Studies in Genesis I-XI: The Wages of Sin is . . . Death (13); God’s Preparation for a New World (14)


Scripture: Genesis 6:1–8

Occasionally believers ask the question why so few sermons are preached on Old Testament historical material. Much use seems to be made of this material in teaching children the contents of Scripture; little—so it is affirmed—finds its way into our pulpits.

In so far as the question reflects somewhat our preaching situation today, it deserves attention. Especially within the Reformed community there has always been a strong emphasis on all Scripture as God-breathed and therefore as “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness: that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work” (II Tim. 3:16, 17). Yet large sections seem to be consistently omitted from the preaching roster.

Is it, perhaps, because we have become so thoroughly preoccupied with the issue of “personal” salvation, that we fail to see God at work in history? Are we so problem-oriented, allowing “felt needs” to dictate what we want to hear from the gospel, that the glory of God no longer concerns us? Or does the issue lie deeper? Have we, reflecting on the rich diversity of the Bible’s contents, found ourselves unable to connect the parts with the whole, to relate the details to the central message of God in His Word? These and similar questions multiply within us when we try to discover why much of the Scripture remains hidden in the mists of the past. Possibly, for many people understanding the Bible has suffered a fate similar to that rehearsed in the nursery rhyme—

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall;
Humpty Dumpty hall a great fall;
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

Also this section of Genesis fails to speak directly to some. Here they find, so they claim, no gospel. At best it may give some interesting, even necessary, information concerning the past. But it doesn’t speak “to the heart.” Yet this reaction does great injustice to the Bible as God’s Word to and for us. Quite unconsciously, perhaps, it sets us up as judges who decide what is and what is not relevant for our lives rather than letting the Bible judge us. Here, too, God is speaking His Word not only to Israel of old but to us in our life-situation. It is intended within the total context of Scripture to make us wise unto salvation.

The spread of sin

The opening phrases of this section take us quite far back in history. They speak of the time when men began to multiply on the face of the ground. To limit this to the period just before the flood is unwarranted. From what little the Bible tells concerning man between the time of Adam and of Noah, there is every reason to conclude that the process which will be described went on for long centuries. Likely we will never know how densely populated the earth was in those times. Longevity, coupled with other factors, seems to warrant the conclusion that the race had indeed “multiplied.”

The account is both sketchy and sober. Yet all that men need to know about God’s dealings with the race in that early situation is recorded.

Clearly Scripture has indicated that the breach between God and man occasioned by sin is attended by serious consequences. In compassion and grace God makes known His way of deliverance. Yet not all men turn to God. The prophetic words spoken to our first parents are being fulfilled before the eyes of their descendants. Two “seeds” spring up. The descendants of Cain live in sharp contrast to the descendants of Seth. The former live for the things of this world; the latter learn something of the fear of the Lord. Also for a while there seems to have been a geographical isolation of the one group from the other (cf. 4:14, 16). This, however, docs not continue. The sons of God (whom we take to be the Sethites, cf. Notes) look upon the daughters born in the line of Cain and find them fair. Thus the “seed” of the godly begins to commingle with those who have no fear of God before their eyes. The passing fancy of the moment rather than the desire to serve the Lord in all things determines whom they marry. From this springs a moral and spiritual corruption which will engulf the whole race with but one exception.

It may seem, at first glance, to be a small thing that young men look for the fairest among the other sex to become their life’s partners. Yet this, as Calvin so aptly states it, is “base ingratitude in the posterity of Seth . . . because they voluntarily deprived themselves of the inestimable grace of God.” No longer do these representatives seem to he concerned about the pure worship of the Lord. All the evil into which the Cainites plunged themselves in their alienation from God, so clearly climaxed in the attitudes and actions of Lamech the seventh from Adam, fail to dissuade them. Soon the line of demarcation between the godly and the ungodly is effaced.

The next verse indicates that the Lord is not indifferent to this apostasy. Here He is introduced as speaking, revealing also to us so many centuries later some of the thoughts of His heart.

As is evident from the many different translations of this text, this is a difficult passage. To discuss all the possible interpretations would take too much space. Hence we make a few comments only.

