[Reprinted with permission from The Interpreter Foundation]
by Taylor Halverson
“Noah built an ark; and…the Lord smiled upon it.” (Moses 7:43)
The great cataclysmic flood wherein “Noah…prepared an ark to the saving of his house” is one of the most well known stories in the Judeo-Christian world. It is story that most of us can remember from our youngest days. If needed, anyone of us could offer a simple synopsis of what occurred: God came to the prophet Noah, warned him of the impending flood, commanded him to build an ark and gather unto temporal salvation all living things into it. Noah obeyed. The mighty windows of heaven were opened and the great deluge commenced to destroy all flesh save it be what had been safely gathered into the ark. As soon as the flood ceased and dry land reappeared, Noah offered sacrifice of thanks unto God and God reestablished his covenant with Noah and his seed offering the sign of the rainbow as a token that such destruction will never come again among the children of men.
But what is the purpose of this account? What doctrines or gospel principles does this scriptural account offer to us? What does any of this mean today, thousands of years after the fact? Our lesson today will look at each of these questions briefly, for it would be impossible to give an exhaustive treatment of any one of these questions.
The Purpose of the Flood Story
Among the many purposes for the scriptural account of the flood story let us consider the following:
- Cleansing and recreating the earth
- God reestablishing the covenant with his righteous people
- Establishing continuity of prophets and priesthood from Adam through Noah to Abraham
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and all things that are in them. At each stage of the creation God looked upon his work and pronounced it good. However in the days of Noah “the earth…was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth” (Gen. 6:11-12). Violence was upon the earth and violence brings death and destruction, the antithesis of creation and replenishing the earth. That which God had pronounced good had now turned corrupt and God desired to cleanse and recreate his creation.
We gain more insights concerning the corruption of the earth from the small, yet precious record called The Pearl of Great Price. In Moses 8:15, 20 we learn that the children of men would not hearken to the voice of Noah. They refused to repent of their sins. We may never know exactly how all flesh corrupted their way on the earth but it is sufficient for us to recognize the principle expressed in these scriptures that those who do not repent of their sins, whatever those sins may be, will not be counted “good” among the creations of God.
It seems from the record that when God beheld that his good creation had gone corrupt and the path of his divine purposes was not followed he desired to blot out all creation that had gone corrupt and recreate all things so that they once again would follow his divine purposes. So the flood was sent to reverse the creation and then after the flood a new creation emerged and Noah’s story records the new creation account. Just as God had created all living things at the foundation of the earth, with the flood he wiped out all living things. But those things of his creation that were good and clean he saved from the flood that he might reestablish his creation and divine purposes. Thus Noah and his wife became the new Adam and Eve who left the protection of the Ark (garden of Eden) and went forth and made sacrifices unto God who (re)established his covenant of mercy with them (Gen. 8:20-22). Then again the commandment to go forth and multiply and replenish the earth was issued to Noah and his posterity (Gen. 9:1) just as it had been issued to Adam and Eve (Gen.1:28).
|Creation||Flood (Reversal of Creation)||Creation Reestablished|
|“And God created…every winged fowl after his kind…and God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful and multiply…and let the fowl multiply in the earth…and God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so. And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind.” (Gen. 1:21-22, 24-25)||“And 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: All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land died. And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth.” (Gen. 6:21-23)||“And God spake unto Noah, saying, Go forth of the ark, thou, and thy wife, and thy sons, and thy sons’ wives with thee. Bring forth with thee every living thing that is with thee, of all flesh, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth; that they may breed abundantly in the earth, and be fruitful, and multiply upon the earth.” (Gen. 8:15-17)|
Noah was the bearer of God’s covenant and priesthood to the new generation of God’s people in a cleansed world. D&C 84 explains how in the succession of patriarchal priesthood Noah was a key link from Adam the first man who had direct communion with the Father to Abraham the “Father of the Faithful”:
Abraham received the priesthood from Melchizedek, who received it through the lineage of his fathers, even till Noah; and from Noah till Enoch, through the linage of their fathers; and from Enoch to Abel, who was slain by the conspiracy of his brother, who received the priesthood by the commandments of God, by the hand of his father Adam. (D&C 84:14-16)
Doctrines & Principles of the Flood Story
Even though the flood wrought great destruction and devastation upon the earth we can see the mercy of God displayed throughout. This is most apparent from the Pearl of Great Price account. As early as the time of Enoch, God made known unto the world that destruction would come upon the wicked by means of the flood. In the following scriptural passages taken from Moses 7 we find Enoch wrapped in heavenly vision beholding the Eternal God weep over the wickedness of mankind and the impending doom. Nevertheless, God reveals to Enoch that the Chosen One will suffer for the sins of all who are willing to be redeemed and that Noah and his family will be saved from the destruction with a temporal salvation.
