This verse by verse Bible study on Genesis is an inductive verse by verse study with extensive reflections, teaching points, cross-references, and applications. They are the personal study of notes of a very good doctor friend of mine. His native tongue is Mandarin, but his English is amazing as you will see below. It is refreshing to take a look at this important book of Genesis through the eyes of a believer from another culture. Without further adieu: The Scribblings According to David.
Genesis 6-7 Inductive Bible Study
Prologue – The Ever-increasing Corruption of Man (VI 1 – 8)
The Flood Foretold – Noah’s Righteousness (VI 9 – 22)
The Flood Arrived – Noah’s Redemption (VII 1 – 24)
The Flood Subsided – Noah’s Restoration (VIII 1 – 19)
Epilogue – The Everlasting Covenant of God (VIII 20 – IX 17)
“If God is love, why did He kill all the people in the world but eight?”
— The Case for an “Ecocidal” God
Quite understandably, the Flood is one of the stories in the Bible that receives the most attacks from militant atheists. The criticism is simple, straightforward and, at first sight, reasonable: “how can you say God so loved the world when He literally wiped out the whole earth with waters?”
Before I proceed to make the case, I must lay down as foundation one of my deepest convictions regarding divine truth, as written by Paul in 1 Cor. 2:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” Scripture teaches (and our own conversion testifies) that the unregenerate will never be able to comprehend the Bible in the spiritual sense. Apart from the Illumination of the Holy Spirit, the natural man may read the texts, study the texts, even understand the literal meaning of the texts, but never truly come to the spiritual knowledge of the passage as God had intended. The bottom line is, those dead in trespasses and sins, including us before we were saved, can never understand (and perhaps never want to). “They are spiritually discerned”, it says. Just a few verses earlier, the apostle wrote, “For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.” In other words, it is not because we have more exposure to the truth, better faculties of our mind, greater efforts in our learning, or even some mysterious “enlightenment” from above that we somehow “get it” (as the Gnostics have claimed); it is only because we have received through faith the Spirit who is from God. In light of that, the primary objective of this apologetic thesis, then, is not that the unbelieving might be intellectually convinced that God is still good even though He carried out this wholesale ecocide, but that the elect in Christ might be educated and edified in the faith concerning God’s own doing in redemptive history, and in this case, the Flood in particular.
With that said, let me begin the case.
“If God is love, why did He kill all the people but eight?”
When people raise questions of a similar kind about the Flood, what they are accusing, indeed, is that a loving God would not destroy people. If we carefully dissect this statement, we shall see that there are two basic premises, one moral and one anthropologic, without which the conclusion cannot be reached. Their moral premise (their understanding of right and wrong) is that love does no harm; their anthropologic premise (their understanding of humanity) is that people are basically good. Hence, their reasoning process can be broken down as the following:
Premise #1: Love does no harm.
Premise #2: People are basically good.
Observation: God harmed all people (but eight) on the earth by killing them with the Flood.
Conclusion: Hence, God is not loving.
The deduction is valid only when both premises are true. The question, then, becomes: are they?
Let us first examine premise #1, “Love does no harm”. One does not even have to see through Biblical lens to know that primum non nocere is a universal principle of morality regardless of time, place, culture and ethnicity. Scripture is also filled with teachings admonishing us that we should love our neighbor as ourselves, with Rom. 13:11 specifically pointing out “love does no wrong to a neighbor”.
Before we move on to examining premise #2, let us pause for a second, take a step back, and ask the inquirer back another question, “would it be a problem for you if God killed Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Kim Jung-Il, Osama Bin Laden, among other jihadist terrorists, mass murderers, serial rapists and corrupt officials?” I bet the answer would be a resounding no. In fact, many would clap their hands when God actually supernaturally steps in and does it at His pleasure. Therefore, when people asked why God killed all the people with the Flood, the real censure behind the question is not so much against the goodness of God as against the justice of God. In other words, when God punishes evil by sending bad guys to hell, no one would pose any objection whatsoever to that verdict. But when God is sending good guys to hell, they are going to have a problem with that.
Back to the question again: are men basically good?
Let us now return to examining the argument. As mentioned above, the inquirer is commendably right in his understanding of right and wrong. However, he is seriously wrong in his understanding of humanity, viz. man are NOT basically good, although all worldly philosophies may have said so. Turning to the Word of God, we find, among other verses, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), “… the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin” (Gal. 3:22), and perhaps the most candid and plain-spoken of all, “… none is righteous; no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). The all-inclusive terms make the point unmistakably clear. Examining in depth the doctrine of Total Depravity would be beyond the scope of this thesis, but every Christian may bear in heart that assuming that men are basically good simply does not square with the Scripture. It compromises the core of the Gospel by negating the possibility of repentance and excluding the need of a Savior.
To take a step further, men are evil not only in that, generally speaking, sin is the hallmark of human nature throughout history (see v.5 (2) in Verse-by-verse Exegesis), but also in that, specifically, men in the antediluvian world were, in a sense, unprecedentedly more wicked by way of their pursuit of demonic unions (see Interpretative Challenge). One cannot stay happily ignorant of the Scriptural description “… the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” in Gen. 6:5. Simply put, people living in that age were by no means good, and if anything, perhaps even worse. So, if I may hereby raise another question for the inquirer: if men were truly behaving that way, would it be a problem to you when God chose to wipe out all of them from the ground of the earth, leaving only eight righteous people?
Hence, people are not basically good.