Clearly there is an indication that God was no passive spectator to the growing departure from His ways. He speaks of His spirit as actively engaged in [striving} working among and within mankind. Luther, Leupold, and several other commentators have translated the verb as judge, indicating that God held controversy with these sinners, rebuking them in several ways to correct and check their propensity to evil. Calvin acknowledges that this explanation is not entirely incorrect, although he prefers to stress the fact that God will not contend forever with such an evil generation and thus prepares to cut it off. Aalders, and other recent commentators, urge a return to the Septuagint, the Vulgate, and the early Syriac versions, which translate the word as “abide in” or “remain.” This would, then, bring the verb into the closest possible relationship to God’s determination to send the flood after the space of another one hundred twenty years.

The next phrase presents even greater problems. Our translation reads: for that he also is flesh. However, the marginal notes indicate that another translation is equally valid: “in their going astray they are flesh.” For this Aalders, and with him many others, have chosen. Since this involves careful word study, we cannot present the arguments for one or the other here. The meaning, as is obvious, remains largely the same. Man, indeed, is flesh, also in that New Testament sense as one who sells himself under the law of corruption which is death. This is his “erring” or “wandering” which the holy and righteous God will not tolerate forever.

Now comes the decision of God. He leaves unto the human race the space of a hundred and twenty years. Retribution will not come at once. Nothing is said in this verse about the divine reason for postponement. Some have urged the longsuffering and patience of God, who is not willing that any should perish but that all should repent and come to the knowledge of the truth. Others would stress His special purposes of redeeming (delivering, saving) a people for His own possession out of the cataclysm which will surely come upon the world. These two, however, are not mutually exclusive. Certainly the displeasure of the Lord is strongly emphasized. Yet in his wrath God also shows Himself as patient and full of compassion even to those who turn away from Him. But when men deal lightly with His longsuffering, their judgment becomes the heavier. Also Calvin urges that this period is to be regarded as “a time of repentance to be granted to the whole world. Moreover, here also the admirable benignity of God is apparent, in that He, though wearied with the wickedness of men, yet postpones the execution of extreme vengeance for more than a century.”

The evidences of sin

In brief this section of Genesis mentions the fearful manifestations of man’s rebellion against God. It would seem that the sacred writer does not delight in dwelling long on that theme. He will allude to it again in the next “book” of generations (6:11, 12) to supplement somewhat that which is found here.

Seemingly without any clear connection ~ so at least many critical commentators urge—we are introduced to the nephilim. The word is left without translation, likely because so much divergence of opinion has grown up around it. The word itself means “giants.” The most suitable explanation seems to be that the writer wants to call attention to the fact that men before the flood were characterized not simply by a longevity which amazes us but also by a size and strength of body which far surpasses that of most men today. Indeed, we read at times of giants in later Old Testament passages. The contrast seems to be, however, that before the flood all the descendants of Adam were as a rule people of surprisingly great size and strength.

To this is added another detail.

Not only were there giants as a rule throughout those long centuries; also, when mixed marriages became the practice, the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown appeared. This is a special group to which Scripture calls brief attention. These mighty men are called “heroes” by some translators; that is, men who gained reputation for their might and the way in which they used it. Especially in the light of what follows in the next section (vs. 11) the writer seems to indicate the use of brute force, much after the fashion of Lamech. Thus not the godly, whose number apparently dwindled rapidly and whose influence diminished as mixed marriages increased, but the ungodly inspired by feelings of domination, force, and cruelty made a name for themselves. This not only continued but seemed to increase in the days when the Sethites and Cainites mingled. Nor had the memory of such people in centuries long past died out in the time when these words were penned. When man refuses to live in fellowship with and according to the will of God, he makes himself a tyrant who seeks to force his will on others by every means at his disposal. The only guarantee of our liberties, individual and social and political, is to be found in man’s surrender to the will of the living God. Apart from this, his life deteriorates.

The consequences of sin

Correctly, so it seems to us, the following verses speak more directly about God’s reaction to the development of sin among the human race during the period immediately preceding the flood. Here we find no repentance among men or return to the will of God. Instead, man’s sin becomes ever more apparent and awful.

God sees the wickedness of man. In what may appear to be an understatement, it is defined as great. No details are given. But Scripture does afford an insight into what God recognized as the root of all the cruelty and violence which filled the earth in those days. Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. Sin has broken out quite universally. No restraint is put any longer by men upon their inclinations. This is the innate depravity of mankind as it plunges itself more deeply into its apostasy which is the service of self at the expense of all else. Man’s plans (imaginations, “thought-combinations”) proceed from his own evil heart. Man doesn’t simply commit sinful acts; he is in the depths of his being full of sin. Among such people the holy God will no longer abide. From them he will withdraw His Spirit by which alone men and all things continue in existence.

