Series: Beginnings: The Story of Genesis Part 4
Text: Genesis 7:11-24
Preached: Sunday, May 18 at Tri-Lakes United Methodist Church
I showed an edited version of this clip at the opening to get us all on the same page.
Many of us, especially those who have been part of the church literally for as long as we can remember, believe we know what the story of Noah is all about. We learned all about Noah’s Ark as children with images like this one.
The picture to the right is literally a Precious Moments representation of Noah’s Ark. Cute little animals, cute little people, even a couple of spiders. Give them some fishing poles and a picnic basket and they could be enjoying a lazy day on a boat.
As we look at the story this morning I ask you to take a fresh look at it, trying to suspend your preconceptions, what you already know about this story. Let’s reimagine the story together to see if there isn’t something more here for us than the “did it really happen?” argument which seems to dominate the conversation.
First, a little context
This Sunday is Week 4 of our series on the first book of the Bible called Beginnings: The Story of Genesis. You will recall that on Week 1, Pastor Bob talked about the creation story as told in Genesis 1, and how this is the story of God building a place for him to dwell, his Temple—a great reminder that God is not far from us, waiting for us to die so that we can be with him, but chooses instead to dwell here with us. Maybe it is better to say that God has invited us to live with him in his space, his Temple, his home.
In Week 2, which happened to be Star Wars Day, May the Fourth, Pastor Bob looked at “The Sequel,” Genesis 2 where we get a slightly different slant on the creation story, particularly the role human beings were created to play. We were created to be the image of God on earth, to serve as the caretakers of creation, including one another. To be the priests in God’s holy Temple.
Last week Pastor Bob looked carefully at Genesis 3 & 4, and the introduction of sin into the world. As he noted last Sunday, it didn’t take very long for human beings to take the gifts God had given them and misuse them for their own glorification. In Genesis 3 we read the familiar story of Adam and Eve falling into the temptation to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because they are told that will make them like God, and who wouldn’t want to be their own god. Then in chapter 4 we read about two of Adam and Eve’s sons, Cain and Abel where Cain eventually kills his brother because Abel seems to be more favored by God.
Which brings us to Genesis 5, where one of those lengthy genealogies, for which the Bible is infamous, begins. This one traces the descendants of Adam and Eve through Noah, then when it is picked up again in chapter 10, continues all the way to the birth of the central character in the rest of Genesis, Abram, who will later be renamed Abraham.
So, the Noah story follows the creation of God’s Temple, and those to care for it in Genesis 1 & 2. The creation is then messed up by sin in chapters 3 & 4. Chapter 5 begins a lengthy genealogy, and then we read this in chapter 6, “The Lord saw that humanity had become thoroughly evil on the earth and that every idea their minds thought up was always completely evil. The Lord regretted making human beings on the earth, and he was heartbroken” (Genesis 6:5-6 CEB). Again, as we noted last week, it doesn’t take long for sin to mess everything up. Here we are just 6 chapters into the history of the world, and God is ready to throw in the towel because he is so heartbroken with the choices we human beings are making.
A story of salvation, not punishment
There is a temptation here to read the story of the Great Flood as something it is not, and I want to emphasize that here. If you read this story out of its context, you get the idea that the flood is God throwing a temper tantrum, but that is not the case. One commentary really helped me see this when I read this sentence: “It seems that the main purpose of the story is not to show why God sent a flood, but rather why God saved Noah” (Baker 15).
This is not a story about the death of many, but rather the story of the salvation of a family. To put it succinctly, this is not a story about punishment. This is instead a story about God’s ability to save us from the floods we experience—floods caused by our own sin, floods caused by the sins of those around us, floods that are no one’s fault and just happen. In spite of it all, God is ready to save us.
Genesis gives us the reason God saved Noah. In Genesis 6:9 we read, “Noah was a moral and exemplary man; he walked with God.”
This phrase “walked with God” is special. It is used throughout Genesis to talk about someone in a close relationship with God. In that genealogy we are tempted to skip over in Genesis 5, we are introduced to someone named Enoch who is said to have walked with God. In the place where every other entry in the genealogy gives us each person’s death, for Enoch we instead read that he “disappeared because God took him” (Genesis 5:24 CEB). No death. Later in Genesis we will read about Abraham and Isaac, who we are also told also “walked with God.”
