God's response to humanity's sinfulness was to send the Flood to wipe mankind almost completely from the planet. He would start again with Noah's family, his sons and their wives.
Immediately after the waters receded and the ark was emptied, Noah makes a sacrifice to God for their deliverance. “And the LORD smelled a soothing aroma. Then the LORD said in His heart, 'I will never again curse the ground for man's sake, although the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth'” (Genesis 8:21).
Did the Flood change anything? Millions of people died, billions of animals died, uncounted trees and other plants died. But the human heart did not change; it remains “evil from his youth.”
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Are Humans Good or Evil?
At this forbidding juncture, God reveals a spiritual doctrine that is supremely vital to our daily lives and ultimately to our salvation. If we do not grasp this doctrine and set its seriousness firmly in mind, it will throw off our understanding of who God's elect are, and we will greatly undervalue the degree of accountability and appreciation we owe to God for His mercy.
It is appropriate to dig into this doctrine at any time, but it is especially appropriate now because of the nature of the period we are living through. The Bible itself, combined with the daily news reports, indicates the time of Jesus' return is drawing near. Many believe that we are in the beginning stages of what has been called “the crisis at the close.” Consider how similar those pre-Flood times are to our own. As God tells the story in His Word, we are only into the sixth chapter of the first book, and the end of mankind, except for the few who would be spared, was near at hand!
This similarity brings up a critical question for all of us to consider soberly: Who was saved from the devastation of the Flood? Every person did not die in the Flood. We need to think this through because the Flood most definitely came, just as the Tribulation and the Day of the Lord, as prophesied by the same unchanging God for our time, will also surely come.
The answer to the critical question is that only those God specifically spared were saved. He specifically names them. God's “grace” is the overall general reason, but the specific aspect of His grace that preserved their lives is that they were sanctified—set apart—for salvation from the Flood.
In both the Hebrew and Greek languages, the root words underlying “salvation” mean the same thing. Both terms mean “given deliverance,” implying prosperity despite impending disaster. In this specific instance, the impending disaster is the prophesied Flood. God's first step in delivering some was to sanctify those He chose, Noah and his family.
Sanctification is of major importance to those of us called into God's church, as I Thessalonians 4:3-5 points out: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like Gentiles who do not know God.” Sanctification (Greek hagiasmos) is the noun form of the verb sanctify, which means “to set apart for God's use, to make distinct from what is common.” Thus, those called into the church are set apart by God, as were Noah and his family, for His glory, for salvation from prophesied disasters, and for becoming like Him.
II Peter 2:5 carries the Flood record further: “[For God] did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing the flood on the world of the ungodly.” Noah and his family faithfully responded, doing what God sanctified them to do. Noah not only built the ark, which became the physical means of their salvation, but its construction gave them the time and opportunity to explain to the world why it needed to be built. Noah preached to mankind of God, of their sins, and of the prophesied certainty of the Flood if the people chose not to repent.
From this example, we must grasp God's intention in His sanctification of us. Noah and his family did not save themselves. Like Noah and his family, we are required to respond faithfully to what God has ordained us to do. We must understand that we are God's workmanship (Ephesians 2:10), and the responsibilities He assigns are part of His creation of us in His image.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Leadership and Covenants (Part Eight)
What would it be like to live in a human society in which there was no set standard or rules by which its members were expected to conduct their affairs? Life would be pretty chancy. God was so saddened by this state of affairs that He felt that the only thing He could do was to wipe it out and start over again.
In that kind of society, every excursion outside one's door would be a venture into a societal jungle in which pain, fear, violence, and possibly death lurked at virtually every step. Indeed, if everybody were "a law unto himself," one would not be safe even within his own home because the people there, too, would be living by their own rules. It does not sound as though life would be very fulfilling or enjoyable because only the strongest or the most clever would survive. This kind of life can only be described as a constant, fearful struggle. Community life under these conditions would be impossible because community is possible only when everyone adheres to the same rules. God is creating a Community, a Family, a Kingdom.
Now a second scenario: What would it be like to live in a human society in which there were set standards, but people abided by them only when they felt like it? This might be a definite improvement because people might feel like obeying the rules at least once in a while. There would be more chance for agreement and decidedly less conflict, anxiety, injury, or death.
A third scenario: What would it be like to live in a society in which there were set standards, and people generally agreed with them, and for a variety of reasons, many restrained themselves from breaking them, even when they did not feel like it? However, if a person or community really felt pressure - if one felt that his need or the community's need was great enough - then he or it would break those standards, even to the point of mass murder - war. Again, this is an improvement over both of the other two scenarios, as the chances of peace and stability are increasing.
A fourth scenario: What would it be like to live in society in which people or a community overwhelmingly agree on the standards and, for a variety of reasons, restrain themselves to obey them even when they did not feel like it? This scenario is downright Millennial.
A fifth and final scenario: What would it be like to live in a community where the standards were absolutely engraved in each person's character, and no one has even a thought of transgressing them? Every thought is for the well-being of each individual and the community. It is not difficult to choose which scenario would be the most pleasurable to live in and would produce the most and the best.
