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"There Was A Flood"

February 21, 2021

Passage: Genesis 7:1–24

Let me address something right at the start because you all may be wondering – as I was – about this apparent discrepancy between two of every kind and seven pairs. To the first hearers and first readers of this material, there would not have been any confusion – it would have made perfect sense. Specifically, the language in our verses today is “seven pairs of all clean animals.” The pairs of animals we read about last week were commanded for the preservation of all species; the seven pairs of animals today were for sacrifice-eligible animals. There are two different commands because there are two different purposes for the animals.[1] In short, God was commanding Noah both: how to preserve the animal kingdom and how to be prepared for worship on the ark and when the floodwaters receded. Note: worship was – and is – a big deal to God.

With that said, let me bring you back to the beginning and lay out some things to notice today. First, you probably felt it as I read through the chapter: everything came to a grinding halt in our verses today. We went from the creation of the cosmos, through the ordering of nature, to the fall from grace through sin, then the brokenness within the family through Cain’s murderous jealousy, to the thousands of years of generations in Seth’s line until we got to Noah. We were moving along at pace and then everything shut down. It shut down and then there was a pause to deal with the surge of the floodwater. What a weird thing, eh? It is so tough to relate to this chapter.

There must be a reason why the author stopped to dwell here. From painting with a broad brush, the author suddenly is providing a level of detail that is difficult to fathom. We get specifics about the year, month, and day. We get the boarding list. We get a lavish description of the rising waters. Why? This could have been summed up by, “There was a flood.” What was it the author wanted us to see; what was this revealing about God and God’s purpose?

As I have previously, I want to remind you that we are not going to answer all the questions you have had or heard regarding this event. Instead, we are going to focus on what the author is revealing to us about God.

I am going to cut to the chase: the author wanted us to see that God is in control. In the midst of the chaos and craziness of the flood around Noah, God was in control. In the midst of the chaos and the flood around us, it is God who is in control. As God was in control, God is in control, and always will be in control. So, when things are out of our control, we can be comforted and know peace because we know that God is in control.

To make the point, remember that Genesis – and these first 11 chapters in particular – form the preface for the larger story told throughout the Pentateuch and the rest of the Bible. I mention this here because this series of events has similar elements later:

It is noteworthy that there are parallels between this narrative of Noah’s entering the ark and the narrative of the provisions for making ready the tabernacle in the wilderness. Both narratives, for example, emphasize that entry into the ark/tabernacle is to be accompanied by an animal offering. … The specific mention of the “clean animals” that Noah took with him into the ark is perhaps intended to suggest that while in the ark he ate only “clean meat,” as is the requirement in the tabernacle (Leviticus 7:19-21). Such parallels suggest that the author has intentionally drawn a comparison between the salvation that lies in the ark of Noah during the impending “forty days and forty nights” of rain and the salvation in the presence of the tabernacle during the impending “forty years” in the wilderness. Again, it is the centrality of the idea of a covenant relationship that lies behind the author’s work.[2]

Do you see how God’s hand was at work, commanding how things should happen for His own purposes? We see the same emphasis in the New Testament in the verses John read from Philippians. There, after the great Christ-hymn, in which Jesus “humbled himself, and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross…Therefore God also highly exalted him”, Paul exhorted the Philippians to obey, to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” God is at work in us. God is enabling us to will and work for his good pleasure.

By the way, this is an object lesson for understanding Scripture in the context of Scripture. So many times the world looks to pull out one piece, spin it around, and say, “Well, that just does not make sense to me; so the rest of this must not make sense, either.” But when we see how God is revealed in and through all of Scripture consistently, it is a rich and majestic and powerful and loving God we encounter.

Scripture is consistent in revealing who God is – here, specifically, that God has a plan and a purpose for creation. God is in control.  

So, now, let’s get into the narrative.

Doing when things do not necessarily make sense.

The LORD told Noah to “Go into the ark.” The LORD commanded Noah to quarantine with his family and all the animals in the ark starting seven days before the flood began. Noah did all that the LORD had commanded him.

