A miraculous deluge of water God used to discipline His world made evil through human sin. The episode of the Flood in
Genesis 6:1-9:19 is part of what may be called the gospel of Abram (Genesis 1-11). This evangel with its penetrating analysis of the nature of God, the human possibility for righteousness or for alienation, and its relevance to salvation history is the proclamation by which Abram was to bring blessing to the entire world (Genesis 12:3). Abram was chosen to publicize this gospel in which all might participate.
Its Structural Background The literary theme of a flood was a natural motif for the Sumerian and Akkadian peoples who resided between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in a plain prone to flood. The oft-repeated flood experience found literary expression in a Sumerian flood story and in two or more Akkadian ones: the Atrahasis Epic and the Epic of Gilgamesh. The Akkadian and Hebrew stories parallel each other in the following ways: the naming of the hero (Utnapishtim/Noah), the divine announcement of a flood, instructions to build a ship, the inclusion of animals in the ship, the dispatch of birds, the sacrifice the hero offered after the waters subsided, and other related details. From all of this, it is the studied judgment of scholars “that the Babylonian and Hebrew versions (of the flood stories) are genetically related is too obvious to require proof” (Alexander Heidel. The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels. Chicago, 1949, 269). However, the community of parallels is structural; it does not extend to the religious meaning. There the Sumero-Akkadian and Hebrew stories are distinctly different.
The structural background of the Flood in Genesis derives from the fact that the early ancestors of Abram were resident in the Mesoptamian valley and were exposed to the prevailing cultural patterns. It was there that the forebears of Abram practiced a polytheistic religion, first in the Ur of the Chaldees and then in Haran (Genesis 11:31-32:6;
Joshua 24:2,Joshua 24:14-15).
It must be admitted that the identification of a flood that gave rise to the Sumero-Akkadian and Hebrew Flood accounts has proved illusive. In every geological or archaeological endeavor to use sedimentary deposits to develop a time frame for such a catastrophic deluge and all efforts to recover an ark have failed. Such scientific efforts have not proven the Flood narrative.
The drama of Israel's Flood story is the drama of God reacting to the habitual sin of His creatures. Scene after scene exhibits a disclosure of God, the moral nature of His acts, His self-consistent righteousness, His ever abiding love, His determined will to extricate humanity from its self-inflicted ruin, His determination never to see wrong as ultimately victorious, but to see the fulfilment of His purposes finally and fully. These magnificent vistas of divine glory are dramatic in character, symbolic in nature, and religious in purpose. Since they are addressed to Noah in whom is incorporated the new race, the proclamation is applicable to all people in whatever situation they discover themselves.
To an ancient story form known widely in the Ancient Near East, the inspired Hebrew writer joined Israel's theological affirmation to form an educational means to teach the community of Israel the ways of Yahweh (Genesis 18:19).
Theological Proclamation of the Flood God took account of earth's wickedness, the persistent human bent toward evil, the corruption that filled the earth with injustice. Still, God did not overlook Noah. Self-consistency demanded justice equal to the wickedness and prompted a determination to blot out mankind. This was a matter of deep regret and sorrow, but the purpose invested in human creation was not to be thwarted. God announced His intentions to Noah and instructed him to build an enormous ark for himself, his family, and the lower orders—even for unclean, creeping things! The expansiveness of the ark was expressive of the greatness of God's love; the extension of safety to “every” type of fauna elaborates the wideness of His concern. The destruction of all people existing before the Flood indicated the abhorrence of evil. The rescue of the family of Noah shows God's yearning love to save. When Noah offered a sacrifice to Yahweh after the Flood, the act prompted God to exercise His concern for the new race. Accordingly, He vowed never to doom the world again despite the enormous, continuing evil of the human creatures, an evil inconsistent with all God made and intended. Rather than destroy, God affirmed the continuity of seasons without respite. Moreover, the narrative pictured the equal rights and opportunities for all members of the new race based on each person representing the image of God. Most notable of all was the covenant of continued earthly security for mankind and the rainbow as the symbol of that everlasting covenant. Hebrew has no special word for rainbow, only for a bow as the archer's weapon. When abroad in the fray, the archer used this weapon to fight enemies. When he returned to his tent, he put the bow on the wall since home offered peace, love, and security. So Yahweh is likened to a man of war with bow and arrows. Now, with bow unslung and hung high in the heavens, He publicized His good will and eternal covenant with mankind. He is not hostile. Our God is our friend. Separated from God, the essential human structure is carnal (flesh). As such, each individual will corrupt self in self-idolatry by seeking to control everything.
Genesis 1-11 graphically depicts the defection of Adam and Eve, the disaster of Cain, and the alienation at the tower of Babel. Here is another instance of the same theme in the preamble to the Flood: humanity became enormously wicked. The human mind was ever bent on nothing but evil. God's creature had corrupted the earth and filled it with lawlessness. As such God accorded a fitting fate for the rebels.
If God saw the evil in the earth, He saw also the righteous Noah—blameless in his generation, one who walked with God. Noah had found grace in the eyes of God. Informed, instructed, provided for, covenanted with to become the head of a new race and blessed to be productive and to increase on earth, Noah was made the mediator of a world-encompassing covenant where the image of God would guarantee equality in society. Here the Flood account highlights a person's potential: to walk with God, to be blameless and righteous in a wicked world, to be a mediator of divine grace possible for all people, and to know that the future was safe and sure by the oath God had sworn. Such was and is the revelation God committed to Abram to herald and to bring the blessing of the knowledge of God to the whole world.