This is a Bible study on Genesis 6:9-22.

15 pages.

Genesis 6:9-22 - Two Things to Remember About the Flood

Read Genesis 6:9-22.


At a New Year’s Eve service, a pastor in Baltimore, MD, encouraged his congregation to give their problems to the LORD and leave them with Him. To impress this upon them, he asked them to write their problems on slips of paper. He then had them place these slips of paper into a metal pot and before their eyes he struck a match and set the slips of paper on fire. The congregation watched them burn and turn into ashes in the pot. After the service, the pastor washed the ashes down the drain and set the pot aside to be cleaned at a later time.

The next day, he received a call from a woman of the congregation. She had a question, Why did the pastor want to burn the promises of God? As it turned out, the woman had arrived late for the service and she had misunderstood the pastor’s explanation of what he was doing. She did not hear him say “Problems,” she had understood him to say “Promises.” Consequently, she had written a promise of God on her slip of paper. The pastor straightened out her confusion, and assured her that God’s promises are secure and nothing can destroy them, neither fire nor water.

Later that day, as the pastor was cleaning out the metal pot, he found a single slip of paper stuck to the bottom. He pealed it off and discovered that it was the promise written by the lady who had come late to the worship service. The slip of paper was partially burned, but the promise could be clearly read. Indeed, neither fire nor water had been able to destroy the promise of God.1

What we learn from the biblical account of the Flood is that the LORD God keeps all of His promises—the promise of judgment as well as the promise of salvation. Commenting on the Flood, the Apostle Peter reminds us of this lesson: Despite the temptation to become either careless or anxious, we must remember that the LORD is faithful to keep His Word.

Remember that the LORD will Fulfill His Promise to Judge the World🔗

The LORD promised (warned) Noah—and through Noah He warned the world—that He was going to bring a devastating judgment upon mankind:

13Then God said to Noah, 'I have determined to bring all mankind to an end, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; surely, I will destroy them together with the earth.'Gen. 6:13

17I will most certainly bring the floodwaters upon the earth to destroy all mortal life from under heaven—every creature that has the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall perish. Gen. 6:17

4...after seven more days, I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights; and I will wipe out from off the surface of the earth every living thing that I have made.Gen. 7:4

Then, in His appointed time, the LORD proceeded to fulfill His promise:

10And it happened that after the seven days the floodwaters came upon the earth. Gen. 7:10

The LORD did exactly what He said He would do; He brought a devastating judgment upon all of mankind:

11In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on the same day, all the fountains of the great deep burst open, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. Gen. 7:11

17aThen the flood came upon the earth for forty days; and the water increased Gen. 7:17a

18aAnd the waters rose and increased greatly upon the earth Gen. 7:18a

19And the waters rose more and more upon the earth, so that all the high hills everywhere were covered. 20The waters rose and covered the hills to a depth of more than twenty feet. 21Every living thing that moved on the earth perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that creep upon the earth, and all mankind. 22Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. 23Every living thing on the surface of the earth was wiped out; men and animals and the creatures that crawl along the ground and the birds of the air were wiped from the earth 24The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days. (Gen. 7:19-23a, 24)

Sometimes we are tempted to become careless and negligent concerning the LORD’s promise (warning) of the coming Judgment Day; the Apostle Peter reminds us that we must take seriously that divine promise.

At the time Peter wrote his second epistle, perhaps some 30-35 years had elapsed since our Lord’s ascension into heaven and the promise of His return. Now scoffers began to make their presence felt within the church. They are described as scoffers who are “expressing their scoffing” (2 Pet. 3:3). As the years have passed by, they have become emboldened to express their unbelief in the promise that our Lord Jesus will return in glory and judgment. Now they are vocally raising the question, “Where is the fulfillment of the promise that he will come?” (3:4) They are also described as “living for their own evil desires” (vs. 3). The “delay” in Christ’s return has emboldened them to live for their lusts; they have convinced themselves that there will not be a day of just retribution.

Peter provides for us an outline of their argument. He quotes them as saying, “From the time the fathers fell asleep [in death] everything goes on as it has since the beginning of the creation” (vs. 4). Their contention is that thirty to thirty-five years have passed since His ascension, and nothing has happened; if Christ were coming back He would have done so by now. Their mistake was the fact that they sought to hold God to a humanly conceived timetable. The Apostle Peter reminds his readers, “Do not forget this one thing, beloved, [namely], that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like one day” (2 Pet. 3:8).

These scoffers about whom Peter speaks, argued that from the day the fathers died, all things have continued as they were, (i.e. since the time of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, nothing has happened). But what about the mighty acts of God in the days of Moses and Joshua? What about the mighty acts of God surrounding the birth, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus?

They went so far as to contend that all things have continued as they were from the beginning of the creation! They are maintaining that since the time God created the world, there has been a consistent and unbroken uniformity; the earth has continued the same and undergone no change since its inception.

At this point, Peter refutes their argument by asserting: there is something they intentionally forget, the cataclysmic flood in the days of Noah. Peter asserts that the Flood was of such tremendous and cataclysmic proportions that it must be described as bringing to an end the world that existed at that time.

Referring to the account of creation, Peter reminds the church, “long ago there were heavens and an earth formed out of the water and in the midst of the water by the word of God” (vs. 5). When God first created the earth, its surface was covered with water: “And the earth was formless and empty; and darkness was upon the surface of the deep; and the Spirit of God moved upon the surface of the waters” (Gen. 1:2).

