The Noah Narrative: The Deluge

In 1850, English explorer Austen Henry Layard made a major discovery buried in the once illustrious city of Nineveh – the Library of Ashurbanipal.[1] He unearthed tablets from the 7th century BC, covering topics from Assyrian history, medicine and magic. His most famous discovery was the “Gilgamesh Epic” (dating to 1800 BC), famous because of its apparent similarity with the flood account in Scripture. The presence of flood stories in ancient cultures[2] – dotted across the world – is testimony to the reality of a worldwide flood.

As we look into Genesis 7, we will make a discovery of our own: truth about the character of God and Noah.

The Character of Noah

The reason for the divine invitation to Noah and his family to enter the saving protection of the ark is given: “Thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation” (v1).[3] His righteous life was not a works-based salvation (Heb 11:7), but rather proved the reality of his faith. Amidst moral decadence, his righteousness pleased God and exposed the unrighteousness of the ungodly. We should follow his example.

There are three sections in this chapter (vv1-5; vv6-12; vv13-24), with a repeated pattern in each. The pattern is family–creation–deluge.

Initially, each section begins by mentioning Noah and his family (vv1,6-7,13). He is seen as the head of his home (vv1,7,13,23), actively working for “the saving of his house” (Heb 11:7). Despite the earlier departure of Lamech (4:19) from the Edenic blueprint of one man and one woman, and the surrounding moral decline, Noah’s sons took one wife, following their father’s marital faithfulness. Nevertheless, there are no prospective guarantees. Their sin nature survived the flood, and each was marked by failure.

Secondly, in the pattern animals are mentioned (vv2-3,8-9a,14-16a). The repeated terminology of clean/unclean shows that Noah understood something of separation. Seven pairs of clean animals along with a pair of unclean animals were taken into the ark. We aren’t told how Noah grasped this distinction, but it was likely linked to the acceptable lamb that Abel offered in sacrifice (4:4). Regardless, Noah knew separation was important. It was joining what God had separated in the intermarrying of the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men” (6:1-4) that was the catalyst for sending the flood. Before Noah obeyed God and separated the animals (vv2-3), God, in grace, separated him and his family (v1, note “thee” in contrast to “this generation”).

The final part of the pattern is the obedience of Noah and the increasing detail on the impending flood (vv4-5,9-12,16b-24). Although his obedience is stated simply, it was not easy. In walking with God (6:9), he was out of step with the world. In other flood fables the main character is labelled as heroic in building, deception and outwitting of the gods. However, Noah’s “heroic” quality was obedience.

The Character of God

His Ultimate Control

Throughout the chapter and into the next, there are repeated and symmetrical mentions of days.[4] Nothing is happening a day too early or a moment too late. God is not like humanity, or pagan deities, responding via uncontrollable anger. Rather, in righteousness He orders His judgments. This will be seen again in tribulation days. With exactness, He will unfold the seals, trumpets and bowls of wrath.

His Foreknowing Wisdom

In the Gilgamesh Epic, the gods become fearful of the out-of-control flood. Throughout chapter 7, God announces what will occur before the flood arrives. Even before the revelation to Noah, and the etymology of the name “Methuselah,”[5] God sets water in the expanse below and above (1:7). Ominously, it is the only day where we do not read “and it was good.” At the creation of the world, God had made provision for its judgment. Nothing catches our God unawares.

His Total Condemnation

This was more than just rain. It was a cataclysmic opening of waters above and below the earth. Its pivotal nature is seen in the phrase “on that same day” (vv11,13 JND), a phrase repeated at other significant days in the life of Israel (cf. 17:23,26; Exo 12:41,51).[6] The account lingers on the destruction of all life (vv17-24). In verse 22, standing at opposite ends of the sentence is the juxtaposition of life and death.[7] The drama of the scene is seen in the repetition of “all/every” (8 times), “waters” (6 times), “prevailed” (4 times), “increased” (2 times) and “destroyed” (2 times). Man’s rebellion went so far, but God determined it would go no further.

