Jesus Verse by Verse

an expanded commentary on the Gospel of Matthew

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Digression 29: The Days of Noah and the Last Days

We can look at the Genesis record of the lead up to the flood and be confident that every detail has some relevance to our time; and therefore grasp the reality of the fact that we should feel the same tenseness and intensity as Noah did as he waited for the rain. Note how Messiah’s return is described as the rain in 2 Sam. 23:4; Hos. 6:3; Joel 2:23.
- Our present population explosion has only been paralleled in Noah's time. The longer life-spans could have resulted in each woman bearing up to 200 children; bearing in mind the lack of present constraining factors such as adverse climate, space, physical degeneration of the human stock over 6,000 years etc. which we now face, it is likely that in the 10 generations from Adam to Noah up to 2,000 million people were produced.
- These longer life-spans would have resulted in a great accumulation of knowledge and skills in the arts and sciences. Gen. 4:22 describes Tubal-Cain (contemporary with Noah) as "an instructor of every artificer in brass and iron", hinting at technical education and industrialization. Similarly Jubal was "father of all such as handle the harp and organ" (Gen. 4:21); a growth in so-called culture. Note the emphasis on education- "an instructor… father… father" .
- God saw that "the imagination of man's heart" was evil from his youth (Gen. 8:21); not from his birth, showing that God is referring to the specific attitude of those times rather than to man's innate sinfulness. The implication is that God was especially saddened at the evil thinking of a reprobate, corrupted youth. And how much more today?
- Cain's first big city (Gen. 4:17) no doubt spawned others. Complex, selfish city life would have been apparent at Noah's time- as it is supremely throughout our modern world.
- "Lamech shall be avenged seventy and seven fold" (Gen. 4:24) he boasted. Does this hint at the war preparations and a spirit of personal vengeance and pressing for one's 'rights' which fills the earth today?
- There is an emphasis on there being a "father" of all the cattle keepers, all the musicians, and an instructor of every metal worker (Gen. 4:20-22); implying the kind of focused specialism and commercial cartels which we have today?
- The earth being filled with violence (Gen. 6:11) needs little comment. Note how this verse is quoted in Ez. 8:17 about the land (same word as "earth" ) of Israel being filled with violence. Similarly Gen. 6:13 is alluded to in Ez. 7:2,3,6. This opens up an understanding of Ezekiel along the lines that it is describing the events of AD70 as well as other periods. The flood being such a clear type of AD70, passages which allude to it must also have an AD70 context.
- The "giants" of Gen.6:4 comes from a Hebrew root meaning 'hackers or assailants'- implying arrogant gangs strutting round assailing people at will. Job. 22:15-17 R.V. gives the same impression. Compare this with the gang warfare and intimidation of the Americas and many countries.
- The world was characterized by hamas- "unrighteousness" (Gen. 6:11). 'Hamas' can mean "lawlessness perpetrated by force" (1). Perhaps we have here a suggestion that the 'land' promised to Abraham- the arena of the Biblical flood- is to be dominated by 'Hamas' or a like terrorist organization.
- Job 22:15-18 comments on the people living just before the flood that they cast off all commitment to God and yet God "filled their houses with good things"; i.e. material wealth despite a viciously God-forsaking attitude. Exactly the scene today.
- One of the few women mentioned as being contemporary with Noah was Adah- meaning 'to decorate, ornament'. And of such women the sons of God took wives of all that they chose (Gen. 6:2). Dolled up women picked up at will by sex-mad men could not be a more telling parallel with our age. Note too how the three periods picked out in Scripture as having major similarities with the last days- Sodom, Noah's time, Israel in AD70- all have the common feature of sexual misbehaviour. There can be no doubt that this is a major indication that we are in the last days.
- Signs within the ecclesia seem to herald the Lord's coming even clearer than those without. As a prelude to the flood, the Sons of God married the daughters of men (Gen. 6:2)- the true believers married unbelievers. However, the "sons of God" often refers to Israel (Is. 43:6,7; 63:8; Jer. 31:20; Ez. 16:20; Mal. 1:16; 3:7), hinting that there will be a big Jewish inter-marriage problem in the last days too. There is ample evidence of this.