On Day Two of the creation week, “God made the expanse, and divided the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse” (Gen. 1:6-7). As previously noted in our study of the Creation, H. Ross explains, “God’s ‘separation’ of the water accurately describes the formation of the troposphere, the atmospheric layer just above the ocean where clouds form and humidity resides, as distinct from the stratosphere, mesosphere, and ionosphere lying above the troposphere.2 On Day Three of the creation week, God caused the lower body of water to gather together to form a vast sea, receding to its appointed location and thereby causing a great landmass of earth to appear.

Now Peter goes on to say, “By those same waters the world of that time was destroyed, being deluged with water” (vs. 6); he is, of course, referring to the Great Flood. Peter goes on to assert, “the present heavens and earth are being preserved for fire” (vs. 7). Whenever we are tempted to become careless and negligent concerning the LORD’s promise (warning) of the coming Judgment Day, let us remember the Genesis Flood, bearing in mind that the Flood itself was a type of the final Day of Judgment that is yet to come.

Remember that the LORD will Fulfill His Promise to Save His People🔗

The LORD promised Noah that He would be faithful to save His covenant people: “I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall enter the ark—you, and your sons, and your wife, and your sons’ wives with you” (Gen. 6:18).

Then, in faithfulness to His promise, the LORD brought His people safely through the judgment of the Flood:

For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, but as the waters increased, they lifted the ark high above the earth. The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, but the ark floated on the surface of the water. Gen. 7:17-18

Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; men and animals and the creatures that crawl along the ground and the birds of the air were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark. Gen. 7:23

The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days. But God remembered Noah. Gen. 7:24-8:1a

The LORD brought Noah and his family safely into a new creation. Note that the language of Genesis 8 corresponds to Genesis 1, which is describing the original creation:

Genesis 8:1 states that God “made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters receded;” in Genesis 1:2 we read, “the Spirit of God moved upon the surface of the waters.” (Note: the Hebrew word, mַוּר, has both the meaning "wind" and "Spirit.")

Genesis 8:4 tells us, “the ark rested in the seventh month;” in Genesis 2:2 we are told that God “rested on the seventh day.”

Genesis 8:4 also informs us that the dry land re-appeared out of the water; while from Genesis 1:9 we learn that God commanded the waters to be gathered together, and the dry land appeared.

According to Genesis 8:15, God sent Noah and the animals out of the ark with the commandment to be fruitful and multiply; Genesis 1:22,28 records God’s original command that the animals and man be fruitful and multiply.

Sometimes we are tempted to become anxious and wonder if the LORD will fulfill His promise to bring us safely into His new creation. The Apostle Peter assures us that we may rest in the LORD’s divine promise. Peter assures us that the LORD “is not negligent” (vs. 9). God’s very character precludes any negligence on His part: “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he spoken, and will he not act? Or has he promised, and will he not fulfill it?” (Num. 23:19).

In his first epistle, Peter speaks of “a salvation ready to be revealed at the last time” (1 Pet. 1:5). Peter assures us, as an apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ, that the day of the LORD will come (2 Pet. 3:10), at which time there shall appear “new heavens and a new earth, wherein righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13). Whenever we are tempted to become anxious and wonder if the LORD will be faithful to bring us safely through the Last Judgment and into His new creation, let is remember his faithfulness to Noah at the time of the Genesis Flood.


As that Baltimore pastor discovered, God’s promises are secure and nothing can destroy them, neither water nor fire. When we are tempted to become either careless or anxious, let us remember that the LORD is faithful to fulfill all His promises. As Hebrews 13:8 informs us, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, and forever.”

Discussion Questions🔗

1. In Genesis 6:11a we read, “the earth was corrupt in the sight of God.” What is the significance of this statement? See Heb. 4:13 In light of this truth, how ought we to live our lives? What other attitudes should this truth inspire in the Christian? See Psl. 139:1-5, 7, 13-14; Ex. 3:7-8a; Psl. 34:15,

13And there is no creature hidden from his sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Heb. 4:13

1O LORD, you have searched me and known me. 2You know my sitting down and my rising up; you understand my thought afar off. 3You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. 4For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. 5You have hedged me behind and before, and laid your hand upon me... 7Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? formed my inward parts; you covered me in my mother’s womb. 14I will give thanks unto you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works, and that my soul knows very well. Psl. 139:1-5, 7, 13-14

7Then the LORD said, I have certainly seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and I have heard them crying out because of their taskmasters. I know their sorrows. 8aI have come down to deliver them... Ex. 3:7-8a

15The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry. Psl. 34:15

2. In Genesis 6:12a we read, “God looked upon the earth, and, indeed, it was corrupt.” What is significant about this statement? Cp. Gen. 18:21. What is the significance of the fact that the LORD “investigates” the situation before arbitrarily administering judgment? What does Psalms 7:11 and 11:7 teach us about God’s character and His acts?

The LORD declared,

21I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to me; and if not, I will know. Gen. 18:21

11God is a righteous judge; indeed, a God that has indignation every day. Psl. 7:11

7The LORD is righteous, he loves righteousness; the upright shall behold his face. Psl. 11:7

3. What connection does the Apostle Peter make between the Genesis Flood and the Final Judgment? See 2 Pet. 3:5-7 Note that whereas Peter employs geographical language when describing the Final Judgment (the present heavens and earth are being preserved for fire), he uses sociological language (the world of that time was destroyed) when describing the Genesis Flood. What bearing might this have on our understanding of the nature and extend of the Flood? See the accompanying Appendix A: The Genesis Flood. What is your view on this subject?

