Re-establishing the World
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Genesis, chapter 8. So far, we've seen God's glorious work of creation in Genesis, chapter 1. We've seen His special favor towards man highlighted in Genesis, chapter 2. We've seen the status of day in human history in Genesis, chapter 3, and the fall of our first parents. We've seen, in Genesis 4, the consequences of that fall in the human family worked out in the descendants of Adam and Eve. And we've seen that story continued in Genesis, chapter 5, though Moses does highlight the godly line of Seth in part in Genesis, chapter 5. And then in Genesis, chapters 6 through 9, we see the life of Noah and specifically the account of the flood itself.
So we learn, if we look through that series of teachings by Moses, we learn first of all in Genesis 1 that we live in a personal universe. This universe hasn't just always been here. It is not the product of impersonal forces and an inexorable progress of some sort of macro-evolution. It is the product of a personal God who brought it into being. We see in Genesis, chapter 2 that man is not merely a machine or an exalted animal. In fact, he is created in the image of God Himself, and God in His goodness, has even entered into a special relationship with him. He's entered into a covenant relationship with man. We see also in Genesis 3 that man is a moral being, that there are absolute rights and wrongs in this world. And that the problem of sin for you philosophers is not so much metaphysical as it is concerning the human species. It's something that has been created in our order. It's anthropological rather than metaphysical, if I can speak in those terms for a moment. Furthermore, we see that sin not only consists in outward actions, but in Genesis, chapter 4 we see it even exists in inward attitude. Else why would Cain sacrifice be rejected? And so sin is clearly set forth as a problem which man has brought to the world in Genesis 3 and 4. And, in Genesis 6 through 9, we learn that this is a moral universe, that the Lord will not be toyed with, and that He will bring judgment against rebellion. He will bring judgment against immorality.
With that as a backdrop, tonight we come to Genesis, chapter 8. In Genesis, chapter 7, we have seen the onslaught of the flood, and we've recounted the first days of the flood. For many months now, Noah and his family have been in the ark, and that's where we find them in Genesis, chapter 8, verse 1. So let's hear God's holy and inspired word, beginning in verse 1 of chapter 8:
Our Father, we thank You for this account of Your grace in the midst of judgment. May we glean lessons for the living of these days from the truth of Your word. Open our eyes by the Spirit. Apply the truth and also illumine our hearts that we might understand it and embrace it by faith. We ask these things in Jesus' name, Amen.
In these verses, the waters stop and a new world begins to emerge from the cleansing waters of the deluge. As we review this passage tonight, four distinct scenes will appear. Let me share them with you so that you can see the structure. First, we see the abatement of the flood. The rain stopped, the flood stops rising and it actually begins to recede. You see this in verses 1 through 5. That's the first thing. Then, second, Noah searches for signs of habitable land, and he longs for release from the ark. You see this in verses 6 through 14. Thirdly, the renewed commission of creation is given to Noah upon his entry into this world after the flood. God gives a new commission just as He gave Adam a commission in the Garden. He gives a new commission to Noah as he enters into the post-flood world. And you see in this in verses 15 through 19. And then fourthly, and finally, see Noah's faithful and grateful worship of God by sacrifice in verses 20 through 22. And as we study each of these scenes tonight, we will see that their message is for believers in every age, including us.
I. The Lord never forgets His people.
So let's look at God's word together, and we’ll begin first in verses 1 through 5, where we see that relentless rain abate, and the flood waters begin to recede. And we learn in that section, verses 1 through 5 that the Lord never forgets His people because the Lord always keeps His promises. Throughout the destruction of the world, God remembers Noah. Look at those words there in chapter 8, verse 1. “But God remembered Noah.” Now look back at the previous verse. Remember, it wasn't written there with the chapter division, so look back in the previous verse and see what it says: “The water prevailed on the earth 150 days, but God remembered Noah.” The world of Adam was now extinct. Everybody in civilization outside the family of Noah had been judged and destroyed in the waters of the flood. “But God remembered Noah.” What a contrast. The old Adamic world forgotten, gone forever. Noah alive, alive and safe in the ark, remembered by the Almighty God. God's remembrance of Noah is not like, ‘Oh yeah, Noah's still out there.’ That's not what we mean. This is not an act of memory, this is an act of grace. When God remembers, it's a sign of His faithfulness. The old world is extinct, but Noah is remembered. Aalders, the great commentator on Genesis says this: “That God remembered Noah” means that God took care of them throughout the great flood, and thus He fulfilled His covenant promise of Genesis 6:18.” God told Noah that He would make a covenant with Him. He would enter into covenant with Him, and having done so He fulfills that covenant promise by bringing Noah and His family through the flood waters.