And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?
The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;
And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood;
And the fire of mine indignation is kindled against them; and in my hot displeasure will I send in the floods upon them, for my fierce anger is kindled against them.
And That which I have chosen hath pled before my face. Wherefore, he suffereth for their sins; inasmuch as they will repent in the day that my Chosen shall return unto me, and until that day they shall be in torment;
Wherefore, for this shall the heavens weep, yea, and all the workmanship of mine hands.
And Enoch also saw Noah, and his family; that the posterity of all the sons of Noah should be saved with a temporal salvation;
Wherefore Enoch saw that Noah built an ark; and that the Lord smiled upon it, and held it in his own hand; but upon the residue of the wicked the floods came and swallowed them up.
And as Enoch saw this, he had bitterness of soul, and wept over his brethren, and said unto the heavens: I will refuse to be comforted; but the Lord said unto Enoch: Lift up your heart, and be glad; and look.
And it came to pass that Enoch looked; and from Noah, he beheld all the families of the earth; and he cried unto the Lord, saying: When shall the day of the Lord come? When shall the blood of the Righteous be shed, that all they that mourn may be sanctified and have eternal life?
And the Lord said: It shall be in the meridian of time, in the days of wickedness and vengeance.
And behold, Enoch saw the day of the coming of the Son of Man, even in the flesh; and his soul rejoiced, saying: The Righteous is lifted up, and the Lamb is slain from the foundation of the world. (Moses 7:28, 32-34, 39-40, 42-47)
We see herein the mercy and great love of God for all of his children. Not only did God send forth Enoch, Methuselah and Noah to preach repentance unto the people of that generation, but God also provided a way for those who died in the flood to ultimately be redeemed through the suffering of the Chosen One if they are willing to believe on him unto repentance.
These beautiful doctrines and principles are not to be found in the Old Testament version of the flood story. It is no wonder that many in the world who do not know of these revelations contained in the Pearl of Great Price but only have the Old Testament as their resource would believe God to be a vengeful, capricious and bloodthirsty God. The Pearl of Great Price teaches us a precious truth about God’s nature—he weeps over the loss and destruction of his children. Nevertheless, He is God and thus knows all things concerning the Plan of Salvation and how it can bring healing redemption to all who are willing. And that is why, despite death, destruction and misery we can hear him say, as he said to Enoch, “Lift up your heart, and be glad; and look.”
We also learn from the flood story of the power and triumph of life and regeneration—that even from the most dark and disastrous circumstances life and light can come forth unto righteousness and salvation. This principle is best understood as we contemplate that Christ died that we might live.
Relevance of Flood Story in Our Day
One of the great joys and difficulties of scripture study is learning to “liken all scripture unto us” (1 Nephi 19:23). We know from the covenant made to Enoch and renewed with Noah that God will never again destroy the earth by floods. Most of us can also be certain that we will not play a Noah role at any time in our lives where we are the sole survivor and representative of humanity, righteousness and gospel covenants. Yet we live in a day that, like the days of Noah, is full of wickedness and perversion. Prophets, like Noah, stand again upon the earth and with all of the love a voice of warning can convey they plead with us to choose God and not corrupt the paths that he has established for our happiness, growth and ultimate salvation. Perhaps we can conclude our brief exploration of this mighty story with a look at the people of Noah’s day and learn from their mistakes. Perhaps there we can find something of immediate relevance for our lives.
