And God Saw... Back to all sermons

Date: May 6, 2011

Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen

Series: In the Beginning

Category: Friday

Scripture: Genesis 6:1–8:22

Tags: Noah, flood

After a month’s break, we are returning today to our series of messages on the first 11 chapters of Genesis. Genesis is the book of beginnings. Genesis 1:1: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Starting with that simple and profound opening statement, we have looked at the story of the creation of the earth and the creation of mankind, male and female. It is a story with a glorious beginning. God looked at all He made and it was good! Adam and Eve were created in the image of God and enjoyed perfect fellowship with God and with each other in a perfect environment.

But the story very quickly turned sour with the temptation and fall of man in Genesis 3. Because of Adam and Eve’s sin and rebellion against God’s command, their fellowship with God was broken. Sin’s consequences are clearly spelled out and at the close of the chapter, God drove them from the Garden.

In chapter 4, we have the story of Cain and Abel, and with the first murder, we see how quickly man’s history descended into sin and violence. In the early years of the history of the human race, we see the development of two branches of Adam’s family tree; Cain’s descendants, who departed from God and his ways, and a godly line, descending from Seth, who worshipped God. But in the early verses of chapter 6, we see that this distinction was lost. There was indiscriminate marrying between Seth’s descendants and Cain’s. Sadly, it was not the godly line that influenced the ungodly, but the reverse. This is the sad description recorded in Genesis 6:5: 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.

This verse sets the stage for one of the best known stories in the Bible; the story of Noah and the Flood. It is a story which intrigues, fascinates, and, if we are honest, horrifies us. And it has for countless generations. Subconsciously, I think we try to create some emotional distance from the horror by focusing on interesting details in the story. What were the dimensions of the ark? How many animals could a vessel this size accommodate? What kind of wood did Noah use? Where is the original Mount Ararat where the ark landed and is the ark still there? We turn the story into a nice bedtime story for children and make up clever songs to sing about it in Sunday School.

In focusing on these details, we avoid dealing with the central reality of the story. That is the fact that God, in a single act of judgment, destroyed the entire population of the earth and every living creature on the earth with the exception of Noah and his family and the creatures with them on the ark. By focusing on Noah and his family in the ark (which is a feel-good story) we try to forget the reality of those who remained outside the ark when God shut the doors and the rain started to fall and the water started to rise.

Truly, this is a story with two sides. In an effort not to ignore either side of the story, I have chosen to preach two sermons on the passage. In the first message today, we will focus on what this text teaches us about God and about the condition of mankind. In the second message next week we will focus on Noah and what we can learn from his example.

Because we are so familiar with the story, I am not going to go over the details. I encourage you to take the time to read it for yourselves on your own time. I want to delve immediately into the theology behind the story.

Systematic Theology, as a discipline, is typically divided into different sections. Genesis 6-8 and the story of Noah and the Flood contain rich veins of theological truth in two of those sections. One is Anthropology or the doctrine of man. The other is referred to as Theology Proper or truth about God himself.

Let’s consider first what we discover about man. In our third message in this series, I posed the question: What is man? To fully comprehend the Biblical answer to that question, we must really divide it into two parts. What was man intended to be in his original creation? This was the answer we considered in Genesis 2. “Made of dirt, but destined for glory.” Made in the image of God. Made for relationship with God. Made to rule over the earth. This is God’s design. This was God’s intention. I would refer you back to that message on the church website if you missed it.

But as I said, we must consider also what the Bible tells us about man and his condition after Adam and Eve’s sin and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. For this answer we are face to face with Genesis 6:5: 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.

This is one of the earliest expressions of the theological reality that is sometimes referred to as “total depravity.” This is a description of man in his natural state: all evil all the time. Different world views debate this question. Is man basically good or basically evil? Are we good people who occasionally make mistakes? Or are we inherently evil people whose wrong actions are simply the natural expression of our sinful hearts? I believe the Biblical answer is clear. We are sinners by nature and practice. Now the doctrine of total depravity does not teach that every person is as evil as he can be. It does teach that every part of our being is tainted, affected and distorted by sin and a heart that is bent on rebellion against God. Genesis 6:5 is a description of the human race in Noah’s day. But listen to the description of mankind in Psalm 14:2-3:

The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. 3 All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.

Lest we think that this is an Old Testament reality only, let me point out that Paul uses these very words from Psalm 14 in his summary in Romans 3 which concludes that all men are lost in sin.

Genesis 6 is a primer in the doctrine of man’s sinfulness and depravity. It is a reality that is confirmed in the rest of Scripture, right up to the end of the Book of Revelation. We are sinners.

Let us move now from Anthropology to Theology Proper. What do we learn about God from this account?

The first thing that struck me is the reality that 1. God sees. This is actually repeated three times in the text. Verse 5 starts, The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become. Verse 11 begins in a similar vein: Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight. The original Hebrew idiom states that earth was corrupt “in the face of God,” or right in front of him. Then verse 12 repeats this reality. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.

God sees. This is a theological truth that is clearly proclaimed in the Bible. There is a school of thought in theology called “deism”. It states that God made the world and then he went away. He left it alone to chart its own course. Genesis 6 tells us a different story. God sees. All that is happening on earth is happening “in front of his face.” He sees and knows everything. He sees and knows everything there is to know about you and about me; about our thoughts and our words as well as our actions.

The next truth which this story makes clear is that 2. God cares. He is not a disinterested observer. Look at the description of God in verse 6: The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. Here we are faced with a theological conundrum. The verb here has the sense of repented or regretted. “God regretted that he had made man.” The problem here is that the Bible also tells us clearly that “God is not a man that he should change his mind.” As an omnipotent God who knows the end from the beginning, how could God “repent” of his decision to create the human race? I believe what we have here is an emotional anthropomorphism. The Bible sometimes describes God in human terms. For example, it refers to his hand or his foot, even though God is spirit and is not confined to a body. In like manner, I believe this verse tells us what God is feeling, and it is most closely akin to the feelings we have as human beings when we experience deep pain at the outcome of our actions. It is not a change of mind, but an emotion.