And this is very important for Noah. Because when these words are being spoken, Noah may not have been very aware that God remembered Him. For a hundred and fifty days he had been in the ark and there was still as yet no sign of dry land, no sign of the flood letting up. And he may have wondered, Lord, am I going to die in this floating coffin, in this creaky, old boat? Have you forgotten me? And retrospectively, you see Noah could look back and see that the Lord had been faithful to him in the midst of that trial. In the meantime, Noah's faith is being put to the test even as he waits for release from the ark.
The first verse of chapter 8 also records for us some of the second causes that God used in bringing about the removal of the flood from the earth. It's interesting, isn't it, that right off the bat we are told that the Lord sent a wind in order to remove the water from the earth. Look at verse 1. “God caused a wind to pass over the earth.” I wonder, because throughout chapter 8 you have illusions to creation, I wonder if the idea of the spirit on the face of the waters is being called up in Moses’ mind as he thinks of this wind being sent out to cause the waters to recede. But I certainly know that the wind of Exodus, chapter 14, verse 21 was on Moses’ mind when he pinned these words. For there ,do you remember that before the children of Israel crossed the Red Sea, the Lord caused a strong east wind to blow all night and they walked across the sea on dry land? Here again, a divine wind from the Lord is used to evaporate the water so that His people might be brought through the waters of judgment.
Notice again the rain, we are told, stopped. So both of those second causes are used by the Lord in order to bring about a removal, an evaporation of the water. It's also told that those upper waters and lower waters that had come together in the judgment, now ceased. And it's not mentioned, but no doubt the shining of the sun also was a major factor in the removal of that great mass of water from the earth. Finally, the ark touches ground.
In verse 4, we see that after 200 days Noah and his family had been in that ark 200 days before they had entered into the ark. And now they finally touch ground in the range of mountains called Ararat. This is thought to be Urartu, a mountainous land north of Mesopotamia, near Lake Van, located in modern Armenia today. And so the ark has finally touched ground. What are the lessons of these first five verses? There are many. But one comes immediately to mind.
When the judgment of God comes, notice that God's people are not taken out of the line of fire, but they are preserved through it. Noah is not spared the harrying experience of the judgment of the world, but he is preserved through it. And that's how God works in our own day. You remember the prophetic principle spoken so often in the minor prophets, that judgment begins at the house of God. When God begins to bring judgment on the world, His people are involved in that judgment, too. We are purified by the same judgment that is designed to punish and to penalize those who are at enmity with God. And so we are not removed, we are not spared that tribulation but we are preserved through it. This is a picture of what has happened in the life of Noah. He was remembered. God's faithfulness was upon him. God never had him out of His sight, even in the midst of this terrible judgment. Matthew Henry says, “Those that remember God, shall certainly be remembered by Him, no matter how desolate their condition.” Those who remember God shall certainly be remembered by Him.
II. The Lord continues to test Noah's patience and hope.
Then, secondly, we see in verses 6 through 14 that Noah, after the abatement of the water, begins to look for signs that it's time to depart from the ark. He's looking for signs of an end to the flood, an end to his captivity in that ark. I'm sure that Noah was tired of being around those animals and caring for those animals, and we can't even imagine the smells and the other aspects of living in that particular ark. And furthermore, I'm sure that Noah was ready to see the family have a little bit of space. Can you imagine what it would be like to dwell with your sons and your daughters-in-law and your wife in close range for over a year and, and you could never get out of the house, and you could never get far enough away that you were out of trouble for whatever you had done wrong? I'm sure that Noah was ready to get out of that ark. So he opens the window of the ark in verse 6, but he cannot see the plains from the vantage point. You remember he has landed somewhere in a mountain range. Noah can't see down to all the plains. He can't tell how far the waters have receded. And so he co-opts some of the animals as spies. And he sends out birds so that they can reconnoiter the land. God had told Noah when the flood was coming, but He did not tell Noah when the flood was going to end.