As things now are, we live in the third scenario. Which of these five will allow people to concentrate their creativity and energies into producing prosperity in every lawful and edifying field of endeavor - without ever having to be anxious or having their abilities or energies dissipated by conflicts with their fellows? It is easy to see that the fifth scenario fits best.
Of course, the standards are the basic laws of God regulating relationships between men and God and between men and other men. Yet, we are often told that we should obey God because we want to and because we love our fellow man. This is a statement that sounds good at first because it appeals to our vanity about what we think about ourselves and about God. We like to think that we love God and would never harbor any ill feelings toward Him or His rule in our life. We like to think that we do not really do wrong things - we are only misunderstood.
There are no offenders in prison, are there? Everybody in prison is "innocent." It was the fault of that dumb judge, who was prejudiced. Or, the evidence was twisted, causing the inmate to be unfairly convicted. Or, the witnesses lied. Convicts can come up with all kinds of reasons to justify their incarceration.
I Corinthians 3:3 should be considered in this light, because the Corinthian people were converted! They had repented, been baptized, and had received the Spirit of God. Nevertheless, the apostle's assessment, his judgment, of these people was, "For you are still carnal."
These converted people did not love one another very much, nor did they love God very much. They were not obeying God much, as the rest of the epistle plainly shows. The reality is that we do not always love God, and we do not always love those who belong to Him, our brothers in the faith. We do not always feel kindly disposed either toward God or toward our brethren.
People have told me that they are angry with God. What they are really saying is, "I don't deserve all of this trouble. I don't deserve to be treated this way. I'm innocent!" Did Job feel kindly disposed toward God? Job acted carnally from time to time. There is a powerful lesson in the book of Job.
If we "obey God because we love Him," it might sound good, but in reality, we are in trouble because we will frequently wander off the way. We must discipline ourselves to obey Him and love our brethren - even when we do not feel like it. Our nature is so self-centered that God says in Jeremiah 17:9 that it is incurably sick.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 2)
Men are not improving; they are growing increasingly worse! Here God is acknowledging that human nature is prone to progressive degeneration. There are two related reasons for this:
1. Sin has a drug-like addictive quality in that the sense of relief, satisfaction, or pleasure derived from it does not last. Thus, to receive the same amount of pleasure as before one has to sink deeper and deeper into the perversion.
2. Closely related is that a person must commit the sin more frequently because the duration of satisfaction decreases the longer one continues in a sin.
Because of this inclination toward increase, social and religious barriers to immorality within the individual and community gradually come down. Therefore, each new generation provides a more fertile breeding ground for sin because human nature provides no real impediment to it. As sin becomes more acceptable in a society, the people have more difficulty recognizing it.
To the Christian, this sets up a disturbing possibility. Suppose twenty years ago we were fifty percent more righteous than society, and today we are still fifty percent more righteous. But because standards in society have declined steeply, we have slipped far ourselves! People who do not understand sin call evil good and good evil until society reaches the point illustrated in Genesis 6:5: "Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." In cultures all over this globe, mankind is rapidly approaching conditions that are just like the days of Noah (Matthew 24:37).
John W. Ritenbaugh
Little Things Count!
Just like its spiritual father, Satan, mankind uses God's beautiful creation self-centeredly and destroys.
In Genesis 1-3, we see God graciously giving mankind wonderful gifts to enjoy life. He provided them with long lives and brilliant minds to make use of earth's resources. In Genesis 6, though, we see humanity destroying virtually every good gift in its savage disrespect for Him and what He had made. An ever-increasing population was living nearly without restraint. Perhaps the most astounding detail in this whole mess is what all this did to God: He was grieved in His heart that He had created humanity.
To appreciate the Flood and the covenant that resulted, we need to grasp a major factor that directly led to it. God does not judge impatiently or carelessly; He is merciful and gracious, His actions always motivated by love. Everything He does is in the best interest of His purpose and with the well-being of others at heart. Even considering those two factors, what God did in using an overwhelming Flood to wipe out the entire human population in a matter of a few days is sobering. Undoubtedly, God had good cause.
We have no figures at hand to show how many lives perished, but in 1,600-plus years, combined with their brilliant minds and long lives, not only the population could have been abundant, but the development of the earth's material resources may also have been extensive and advanced. We look forward to having those details revealed in the resurrection.
These considerations indicate that two factors made Him decide to destroy nearly all life and begin all over again: 1) a profound change in the quality of life combined with 2) what was developing in people's minds. God did not have an attitude of defeat or failure. Instead, He primarily considered the result of what was occurring in people's minds. It was a sobering judgment but not nearly as bad as what would have been produced had He allowed events to continue. His judgment provides us a clear understanding of His loving character.
God's reaction was guided by what He saw regarding mankind's sins. In His experience with humanity at this point, He concluded that sin should not be understood as a mere imperfection in character but as a hostile, infecting, poisonous, and destructive force relentlessly driving people to even greater excesses. Added to this reality is an element that significantly raises the level of seriousness: Sin is not merely murder, lying, coveting, thievery, etc., but a vicious motivation buried deeply in men's hearts that generates evil almost incessantly.
