The story of the great Flood is a tremendous story of judgment, victory, faith and grace. About 1600 years after the creation of the human race, God visited this great catacylsm upon us — but He nevertheless spared the human race through a righteous man with the name of Noah. Our people survived this great judgment, but barely. This event in our history was so striking and so traumatic that virtually every tribe and nation of men afterwards preserved the story of it, down to the present day, each generation telling their children after them about the time the whole earth was destroyed by a deluge. The Babylonians called their Noah Utanupishtim, the Chinese called him Fu Hi, or tamer of the animals, and the Greeks called him Deucalion. The North American Indians had him surviving in a great canoe, and the Babylonians thought the ark was shaped like a cube. Of course, it is only in Scripture that we find the infallible and completely accurate account of these events. At the same time, if there is any event of ancient history that is universally attested by all the nations of men, it would be this one.
So there was a world that perished. What was that world like? The garden of Eden was glorious, but it had the glory of a tended garden. The rest of the world was wilderness in the sense that it was untended — it was not a garden — but neither was it what we would call a howling wilderness. All the geologic indications we have show that the whole world once had a subtropical climate, and that giantism was common (from ferns to dinosaurs to men). As we have drilled through the ice in Antarctica we have found tropical plants. As we have discovered the remains of wooly mammoths to the north, we have found that they lived in a climate quite unlike what is there today. The fossil fuels that exist all around the world in enormous amounts show us how much vegegation had to been buried-many feet of accumulated vegegation is necessary to form just one foot of coal. In short, the entire world was lush and green — we might even say overgrown — and greatly in need of the oversight of mankind. But when that oversight came, because of the sin introduced by the first man, we find that the oversight was not godly at all. This meant that instead of being transformed into a tended garden/city, the earth was eventually destroyed. All the jungles and forests, all the lush undergrowth, was swept away by this torrential deluge, and by eruptions of subterranean water, and then these vast piles of vegtation were deeply buried under sediment.
There were ten generations between Man (or as we have come to call him, Adam) and Noah. And in these generations there was a great deal of overlap. For example, Adam died only about fifty years before the birth of Noah. This would be like William the Conqueror dying the same year my grandfather was born.
Now with the longevity enjoyed by the antediluvian peoples, and with the lushness of that world, let us suppose a very conservative birth rate for the women who lived for centuries. We are most probably dealing with a population for the world greater than the population we have today. When this is combined with the overlap between generations and the fact all humanity spoke only one language, we have every reason to suppose that the entire earth was populated. We see this in the direct statement of Genesis that the earth was filled with violence (Gen. 6:11,13), and in the obvious fact that the entire globe was covered with the flood waters. The judgment was not an example of divine overkill, and the earth was filled with violence because the earth was filled with violent men. We have every reason to believe that the world that perished was a world, an inhabited world, and a very wicked one.
But what was the great sin that brought this on? We think that a life that goes to nine hundred years is an exceedingly long life, but we have to remember that these were men who had been recently banished from the Tree of Life. In their lust and wickedness, they wanted access to everlasting life without submitting to the conditions that God had established for it. And this is what led to their great sin, the vile sin that brought on the Flood.
The problem was not sin at a petty level, like an outbreak of shoplifting or excessive partying. Their great wickedness was a combination of genetic engineering and sexual perversion. When the bene Elohim, the sons of God (exalted celestial beings), saw that the daughters of men were fair, they took wives for themselves. The result of these perverse unions was the birth of a race of giants called the Nephilim, who became mighty men, men of renown. It appeared that rebellious man was perhaps going to succeed in what he had set his hand to do. Why return to the Tree of Life, guarded by a miserly God, when an alliance with the many gods of heaven can be contracted, and can be sealed by marriage?
But when the true and living God saw how great the wickedness of man had become, He resolved that He would not strive with men always—for man, after all, was flesh. All his attempts at immortality apart from faith and obedience would necessarily fail. His days, God said, shall be a hundred and twenty years. He was probably speaking about how many years it would be until the Flood, when God would destroy their wicked aspirations forever. God was grieved at the heart, and He repented that He had made man on the earth. He resolved to destroy them all, along with all the animals of the earth, because God repented of having made man. But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.