And so this became an opportunity for Noah's faith to be tested. Noah had to be patient, and he had to wait in hope, and so his faith was tested yet again and more. This scene of Noah sending out the birds and waiting anxiously to have them come back and bring a report, Von Rad says this: “This scene subtly lets us witness the waiting and hoping of those enclosed in the ark.” It gives us a little glimpse of how much they wanted to get out of that boat and get back to dry land. And so first Noah sends out a hearty raven. A bird that feasts on carrion and was able to survive the harsh surroundings, and we are told that that bird flies to and fro perhaps coming back and lighting on the ark from time to time. And going back and feasting on whatever carrion he could find floating in the waters. But he does not bring back any report to Noah of land which is habitable. And then later we are told that Noah sends out a dove. The dove, we are told in verses 8 and 9, at first returned. There was no place where the dove could land and rest. And so the dove comes back to the ark and Noah takes the dove back in. A second time, seven days later, and by the way the seven is repeated three times here, we get the pattern of the weekly cycle and the Sabbath was something that Noah had kept in his ark. He knew when seven days were up. They were keeping cycles within the ark. Seven days later, the dove is sent out again. Now he returns with an olive leaf. And then seven more days the dove is sent out and is able to survive in the world and does not come back. The dove, as you remember in verses 10 and 11, first returns with a plucked olive leaf. And that plucked olive leaf is the harbinger of a new world, a new creation. The olive branch and the dove for us is a sign of peace, a cessation of war. And there may be a sense in which the war that God has waged against this created order is over, but more than that that olive leaf is a sign that there is new life out there. There is a new world, and it's not long before Noah will be called to go into that world and reinhabit it, even as Adam and Eve first stepped into the pristine world that God had created. Aalders mentions, by the way, “That olive trees are able to sprout even under water,” and therefore they may have been able to survive the flood and it's logical that they would have be able to sprout and provide that leaf for the dove when he came back.
Now with this confirmation of the state of the earth, with the dove not coming back, with this confirmation of the state of the earth, now Noah goes up to the roof of the ark and he removes the protective covering. Apparently, some sort of skin, or some sort of sheet, which had been pulled over the deck to make it make it more watertight. Now this is removed from the deck of the of the ark. And verse 14 tells us that after over a year in the ark, the ground was again dry, dry enough for Noah to disembark.
What lesson do we learn from that section, from that scene? We learn that God calls on all of us to wait in patience and in hope. Have you noticed the pattern here in Genesis 6 through 9? God commands, Noah obeys. And Noah doesn't make a move until God commands. Noah is anxious, he wants to know if the land is coming back out there. He wants to know if the water is receding. He's anxious to leave the ark, but he waits for God's command in faith and in patience, and that is the sign for us in this passage as well. We are called here in the midst of whatever trials the Lord gives us to wait in patience and in hope.
III. The Lord repeats His creation mandate.
Then we move to the third scene. You see it there in verses 15 through 19. There, God gives the command for Noah and his family and for the animals to disembark, and Noah straightway obeys. In character with Noah, he is faithful to God's command. The Lord again issues a command to Noah. First He had commanded Noah to go into the ark. Now He commands Noah to come out of the ark. As God had told him when to board, so now He tells him when to disembark, and Noah is obedient to God's command. I want you to notice throughout this passage the language of creation.
Look at verse 17: “Bring out with you every living thing of all flesh that is with you. Birds and animals and creeping things that creep on the earth that they may breed abundantly on the earth and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.” Where have you heard that language before? Right in the first chapter of Genesis. And so we see the language of the original creation being reintroduced. It's as if God has cleansed the world by these waters of judgment and a new creation is there. Noah is as it were a second Adam, a new Adam entering into this world which God has cleansed by judgment. But verse 17 isn't the only place where we see this language. Look at verse 19: “Every beast, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth went out by their kinds, or by their families.” And once again we're back to the language of Genesis 1 there.