Hence, premise #2 is false.
Hence, the conclusion is erroneous.
The faulty logic of the statement has been successfully dismantled at this point. But let us take another step further. We, fallen men, are most prone to “find ourselves” by comparison. We feel “tall” when standing besides someone shorter than we are; we feel “rich” when seeing someone struggling in poverty; we feel “healthy” when visiting someone lying in a sickbed. In the moral universe, such behavioral pattern also exists: we feel “better” (more righteous) when we compare ourselves to the “worse” (more evil) people in the world. It doesn’t take a quantum physicist to figure out we do enjoy making such comparisons. And in so doing, we feel comfortable, and are blinded by our own iniquities. We are led into believing that our own “mistakes”, our own “venial sins”, our own “skeletons in the closet”, are really no big deal compared to, say, the Holocaust. The average person, therefore, would tend to think that were there any sin that would bring upon God’s judgment, it would definitely be something really really horrendous. Does it even occur to your mind, O Christians, that, in fact, a single sin, by a single person, at a single time, would be good enough reason for God, Who, according to the prophet Habakkuk, “… are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong”, (Hab. 1:13) to pour out His wrath and destroy everything? Of course, one cannot understand this unless he understands the holiness of God, which is also beyond the scope of this thesis.
Before the case is closed, let me make yet another very important point. Have you ever asked the question: does God enjoy sending people to hell?Eze. 33:11 puts it this way, “… as I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, …?” No, God is not happy when sinners suffer eternally for what they deserve. He would rather you turn from your evil ways, repent, and live. In fact, Peter wrote in 2 Pet. 3:9, God “… is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” He is like the loving Father in Luke 15, running towards us, to embrace us, kiss us, give us the ring and the robe, and kill the fattened calf for us, the moment we return to Him.
Back to the Flood story: on the one hand, sending the Flood as divine judgment upon a depraved world is a perfectly just act on the part of God; His love, on the other, is shown in that He preserved and delivered His own remnant. Peter summarizes both sides of the coin in 2 Pet. 2:9, “… the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the Day of Judgment.” With that in mind, do you know that God will one day send another cataclysmic disaster, much like the Flood, to judge the wicked world? Do you also know that He has also prepared another “Ark” of salvation for those who live by faith?
Are you on board?
VI 1-8. Prologue – The Ever-increasing Corruption of Man
“The Nephilim, … the sons of God, … the mighty men who were of old, … the men of renown.” (v.4)
Brief Summary of the Popular Views of the Gen. VI Nephilim
Fallen angels view
Satan and/or his fallen angels bred with human women and had offspring that were called Nephilim.
Fallen angels overtook men view
Fallen angels and/or Satan possessed men and caused them to breed with women.
The sons of God were the godly line from Adam to Seth down to Noah, and the Nephilim were fallen children who sought after false gods.
Fallen men view
Godly men (sons of God) took ungodly wives, and their descendants (Nephilim) followed after the false gods, rejected God, and fell far from God in wickedness.
The exact meaning of “sons of God” and “Nephilim” in Gen. 6 has long been the subject of intense debate among Christian circles. Although no one view can be held with watertight conviction based on limited Scripture evidence for this matter, among the four popular views listed above (other unbiblical views are discarded, e.g. the Nephilim being space aliens), according to an Answer in Genesis article Who Were the Nephilim by Bodie Hodge, the Modified Sethite View (the Fallen Men View) seems to be the most plausible one.
In brief, the Modified Sethite View believes that the Nephilim were 100% human (and not some demigods bred between angels and man). Being from the godly line of Adam (i.e. from Seth, and thus named Sethite), they were called “the sons of God” (according to the immediate context ofGen. 5), yet, because of their continual wickedness, were in a state of falling away from God (Hebrew root for Nephilim means to fall). They were infamous for their gross sins (“men of renown”), which persisted for a very long time with seemingly no end since they enjoyed an unprecedented longevity (“men of old”).
However, in his expository sermon Demonic Invasion, pastor John MacArthur has built what I believe to be a much stronger case for the Fallen Angels Overtook Men View, which means that the “sons of God” were demons, who possessed human bodies and married “daughters of men”, thereby turning men away from God. The flow of thoughts for such a view, according to MacArthur, goes like this:
Starting from an observation from the text, the “sons of God” in v.2 were juxtaposed alongside with “daughters of men”, indicating a contrast between creatures of God and creatures of men.
In the bigger picture, most, if not all, expressions of “sons of God” in the OT refer to angels (e.g. Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7, Ps. 29:1, 89:6; with one exception: Hosea 1:10), probably implying the fact that they were directly created by God. And based on the immediate context, it is not hard to infer that they are fallen angels, i.e. demons (Rev. 12:1-4). (P.S. Traditional Jewish view of the also attributes the “sons of God” in this verse to angels.)
The 1 Pet. 3:18-20 passage (“… the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the Ark was being prepared…”) points all the way back to Gen. 6:1-8, which clearly demonstrates that behind the worldwide corruption it was demons (the fallen “sons of God”) who disobeyed and were therefore put in this “prison”, awaiting their final judgment. (P.S. What the risen Christ “proclaimed” to these chained spirits was victory, not the gospel.) Following the thought, one may ask, in what ways did these demons disobey?