The sin that breaks God’s heart (the Bible says God was heartbroken, not angry), and causes his decision to allow/send the Great Flood, is his children choosing to walk with someone other than him, which causes us to think of sin a bit differently than we normally do. Sin, then, is not a failing of a test or clearing some bar. Rather it is choosing to live in a way other than the best way. It is choosing to live in a way other than the one God intends for us. This is why God is heartbroken. His children, those created in his image, are choosing to ignore him. Noah, is different. He chooses to walk with God.
The sea: a symbol of chaos and evil
As a guy who grew up on the Jersey shore, one who used to go to the boardwalk in the winter to stare over the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean, who in the summer would stand ankle deep in the water to hear and feel the tides coming and going, and have wonderful experiences with God—It is difficult to understand the ancients’ relationship with the sea. For them, the sea was unstable and scary. It was a place of storms and danger. For them, it was a place of chaos and evil. So often in scripture when lots of water is present, there is this sense of it being the place of evil and chaos. For example, when Jesus calms the storm he is not only showing his power over nature, but also over evil. When he walks on water he is demonstrating his authority over the powers of wickedness we encounter. When Moses parts the Red Sea, and Israel walks through on dry ground, they are being set free from the evil because God is with them.
So when Genesis 1 opens we find two things present – darkness and water, “the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters” (Genesis 1:2). Water and darkness are the two things already there—signs of chaos.
The very first thing God does when he begins creation is organize the chaos. On Day 1 God brings forth light to dispel the darkness. He sets a boundary of Day around the darkness and confines it to a period of time called Night.
On Day 2 God goes to work on the chaos of the water. He creates a dome in the middle of the waters, Genesis 1:6 says. The dome is called the sky and some of the water is above it—explaining precipitation, and some of the water is below it—explaining wells.
On Day 3 God further organizes the chaotic water, again setting boundaries around the chaos, allowing dry land to appear. And the water is bound up in the seas.
This is an interesting understanding of the world in which we live. The author of Genesis 1 is telling us how God created his Temple in the midst of the chaos. The implication being we should not be surprised, as Pastor Bob said last week, when we encounter chaos and evil. Rather we should be surprised when we experience God in the midst of the chaos. The world in which we live is kept orderly by God who dispels the darkness (Jesus is the light of the world), and holds back the sea (as in the Exodus).
With that in mind, notice what happens when the flood waters come in Noah’s story–”all the springs of the deep sea erupted, and the windows in the skies opened” (Genesis 7:11). The water from above the dome God created on Day 2 is returned to the earth. The waters below spring up. The gathering of the water into seas and rivers is undone. When the water comes there is a complete undoing of what God did in the first three days of creation. We are returning to a world of utter chaos, where God no longer sets boundaries around the waters, the chaos, the evil.
Pastor Bob sometimes reminds us that what we perceive as punishment from God in the Bible, is actually God giving human beings who are not listening to him, exactly what they have asked for. This is another example of that.
Human beings are ignoring God. We are told they are living in sin and utter chaos—acting in ways that grieve the heart of God. God seems to say, “If you don’t want me to continue to do what I do, then here you go.” And the story of the flood is actually less a story of punishment, and more a story of the earth going back to what it was before God began to create. In some sense, it is the story of what the earth would be like without God—filled with chaos.
When we personalize this story, it tells us what our lives are like when we cast God out of his Temple, our very selves created in his image, and seek to go it alone. Soon our world becomes a flood of evil and chaos.
“The waters rose…”
In 1995, almost 20 years ago, a then unknown band called Jars of Clay came out with a song that seemed to resonate with almost everyone. Although they were a Christian band, their song “Flood” was being played and well received on just about every radio station. On the one hand, it is a well-crafted song that deserves attention simply for its musicality. But on the other, I can’t help but wonder if its popularity didn’t have more to do with the subject matter of the lyric.
