The City of God 2.0 (Genesis 6:9-22)

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth

That is the very first sentence in the bible.

But then, in the very second sentence, we discover that the universe is formless and empty, with darkness over the surface of the deep.

Ancient people imagined that the universe at its beginning was like a cosmic ocean: nothing but depthless, formless, terrifying chaos. Picture storm-waves the size of galaxies clashing together, forces so violent, so destructive that nothing useful can even begin to take shape: no life, no purpose, no light, nothing.

But then we discover that God’s Spirit was there, hovering over the waters, bringing them to stillness. And then: he speaks light into the primordial depths, and reveals the earth floating there, like a submerged disk. He speaks again and lifts the weight of the cosmic ocean from off the surface of the earth. He speaks again — he breathes — and the oceans of the earth part, revealing dry land, where life can begin to grow.

And step by step through the creation story we see God push aside the forces of chaos, and redeem from the darkness and the violence a planet like a jewel cradled in his hands: a center of order, and beauty, and — finally — human life itself.

The earliest pages of scripture are the story of how God brought an end to violence, and created a sacred space where human life could rest, and grow, and expand, and fill the earth with the knowledge of its creator. And we are told that God looked at all that he had made, and he said to himself, “Oh! That is so very good!”

But those were the earliest days of earth. Here, in Chapter 6, we have come to the Last Days of earth. In the beginning, God looked at the earth and saw that it was very good. Here, beginning in verse 11, God looks and sees that the earth has been overtaken again by the crushing weight of violence. But this time the violence is not the thoughtless, inanimate chaos of the cosmic waters; this time the violence is the deliberate, purposeful, self-conscious corruption of the planet: [11] Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. [12] God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth — all the people on earth! — had corrupted their ways.

And we say, “Oh, come on! All the people on earth were violent? Obviously rich and powerful people can be corrupt and violent, but what about the powerless? Surely they were the victims of this violence, not its perpetrators!”

But the thing is, friends, that when the rulers of a society become corrupt and violence, all that corruption and violence rolls downhill. For instance, we know very well how hard it is to be an honest businessman in a country where corruption and cronyism is the norm. When a system becomes thoroughly corrupt, honest people just can’t survive. You either give in to the system — or you die. And as more and more people in a society give in to the corruption, lying becomes easier, stealing becomes easier, cheating becomes easier. Corruption in business relationships spreads to corruption in personal relationships. Marriages begin to fail because no one trusts anyone else anymore. Families fall part. Children are left to fend for themselves — and guess how children learn to survive? By watching adults. And so even the youngest children in a broken society very quickly learn that the way to get ahead in life is through lying and cheating and stealing.

And that is exactly how all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.

Moses has been telling us this story for the last few chapters: how mankind became divided between those who followed the way of Cain and those who followed the way of Seth.

Cain left the garden of Eden behind; he moved away and founded a civilization built on power and wealth and violence, where the strong feed upon the weak, where the weak are forced to worship the strong — or perish.

Seth stayed close to the garden of Eden. He founded a civilization built on faith in God’s promises to protect them and provide for them. In his civilization, the strong fed the weak, and lifted them up to worship the God who loved them.

But in the end, as Cain’s civilization grew in power and corruption and began to threaten Seth’s civilization, Seth’s people let their fears get the best of them. They tried to save themselves from violent death at the hands of Cain’s people — and the only way to save themselves was by becoming Cain’s people. They joined the source of the violent death they feared. They became what they hated.

They became what God hated. And now there are none left. All the people on earth have corrupted their ways.

Except one: [9] This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. [10] Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth.

Now, we already got a preview of this man Noah. When he was born, his own father had said, “Oh, finally! This one will comfort us and save us from the curse of the ground!” And so he was named “Noah”, which means “rest”.

And we really needed that preview, because that is where the story was starting to get really dark: the sons of Seth were marrying the daughters of Cain. The sons of God were disappearing, compromising one by one with the forces of darkness. So it was good to hear that there was at least one guy who was holding strong!

This is his story. This is his book.

And Moses tells us that he is starting this new book about Noah the same way he told us he was starting Book 2 and Book 3: he uses his special key phrase, this is the account of Noah and his family.

