Construction of the ark, from the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)
According to Romans 1:18, the wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness. It seems at first that Noah’s flood could be Exhibit A.
Except that a careful reading shows that nowhere in the Genesis account of the flood does “wrath,” “anger,” or any synonym occur!
The first time “anger” occurs in the King James Bible is Genesis 27:45 to describe Esau. “Wrath” first occurs is Genesis 39:19, which describes Potiphar after his wife accused Joseph of attempted rape. Abraham asked God not to be angry in Genesis 18:30 when the two were bargaining over the fate of Sodom.
The first time anger or wrath is ascribed to God is Exodus 4:14 when Moses was trying to beg off from his assignment.
If God’s wrath doesn’t explain the flood, what does?
The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth and his heart was filled with pain.
So the Lord said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved I have made them. But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.—Genesis 6:5-8
God sent the flood out of grief. And why would he be grieved?
Take another look at the creation story. God made a man before the earth was fit to live on. Then he planted a garden. The man became God’s partner in creation, naming all of the beasts.
Then God made a woman, told the two of them to be fruitful and multiply, then he left. Contrary to centuries of foolish teaching, this is not a blame-the-woman story.
As soon as God left, the serpent showed up—”craftier than any of the wild animals God had made” (Genesis 3:1).
Notice. The serpent was not craftier than any of the other wild animals. The serpent was not one of them at all. The man had not named him.
The serpent’s name is Satan (Revelation 20:2). The devil comes immediately to take away the seed, God’s word (Mark 4:15). It would have been impossible to draw the man away from God after such a long and intimate relationship, but the woman was new and inexperienced.
If she had resisted the serpent’s suggestions, God’s Plan A (immediate destruction of the devil) could have gone into effect. As it was, God moved to Plan B (redeem humanity and then destroy the devil).
Fallen humanity became more and more evil. Genesis 6:4 makes cryptic reference to the Nephilim and sons of God. These appear to be fallen angelic beings (or demons) who had taken physical form and had sex with humans. In other words, the moral degradation of those days exceeds anything the world has seen since.
God decided to start over with Noah, of whom it is written that God favored him, and with his wife, sons, and daughters-in-law, of whom no such thing is recorded.
Noah’s Ark / Edward Hicks, 1846
God sent the flood in grief and accomplished the complete annihilation of the people of mixed human and demonic parentage. And he sent it with mercy.
- From the time Noah was commanded to build the ark until the day the flood started was 120 years—plenty of time for anyone to repent if they were so inclined (Genesis 6:3).
- God promised Noah a covenant—something like a contract. As with Adam in the garden, God took Noah as a partner (Genesis 6:18).
- God told Noah to take a breeding pair of every animal on the ark with him (Genesis 6:17), but he didn’t have to round them up. They simply came to the ark at the same time Noah and his family entered (Genesis 7:8-9).
- The flood did not begin until seven days after God closed the ark (Genesis 7:10), giving anyone so inclined one last chance to repent. The death of the body is not the end for a person. There is a second death, and anyone who repents avoids it.
- After an unparalleled storm, everything on the surface of the earth was dead, but Noah and those with him on the ark were high above it, floating safely on the water.
- Genesis 8:1 says that God remembered Noah. It’s not like he ever forgot. Whenever the Bible says that God remembers, it always implies movement toward and on behalf of whom he remembers. The word for “remember” in Hebrew combines the ideas of faithful love and timely intervention.
- The water receded. It must have felt to Noah like it was receding painfully slowly, but after sending a dove out three times, it finally came back with an olive leaf (Genesis 8:11). The vegetation had all died, too, but it grew back quickly to provide food for the survivors before they left the ark.
- Noah had taken along animals to sacrifice (Genesis 7:2), and when he offered the sacrifice in worship on dry land, God promised never to curse the ground or destroy all of life again—even though he knew that Noah’s descendants would be inclined to evil from childhood (Genesis 8:21-22).
- God established the covenant promised before Noah began his work. As a sign of the covenant, he laid down his weapon (Genesis 9:8-17).
God’s covenant with Noah
The Subsiding Waters of the Deluge / Thomas Cole, 1829
The covenant adds meat to appropriate food for humans. It institutes capital punishment, which, believe it or not, is a kind of divine mercy in providing clear consequences for sin.
It also somewhat hedges the promise never to destroy all life on earth again. God promised never to cut off all life with a flood.
When human wickedness again reaches its pre-flood level, God will destroy the earth with fire. And then make a new heaven and earth, having finally finished the work of redemption and destroying the devil.
Between this covenant with Noah and the end of this world, God initiated covenants with Abraham, Moses, and the risen Jesus. The latter can cleanse people from sin and make them perfect. All God requires in return is that a person want to be cleansed and restore the intimacy with God that existed in Eden.
I have written a book about them, Understanding Our Covenants with God
The sign of the covenant is the rainbow. Modern translations specifically say “rainbow,” but the original Hebrew does not. God literally said, “I will set my bow in the cloud” (Genesis 9:13).
In every other instance of the Hebrew word means the kind of bow used to shoot arrows. An instrument of killing. An instrument of war.
As a sign of the covenant with Noah, God set his weapon in the cloud. Never again will he use it against the human race.
When Jesus returns to earth to claim his final victory, his weapon will be a sword. Not a physical sword, but his word. God spoke the universe into existence. Jesus will speak final destruction of evil.
And the bow? It surrounds the very throne of God, as much a sign to him as to Noah and his descendants (Revelation 4:3; 10:1). The Greek word means only “rainbow.” It has no hint of ever being a weapon.
So God sent the flood from grief, not wrath. It killed those worthy of death, and God’s mercy shines through the entire narrative for anyone who takes the time to notice.
God’s wrath is revealed against unrighteousness and ungodliness—not against people. He is not willing that any should perish, but all come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). Be assured that when the final destruction of this world comes, it, too, will be accompanied by God’s grief over those who refused to repent.
Until then, there’s still time.
Construction of the Ark / Public domain from Wikimedia Commons.
Noah’s Ark (Hicks 1846). Public domain, from Wikimedia Commons.
Subsiding Waters of the Deluge. Public domain from Wikimedia Commons.