Some have much difficulty with these words of Moses. Does God ever “repent”? Is this to be understood as a change of mind and heart towards men? How can this be harmonized with the “immutability” of God who is from eternity to eternity the same?

The Bible does, indeed, speak about God repenting (Exod. 32:14; Jer. 18:7, 8; 26:3; 13, 19; Jonah 3:10; I Sam. 15:11. Yet it also affirms that in the sense of altering Himself or His purposes this is not possible (Numb. 23:19; I Sam. 15:29). All the discussions surrounding this issue befog rather than clarify the intentions of God in so revealing Himself in terms which appear to us to be plainly contradictory. It is indeed, “the proper divine reaction to man’s sin,” as Leupold affirms. And we cannot proceed much farther than did Calvin, when he wrote: “The repentance which is here ascribed to God does not properly belong to Him, but has reference to our understanding of Him. For since we cannot comprehend Him as He is, it is necessary that, for our sake, He should, in a certain sense, transform Himself .. Wherefore, there is no need for us to involve ourselves in thorny and difficult questions, when it is obvious to what end these words of repentance and grief are applied . . .” God seeks to teach us the seriousness of all sin. He thereby also confronts us with His goodness, holiness, and justice, from which there can be no escape if we continue to offend Him. From such He will withdraw Himself and all the gifts with which He has adorned them. Thus the passage introduces God as determined upon the destruction of that first world. He now reveals what to us seems a new course of action, no longer preserving that which He had created but rather “blotting it out” from before His face.

Will this, then, imply that the end of all things is upon man and the world? Has God finished with the human race because of its incorrigibility? Will the promise given to our first parents, one to which they clung in hope, fail? By a single statement God cuts off all speculations of this kind. His purposes cannot be thwarted; His promises are more sure than the heavens above us and the earth upon which we walk. Suddenly the seemingly unrelieved darkness of this passage is illumined by gospel light. He has promised victory over the seed of the serpent. His grace will prevail. And clear evidence for this is presented in God’s response to the one man among the multitudes who still walked in His ways. In this man God delighted as He looked upon the sin-stained world of those years. This man Noah found favor (“grace” which implies approval) with the Lord. In him God will in faithfulness to His purposes and covenant promises bring deliverance, make a new beginning with the human race which by its deeds had so painfully grieved the divine heart, and open the way to the full revelation of himself in our Lord Jesus Christ.


1) For a discussion on preaching the historical texts of Scripture, cf. E. P. Clowney: Preaching and Biblical Theology (Eerdmans, 1961). This subject is discussed in greater detail and with rich historical insights in Sidney Greidanus: Sola Scriptum – Problems and Principles in Preaching Historical texts J. H. Kok, 1970). Careful attention to these works will prepare the way not only for sounder Biblical preaching; it will help also those who are to teach children and young people in catechetical classes, Sunday Schools, Christian day schools and colleges, enabling them to open up the Bible in its richness and fulness. Too many people who claim to be Reformed actually hold in practice to “a canon within the canon”; that is, satisfied with reading and understanding and seeking to live by parts of God’s Word, chiefly the Psalms, the Gospels and perhaps certain select portions of Paul’s Epistles. The rest of the Bible they seem to dismiss as either too hard to understand or perhaps even irrelevant to their lives today.

2) Once again the question arises: How long was the period from Adam to Noah? Reference has been made to this in previous notes. While we must always seek to do full justice to the complete trustworthiness of Scripture also in the details which it presents, we ought not regard the “historical writings” as exhaustive chronicles. The Bible gives “interpreted” history. It is not only selective and thematic; it insists that the events contain the meaning which God gives them and reveals to us. Hence for us the question of the length of time between Adam and Noah is, at best, a peripheral one. The Bible gives no clear-cut answer; it does not bind anyone to Ussher’s dates.