So God commanded Noah, a preacher of righteousness (2 Pet. 2:5), to build an ark out of gopher wood, and He gave Noah the precise dimensions that he needed to use. The dimensions of this ark, measured in cubits, were enormous. The Babylonians, Egyptians, and Hebrews had differing standards for their cubits, and it is also possible that the antediluvian cubit was longer than all of them. Because the cubit was generally the distance from the elbow to the fingertips, if men were larger then (which is likely), the cubits would have been longer in our terms. But if we take the shortest cubit we know, which was the Hebrew common cubit of 17.5 inches, the ark was gigantic, the biggest ship ever built from that time down to the ninteenth century A.D. The length of the ark was three hundred cubits, the breadth of fifty, and the height was thirty cubits. By the common cubit, this translates to 437.5 feet long, almost 73 feet wide, and almost 44 feet high. The ark had three decks (Gen. 6:16) and this means it had a deck area of 95,700 square feet, an area slightly bigger than twenty standard college basketball courts. For Noah to build an ark this size to escape from a local river flood suggests either than Noah was a manic overachiever, or that the supposition is incorrect and the Flood was a universal one.
God said that Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives, eight souls in all, could all come into the ark that Noah had built, and they could do so on the basis of a covenant that God established with Noah. The Flood that came upon the earth was a type of Christian baptism, which is the salvation of those within the ark and the judgment upon all who are outside. The whole world was to be baptized in judgment, and the elect were to be saved through that judgment.
According to Jude, these angels who did not keep their first estate were locked up in everlasting chains until the day of judgment (Jude 6). And, he goes on to say, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah had sinned in the same way that these angels had, in “going after strange flesh.” The Lord Jesus tells us that the angels do not marry, not that they cannot. The Creator did not intend this blessing for them, and so this is what constituted the nature of their rebellion. The left their first estate. The nature of the sin was a kind of celestial perversion—intermarriage of distinct kinds—and the intent of the sin was to be as God, and to do so without His blessing.
The apostle Peter tells us that these rebellious angels were locked up in a place called Tartarus, which is the deepest pit of Hades, the place of the departed dead. And the Lord Jesus, when He descended into this Hades, as Peter says, preached specifically to the spirits who had been disobedient at the time of Noah (1 Pet. 3:18-20). The Lord Jesus Himself personally announced to the Nephilim that their scheme for attaining eternal life had been finally defeated, and that He was, is, and always will be, the only way to the Tree of Life.
When Noah was done with building the ark (which had perhaps taken 120 years), God invited him to bring his household into the ark with him—because he was righteous. He was told to take seven pair of the clean animals with him, and one pair each of the unclean animals. This reminds us that there were details of revelation that God had given to these people that were not explicitly recorded in Scripture until the time of Moses, such as the distinction between clean and unclean animals. Noah was six hundred years old when this happened, and depending on how the account is read, he was told to enter the ark one week before the deluge started. This they all did, and God closed the door of the ark behind them. One week passed. While it took great faith to build the ark in the first place (Heb. 11:7), quite possibly the greatest test of faith was sitting in that ark with the door closed before the rain started.
In telling this story, it might be tempting to drift toward the language of story in the fictional sense, or myth, in the fantastic sense. But this is not how the story was told to us, and so we must be faithful in how we tell it. The Flood started on a particular day of the week. In fact, on the seventeenth day of the second month, this glorious salvation, disguised as a great cosmic disaster, started.
The fountains of the great deep—vast amounts of subterranean water—were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened, and they crashed down. All the creatures that breathed the air of that world then perished. The water covered the mountains, and the rain came down for forty days and forty nights. The water prevailed on the face of the earth for about five months. As the waters began to run off, the ark finally came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. Two and a half months later, they could see the tops of the mountains. Forty days later, Noah sent out a raven and a dove. Only the dove returned. A week later, he sent the dove out again, which returned with an olive leaf. He waited another week, sent the dove out again, and this time it did not return. Noah removed the covering from the ark, and he saw that the surface of the ground was now dry. About two months later, the earth had completely dried, and God told Noah to go out. This Noah did, and built an altar on which he sacrificed from every clean animal and every clean bird. God smelled the sweet savor of the sacrifice and promised never again to strike every living thing, as He had done. The covenant memorial of the rainbow was established, and from that time to this, our covenant God has kept His Word.