Needing a Saviour

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If the start of Genesis 6 helps us to see the full extent of the problem of sin, then the rest of this section, taking us through to Genesis 9 helps us to begin to see God’s solution to the problem of sin both in terms of his creation in general and specifically for humanity.  We see here that God’s concern is for a righteous man, a saviour figure who will rescue humanity whilst also seeking to protect, preserve and restore creation. God’s purpose is fulfilled through promises and covenant.

Let’s have a look in more detail at the account of Noah and the Flood focusing in particularly on Genesis 6:9-22 as God calls Noah to prepare for coming judgement and the aftermath of the Flood in Genesis 9:1-7.

Calling: Warning and Promise (Genesis 6:9-22)

6:9  “These are the generations of Noah.” Genesis divides into dynasties each with the account/story focusing on key people and their families. The first focus in Gen 2:4 was on creation itself but then had moved to Adam’s line. The Focus is now on Noah and his family line. Two words sum him up –righteous and blameless.  These describe his standing before God and his conduct indicating godliness.  Goldingay observes that Noah is the first Old Testament character described as righteous, in fact “the only person in the first testament so described.”[1] Note the slight distinction here with Abraham  who is credited as righteous. 

Goldingay is less keen on the translation of tammin as’ blameless’ arguing that:

“The word doesn’t imply the absence of something (so that it might imply being sinless) but the presence of something. Applied to a sacrificial animal it denotes one that is whole; applied to a person it denotes someone who is wholly committed in relation with God and with other people.” [2]

He is backed up in this interpretation by Wenham. [3]  Hamilton also observes that usually “The word ‘blameless’ means free from defect” [4] but this is not the case with Noah, so Hamilton suggests “wholesome” [5] However, it may also be helpful to observe Wenham’s translation of “generations” here to indicate that Noah was blameless “among his contemporaries” [6] This may suggest a relative understanding of the term rather than an objective or absolute one.

He walks with God echoing Adam and the way God walked in the garden with the first humans, also Enoch who is singled out in Genesis 5 as walking with God. [7] Wenham further observes that Noah’s intimate walk with God singles him out not only from his contemporaries but from equivalent characters in other ancient near eastern origin myths. He observes that in one story:

“Utnapishtim went to dwell with the gods after the flood but Noah enjoyed God’s close presence beforehand.” [8]

6:10  Noah has three sons which  mirrors Abel, Cain and Seth in Genesis 4. Later Terah has three sons and this seems to indicate the beginning of specific epochs. [9]

6:11 Noah’s righteousness, blamelessness and godliness is contrasted with the state of the earth. It is corrupt, not good, decaying, dying and filled not with God’s glory but with violence.  Cain’s sin has continued.

6:12 -God saw, just as in Genesis 1 he saw, but his evaluation now confirms 6:5. Furthermore, it is not just that man is wicked but that the wickedness contaminates and corrupts creation. If we were made to fill and subdue then we will fill the world with what/who we are and subdue it to our purposes. Goldingay talks in terms of flesh/humanity “devastating” the creation so that in return they will be devastated.[10]

6:13 God speaks to Noah and reveals his purpose and his plan to bring destruction. This sharing of his purpose and intent seems to be something new here. We will later see God sharing his purpose and plan for Sodom with Abraham.

6:14-16 Noah is instructed to build a boat and precise instructions are given. It is to be covered in bitumen. Note this will be echoed when Moses is also placed in a tar covered ark to be kept safe from the Nile’s waters of death. There’s order and structure, measurements are given, just as God will give instructions for the Tabernacle and measurements both for the earthly temple and the eschatological one. Indeed, “its shape may remind readers of the Jerusalem sanctuary.” [11]

The boat/ark is three storeys high and some suggest this reflects the structure and division of creation into three parts, heaven, land and sea

6:17 Then God explains to Noah the nature of destruction to come. It will be a catastrophic flood.  If the ark represents a safe/structured creation then the image is of chaos returning -decreation around it but God keeping Noah, his family and through him the creatures safe in a new creation through to the next new creation.

