God warned that he would bring a flood (6:17) and send down rain (7:4). But when the flood actually comes, it is not attributed to God. The language is entirely impersonal: rain fell (7:12); the flood came (7:6, 10), the waters prevailed (7:18, 19, 20, 24). This change is obvious in English, but it is decidedly odd in the Hebrew worldview where everything that happens is attributed to God. The narrator has changed perspective: the flood is not seen as an act of God but as an attack on God’s kingdom. It is as if evil is attempting to overturn everything God established, to return his creation to the shapeless abyss it was before he spoke order into his realm (1:2).
The verbs that describe divine agency in Genesis 7–8 are entirely focused on God rescuing Noah, his family and the animals! The flood threatens all flesh (6:13, 17; 7:15-16; 7:21; 8:17), every living thing (6:19; 7:4, 23; 8:17; 8:22). The sovereign remembers his creatures in their struggle. He moves his rûaḥ (Spirit/wind) causing the waters to subside (8:1), just as he did in the beginning (1:2). (Note that 7:23 does not attribute the destruction to God. The NIV’s passive is preferable: everything “was wiped out.”)
Remember how we described the kingdom God established in Genesis 1? God ruled the earth, and his human agents ruled the animals. Facing the threat of the flood, this is exactly what Noah is called to do. God rescues humanity (by saving Noah), and Noah saves the animals (by following his sovereign’s instructions):
- God extended favour to Noah (6:8), warned him about the impending disaster (6:13), provided detailed instructions on how to build the boat (6:14-17), covenanted himself to rescue Noah and his family (6:18), remembered Noah during the flood, and calmed the waters (8:1).
- Noah’s commission was to preserve the animals (6:19, 20; 7:3). Four times we’re told he did exactly as his sovereign commanded (6:22; 7:5, 9, 16). He built the boat and stocked it with food (6:19-22). He took the animals on board at the right time (7:2-9). He led them out when the danger had passed (8:17-19).
Does this sound familiar? God cares for us, and commissions us to care for his creatures. The kingdom of God is a partnership, a cooperative venture between God (the sovereign) and humans (his servants). That’s how the kingdom works at every stage of the narrative. God partnered with Adam and Eve, with Noah, with Abraham, with Moses, with Israel, with David, with the prophets, and ultimately with Jesus and those who are “in him.” When the godly sons lost their distinctiveness (turning to violence for justice instead of to God), there was no hope for the world (6:6). But all it took was one human—Noah—doing what God commanded, and the kingdom was re-established.
With the danger gone, Noah’s first act is to honour the ruler who saved him (8:20). The sovereign promises he will never again belittle the land by humiliating it under the chaos waters due to the failure of his human agents. His reign over the earth will never cease (8:21-22).
Could we say that God was at work in Noah, reconciling the creation to himself? All it takes to re-establish the kingdom of God is one obedient son of man.
What others are saying
Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1998), 374:
For the Old Testament writers, it was virtually inconceivable that anything could happen independently of God’s will and working. As evidence of this, consider that common impersonal expressions like “It rained” are not found in the Old Testament. For the Hebrews, rain did not simply happen; God sent the rain. They saw him as the all-powerful determiner of everything that occurs.
Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, vol. 1, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, 1998), 236:
… in 8:1 God intervenes to save mankind in Noah …
Read Genesis 7–8.