Here’s the quickie narrative of the flood that almost everyone knows: God made people and got mad at them, so he decided to wipe them out. He liked one fellow, though, so he made him build an ark and collect pairs of animals. Everyone else drowned, but when the floodwaters subsided, the few people and animals on the ark repopulated the earth.
On the surface, that sound like overkill. I mean, surely there must have been some nice folks that died along with the bad guys, right? To many people who understand only that much of the story, God must be some kind of angry, capricious monster–at least until gentle Jesus meek and mild came along.
As always, a closer look gives a different perspective. In 6:3-7, God said, “His (mankind’s) days will be a hundred and twenty years” and, being sorry that he made people in the first place, declared he would destroy everyone. But, as 6:8 says, Noah found favor. He commanded Noah to build the ark.
According to the story of the fall (Genesis 3:15), God had promised that the seed of the woman would bruise the serpent’s head. God had to keep someone alive in order to be able to fulfill that promise! Thus, at the time of the most crushing act of judgment recorded in the Old Testament, grace was at work.
Was Noah a better man than everyone else? Not necessarily. He must have been a godly man, but we need hardly assume that he was the only godly man for God to choose from. Grace means undeserved favor, and out of however many godly men lived in the world at the time, God selected one on whom to bestow that particular grace. But what about everyone else in the world?
If you look over at Genesis 5, you’ll find that it claims people lived a lot longer in those days than at any time since. Methuselah’s only claim to fame is living to the age of 969. His father Enoch, it seems, never died. God just took him out of the world when he was a mere 360.
It used to puzzle me that God said that man would live 120 years, and then we find all of the patriarchs living longer than that. But in fact, God meant that from the time he decided to destroy mankind until he sent the flood, mankind would have 120 years to repent. During that time, Noah built the ark.
Must that not have seemed strange to everyone else? An ark is not any kind of a boat. It’s more like a coffin, except this one was vastly larger than an ordinary coffin. It must have attracted at least curiosity. As Noah explained what he was doing and why, people had a chance to repent of their sins and get right with God.
Then, according to 7:4, when the ark was finished, God decreed that every living thing on the earth would perish in a flood–seven days later. Noah didn’t have to gather up animals, by the way. He and his family were in the ark, and the animals just showed up.
What would that say to anyone who had continued to scoff at Noah? Things were getting serious, but they could still repent and get right with God. If there were other righteous people besides Noah, or if any repented of their wickedness while Noah built the ark or while the animals came to get on it, they all drowned. They all died.
But here’s the grace: the godly always pass from death to eternal life. God could have simply sent a flood without warning, but he had an earlier covenant to keep. Surely he could have found some faster way to preserve Noah and his family, but he continued to love other people even as he decided to destroy all of human society.
That God, the God of compassion, love, and grace, is the God who created the universe and continues to maintain it, even though Scripture decrees a fiery end to the world. Everyone has an open invitation to turn from wickedness and to our compassionate Savior.