The “sons of God … taking the daughters of men as wives” in Gen. 6:2 is the only description of what they did. It suggests that the union was sort of a marital transaction and not a forced rape. However, such kind of union between demons and men was a grave aberration of marriage and sex (and thus the major sin in view in Genesis 6) for several reasons:
Jesus Himself taught that angels do not marry nor are given in marriage (Matt. 22:30), although that did not negate the possibility that they can engage in sexuality and procreation with men. And the only way for an angel, a spiritual being, to do that is to take on the form of a human body, as we know from Scripture that when angels appear, they always take on the form of male human bodies (e.g. Gen. 18:1-2, 19:1-5, etc.).
In 2 Pet. 2:4-7, notice that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah in vv.6-7 is placed side by side with the sin of fallen angels in vv.4-5, which indicates that (1) the damning sin is, by its very nature, a kind of sexual immorality and (2) the closest parallel of that sexual perversion for these demons is homosexuality. (P.S. The “chains of gloomy darkness” for the sinning angels in the 2 Pet. 2:4-7 passage echoes the “prison” in 1 Pet. 3:19.)
Jude 6-7 further supports that the sexual unions these demons engaged with daughters of men were in parallel with Sodomy (“did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling” and “just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire”).
The spiritual significance of such demonic unions is not that they produced demigods (“Nephilim” explained below), but that they turned people away from God. The 2 Pet. 2 and Jude passages both speak of false prophets, which indicates that there is more to sexual perversion. Since sensuality is one of the tactics by which false prophets frequently use to gain their footage in order to spread their heresies, the fallen angels before the flood would have also adapted a same strategy. To put it in another way, idolatry was the core evil, sugarcoated by sexual immorality. As we all remember, “you will not surely die… you will be like God…” was the very first temptation Satan brought to mankind, and it has been the same temptation that he uses ever since. In other words, it is very likely that Satan and his demonic forces, through these perverse marital unions, used the same maneuvers of false promises of immortality and deification to deceive men into idolatry in the pre-flood civilization. In fact, as we all know, Satan and his demons are still proliferating the same damning lies today in the form of false religions (Rom. 1:21-23, 2 Cor. 10:4-5, Col. 2:8).
Of note, God called men, not demons, culpable for such wickedness (“My Spirit shall not abide in men forever”, in v.3). It is reasonable and fair because in a marital relationship, two cannot be united unless there is mutual consent, which means that, back in those times, people pleasantly agreed (worse even, that they perhaps proactively invoked) to be joined to demons. The demons might be pouring out temptations, but it was men who responded by pursuing them (Jas. 1:13-15). God is absolutely just, and man is absolutely responsible the choices he made.
The phrase Nephilim has a Hebrew root meaning to fall, whereas the LXX (and thereafter the KJV version also) translated the word to be “giants” (Latin: gigante). Some commentators (esp. those who hold the Sethite view) believe that it means they are the ones who fell away from God, while others think it means they are very powerful as if to fall on (i.e. overpower) others (cf. Num. 13:33). There is no need to be dogmatic about it, since both make sense in a certain way. Nevertheless, the “mighty men of old” and “men of renown” seems to favor the latter hypothesis. And in light of such understanding, the Nephilim were not necessarily the descendants of those demonic unions. According to MacArthur, a reasonable interpretation would be: the ungodly union did not bring a different kind of species; it only produced more depraved men. (v.3 “for he is flesh”; v.4 mighty men of old, men of renown).
With all that said, however, making a clear stand on such non-essential controversy is perhaps neither practical nor necessary. As Bodie Hodge puts it, after quite an arduous exercise of rational analysis, at the conclusion his article, “… as a fallible human being, dealing with precious little information regarding [the current issue], I may be wrong, but when I am wrong this does not in any way affect the accuracy of God and His Word.” Such attitude, I believe, should also belong to every diligent student of the Bible, who would dare to stand up for the inerrancy and authority of God’s Word in this age of uncertainty.
v.1 “When men began to multiply on the face of the land…”
Reflection: If it were not for the daughters of men being taken as wives by the sons of God, thus spinning worldwide apostasy and rebellion, the growing population of mankind would have been a divine blessing instead, fulfilling what God’s mandate for man in Gen. 1:28. It is not uncommon for man, as history repeatedly testifies, to contaminate what was true, good and beautiful with the stain of sin, and turn a wonderful blessing into a woeful curse.
v.2 “saw… attractive … and took…”
(1) A stunning parallel with the Fall. When Adam and Eve were tempted in the Garden of Eden, they, too, in an almost identical sequence, “saw” the fruit was pleasing to the eye, and then “took” it. What about us? Do we follow the pattern of our ancestors and let ourselves indulge on the visual appreciation or mental entertainment of temptations until we finally stumble to cross the line? Or do we, as 2 Tim. 2:22 says it, flee from it and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace among those who call on the Lord with a pure heart?
(2) The vice in such an act was sexual perversion between fallen angels (who took on male bodies) and women, leading to gross kinds of idolatry on a global scale (see Interpretative Challenge).
“My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, …”
Reflection: Such remark indicates that God’s Spirit did abide in man (“abide”, other versions render it “strive”). Through the preaching of godly men like Enoch and Noah (1 Pet. 3:20, 2 Pet. 2:5, Jude 14), the Holy Spirit in the OT has also been actively involved in the ministry of calling men to repentance as in the NT (Jn. 16:8-11). Unmistakably, God has always been in the business of seeking and saving the lost.
“… for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.”