5...long ago there were heavens and an earth formed out of the water and in the midst of the water by the word of God. 6By those [same waters] the world of that time was destroyed, being deluged with water. 7And by that same word, the present heavens and earth are being preserved for fire, reserved for the day of the judgment and destruction of ungodly mankind. 2 Pet. 3:5-7

4. Describe the various attributes of God Peter mentions in 2 Peter 3:8-10. How should each of these divine attributes impact our lives as we live as Christians in this present world?

8Do not forget this one thing, beloved, [namely], that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like one day. 9The Lord is not negligent with regard to the promise, as some consider negligence; on the contrary, he is exhibiting great patience toward you. He does not desire anyone to perish, but all to come to repentance. 10But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. On that day, the heavens will disappear with a loud noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat, and the earth together with the works that are in it will be burned up. 2 Pet. 3:8-10

5. The Apostle Peter tells us that as Christians, we are to “eagerly await the coming of the day of God.” But in light of what he goes on to say, “because of which, the heavens will be destroyed by fire and the elements will be dissolved by the intense heat,” why should we eagerly await its coming? See 2 Pet. 3:13 As Christians, are we eager for the coming “Day of God”? Why or why not? For what do the Scriptures teach us to pray? See Matt. 6:9-10; Rev. 22:20,

13But, according to his promise, we are watching for a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness resides. 2 Pet. 3:13

9In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.10Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.Matt. 6:9-10

Jesus testifies,

20Indeed, I am coming without delay. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!Rev. 22:20

Appendices to the Study on Genesis 6:9-ff🔗

Appendix A: The Genesis Flood🔗

In what sense was the Genesis Flood universal? Was it universal in the sense that geographically the floodwaters inundated the entire globe? Or was it universal in the sense that the Flood destroyed all of mankind?

Some Limiting Factors🔗

Formidable scientific problems are raised by a universal flood: (1) According to the best estimates, to cover the highest Himalayas would require eight times more water than our planet now possesses. (2) The withdrawal of so great a quantity of water constitutes an almost insuperable problem, for there would be no place to which it could drain off. [The Hebrew verb used in Genesis 8:1 שָׁכַךְ, has the meaning, “to decrease,” “to abate,” “to assuage.”] The mechanics of this abatement of water would certainly be difficult, for the atmosphere could not possibly hold that much water in evaporated form, and it is doubtful if any underground cavities in the earth could receive more than a small fraction of this additional volume of water. (3) Scarcely any plant life could have survived submersion under salt water for over a year, and the mingling of ocean water with the rain must have resulted in a lethal saline concentration, even though the mixture would have been considerably diluted. Practically all marine life would have perished, except those comparatively few organisms that can withstand tremendous pressure, for 90-percent of marine life is found in the first fifty fathoms, and many of these species cannot survive distant migration from their native feeding grounds. Presumably the fresh water fish would have died, even though the salinity might have been high enough to support saltwater fish. (4) Certain areas of the earth’s surface show definite evidence of no submersion. For example, in Auvergne (France) there are reportedly cones of loose scoria and ashes from volcanoes thousands of years older than the Flood, and yet they show no signs of having been washed or disturbed by floodwaters.3

Some global Flood proponents who acknowledge the problem of a grossly inadequate water supply propose that Earth’s surface was “smoothened,” or flattened, by the Flood, thus reducing the water requirement. More specifically, they claim that during the forty days and nights when the floodwaters rose, Earth’s mountains radically eroded from their lofty heights of ten, fifteen, and even twenty thousand feet to just one or two thousand feet, perhaps less. Meanwhile, the ocean basins filled with the silt of such erosion, forcing them up from their depths of ten, twenty, and thirty thousand feet to just a few thousand feet, perhaps less.

Other global Flood advocates simply presume that previous to the Flood all the continental landmasses lay no more than a few thousand feet above sea level. While this explanation removes the appeal to extreme erosion, it requires that during the forty days and nights the ocean basins were quickly and sufficiently uplifted so as to inundate all the continents and islands.

All global Flood proponents posit that planet Earth during the eleven months following the forty days and nights of flooding was radically transformed. It changed, they state, from possessing very little vertical relief in the oceans or on the continents to its present condition of mountains reaching to 29,000 feet above sea level and ocean basins dipping down to 38,000 feet below sea level. The mechanisms driving this drastic activity, they say, included plate tectonics and volcanic eruptions. In other words, Earth’s crust buckled over the course of eleven months by tens of thousands of vertical feet as a result of gigantic earthquakes and volcanoes.

As drastic as all this vertical displacement is, it pales in comparison to the horizontal crustal plate movements global Flood proponents insist must have occurred during the several months following the Flood. Recognizing the overwhelming geophysical evidence that exits for massive movements of the continents, including a supercontinent splitting into seven continents that now grace our planet’s surface, they claim that much, if not all, of this continental movement took place not over hundreds of millions of years but during the eleven-month time span following the Flood. That is, depending where one resides on the earth, they propose something between 3,000 and 6,000 miles of plate tectonic movement took place in less than a year.