3) The correct interpretation of the phrase sons of God has been debated long. For a helpful discussion cf. C. F. Keil: Commentaries on the Old Testament, Pentateuch, vol. I, pp. 127–135 incl. footnotes (Eerdmans, 1949). Throughout the years three basic interpretations have been offered:

a) that the sons of God are angels who associated with beautiful women to produce a corrupt offspring. For this view appeal is made to Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; Dan. 3:25, with supporting evidence drawn from such passages as Jude, vss. 6, 7 and II Peter 2:4. Although advocated by several of the early church fathers, it was repudiated by the Reformers and since that time by most Reformed and Lutheran commentators. Today it is still current among those critical scholars who hold that the Biblical writings contain mythological elements in one form or another or, at least, adopt mythological terms with “remnants” of notions embraced by peoples other than Israel. Quite surprisingly, it is still presented as the most plausible view by Frederick A. Filby: The Flood reconsidered, pp. 70-74 (Zondervan, 1971 ). He recognizes the difficulties inherent in this interpretation but insists: “that although the whole subject is mysterious the evidence for the ‘angel’ interpretation is much the stronger (i.e., than that presented under c) and that it is not only consistent with early Hebrew modes of expression but provides the adequate impetus for that great moral decline which brought on the flood.”

b) that the sons of God are the sons of princes, influential leaders who consorted with women born and brought up on a lower social level. This view has become the traditional one in orthodox rabbinical Judaism. However, it is not warranted by the usage of the Hebrew language and finds corroboration nowhere in the Bible.

c) that the sons of God are descendants of Seth. In support of this view appeal is made to Psalm 73:15; 80:17; Hosea 1:10; etc. Almost all conservative commentators champion it. It alone is free from the ambiguities and speculations necessary to defend the first; it is not burdened with many of those difficulties which champions of the first should face; namely, that angels including the fallen angels have no bodies, that no mention is made of penalties inflicted upon these spirits for bringing such a corrupt race into existence, etc.; it takes seriously the awful consequences of sin in the life of mankind.

4) On the several possible meanings of the verb translated in our version: strive, cf. Keil, op. cit., pp. 134–136; Aalders: Genesis, pp. 198, 199 0. H. Kok, 1933 ); Leupold: Exposition of Genesis, vol. I, pp. 254, 255 (Baker, 1950); Calvin: Commentaries on Genesis, vol. I, pp. 240–242 (Eerdmans, 1948). John Skinner in his Genesis, Intern. Critical Commentary series, pp. 143-145 (Chas. Scribner’s Sons, 1910) acknowledges that he doesn’t know what to make of this verse:

“A complete exegesis of these words is impossible, owing first to the obscurity of certain leading expressions (see the footnote), And second to the want of explicit connexion with what precedes. The record evidently has undergone some serious mutilation.”

Evidence for the “evidently” he fails to muster. He does, however, choose for the view that the text refers to unnatural alliances between angels and women.

5) In this outline we have said nothing about the phrase: my spirit. Does this refer explicitly to the Holy Spirit as third person of the Trinity? Could Moses have understood it in this sense? Or are we to understand it as A reference to the general in-working of God upon men’s minds and hearts, in the sense that all men have an ineradicable awareness of divine presence and power? Or is the reference simply to the everywhere present power by which God upholds all things and which He now will withdraw, so that man’s breath (life, spirit) will be taken away at the time of the flood? This also reminds us that how we translate the main verb in the phrase—whether as judge, strive, contend or as abide, remain in—is significant. All kinds of questions concerning God’s dealings with mankind, especially with respect to his spiritual and moral responsibility despite the ravages of sin, are involved. Also here Scripture will have to be interpreted by Scripture. Only those who hold firmly to the unity of the Bible will be able to employ this principle fruitfully. Then without doing any violence to the intent (and operation) of the Holy Spirit we may find more in this brief passage than Moses and the first readers (hearers) of Genesis saw and understood.

6) As to the reference to a hundred and twenty years little need be added. It is incorrect to apply this, as some h.we done, to a reduction in the life-span of individual men. This does not fit the context. Moreover, it would be contradicted by the fact that even long after the flood many people exceeded this limit. The reference is clearly to the period in which God postpones the execution of his decision to destroy that first world.

