Genesis 8:15-22 “Then God said to Noah, ‘Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you – the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground – so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number upon it.’ So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds – everything that moves on the earth – came out of the ark, one kind after another. Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: ‘Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.’”
The Flood was all over, and the waters gone. The earth was completely dry (v.14), and Noah and his seven family members stepped down from the Ark. The world had a new lease on life. They looked around at a creation cleansed of wickedness, and Noah was the head of the new world order, the leader of God’s remnant. The people and the animals could now multiply under the Lord’s blessing and repopulate the earth. What a feeling to know they’d survived and had a divine destiny. This their world had a future under God. How did Noah respond to his mighty deliverance? He worshipped God.
1. NOAH AND HIS FAMILY WORSHIPPED GOD.
They didn’t come out of the Ark whooping and back-slapping. They didn’t say, “We made it! Yippee! Haven’t we been lucky? Let’s have a drink.” They’d been saved from the worst disaster the world has ever known, and the first thing they did was to worship God.
What are you going to do when the doctor says to you, “It’s benign”? What are you going to say when the test shows you’re pregnant at last? What are you going to do when you find you’ve got the grades and are going to university? What are you going to do when you get the job, when you pass your driving test, when the car passes its M.O.T., when the manuscript is accepted and they’re going to publish your book, when the jury unanimously say “Not guilty”, then what are you going to do? When you discover you’ve had a first class honours degree, when he asks you to marry him, when a bouncing baby boy is born, when the operation is a complete success then what are you going to do? When you lose control of the car but you hit nothing and no one is hurt and the car is undamaged then what are you going to do? When out of the blue you are left a legacy of half a million, when one of the children calls home to say he’s had promotion, and another calls to say you’re going to have another grandchild, then what are you going to do? When you get a letter from the Queen saying you’ve been awarded an Order of the British Empire for your services to the community then what are you going to do? When your mother calls to say that her condition is operable and that there’s every reason to believe that she will live for another twenty years, then what are you going to do? When you discover the fire just before it takes hold and you put it out, what are you going to do? When you get a letter from an old friend who says that your words meant everything to her at a certain time in her life and she just wants you to know how grateful she is, what are you going to do? When the prime minister announces on radio and television that the enemy has surrendered and victory is ours and hostilities are all over, and you know that soon your husband will be home having survived the war then what are you going to do? When you see the refrigerator and the shelves still full of food, and you have health to enjoy everything, and there are no empty chairs around the table, and there is a decent bank balance and a pension coming in, then what, I ask you, are you doing about all these blessings?
Are you going to say you’ve been very lucky? Did the god ‘Luck’ give you all that? Has it been chance alone that has saved you and blessed you and kept you through your life? Has it been ‘Fate’ that has mysteriously brought these things to you and refused them to others? Is it all luck and chance in a world without meaning that has blessed and delivered you? Has fate given you long life in a purposeless world? You are rejoicing in wonderful events that give your life a purpose to go on living, and yet you think that these blessings have come out of purposelessness? The most meaningful times in your life have been these great events that I’ve just chronicled in your hearing, and they have all come to you – you believe – out of meaninglessness? Can’t you see the fearful inconsistency of your religion? You are running away from truth. You are seeking to escape the influences of God in your life and yet God is so good and all the best things that have enriched you in innumerable ways keep flooding in. Morning by morning new mercies you see. All you have needed God has provided. Hasn’t God been so wonderful to you? Yet you refuse to acknowledge him as your God. Noah experienced this mighty deliverance and so he worshipped God.
2. NOAH WORSHIPPED GOD BY AN ALTAR AND A SACRIFICE.
So Noah came out of this coffin-like Ark where he had been entombed for a year. He had been delivered from death to live henceforth in newness of life. He abandoned the watery grave never to enter that Ark again, and he stood on re-created land. From now on he was to walk with God in this new creation for a further 350 years. So their entrance into the world from the Ark is described in quite a stately manner with a repetition giving considered weight to the momentous event that it really was. You can hear all the echoes of Genesis chapter one in God’s words. “Then God said to Noah, ‘Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you – the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground – so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number upon it.’ So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds – everything that moves on the earth – came out of the ark, one kind after another”(vv.15-19). Moses isn’t going to hurry us through this scene.