This proposition fails the test of plausibility on several counts. First, neither Genesis nor geophysics offers a hint that such drastic upheavals took place. The primary energy source for driving tectonics and vulcanism is heat from the decay of long-lived radiometric elements, and the primary energy source for erosion is Earth’s rotation rate. Neither could have been dramatically increased without scientists today being aware of such past increases. For that matter, neither scientists nor anyone else would be alive today if such events took place at the time of the Flood.

Second, the ark, though seaworthy for a massive Mesopotamian flood, would have broken under the stresses of such cataclysmic events as vertical displacements of Earth’s crust by more than 200 feet per day and horizontal displacements by more than 60,000 feet per day. Anything more than just one foot of erosion or one foot of tectonic uplift per day is sufficient to destroy most cities. Though the ark was floating, such movement would produce sufficient G-forces to shatter the ark and its occupants. At a minimum, the atmospheric dust and debris, not to mention heat, ashes, and gases released from such catastrophic events, would shut down photosynthetic processes for many years. Further, the text explicitly states that God “sent a wind over the earth” as His primary means to disperse the floodwaters. This reference to the wind suggests that God used evaporation, rather than geologic upheaval, to return the floodwaters to their original places.

Noah and his family’s post-Flood activities also argue against this geologic cataclysm hypothesis. Genesis records that Noah and his family began profitable agriculture immediately after leaving the ark—impossible if such extreme erosion and tectonics rearranged the landscape. We recall, too, that an olive leaf was available to be plucked by the dove while the floodwaters were still receding. No olive tree, let alone its leaves, would have survived tens of thousands of feet of erosion, tectonics, and vulcanism packed into a few months or even a few years.

The effects of such monstrous erosion, tectonics, and vulcanism would be easily measurable by geophysicists today, if it had occurred. The fault lines scarring the earth would be many times more numerous, larger, and active than what we see. Also, the earthquake aftershocks from thousands of miles of tectonic displacement would have made cities, agriculture, and even the mere existence of human beings impossible during the decades following the Flood. Neither the Bible nor any of the other 200+ Flood accounts found in the ancient cultures of the world gives the slightest hint of such post-Flood catastrophes.4

The Relative Use of “Whole,” All,” and “Every”🔗

That the words “whole,” “all,” “every,” have always to be understood in the light of their context is clear from a glance at such passage as Genesis 41:56-57 and 1 Kings 10:24,5

56And the famine was over all the face of the earth; and Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold to the Egyptians; and the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. 57And all countries came into Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe in all the earth. Gen. 41:56­-57

24And all the world sought an audience with Solomon, to hear his wisdom, which God had put in his heart. 1 Kgs. 10:24

Genesis 41:56 tells of the famine that struck while Joseph served as prime minister over Egypt. The King James Version reads, “The famine was over all the face of the earth.” We understand these words to signify that the famine devastated all the lands of the ancient Near East in and around Egypt. We do not interpret them globally, as implying that Australian Aborigines and American Indians came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph. Likewise, when 1 Kings 10:24 states, “the whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart,” we do not conclude that the New Zealand Maoris or the Patagonian natives sent yearly delegations to Jerusalem.

In the Flood account itself we find a similar example. In Genesis 8:5, the floodwaters are said to have receded enough so that the “tops of the mountains became visible.” After forty more days of the floodwaters receding still farther, Noah released a dove. Genesis 8:9 records that the “dove could find no place to set its feet because there was water over all the surface of the earth.” Clearly, this implies that all of the earth or the whole world was inundated from the perspective of the dove but not from the perspective of Noah.6

The Use of the Term “World”🔗

The Apostle Peter made specific comment on the extent of the Genesis Flood:

5But this they intentionally forget; namely, that long ago there were heavens and an earth formed out of the water and in the midst of the water by the word of God. 6By those same waters the world of that time was destroyed, being deluged with water. 7And by that same word the present heavens and earth are being preserved for fire, reserved for the day of the judgment and destruction of ungodly mankind. 2 Pet. 3:5-7

The Greek word translated “world,” κοσµοs, has these definitions: the whole universe, the whole planet Earth, the whole of humanity, or a portion of the Earth. An indication that the third definition, “the whole of humanity,” is what Peter had in mind can be seen from the qualifying phrase he employed, he writes of “the world of that time.”7

Note how Peter intentionally alternates between the terms “heavens and earth,” which is a geographical designation, and “the world of that time,” which is a societal designation. He begins by speaking of the original creation, “long ago there were heavens and an earth formed out of the water and in the midst of the water.” He then declares, “the world of that time” was deluged by the Flood. He next goes on to warn that the heavens and earth as they exist in their present state—“the present heavens and earth”—are being preserved for the Final Judgment, which will be by fire. Peter makes the distinction between "the ancient world" being visited with God’s judgment in the form of the Genesis Flood and "the present heavens and earth" being destined for God’s Final Judgment in the form of fire.

But, the judgment that befell that ancient world—the judgment executed by means of the Genesis Flood—was also a precursor of the universal judgment that shall befall the present creation—a judgment of fire that shall be of totally universal and cosmic proportions, consuming both the entire world of mankind as well as the present heavens and earth.