In other words: welcome to Book 4 of Genesis. This is the story of Noah. This is the story of the apocalypse…of Noah.

And this is how it starts: Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. He is the last righteous man of the line of Seth. He is the last prophet like Enoch, who also walked faithfully with God.

Now — to be clear! — that does not mean Noah was sinless! What it means is that he is the last man on earth who still lives by faith, who still calls God his Father. He is the only remaining son of God on earth.

And so, quite naturally, God the Father wants to speak to his son about this situation:

[13] So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.

God is letting Noah know in advance that he is planning to destroy the earth. And that’s cool!

— but for many of us today this is a difficult verse to read. And verse 17 just makes it worse:

I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish.”

And these are difficult verses for us because, to many people today, this seems unnecessarily harsh. “Destroy all life?” “Every creature?” “Everything on earth?” We seriously wonder how fair that is! I mean, maybe we can accept that all the people on earth had corrupted their ways, but why should the animals suffer because of peoples’ sins?

Well, exactly! That question is its own answer: animals should not suffer because of mankind’s sin. It is wrong for human beings to torment lesser life-forms. But that is exactly what is happening here.

See, Adam and his sons were supposed to continue to bring order to God’s earth. As they brought more and more order and balance to creation, animals would have suffered less and less. But that is not what the sons of Adam are doing here! Instead, they are deliberately setting up systems that serve themselves alone.

In other words, people are deliberately setting up systems that lessen their own sufferings by passing those sufferings off onto other creatures. They are actually increasing violence and suffering in the animal world.

And so God — just like any of us would do — is going to remove the tyrants and the bullies, and at the same time put this critically wounded and suffering creation out of its misery.

But even so, even if that part makes sense to us — still, for many modern people this whole “flooding the world” thing seems extreme. It seems unbalanced. This sounds to many modern people like God is about to have a temper tantrum because things aren’t going the way he wants.

The funny thing is this: that is exactly what ancient pagan people would have thought also. They also had flood stories, and in their flood stories the flood always happened because the gods had a temper tantrum.

Moses knew that this is how people think. So he actually uses a very specific pattern of words here to show us that this is not a temper tantrum, God is not losing control, and — in fact — this whole scenario is a very balanced and fair solution to this problem. Unfortunately, this very specific pattern shows up most clearly in Hebrew, the original language.

See, back in verse 11 we were told about how the earth had been corrupted by mankind’s corruption, and Moses made sure to repeat that word “corrupt” three times. Then, in verse 13, Moses repeated that word yet again when he quoted God as saying, “I am surely going to destroy both mankind and the earth.”

The word “corrupt” in verses 11 and 12 is the same word that is translated “destroy” in verse 13. Some translators, in order to highlight this, translate these verses like this: 11] Now the earth was ruined in God’s sight and was full of violence. [12] God saw how ruined the earth had become, for all the people on earth had ruined their ways. [13] So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people…I am surely going to ruin both them and the earth.

Moses says it like this because he want us to understand that God’s judgement fits the sin. The punishment fits the crime. This is not a temper tantrum, this is a perfectly balanced approach.

Basically, mankind is busy ruining the earth. And God is saying, “Okay. If that is what you really want, allow me to help you finish the job properly, so we can at least bring a quick end to the suffering of my creation!“

God has a tendency to let people have what they want. He does restrain us for a while. He tries to convince us that his way is better. But if, in the end, we keep saying, “No thank you! We want what we want and you are not changing our minds!” eventually God takes his hands off and says, “Okay!”

Mankind has rejected God. They have rejected God’s garden, they have rejected God’s presence, they have rejected his order. They have been saying, for generations now, “We prefer chaos!”

And so now God is saying, “Okay. I know that you really don’t know what the will be like without my presence there to hold back the waters of chaos. But if you really want me to leave, if you really want me to withdraw my Spirit from the earth…then I will do so.”

But there is some good news here: God is not completely withdrawing his Spirit from the earth. There is one son of God left, and God is not going to let that son fall into a judgement he does not deserve. So he tells Noah about the judgement that is coming, and then he says this:

[14] So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. [15] This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high. [16] Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks.

