|Topical Bible Study||February 1955|
The People of the Bible
Article II—Genesis 6 – 11
Noah and His Family
“Noah was a just man and perfect [margin, upright] in his generations, and Noah walked with God.” —Genesis 6:9
NOAH is one of the best known names in the Bible, although the sacred record furnishes only a few details concerning his personal life. We are assured, however, that he “found grace in the eyes of the Lord”; that he was “upright in his generations”; that he “walked with God,” was obedient to God; and in one of his last recorded acts we find him offering sacrifice to God.—Gen. 6:8; 8:20
We know from these few details that Noah was a man of faith and righteousness. These facts are important and by themselves cause him to stand out prominently among those with whom he was associated. This prominence, however, is greatly augmented by the circumstances which surrounded his life and the marvelous manner in which God used him to save a remnant of the people from the pre-Flood world, as a seed for the beginning of a new world, the world that now is.
Some of the circumstances leading up to and making necessary the Flood are found in the narrative described as the generations of Noah.” (Gen. 6:9) The word here translated generations has the broader meaning of “history,” or historical records. Judging from customs of the ancients as deciphered from tablets unearthed by archaeologists, the expression, “These are the generations of Noah,” would seem to be his signature to the preceding records which he had inscribed on clay or stone tablets. The remainder of verse 9, stating that “Noah was a just man, and perfect [upright] in his generations,” could well be the beginning of a record inscribed by his three sons. See Genesis 10:1.
Be this as it may, chapter 6 reveals the reason for God’s determination to destroy “all flesh” by a flood of waters. A shocking condition had developed among the human race. Verse 2 explains what brought this about. It says that “the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.” Verse 4 explains that the children born as a result of this unholy union became “giants,” “men of renown.” Soon “the wickedness of man was great in the earth,” “and every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (vs. 5) Verse 11 declares that the “earth was filled with violence.”
The “sons of God” who married the “daughters of men” were not members of the human family. In Luke 3:38 we are informed that Adam was a “son of God,” but this relationship with his Creator was lost when he disobeyed the divine law. Besides, the human race was commanded to multiply and fill the earth, so special attention would not be called to the fact that male members of the human family took wives who bore children to them. That had been taking place from the time of creation, and was not contrary to the divine will.
We acquire information on this point from the New Testament. Peter wrote, “God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell [Greek, tartaroo], and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment; and spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the Flood upon the world of the ungodly.” (II Pet. 2:4,5) Jude writes, “The angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.”*—Jude 6
*NOTE: For further details concerning these “fallen angels” see the booklet, “Spiritualism.”
These “sons of God” who intermarried with the human race prior to the Flood were, then, angels; their sin in the matter consisting of the fact that in doing this they “kept not their first estate.” The Bible was not written to reveal details concerning the angelic creations of God, but there is sufficient evidence in the Word of God to establish the fact of such creations. By comparison, for example, man was created “a little lower than the angels.”—Ps. 8:5
The Scriptures reveal that the angels are widely used by God as his messengers, or servants. In ancient times, when sent on missions to one or another of God’s human servants, they were authorized and empowered to materialize and take on the form of human beings. Three angels appeared to Abraham and reassured him that his wife Sarah would bear a son, and that Sodom and Gomorrah would be destroyed.—Gen. 18:1-33
These three angels, in the human bodies which they assumed for the purpose of talking to Abraham, were able to enjoy a meal with the patriarch. Evidently these materializations of the past were genuine, making possible all the normal functions of an ordinary human body. Thus the ones which “kept not their first estate” were able to beget children. It is this that the Genesis record clearly states.
The hybrid children resulting from this unauthorized union were apparently of superior mentality and physique. They became “men of renown” and “giants.” And it was these, evidently, who greatly contributed to the “violence” with which the earth became filled.