7) The nephilim, as already noted in the outline, have perplexed many. Luther translated the word as “tyrants,” which in the light of other verses in this chapter need not be regarded as incorrect. The word itself allows for, without necessarily requiring, such a translation. It seems more plausible to this writer, however, to regard the phrase as a general description of men before the flood. Not all those of such great size and strength need to be regarded as such tyrants, “geweldhebbers,” as the Dutch might state it. Also in sin there is a dynamic, a “development” from bad to worse. This brief account seems to teach that, apart from the restraining and/or converting grace of God, man makes life on earth intolerable for himself and for others.

8) What about those “heroes,” those men of renown? Apparently the sacred writer as well as his first readers (hearers) had recollections of them, passed on in tradition through many generations. There is nothing strange about the view that Noah and his sons in turn told their descendants not only about the flood and God’s goodness in making a way of escape for them but also about that first world which had been destroyed. This may well account, at least in part, for the fact that among many tribes and peoples to our own day tales arc told about their “legendary” ancestors. Not all these are to be despised as figments of the imagination even though the facts may be completely distorted by fancies superimposed in the telling.


1 – How should we react, when some part of the Bible doesn’t seem to have any message or meaning for us?

2 – Can you offer any practical suggestions for getting believers more fully acquainted with the contents of the Bible? How would you respond to those who insist that all we need to know is Jesus Christ as our personal Savior?

3 – What does the Bible describe as a “mixed marriage”? If such are forbidden, what should and can the church do officially? Mention some dangers inherent in these marriages.

4 – Is there anything wrong with looking for beauty, attractiveness in a woman before engaging oneself in marriage? Does the Bible anywhere disapprove of this?

5 – In how far was anything known about God as triune in the days of Moses? Give evidence from the books commonly ascribed to him. How essential is this doctrine unto salvation for us today?

6 – How does the Holy Spirit work in and among unbelievers? Cite and explain a few texts in support of your answer.

7 – How did Christ describe the days of Noah? ( Luke 17:26, 27). Are we living in such times today?

8 – How would you explain the phrase: it repented Jehovah?

9 – What significance does the Bible attach to man’s heart? Is it more important than mind or will? 10 -What do you understand by man’s total depravity? Give some Biblical proof. Does the Bible also teach that men and nations can go from “bad to worse”? Would you say that men are worse today than some centuries ago?

11 – Why did God purpose to destroy also the animals? Does Romans 8:19–22 shed some light on this question?


Scripture: Genesis 6:9–22

Here we make a beginning with the third section or “book” of the generations into which Genesis is divided.

Usually we think of this as the story of the flood.

This seems to be the outstanding event which is recorded. That it had tremendous significance for the history of mankind is apparent already from the record. The larger part of three chapters is devoted to it by the ancient writer. Even more, this event is mentioned repeatedly throughout the rest of the Bible. Also, nearly every tribe and nation seems to have some “recollection” of such a catastrophe which long ago engulfed the world.

Yet the details of the flood – important and interesting as they may be -are subordinate to the one great theme which runs like a redemptive thread throughout the fabric of God’s Word. The flood is real; Noah and his descendants are real; but their reality is set within the framework of the sweet and saving message of God’s faithfulness to his purposes of salvation. It is the strange story of how God works to reclaim the creation for Himself. He engages to bring about ruin in order to renew. In His wrath against sin he not only remembers mercy, for mercy is never an afterthought with God. Yet the preservation of a people for His own possession requires, in accordance with the very character of God Himself, the judicial exile from before his face of all those who persist in turning away from him. In this way God makes Himself known to the sons of men also in our generation, in order that they may learn to fear before Him in humble repentance, faith, and obedience. No ma tter how the majority of mankind may rebel against Him, He will bring His new world into being for those who trust in Him.

Remembering this as the grand theme of the Bible, we begin to understand better why so frequently the deluge in the days of Noah is cited as a earth was filled with violence. Only Noah stood out as one who had respect unto the Lord.

By the announcement of God’s judgment

The second step in God’s preparation for fulfilling His purposes in the destruction of the old world and the appearance of the new is His self-revelation to Noah.

Immediately our thoughts turn to the words of the prophet Amos, spoken centuries later: “Surely the Lord Jehovah will do nothing, except he reveal his secret unto his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). In this way God maintains His claims upon mankind. The flood which is surely to come will not descend unexpectedly upon the wicked multitude. Indeed, men will not expect it. But this lack of expectancy is to be traced entirely to their own refusal to listen to the Word of God. Hence the blame rests completely upon man. That Noah discharged his prophetic calling among the people of those days is attested to by other passages in Scripture. Although his entire life was a solemn and crystal-clear protest against the corrupt ways in which his contemporaries walked, he would now in word and deed testify to the impending doom of mankind.