So they came out at God’s command, and immediately, “Noah built an altar to the LORD and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it” (v.20). How many plans and questions had built up in Noah’s mind during his year’s confinement aboard the Ark? Noah and his family had nowhere to live. There was no pen for the sheep and goats. The family had everything to do; they could employ no one else to do something for them because there was no one else. It all demanded thought, and plans, and arrangements, and effort, and toil. If there were ever a man in the whole of human history who could plead he had just too many things on his plate to find time to worship God it was Noah. If ever there was a time for hyper busyness to stop a man thinking about heaven it was this time. “Plenty of time for us to worship God later,” but no, everything gives way to the God who is above all. The Lord who is first shall have the first. He who is the best shall have the best. The new creation’s first building is an altar to its Creator. The new head’s first action is to sacrifice on it. Noah’s first concern is to bless the one who’d supplied all their needs over the past year, the one in whom they’d lived and moved and had their being. The first posture of the Old Testament Christian is on his knees at an altar before the Lord. How often does Satan whisper, “you’re just too busy to worship God. There are duties to attend to which only you can do and they must be done now.” Do not listen to him! No time is lost if you give it to God. Devote to him your early years. Devote to him your middle years. Devote to him your last years.
So the eight people didn’t stand on the hillside and pool their ideas of how to approach the living speaking Lord. They all knew that God himself had sacrificed two animals and clothed the naked Adam and Eve before driving them from the Garden. They knew that when the children of Adam and Eve had worshipped God Abel’s offering of sacrifices had been accepted but Cain’s gifts of the fruit of the field had been rejected. Noah did what Abel had done.
There was no sanctuary yet, no tabernacle and no temple, and so Noah treated the whole earth as the sanctuary of God. “The earth is the Lord’s and all it contains” (Ps. 24:1). Noah was God’s prophet, priest and king in the world and as priest he built this altar and to it he brought burnt offerings which were to become the most fundamental sacrifice under the law of Moses. They are the first sacrifices mentioned in the book of Leviticus chapter one. The whole of the animal and the whole of the bird were laid on the altar. They became holocausts; everything on the altar was offered to God. Nothing was kept back for Noah and his family to eat. It was wholly given to God, every scrap of meat and bone. There is a popular hymn we sing called ‘Trust and obey’ and in that hymn we say,
“But we never can prove
The delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay;
For the favour He shows
And the joy He bestows
Are for them who will trust and obey” (James H. Samnis, 1846-1919).
Noah’s long future was going to be spent serving God, and from the start of this new chapter in his life Noah was presenting himself as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to the Lord. Noah wanted to do it right from the beginning. He gave of the best he had. He didn’t calculate what would be left after he’d worked out what the family’s needs would be over the next months. “Let us seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and then the Lord will provide all we need.” That was how believing Noah thought.
Why a sacrifice? Because Noah was a sinner and so were all his family, and their sins needed atonement. Where do we read of Noah sinning? In the next chapter we read, “When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered in side his tent” (Gen. 9:20). Noah, dead drunk. Noah and his family were sinners who needed the forgiveness of a mighty righteous God. How else could the Holy One receive them? There is something in the very nature of God himself – his heart, his life and character – that demands the shedding of blood if sinners are going to worship him and present their lives to him. This is how the only God there is functions. His Son must come into the world as the Lamb of God to take away our sin. Let me illustrate the point like this. Imagine a stinking beggar with leprosy knocking on your door and offering to come into your house to work for you as your servant. How would you respond? You know that first he must be washed and cleansed and healed. Only then would his presence at your home and hearth and any work he did be acceptable. So it is with us; we are living in God’s world and if we want him to speak lovingly to us and accept what we do for him then first of all we must be healed and washed and made pure and useful. Our lives can only be acceptable through the altar of Golgotha, through the cleansing flow of Jesus’ blood.