This interpretation is supported by the second half of the verse. His heart was filled with pain. God saw, and what he saw on earth caused him deep pain. He knew what he had created man for. He knew our potential; made of dirt but destined for glory. Made in the image of God and made to rule. Now he saw only rebellion and sin and violence. And it broke God’s heart.

That brings us to the next theological reality that is revealed in this account. 3. God is holy. When I was preaching through the Book of Exodus, I discovered that the word “holy” does not actually occur in the Book of Genesis. In fact the first occurrence of the word in the Bible is in Exodus 3, when God told Moses to take off his sandals when he approached the burning bush because he was standing on “holy ground.” But while the word for holiness does not occur in Genesis, the reality of God’s holiness and his abhorrence of all that is evil is clearly portrayed in his response to man’s sin and the earth’s corruption.  In his holiness, God cannot tolerate sin. As the righteous judge of all the earth, he must punish sinners; those who rebel against his righteous rule. And so God stated his intentions in verse 7:

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 that I have made them.

They are awful words of judgment and his intention to judge the world. And we cannot ignore the fact that he carried out his intentions. In Genesis 7:20-23, we read the sobering words:

The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than twenty feet. 21 Every living thing that moved on the earth perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. 22 Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. 23 Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; men and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds of the air were wiped from the earth.

In the awful finality of that act of God, we discover another theological truth that is clearly proclaimed in Scripture. 4. As the Creator, God is the sovereign Judge over all that he has made. God’s right to judge his creation is stated in Isaiah 45: 9-12:

9 “Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker,
to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground.
Does the clay say to the potter,
‘What are you making?’
Does your work say,
‘He has no hands’?
10 Woe to him who says to his father,
‘What have you begotten?’
or to his mother,
‘What have you brought to birth?’
11 “This is what the Lord says—
the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker:
Concerning things to come,
do you question me about my children,
or give me orders about the work of my hands?
12 It is I who made the earth
and created mankind upon it.

God sees. God cares. God is holy. God is the sovereign judge over all that he has made. These are sobering truths. These are truths the world we live in tries to forget and/or deny. Peter wrote of this tendency in his second epistle, 2 Peter 3:1-7:

Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. 2 I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.
3 First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

God sees today, just as he did in Noah’s day. God cares about the condition of the world just as much now as he did in Noah’s time. His heart is broken today by man’s sin and the earth’s corruption, just as it was then. He is as holy today as he was then. And he is still the sovereign Judge of all that he has made.

But, we might ask, why is his judgment so long delayed? This brings us to another theological truth that is implicit in the story of Noah and the Flood. It is an application of the story which is pointed out in the New Testament. The clue is found in 1 Peter 3:20. It lies in the answer to the question: How long did it take Noah to build the ark? The answer to that question is: 120 years. Why is that significant? Peter makes the application: God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. For 120 years, God was patient. He gave mankind time to repent. Every day as Noah worked patiently on the ark, he was preaching a message of repentance to the people of his day.

Peter makes this same application to the question of why God’s judgment has been delayed in our day in 2 Peter 3:8-9:

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

This is the fifth theological truth we find in the story of Noah. 5. God is patient. He waited patiently in the days of Noah. He gave them 120 years to repent. God is waiting patiently today. How long will he wait? Only he knows.

But we must balance this truth of God’s patience with its corollary truth. 6. God’s patience has limits. This is what Peter tells us in verse 10: But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Did you see that? The day of the Lord will come…

This is how Genesis 6 opened in Genesis 6:3: Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with man forever. God’s patience has limits.

And so, in Genesis 6 we are faced with the fundamental dilemma of the human race. We are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place between a Biblical understanding of Anthropology and the reality of man’s sinful nature and a Biblical understanding of Theology Proper and the reality of God as the holy and righteous Judge of all the earth. Where shall we go for an answer to our dilemma?

I would point you to the opening verses of 2 Peter 1. This is the same letter in which we have been reading about the coming judgment when the day of Lord will come. But let us see where Peter began this same epistle. Let’s begin reading in verse 1:

Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours:
2 Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
3 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.
4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

I believe verse 4 spells out the answer to our dilemma. How can we participate in the divine nature and recover our calling as those who were made in the image of God and created for fellowship with God and to glorify him? And how can we escape the corruption in the world caused by our own evil desires? By the way, that word corruption is the exact New Testament (or Greek) equivalent of the Hebrew word we found in Genesis 6:12 where we read that, God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.

How shall we escape this corruption in the world and reclaim our birthright as those made in the image of God? Let’s just read that first part again:

To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours:
2 Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
3 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.

We can escape the corruption and the judgment that comes with it in only one way. By faith in God and the Savior he has provided, the Lord Jesus Christ. Through knowing Him, we have everything we need, not only to escape the coming judgment, but to enter now into life and godliness and begin to fulfill the purposes for which God created us.

QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION

  1. In your opinion, are people basically good or basically evil?
  2. Read Genesis 6:5. How does this description compare with your observations of the world today and people you know?
  3. How does the description of Genesis 6:5 compare with your perception of yourself?
  4. In the message, Pastor Cam made six statements about God based on Genesis 6-8. (God sees. God cares. God is holy. God is the sovereign Judge over all that he has made. God is patient. God’s patience has limits.) Discuss your reaction to these statements and the implications for you, your family and people in your sphere of influence.
  5. Read 2 Peter 1:1-4. What parallels in concepts and vocabulary do you find with Genesis 6-8? What conclusion can you draw from this?