APOCALYPSE OF NOAH AND THE FLOOD
THE deluge which occurred in the days of Noah is presented in Genesis as the first great world-judgment upon mankind. Through out the biblical narrative Noah appears as the great, central figure to whom God reveals his purpose to punish the wickedness of men, and to rescue from the overwhelming flood the righteous man who alone found favor in his sight. Traditions of a similar terrible catastrophe are found among all the ancient historic nations, and may well be regarded as originating in an actual event, which occurred in the very early history of the race, before the wide dispersion of families and tribes, and which made an indelible impression in the imagination and memory of men. The various traditions have many things in common, and also many and great differences. The biblical narrative of Gen. 6:9-9:29, appears to have been compiled from two different sources, with, perhaps, some additions (for example, 9:20-27) from a third distinct tradition. The purpose of the compiler is not to preserve and perpetuate a history of the flood, but to set forth its conspicuous religious lessons of terrible judgment on the wicked, and marvelous grace and salvation for the righteous. Viewed in this light it discloses numerous elements of an apocalyptic character. Its repetitions of statement serve the purpose of all apocalyptic duplication, namely, to show that “the thing is established of God, and God will speedily bring it to pass” (Gen. 41:32). The writer is not careful to harmonize or reconcile his different sources, but weaves them together so as to produce a composite picture suitable for his purpose. His detailed numbers, dates, and minor incidents are in some parts as prosaic as those of the last nine chapters of Ezekiel, but, taken all together as one piece, they are as truly apocalyptical as are the tedious details of Ezekiel’s ideal temple and land.
The apocalyptic elements in Gen. 6:9-9:29, and the truths therein set forth for our instruction in righteousness and in God’s purposes, both of judgment and of grace, are mainly the following:
1. The first four verses of the section (Gen. 6:9-12) are in substance a repetition of what has gone before, and may be read in the preceding section. This prepares the way for God’s revelation of his purpose of grace to Noah and his family, and for the description of the ark of his salvation from the coming flood. This righteous man and his household represent a small “remnant according to the election of grace,” which is to be rescued from a perishing world. The ark itself thus becomes a symbol of the salvation of God. Comp. 1st Peter 3:20; Heb. 11:7.
2. Jehovah’s word to Noah in 7:1-4, varies in some points from that of 6:18-21. He is commanded in the one place to take of the clean beasts by sevens, and beasts that are not clean by twos; but the order of 6:20, is to take “two of every sort.” From the apocalyptic point of view, however, there is no need of supposing discrepancy or contradiction or an oversight of the writer of Genesis. However discrepant the original documents may have appeared in their independence and separateness, the compiler of our book presents the one as a later revelation than the other, and coming to Noah only seven days before his entrance into the ark. Whether consciously or unconsciously, he has incorporated both statements after the manner of apocalyptic repetition. So Daniel sees in one vision a beast with ten horns, out of which comes a little horn (Dan. 7:7, 8). A later vision reveals the little horn as coming out of four horns (8:8, 9). There is no essential inconsistency. The later vision supplies additional features as seen from another point of view. So our author evidently designed to present the oracle of 7:1-4, as a later word to Noah, given after the ark had been completed, and shortly before the terrible catastrophe of judgment was about to break upon the earth.
3. The judgment of the flood marked the end or consummation of an age, and is a notable type of every similar crisis in human affairs which the prophets are wont to call “the great and terrible day of the Lord.” Such crises break in sudden horror on a perverse and unbelieving generation (comp. Matt. 24:38, 39). “The world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished; but the heavens that now are, and the earth, by the same word have been stored up for fire, being reserved against the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (2nd Peter 3:6, 7).
4. That great world-judgment was not only the signal end of an old world, but it also ushered in a new era in the history of man. The family of Noah, the eight elect souls, who were delivered by the gracious interposition of God (comp. 1st Peter 3:20; 2nd Peter 2:5; Heb. 11:7), were a chosen remnant destined to open a new age, receive new commandments, and enter into covenant relations with God. In all these facts we recognize a type of the consummation of another and more historic age, when a wicked and adulterous generation were visited with overwhelming judgment, and their city and sanctuary were destroyed as with a flood (Matt. 24:15-22; comp. Dan. 9:26, 27). That unparalleled catastrophe of woe also marked the end of one age and the beginning of another, in which the “remnant according to the election of grace,” who recognized in Jesus Christ their Prince and Saviour, went forth in all the world to establish his kingdom of righteousness.
5. When Noah and his family went forth out of the ark he publicly recognized the divine mercy, builded an altar unto Jehovah, and offered appropriate sacrifices thereon. Jehovah was delighted with this new beginning (8:21, 22), and declared that he would no more curse the ground because of man. He gave assurance of the perpetuity of “seedtime and harvest, and the cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night.” All this suggests the dawn of a new creation, and the new commandment, which is written in Gen. 9:1-7, reminds us of that which was given in the apocalypse of the first creation (Gen. 1:28-31). Man is again to “multiply and fill the earth;” all things are put in subjection under him, and flesh as well as the green herb is given him for food. But he is solemnly charged to abstain from eating blood, which is the symbol of life, and is admonished that man was made in God’s image, and whoso sheds human blood forfeits his own life. All these things present ideals of a new era in the world’s history, a higher civilization, a more sacred regard for human life, and a fuller recognition of God’s image in man.
6. Immediately after the new commandment there follows (Gen. 9:8-17) the oracle of a new covenant, the sign and seal of which is the “bow in the cloud.” The Edenic apocalypse had for its signs the cherubim and the flaming sword; the Noachic covenant has the significant symbol of the rainbow. This latter appears again and again in subsequent revelations, and is always suggestive of the gracious covenant made with all living things that survived the deluge. Noah and his family, in blessed covenant with God, with their eyes turned to that symbolic sign of grace, going forth hopefully to replenish the earth and fill it with a better people than before, prefigure the hopeful beginning of every new era in the developing history of humanity. And so, after the overthrow of many barbaric systems of world-power, and when the old covenant of Sinai was waxing aged and ready to vanish away (Heb. 8:13), the seer of Patmos saw heaven opened, and a rainbow round about the throne of God (Rev. 4:1, 3).
7. The cheerful token of the rainbow inspires hope, but does not insure against the perverse tendencies of human nature, nor save all saints from falling into shame. Even the coming of Christ, the glad proclamation of salvation for men, and the glorious visions of the enthroned Lamb and the New Jerusalem have been followed by lamentable wickedness. We are not to wonder, therefore, that many evils appeared after the flood, even in the family of Noah. The drunkenness of the patriarch and the sensual levity of his sons are plainly pictured before us, and have their lessons of admonition for all time. Whatever amount of historic fact Gen. 9:20-27, contains, the passage as it comes to us is a poetic oracle. After Noah recovered from the effect of his wine, and knew the acts of his sons, he was seized with the spirit of prophecy, and said:
We recognize in this blessing of Shem a Messianic oracle. It is God who is to dwell in the tents of Shem, and the word is fulfilled in the fellowship and communion of Jehovah with the posterity of this son of Noah, from whom sprang Abraham, and Israel, and Judah, and David, and the Christ.