In a brief but striking message God addresses the man who found favor in his eyes.

God speaks unequivocally about the end of all flesh. He will destroy the world which He has made. The language is strong. an echo of what was recorded in verse 7. The earth—the created order which God had brought into being and preserved throughout all the centuries despite man’s sinfulness—will be destroyed. At this time nothing specific is mentioned about the manner of this judgment. It will become apparent from the means of escape from this destruction which God appoints for Noah, his family, and some of the creatures. Especially the violence (brute force with its accompanying cruelty and disrespect for common human needs and rights) is singled out as the reason for God’s displeasure. Such a world God cannot and will not allow to perpetuate itself any longer.

In the obedience to God’s command

Now—strange as it may seem at first—God wills to make use of Noah for the preservation of himself, his family, and some of all the creatures of earth. Here we find an “echo” of man as God’s image-bearer and vicegerent on earth. There is a responsibility for the world and its future which God is pleased to lay upon Noah. This is the high privilege accorded to one who had learned to walk with his God. He becomes in a very real sense God’s “partner.” Indeed, the two parties are in no sense equal. All that Noah must do proceeds from God who makes the man of His choice acquainted with the strange happenings which are to come and gives him the desire and ability to respond in faith-obedience. But this must not be stressed at the expense of the dignity and beauty with which God adorns those who hear and believe His Word. They respond, and their response is always meaningful, significant, delightful to the heart of God.

Noah is commanded to build an ark, a ship of a special sort. The material to be used is described as gopher wood. No one knows for sure what kind of wood this was. In this ship he must fashion rooms, cabins or “nests” as accommodations for himself, his family, the birds and cattle and creeping things which God wills to spare. It must likewise be made seaworthy by a liberal use of pitch both within and without. Even the precise dimensions are prescribed by God. A light is to be made to a cubit . . . upward, as well as a door. The structure is to have three stories, levels or decks apparently.

Frequently this kind of ship has been ridiculed by the critics. Indeed, they acknowledge that among the heathen with their mythologies similar accounts concerning a ship or a raft have been preserved. But usually they dismiss the whole account as the fancy of a primitive people who had some vague remembrance of strange happenings in a dim and distant past. And though the details seem to the Bible-believing reader quite clear and consistent, most of the critics would agree with Skinner. “The details here are very confused and mostly obscure.” We, indeed. may find ourselves quite unable from this brief sketch to reproduce a ship precisely as that which was to carry Noah safely through the waters. But enough is recorded by the writer, under the Spirit’s guidance, to remind us of the gracious care of the Lord for the man of his choice. We read, therefore at the end of the chapter, Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he. This is the faith-in-action which pleases the Lord.

With the promise of God’s presence

Most important of all in this section is what follows after an announcement of details concerning the ark.

Now God makes plain to his servant-son who had learned to walk with Him what will come to pass. In solemn language God announces that He will bring a flood of waters upon the earth. Only in this passage and in Psalm 29:10 is this word flood used. Already this should alert us that, at least in the mind of the Biblical writers and thus hopefully in the minds of all who take Scripture seriously, this flood was of a unique kind both in its coming and scope as well as in its intended purpose. To equate it with a purely local flood begs the question why the word is reserved almost exclusively for this event.

To this is added a most precious and pertinent promise for believing Noah. God announces: I will establish my covenant with thee. Here for the first time the word covenant is used in the Bible. It designates a unique and binding relationship between two parties, in which specific responsibilities are assigned to each. Only God can and does establish it. There is no bargaining with God or by God. He manifests Himself as sovereign also and especially in his work of gracious redemption. Yet He treats man as His partner and friend. To him he gives solemn pledges. But which is this covenant that God will establish?

Most commentators simply assume that this has a future reference, namely, to the time after the flood. But why, then, would God announce it at this crucial time in the life of Noah? It is much more natural to understand that the covenant which God announces is being made with Noah as he faithfully labors to build the ark, prepares himself and his family and the animals to enter therein, and thereupon ventures to leave the future in the hands of the Lord during the deluge. God pledges His gracious presence as He calls Noah to labor in an obedient response to His will unto the preservation and redemption of His people.