So Noah comes out of the Ark and he builds an altar. This is the first place in the Bible where an altar is mentioned (‘altar’ means “the place of slaughter”), and Noah built it to Jehovah the covenant-keeping God. He called on the LORD, that is, he addressed God by his personal name, the one who is the Redeemer, the God of the covenant, and in his thanksgiving he offered sacrifices to God. What actually did Noah do? He initiates the pattern later described for us in Leviticus chapter one. “He is to offer a male without defect . . . lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him. He is to slaughter the young bull before the Lord . . . and bring the blood and sprinkle it against the altar on all sides . . . He is to skin the burnt offering and cut it into pieces . . .and burn all of it on the altar . . . If the offering to the Lord is a burnt offering of birds, he is to offer a dove or a young pigeon . . . bring it to the altar, wring off the head and burn it on the altar; its blood shall be drained out on the side of the altar. He is to remove the crop with its contents and throw it to the east side of the later, where the ashes are. He shall tear it open by the wings, not severing it completely, and then . . . shall burn it on the wood that is on the fire on the altar. It is a burnt offering, an offering made by fire” (Lev. 1:3, 4, 5, 9, 14 – 17).
Can you see this shambles? Can you smell the fresh blood and the burning flesh? Do you see the enigma of all this? Death has come into the world of men in a cosmic disaster; men and animals have been wiped out by the hand of God. There is no life anywhere all the world over except in these animals vacating the Ark. You would think that every single one of these would be special, but immediately at disembarkation there are yet more deaths, now by the hand of Noah. It is such an ugly sight the struggle, the twitching of a dying animal, a slaughtered beast, foul with dust and blood, its throat gashed across, its entrails laid open, steaming its impurities to the sun. The doves have had their heads wrung off, their crops cut out and thrown away. Then the various dismembered pieces are picked up and laid on the firewood and the smell of burning flesh and smoke fills the air. It is a scene that is vile and horrid; you cannot look at it without emotions of disgust. “This is the first thing Noah did?” you ask. “It is too vivid; it’s not in good taste to put this in our faces on a Sunday morning with children present. Let’s hurry over this to the rainbow. Cover it up and press on.” But we may not; this is what God demands; this is what God delights in; without it there is no atonement. The disgust and horror we feel at this scene we have to focus such emotions on our own sin. We must stop taking our sinning in our stride. In other words, if that is what the burnt offering looks like to us, then what must our sin seem in the eyes of God?
Consider the Lamb of God on Golgotha, and the whole cluster of events that surrounds him as he hangs there. There is the darkness, the place of execution, three young men dying in terrible anguish, the veil of the temple rent in two, the earth quaking and the rocks rent and the graves opened, the mockery, the blood, the gambling, the spear thrust. It is all such an offence to the aesthete. Calvary is grim and ugly because sin is grim and ugly. What does sin do? It kills the holy Son of God. It will not rest until he is dead and buried. It shows us the magnitude of the problem which sin constituted for the Lord God. It brought about the Flood, but far worse than that, it brought about the crucifying of God’s holy child, Jesus.
So Noah the priest erected an altar and then sacrificed burnt offerings on it. We too have a priest, and one only, and he has passed into the heavens and sits at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
“Jesus my great High Priest
Offered His blood, and died;
My guilty conscience seeks no sacrifice beside;
His powerful blood did once atone,
And now it pleads before the throne.” (Isaac Watts, 1674-1748)
You have an offering and a sacrifice, and only one. No more is needed, and he died just once, for once was absolutely sufficient to satisfy and save. There is no need to dress up as priests and orchestrate a pantomime of offering the sacrifice of Christ over and over again every day of the week and twice on Sundays. We have an altar, and only one. It ever stands before the throne of God. Jesus is this Altar. Where is it? Not here; it must be where the Priest is, and where the blood is. They are not here. They are within the veil of heaven. There stands our Altar, for there stands Jesus Christ. Could any of you be happy worshipping God in a building where there was a stone altar – a place of slaughter – after the Lamb of God has cried, “It is finished!” After he has died once and for all?
“Once, only once, and once for all,
His precious life He gave;
Before the Cross in faith we fall,
And own Him strong to save.” (William Bright 1824-1901).
3. GOD ACCEPTED NOAH’S SACRIFICE.
We are told, “The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma” (v.21). This is one of those classic passages which certain heretics seize upon saying, “This means that God has a body because it says that he smelled with his nose the soothing aroma.” There are people in our town, missionaries, who teach this. I am talking about the Mormons who plead passages like this, and use them to defend the view of Brigham Young that Adam was actually God who took on a body. This Adam-God (the Archangel Michael) begat Jesus by sexually cohabiting with the Virgin Mary in a physical flesh relationship. Christ was not begotten by the Holy Ghost, taught Brigham Young. They challenge you as Christians, saying, “See, you teach that God is a Spirit, but this passage plainly says that God has a nose and he smells with it. So God has a body.”