For the number of years, two possible interpretations are postulated by scholars: (a) the lifespan of human being would henceforth no longer exceed 120 years; or (b) the grace period before the judgment of the Flood will be 120 years. In this context, with another NT reference (1 Pet. 3:20) connecting to it, the latter seems more reasonable: God was extending a period of time, providing ample opportunities for men to respond.
We all understand very well that God is patient, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance; but we might fail to understand God’s patience does have a limit. There will be a time when all is “too late”. The call to salvation has always been an urgent one: to most people, it’s a now-or-never. How many have heard the Gospel, felt the urge to believe, yet for one reason and another decided to postpone that commitment? “When I have more spare time,” or, “when I finish that project”, or, “maybe when I’m retired”. O, what foolishness it must be, to have neglected so great a gift in exchange for possession, prestige and power in this fading world, and eventually drifted away in unbelief and lost his soul! Therefore, wait not until thy fate is sealed. As the author of Hebrews put it, let us fear lest we should seem to have failed to reach it. Let us strive to enter that rest, and not fall by disobedience. Let us exhort one another daily, as long as it is called “today”. For as it is written, “today is the day of salvation!” (2 Cor. 6:2)
v.4 “The Nephilim… mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.”
Reflection: It is interesting to note that some commentators do believe these Nephilim to be literal giants. NKJV Study Bible note says, “Many ancient cultures have legends of titans and demigods. This verse appears to be explaining this common memory of mankind.” Others believe they were powerful men in terms of physical stature, military dominance or political supremacy. ESV Study Bible note says, “The Nephilim were mighty men or warriors and, as such, may well have contributed to the violence that filled the earth.” For detailed discussion see Interpretative Challenge.
v.5 “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
(1) “The Lord saw.” Isn’t it comforting to know that, all the hatred, enmity, strife, turmoil, dissension, rivalry and wickedness as we see everyday will never go unnoticed from the eyes of the Lord? Isn’t it comforting to know that, though it seems like darkness has overwhelmed and overtaken the world, the Lord still cares and will one day bring all to ultimate justice? Isn’t it comforting to know that, in a time when even His saints would grow desperate, could bear it no longer but cry “how long, O Lord”, the Lord still sees? As MacArthur puts it, “there can never be much panic set in, when you know the Lord is still on His throne.” We know “the Lord saw”, and that is where we find our great solace.
(2) Most would think it’s quite beyond imagination how it was like to have every intention of thoughts of his heart being only evil continually. Did these men breed murderous intentions all day? Or were their minds saturated with adulterous thoughts whenever awake? Or could selfishness define their personal condition, and fraction their interpersonal relationships? How on earth can one be as spiritually terminal as being evil all the time?
Asking these questions, however, reveals a self-righteous and judgmental heart — a heart not unlike the Pharisee who prayed, “Lord, I thank you I’m not like this tax collector”. As Eph. 2:1 says it, we were dead in trespasses and sins. The fact of the matter is, people back in the antediluvian era were NOT, by nature, worse than people in the 21st century. To say it in another way around, we are NOT in any way better off than they were in terms of our true standing before God. Both are wretched sinners from the inside out. Both are totally depraved if left to one’s own devices. Both follow, by nature and nurture, the course of the world, the devil and the flesh. Both are, in the unregenerate state, “evil continually”, by all definitions of the phrase. With no essential difference, as the Lord himself had depicted in Mk. 7:21, “… from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.” And therefore, spiritually we do share, with our ancestors before the Flood, not only the same diagnosis, but also the same prognosis: both are destined to be objects of God’s wrath. By all means, were God to pour out His Judgment on our generation in a similar fashion like the Flood, it would be absolutely fair and perfectly just. Few among us even realize that it is simply God’s grace to restrain that from happen in our age until the Rapture.
Even for Christians, identifying ourselves with these people may not be a popular or pleasant idea. But the hard truth is that we are indeed no better than our ancestors. And it is exactly for that very reason that we are equally, if not more, in need of repentance from sin and salvation in Jesus Christ as were our ancestors. As Gal. 3:22 puts it, “But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” All who call on the name of the Lord by faith shall be saved, then and there, as well as here and now alike. There is, then, neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, and neither pre-flood nor post-modern, for all are one in Christ.
v.6 “The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him to His heart.”
Reflection: Did God make a mistake? Most certainly not. The description of feeling “sorry” and “grieved” for God is, rather, a rhetoric device calledanthromorphism. It does not suggest that God erred in carrying out the human experiment in the first place, but that the sinful rebellion of man had caused Him no small heart-wrenching pain. This shows us that God is a rational and emotional being, a Person, and not some kind of floating-around cosmic principle like the god of the pantheist.
v.7 “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”
Reflection: How can you say a God who determined to wipe out every living on earth a God of love? See Apologetic Thesis.
v.8 “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”
Reflection: Noah is commended in the Roll Call of Faith passage in Hebrews 11:7, “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” He is a righteous man by faith. The life of Noah will be my next subject to be examined in the exposition of the following passages.
VI 9-22. The Flood Foretold – Noah’s Righteousness.
“… you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.” (v.18)
“Believe, … then you and your household will be saved”?
— The Case against Redemptive “Nepotism”
What is nepotism? New Oxford American Dictionary defines it as “the practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs”. Or, seeing it from another angle, it means being favorably treated by a relative or friend out of his or her power and/or privilege. Redemptive nepotism, a jerrybuilt neologism I’ve so coined, means that if I am saved, then my family members and/or close friends, regardless of their condition of faith (or lack thereof), will automatically be saved as well. The story of Noah’s family members being delivered from the Flood on account of Noah’s righteousness is one of the examples that advocates of such ties would often point to.