And that God’s covenantal mercies are as wide as His creation, wherein He delights, is evident from what follows. God rejoices in all the works of His hands. He has bound Himself in faithfulness to the world which He has created. Indeed, a purge must sweep clean for a season the earth which man has filled with violence. Yet God’s tender mercies have not departed utterly. Also of every living thing of all flesh a “remnant” must be preserved. Thus mention is made explicitly of three general groups of animals as well as of the food needful to sustain so many for so long.

How gracious God was in confirming His blessing upon Noah should stir us to adoration.

God indeed knows the needs of His children, especially when they arc commanded by Him to remain faithful to His Word in the face of great difficulties and dangers.

Let us not forget that the men of earth were filled with corruption and violence of all sorts. None seemed in any sense willing to respond humbly to the announcement of impending doom. When, then, this man of God sets forth to prepare a way of escape and for years works persistently at this, every blow of ax and hammer was an accusation levelled against their impenitence. How often they must have ridiculed him and, when this failed, attacked him with their reproaches. Without doubt the very size of the ark and the difficulty of fulfilling all the details which the Lord commanded must at times have disturbed Noah. Nor could it have been an attractive prospect for a man of like passions with us to bid farewell to the world, in which he had been born and with which he was acquainted, and enter into a ship with his family and the animals.

All that Noah had was the pledged presence or the Lord. But for this man such was sufficient.

No wonder, therefore, that the Holy Spirit at a much later date singles him out as one of the great “heroes” of faith. While the names and circumstances or so many of the men of renown (vs. 4) have since the time of Moses long passed away, the name of Noah is remembered with awe and thankfulness to God by believers. In him, as Peter so eloquently testifies, God was already pointing forward to and preparing the way for that seed in whom his world would be saved, even our Lord Jesus Christ.


1) This section begins with the title: These the generations of Noah. Our attention is therefore to be focussed on him rather than on the flood itself. Leupold is not incorrect, when he writes: “This is not the story of the Flood. It is Noah’s story . . . Everything has to do with Noah. No one can deny that such a treatment of the subject matter is perfectly permissible.” Exposition of Genesis, vol. I, p. 263 (Baker, 1950). However, he also quotes Keil approvingly, who mentions that the last section of this “book” is “an account or God’s covenant with Noah as the father of the new race.”

Admitting this we must conclude—and surely Leupold and Keil would not deny this—that the story is above all that which declares God’s faithfulness to His purposes for the salvation of the world. This is the emphasis especially of s. G. De Graaf: Verbondsgeschiedenis in two volumes  J. H. Kok, 1952) and other Reformed writers. Too often this approach is neglected, when the story is told to children and discussed with young people.

2) It is not at once apparent to the casual reader why in verse 10 Noah is again mentioned as the father of three sons. Too quickly we conclude that this is simply a repetition. The critic urges that such repetitions are evidence for the presence of several sources skilfully interwoven into one story by some anonymous redactor. In 5:32 this mention is intended to bring the line of Seth up-to-date. Here the purpose—because we are in a new section of the book—would seem to be somewhat different. If the Holy Spirit, as we believe, superintended the writing of Scripture to the very words selected, then we may also believe that the account would not include any “idle” repetition. Are we reading too much into this verse in the light of its setting, when we conclude that again the Bible seeks to make clear that the “godly life” does not exist and develop in isolation from the activities, cares, and concerns of daily life? To beget sons and daughters is for the believer an important and blessed privilege in the service or the covenant God.

3) The various Biblical words for sin are as instructive for our understanding of man and his life as they are interesting. Some of the richness found in the Hebrew terms seems at times to be lost or at least obscured in our translations. R. B. Girdlestone; Synonyms of the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 1948) has this to say:

“The pictorial power of the Hebrew language is seldom exhibited more clearly than in connection with the various aspects of evil. Every word is a piece of philosophy; nay, it is a revelation . . .” p. 76.