Two things about that; first, the Old Testament in many places uses this kind of metaphorical and anthropomorphic language. God is described as having human organs, human emotions, human actions and human relations. You understand why it does this. God has made us in his image and we can speak of God hearing us because he made the ear which hears. There is a basic similarity between God and man, as has been said “man may anthropomorphize God because God theomorphized man when he created him.” So these words of Moses vividly impress on us God’s response to the altar Noah built, and the sacrifices he made. Instead of saying something like “and God was pleased with it” which you might forget, we are told, “God smelled the pleasing aroma” which we can see. God in heaven was looking at Noah, seeing the altar going up, the spotless animals taken, their throats cut, their dismemberment, the pieces put on the firewood on the altar. Then God took a deep breath of the aroma and he was so pleased with it. There was joy in the heart of God at what Noah had done.
You’re hungry and you come home and the first scent you smell is something your dear wife or mother has cooked for you and your heart wells up with love for her at the mere aroma. That is what we have here. The Bible will use such images of God’s eyelids not being weary, his fingers, his mouth, his feet running to deliver you. They are metaphors; they are not teaching that God has a body, or some sort of physical senses. There are too many other crystal clear passages in both the Old and the New Testament that make it clear that that is not true. God is an infinite, eternal, unchangeable, invisible Spirit.
Moses tells us that God was pleased with the altar and the whole sacrifice. That must settle our whole approach to the biblical demand to bring a sacrifice to God. Don’t come empty handed to God. Bring special blood. Bring a sacrifice and an offering to him. Your own personal feelings about sacrificing animals, your repulsion at their death and dismemberment, are not that important, are they? What does the Lord consider to be real worship? We might dismiss a service as anachronistic, or we might praise another service as tremendously contemporary, but our judgments are trivial compared to what God thinks of worship. God looked at what was happening outside the Ark, the stones being dragged across and erected, the animals being chosen and killed and God wasn’t condescending. Did he shake his head sadly, “Primitive religion”? No.
Was God looking forward to a time when people would know that God enjoys Bach and Berlioz, or blondes in jeans leading the singing in the front, and a place where the seats are comfy and the acoustics are state of the art, and the architecture either cutting edge, or a four hundred year old stained glass windowed cathedral with incense blowing in the draft? Was God shaking his head at these eight people gathered round the burning altar and saying, “They’ll come to know that that’s neolithic”? No. There is no hint of God patronising Noah and the family with their ‘old-fashioned ideas.’ Listen, “The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man” (v.21). They worshipped him by an altar with sacrifices and God was engaged in their worship. He was drawn into it, and he responded to it in his heart, covenanting, “No more cursed flood on the whole earth.”
What was God responding to – to the shape of the stones and the size of the altar and pigeons’ blood and the smell of the burning? No. He was responding to Jesus! Jehovah is satisfied with Jesus. All of the gospel is in words that you’ll find in the New Testament as the fulfilment and anti-type of Noah’s sacrifice. In Ephesians 5:2 we read, “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Why did Jesus die? Because he loved us sinners. What did Jesus do for us? He gave himself up for us, that is, as our substitute. How did that horrible death on the cross seem to God? A fragrant offering and sacrifice. God could say, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” The dying of Jesus on Golgotha is fragrant; it is in fact the sweetest perfume in heaven. Noah’s sacrifice of the lambs without blemish or spot were pointers to that great event when the Lamb of God would live and die for us.
If we come to God by faith in Jesus and in his sacrifice, God likes the aroma. If we pray in the name of Jesus, our prayers have the aroma of Jesus. If we live by faith in Jesus, our lives have the aroma of Jesus. If we give ourselves and our gifts to God and to people in need for Jesus’ sake, our gifts have the aroma of Jesus. The Bible says, “They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:18-19). What do you smell like to God? Do you stink like sin, or do you have the aroma of Christ that comes through faith in him? Put your faith in Jesus. Then you will indeed be pleasing to God. You will have renewed hope that life is worth living. Indeed, you will have eternal life that cannot die. Just as Noah believed in the Lord and was saved along with his fami1y so the Bible tells you, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household” (Acts 16:31).