The Various Meanings of the Relevant Hebrew Words🔗

It needs to be pointed out that the Hebrew term, אֶרֶץ, translated consistently as “earth” in our English Bibles, is also the word for “land” (e.g. “the land of Israel,” “the land of Egypt”). There is another term, תֵּבֵל, which means the whole expanse of the earth, or the world as a whole. Nowhere does תֵּבֵל occur in this account, but only אֶרֶץ in all the statements that sound quite universal in the English Bible (e.g. Genesis 7:4,10,17,18,19). Thus Genesis 6:17c can be rendered: everything that is in the land shall die—that is, whatever geographical region is involved in the context and situation. If this interpretation be allowed, then the mountains whose summits were submerged by the Flood would have been the relatively lower mountains of the region surrounding Mesopotamia, rather than including the mighty Himalayas, (such as Mount Everest with its nearly six-mile height). Correspondingly, the Hebrew word, אַדָמָה, translated, “ground,” which occurs in the ASV of Genesis 7:4, can be understood as the soil surface of the same area covered by the אֶרֶץ of the other verses.8

The phrase, ”under the whole heaven,” which occurs in Genesis 7:19, (”all the high mountains that were under the whole heaven were covered”), can legitimately be understood as equivalent to the phrase “within (or, “under”) the whole horizon.”9 We may also take note of Deuteronomy 4:32, in which the phrase ”from one end of heaven to the other” conveys the meaning, "from horizon to horizon."

The Floodwaters Covering “the Highest Mountains”🔗

The reference in Genesis 7:19-20 to the inundation of all mountains “under the whole heaven” proves a sticking point in the debate over the Flood’s extent. The translators’ wording of this passage explains why so many English-speaking Christians firmly conclude that the Flood must have been global. In the King James Version the passage reads as follows:

19And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills that were under the whole heaven, were covered. 20Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered. 21And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man. Gen. 7:19-21, KJV

In the New International Version, the passage reads this way:

19They [the floodwaters] rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. 20The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than twenty feet. 21Every living thing that moved on the earth perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. Gen. 7:19-21, NIV

The text certainly appears to claim that all land life on planet Earth was destroyed and that even Mount Everest was covered by more than twenty feet of water. A look at the Hebrew suggests that the translators may have struggled with the text, and some may have been influenced, unawares, by preconceptions about the story.

The Hebrew verb translated “covered” is סָהכָּ. This “covering” can be defined in any of three ways: “residing upon,” “running over,” or “falling upon.” The distinctions among these definitions are important. כָּסָה can be interpreted to mean that more than twenty feet of water stood, that is, remained, over the high hills or mountains; or it could mean that this quantity of water either ran over them as in a flash flood or fell upon them as rainfall. The context gives no clear indication which of the three meanings to choose. Not that the choice is significant for understanding the effects of such “covering.” Any of the three scenarios would guarantee total destruction, no survivors.

Because of Hebrew’s small vocabulary, the words translated "all the high mountains" cover a wide range of meaning. הַר is used for “hill,” “hill country,” or “mountain.” It could refer to a towering peak, which requires days for skilled mountaineers to ascend, or it could mean a small hill that children climb in their playtime. Anything in between is also possible.

The Hebrew adjective גָּבֵחַּ means “high,” “exalted,” “elevated,” or “lifted above.” It applies to any elevation above the plain, from a landmark hill to a Mount Ararat. Genesis 7:19 describes Noah’s inability to see anything but water, horizon to horizon, from his viewpoint on the ark’s upper deck. If the ark were floating anywhere near the middle of the vast Mesopotamian plain on water as deep as two or three hundred feet, no hills or mountains would be visible from it.

Noah would see nothing but water. The high mountain ranges surrounding the Mesopotamian valley would lie beyond Noah’s line of sight Those who drive through wide valleys such as California’s San Joaquin, (much narrower than the Mesopotamian valley), typically cannot see from the valley’s middle the towering peaks beyond.

This interpretation that the Flood covered the essential region of the planet rather than the whole globe receives added support in Genesis 8:5, “The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month, the tops of the mountains [or, hills] became visible.”

The text speaks only of the region visible to Noah, not of the peaks beyond his horizon. At first, neither the raven nor the dove Noah released could fly far enough to find a landing place. A week later, when Noah sent the dove out again, it recovered a leaf from an olive tree. Olive trees do not grow at Earth’s highest elevations, and yet this tree lived. We can reasonably assume that the הַר Noah finally saw were low-lying hills or foothills.

Supporting the conclusion that Genesis 7:19 speaks only of the region visible to Noah, we have the contrast in Genesis 8 between Noah and the dove’s perspective on the receding waters of the Flood. In Genesis 8:5 the floodwaters have receded sufficiently for Noah from his perspective on the ark to see the hills and/or mountains on his horizon. A little later, in Genesis 8:9 Noah releases a dove. The text records in Genesis 8:9 that from the perspective of the dove “the waters were on the face of the whole earth.” Therefore, right in the context of the Genesis chapters describing the Flood we have a clear example of “the face of the whole earth” meaning much less than the entire surface of planet Earth.10 We should also bear in mind once again that the phrase “under the whole heaven” may legitimately be understood to mean “under the whole horizon.”11

The Source of the Floodwaters🔗

Few readers seem to catch the significance of statements about the source of the floodwater. In one respect, the text itself rules out the global Flood interpretation by telling us where the water came from (Genesis 7) and where it returned (Genesis 8), namely, earthly sources. The quantity of water on, in, and around our planet comes nowhere near the amount required for global inundation. According to Genesis 7:11-12, the flood waters came from “the springs of the great deep” and “the floodgates of the heavens” These terms refer to subterranean reservoirs, today called aquifers, and to heavy rain clouds.