Noah is to form or subdue and fill this temporary creation. Everything outside will die. The ark offers a choice between life and death, blessing and curse. At the same time, the ark itself offers a form of death. The word used to describe it can also describe a coffin.[12] Note too that this same word is used to describe the basket Moses is placed in to protect him from death.  Moses is kept safe in his basket in the very waters of death, the very river Nile in which Pharoah intends to drown him and his fellow Israelites.  Noah is kept safe in his coffin like box in the very waters of death bringing destruction to his contemporaries. [13]

The ark may also be seen as a new Eden, a place of safety, shelter and provision. The old Eden was a garden of trees, this new Eden is made from the trees.  At this stage we have the first mention of “covenant” in Scripture.[14] Hamilton observes:

“The announcement of this covenant even before the flood commences is interesting. It shows us that God’s covenant with Noah in ch 9 is no ad-hoc arrangement, hatched in God’s mind once the flood waters had disappeared. Even before he unleashes his anger, God announces his intention to save at least one human being.” [15]

6:18  In contrast with his purpose for creation and the rest of humanity, God’s plan for Noah is that he will establish his covenant with him. It is because of this that Noah must bring his family into the ark, so they will be kept safe. The establishing of covenant remains a future event at this point, Noah and his family are to be saved through the cataclysm in order that it might be established.

6:19-20 Noah is also to bring two of every kind of creature into the ark. The language of “after its kind” may suggest that animals represent specific species group with the expectation of later diversification but may also reflect the language of Genesis 1 and the promise of reproduction and multiplication.

6:21 Food is to be gathered and stored for the journey. Noah has responsibility for the care of the animals within his keeping.

6:22 Noah responds obediently, in line with his status as righteous and blameless he follows all of God’s instructions to the letter

Cataclysm (Genesis 7-8)

The next two chapters describe the devastation that comes. God causes the earth to be submerged in water both due to torrential downpours and fountains that erupt from the earth (7:11). The deluge lasts for 40 days and nights, the emphasis on day and night indicating that there is no let up.  40 day and 40 year time periods will take on significance in Scripture with the Israelites wandering for 40 years, Jesus fasting for 40 days and the disciples being learning from Jesus for 40 days after his resurrection until his ascension.

Eventually the waters subside. Noah sends out birds to scout out the land and when finally one does not return he knows that it is safe to leave the ark.  His response to God’s protection and provision through the flood is praise and sacrifice (chapter 8).


V1 God blesses Noah and his family, this is a theme first seen in Genesis 1-2 where God blesses his creation. It’s repeated in Genesis 5:2 and picked up again in Genesis 12 where Abraham is blessed. [16] God’s blessing and approval are therefore crucial. It will matter for Jacob that he receives his father’s blessing which he will pass on to Joseph’s sons. Then in Deuteronomy, Moses invites the people of Israel to choose between blessing and curse.

V2 As with Genesis 1, blessing is about fruitfulness, it’s about multiplying and spreading out to fill the creation.  Humanity will later seek to resist this at Babel.  The creation promise is renewed in the aftermath of the flood.  Things may seem fragile now and the creation project has been reduced right back to one man and his family but here is a fresh opportunity to fill the earth with the glory and image of God instead of violence. Observe also how this perspective contrasts modern perceptions of the need for population control and also the wider philosophical perceptions of ancient culture. The Atrahis Epic concludes with the gods taking measures to ensure population control and restrictions on childbirth. Over population was seen in ancient near easter mythology seen as the problem and cause of the flood but Genesis sees population growth as a blessing following the flood.[17]

V3 Now all the creatures will fear humanity. This appears to be a new development implying animosity.[18] At one level suggests a distancing from the situation in Eden where they drew near for Adam to name them and on the ark where there must have been a lack of fear for the animals to come close. 

“The opening chapter of Genesis was quite explicit that in the beginning man and the animals were vegetarian. Man’s authority over the animals did not include exploitation or using those animals for food. Here the exercise of man’s authority provides terrifying consequences for the animal world.  Not all the pre-Flood relationship will be restored. At least a few situations will be different and man’s relationship to the animal world is one of them. Human exploitation of animal life is here set within the context of  post-Flood deteriorated situation. It is radically different from the ideal of Genesis 1.” [19]

As Freitham puts it: “Although Noah is in some sense a new Adam …., the world is no new Eden.”[20]

This fear is of course important for Noah’s protection. It also picks up on the other aspect of the creation mandate. Just as the humans are to fear God in order to find wisdom, so too fear of humanity from the creatures indicates that humans are ruling and reigning over creation. So, Noah’s descendants are not only to fill the earth but are to subdue it.

V4 A limit is placed. This is the basis for kosher and halal laws today. You are not to eat meat with its life still in it. Blood is portrayed as representing that life.  As a minimum there is I believe a principle here. We are to respect that animals have life as a gift from God and this should reflect in a humane and respectful approach to their slaughter. Boundaries remind us that creation may be subdued but should not be exploited. In that respect, if Noah is a second Adam with a new creation mandate to fill and subdue then here we have provision and prohibition echoing both the provision of fruit trees and prohibition on eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The structure or pattern of provision and prohibition even mimics 2:16-17.[21]

V5 The shedding of human blood is grievous and God will hold to account those who kill. Notice this also means that there is a reckoning for animals which kill human beings. Wenham observes:

“No sin shows greater contempt for life than homicide. Whilst an animal’s blood may be shed but not consumed, human blood cannot even be shed.” [22]

Whilst Hamilton explains the reasoning:

“To kill another human being is to destroy one who is a bearer of the divine image” [23]

V6  The death penalty is imposed on those who kill people. The basis for this, the foundation for the idea of the sanctity of life is that humans are made in God’s image.