Of course, the concept itself may seem hilariously ridiculous to the believer well versed and well trained in the Biblical doctrine of salvation. Whether or not such “family welfare” exists, however, does cause no small confusion in some within the Christian circle, especially in the Chinese-speaking Church. The reason for that is the misleading rendering of Acts 16:31 in the century-old Chinese Union Version. Let us first go to that famous passage.
When Paul and Silas were incarcerated in the Roman penitentiary for their aggressive ministry in Philippi, they were neither depressed nor desperate. Instead, most counterintuitively, they sang hymns at midnight. “Suddenly”, Acts 16:26 says with a theatrical tone, “there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened.” Yet, such a visible miracle to showcase God’s Power was, in my opinion, overshadowed by another invisible miracle that immediately ensues – the conversion of the jailer. When he heard that Paul and Silas were still in place, the jailer rushed in, and with trembling fear and amazement, he fell down before them and asked, “What must I do to be saved?” Acts 16:31 is what the freed evangelists replied, to which, also, the jailer responded and was saved. In the CUV translation, the verse actually reads like this:
“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you and your household will be saved.” (A metaphrase from CUV, boldface mine)
As you can see, the syntax of CUV text is gravely misleading. Is the boldface and connecting the two events in a cause-and-effect relationship? In other words, does that suggest, were the jailer to believe in the Lord Jesus, then not only he himself but also his family would automatically and immediately be saved? If so, every family in the world needs only one representative to “believe” in God, and everybody else can have do whatever they want. In the meantime, there is the technical dilemma: when the verse says family, is it used in the primitive sense of parents and children, or does it mean an extended family across several lineages and generations? When I believe, will my uncle get saved simultaneously? How about my grandpa? Moreover, if truly one believes and the whole family are saved, then the Great Commission, it appears, can be boiled down to getting one in every family saved, because one is enough, isn’t it?
As you can see, things could get insanely messy following that line. Will my relatives be saved because I believe? Is there really redemptive nepotism? The answer to that question is, if I may borrow the signature exclamation from Paul, by no means!
And so, let me begin the case.
In the Old Testament times, for the regulation of civil affairs, God through Moses gave this foundational principle to the Israelites, “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.” (Deut. 24:16).
In short, judgment is in accord with individual conduct. As Eccl. 13:14 puts it, “for God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” Each one should receive the full penalty (or reward) for what they do. Transgressors should be condemned accordingly; philanthropists should be commended accordingly. Punishing bad guys for the bad things they’ve done and praising good guys for the good things they’ve done – no one would object it, because the sense of justice built in our fabric of being is as old as Creation itself. We know from within our soul that such fair treatment is right.
As a matter of fact, the same rationale governs the judicial proceedings not only in an earthly state, but also in the moral universe. In Ezekiel 18, the whole chapter deals exquisitely with this legal principle in salvation/condemnation, with verse 20 being the key verse to summarize it, “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” (Eze. 18:20) Of course, the righteousness and wickedness in the text should be understood in the redemptive sense, viz. by God’s standard, not men’s. Unmistakably, Scripture teaches that everyone is individually answerable to God. And since we know that we are saved by faith alone (i.e. such righteousness is a righteousness by faith), it is not hard to reckon that our salvation (or condemnation), then, is based solely upon the presence (or absence) of our saving faith, independent of other people’s condition or conduct, however close they are to us.
Simply put, you can’t believe on behalf of our relatives and friends. You simply can’t. Every one of them needs to come to the Savior. Every one of them needs to repent and put his faith in Jesus. No one else can do it for them. And, after all, aren’t you in need of a personal relationship with God as much as they are?
It is said that God has no grandchildren. Even your parents being Christians does not necessarily mean that you are thereby automatically delivered from hellfire. When you believe, you are accredited by God as righteous on account of your own faith. And when you don’t, mommy’s piety ain’t gonna help. Justification by faith is a personal thing. Every man’s eternal destiny hangs solely on his personal response to Christ’s call, “do you believe Me?”
Evidence against redemptive nepotism also includes a total silence on this subject. Nowhere in the Bible is taught (or even hinted) that one man’s faith can become another man’s basis of salvation. You cannot find a single verse that teaches that.
Except, perhaps, this head-scratching Acts 16:31. What does the verse truly mean? In fact, the English Standard Version renders it this way: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Foregrounding the plain and simple denotation of the sentence, perhaps it can be better phrased this way: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved; both you and your household should believe in Him!” Clearly, this verse leaves no room whatsoever for redemptive nepotism.
“But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name”, wrote the apostle John, “He gave the right to become children of God.” (Jn. 1:12) All who believe, it says. Every single one. And just so you don’t think one person is too little to arouse God’s attention and care, Jesus Himself said, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Lk. 15:7) Make no mistakes, my friend. God is most joyful in the salvation of every individual as he believes in his heart and confesses with his mouth Jesus is Lord.
Conclusion? The so-called redemptive nepotism is but a myth.
