The story of Noah and the Flood is very well-known. Because of this we tend to read right through it – and often just gloss over it. Let’s look at the details of the account a little more closely.
First, let’s address the “sons of God” in Genesis 6:2. There are two primary trains of thought: the sons of God refers to the males in the godly line of Seth, and the daughters of man refers to the females in the ungodly line of Cain. According to this view, the horrible sin that leads God to start fresh with Noah and his family is the intermarrying of believers with unbelievers, resulting in a wholly sinful human race. The second view says that the sons of God are fallen angels (demons), and the daughters of man are human women, and these two types of creatures marry and have offspring.* This would show the extent of sinfulness in the whole of creation, prompting God to start over with Noah and his family.
While this is not at all a hill I am ready to die on, I favor the second view. The fact that the result of this union is the Nephilim, which also appeared after the flood and after the line of Cain was destroyed, and that we are told here that they were “the mighty men” and in Numbers 13:33 that they are giants, seems to preclude the first view, and favor the second. After all, why would any merely human offspring be physically giant because of the spiritual condition of the parents?
That being said, Genesis is showing us how the whole of creation is falling further and further into sin and away from God’s original design – especially man. Genesis 6:5-7 says this outright about man, and the fact that the difference between the two lines is now abandoned in the narrative proves that out. God destroys both the lines of Cain and Seth, except for Noah who found “favor” – also translated “grace” – in the eyes of the Lord. This shows again the Sovereignty of God, but particularly in redemption. He is undoing His initial act as Creator, and performing His up-until-this-point greatest act as Redeemer by choosing (electing) Noah and his family to salvation.
Next, notice the very specific instructions by God for the creation of the Ark and the gathering of the animals. As we will see with the Tabernacle later, God gives very specific instructions when commanding the creation of physical structures meant to point us to His salvation. This typifies the stringent law that He gives, and which only Christ could follow, and it reveals His superlative holiness.
One often-missed instruction God gives is found in Genesis 7:2. The story and songs we learned as children always have two of every animal on the Ark, but God commands a pair of unclean animals and seven pairs (literally “seven and seven” – there’s that seven again!) of clean animals. Let us not miss that God gives this command to Noah with no further instructions about what animals are clean and which are not. In fact, the instructions about which animals are clean for food and for sacrifice are not given until we get to Leviticus. What gives?
Well, again, like with the names of children, the Bible does not offer an exhaustive history with every detail. Clearly, based on this command and Noah’s sacrifices in Genesis 8:20, God had already previously given instructions about animals and making offerings to Him. When? We don’t know. But I submit it was right after the Fall when God killed the first animal as a symbolic covering of Adam and Eve’s sin. This helps explain the issue with Cain’s offering in Genesis 4 – he did not make his offering according to already established rules. But I digress…
What we see in the whole narrative of the Flood is a picture of God’s final judgment that Christ will carry out at His Second Coming. The Ark symbolizes Christ. Only those in Christ will be saved from the judgment of God. In fact, the only time Jesus refers to Noah and the Flood is as an analogy to His coming in judgment at the end of time (Matt 24:37-38, Luke 17:26-27).
The book of Hebrews credits Noah’s salvation in the Ark (a symbol of Christ) to his faith (Heb 11:7). In other words, Noah was saved through faith alone, in Christ alone – the only way anyone ever has or ever could be saved!
There are three things worthy of note that take place after the Flood subsides. First, God reestablishes His covenant with the human race in the Noahic Covenant. But now it is not conditional, as with the Creation Covenant. Salvation has already taken place, by grace (that favor of God that fell on Noah), through faith, in Christ (symbolized by the Ark). God still recognizes that man is inherently evil (compare Genesis 6:5 with 8:21), but now offers mercy instead of judgment. He also repeats His design for man to “be fruitful and multiply.” As a sign of the covenant, God places His “bow” in the clouds. The word means a hunter’s bow. The first rains destroyed the Earth in judgment, all other rains would produce the sign of mercy: the hunters bow pointed not towards Earth – not towards man – but towards heaven. God has aimed His weapon of judgment at Himself, which He will use when salvation comes to fulfillment on the cross.
Second, note that God now allows for the killing of animals for food. The original covenant allowed only plant life to be food for man and beast. Now, we are given meat as food. This typifies God’s gracious accommodation for sin. This points us to the law of God, which as we know was given graciously because of sin (Galatians 3:19, anyone?). The enmity between man and beast, us killing them (Gen 9:2-4) and they killing us (Rev 6:8 and Lev 26.22), is a reminder of sin – like the law. And ultimately, it points us to God’s ultimate accommodation for sin: becoming flesh and dwelling among us, and dying in our place. It also further differentiates man among all of creation because we are created in God’s image. It also further demonstrates the corruption of creation because of sin.
Finally, note that sin has not been destroyed. Noah gets drunk, which is a corruption of God’s good gifts. And the Bible’s story of two types of people is immediately continued symbolically in Shem and Ham. Ham sins, Shem (and Japheth) do not. From the offspring of godly Shem would come the nation of Israel, and ultimately Jesus Christ. Notice the prophecy of Noah that predicts Shem’s victory over Canaan, realized when Israel literally takes the promised land away from Canaan. He also predicts Japheth living in the covering and protection of Shem – realized in the nations’ turning to Christ and His salvation – which will finally and forever judge not just the wicked, but destroy sin once and for all.
* Often the fact that Christ says in the resurrection we will be “like the angels in heaven” who “neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Matt 22:30, Mark 12:25, Luke 20:34-36) is said to preclude this view. However, the angels we are talking about are not angels “in heaven”. They are those that did not stay within their prescribed boundaries (Jude 6), and who were, in fact, literally expelled from heaven for their sin (Luke 10:18, Rev 12:4). Also consider the fact that the only other time Christ uses the phrase “marry(ing) and given in marriage” is a reference to the Flood and God’s judgment (Luke 17:27), which story begins with the sons of God taking wives.