- Given this apostasy of the sons of God and the unwillingness of the world to listen to Noah's preaching (2 Pet. 2:5) the size of the ecclesia must have declined, until it was only 9 strong. It’s been suggested by Basil Atkinson and H.P. Mansfield that 'Methuselah' means 'When he dies, it shall come'- suggesting that he died a few days or weeks before the flood came. We can imagine the ecclesia falling away one by one until it was just that old brother, the middle aged Noah, and his three faithful sons (no doubt he had other sons and daughters who he failed to influence). The small, declining size of our ecclesias and the total apathy to our preaching should not discourage us- as with all negative things, a positive message can be read into them in the light of Scripture. And the message here is that such things clearly indicate that we are in the last days. The only people to survive the temptations of these 'last days' before the flood were one family unit. As these events are so pregnant with latter day relevance, it may be that we are to perceive here a faint hint that strongly led family units are the way to survive the last days. Noah is described as "the eighth" (2 Pet. 2:5), perhaps alluding to the fact that of the eight people saved in the ark, he was " the eighth" ; he put the others first. The three who escaped the judgments on Sodom, another type of the last days, were all members of the same family; possibly implying the same thing. It must surely be significant that our strongest members are often from families with other strong members.
However, the general spiritual apathy grieved God at His heart, we are told. This reminds us of the often overlooked fact that God is an emotional being- the world today grieves Him, and it is to be expected therefore that He is all the more intently watching us, to see whether we are going to keep ourselves separate from the spirit of this desperate age.
Waiting for the Rain
It is worth pausing to make a powerful devotional point. A careful reading of Gen. 7:7,10,13,16 reveals that Noah entered the ark twice- once before the seven days, and then finally at the end, perhaps when he had finished loading the animals. At the second entry he was shut in. Peter reasons in 1 Pet. 3 that the ark represents two things- being in Christ by baptism, and being saved from the tribulations to come on the world of the last days. These are typified respectively by the first and second entries of Noah into the ark. If our baptism is like that first entering in, then Noah's tense, earnest waiting for the rain in the next seven days should typify our feelings towards the second coming (cp. the rain). We should live our whole lives after baptism as if we know for certain that the second coming is but a week away.
For Noah and his family the reality of these things would have ebbed and flowed during that week- some days and hours more than others. But it would have remained with them in the back of their minds as an ever-present reality. Methuselah's death by the time they entered the ark would have heightened their awareness of the shortness of the time ('Methuselah' = 'when he dies, it shall come'). By being in the ark with them, that same intensity of feeling ought to be ours. Never before would they have felt so estranged from the world around them which they knew had such limited time left to satisfy its pleasures. And what scant interest they would have paid to their own possessions, homes, farms and all the other material things around them which they knew would so shortly be ended. In all this lies a powerful lesson to us. Instead their minds would have been obsessed with the ark, the symbol of their faith down through the past years. 'We need this for the ark... we must do that for it' would have been their way of thinking down through those years, as Noah in faith prepared the ark for the saving of himself (Heb. 11). And this lays the pattern for our dedication and consumption with the things of the truth, the ark, Christ our Lord and His ecclesia.
A Refuge from the Storm
The animals were gathered from all over the world. They cannot represent the saints- Noah's family represents them. They must therefore look forward to the people from all over the world who will survive the judgements on the world due to their association with us. Thus many of those to whom we witness but they do not respond may well survive the holocaust to come upon the world to live in the new age of peace, like that which followed the flood. This concept should give the ultimate fillip to our enthusiasm for preaching- no longer obsessed with numbers of baptisms but with the number of people being witnessed to. Far more clean animals than unclean were taken into the ark. Peter in Acts 10 saw a vision in which clean animals represented Jews and unclean were Gentiles. Does this indicate that more Jews will survive the judgements to come on the world than Gentiles? Given the many Jews that we know will die in the last day judgements, it follows that if this line of interpretation is correct very few Gentiles will survive at all. It could be that the huge size of the ark was in order to save many people, but they didn’t want to go in- and so the invitation was given to the animals. This is in harmony with the parable of the great banquet- there was an urgent last minute appeal to absolutely anyone to come in.