Allow me to take this a step further. Everyone is answerable to God not only in the sphere of salvation, but also in the sphere of ministry. Paul wrote inRom. 14:12, “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God”; also in 2 Cor. 5:10, “for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” In both passages the apostle deals with the Christian’s ministry in the world. The flip side of the principle operates in a similar fashion. You are answerable to God for your management of what God has entrusted to you in your life — your money, your time and your energy. What you have sown for God in this world determines what you shall reap from God in the next. Remember the parable of the talents, especially the famous Matthew Effect in Matt. 25:29? “For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” Remember also, after the resurrection, when Peter asked Jesus about John’s fate, what did Jesus say in reply? He said, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” (Jn. 21:22) Again, you are answerable only to God for your life and ministry. You just follow the Lord. The Christian race is not a rat race. It’s not a dog-eat-dog situation that you have to look out for number one. You don’t need to compare or compete with others for limited resources and rewards. Oh, Paul did exhort us to run the race that we may obtain the prize (1 Cor. 9:24), didn’t he? But there’s really no peer pressure in it, for one day, in an unfathomable way, we are all going to reign with Christ in the Millennial Kingdom (Rev. 20:6). Therefore, fix your eyes upon Him alone, and faithfully do what He calls you to do with all your might.
With all that said, now, let us flip back again to Noah’s family.
The underlying question has always been: were the other seven as righteous as Noah? An interesting way to look at this is through Eze. 14:12-14, 20, where God pronounced judgment upon the apostate Israel via prophet Ezekiel. In v.14, God spoke, “even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness” and in v.20 “even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, … they would deliver neither son nor daughter. They would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness”. In other words, only Noah’s life would be delivered, if he happened to be living in Ezekiel’s time. The “righteousness” of his family members, was not good enough to save them. It does not mean that the Scripture teaches salvation by works, because, as mentioned before, righteousness in the redemptive sense has always been a righteousness by faith (Rom. 4:1-8, Gal. 2:15-16). “Their righteousness cannot saved them”, simply means that their faith wasn’t saving faith.
A footnote must be added here: Israel’s wickedness was not in terms of a greater gravity of sins compared with the pre-Flood world, but of their willful disobedience: they were God’s chosen people, had witnessed the power of God and received the Law of God, yet still deliberately turned their back on Him to worship idols.
Moving on with the flow of thought, we know Noah’s family was not exactly “righteous” (viz. their unmentioned but implied “faith”, if any, was not saving faith). We also know they were indeed delivered from judgment. How, then, can we reconcile these two facts?
First of all, one must understand that being saved from physical death in this life does not equal being saved from spiritual death both in this life and in the life to come. The judgment of a worldwide flood is different from the judgment of the fiery lake of burning sulfur not only in its degree of dreadfulness, but also in its kind. Deliverance from a cataclysmic event is significant, but not as significant as deliverance from the penalty, power and presence of sin. Noah’s family boarding on the Ark does not imply that they are thus saved from the place where there shall be only weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Second, in order to resolve the remaining dilemma, perhaps the best way to look at this is through another passage that is, at first glance, totally unrelated. In 1 Cor. 7:12-16, when Paul addresses the marital conundrum of coming to faith after being married, he instructed the believing spouse not to separate or divorce from the unbelieving partner as long as a consent is reached to live together, “… for the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.” (1 Cor. 7:14) In other words, the unbelieving family members are “sanctified” because of the believing one. How is that, provided that we have just refuted redemptive nepotism?
For one thing, we know that the “making holy” here clearly does not refer to salvation; otherwise the unbelieving partner would not be spoken of asunbelieving. MacArthur commented on this verse, “The sanctification is matrimonial and familial, not personal or spiritual, and means that the unsaved partner is set apart for temporal blessing because the other belongs to God.” To put it in another way, divine favors will be bestowed upon the unbelieving family members by virtue of the believer. For example, one can easily imagine that the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control the Christian partner bears would be an immense blessing to his or her marriage. In such a way, this family is “made holy”. In light of this, is it too much of a stretch to say that Noah’s family was blessed on account of Noah’s faith?
Before the case is closed, there is yet another angle to look at the question: Will my relatives be saved because I believe? Albeit the possibility of redemptive nepotism being discarded, the answer is, yes, very possibly. Chances are, the matrimonial and familial sanctification, by the words and deeds of the believer, may one day be catalyzed and transformed into a personal and spiritual sanctification. Continuing on MacArthur’s commentary on 1 Cor. 7:14, he says, “One Christian in a marriage brings grace that spills over on the spouse – even possibly leading them to salvation.” In God’s sovereign will and timing, general grace may be turned into saving grace eventually. Have you not heard testimony after testimony that someone believes first, and then, amazingly, one by one, all in his family have come to Christ in the end?
Of course, you can call that redemptive nepotism… of sorts, if you like.
“Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.”
Reflection: As his great great grandfather Enoch did, Noah walked with God. They are the only two Patriarchs in the OT whose lives were described as “walking with God”. And also, both are commended in the Heb. 11 “By faith” passage. Indeed, there is a difference between walking with God and merely living. As I have commented previously on Gen. 5:22, “[Walking with God] is not an abstract conception, nor is it a supernatural pageantry; it simply indicates closeness and harmony with God.” In a wicked world such as the antediluvian civilizations, walking with God might be extremely difficult, but not utterly impossible. Noah walked with God, and stood against the whole generation of his time. It is literally one man against the entire world. Let us therefore ask ourselves this question: are we prone to, in our daily dealings, by the pull of old habit and the push of wicked culture, make a little compromise here and there until we have become just like the world, or, do we have the same kind of faith and fortitude that if the whole world were to turn against us and double-cross us, we would still follow the righteous path of the Lord, without any reserve, retreat or regret?
“These are the generations of Noah. … And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.”