Like most desert plains, Mesopotamia has the characteristics that would favor formation of an enormous aquifer. Certain well-timed geologic events could bring all that water to the surface. And while rain as we know it virtually never falls in Mesopotamia, an “act of God" could certainly bring it to the region and sustain the 40-day torrent that Genesis records.

To describe the receding of the flood waters, the writer employs four different Hebrew words: שָׂכֵךְ ,סוּר,  שׁוּב, and הָלַךְ, which mean, respectively, “subsided or abated” [the waters abated, Genesis 8:1]; “returned to its original place or condition” [the waters returned, Genesis 8:3]; “diminished or lessened” [the waters diminished, Genesis 8:3]; and “lowered or flowed away” [the waters departed, or, flowed away, Genesis 8:5]. These verbs indicate that the floodwaters returned to the places from which they came, the aquifers and the clouds. Apparently, the flood waters remain on Earth to this day. God moved the water from one location on Earth to another and later returned it. To cover Mount Everest, (elevation 29,029 feet, or 8,848 meters), with water would require four and a half times the total water resources of the entire planet. Furthermore, such flooding would be pointless if no one inhabited that region.12

The Removal of the Flood waters🔗

Genesis 8:1 describes how God removed the floodwaters from the land: He sent a wind. This removal technique perfectly suits the requirements of water removal from a gigantic flat plain such as Mesopotamia. Water even tens of feet deep would flow very inefficiently toward the ocean, but a wind would significantly speed up its movement. Wind also speeds natural evaporation. Thus, wind would prove an effective means for removing water from an expansive, low-lying plain. It would prove of little if any use, however, in removing the waters of a global Flood. Such a quantity of water could not possibly recede to any location on or around the planet by the means described in just eleven months. A Flood universal to all of humanity inhabiting one geographical region certainly could, especially with a supernatural assist.13

The Ark’s Resting Place🔗

Nearly everyone asserts that the ark came to rest on Mount Ararat. Given Ararat’s elevation, 16,946 feet (5,165 meters) above sea level, no wonder people are convinced that the Bible teaches a global Flood.

This pervasive misconception about the ark’s resting place may arise merely from a careless reading of the text. Genesis 8:4 reports that the ark came to rest on “the mountains” (plural) of Ararat, not on Mount Ararat. The distinction makes a huge interpretive difference. The entire Ararat range, actually a complex of ranges, extends from the vicinity north and east of Mount Ararat all the way down to the foothills skirting the Mesopotamian plain. It covers more than 100,000 square miles (250,000 square kilometers).

Noah’s ark could have come to rest anywhere within this enormous region. Genesis 8:4 does not require a global Flood interpretation.14

The Purpose of the Flood: Judgment upon Sinful Mankind🔗

The Genesis account makes clear that the purpose of the Flood was the judgment and destruction of sinful mankind:

5And the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great upon the earth, and that every conception of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6And the LORD felt remorse that he had made man on the earth, and it brought grief to his heart. 7And the LORD said, I will destroy man, whom I have created, from the face of the ground; both man and beast, as well as creeping things, and the birds of the heavens; for I regret that I have made them. Gen. 6:5-7

11Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. 12And God looked upon the earth, and, indeed, it was corrupt; for all mankind had corrupted their way upon the earth. 13Then God said to Noah, I have determined to bring all mankind to an end, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; surely, I will destroy them together with the earth. Gen. 6:11-13

Was the flood universal in the geographical sense of covering every square mile of the earth’s surface? Or was it universal only in the sense of including everybody within it? In favor of this latter alternative it may be remarked that, viewing the subject from the standpoint of human sin and divine judgment, so long as the flood was universal in the sense of blotting out the race of man, its geographical universality was not essential.15

Besides the account of the Genesis Flood, Scripture gives us several other instances of what may be designated as God’s ultimate judgment visited upon sinful men. One such passage is Deuteronomy 11:6, a passage that recounts God’s judgment upon Dathan and Abiram:

6...the earth opened its mouth in the midst of all Israel and swallowed them up, together with their households, and their tents, and every living thing that belonged to them. Deut. 11:6

Another instance of such judgment is found in the Book of Jeremiah, a prophecy of God’s impending judgment upon the nation of Israel because of its apostasy:

20Therefore, this is what the LORD God says: Behold, my anger and my wrath shall be poured out on this place, on man and beast, on the trees of the field and on the fruit of the ground; and it shall burn and shall not be quenched. Jer. 7:20

4How long shall the land lie parched, and the grass of the whole country be withered? Because of the wickedness of those who live there, the beasts and the birds have perished. Jer. 12:4

What do we learn from these accounts? We learn that when God visits sinful man with the ultimate form of His judgment, that judgment befalls the men (or nations) that are the object of His righteous wrath, together with all of their possessions, their lands, and even the animal life that inhabits their land—but that judgment does not extend beyond those people and their environs.

How does this apply to the Genesis Flood? Being that it was God’s purpose to bring His ultimate judgment upon the whole race of sinful mankind of that day, that judgment would accomplish its purpose if it eradicated all of mankind and all of his environs—but it need not extend beyond the environs inhabited by the sinful human race of that day.

The account of the flood is told in terms of universality. This does not necessarily mean that the flood covered the entire face of the globe; rather, it was universal in that it destroyed all flesh. If the habitations of mankind were limited to the Euphrates valley, it is quite possible that the flood was also limited.16

If human beings had spread as far as Antarctica, the Flood would cover Antarctica, destroying the Emperor penguins along with the people, except those Emperor penguins and people aboard the ark. If no people lived in Antarctica, God would have no reason to destroy the place or its penguins. Nor would Noah be required to take a pair of Emperor penguins aboard the ark.