Then again, we see the creation ordinance accentuated in verse 17 that they might be fruitful and multiply on the earth. Again, that mandate, that commission from God to inhabit the earth is given in this renewed world. And so Noah is like a new Adam. Listen to what Derek Kidner says about this passage: “It is still Noah with whom God deals. The whole scheme of salvation has centered on him; his sons are beneficiaries, but not partners until chapter 9. As almost a second Adam he steps into a virgin world washed clean by judgment, and the spectacular deliverance in the ark is seen as a mere preliminary to salvation proper which is the new creation.” So Noah has the job of seeing the creational ordinances as originally given by God to Adam reinstituted in a new world, a world which is emerged from this old world that had been submerged in the judgment of God.
And here again we see the principle, that in God's work of redemption He is about restoring the original blessings of the creation order in your lives. It's not that God abandons His original design for us in creation, and says, ‘Well, I’ll give you something second best. I’ll give you spiritual blessing, meaning something less than real.’ No, the original creation blessings are intended to be restored in God's redeeming work. He intends to restore the original pristine conditions and blessings of creation in the lives of all His redeemed people. And that is seen even in the mandate that is given to Noah here. Noah is to obey those original creation ordinances. God intends to see those blessings worked out in the lives of His people. So as we see the original principles of creation repeated here in Genesis, chapter 8, we see a hint at this truth; that God's work of redemption is something in which he restores and in some ways betters the conditions of His original creation.
IV. The Lord's saving work on our behalf evokes a response of worship.
And then finally in verses 20 through 22 we see we see Noah gratefully responding to the Lord's work in worship. Here we learn that the Lord's saving work on our behalf always evokes the response of worship. In the very first section or scene of this chapter, we saw that the Lord never forgets His people, because the Lord never fails to fulfill His promises. In verses 6 through 14, we saw that the Lord tests His people in their hope and in their patience. In verses 15 through 19 we see that the Lord reinstitutes His creation ordinances, even in redemption. And now we see that the Lord's saving work always draws out from us, always evokes from us, the response of worship. There is no coincidence that the very first thing recorded that Noah did after he came out of that ark, was worship God. Noah's first thought was Godward. Noah's first thought was to lift up a sacrifice, a sacrifice of praise and worship to the Lord.
A couple of quick notes. This is the first time the word altar is used in the Bible. We are told about sacrifices in Genesis 4, in the story of Cain and Abel, but no altar is mentioned there. This is the first altar mentioned in the Bible.
Another thing to note about this passage is that the word that is used for sacrifice is not the same word that is used in Genesis 4 of Abel's and Cain's sacrifices. This word is the same word that is used for the sacrifices of burnt offerings in the time of Moses. So Noah worships, giving thanks to the Lord, but if we can read into those burnt offerings what they represent in the time of Moses, then we may also see Noah not only giving thanks for being spared from the judgment of God, but lifting up a prayer of intercession that God would not judge the world again and confessing that this judgment was just, and it was a penalty against sin for which sacrifice needed to be made. I don't think that's saying too much because of the context of the passage. The Lord's favor towards Noah's worship is immediately expressed, and it's done in striking language, isn't it? Look at verse 21: “The Lord smelled the soothing aroma, and the Lord said to Himself, I will never again curse the ground on account of men.”
Let me say two things about this. This is one of those classic passages where heretics will go and say, ‘You see, this means that God has a body because He smelled with His nose the soothing aroma.’ Now there are really people out there that teach this kind of thing. The Mormons go to a passage just like this, and they challenge you as a Christian. They say, ‘See, you say that God is a Spirit, but this passage says that God has a nose.’ Two things about that. First, the Old Testament in many places including Psalm 50, uses this kind of metaphorical anthropomorphic language to describe God's pleasure in His people's sacrifice. And even the Apostle Paul, who makes it crystal clear that God is a Spirit – read the book of Acts – makes it crystal clear in Ephesians, chapter 5 verse 2 if you want to turn with me there, that this language is appropriate to use. But we must understand it not in a literal sense but in its spiritual sense: “Walk in love just as Christ loved you and gave Himself up for us an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” And He’ll use that image over and over. Look at I Corinthians. This is a standard, biblical phrase to anthromorphorically represent God's pleasure in the worship of His people. You will see, by the way, this image taken up again in the book of Revelation as well. So this is not a passage that is claiming God to have a body, or some sort of physical senses. There are two many other crystal clear passages in both the Old and the New Testament that make it clear that that's not true.