V7 There is a repetition of the command to be fruitful and multiply from Genesis 1

V8-10. God establishes his covenant with Noah. Notice that it is a covenant with all creation, for Noah’s descendants and all the creatures that come out of the ark. However, Noah is at the heart of the covenant, it is through him that creation receives covenant blessing. We may describe him as a second or new Adam. The word for “establish” also has the idea of fulfilling.  So this can be seen as fulfilling the promise in 6:18 [24]

V11. The covenant includes a promise that God will never send a flood again to destroy the earth.  This does not mean that he will not send judgement and destruction but specifically he will not send this form of creation reversing judgement.

V12-13. As well as a promise, the covenant includes a sign or seal. God sets his bow -a rainbow in the clouds.   The bow is usually a sign of battle, a warrior’s weapon.  If the bow is seen, then you would expect the warrior to be with it. Wenham doesn’t think we should make too much of this. [25] However, Goldingay and Hamilton do see significance here. For Goldingay, God is “laying aside the weapon with which he might attack the earth” [26] Whilst to Hamilton this is hugely significant:

“But here in what is nothing less than a radical reinterpretation of divine power, the bow ceases to function as a symbol of combat and is now a symbol of peace and well-being. Its placement in the clouds points to the cessation of God’s hostilities against mankind.” [27]

 Therefore, we might see the sign as a symbol of God’s presence. However, through the covenant, he comes to bring peace not war for his people

V14-15 Hamilton suggests that  the bow in the storm cloud may also suggest theophany (cf Exodus 19).[28] Notice that the sign comes with the clouds. This is of course technically the case however, it also means that rain clouds are accompanied by a symbol which reminds us that their presence is temporary and even though we may face limited natural disasters, we do not need to fear the flood. Reading with New Testament eyes and the advantage of Daniel’s visions too, we cannot think of the warrior’s bow that comes with the clouds and not think of the warrior king who bears the bow and comes with the clouds, The Son of Man.

V16-17 Whilst the bow is a sign for us, it is also for God too. He describes himself as seeing the sign and remembering his own covenant.   Wenham comments:

“These signs remind man of God’s presence and God given obligations, but here most unusually, the rainbow is a sign that is seen by man but serves to remind God of his promises.” [29]


Noah may offer us the hope of a new Adam, one who emerges from the waters of chaos as a survivor, protector, saviour and having come through the judgement is commission to restart the task of populating and ruling God’s creation.

However, Noah is not free from the curse that sin has brought into the world. The problem of shame is still present. Noah gets drunk and in his intoxicated state ends up naked, a sign of  exposure and shame rooted in Adam and Eve’s Genesis 3 nakedness and shame.  Ham seems to mock and gossip about this to his brothers. Shem and Japheth instead act righteously by covering their Father’s shame in an action that again echoes the covering of nakedness by God in Genesis 3. 

This part of the account reminds us that the problem of sin and curse with the need for a permanent covering of shame had not yet been met.

[1] Goldingay, Genesis, 139.

[2] Goldingay, Genesis, 139.

[3] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 170

[4] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 277.

[5] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 277.

[6] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 169

[7] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 170

[8] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 170

[9] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 170

[10] Goldingay, Genesis, 140-142.

[11] Goldingay, Genesis, 143.

[12] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 280.

[13] Goldingay, Genesis, 139.

[14] Goldingay, Genesis, 143.

[15] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 284.

[16] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 192.

[17] Hamilton, The book of Genesis: chapters 1-17, 313.

[18] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 192.

[19] Hamilton, The book of Genesis: chapters 1-17, 313-314.

[20] Freithham, Genesis, 328. Cited in Goldingay, Genesis, 161.

[21] Hamilton, The book of Genesis: chapters 1-17, 314.

[22] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 193.

[23] Hamilton, The book of Genesis: chapters 1-17, 315.

[24] Hamilton, The book of Genesis: chapters 1-17, 314.

[25] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 196.

[26] Goldingay, Genesis, 166.

[27] Hamilton, The book of Genesis: chapters 1-17, 317.

[28] Hamilton, The book of Genesis: chapters 1-17, 318.

[29] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 195.

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