While there are no direct texts of Scripture to support the thought, it seems reasonable to suppose that this bringing forth of a hybrid race was an attempt devised by Satan, who before his transgression was one of the highest of the holy angels, to substantiate the lie that he told to mother Eve when he said to her that death would not result from disobedience to God’s law. (Gen. 3:4) He may have thought he could perpetuate human life by the infiltration of the life principle of spirit beings.
If so, his plan was foiled by the Creator’s determination to destroy all flesh by the waters of a flood. It is at this juncture in human experience that Noah is introduced into the Bible narrative. He appears on the scene at a time when the imaginations of men’s hearts were evil, and that continually, but Noah himself had held aloof from all the evil with which he was surrounded. He was upright, and found favor in God’s sight.
Noah was tenth in descent from Adam, through the line of Seth. When Noah is first mentioned, the record says that he was five hundred years old, being the son of Lamech, and the grandson of Methuselah. We are told of his three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and informed that they had wives. It would seem reasonable to conclude that a considerable portion of the human race had become contaminated by the angels who “kept not their first estate.” But there was some pure adamic stock left, among them Noah’s family and his sons’ wives.
It was because of Noah’s uprightness and faith that God selected him to be the preserver of the human family. He “found grace in the eyes of the Lord,” who said to him, “The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth”—marginal translation, “from the earth.” (ch. 6:13) Verse 3 of chapter 6 indicates that this announcement to Noah was made 120 years before the Flood came.
God gave Noah instructions concerning the building of an “ark” to carry himself and his family through the waters of the Flood. These instructions are recorded in Genesis 6:14-16. It was to be made of gopher wood, better known as cypress—a kind of timber which, both for its lightness and its durability, was employed by the Phoenicians for building their vessels. The precise meaning of the Hebrew word translated ark is uncertain. The word appears only in the Book of Genesis and in Exodus 2:3 and 5. The general consensus of scholars is that it means a box, chest, or boat.
Nothing is said as to the exact shape of the ark, but its dimensions are given. It was to be 300 cubits in length, 50 cubits in width, and 30 cubits in height. The exact length of a cubit is uncertain. Smith’s Bible Dictionary gives it as 21 inches. If this is correct the ark would have been more than 500 feet long, over 87 feet in width, and its height would have been about 50 feet. Obviously, this was no small boat but compared favorably in size with our average ocean-going vessels—much larger, indeed, than many of them.
The planks of the ark were to be protected by a coating of pitch—inside and outside—to make it watertight, and perhaps also as a protection against marine animals. In it there were to be a number of small compartments in which the various animals with their food supplies could be distributed. These were to be arranged in three tiers: “With lower, second, and third stories shalt thou make it.” Every necessary detail was provided for, including light and ventilation.
It is likely that Noah began at once the great project of building the ark. No modern machinery was available for the job. It was all handwork. Noah’s faithfulness is reflected in the fact that he continued his labor until the ark was completed, which, we may assume, was not until near the time when the Flood came.
In II Peter 2:5 we are informed that Noah was “a preacher of righteousness.” This also reveals his firm stand for God and for the divine principles of righteousness, for it must have required courage to be a witness for the Lord in a world that was corrupt and filled with violence. No hint is given that anyone was brought to repentance by his preaching, although his sons and their wives were doubtless in harmony with his message. Noah’s continued work of building the ark would in itself be a wonderful sermon attesting his faith in the Creator’s word.
The ark completed, its living freight was then gathered into it in keeping with the Lord’s instructions—a male and female each of the “unclean” animals, and seven pair each of the “clean”—also of fowls and of everything that creepeth upon the earth. Just how many animals this included we cannot know with certainty. The ark was, however, of tremendous capacity, fully adequate, we are sure, to enable Noah to comply with the Lord’s instructions as to the animals he wanted carried over into the new world.
The ark loaded, and Noah and his family themselves safely within, the record says that “the Lord shut him in.” (Gen. 7:16) This was seven days before the water began to fall. (ch. 7:4) What a test of faith this must have been to Noah and his family! We can well imagine their feelings while in faith they waited, within hearing, perhaps, of the jeers of the unbelieving and godless world without.
