Genesis Lesson Seven | 6:9–6:22
Prayerfully read Genesis 6:9–6:22 at least two times and then read the following notes.
Context: Setting the Table
After a splendid prologue (1:1–2:3), the “history of the heavens and the earth,” (2:4–4:26), relates God’s abundant provision for his image bearers, their initial rebellion, and the ever-increasing wickedness of the line of Cain. The second section, the “book of the generations of Adam,” focuses on the corruption of the once-godly line of Seth. This third section, “the family history of Noah,” (6:9–29) tells the story of the great flood judgment and God’s gracious rescue of Noah and his family.
Content: Reading the Text
(6:9–6:12) Noah Walks with God
(6:9a) This is the third of the ten “toledot” or “generations” headings in the book of Genesis. As with the other headings, the basic idea of the phrase is something like “family history,” or “story.” (also see the Credo)
(6:9b) The Hebrew word translated as “just” is the same word often translated as “righteous.” This is the first occurrence in the Scriptures of this central term, which basically means, “to be in the right,” particularly in a legal sense. “The root idea [of the word translated as ‘perfect’] is that of wholeness or completeness. Most frequently it describes blemish-free sacrificial animals [for example, see Leviticus 1:3 where it is translated as ‘without blemish’].”1 The idea is not that Noah was “sinless” (which no mere human being has ever been) but that he was right with God and consistently walked with him in integrity. It is important to note that Noah has already been said (6:8) to have found grace in the eyes of the Lord, before his upright conduct is described. Salvation has always been a matter of God’s grace rather than human merit. (Ephesians 2:8–9)
(6:9c) We, like those who have gone before us, have a tendency to “judge everything to be lawful which is generally received.”2 We are tempted to measure our conduct, not by God’s righteous standards, but by looking at what “everyone is doing,” and trying to do just a little bit better than that. Yet God’s standards, unlike ours, do not shift with the times and he does not judge “on the curve.” Despite the wickedness of his generation, Noah, like Enoch, walked with God. So must we.
(6:9d) Noah was the tenth generation from Adam (5:1–32). It is unlikely to be a coincidence that, in Hebrew, the initial description of Noah (after the heading) is exactly ten words long. In Hebrew, the two occurrences of Noah’s name are both the first and tenth of these words.
(6:10) It is striking that the three men in the first half of Genesis who stand at the principal turning points of the narrative each fathered three named sons (Adam is also said to have fathered “sons and daughters” but they are not named), thus linking these key figures together. Adam fathered Cain, Abel, and Seth. Noah fathered Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Terah (Genesis 11:26) fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran.
(6:11a) The word translated here as “corrupt” occurs exactly seven times in this section (6:9–9:29). While translated as “corrupt” here in 6:11 and twice in 6:12, it is translated as “destroy” in 6:13, 6:17, 9:11 and 9:15. In using the same word for both the rebellion that led to the flood and the judgment that resulted from it, Moses is highlighting the fact that the punishment fit the crime perfectly.
(6:11b) “‘Violence’ denotes any antisocial, unneighborly activity. Very often it involves the use of brute force, but it may just be the exploitation of the weak by the powerful or the poor by the rich (Amos 6:1–3), or the naive by the clever (Proverbs 16:29).”3 It is the perfect word to describe the life-destroying culture of social media “shaming” that is so destructively prevalent in our own day.
(6:13–22) God Speaks and Noah Obeys by Building the Ark
(6:14a) Outside of the flood account, the word that is translated as “ark” occurs only in Exodus 2:3–5 where it describes the floating box in which the baby Moses was placed. (The “ark” of the covenant translates an entirely different and unrelated Hebrew word) “The [word] suggests a boxlike craft made to float on the water but without rudder or sail or any other navigational aid. It does not use the services of a crew. The use of [this word] is intended to emphasize that the fate of the occupants is to be determined solely by the will of God and not to be attributed to the skill of man.”4 In order to experience God’s gracious deliverance, Noah had to entirely give up control over the future course of his life. To put it another way, the ark had no steering wheel and Noah had no map.
(6:14b) It is not certainly known what sort of wood “gopher” (a transliteration of the Hebrew word) might be. It is also possible that is referring to a characteristic of the wood (e.g. “squared” or “smooth” wood) rather than a specific type of tree.
(6:15) Using the standard estimate of 18 inches to a cubit, the dimensions of the ark come out to be approximately 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet tall. For reference, this makes Noah’s ark half as wide as a football field and one and a half times as long.
(6:16) The word that is translated as “window” occurs only here in the Hebrew Bible. It is not clear what portion of the ark it refers to or what the instructions about the cubit mean. Most take it to refer either to the “window” referred to in 8:6 (where a different Hebrew word is used) or the “covering” referred to in 8:13. As every other use of the word translated as “covering” refers to the animal skin covering of the tabernacle, it seems likely that the top of the ark was constructed of leather rather than wood.
(6:17) The word that is translated here as “flood” is reserved for the unique event that happened in Noah’s day and occurs only in the immediate context of the Genesis flood story and in Psalm 29:10. All other references to flood or floods in the Old Testament use different Hebrew words.
(6:18) Throughout the Old Testament, to “establish” or “confirm” a covenant always has reference to the renewal of a covenant that is already in place. When new covenants are initiated they are said to be “made” or “cut” (Genesis 15:18). This usage makes clear that, while this is the first mention of the word covenant, it is not in fact God’s first covenant with humanity. “When God says that he is confirming or upholding his covenant with Noah, he is saying that his commitment to his creation, the care of the creator to preserve, provide for, and rule over all that he has made, including the blessings and ordinances that he initiated through and with Adam and Eve and their family, are now to be with Noah and his descendants.”5
(6:22) It is striking that Noah does not say anything at all in response to God’s commands. In fact, until 9:25 we are not given any of the words of Noah at all. What we are told is that Noah did everything that God commanded exactly as he commanded it.
Credo: Believing the Truth
As we discussed in our introductory week, the book of Genesis is divided into two unequal halves of five “family histories” each. The first half begins with “the history of the heavens and the earth”; the second with the “family history of Terah” which details the call of Abram. The “family history of Noah” is the central and by far the longest section in the first half of the book. Although humanity had thoroughly ruined the earth, they had not ruined God’s promised plan of redemption. In the midst of the relentless corruption of mankind, corruption so great it demanded a universal flood, God established his gracious covenant with Noah and his family. God’s good purposes for his creation could not, would not, and will not be thwarted by the rebellion of his image bearers.
Conduct: Reshaping Our Walk
Discuss the meaning of the text and then walk through the following application questions as you discuss the difference this meaning ought to make in our lives today.
What are some of the ways in which we are tempted to settle for simply being “better” than those around us, setting our standards by what “everyone is doing,” rather than by the unchanging righteousness of God’s character?
Examples: The clothes that we wear, the language that we use, the movies that we watch etc.
In order to be saved from the flood, Noah had to give up any semblance of directing the course of his future. What are some of the areas in our life in which we are tempted to reject God’s gracious deliverance in order to retain a feeling of control?
Examples: Ignoring ministry callings that don’t have a guaranteed outcome, refusing to give beyond our “budget” etc.
1. Wenham 1987, 170
2. Calvin 1847, 252
3. Wenham 1987, 171
4. Sarna 1989, 521
5. Gentry and Wellum 2012, 156