The extend of the Genesis Flood, according to the principle laid out in Scripture, would be determined by the spread of human habitation. If, for example, humanity had spread throughout Africa, Asia, and Europe, only Africa, Asia, and Europe would be destroyed by the Flood. If only Mesopotamia had been settled, only Mesopotamia would be flooded. Such a geographically limited Flood would still be “universal” or “worldwide,” given that people, not the globe, defined “world” among the ancients. Any flood that exterminates all human beings, all the soulish animals with whom they have contact, and all their material possessions—except those on-board Noah’s ark—would be universal and would achieve God’s purpose in pouring out judgment.17

Biblical clues to the geographical limits on human habitation can be found in the place-names Genesis mentions or does not mention. In Genesis 1-9 the text mentions place-names only in the environs of Mesopotamia. From Genesis 10 onward, we encounter references (by name or direction) to places beyond Mesopotamia, in fact, to places covering much of the Eastern hemisphere.

This sudden shift from narrow to wider geographical range after Genesis 10 strongly suggests that until the time of the Flood, human beings and their animals remained in and around Mesopotamia. Therefore, to fulfill the purpose in sending the deluge, God would need to flood only the Mesopotamian plain and perhaps some adjacent territories.18

Appendix B: The Ark🔗

Why an Ark?🔗

Consideration of the Flood’s geographically limited, (though universal with respect to people and their animals), destruction may cause us to wonder why God did not deal with Noah’s situation as He did with Lot’s later—rescue by evacuation. God could have instructed Noah to pack up and depart to a region far away where, Noah and those with him would be out of harm’s way.

Two reasons stand out. First, when God pours out judgment, He gives ample warning ahead of time. He sends a spokesman, a prophet, and gives that prophet some kind of platform, pulpit, or focal point from which to be heard. For the antediluvians, Noah was that prophet and the scaffolding around the ark was his platform.

The efforts of a middle-aged (or slightly older) man, a distinguished patriarch, to build an enormous vessel in the middle of a desert plain that receives scant rainfall certainly would have commanded attention. Noah’s persistent devotion to this immensely challenging project for one hundred years would have heightened the drama. As crowds gathered to jeer, not cheer, Noah patiently preached. He warned his listeners of impending doom if they failed to repent. He freely offered passage to anyone who would heed his warning and call upon God for mercy. Perhaps one reason for the enormous size of the ship was to demonstrate the sincerity of this offer.

The New Testament confirms that Noah gave time to being a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Pet. 2:5). Noah “condemned the world,” not so much with words as by the example of his faith as he, like God, “waited patiently.” He could have built the ark much faster if he had spent less time preaching, but the magnitude of the impending disaster compelled him to give more than ample warning to his contemporaries.

Lot’s circumstances contrast with Noah’s in several ways. Lot was not a native to Sodom. He moved there as an adult and served for some time as a leader, or “judge,” in the city-state. Thus, Lot had a ready platform from which to preach. Sodom was small by comparison with Mesopotamia, and its population tiny by comparison with the whole of humanity. One short trip would remove Lot and his family from danger and from an area nonessential to humanity’s survival.19

Building the Ark🔗

Noah did not build a ship in the proper sense: it was a kind of covered raft intended to drift steadily. It was constructed of cypress (gopher) wood and sealed with bitumen, one of the natural products of Assyria. Taking the cubit at eighteen inches, the vessel was 450 feet long and 75 feet wide. It was built with three floors and was constructed to a height of 45 feet. The window referred to in Genesis 6:16 is called a ץֹהַר , meaning a “light,” So far as it is possible to understand the construction, the ץֹהַר appears to have been an open space for a depth of 18 inches that ran around the top of the ark to let in light and air.20

Some skepticism about Noah’s ability to construct the ark comes from the observation that until the late nineteenth century A. D., no nation had ever built such a huge vessel. No nation to this day has succeeded in constructing one from wood. The largest wooden vessels ever assembled were the clipper ships of the nineteenth century, a little more than three hundred feet long. When New England shipyards attempted to build longer vessels, they discovered they could not make them seaworthy. Their oak beams lacked the necessary tensile strength. How could Noah’s engineering capability and resources outstrip those of modern shipbuilding professionals?

Again, we must look more closely at contextual details. First, Noah’s ark was not intended for sailing on the high seas; rather, it had to be able to float on a flooded plain. The engineering requirements for a barge-type vessel differ significantly from those of a three-masted schooner. Second, Noah faced none of the economic constraints pressuring nineteenth-century shipbuilders, whose goal was to transport (across treacherous oceans) as much cargo weight for as few dollars as possible. They did not push their oak shipbuilding designs very far, for they soon discovered that for very large vessels, steel offered greater economy than oak. Unlike the New England shipbuilders, Noah could consider options other than oak and weight of materials.

According to the Genesis text, Noah used “gopher” wood to build the ark. This type of wood we cannot identify with any certainty. We do not even know all the different kinds of trees that might have grown along the banks of Mesopotamian rivers and in the adjacent territories and mountains. We do know that hardwoods such as walnut are much stronger than oak. Some tropical timbers are denser than water with tensile strengths matching that of some metals. Woods like these would have been more plentiful, we can surmise, in the era before construction of huge buildings and palaces. Therefore, access to timbers of the necessary strength probably presented no major problem for Noah.