God's statement that “every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” is not an exaggeration. The heart is a generator of evil by nature (Matthew 15:16-20). In Ecclesiastes 7:29, Solomon reminds us, “Truly, this only I have found: That God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.” How far mankind had fallen from the pinnacle of purity and righteousness Adam and Eve contained when created by this same God! How radically that beautiful creation had changed!
Sin, then, is not merely what one sees on the outside. Far more challenging to understand and deal with is the reality that it is an internal matter; sin is generated from within. This is all the more interesting because Jesus later admonishes us not to look on the outward appearance in making judgments (John 7:24). Yet, we must do this because we lack the godly powers to judge as God does.
I Samuel 16:7 says that in His judgments God looks on the heart. From this incident, the wisest of all Beings, God Himself, teaches us a valuable principle of judgment: When the heart becomes so consistently wicked that evil is its natural course of action, nothing can be done to change it.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Leadership and Covenants (Part Nine)
This vignette deals with the prevalence of ungodly marriage practices leading to disastrous results. The gist of this section is that, after a few generations of multiplying, men as a whole began to leave God out of their lives. They chose wives—probably several of them, like Lamech—based solely on their physical beauty, not on their depth of character. Their children, though they became mighty, famous leaders, grew into wicked adults whose every impulse, thought, and plan was corrupt. Violence became a way of life. Once conditions reached this point, God decided to destroy them before they became so totally depraved that they could never repent, even in the resurrection.
The Bible pictures a society of unrestrained sin of every kind. The New Testament frequently mentions it in the same context as Sodom and Gomorrah and Israel's sins caused by Balaam and Korah. The underlying factor in all these situations is rebellion against and rejection of God. Cain, Lamech, and mankind in general never took God into account when they committed their iniquities. As Psalm 10:4 says, "The wicked in his proud countenance does not seek God; God is in none of his thoughts."
Has our present society reached this nadir of behavior?
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'As It Was In the Days of Noah'
It was the Creator God who initiated a work through Noah. He and his family did not volunteer. Within this is an awesome truth: Those who received grace in this context were also the only ones who were set apart from the violent, churning mass of humanity on earth, becoming the only ones to survive the Flood. Take note of when they received this grace.
Did the grace they received place them in a favorable, in fact, an enviable position? Absolutely! Grace, then, including its direct connection to God's gift of sanctification, becomes the starting point for encouraging, stimulating thoughts since this particular grace appeared in the midst of a life-threatening situation.
As the Flood story unfolds and the devastating Flood actually comes as God said it would, it becomes clear that our Creator specifically sanctified Noah and his family for deliverance before the Flood occurred. They were specially set apart to be saved from certain death in the Flood.
Do not misunderstand, though. The apostle Paul admonishes in Philippians 2:12-13:
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
The grace God gave them was not a get-out-of-jail-free, do-nothing ticket to life. Paul's warning is not presented in the sense that we must work for salvation but that we must continue what we have begun as a result of God's calling. We must be witnesses before others of what we have received (verses 14-16). Noah and his family had to faithfully carry out responsibilities that God's grace enabled them to accomplish. They built the ark, testifying by it to those around them. They carried out their responsibilities because they lived by faith.
In like manner, we, too, have received grace and are, like Noah and his family, specifically sanctified by God for our calling into the church and for deliverance from what lies ahead. We, too, have not received a free ticket to everlasting life but bear responsibilities within our calling. We, too, must faithfully live God's way of life, glorifying Him by our conduct. God knows how to deliver us out of temptations (II Peter 2:9), but He will not necessarily draw us away from them. We are already facing such temptations, which are gradually intensifying in the pressures they apply as time moves toward Christ's return.
What does this mean to us practically? Recall the reassuring encouragement of Genesis 8:1, when God remembered Noah in the midst of the devastating Flood, even as it was killing everybody not in the ark. This is written to reassure us, not Noah, as his trial was over when this was written.
The marvel in this is not that God remembered but that Noah remembered. Through the 120 years of building the ark, then after entering the ark when the rains came, and the fountains of the great deep erupted with gigantic earthquakes, spouting huge and powerful gushes of water, still Noah did not forget God. A boiling sea pitched him and his family about like a cork. For a year and ten days, their every view was only of incessantly lurching water. How quickly would that get old?
It is truly one of the amazing realities that, in the midst of this churning maelstrom of wind and water, Noah remembered. How easy it would have been for him to be focused entirely on his own safety! In addition, the first thing he did upon leaving the ark was to sacrifice in thanks to God (Genesis 8:20). Like God, he had not forgotten.
The lesson for us is that God was right there with them as they bore the events He was accomplishing through them. Because of His presence, they were saved. It thus becomes clear that grace given in the process of sanctification is the first step toward salvation because God is with us the entire way.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Leadership and Covenants (Part Ten)