Extent and Effect of the Flood - Part 1 (series: Lessons on Genesis)
by John Lowe
Commentary on the Book of Genesis
By: Tom Lowe
Lesson I.D.6: Extent and Effect of the Flood. (Gen. 7.17-24)
17 And the flood was forty days upon the earth; and the waters increased, and bare up the ark, and it was lift up above the earth.
18 And the waters prevailed, and were increased greatly upon the earth; and the ark went upon the face of the waters.
19 And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered.
20 Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.
21 And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man:
22 All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land, died.
23 And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark.
24 And the waters prevailed upon the earth an hundred and fifty days
After all, preparations had been completed, the Flood came. The rain did not stop until it had rained for forty days1. At the same time, there were gigantic upheavals and shifting of the earth’s crust which caused the ocean’s floors to rise and break up their reservoirs of subterranean waters (Ge. 7.11). According to verse 24, the water continued to rise for another 110 days after the rain had stopped, at which time the water stood at its greatest depth, and the ark had come to rest on a mountain peak of Ararat2. It would take 150 days for the waters to recede3, which takes us to the twelfth month, and the seventh day. And finally, two months and ten days later, Noah and his family left the ark and set the animals free4. It was a year and ten days after God shut the door to the ark that Noah and his family emerged to walk on dry ground.
A Universal Judgement
In these “so called” enlightened times, there are those who want to accommodate Scripture to modern science by subscribing to the theory that the Flood was “limited” and not universal. They say that Moses used “the language of appearance” to describe only what he could see. There are problems with both views, but the “limited” interpretation seems to be the weaker of the twoi. The clear language of the text seems to state that God was bringing a universal judgment. God said He would destroy human and beasts “from the face of the earth,”5ii and that “every living thing” would be destroyed (7.4, 21-23; 8.21). If the mountains were covered to such a height that the ark could float over the Ararat range and eventually settle down on a peak, then the entire planet must have been completely immersed (see vv. 18-20). A person reading Genesis 6-9 for the first time would conclude that the Flood was universal.
Now, if the Flood was not universal, why did God give the rainbow as a universal sign of His covenant? (Ge. 9.11-15). Why would people in a local area need such a sign? Furthermore, if the Flood was a local event, why did God tell Noah to build such a big vessel for saving his family and the animals? Noah certainly had enough time to gather his family and the animals in that area and lead them to a place where the Flood could not reach them.iii The phrase “All the high hills” describes the extent of the Flood as global, and so that there is no doubt, Moses adds “under the whole heaven.” (2 Pe. 3.5-76) There are over 270 Flood stories told in cultures all over the earth, which owe their origin to this one global event.
The human family had already reached North America, and the animals were certainly there—nobody would argue that point for a moment. But if you say that the Flood was not universal, then you have someone besides Noah starting the human family over again—and that is just not the way the Word of God tells it. You are on the horns of a dilemma, as I see it: you either have to accept the Word of God, or you have to reject what He says. To my way of thinking, to attempt to make a case for a local flood is actually, in the long run, to reject the Word of God. The Bible makes it very clear that it was a universal flood—“And every living substance was destroyed . . . and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark.”
God promised that He would never send another flood like the one He sent in Noah’s day (vv. 8-17). But if the Flood was only a local event, God didn’t keep His promise! Over the centuries, there have been numerous local floods, some of which brought death and destruction to localities. In 1996 alone, massive flooding in Afghanistan in April left 3,000 people homeless; and in July, flooding in Northern Bangladesh destroyed the homes of over 2 million people. In July and August, the Yellow, Yangtze, and Hai rivers flooded nine provinces in China and left 2,000 people dead. If Noah’s flood was a local event like these floods, then God’s promise and the covenant sign of the rainbow mean nothing.
The plain reading of the text convinces us that the Flood was a universal judgment because “all flesh had corrupted His God’s way upon the earth (6.12). We don’t know how far civilization had spread over the planet, but wherever humans went, there was sin that had to be judged. The Flood bears witness to universal judgment and to universal sin.
Both James and Peter used the Flood to illustrate future events that will involve the whole world: the return of Christ (Matt. 24.37-39; Luke 17.26, 27) and the worldwide judgment of fire (2 Pe. 3.3-7). If the Flood was only local, these analogies were false and misleading. Paul also wrote that God did not spare “the ancient world” when He sent the Flood, which implies much more territory than a local area.
A PATIENT FAMILY
In spite of the devastation on the outside, Noah and His family and the animals were safe and secure inside the ark. No matter how they felt, or how much the ark was tossed on the waters, they were safe in God’s will. Patiently they waited for God to complete His work and put them back on the earth. Noah and his family spent one year and seventeen days in the ark, and even though they had chores to do, that’s a long time to spend in one place. But it is through “faith and patience” that we inherit God’s promised blessings (Heb. 6.127; 10.368), and Noah was willing to wait on the Lord.
Peter saw in Noah’s experience a picture of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ (1 Pe. 3.18-22). The earth in Noah’s day was immersed in water, but the ark floated on the water and brought Noah and his family to the place of safety. This was, to Peter, a picture of baptism: death burial, resurrection. The earth was “dead” and “buried” because of the water, but the ark rose up (resurrection) to bring the family through safelyiv. Jesus died, was buried, and arose from the dead; and through His finished work, we have salvation from sin. Peter makes it clear that the water of baptism doesn’t wash away sin. It is our obedience to the Lord’s command to be baptized (Matt. 28.19-20) that cleanses the conscience and makes us right with God.
“And the waters prevailed upon the earth an hundred and fifty days.” In other words, for a period of approximately half a year, for five months, the waters continued to cover the earth.
The Genesis Flood not only answers the question of it being a universal rather than a local flood, but it also answers the question of uniformitarians. There are those who take the position that there was no such thing as a great convulsion or catastrophe like the Flood. I am not going into detail, except to point out that Peter makes it very clear that we should expect such scoffers. “Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation” (2 Pe, 3.3, 4). The scoffer has always been a uniformitarian, but you could not very well hold that position and accept the integrity of the Word of God at this particular point. This is very important to see.