As Noah went forth preaching the word of righteousness unto the people
It came to pass that [he] called upon the children of men that they should repent; but they hearkened not unto his words. And also, after that they had heard him, they came up before him, saying: Behold, we are the sons of God. (Moses 8:20-21).
Notice that these people who refused to hearken to the word of God delivered to them by a prophet of God, defined themselves as the “sons of God.” Now let us turn our attention to the antithesis of such an attitude of pride and defiance of God. Moses 8:13 records the following concerning Noah and his sons,
And Noah and his sons hearkened unto the Lord, and gave heed, and they were called the sons of God. (emphasis added)
Whereas the wicked refused to hear the word of the Lord and took upon themselves the title of righteousness “sons of God” when it was not their right to do so nor were they worthy of such a title, Noah and his sons hearkened to God and they were then worthily called “the sons of God.” That title of righteousness was given to them because of their humility and faith to listen to the Father. They did not take the title unto themselves. It was bestowed upon them for faithfulness.
We see this same scenario played out in Genesis 11 & 12. Genesis 11 describes how in their wickedness and haughty pride the people of the earth decide to build a great tower unto heaven that they might make a name for themselves (Gen. 11:4). We all know the story well; they were confounded and scattered to the ends of the earth and their plans to make a mighty nation without God were destroyed by God. However, the very next chapter we are introduced to the humility of Abraham who hearkened unto the voice of the Lord to leave family, friends and inheritance in his homeland of Mesopotamia and travel to a promised, yet foreign land. Due to his obedience and faithfulness the Lord covenanted with Abraham, “I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing” (Gen. 12:2, emphasis added).
May we like Noah, Abraham and the righteous of their posterity not seek to make a name for ourselves in the earth but rather humble ourselves, hearkening unto the will of the Lord unto becoming his sons and his daughters receiving from him that blessed name of “sons and daughters of God,” heirs to all that he has—worlds without number.
More Come, Follow Me resources here.
- The word “cataclysm” derives from a Greek word which means “flood,” “deluge.” So catastrophic was the flood that the word “cataclysm” came to be associated with great destruction.
- There are other ancient flood stories from Ancient Mesopotamia that have many similarities with the Noah story: The Eridu Genesis, The Atrahasis Epic, and The Gilgamesh Epic (tablet 11). In these accounts the council of gods wants to destroy the earth because mankind is making too much noise, which to us seems like a strange and capricious reason for destroying mankind. However, if the noise that was disturbing the gods was in any way related to violence then it is more understandable why the gods would wish to wipe out mankind. In fact it is likely that noise and violence are related. Consider for a moment how the Lord confronted Cain, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!” (Gen. 4:10, emphasis added).
Taylor Halverson is currently an entrepreneurship professor in the BYU Marriott School of Business. As an executive coach and entrepreneur, he builds leaders and businesses while creating transformative professional and personal development experiences. Taylor leads tours to locations throughout the world (Israel, China, India, Europe, Central America, and America’s national parks). He is a prolific author and editor of 20 books and more than 300 articles and a developer of scripture study resources with Book of Mormon Central (ScripturePlus app) and BYU’s Virtual Scripture Group (3D Ancient Jerusalem project). Taylor loves to spend time with his wife Lisa and kids David and Rachel on all sorts of adventures including exploring the nooks and crannies of the American West and Southwest, participating with geology and archaeology teams on location, creating and mixing electronic music, watching and discussing edifying shows, reading good books, playing games, learning, and laughing. Taylor’s academic training includes: BA, Ancient Near Eastern Studies, Brigham Young University; MA, Biblical Studies, Yale University; MS, Instructional Systems Technology, Indiana University; PhD, Instructional Systems Technology, Indiana University; PhD, Judaism & Christianity in Antiquity, Indiana University.