Because we know the story, we take it as a given that Noah did what God commanded. However, consider the courage it took for Noah to do what he did: he had to commit his time, his energy, his resources, and his attention to this project before the first drop of rain fell. It took conviction and commitment. He stood out from all those around him. In modern re-tellings of the story, Noah is subject to scorn from his neighbors. We do not get that in the text; but our observation of the human condition suggests it would be consistent with the description of Chapter 6, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.”

Building this ark and gathering all the animals was a huge undertaking – and a huge undertaking of obedient faith. In human eyes it was a completely unreasonable thing to do. There was no earthly reason to explain it. Nothing in the collective memory of society would justify or require such an audacious undertaking. Yet Noah did it – he did not abide by what the world thought was reasonable. He did all the LORD commanded.

Friends, we cannot allow the world around us to define what is reasonable for the church to do. The church is not a social institution subject to the whims of the world around it. It is the gathering of those called together in Jesus’ name for worship, mission and ministry. The church is not an advocacy group for any cause other than the proclamation of the gospel. Yes, that proclamation can (and must) take on prophetic roles, but it does so on the foundation of bearing witness to the saving Lordship of Jesus Christ. Yes, it can (and must) reach out in compassion to the lost, the lonely, the destitute, and hopeless; but it does so – not from its own strength – but out of the overflowing riches of grace of God in Jesus Christ.

What we have seen in modern times is the idolization of secular government. It is the government that defines what is good and evil. It is the government that promises and is considered responsible for providing for the welfare of the people. It is the government that defines what is appropriate behavior and what are reasonable things to think and do. It has done so from a position of self-autonomy; forgetting that it is God that has instituted governments. Hear me clearly: governments have a role and purpose in God’s created order, but they are not sovereign entities unto themselves. This pandemic and the crisis in Texas are two immediate illustrations that governments of men are not capable of keeping us safe and providing for our salvation. Remembering that the purpose of governments is to serve and not to be served (or worshiped), we can then turn our eyes to the one we are called to serve and worship.  

We have been called to “Go. Make disciples of all nations.” It takes courage to do that in our world today. It takes time, energy, resources, and attention. It takes conviction and commitment. Obeying means standing out from the world that would prefer we remain silent. It means bearing the cross of scorn and shame cast upon us by those who reject Jesus.

Obeying is a huge undertaking of faith. In human eyes it is completely unreasonable. There is no earthly reason to explain it – to lay down your life to save it? That does not make sense. Yet that is exactly what we are called to do. It is how we worship God – the one true God.

We are to do what God calls us to do, whether that is reasonable in the eyes of the world or not. We do what God calls us to do because – even when things are hard and it does not look like it to us – God is in control. And that brings us to the next part of the narrative. 

Noah did not know how long the flood would last.

God told Noah that the flood would be devastating and that it would begin in seven days. Nowhere did God tell him how long to anticipate being on the ark. Yet, there they were. What were they doing? What was life like? What must they have been thinking? We all want to get to Chapter 8, where it says, “But God remembered Noah…” However, we are not getting there today. We are stuck with Noah on the ark. We wonder what it must have been like, floating along with no real idea about what was going to come next.

Well, perhaps we have some idea what it was like now that we are almost a year into this pandemic. I do not necessarily want to belabor this point; however, it is the most comparative universal experience of our generation. It has been a trying time for everyone. Among the things people have asked is, “When is this going to end? Why would God allow it to go on so long? Why can’t God make it easier?”

Floods come in a lot of different ways. For some, it is the restrictions of the pandemic, the social isolation, and the feeling that there is an oppressive spirit over all of life. For others, the flood involves their own health or the health of someone they love. For still others, it is economic hardship and lack of opportunities. No matter what they try, no matter how many platitudes friends offer about looking for silver linings and “everything happens for a reason,” there is a real struggle to go on from day to day. How long, O Lord, how long?

Trials are a part of the Christian life. Like Noah, we do not get to set the time frame, the details, or the scope of the floods we experience. We just get to experience them. But we can control how we think about them.

You know that Noah and his family had to be grateful to God in those first days as the waters rose over the mountains. They had been saved. But you also know that at some point Noah and his family had to begin wondering if this was it – yes, they had been saved; but, for what? For this?