Finally the Flood came! A very simple, yet powerful description is given of the appalling catastrophe: “The rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights … And the waters prevailed, and were increased greatly upon the earth; … and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered.” (ch. 7:12,18,19) While the rain lasted for forty days, the waters prevailed for another 150 days, seemingly all the while on the increase. This would indicate that the sources of the Flood were other than merely rain.
There are various theories as to what caused the Flood. The one most generally held by Bible students is based upon “The Vailian Theory,” or “Canopy Theory,” of cosmogony, which suggests that in the process of creation various gaseous rings surrounded the earth, all of them having fallen by the time of man’s creation; but that there still remained a watery ring, which, when it fell, produced the Flood. On this point we quote briefly from “The Photo Drama of Creation” scenario:
“With the collapse of the watery envelope, came the extreme heat of the tropics and the extreme cold of the polar regions, before the ocean currents modified them. The change must have been almost instantaneous. We have proofs of this. In northern Siberia an antelope was found embedded in ice. It had green grass in its stomach, which proved that its death occurred suddenly while it was feeding. Similarly, a mastodon was found imbedded in ice with food between its teeth. Thus is demonstrated that the poles were once as equable as the temperate zone, and that in a moment came such a change as could be brought about only by the breaking of the canopy.”
The late Prof. Palmer Hall Langdon, of the Institute of Metals, London, upon his return from extensive work in Mesopotamia in 1929, described his finding of a great “flood deposit,” which, he said, “is found extending unbroken over the whole site.”
It is now well known that the ancient city of Ur, in Chaldea, where Abraham once lived, has been unearthed by archaeologists. In 1929 Sir Leonard Woolley instructed his workmen to dig a deep pit in a selected part of this ancient city. In doing this they unexpectedly found a remarkable change in the character of the soil through which they were digging. Clean, water-laid clay suddenly began to appear. It covered the sloping face of a mound and varied in thickness from eight to eleven feet. Sir Leonard Woolley came to the conclusion that the amount of water necessary to lay such a deposit would be so great that it constituted striking evidence of the Flood.
Thus geologists and archaeologists know that there was a flood throughout that area known to be the “cradle” of the human race, and no evidence has yet been produced to refute the universality of the Deluge. We favor taking the language of the Scriptures literally, accepting the meaning which is apparent from a mere surface reading, thus believing that the Flood actually did cover the whole planet. There can be no doubt that it was universal so far as man was concerned; the human race still in its infancy, and confined as yet to a small area of the earth, was totally destroyed, with the exception of Noah and his family. This, after all, is the important truth set forth in the Word of God. How far it spread over the uninhabited globe would have no bearing on the plan of God as it relates to the human family.
After the Flood
The record states that at the end of the 150 days during which the waters “prevailed” “God remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the cattle that was with him in the ark; and God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters assuaged.” (Gen. 8:1) The next verse says, “The fountains also of the deep and the windows of heaven were stopped.” This indicates two sources of the Flood waters—the “fountains of the deep” and the “windows of heaven.” But now they were both “stopped,” “and the waters returned from off the earth continually.”—vss. 2,3
As the waters receded the ark “rested … upon the mountains of Ararat.” This was in the “seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month.” (vs. 4) About three months later the tops of the mountains were seen. Forty days after this “Noah opened the window of the ark” and sent forth a raven.