Reflection: We know from Biblical account that Noah and his family, a total of eight people, were delivered from the Flood. A reasonable question would be: were the seven also equally “righteous” as Noah, or were they getting a “free ride” because they happened to be his close relatives? A close examination of Scripture suggests that Noah’s family were indeed getting a “free ride” because of the head of their household was a righteous man. The question, then, becomes, will my unbelieving family members go to heaven because of my faith in Christ? And if not, how can we reconcile this dilemma? See The Case Against Redemptive Nepotism in Interpretative Challenge.
vv.11-12 “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.”
Reflection: The wickedness of the pre-Flood world was so dramatic and so monumental that the word “corrupt” (or its derivatives) was repeated three times in these two verses. For the detailed description of the worldwide depravity in Noah’s time, please refer to Interpretative Challengeabout the sons of God and the Nephilim in the previous section.
v.13, 17, 18 “And God said to Noah, ‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth. … For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, you wife, and your sons’ wives with you.’”
Reflection: God told Noah that judgment on the whole world is inevitable and imminent. He told him because He will deliver him, and thereby setting him apart as a testimony (by way of building the Ark) against the world that is perishing. Noah was indeed a “herald of righteousness”, borrowing the phrase from 2 Pet. 2:5. He was, in a sense, credited as righteous by faith, delivered from the wrath that is to come, and called out for service to bear witness for Him in a wicked world that does not know God. Do you see the resemblance between Noah then and the Church now?
Another point is to make is that every time we see God’s justice in His judgment, we will also see His grace in His redemption. The two always go hand in hand. The NKJV Study Bible note says, “God’s message to Noah was graphic and severe. But the faithful reader of the Bible is also impressed with God’s grace. The Creator of the universe, who owes man nothing, took one man into His confidence!”
Also noteworthy is the first mention of the word covenant in all of Scripture in v.18. The MacArthur Study Bible note says, “In contrast with the rest of the created order which God was to destroy, Noah and his family were not only to be preserved, but they were to enjoy the provision and protection of a covenant relationship with God.”
vv.14-21. “Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. … This is how you are to make it, …”
Reflection: The design of the ark in terms of its seaworthiness has stood up the test of scientific scrutiny (Check out the AiG article What Did Noah’s Ark Look Like: https://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/nab3/what-did-noahs-ark-look-like). When the Bible intersects with science, it is as precise and accurate as when it addresses moral issues.
v. 22 “Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.”
Reflection: What had deeply troubled the young reformer Martin Luther and almost caused him to the point of wavering from the very doctrine ofSola Fide that he himself proposed was the Bible’s seemingly paradoxical teachings on the relationship between faith and works. For instance, the apostle James put it in such a contradictory way like this, “You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; … You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (Jas. 2:22, 24). What exactly then is between faith and works? An elaborate discussion on faith and works could easily turn into a book with at least several hundred pages. Therefore, it is not to be inadvertently treated here.The Gospel According to Jesus by pastor John MacArthur, which discusses the nature of saving faith, is a definitely a must-read on this subject. In the mean time, without sidetracking too far from the exegetical adventure here, a simplistic answer to the question would be: we are saved by faith alone (Sola Fide), yet true saving faith will not fail to produce good works. In Eph. 2:8-10, Paul wrote, “For by grace you have been saved through faith(emphasis mine). And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works (emphasis mine), which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” In other words, saving faith isobedient faith. Or, using a medical metaphor, a redeemed genotype will be manifested by a transformed phenotype. Every reason rises against someone who claims to be a believer yet lives in life of blatant rebellion without any sign of godly sorrow. In Noah’s case, he was saved because of his righteousness which comes by faith; and his acts of obedience in carrying out the Ark-building project according to divine instructions subsequently verifies his saving faith in the first place. He wasn’t saved because he performed well by “[doing] all that God commanded him”; but rather, he obeyedGod because he believed God. Let us hereby examine ourselves, we say we believe God, do we prove it by obeying Him?
VII 1-24. The Flood Arrived – Noah’s Redemption.
v.1 “Then the Lord said to Noah, ‘Go into the ark, you and all your household, …’”
Reflection: The 120-year ark-building was about to finish. The Flood as foretold was coming, and God was calling Noah to get on board with his family. The Day of the Lord shall come. It shall come as promised. Two millennia have transpired since the risen Lord was taken up to heaven in a glowing cloud. What happened to the “Behold, I am coming quickly”? In 2 Pet. 3:3-6 the apostle Peter wrote, “… scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.’ For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.” Despite the mockery made by the “naturalists”, Jesus will come. He will come like a thief in the night. He will come again triumphantly and gloriously. The unrepentant shall be caught unprepared. Do you still believe that He shall come when He hasn’t for 2000 years? In the raging tempest, Paul encouraged the already despaired crew to take heart because God told him all lives would be saved, and said “I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.” May we all be like Paul, having immovable faith in His Word and unshakable assurance in His Promises.
“…, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation.”