In times of trial, in times of struggle, when the flood has overwhelmed us and there is no end in sight, it is important to intentionally remember two things:

  1. The goodness of God we have experienced in the past; and,
  2. The promises of God for the future.

Last year at this time, we were not even talking about COVID. Last year at this time, I was preaching through Mark and the sermon was entitled, “How Many Loaves?” We were covering Mark 8:1-13, one of the miraculous feeding passages. At that point I said,

For Jesus, the significance of the bread episodes was the revelation of the power of the kingdom of heaven on earth. The kingdom of God looks and functions differently than the broken world we currently experience. To us, this looks miraculous. To Jesus, this was standard operating procedure. The radical departure from our understanding of how the material world functions really is nothing out of the ordinary for God.

This begs the question, do you believe that the Kingdom of God is real? From our human perspective, is the Kingdom of God a miracle we are living into – or – is faith a “pie in the sky” mythic kind of thing? For Mark, Jesus was ushering in the Kingdom of God here and now. Do we believe that here and now?

God commanded Noah to build an ark here and now. Through Noah’s obedience, God provided for Noah and his family. God commanded Moses to confront Pharaoh and lead His people into the desert here and now. Through Moses’ obedience, God delivered Moses and the people from bondage and slavery in Egypt, and provided manna and quail for them in the desert. God sent Jesus as Emmanuel, God with us in the here and now. In his obedience, God provided salvation for us. That is what God has done in the here and now.

And what has God promised? To Noah (in Chapter 6) God promised, “I will establish my covenant with you.” To Moses, God promised, “the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19) To his disciples, Jesus promised, “I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.” Jesus was ushering in the kingdom of God; already and not yet. Can we remember God’s faithfulness? Can we trust God’s faithfulness in the future? If the answer to both is yes, can we live in trust now – now when it is so difficult to see a way forward, now when it is so difficult to know how long, now when it is so difficult to move? Can we trust God – do we believe the kingdom of God is real – when we feel shut in?

The Lord shut him in.

That brings us to the last part of our narrative today.  Noah built the ark as the Lord commanded. Noah got his family and all the animals on the ark as the Lord commanded. Then the Lord shut him in.  

How many of you know the experience of God shutting you in? I spent a lot of time thinking about this one. This is an interesting way of describing Noah’s situation.

Noah was shut in the ark. He abided by the stay in the ark order.  He was quarantined from the death and the destruction that was happening outside the ark. God was doing things outside while Noah was passively shut inside. God was in control. Noah was not in control. Once he was shut in the ark, there was nothing more Noah could do.

Are you ok letting God be God? If God shuts you in while He is doing something big all around you, can you do nothing? 

I will admit this is a big challenge for me. I struggle doing nothing. Well, that may not be entirely true: I struggle doing nothing when I think I should be doing something. I feel worthless if I can’t help and do something.

This is a good description of the struggle with grace. This is the struggle with the cross. This is the struggle with Jesus standing in my stead for judgment; this is the struggle I have with wanting to earn my righteousness.

My worth is not in what I bring to God – I offer God nothing that God needs or lacks. My worth is the value God places on me. That’s it. My sin and my rebellion and my brokenness all deserve the flood of judgment. But by God’s grace, instead, I have been shut in the ark. That being the case, can I let be God be God? Can I receive God’s grace, can I resolve to not do anything to try to earn my own righteousness? Can I live in gratitude and not perpetual obligation to repay?

Conclusion

There was a flood. We are in the midst of a flood. In the midst of all the noise and struggle, can we see the hand of God at work? Can we worship when so much is going wrong? Can we hold onto our faith when there is no end in sight? Can we trust God to be God?

Friends, we are in the thick of it, but we also know this is not the end of the story. Remember the goodness of God we have experienced – the salvation we have received. Remember the promises of God about where we are headed. In the depths of the flood, hold fast to the one who is in control. And, thank God that he is holding fast to us.

Amen.

 

[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary, Genesis, Volume 1, p. 176-177.

[2] Frank E. Gaebelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 2, p. 85.