Both Old and New Testament passages indicate that Noah held considerable stature in his community. From these hints we can surmise that his personnel resources were abundant, certainly adequate, (of course, with God’s help), to complete the construction project. And possibly, Noah may have employed many more people than just his family members to assist in the building. We can easily imagine the opportunity this large workforce would provide for attracting larger crowds to hear Noah’s message.

Whether he used a large building crew or not, workers were available for Noah’s use, as were all the necessary materials from hard woods to a natural sealant to keep out the water. No insurmountable obstacles stood in Noah’s way for successful construction of an ark of the dimensions the text delineates.21

The Ark’s Cargo🔗

Recognizing that many more birds and mammal species existed in Noah’s day than exist today and that the ranges of these species were broad, we must conclude that the ark housed at least many hundreds of species, conceivably as many as several thousand. Noah was commanded by God to make provision not only for housing this zoo but also for feeding them—not just during the Flood but until post-Flood lands began producing sufficient food for them. The same went for his family, as well. In other words, he needed to pack an eighteen-to-twenty-month food supply. Thus, the weight of food and fodder must have exceeded by several times the weight of the animals and people.

In addition, Noah’s family would need to store all the supplies and tools to rebuild their homes and farms. The availability of wood might not be problematic, given the lumber in the ark itself and the olive leaf retrieved by the dove, (signifying the proximity of trees). Nevertheless, the rebuilders would need tools and simple machines, ropes, precut stones, timbers, and pegs, plus materials for clothing, cooking, and sleeping.

If the ark’s dimensions are converted from short cubits to feet, the ark measured 450 feet long by 75 feet wide by 45 feet high (140 by 23 by 13.5 meters). A vessel of these dimensions could easily accommodate the three decks God told Noah to build. Constructed in this way, it would offer generous cargo space, roomy pens or stalls for the animals, and adequate quarters for the human passengers. Food could be sorted and stored close to animals, fertilizer could be stored for future agricultural use, and still the ark would allow room for exercising the animals and for human recreation. At the same time, the ark would be small enough that eight people could tend to their chores without walking their legs off.

Given their hundred-year building, planning, and preparation time, Noah and his family could have adapted and installed many labor-saving devices. Dumb waiters, carts, chutes, rails, and simple plumbing could have greatly streamlined their efforts. In the course of using and modifying such things, Noah’s family may have been planning and preparing for their days back on land, building better homes, farms, and industries.22

Noah’s Future🔗

In addition to building the ark and preaching repentance, Noah’s job included caring for a pair (male and female) of every bird and mammal species living in the region where human beings lived. He did not have to go out to find them and bring them in, however; God intervened to send the birds and animals to him. The reason for sheltering these animals probably had more to do with economics than with ecology. Few of the creatures on board would have had a habitat range as limited as the humans. Therefore, few of them faced imminent extinction from the Flood. We see that God commanded Noah to take on board seven pairs of those birds and mammal species domesticated for agricultural and economic purposes, creatures also used in sacrificial worship.

God could have made life simpler for Noah in the short run by making him wait for birds and mammals to return to Mesopotamia. Instead, he helped Noah take a stock of birds and mammals, more of some than of others, that would allow him and his family to restore rapidly their economy, culture, and worship.23


  1. ^ Our Daily Bread, (Grand Rapids MI: Our Daily Bread Ministries), 12/31/92.
  2. ^ Hugh Ross, The Genesis Question, Second Edition, (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2001), 34.
  3. ^ Gleason Archer, Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, Sixth Printing, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1964), 194-195.
  4. ^ Hugh Ross, The Genesis Question, Second Edition, (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2001), 152-154.
  5. ^ 117 E.F. Kevan, “Genesis,” The New Bible Commentary, F. Davidson, Editor, Reprint, (London: The Inter-Varsity Fellowship, 1967), 84.
  6. ^ Hugh Ross, The Genesis Question, 146-147.
  7. ^ Hugh Ross, The Genesis Question, 147.
  8. ^ Gleason Archer, Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, Sixth 194.
  9. ^ E.F. Kevan, “Genesis,” The New Bible Commentary, 84.
  10. ^ Hugh Ross, The Genesis Question, 148-150.
  11. ^ E.F. Kevan, “Genesis,” The New Bible Commentary, 84.
  12. ^ Hugh Ross, The Genesis Question, 151-152.
  13. ^ Hugh Ross, The Genesis Question, 150-151.
  14. ^ Hugh Ross, The Genesis Question, 151.
  15. ^ E.F. Kevan, “Genesis,” The New Bible Commentary, 84.
  16. ^ Edward J. Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament, Fourth Printing, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publish. CO, 1969), 55.
  17. ^ Hugh Ross, The Genesis Question, 144.
  18. ^ Hugh Ross, The Genesis Question, 148.
  19. ^ Hugh Ross, The Genesis Question, Second Edition, (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2001), 164.
  20. ^ E.F. Kevan, “Genesis,” The New Bible Commentary, F. Davidson, Editor, Reprint, (London: The Inter-Varsity Fellowship, 1967), 84.
  21. ^ Hugh Ross, The Genesis Question, 165-166.
  22. ^ Hugh Ross, The Genesis Question, 168-169.
  23. ^ Hugh Ross, The Genesis Question, 168.

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