4. GOD PROMISED NEVER TO DROWN THE EARTH AGAIN.
“The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: ‘Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease’” (vv.21&22).
There are many other flood accounts in the folklore of the world, and in the Babylonian flood account, we are told that the reason that the gods ended the flood was because they were hungry and they needed the sacrifices of men. What a stark contrast we see here. How bold Moses is against that background of the Babylonian myths circulating the world of his day. He tells us in these vivid words that God was pleased when he scented the aroma of Noah’s sacrifice and he ended the flood, but it was not because of something that God needed. Our sacrifices are not his life-support system; God ended the flood out of his grace. It was a fearful chastening of the world, but it was not its final destruction. Be glad when God chastens you! Whom the Father loves he chastens. Be glad that the pain you’ve had to endure is not the pain of hell. The first moments of eternity in hell will make your worst chastening time on earth seem utter heaven in contrast to what you would then be experiencing under the raw and unrestrained judgment of God.
There are these two verses which are so similar, chronicling God’s attitude to the world before and after the Flood and they seem to contradict one another. Genesis 8:21 reads, “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood.” But then you have this verse’s twin in Genesis 6:5 and 6, “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth.” What’s happening here? What God says in chapter eight seems to contradict what he said in chapter six. Certainly for one thing we are being told that man did not suddenly become an angel after the flood. You see the problem of sin in the world was not external to man, it was internal to man. Ham was in that boat. The line of wickedness could not be wiped out unless all mankind was wiped out, or unless man was changed by the regeneration and redemption of God, and so wickedness continues. Total depravity continues. These are powerful proof texts for the doctrine of original sin. If anyone ever tells you men are inherently good, you take them to those verses in Genesis 6 and Genesis 8 – as Luther took Erasmus to them in Luther’s Bondage of the Will. Genesis 6 and Genesis 8 make it very clear that both before and after the flood the totality of man, soul and body, is affected by sin, right down to the evil inclination of his heart.
What is God saying to Noah and his family as they set out to recolonize and reculturalize the planet? Certainly he is assuring them that their labours are not going to be in vain, that they are not going to end in another world-wide flood, but it’s not because the line of Noah is a perfect and sinless line. As far as man’s hearts are concerned man has learned nothing from Noah’s Flood. Who cares about Noah’s Flood in Aberystywth today? What is God saying? “I will not wipe out the world again by water – not because you have changed. This is the reason for mercy; you have erected an altar and made the sacrifice and that is so delightful to me.” The world Noah had preached to for 120 years did not want a covering; it refused the mercy he offered to them; it had no Ark and no altar and no sacrifice, so what it got was judgment. It was dealt with as its sins deserved.
The world after the Flood had an altar. In Noah’s sacrifice we have a foretaste of the propitiation of the Lamb of God. Why is God patient today with Aberystwyth in all its unbelief and ungodliness? Because of the precious blood of the Lamb of God. He bought the blessings of common grace for the sinners of our town and our world, and the blessings of redemption for all his people – who are this world’s light and salt. That is why God does not drown us in a fearful flood, not because we are any better than the sinners who died in Noah’s Flood. We are not. In answer to the prayers and worship of Noah, God promises a sparing of the world from the judgment of water until the end of time. Why? Because Noah’s sacrifice was a portent of a greater sacrifice, a perfect sacrifice, the propitiation of God by the Lord Jesus Christ.
Rather God will be good to the world; he will establish a cycle of seasons, and nature and order because of his grace. Why do these seasons and cycles come to us? Why do all mankind, the atheist, the Hindu, the suicide bomber, all benefit from the harvests? Because of the sacrifice of Noah and because of its fulfilment in the cross of Christ. “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” The agonies of the Lamb of God have bought all the good and perfect gifts that all men enjoy. The ungodly farmer who lives for himself and never spares God a single thought brings in a great harvest because of Jesus. His goodness to him is intended to bring that farmer to repentance. God has been enabled to fulfil his great faithfulness to all the sinning world in what he promised Noah and his seed that seed time and harvest, and summer and winter will never fail to come to us all because his Son Jesus Christ pleased him so much by his obedience to the death of the cross.
22nd October 2006 GEOFF THOMAS