Is Noah’s Flood Still Relevant? Longman Offers 6 Ways to Live the Story
A few weeks ago, another volume in the landmark The Story of God Bible Commentary series was released. And by none other than the venerable Old Testament scholar Tremper Longman III.
Genesis offers pastors, students, and interested Christians a sturdy resource for hearing the voice of God in the text and finding an accessible explanation of its passages. But like all SGBC volumes, this one goes further than most Genesis commentaries: Not only does it help us hear and explore the Story, it helps us live it.
Reading the Bible is not just about discovering what it meant back then; the intent of The Story of God Bible Commentary is to probe how this text might be lived out today as that story continues to march on in the life of the church. (xv)
Longman’s engagement with Noah’s flood story provides an apt example illustrating how Christians should appropriate this Old Testament passage into their lives. It is still relevant because it reminds us of our sin, God’s grace, Christian responsibility, and future judgment.
1) “The Wages of Sin is Death”
First, Longman reminds us that the events in our passage vividly portray the truth of Paul’s statement. “By the time of Noah, humanity had become pervasively and (almost) universally wicked. Thus God determined to judge all humanity by bringing a flood.” (122)
Jesus himself referenced the flood, (Luke 17:26–27; Matt 24:37–41) “in order to urge people to abandon their evil attitudes and behavior and thus avoid the judgment.” (123)
2) “The Gift of God Is Eternal Life”
Second, our passage also reminds us of the truth of the rest of Paul’s gospel: “The flood story not only presents a picture of the judgment of sinners but also the salvation of the righteous.” (123)
Longman draws our attention to the revelation that Noah “found favor in the eyes of the Lord” and “was a righteous man…” (6:8, 9) How was Noah righteous?
“Noah is righteous and blameless because he acknowledged his sin, sought forgiveness, and God graciously restored his relationship with him. He then lived in obedience to God.” (124) The same is true and should be true of Christians.
3) “This Water Symbolizes Baptism”
In 1 Peter 3:21 we find this association between the flood waters and waters of baptism, “the ritual that signifies entry into a covenant relationship with God.” (125) In what way?
Longman leverages the insights of so-called “water ordeals” from the ancient Near East. When someone was suspected of a crime they were thrown into the waters to determine a verdict: the guilty drowned, the innocent survived. “So too those who turn to Christ and are baptized are saved ‘by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.’ (3:21)” (125)
Baptism, then, is a type of burial in which a Christian is raised to new life.
4) A Covenant with Humanity that Still Stands True
We find the first explicit mention in the Bible of a formal, legal covenantal agreement between God and humanity in our passage. It’s a unique covenant “in that it is a covenant with the entirety of creation” through Noah, and promised two things (126):
- Creation’s preservation;
- God’s commitment to maintain the regular rhythms of creation until the very end.
Longman insists this covenant “is still in effect.” (127) It was a covenant of re-creation, though it will be ultimately fulfilled when Christ returns “making everything new.”
5) Noah the Environmentalist
A recent film depicted Noah as a sort of modern environmentalist, and suggested the flood was judgment for humanity’s rape of the environment. But is this biblically accurate?
While Longman cautions that this film’s main premise “reverses the biblical picture of both humanity and creation,” (129) he does remind us of our role as creation caretakers:
Noah is the second Adam, and as a human created in the image of God, he and his family and descendants (all of humanity) are called to take care of creation. They (we) are God’s royal representatives in his creation, and we are to discharge our duties toward creation with compassion and wisdom.
6) Anticipating the Final Judgment
Finally, Genesis depicts Noah’s flood as God’s judgment against sinful, rebellious humanity. Likewise, “the New Testament understands it as a preview of an even more definitive judgment at the end of history when Christ returns again.” (131)
We’ve already noted Jesus’s own reference to the flood. He teaches that just as Noah’s flood “came suddenly and unexpectedly upon those who were caught up in the judgement of God” so also “will the future, final judgment that will accompany his return.” (131)
As Longman warns, “The faithful then should ‘keep watch’ and ‘be ready’ because we do not know when Jesus will return.” (131)
Longman wrote Genesis “based on the premise that the book of Genesis informs our understanding of God, ourselves, and our world”—including Noah’s flood. (22)
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