I’ve encountered a lot of different worldviews that hold a lot of different ideas about the flood during the days of Noah…and those are all within the Christian mindset. For some reason the flood described in Genesis 6-8 has become rather contentious lately. Why is there such a vast array of opinions about what happened during the time of Noah?
It is especially intriguing since most infant nurseries, nearly all church children ministry areas, and every kid’s Bible has illustrations of the flood. I have always found that ironic since it is a judgment sent by God on the wickedness of men…but I get that the rainbow and promise from God is happy and uplifting. And who doesn’t like a story with animals in it?
But maybe the variety of opinions about the flood is a direct result of all of those paintings, wall murals, and bath toys of the Ark. We have all been told the “40 days and 40 nights” of the Arky, Arky and have checked off that we all know that Bible story. However, there is a lot more to the flood than just that. We ought to go back to the Scriptures to get the full story.
How long was there water on the earth?
The first misconception we should get straight is how long the waters were on the earth. Yes, it did rain 40 days and 40 nights, but there was so much more happening than that. Genesis 7:11-12 says, “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month, on that same day all the fountains of the great deep [subterranean waters] burst open, and the windows and floodgates of the heavens were opened. It rained on the earth for forty days and forty nights.”
Yes, 40 days and nights of rain were involved but it also says that the “fountains of the great deep burst open.” That sounds pretty disastrous as water would be exploding up from the ground. And the “floodgates” of the heavens were opened. This wasn’t just a light rain or shower, it was pouring so much that it was referred to as the floodgates (which is appropriate since these rains were going to cause a flood).
Think about how quickly your town can get a flash flood warning if a sudden but powerful rainstorm pops up. It has been raining a lot in my area lately and there were several flash flood warnings just this week due to a sudden but short-lived rainstorm. It simply dumped more water in a short period of time than the roads could handle. Imagine then if that went on for 40 days and nights – meaning without stopping – in addition to water bursting up from the ground. That is going to cause some problems!
Furthermore, the waters continued to rise throughout this time of constant rain until Genesis 7:24 says, “The waters covered [all of] the earth for a hundred and fifty days (five months).” After that time, Genesis 8:3 says that at the end of those 150 days, the water began to recede. The Ark finally came to rest on Mount Ararat on the seventeenth day of the seventh month. Note that this was now five months (or 150 days) after the flood event began. But the water had not completely disappeared from the earth. Verse 5 of chapter 8 indicates that it took another three months for the water to recede enough for the mountains to become visible. It would be another 54 days before a dove sent out by Noah could find dry land to perch on (Genesis 8:6-12).
Genesis 8:14 gives the final day for the flood waters to be gone: by the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was entirely dry. If the flood started on the seventeenth day of the second month and then ended on the twenty-seventh day of the second month of the following year, then the flood waters prevailed on the earth for over a year.
There is some scholarly debate as to whether this year was based on a 12-month, 30-day calendar or not, which would affect whether our concept of “over a year” is truly the same number of days as was being referenced in the account in Genesis. However, the fact remains that the flood water remained on the earth in some portion for around 350 days. That is much more significant than our childhood understanding of “40 days and 40 nights.”
Honestly, if we were to truly think about what flood waters would do in one area for 40 days, we can imagine the amount of devastation and drastic landscape changes that would have. But then add to that the fountains bursting forth from the ground, torrential and constant driving rain for 40 days, and water persisting over an area for over 350 days, and you can imagine the kind of destruction and wreckage that would leave behind. There is no doubt that the earth was drastically changed after the flood.
How high did the water get?
Another common misconception about the flood is over the height of the flood waters. We must remember two things though: 1) how much water accumulated on earth and 2) the landscape was most likely different at this time than it is now. Therefore the highest mountain then was probably not the highest mountain now.
Genesis 7:19-20 says, “The waters prevailed so greatly and were so mighty and overwhelming on the earth, so that all the high mountains everywhere under the heavens were covered. [In fact] the waters became fifteen cubits higher [than the highest ground], and the mountains were covered.”
A cubit from ancient times was somewhere between 1.5 and 2 feet. Ergo, the waters were around 20 to 30 feet above the highest mountain. Naturally if the highest mountain top is covered then everything below it is covered with significantly more water than just 15 cubits. It makes sense now that when Noah sends out the dove, it is unable to find a place to perch.
This is a massive amount of water. We have to honestly consider what kind of damage that amount of water would do to the earth. There have been fountains bursting forth from the deep and the floodgates of heaven have been opened. Now the water is covering even the highest mountain top and has remained there for about a year. But all of that water eventually recedes – but where? It has to have some place to go.
As a result, there are going to be some drastic changes in the landscape of the earth. Consider the damages in coastal regions after hurricanes or tsunamis – and it isn’t just to the buildings and structures but to the coast lines as well. Yet those events do not last as long as this flood did.
Why did God bring the flood?
Probably the most important part about the flood account is the reason behind it. Genesis 6:5-7 says, “The Lord saw that the wickedness (depravity) of man was great on the earth, and that every imagination or intent of the thoughts of his heart were only evil continually. The Lord regretted that He had made mankind on the earth, and He was [deeply] grieved in His heart. So the Lord said, ‘I will destroy (annihilate) mankind whom I have created from the surface of the earth—not only man, but the animals and the crawling things and the birds of the air—because it [deeply] grieves Me [to see mankind’s sin] and I regret that I have made them.’”
The entire point of the flood was to destroy the wickedness of man. The hearts of man were “only evil continually” so God judged the whole of creation. It says He would destroy man, animals, creeping things, and birds of the air. All of them. In fact, through the rest of the account it says all flesh (Gen. 7:21), everything on dry land (Gen. 7:22), all in whose nostrils was breath (Gen. 7:22), and every living thing (Gen. 7:23) would be destroyed and all the high hills would be covered with water. The Hebrew word used for each case is kol, which means the whole, altogether, every. It comes from the root word kalal meaning complete and all. This literally means everything – except Noah and the animals on the Ark. And it says everything was destroyed, from the Hebrew word machah which means to erase, abolish, blot out, put out, and destroy.
The purpose of the flood was to destroy everything except what was on the Ark. His purpose would not be accomplished if something other than those on the Ark survived in some other pocket of the world. God’s purpose is clear in the promise He made after Noah came out of the Ark. God placed a rainbow in the sky as a sign of the covenant God made. He would not destroy the world with water again (Gen. 8:21). If the flood were a local event, then God has broken that promise many times over. If the flood were the global, destructive catastrophe that destroyed all living things from the face of the earth except for those on the Ark, then God has kept His covenant.
Between the timeline of the flood, the massive amount of floodwaters, and God’s purpose of the flood, it is clear that the flood during the time of Noah was global and catastrophic, just like the end times judgment will be.
Peter makes that connection in 2 Peter 3:5-7: “For they willingly forget [the fact] that the heavens existed long ago by the word of God, and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed by being flooded with water. But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly people.”
Peter states the “world” at that time was destroyed. But what if he meant only the world that Noah could see? First, that would mean God didn’t accomplish the purpose of the flood, which was to destroy everything except Noah. Second, Peter makes the connection between a global judgment of the flood to the global judgment of fire that is to come.
We all recognize that the fire judgment will be global and catastrophic. It will not be a tranquil fire that burns but doesn’t ravage the landscape. And it will not be local where only one section of the world will be judged. It will be devastating and reach to every person of every tongue and tribe, just like the flood judgment.