This is an important question to address as we examine the possibility of a local flood. Why save Noah if others could survive? Why not have Noah leave the area? Why build a boat? Why save the animals? Noah could have just left the region with his family, cattle, and belongings. Doesn’t this prove that the flood must have been global?
The questions above are fairly common from skeptics when debating the idea that the Genesis flood could have been local, and frankly, these are great questions. It is important to understand that these questions are ultimately derived from a mistaken assumption about the purpose of the flood. If the flood truly was local, and people existed or could have survived outside of that region, then what was the purpose of it?
As the story suggests, people in the area had become incredibly hateful and violent towards one another. This premise does not change based on the area impacted by the flood. If we assume the flood is global, what are we assuming the target of the flood is? The typical response is that the all of mankind is the target, but this has never been the case. The flood, regardless of whether it is interpreted to be local or global, is intended to destroy the, now corrupt, Adamic bloodline. This is true whether the flood covers a hundred miles of land or all of the land on the planet.
And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth;Genesis 6:7 KJV
Adam is the only human stated to have been created from the face of the earth, all others (if you believe Genesis 1 to be literal) were spoken into existence. Regardless of whether you believe that Adam’s bloodline is the only one on earth or not, there is still an underlying goal here. Something was so terrible about Adam’s bloodline that it needed to be extinguished, and yet Noah remained unafflicted by this apparent condition.
Why did God save Noah? The Book of Enoch talks about Giants or Nephilim eating all of the food and resorting to cannibalism, while the Book of Jasher talks about mankind rebelling against God and Methuselah, son of Enoch. Mankind robbed and killed each other, and so God refused to allow crops to grow as a result, and the people still would not listen. Men began to idolize themselves, and forced others to worship them or be killed. All of this time Noah ministered to the people, for 120 years as stated in Genesis 6:3 and Jasher 6:20, and still not a single person would repent. For seven days before the floodwaters broke and it became obvious what was coming, there were earthquakes and thunderstorms, and still no one listened to Noah, who was busy loading the animals into the ark. So when we ask why God saved Noah, there are two reasons. The first reason, I just laid out very plainly. That reason is grace. God did not just save Noah, but He had Noah ministering to people for years beforehand, begging them to change their ways. Really just begging them to be good people, and still they refused. God offered these people a chance at redemption through Noah all the way until the final few moments before the flood. When Noah and his family were onboard with all of the animals and ready to seal themselves in. This is when humanity asked for a way out, a way to escape death, but they didn’t ask God, they asked Noah, and they weren’t asking out of remorse for their actions, but merely to save their own lives. They hadn’t changed their ways, they still didn’t want to change their ways, they just wanted to live in order to perpetuate their own agenda. Most likely they would have killed Noah on the ark before the floodwaters receded, just because he listened to God and was ready to leave them.
The second reason reason to Noah is important. Noah continues the Adamic bloodline which traces to Abraham and then Jesus. There are many prophecies regarding Jesus in the Old Testament, and even in Genesis before the flood occurs. Regardless of how many other people God allowed to survive the flood, the story of Noah had to be the one passed down in Judaic tradition. This process creates the framework by which the Old Testament is written, the Jewish people originate, and Jesus, as well as the New Testament, come into fruition. Noah, from the line of Enoch who was the first prophet, was always going to be saved regardless of whether or not any of his contemporaries listened to him, and regardless of whether or not God decided to save anyone else.
If the flood was local, why save the animals? God has always placed substantial value on animal life, as should we. God has given us rules to follow regarding the fair treatment of animals that are used for food, so that they do not needlessly suffer. So the question here is that if God does not want animals to needlessly suffer, why would He only spare a few of each kind from the flood? The answer does not seem to be in Genesis, which gives enough details for us to decide for ourselves how God may have handled it, justly or unjustly, according to our own heart and opinion of God. Personally, I believe that God had a solution in place for these things, and avoided as much unwarranted death as was possible. The excerpts from Jasher that I gave earlier likely hint at what was happening behind the scenes, even though it is not plainly stated. Earlier I mentioned that God had refused to let crops grow and that people had resorted to cannibalism. This hints at the answer, as the flood drew nearer, more and more animals were being drawn away from the area, with the exception of those that had been gathering at the ark. There were animals that died in the flood, and Jasher talks about how men had been crossbreeding animals in the days before the flood, creating things that God had not intended, these animals were likely taken away by the flood waters as they would likely have impacted the ecosystem that would be created following the waters’ recession. As I said though, the answer is not plainly stated and remains open to speculation. You could look at the text and claim that God needlessly killed all of the animals left behind, but the Bible works very hard to show us that when God takes action against something or someone, it is not underserved.
So, back to my speculation, if God moved animals away from the area in order to survive the flood, why save any animals onboard the ark? Well, after the flood was over, all of the local vegetation would have been destroyed. There would be no fruit or vegetables grown for quite some time, and in Genesis 9:3, God gives Noah permission to eat the very animals that he has saved. There is no concern about which animals Noah can eat, which is important considering that there were only two of certain animals while there were seven pairs of other animals.
Everything that lives and moves will be food for you;Genesis 9:3
There is no guidance given to eat only the clean animals, of which there were seven pairs, rather than the unclean animals. Noah himself would likely have refrained from eating the only two animals of a species on the ark, but God clearly did not seem concerned about preventing Noah from doing so, if he had wanted. I believe that this is because God knew life would continue on regardless. The ark itself, was essentially an ecosystem in a box. Once all of the animals were let out of the ark, they would immediately return to hunting, foraging, and nesting. They would help spread the seed of newly budding vegetation, but were not required for the preservation of their own species.
What about the rainbow? In Genesis 9:15 the Lord establishes a covenant with Noah, stating the following:
I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.Genesis 9:15
The covenant is interpereted the same way regardless of whether we believe the flood to be global or local. “All flesh”, or kal-basar is the original target of the flood. The Hebrew word basar that is translated to flesh is very interesting as it does not mean flesh in the way that we have come to understand it. When we think of flesh, we think of our skin or the material composition of our body, and while this is accurate, it still misses an element that the Hebrew word basar carries with it.
Basar – The root verb בצר (basar) describes the act of separating something from its maternal environment, with the purpose of letting that something mature in peace until the final result can be extracted. This act is usually achieved by building a strong wall around the something (some scholars suggest that our English word bazaar derives from this root).
Genesis uses this word to to describe our flesh, the thing which is designed to protect our lives, our organs, our soul, until we are ready to be extracted, or plucked like grapes in a vineyard, and taken to our ultimate destination. As Christians, we can agree that nothing happens unless God allows it to happen, this is due to God’s sovereignty over His creation. This is God’s protection, His wall, His basar for us. If God sends a flood and removes this protection, He is letting whatever happens, happen. We may die in the flood, we may not. Noah was the only one under God’s protection at the time of the flood, and then God restored His control, His dominion over the land. The covenant states that this will not happen again, and the rainbow represents God’s control, his protection over our souls until we have matured, in the spiritual sense rather than the physical sense.
I believe that the flood narrative is yet another example of the beauty with which Genesis was written. The multiple meanings and nuances of ancient Hebrew struggle to be revealed in the English translations. This is why it is important to read beyond the surface text, and really question what it means, what it implies, and also what it symbolizes.