Perhaps a few examples will be helpful to those unacquainted with the Hebrew language. The following list is greatly simplified:

chatha – missing the mark, failure, coming short; implying blameworthiness

‘avah – wrong, in the sense of being bent, crooked

‘amal – sin as a burden, toil, travail; sometimes translated as grievousness, perverseness, iniquity

‘aval – absence of integrity, a departure from that which is righteous and just

‘avar – transgression; crossing over the boundary into that which is forbidden

ra’ – evil, wickedness in the sense of breaking up or ruining; thus sin as calamity, distress, hurt, adversity. It stresses the injury done also to another. At times it is translated “bad,” at other times as “wicked.” It is the breach of harmony.

pasha’ – revolt, rebellion

rasha’ – generally rendered as “wicked,” it denotes activity, tossing, confusion

ma’al – treachery, unfaithfulness, breach of trust CSI). in the case of those in authority

aven – vanity, a course of conduct which proves in the end to be unprofitable

asham – sin as guilt, offence (on the precise implications of this word scholars are not agreed)

4) The word ark seems to be of Egyptian derivation, used to designate a chest-like ship by which grain and other materials were transported. It was not intended for speed: rather, it simply floated. G. F. Wright comments that no pilot was intended for Noah’s ship. “It must have been left to float as a derelict upon the waters. For that its form and dimensions were perfect.” He appeals to the comments of the celebrated navigator, Sir Walter Raleigh. In 1609–1621 a Dutchman, Pieter Janson, built a vessel with similar proportions to demonstrate its seaworthiness as well as its capacity to contain all that the Bible insists it held. To quote Wright again:

“Calculations show that the structure described contained a space of about 3,5oo,000 cubic feet. and that after storing food enough to support several thousand pairs of animals, of the average size, on an ocean voyage of a year. there would remain more than 50 cubic feet of space for each pair.” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. I, p. 246.

5) On gopher wood, cf. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. II , p. 1279. The word is unknown in the Hebrew or in any allied language. Lagarde connects it with the word for “brimstone” or “pitch.” Thus it may well have been some kind of resinous wood like pine, cedar, or cypress. Argumentation for the last choice has boon quite frequent. Masterson supports the idea that the word is related to the Arabic kufa, a name given to boats made of interwoven willow branches and palm leaves, liberally coated with bitumen within and without. Such ships are still found on the canals and rivers of Mesopotamia today.

6) anyone interested in the details of the ark’s construction may consult Keil: Commentaries on the O.T.: Pentateuch, vol. I, pp. 142, 143; Leupold, op. cit., pp. 269–273; or Aalders: Genesis J. H. Kok, 1933), pp. 205-209.

All kinds of questions, of course, spring up in our minds. How could animals and birds and creeping things of so many kinds live among each other for so long? What about provisions for light and water (on the light, window or opening, there has been great discussion)? And what about their eating and breeding habits? Some have suggested that with the lack of physical exercise, this need was reduced. Others think in terms of some kind of hibernation occasioned by the tossing on the waters and the lack of sunlight. Still others appeal to the fact that most animals are very shrewd about adapting themselves to the available food.


1 – Outline carefully the contents of this third book of generation found in Genesis. Why does the title use the name of Noah? In what sense is he important in the story of salvation?

2 – Often attempts have been made to allegorize the ark; for example, the ship itself as Christ’s body, the church; the door as baptism; etc. Luther calls this “harmless” but “not so very skilful.” What is your opinion?

3 – Is Noah n type of Christ? If so, in what sense and why? Can you provide any Biblical evidence for this? Is it proper to try to find Christ on every page of the Old Testament? What is the difference between allegory and type?

4 – How are faith and works connected in the believer’s life? Was Noah saved by his works; because of his works? What does it mean that he was perfect?

5 – Which contributions are made to our spiritual life and growth by having children? Is this a covenantal obligation for us today, also in view of the overpopulation scare? What do you understand by such a covenantal response? What perspectives will it give to Christian husbands and wives in distinction from those held by unbelievers?

6 – Discuss the Old Testament words for sin. What should we learn from them?

7 – Is all rioting (violence) wrong? Are all revolutions against an entrenched government wrong? What about overthrowing an unjust government? How about the American war for independence?

8 – How long do you think it took Noah to build the ark? Did it take the entire 120 years? Give Biblical evidence for your answer, if possible.

9 – Why do verses 1–8 use the name Jehovah (LORD) and the rest of the chapter the name God? The critics insist this is evidence for the “composite” character of this account; that is, several writers whose work was combined and edited later.

10 – Discuss the Biblical meaning of covenant. When did God establish this with Noah?