His View of Man

God’s judgment here has a punitive aspect (God must judge sin) and a preservative aspect (guarding the Seed of the Woman). However, why was it a worldwide, ecology-destroying flood? Couldn’t God exterminate the human race and leave earth and the animals untouched? These questions deny the headship of man. He was the pinnacle and viceroy of God’s handiwork, meaning the self-destruction of men brought all nature under the judgment of God. “The worth of nature, in God’s eyes, depends upon the worth and character of humans at the apex of God’s creation and does not have intrinsic worth of itself. If the natural world beyond humanity had a sacredness of its own, God could have chosen to send a plague that destroyed only humans.”[8]

His Undoing of Creation

Throughout the creation week the emphasis is on distinction, but now God joined the waters that had been separated (1:7). Secondly, it’s possible that, like creation, the flood began on a Sunday and ended on a Friday (40 days later).[9] Thirdly, the listing of the animals reminds us of the groupings in Eden (7:14; cf. 1:21,24-25). Furthermore, the verbal links in the waters “increasing greatly” (7:18) correspond to the Creator’s mandate to “be fruitful and multiply” (1:28). The two main verbs of creating power (asah and bara, 1:26-27) are reversed in the announcement of the judgment of man (6:7) – an early signal of the divine intent for reversal.  Finally, the sequence of judgment (or de-creation) outlined in chapter 7 is the same as seen in creation: the earth, mountains, birds, cattle, beasts, all swarming things and then concluding with man.[10]

His Longsuffering Love

People had sinned against the light of conscience and now they despised God’s warning. He waited patiently as the ark was being built, even giving seven days as the final opportunity (v10). Although critics question God’s love in the flood, their conception of love is flawed. Apathy is the opposite of love, not wrath. If God had passively watched the corruption of earth, it would have been most unloving. God, in loving the good, must despise and judge the evil.

Secondly, it is important to see that the first use of “grace” (6:8) is given at the forefront of the paradigmatic judgment. “Every subsequent mention of grace in the succeeding pages of Scripture must be understood against this backdrop of man’s just condemnation.”[11]

In Noah’s day, God’s longsuffering lasted decades. To Noah’s generation, what was the insignia of mercy became the source of indifference. For them, the longer the delay, the greater their apathy. Presuming God would never intervene, they lived as they wanted (Mat 24:38).  Peter tells us that the flood destroyed Noah’s world and generation (2Pe 3:6), but their attitude to coming judgment has survived in the ungodly of today. Peter tells us the reason for the delay: in superabundant grace, God has waited two millennia for men’s repentance.

A chapter that begins with mercy and ends with judgment reveals perfect equity in the dealings of God: “Judgment is God’s ‘strange work.’ He delights not in [judgment], though He is glorified by it. Blessed be His name, He is ever ready to leave the place of judgment, and enter that of mercy, because He delights in mercy.”[12]

[1] Jonathan Taylor, “A Library Fit for a King” (accessed at: Many of these fragments can be seen in the British Museum.

[2] Mark F. Rooker, “The Genesis Flood, The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, Vol. 5, No. 3 (Fall 2001). Rooker quotes another author who counts 68 different legends.

[3] Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.

[4] Notice the spacing of the days: 7 days (7:4), 7 days (7:10), 40 days (7:17) and 150 days (7:24). Then, in chapter 8, the order is reversed: 150 days (8:3), 40 days (8:6), 7 days (8:10) and 7 days (8:12).

[5] Thomas Newberry attaches “when he dies, it shall be sent” to the meaning of that name, “he” being Methuselah and “it” being the deluge. It is hard to be dogmatic on ancient names. Linguistically, there are various opinions, but chronologically, Newberry’s meaning appears valid. Putting the genealogies and the years together, when Methuselah dies, 7 days later, the flood is sent.

[6] Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis 1–11:26, Vol. 1A, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 375.

[7] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Vol. 1, Word Biblical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1987), 183.

[8] A.J. Higgins, “A Christian Worldview: Environmentalism” (accessed at:

[9] Warren H. John, “A New Flood Chronology Based on Seven-Day Creation Cycles,” Answers Research Journal, 2022, Vol. 15 (accessed at:

[10] Rooker, “The Genesis Flood.”

[11] Ibid.

[12] Charles H. Mackintosh, Notes on the Book of Genesis, 53.