of God.

One plus seven: eight souls saved

One characteristic of Biblical storytelling is that of repetition: certain details are told twice, even three times. One can still read scholarly literature that points to such instances of repetition in the Bible and concludes that this “proves” that the Biblical account is something of a “cut and paste” job of putting together elements from different stories and traditions. But such a theory cannot be proved, and it hardly is the case.

The repetitions are done in the Biblical story to press significant points upon the readers. We have already noted the fact that the Bible stresses God’s commands being fulfilled through Noah’s obedience. Furthermore, we read several times statements about God’s intention to wipe out all living things because of wickedness. We also encounter mention of Noah’s family in several places (see Gen. 5:32; 6:10, 18; 7:13; d. 7:23). Here is demonstrated an important principle of how God deals with us in the practical matters of our redemption. He is pleased to deal with believers and their households. Noah is the righteous figure in the narrative. But God, in His infinite wisdom, is pleased to save his household with him. His three sons and their wives are sinners (consider what Ham does later in Genesis 9!). Yet all eight enter the ark to escape physical death in the flood.

Later in Genesis 17 God will apply this principle with Abraham. He is the great (Gentile!) believer, justified apart from the law (d. Gen. 15:6). Yet he is to apply the binding sign of circumcision to himself and all his household. Genesis 17 notes three times how the covenant sign is administered even to the servants in his household who had been purchased with money. Thus the covenant of grace in the Old Testament was never merely a biological. national matter. From the beginning, the covenant of grace was open to all kinds of people, although it was administered through believers and their households. How important it is throughout Biblical history to attach oneself to the righteous ones of God, to their households, to their cities, to their nation. For example, when Lot began to move away from Abram, he put himself on the road to Sodom, a doomed city.

“Water, water everywhere”

The description of how the flood is brought upon the earth is clearly an echo from Genesis 1, but here in Genesis 7 we witness a reversal of the creation’s structuring. Genesis 1 tells us that God created a firmament that is “inserted,” one might say, into the cosmic waters in order to separate the waters above from the waters below. With the creation’s firmament in place, life on earth could go forward upon ground that was dry.

The water that flooded the whole world in Genesis 7 came from two directions: rain coming down through the floodgates of heaven (7:4,11,12) but also from the springs of the great deep (7:11). The rain lasted 40 days and nights, and enough water was present to flood the earth for many more days and weeks to come. With water coming from above and from below, we have in effect an undoing of the creation. The sinfulness of mankind brings judgment. and that means not only death for the sinner, but the undoing of the creation as well. What is more, creation always does the bidding of the LORD, and it serves as the ready instrument to bring the waters of death upon the whole earth.

There are those who advocate the idea that the flood described in Genesis 7–8 was only a local flood, that it was not a universal flood. They point to geological evidence. Careful study of geological material is valuable and necessary. How its findings always “fit” with Biblical revelation, is a challenge, it is agreed. Christians must be ready to face the hard questions, even those raised in careful study of this creation.

Yet it is very hard to deny the fact that the Biblical material in Genesis 7 points out that the flood was universal and not merely a local flood. Consider the following things in the text: water coming from above and from below for 40 days and nights is an incredible amount of water (verse 18, the “waters rose and increased greatly on the earth”). Verse 19 says that “all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered.” While we do not know the precise elevations of pre-flood mountain ranges, yet it is clear that if the highest mountain was covered enough to allow the ark to float above it at the height of the flood. then all the mountains were covered with water. That is a universal flood! Furthermore, Genesis 7 points out that all life perished in the flood. “Every living thing…perished… Everything on dry land that had the breath of life…died. Every living thing…was wiped out” (verses 21–23). The concluding statement of verse 23 is very sabering: “Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.” Imagine floating for weeks on a shoreless ocean, you and seven others being the only human beings in the world!

We learn here that God was just as serious and earnest in His dealings with sin and sinners as He was when Adam and Eve rebelled in the Garden of Eden. “The soul that sins shall die,” says the LORD. God gave the human race a probationary period of 120 years (6:3). The sinful race could see Noah’s preparations, and they could hear his warnings. But in the end even the patience of God can wear thin, and then judgment of a most severe kind becomes inevitable.

There is one more point to be made here Genesis 7:16b,c reads, “as God had commanded Noah. Then the LORD shut him in.” The two most important Old Testament names of our God are used here, but the usage brings out two important aspects of who He is. As the Deity (God), He has full authority and power to command our obedience. But when it comes time to enter the ark before the flood begins, it is as the faithful, covenant-keeping LORD that He is identified. He is both Almighty God and heavenly Father, able to do what is good for His believing children but also fully willing to do it for us (see Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 9). The rest of Genesis 7 now proceeds with no more mention of God’s names as the flood proceeds to destroy the world of sin.

Baptism now saves you

We have mentioned typology in an earlier discussion. To repeat what we have said: typology is a study of those people, events and institutions of the Old Testament era that anticipate and point forward to the realities of the new covenant era in which the Christian church now lives. Peter makes explicit notice of this in 1 Peter 3:20–21.