[18] I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. [19] You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. [20] Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. [21] You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.”

Now, in one way, these instructions make a lot of sense. Obviously, if you are going to survive a giant flood, you are going to need a giant boat. You’re going to need animals, and food, and family. Common sense, right?

But, in another way, these instructions are truly remarkable. In fact, they are unbelievably remarkable. With the emphasis on the unbelievable part. So for a long time now skeptics have been very eager to point out just how unbelievable this whole idea is.

For instance, the ark is 30 meters longer than the longest wooden ship ever made. One hundred years ago — in 1909 — a sailing ship called the Wyoming was built. It was 110 meters long, and it turned out to be too long. It was too flexible. It leaked all the time because it literally bent every time they went over a wave. The crew had to have pumps running constantly in order to keep the ship afloat, and eventually they lost: the Wyoming sank in a storm only 15 years after it was launched.

So modern skeptics read this and point out that this ark would never have worked. The Wyoming was made with every modern tool and technology available, it even had 90 iron straps on the outside helping to hold the wood together — and still it sank! So skeptics tell us that this idea — that some ancient guy built a boat this large using nothing but wood, and then survived the greatest storm ever! — is just not possible.

And then, what about the animals? God tells Noah to bring two of every kind of animal into the ark — but how many kinds of animals are there? How in the world would they all fit? And how in the world would Noah be able to pack enough food to feed them all? For instance, we can easily do the math and figure out that even if Noah brought only 5000 animals with him, each person on the ark would have had to feed 50 animals an hour for 12 hours a day, not to mention cleaning up after them. Which…doesn’t sound very possible.

Now, I realize that some modern Christians have come up with various plausible explanations, like: the animals were all babies, so they didn’t need so much space; maybe God put them all into a special sleep so they would not need to eat so much…but the problem with those explanations is, first, they are speculative, the bible doesn’t say anything like that; and second: those explanations are only really plausible if you really really want them to be plausible.

And all these objections can put us, as Christians, in an uncomfortable spot, because…these objections make a lot of sense. Which often leaves us feeling like we have to make a choice: we have to ignore logic and accept the bible purely based on faith, or we have to accept logic and admit that the bible is just a lot of nonsense.

There is, however, a third option: we can read this text through the eyes of the original audience, and try to understand it as they would have understood it.

So, first, we need to remember that the original audience was the exodus generation of ancient Israel. They have just escaped from slavery in Egypt, they are in the wilderness, they are about to march into a new homeland that is filled with huge walled cities defended by giants and other unpleasant things. That is their situation.

Second, we need to remember that Moses is a shepherd, he is a pastor and a prophet. It is his job to teach and encourage and warn God’s people that are under his care. So we need to ask ourselves: what would God want his shepherd Moses to tell his people Israel while they were in such a difficult situation? Is God really trying to give his people an exact blueprint of the ark? — or could he be trying to communicate something more, something deeper, something more relevant to their situation?

So let’s conduct a thought experiment and try to see this story through the eyes of an ancient Israelite:

Imagine that you are camped on the edge of the wilderness. And someday soon you are going to cross the Jordan River and confront a bunch of giants. So, to encourage you, Moses tells you this story about how God once gave Noah detailed instructions and measurements for a rectangular structure with three sections in it. And this structure is going to save Noah and his whole family and a bunch of animals from God’s judgement.

And as you listen, this story is going to distract you from your worries about giants. But it is also going to remind you of something that happened when you were very young, still a teenager. What was it again? Oh, yeah: God once gave Moses detailed instructions and measurements for a rectangular structure with three sections in it. And this structure is specifically designed to save Moses and his whole nation — and a bunch of animals! — from God’s judgement.

In fact, if you just lift your head a little, you can actually see that structure standing in the very center of your camp: it is the tabernacle, where God lives and travels with his people.

And then you are going to realize, “Oh! God is telling Noah to build a tabernacle, a temple, just like he told Moses!”

And then you are going to realize, “Ohhhhh, but wait a minute! That means God is going to be living and travelling with Noah in the ark. He is withdrawing his Spirit from the Garden of Eden, he is withdrawing his Spirit from the surface of the earth so that judgement will fall — but he is not completely withdrawing! His Spirit is just moving into the ark with Noah. He is going to be right there with him, hovering over him, protecting him and his family from everything that matters!”