But let me tell you one other very interesting thing. In the Babylonian flood account, we are told that the reason that the gods ended the flood was because they were hungry and they needed the sacrifices of men. What a stark contrast we see. How bold Moses is to tell this story even in light of the prevailing mist of the culture around him. Because here we see God, not ending the flood because of something that he needed, but God ending the flood out of His grace and receiving the sacrifice of Noah in His grace. When God said, and look very closely at this verse, verse 21, “I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man's heart is evil from his youth,” He is repeating the same language that you saw back in Genesis 6 before the flood. You remember that language? You remember the language of Genesis 6 where it states “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.” What's happening there? For one thing you are being told that man suddenly did not become an angel after the flood. You see the problem of sin in the world was not external to man, it was internal to man. Ham was in that boat. The line of wickedness could not be wiped out unless all man was wiped out, or unless man was changed by the work of God. And so wickedness continues. Total depravity continues. This is a beautiful proof text for the doctrine of original sin. If anyone ever tells you men are inherently good, you take them to Genesis 6 and Genesis 9. Genesis 6 and Genesis 8 make it very clear that both before and after the flood we are totally depraved. But what is God saying? Is He saying that He is not going to judge the world by water again because men are totally depraved? Listen to the language: “I will never again curse the ground on account of man for the intent of man's heart is evil from his youth.” Now this passage has caused commentators fits. Because in Genesis 6 God says, ‘I'm going to curse the ground because every intent of the thought of his heart is only evil continually,’ and now here in Genesis 8 we say he is not going to curse the ground again because every intent of the thought of his heart is only evil continually. Is that what God is saying? Is God saying that I'm not going to curse for the very reason that I cursed? Not quite. But we still don't have to retranslate as some translators have tried to do and make this verse read this way, ‘That I will never again curse the ground on account of man even though the intent of his heart is evil.’ That's not what the passage says. It says, ‘for because the intent of his heart is evil.’ What does it mean then? It means that in light of man's inherent depravity, because that is a permanent reality in the fallen world, God in His grace chooses not to judge that world again by water because of the sacrifice lifted up and acceptable to Him. Notice the proximity of this statement by God to know what sacrifice it was if we can speak again metaphorically, when the aroma of the sacrifice reached glory that God made the pronouncement that I will not judge. You see in Noah's sacrifice, we have a foretaste not only of Daniel's prayers and of the saints’ prayers, but we have a foretaste of the propitiation of Jesus Christ. We have a foretaste of that sacrifice that will quit sin and quit judgment and bring eternal salvation for all of God's people. You remember in Daniel 9, it was in the midst of Daniel's prayer for the restoration of Israel to the land that God answered that prayer by the promise of the Messiah. And it was in answer, in Revelation chapter 8, to the prayers of the saints which had come to heaven that the judgments of God fell on the wicked. And in answer to the prayers and worship of Noah, God promises a sparing of the world of judgment of water until the end of time. Why? Because Noah's sacrifice was a foretaste, a portent of a greater sacrifice, a perfect sacrifice, the propitiation of God by the Lord Jesus Christ.
Then a promise is given in verse 22 which is as broad as creation. It sounds, to you scientists, like the establishment of steady state, doesn't it? Richard says: “The uniformitarian principle is introduced here, after the flood, as a principle.” The verse, you see, expects a final judgment, but it will not be by water. God will establish until that final judgment, until the end of the world. He will establish a cycle of seasons, and nature and order because of His grace. Noah's restraining prayer and sacrifice points forward to another, a real sacrifice of propitiation, the sacrifice that the Apostle Paul speaks of in Romans 3, verses 25 and 26. May the Lord enable us to trust in that sacrifice alone for our salvation through the waters of judgment. Let's look to Him in prayer.
Our Lord and our God, we thank You for the truth of Your word, and we ask that You would bless it to our spiritual nourishment, for Christ's sake, Amen.