In the context Peter is speaking of Christ’s suffering death for our sins, but then he makes some remarks that are slightly off the main thrust of his discussion. Admittedly, there is dispute about the meaning of the words, “but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah…” (verses 18–20). What is clear is that God was patient with mankind until the point when divine patience had run out.

But Peter continues in his tangential remarks. In the ark there were “only a few people, eight in all,” saved through water. If the ark were the instrument of salvation for Noah and his family, then the water was the agent of destruction and deadly judgment. But Peter adds (v.21), “and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ….”

How often do we consider the. fact that baptismal water is symbolic of both grace and judgment? Or is that the case? Consider the following: in the flood at the time of Noah, the water caused the death of the human race that was rotten and continually violent. It wiped the surface of the earth clean. The cataclysmic flood, one might say, flushed the creation of all that was filthy and unclean in the eyes of the LORD. But this now opened the way for the righteous to emerge from the ark in due time to live for the glory of God and to enjoy Him forever.

But note also this: the flood itself did not change the hearts of the eight people saved in the ark. So too baptismal water itself cannot regenerate the heart, nor can it effect the conversion of one’s life. Baptism is a sacrament. As such, it is a holy sign and seal; it is not the thing itself (see Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 25). It points to the saving work of Jesus Christ, which is why Peter has mentioned Christ’s suffering for sins (3:18) and joins to it a reference to His resurrection (3:22). Good Friday and Easter morning’s events are the moments when our second Adam, the true Comforter (Noah’s name suggests comfort), accomplishes our salvation. Baptism points to these realities. But, remarkably, Peter tells us that the historical event of the flood points ahead to the symbol of baptism, the sacrament of our Christian identity and union with Christ.

The flood thus has two powerful realities: destruction and salvation. The work of Christ has two powerful realities: the destruction of sin and the sinner, but also the salvation of His elect by grace through faith. And thus baptism has two powerful indications lying in its background: the destruction of sin by the blood of Christ, and our salvation through that blood. If we who have been baptized should repudiate, despise or neglect what baptism symbolizes, namely, Christ and His work, we can never rest our hope upon the ceremony of baptism. It is then as if we had left the ark and thrown ourselves into the floodwaters. Outside of the ark was death. Outside of Christ is death.

The symbolism of the ark also must not be overlooked. It was with deliberate design that many Christian churches were built to suggest the ark. But again, just as we may not place our hope in the sacramental water as such, there is no salvation in “brick and mortar.” Yet the people who gather around the Word of God as Christians, are constituted the community of faith by God’s grace. Therefore, the Christian church confesses that outside of the church there is no salvation (d. Belgic Confession, Art. 28). Seven people joined Noah in the ark and were saved “through water.” Today people from every tongue, language, culture and background join Christ and His church, receive Christian baptism, and they are saved by God’s grace. “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved-you and your household” (Acts 16:31).


1. Read Matthew 24:36–51. It says that in Noah’s time people were “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” up until the day Noah entered the ark and the flood began. Such activities are not wrong in themselves (see 1 Cor. 10:31). What is the Lord Jesus warning us about in this passage? How well do Christians heed this warning? How much warning do we give to our society, our communities, our neighbors?

2. Noah believed what God said about the judgment through a devastating flood, and then he acted upon that faith. He built the ark when it was not raining. How is it possible for some Christians to profess faith but then never act upon it? Are we saved by good works? Are we saved apart from good works? What is the relationship of faith and good works in the Christian life? (See Ephesians 2:8–10; Titus 2:14; Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Days 24, 32, and 33; Belgic Confession, Art. 24.)

3. What was God’s purpose in the older covenant to make the elaborate distinctions of clean and unclean things, animals and birds? When were these distinctions removed? Why? What. if anything, does this distinction teach us today?

4. What does our society believe about the judgment of God upon human sin and rebellion? If you think that the common views about God’s judgment are less than Biblical, what has led society to think this way? How is the Christian church affected (if it is) by such thinking?

5. Christ’s second coming will be at a moment that no one knows. Then the whole human race will be judged. But before the end of history, could (or would) God bring a sudden and very widespread judgment of catastrophe upon the human race? If so, why might He do so? How could He do so?

6. Baptism is a sign and seal of God’s covenant of grace. It marks the recipient of the baptismal water with the Name of the Triune God (d. Matt. 28:18–20). What does Christian baptism mean? How well do Christian people understand the meaning of baptism? How seriously do Christians take their own baptism? What is more important, baptism or making a profession of faith? Why? (See Romans 6:1–4; I Corinthians 10:1ff; Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Days 26–27; Belgic Confession, Art. 34; Westminster Confession, Chap. 28; Westminster Shorter Catechism, O/A 94–95; Westminster Larger Catechism, Q/A 165–167.)

Mark D. Vander Hart