He also sent forth a dove which “found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him into the ark.” (vss. 7-9) Noah then waited another seven days and sent forth the dove again, and “the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf pluckt off: so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth. And he stayed yet another seven days; and sent forth the dove; which returned not again unto him any more.”—vss. 10-12
Noah was resourceful in discovering the extent to which the water had receded, but he awaited God’s directive before leaving the ark, saying to Noah, “Go forth of the ark, thou, and thy wife, and thy sons, and thy sons’ wives with thee.” It was in obedience to this that “Noah went forth, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons’ wives with him: every beast, every creeping thing, and every fowl, and whatsoever creepeth upon the earth, after their kinds, went forth out of the ark.”—ch. 8:15,16,18,19
A world had come to an end, and now a new world was beginning. Jesus referred to the “days of Noe” (or Noah), telling us that as it was “in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man.” (Luke 17:26) The correspondency which Jesus draws is the unawareness of the people in Noah’s day of the impending catastrophe which resulted in the ending of their world, and the fact that when he returned and the “present evil world” would come to an end, the people likewise would be in ignorance. Paul mentions this, explaining that the people would say, “Peace and safety,” and that then “sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child.”—I Thess. 5:1-3
It is important to note, however, that the ending of the world in Noah’s day did not destroy the earth. It was the pre-Flood social order that was destroyed. So now, the prophetic end of the world which results from Christ’s return is not the destruction of the earth, but of another social order, which Paul describes as this “present evil world.”—Gal. 1:4
In Peter’s first epistle, the third chapter, verses 20 and 21, he mentions the “eight souls” which were saved “by water,” then adds that this was a “figure whereunto baptism doth now save us.” He is referring to Christian baptism into Christ’s death. To such as have covenanted to lay down their lives following in the footsteps of Jesus, it is essential fully to die with Christ, else they cannot live with him. It is through faithfulness in completing this death baptism that they attain unto the “great salvation which … began to be spoken by the Lord.”—Heb. 2:3
This Christian baptism is into Christ, accepting his headship over our lives. This was illustrated by the family of Noah accepting his leadership, and, as it were, placing their lives in his hands. But for this they would have perished in the Flood. As it was, they were brought through the Flood to safety in a new world. So it will be with all those who complete their death baptism into Christ. They will live and reign with Christ in the new world, even the kingdom of the Messiah.
Soon after leaving the ark Noah built an altar and on it he offered sacrifice to the Lord, which was doubtless intended as an expression of thanksgiving for the marvelous deliverance from the waters of the Flood. God, in turn, appreciated this offering, the account saying that he “smelled a sweet savor.”—ch. 8:20,21
This is the first time the word “altar” appears in the Bible, although Cain and Abel were the first to offer sacrifices to him. In this latter case the record makes no mention of altars, yet such may well have been erected. The Scriptures do not indicate just how the desire to offer sacrifice was prompted in the minds of these ancient servants of God. Evidently, however, it was in keeping with divine providence, for it pointed forward to the sacrifice of Jesus and his followers during the present age—Jesus’ sacrifice being for the redemption of the fallen race and the sacrifice of his followers a vital part of the plan of God for the reconciling of the world to God.
In recognition of Noah’s sacrifice God entered into a covenant with him never again to destroy all flesh from the earth by a flood of waters. Noah and his family were commanded to multiply and replenish the earth, or, as it is in the Hebrew text, “to fill.” God gave the rainbow as his token for confirmation of the covenant. Evidently man had never before seen a rainbow, and for the very good reason that the flood rains were the first to fall upon the earth. In Genesis 2:5,6 we read, “The Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, … but there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.”
This bears out the “Canopy Theory” of creation, which suggests that a ring of dense vapor enveloped the earth prior to the Flood. The appearance of the rainbow after the Flood would be a natural token that another such deluge of water would never fall upon the earth, for it would prove that the watery canopy had fallen, permitting the sun’s rays to reach the earth and, under right conditions, to produce a rainbow. The Lord explained it, saying, “It shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud: and I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a Flood to destroy all flesh.”—Gen. 9:14,15
Climatic and soil conditions both underwent a tremendous change as a result of the Flood. One of these changes is reflected in the experience of Noah, as recorded in chapter 9, verses 20 and 21, where we read, “Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard: and he drank of the wine; and was drunken.” This indicates that Noah did not realize the effect the wine from his vineyard would have upon him. It might well be that climatic conditions before the Flood were not conducive to fermentation, and that now they were, much to the surprise and chagrin of Noah.