This throws interesting light on the likely population in the Millennium. If each saint rules over some mortals, as Rev. 5:10 and the parable of ten and five cities indicates, then the population of the cities cannot be that great. For all the world to come and worship at Jerusalem to keep the feast of tabernacles (Zech. 14) could suggest small numbers relative to the present world population. Everything apart from what was in the ark was destroyed by the flood; the carnage was beyond description. Thus in the last days, which will be an even fuller cataclysm than anything yet seen on the earth, such wholesale destruction is to be expected, in which only a handful survive. "Every living substance was destroyed... man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven (by the heavy downpour of rain?)" (Gen. 7:23). As only a remnant of the human and natural creation survived, so only a remnant of the world around us will come through the future judgments on the earth. The fact an olive tree survived indicates that there was not total destruction. This kind of mass destruction is typical of that which will come upon Israel in the last days: "I will utterly consume all things from off the face of the land... I will consume man and beast; I will consume the fowls of the heaven... and I will cut off man from off the land... that day is a day... of clouds and thick darkness... and I will bring distress upon men, that they shall walk like blind men" (Zeph. 1). This is clearly flood language; the description of blind men may connect with Zech. 14:12 prophesying the loss of eyesight for the latter day invaders of the land (cp. how the men of Sodom were smitten with blindness in another type of the last days). Is. 54:9,10 promises that although God will judge Israel with the 'flood' of the second coming judgments, yet He will never totally reject them on account of the remnant: "As I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke (reject) thee. For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee". This is surely saying that the same order of physical catastrophe as came upon the earth at the flood will again come upon Israel in the last days; but we must not see this as God breaking His covenant of faithfulness to His true people. Heb. 11:1,7 stresses how much Noah really believed God's prophecy about the nature of the flood;  he was "moved with fear" by these predictions. The physical world around us is going to be changed beyond recognition; this ought to make it easier for us to come to terms with the fact that all aspects of our surrounding world will likewise pass away.
Noah's response was to prepare "an ark to the saving of his house... and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith" (Heb. 11:7). We know that the ark represents Christ. Noah's response was not to smugly reflect how that soon he would be vindicated for his separation from the world, i.e. for his own personal righteousness. Instead he took seriously God's warning that sinners were to soon be destroyed. Noah was, of course, a sinner as we all are. He therefore must have cried out to God in faith, asking for God to count him as if he were righteous, so that he would be saved from the coming judgments against sin. This is how he had righteousness imputed to him. He showed his faith that God really had justified him by doing something physical- his faith led to the 'works' of building the ark; as our faith likewise leads us to baptism into Christ. Through Christ, God "scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts" (Lk. 1:51). This is quoting from Gen. 6:5 LXX concerning the wicked imagination of man's heart at the flood. This is even more evidence that we can read the events of the flood as typical of two things; our salvation from the judgment upon sin, and also of the events of the last days, when that salvation will be physically manifested. We are in Noah's position; we can see clearly the judgments which must come upon sin. By our nature, we are part and parcel of that sin which has to be judged. Our response cannot be to trust in our own righteousness, which we may feel we have as a result of our physical separation from the world. We must instead be motivated by imagining the reality of Christ's coming, to make sure that we are covered in the righteousness of Christ, so that the impending destruction of sin will not take us away with it. Perhaps at no time before has the body of Christ so needed to learn the lesson of Noah; to cease from our own works, "and become heir of the righteousness which is by faith" .
God “remembered Noah” (Gen. 8:1) whilst he was in the ark. Moses uses the same figure in Gen. 30:22 to describe how God ‘remembered’ Rachel in responding to her prayer. Likewise God ‘remembered’ the righteous in Sodom in response to Abraham’s prayer (Gen. 19:29). Could this not imply that whilst Noah was spared from the world’s judgment, he was earnestly praying for the days to be shortened, and to be allowed to emerge from the ark into the new world? This would point forward to the urgent prayer of the faithful in the last days.
(1) Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary On The Book Of Genesis (Jerusalem: Magness Press, 1998) Vol. 2 p. 52.