Reflection: Another Scriptural evidence of saving faith being substantiated by obedience. In the previous chapter, when God commanded Noah to build the ark, He simply said He would send a flood to destroy the earth, and would make a covenant with Noah (Gen. 6:17-18). God saw that Noah was righteous, but did not commend him until Noah had faithfully carried out the Ark project (remember, it’s building plus preaching!) after 120 years of faithful labor. There is no such faith as without works. Jas. 2:21-24 puts it this way, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” Works itself cannot bring faith, but faith is completed by works – works of obedience. “You are righteous before me in this generation”, says the Lord to Noah. And may I venture to add to that word of approbation, “for I have tested your faith for 120 years and found that you are indeed obedient to the end.”
v.2-3 “Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, … a pair of the animals that are not clean, … and seven pairs of the birds of the heavens also, …”
Reflection: These extra pairs of clean animals are for sacrifice (Gen. 8:20). The rest are for the replenishment of the earth. However, since the distinction between clean and unclean animals came only after the Law was given (Lev. 11), such descriptors might be taken as anachronistic – unless the reader understands that the Pentateuch was written by Moses centuries later, or, better yet, that the Levitical distinction between clean and unclean animals actually originates from here.
v.4 “For in seven days I will send rain on the earth …”
Reflection: Some scholars think it is the time for the boarding the Ark. In any case, the grace period of 120 years was slightly prolonged – only seeing still no one coming to repentance. Matt. 23:37-40 makes it clear the hopeless state of Noah’s fellow men, “For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”
Matthew Henry had well commented, “After the hundred and twenty years, God granted seven days’ longer space for repentance. But these seven days were trifled away, like all the rest. It shall be but seven days. They had only one week more, one Sabbath more to improve, and to consider the things that belonged to their peace. But it is common for those who have been careless of their souls during the years of their health, when they have looked upon death at a distance, to be as careless during the days, the few days of their sickness, when they see death approaching; their hearts being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Do not mock the patience of the Lord, O evil doers! Turn your heart, O sinners convicted of your sin! Seek the Lord when He can still be found! Repent ye, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!
v.5 “And Noah did all that the Lord had commanded him.”
Reflection: Obedience is not easy, but quiet simple. Without doubting or complaining, without demanding an explanation or a sign, Noah did everything God told him to do, to the hilt, heart and soul, all the way, from A to Z. That simple act of faith in and of itself carries unspeakable weight to us as to how we ought to conduct our lives. Do we respond to God’s Word with such kind of faith?
v.6-7 “Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters came upon the earth. And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons ‘wives with him went into the ark to escape the waters of the flood.”
Reflection: After over a century’s labor, Noah had finally come to “comfort and rest” in the Ark – just as his name had implied. Matthew Henry commented, “Noah did not go into the ark till God bade him, though he knew it was to be his place of refuge. It is very comfortable to see God going before us in every step we take. Noah had taken a great deal of pains to build the ark, and now he was himself kept alive in it. What we do in obedience to the command of God, and in faith, we ourselves shall certainly have the comfort of, first or last.”
v.11 “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened.”
Reflection: MacArthur Study Bible has a very interesting note on this verse, “The subterranean waters sprang up from inside the earth to form the seas and rivers (Gen. 1:10, 2:10-14), which were not produced by rainfall (since there was none), but by deep fountains in the earth. The celestial waters in the canopy encircling the globe were dumped on the earth and joined with the terrestrial and the subterranean waters (Gen. 1:7). This ended the water canopy surrounding the earth and unleashed the water in the earth; together these phenomena began the new system of hydrology that has since characterized the earth (see Job 26:8, Eccles. 1:7, Isa. 55:10, Amos 9:6). The sequence in this verse, indicating that the earth’s crust breaks up first, then the heavens drop their water, is interesting because the volcanic explosions that would have occurred when the earth fractured would have sent magma and dust into the atmosphere, along with the gigantic sprays of water, gas, and air – all penetrating the canopy triggering its downpour.”
v.13 “On the very same day Noah and his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them entered the ark.”
Reflection: Even though Lamech had been the first man to be engaged in bigamy, even though the whole world was corrupt in terms of pursuing marital unions with demons, Noah remained true to God’s commandment in Gen. 2:24. He was a one-woman man. His righteousness is also shown in his life influence unto his sons in the practice of monogamy.
v.16 “… And the Lord shut him in.”
Reflection: It is the Lord who shut Noah in. As mentioned before many times, there will be a time that is “too late”. Again, I think Matthew Henry made a good point in his commentary, “God put Adam into paradise, but did not shut him in, so he threw himself out; but when God put Noah into the ark, and so when he brings a soul to Christ, the salvation is sure: it is not in our own keeping, but in the Mediator’s hand. But the door of mercy will shortly be shut against those that now make light of it. Knock now, and it shall be opened, Luke 13:25.” Paul exhorted in 2 Cor. 6:2, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you. Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
v.17-20 “The flood continued forty days on the earth. The waters increased and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters prevailed and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the face of the waters. And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep.”
Reflection: The extent of the Flood has been a subject of debate among Biblical scholars. Some hold the view of a limited flood, viz. the Genesis flood affected only the known world of the Middle East, because such cosmological view is in accord with an ancient Near East writer. Proponents of a limited-flood view also point out that fossil records and geological evidences for a worldwide flood are inconclusive. However, they have to admit that a worldwide flood best fits the interpretation of Genesis when these verses and other cross-references (Gen. 9:8-11, 2 Pet. 3:5-6) are to be taken at face value. Perhaps the question should be phrased this way: when scientific evidences seem to “disagree” or even “disprove” Scripture, should we simply twist the Scripture to fit these “evidences”? Of course, to ask that question is to answer it.
An interesting note: More than 270 flood stories exist in different cultures that bear amazing similarities (a global flood destroying the known world; one man was saved from it and became the ancestor of all mankind; the man being saved had a name that sounds like Noah, e.g. the Chinese “Nue-Wa”, etc.).
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