And then you are going to realize that you also have nothing to fear as you cross the Jordan River and enter a land filled with giant cities and giant people and blood-drinking gods — because you also have an ark that keeps you safe. You realize that — no matter how dark things get — God’s Spirit is going to be right there, in your midst, in his tabernacle.

So Moses, by writing down, in detail, the size and shape and structure of the ark, is deliberately drawing parallels to the tabernacle. Basically, he is telling his people, “Don’t worry! God is with us! He was with Noah in his rectangular ark, and he is with us in our rectangular tabernacle.”

So, friends, as we approach scripture, our choice is not between a). believing the bible when it says a wooden boat this size is possible, or b). believing science when it says a wooden boat this size is impossible. That is a false dichotomy. Our choice is actually between a). reading the bible through our cultural eyes, or b). reading the bible through Moses’ cultural eyes.

If we insist on understanding Moses’ description of the ark as a modern scientific blueprint, we are going to get into trouble, because it is not meant to be a modern scientific blueprint. Moses is not trying to convince people that a wooden boat of this size can actually be built, or that it could actually contain all the animal species of the world. Moses is trying to convince people that God is holy, God is merciful, God is patient, God will let you go into the chaos if that is what you insist on doing — but if you belong to God’s people, God will cling to you, he will carry you through the floodwaters to life on the other side.

And this brings us to the final — and most important — sentence in this section: [22] Noah did everything just as God commanded him.

And this is the most important sentence because, if Noah had not done everything just as God commanded him…the bible would be a lot shorter. None of us would be here reading it. There would be no people of God to belong to.

Noah is the first Messiah of mankind. Through his obedience, through his ark, his whole family will pass safely through the judgement that is coming upon the earth.

And this is really the reason the Book of Noah was written: to give the ancient people of Israel increased faith in their messiah Moses; to help them know that through Moses’ obedience, through his tabernacle, their whole nation will pass safely through the judgement that is coming upon the giants of Canaan.

And that’s great!

But what about us? How can this ancient story encourage us? Just like ancient Israel, we also would like to know if God is with us even through the darkest times, right?

But Moses is not writing to us, he is writing to ancient Israel. He has helped them make the connection between their tabernacle and Noah’s ark: the ark was designed to carry Noah’s family across the formless and empty waters of chaos to a new earth on the other side; the tabernacle was designed to carry Moses’ people across the formless and empty wilderness of chaos to a new land on the other side.

But we are not Moses’ people. We do not have a tabernacle. We don’t even have a land. So how can we apply what Moses says to our lives?

This is how:

We have already noticed a pattern here. God warns one righteous man — one son of God — that there is a judgement coming. Then he tells that son of God to build a structure that will save everyone who belongs to him. In Noah’s case, this structure was a boat, and the saved people were his family. In Moses’ case, this structure was a sacred tent, and the saved people were his nation. 

Clear so far?

So, now that we are seeing that pattern, we read through the rest of scripture and we see this pattern repeated, several times. And then…we come to the New Testament. God warns one righteous man — one Son of God — that there is a judgement coming. Then he tells his Son to build a structure that will save everyone who belongs to him. In the New Testament, that man — that Son of God — is named Jesus. The structure he is building is called the Church. And the saved people are everyone who accepts Jesus as Lord before the final judgement begins.

And so this is how we apply Noah’s ancient situation to our modern lives. Just like the people of Israel, we are supposed to realize, “Ohhhhh, but wait a minute! If God was with Noah in the ark and carried him and his family to safety, then he is also with Christ in his Church. He is going to carry everyone who lives within the Church to safety! No matter how dark things seem to get, God’s Spirit is right here with us, hovering over us, protecting all of us from everything that matters!”

So Moses’ application for us — and for all people of every age — is really quite simple: join the people of God. Enter the Church, enter the presence of God, and be saved from the judgement to come.

But that just leads us to a very practical question: how? How do we enter Christ’s Church?