It opens, “Rain, rain on my face. It hasn’t stopped raining for days. My world is a flood.” I’ve been there, and my guess would be, so have you. We know all too well what it is like to be overwhelmed. With our schedule already incredibly full, an important but forgotten appointment rears its head and we don’t know how we’re going to fit it in. With our budget stretched beyond what we think it can handle, the car breaks down or we find a leaky pipe. When our nerves are already about shot, we get news about the illness of a friend, the divorce of an extended family member, or the struggles of our children. Suddenly, “my world is a flood.”
In Genesis 7, the part of The Great Flood story we read earlier, we hear a refrain repeated time and again. In verse 17 we read, “the waters rose” and lifted the Ark high above the earth. Great. It is settled. Then in verse 18, “the waters rose” and spread out over the earth. Ok. Enough. Verse 19, “the waters rose” even higher and covered the mountains. That has to be enough. Verse 20, “the waters rose” twenty three feet over the mountains. Verse 24 “The waters rose over the earth for one hundred fifty days.”
I don’t know about you, but just reading those verses and remembering those times when the flood waters of chaos have come to my life, I can feel my pulse increasing and the memory of the anxiety returning. Jars of Clay puts it well when they sing, “I can’t feel my feet touching the ground.”
The flood comes and we are overwhelmed. Sometimes it is due to the sins of others, and sometimes it just happens. But other times, it seems to be my own fault.
Often when I am overwhelmed one of the first thoughts that comes to my mind is “what did I do to deserve this?” I know I’m probably the only one here who thinks that way, but in case there is one or two others here this morning, I want to remind you and me that this is not a story about punishment. This is a story about salvation. As that commentary said, “the main purpose of the story is not to show why God sent a flood,” Noah’s or ours, “but rather why God saved Noah” (Baker 15) and by extension how he saves us.
In the midst of our floods, our focus needs to be on the good news that there is this boat, an Ark. We gain entrance on it by walking with God as Noah did. By being in relationship with the one who created us. By allowing him to dwell in us, and surrendering our will to his. Through it we can ride out the storm, and know it will not drag us under.
A new beginning
Water is used throughout scripture as a sign of chaos, but it is also used as a sign of cleansing and new life. When the Israelites travel through the Red Sea, they become God’s people in a new way. When they reach Canaan, Joshua leads them through the Jordan River, cleansing and preparing them for a new life in the Promised Land. When Jesus begins his ministry, he goes to the river to be baptized by John, and the Holy Spirit of God descends upon him. When Jesus talks about new life with Nicodemus he says we must be born of water and the spirit to gain eternal life (John 3:5). In John’s vision of the Kingdom of God in Revelation 20-22, we are told there is no more sea, no more chaos, but there is a river of life flowing from the throne of God. Today we baptize with water, a sign of our new life in Christ.
Here in Genesis we are told that after The Great Flood, there is a new beginning. God again enters into covenant with his people, a covenant he will never break. He commands Noah and his family to be fruitful and multiply, just as he commanded Adam and Eve. When the flood waters recede there is renewal, and we might even say resurrection.
Because I have not seen the new Noah movie starring Russell Crowe—which is not playing in the area anymore, and now I guess I will have to wait for it to come out in Redbox—I spent some of my sermon prep time reading reviews and watching interviews about the movie. Time and again I encountered the statement that the Noah movie poses the question, “Is humanity worth saving?”
I don’t know where the movie comes out on this question, but I know what the book says. God’s resounding answer is “Yes!” Yes, humanity is worth saving. And maybe the thing you need to hear today is that you, even you, are worth saving. Your sin, your mistakes, your past, your parents, your children, your finances, your addiction, your anxiety, your fear, your demons… whatever, does not relegate you to the flood waters. No! You can begin to walk with God, know the order God brings out of the chaos, and enter the Ark to ride out the storms.
Walking with God doesn’t mean you will live a charmed life with no storms. No, God continually leads his people through the waters, where somehow they are renewed and refreshed. The good news is that even in the storm, there is hope, and a new day will dawn.
Barker, Kenneth L., and John Kohlenberger R. Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1994. Print.
Ehrlich, Carl S. “Noah.” The Oxford Companion to the Bible. By Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan. New York: Oxford UP, 1993. 558. Print.
Fox, Everett. Genesis and Exodus: A New English Rendition; Translated with Commentary and Notes. New York: Schocken, 1991. Print.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotations of Scripture are from the Common English Bible available online at BibleGateway.com.