Question: "How was the flood in the time of Noah just?"
Answer: The global flood of Noah’s day was the direct judgment of a just God. The Bible says the flood wiped out “people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds”—everything that breathed air (Genesis 7:23). Some people today are offended by the flood story, saying it is proof of God’s injustice, arbitrariness, or just plain meanness. They accuse the Bible of promoting a temperamental God who judges indiscriminately and say that only a bully would drown everyone, including children and all those innocent animals.
Such attacks on the character of God are nothing new. As long as there have been sinners in the world, there have been charges that God is unjust. Consider Adam’s subtle shifting of blame. When asked about eating the forbidden fruit, Adam said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit” (Genesis 3:12). That is, it was the woman’s fault, and God’s, since He made the woman. But blaming God did not mitigate Adam’s sin. And calling God “unjust” for sending the flood will not lessen ours.
The flood of Noah’s day has many counterparts in history. God judged the people of Canaan with a command to wipe them out (Deuteronomy 20:16–18). He similarly judged Sodom and Gomorrah, Nineveh (Nahum 1:14), and Tyre (Ezekiel 26:4). And the final judgment before the Great White Throne will result in all the wicked from all time being cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11–15). The plain message of the Bible is that God does judge sin, whether by an invading army, by fire and brimstone, or by a catastrophic global flood.
The flood was just because God commanded it (and God is just). “The LORD is upright . . . and there is no wickedness in him” (Psalm 92:15). “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of [God’s] throne” (Psalm 89:14). God always does what is right. His decrees and judgments are always just. If He decreed that the whole world be flooded, then He was just in doing so, no matter what human skeptics say. It is not surprising that we tend to define justice in a way that will benefit ourselves.
The flood was just because mankind was evil. “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5). We cannot fully imagine the extent of the wickedness of that day. We have never seen the like. The evil was “great,” and every thought of everyone’s heart was only evil continually. There was no goodness in the world; every person was wholly corrupted. There was nothing within them that was not evil. The people of Noah’s day were not dabblers in sin; they had taken the plunge, and everything they did was an abomination.
The text provides some clues as to the extent of the evil before the flood. One problem was the rampant violence: “The earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence” (Genesis 6:11). The descendants of Cain, the first murderer, were abounding in bloodshed. Another evil among the antediluvians was occult sexuality. Genesis 6:1–4 mentions the Nephilim, “heroes of old, men of renown” who were the products of a union between fallen angels and human woman. The demons who participated in this sin are currently in “chains of darkness . . . reserved for judgment” (2 Peter 2:4). The people who participated—and the Nephilim themselves—were destroyed in the flood. The biblical description of pre-flood humanity is that they had become totally hardened and beyond repentance. Things were so bad that “the Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled” (Genesis 6:6).
But what about the children who drowned? The fact is that sin affects all of society, not just those who intentionally engage in evil. When a society promotes abortion, babies die as a result. When a father or mother begins taking meth, their children will suffer as a result. And, in the case of Noah’s generation, when a culture gives itself over to violence and aberrant sexuality, the children suffered. Humanity brought the flood upon themselves and upon their own children.
The flood was just because all sin is a capital offense. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). We should not be shocked that God swept away the world’s population with the flood; we should be shocked that He hasn’t done something similar to us! Sinners tend to have a light view of sin, but all sin is worthy of death. We take God’s mercy for granted, as if we deserve it, but we complain about God’s justice as if it’s somehow unfair, as if we don’t deserve it.
The flood was just because the Creator has the right to do as He pleases with His creation. As the potter can do whatever he wants with the clay on his wheel, so God has the right to do as He pleases with the work of His own hands. “The LORD does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths” (Psalm 135:6).
Here is the most amazing part of the flood story: “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:8). God’s grace extended into His damaged, sin-stained creation and preserved one man and his family. In so doing, God preserved the whole human race through the godly line of Seth. And, in bringing the animals into the ark, God also preserved the rest of His creation. So, God’s judgment was not a total annihilation; it was a reset.
As always, God’s judgment in Noah’s time was accompanied by grace. The Lord is a “compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished” (Exodus 34:6–7, emphasis added). God would rather the wicked repent and live (Ezekiel 18:23). God delayed judgment on the Amorites for four hundred years (Genesis 15:16). God would have spared Sodom for the sake of even ten righteous people dwelling there (Genesis 18:32). But, eventually, His judgment must fall.
It took Noah up to a hundred years to build the ark. We can assume that, if other people had wanted to board the ark and be saved, they could have done so. But that would have required faith. Once God shut the door, it was too late; they had lost their chance (Genesis 7:16). The point is that God never sends judgment without prior warning. As commentator Matthew Henry said, “None are punished by the justice of God, but those who hate to be reformed by the grace of God.”
The global flood of Noah’s day was a just punishment of sin. Those who say the flood was unjust probably don’t like the idea of judgment to begin with. The story of Noah is a vivid reminder that, like it or not, there is another judgment coming: “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:37). Are you ready, or will you be swept away?