Does that mean we should come to worship and then never leave? Do we have to find a church building and then stay there in order to be saved?

No. The story of Noah’s family is a very vivid, very literal picture of what it looks like for God’s people to pass safely through judgement. Noah’s family is saved by entering the ark. Moses’ people were saved by entering the tabernacle. Christ’s people are saved by entering the Church. But even back in Moses’ time the people were sophisticated enough to understand that they did not literally enter in to the tabernacle. They couldn’t! For one thing, there were too many of them to fit. And for another thing: they were not holy enough. Only the priests could enter the tabernacle. But the people understood that when the priests entered they carried the people with them symbolically and spiritually.

This is how it used to work: animals would be sacrificed. The priests would collect the blood in a bowl. They would sprinkle that blood on the people outside the tabernacle — baptizing them. Then they would carry the blood into the tabernacle and baptize it by sprinkling all of its different parts with blood. That covenant of baptism bound the people to the tabernacle, and the tabernacle to the people. So even though the ordinary people of Israel never saw the inside of the tabernacle with their physical eyes, they were bound to it in blood and spirit.

And that is actually the answer to the question we just asked: how does a person enter Christ’s Church?

We enter through the covenant of baptism.

The Church is not a physical ark, or even a physical tabernacle, it is the people of God gathered together into God’s presence. But you and I have not yet entered into the real presence of God — because we’re not dead yet. But Christ, our high priest, has died; he has entered into his Father’s presence; he is there right now!

And when he entered his Father’s presence, like a good shepherd, like a good high priest, he carried all of God’s people with him.

This is how it worked: when Jesus died on the cross, his blood was spilled out for us, on us. We were sprinkled, baptized with Jesus’ blood. This is what Christians mean when we say, “I’ve been washed in the blood.” And then, scripture tells us, Jesus carried his own shed blood into the presence of his Father, into the true heavenly tabernacle. It is Jesus’ shed blood that binds us to God, and God to us. We living Christians have not yet seen God’s heavenly temple with our physical eyes, but we will! because we are bound to it in blood and in Spirit.

Now, we don’t get sprinkled with Jesus’ literal blood. We are baptized with water. But just like the ancient people of Israel we are sophisticated enough to understand that the sprinkled water is the sign of Jesus’ sprinkled blood, and so our baptism is the seal of the new covenant that binds us to Christ. If you have been baptized, sprinkled with the blood of Christ in the form of water, then you have entered in to Christ’s Church.

So this leads us to our very practical applications. Here they are:

If you are here today and you are not yet baptized, make plans to get baptized!

Now, if you are here today and you are already baptized, then this is your application: be encouraged!

Because this is where we are supposed to realize that God is with us, and that we have nothing to fear. Yes, we live in a world filled with giant cities ruled by giant people who worship blood-drinking gods and goddesses — and themselves above all. But this earth is our promised inheritance. And one day our Messiah will come and bring ruin on all those who are ruining it. He will make all things new. Scripture tells us that this will be a violent process, because those who are ruining the earth are going to resist his arrival. But scripture also tells us that everyone who enters in to the ark of Christ’s Church will pass safely through the judgement to the other side.

So be encouraged, brothers and sisters. When doubts and fears come, remember that you are baptized, and that you are safe within the ark.

So: in the beginning, God quieted the chaos of the cosmic ocean and created a sacred space where human life could rest, and grow, and expand, and fill the earth with the knowledge of its creator.

Instead, mankind rejected God, and chaos covered the earth once more. So God called Noah to build another sacred space where human life could rest and survive the judgement, and fill the earth again with the knowledge of its creator.

And as we go through this series, we are going to see that the story of Noah is really the story of the whole New Testament. This passage that we looked at today is really a summary of the gospels: the story of how God called Jesus to build the sacred space of the Church. Next week’s passage is going to be the story of how Christ is building the Church, from the Book of Acts until the beginning of Judgement Day. Then the passages after that are going to be the story of the Book of Revelation: we are going to see how the apocalypse of Noah is just a preview of the apocalypse of Jesus Christ, and a preview of the new world to come. And as we go we are going to get to see what practical effects all this should have on the Christian life.

So make sure to come back for that!

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