I find it ironic that nearly every church has a picture of Noah’s ark prominently displayed in either its nursery or a Sunday school room. The picture is usually cute, happy, and child-friendly. The sky is blue, the clouds have passed, and there stands Noah, his family, and a small collage of animals all smiling together while a pleasant rainbow fills the background. The irony is that few scenes in the Bible are more saddening and sobering than the flood in the days of Noah. At that moment, God’s forbearance with sinful humanity came to an end, and by means of a cataclysmic flood, He brought about the end of the world—almost.
What could cause such a dire turn of events? When we read about the introduction of the flood in Genesis 6, we find that God reached the end of His patience with an evil generation of humanity. Genesis 6:5–6 tells us that “the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” This passage is stunning as it records sinful man truly grieving the heart of righteous God. In Genesis and elsewhere in the Old Testament, the language of God as “looking down” or “seeing” is not casual observation but divine evaluation. It is judgment language. Just as God looked down on His creative work and judged it all to be “good,” so in Genesis 6 He looks down on man and judges him to be the opposite: exceedingly wicked. The perpetual state of man’s heart was “only evil continually.” The evil of man’s heart was outwardly manifest as “the earth was filled with violence” (v. 11) due to the corruption of man’s nature. Mankind had become anything but good. Yet God is not only good and gracious, but He is also righteous and just in His judgment. He cannot turn a blind eye to sin. Thus, the day came when the heart of God was grieved by the extensive depravity of mankind, and in righteous justice God meted out decisive judgment.
God’s response was as swift and unstoppable as a crashing wave: He wiped the face of the world clean with a torrent of baptismal judgment (1 Peter 3:20–22). All of humanity drank of the cup of God’s wrath and drowned in it. Only Noah and his family and a select number of animals were spared, and that by the redemptive plan of God that included the construction of Noah’s ark. Though God’s justice was meted out, so also was His grace extended to Noah, who found favor in the eyes of God and built an ark for the salvation of his family. It must have taken Noah quite some time to construct the ark, which we are told he did in obedient faith. Of even more interest is the fact that Noah is referred to as a “herald of righteousness” in his day (2 Peter 2:5), a phrase that suggests that, while Noah was constructing the ark, he also warned the world of the righteous judgment of God that was coming. In this way, Noah also “condemned the world” (Heb. 11:7) and became an heir of the righteousness that comes only by faith.
There is nothing extraordinary about rain, so we might easily imagine a casual initial response by the people when the rain began to fall. Such a notion is likely mistaken, as we are told that the earth was flooded within the space of forty days (Gen. 7:12). The rain must have come down hard, and along with it, the “fountains of the great deep burst forth” (v. 11). The torrent did not relent until the world was smothered under a blanket of water. The tide of God’s judgment had swept in. If you have ever walked the beach early in the morning after a high tide, you know the effect of the tide. It sweeps away nearly everything it touches and wipes the beach clean. It is a beautiful and purifying rhythm—unless you happen to get caught in the tide and swept away. On the day when God wiped the world clean with the waters of judgment, no one was left to walk the beach and admire the purity of a virtually new creation except Noah and those who were united to him.
It is here that we see a beautiful portrait of the gospel of God’s grace. Like a brilliant diamond set upon a black cloth, the salvation of Noah and his family from the judgment of God is clearly contrasted to all the death that occurred during the flood. Noah’s family experienced amazing grace as they sat safe and dry within the ark as it slowly rose over what would become the watery grave of the rest of the world. It is noteworthy that it was Noah who “found favor in God’s eyes” and who “walked with God.” Those things are not said about his family members. In fact, it becomes clear in Genesis 9–10 that not all of Noah’s sons were of the household of faith, yet they were brought into the ark of God’s common grace, saving them from a watery grave, because of their union with Noah. The point here is rather simple: Noah was a righteous man of faith who walked with God and was blameless in his generation. Though a sinner to be sure, he was well pleasing in the eyes of God and found favor in God’s sight based on God’s grace and not his works. Through their covenantal relationship with Noah, his family was spared the great water judgment of God.
So also is it for those who are in Christ. The flood in the days of Noah was only a preview of the climactic judgment of God that will occur once more in history, and only those who are found to be in union with the covenant head who is greater than Noah will be saved. That salvation is found only in Christ, and for those who are in Christ, salvation is full and free. Though Christ was perfectly well pleasing in the eyes of God, for our sake He underwent the baptismal reality to which the flood pointed—the cross. So Jesus said, “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished” (Luke 12:50). Jesus understood that His baptism by John was only a preview of a greater reality that was yet to come. Though already baptized, Jesus had a greater baptism to undergo when He would be submerged in death, passing through the cross into the grave.
Jesus’ death was our death. The flood of God’s judgment found Him in our place. The judgment and salvation displayed in the days of Noah have found their fulfillment in Christ. Those who are in Christ can, with Noah, smile safely from the top of the ark. The storm has passed. The clouds have broken. The rain has stopped.
Perhaps it is not so ironic after all that we display pictures of the flood in our children’s classrooms and nurseries. We should all be reminded that our hope is not in ourselves but in Christ, who has conquered sin, death, and even our hearts through His death and resurrection. At the same time, any portrait of the flood in the days of Noah ought to be a sobering one, as both the sinfulness of humanity and the just judgment of God are on full display. Our God is not to be trifled with. Our salvation may be free, but it was not cheap. And our response ought to be one of deep gratitude for a salvation so rich and wondrously full.
I’ve often imagined that when Noah and his family looked down from the ark, they saw the watery tomb of many who refused to repent and believe. And yet later, after the waters subsided, when Noah looked up, he saw the rainbow proclaiming the promise of God that though we walk in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, our God is faithful and His kingdom will be victorious in this world. The rainbows we see so often remind us that God’s grace is nothing to be taken for granted. Yet for those who remain outside of Christ, there is a threat in every rainbow: the end of the world—almost.
Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series on faith and was first published on March 5, 2018. Previous Post. Next Post.