The Sons of Noah
As already noted, Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Japheth was the oldest of the three. Shem was 98 years old, married, but childless at the time of the Flood. When his father became intoxicated, Shem, together with his brother Japheth, covered his nakedness, and received his chief blessing.—Gen. 9:25-27
Japheth was the first son of Noah. The name means “enlargement.” His descendants occupied the “isles of the Gentiles.” (Gen. 10:5) This geographical description is believed to describe the coast lands of the Mediterranean Sea in Europe and Asia Minor. From here the Japhethites spread northward over the whole continent of Europe. They also overflowed into portions of Asia.
The portion of the earth occupied by the descendants of Shem begins at the northwest extremity with Lydia, and includes Syria (Aram), Chaldea (Arphaxad), parts of Assyria (Asshur), of Persia (Elam), and of the Arabian peninsula (Joktan). (Gen. 10:21,31) Modern scholars have given the name of Shemite, or Semite to the language (Hebrew) spoken by Shem’s real or supposed descendants. Shem died at the age of 600 years.
Ham was the third son of Noah. The name means “hot, dark, or sunburned.” Little is said in the sacred record concerning him except to relate his disrespect to his father, and the curse which was placed upon his son, Canaan, as a result. (Gen. 9:25) This curse—“a servant of servants shall he be”—together with the meaning of his name—“sunburned”—are probably the reasons for the belief that the descendants of Ham are the dark-skinned races.
The sons of Ham are stated to have been “Cush, and Mizraim, and Phut, and Canaan.” (Gen. 10:6: compare I Chron. 1:8) Egypt is recognized in the Bible as the land of Ham. (Ps. 78:51; 105:23; 106:22) Other Hamite nations were the Cushites and the Phoenicians.
One of the grandsons of Ham was the infamous Nimrod, “a mighty hunter before the Lord.” The expression, “before the Lord,” is thought to mean in opposition to the Lord. He founded an empire in Shinar (Babylonia), extending it northward along the course of the Tigris over Assyria, where he founded a second group of capitals, Nineveh, Rehoboth, Calah, and Rosen.
After informing us of the descendants of Noah’s three sons, and the different directions into which they ultimately migrated, the sacred record then relates a development fundamental to a proper understanding of human history throughout the ages. This narrative begins with the statement that “the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.” (Gen. 11:1) This one language was undoubtedly the same as that spoken by Adam. Shem would still be living at this time, and he lived before the Flood when Methuselah lived, who probably was personally acquainted with Adam.
The account relates that as “they journeyed from the East … they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.” Then a decision was reached to build a great city and a tower. (Gen. 11:2,3) The motive is stated in the 4th verse: “Let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” In other words, this tower was to be a symbol of unity, something to hold them together, lest they become scattered.
But the Lord did not look favorably upon the endeavor, so he brought about a confusion of languages among the builders of the tower, and they were unable to continue the work of construction. This in turn scattered them “abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth.” (Gen. 11:5-9) The diversity of languages thus originating has been a remarkable thing. It has undoubtedly retarded the progress of evil and evil communications. Now, through the increase of knowledge and education these language barriers are breaking down. This in turn has contributed to the combining of selfish interests in giant lineups of military might which threaten the very existence of the human race. But the establishment of the kingdom of Christ will prevent this ultimate result of sin and selfishness.
The tower which the people attempted to build was called Babel, which is the origin of the name Babylon, confusion, the meaning of the name deriving from the confusion of the languages. The name is carried over into the Book of Revelation where apostate religious systems are called Babylon, to emphasize the confusion of doctrine and practice inherent in them.
After being told of the foiled efforts of the people to construct the Tower of Babel, we are furnished with an extended list of Shem’s descendants down to Abram, whose name was later changed to Abraham. It was with him that God made a covenant to bless all the families of the earth. In our next part we will endeavor to get better acquainted with Abraham, his family, and the people with whom he was associated.