“a rising and overflowing of a body of water especially onto normally dry land; a condition of overflowing; an overwhelming quantity…”
This September images of flooding are everywhere to be seen, as New Orleans waits to recover from hurricane Katrina, and the severe local flooding that resulted from it. Many weeks ago, long before anyone even imagined this disaster, I read about a church in southern California called Flood. Although it appears to be just another odd, contemporary way to reinvent and market a local church (with a decidedly anti–traditional attitude), the name and the imagery of a flood became lodged in my mind. Its a powerful image that finds several uses to the Bible. In light of our current events, let’s look at five broad “flood” ideas from the Bible.
(1) The Flood. When the sin of fallen mankind was great, the Lord destroyed the people of the earth — save for Noah and his family inside the ark — with a global flood (Genesis 6). The great overflowing of water on the earth was a tremendous act of judgment by a righteousness Creator God. Instead of being the final demise of all creation, this flood was actually the means by which the earth and this remnant of people were given a fresh start at serving God’s purposes for them. In English when spelled with a capital – the Flood – it is a reference to this great act of God, the greatest flood in the history of the world. And, according to Genesis 9:11, God will never use a global flood in this way again (destruction by fire will be the final judgment).
(2) Fear of Floods. Floods have always been fear producing things, especially so in the pre-modern era, with far fewer resources with which to cope. In the Bible, the image of a flood is often evoked as representative of all sorts of trouble that might overtake and/or destroy a person. A flood can not readily be predicted, it is something beyond the control of men — much like various troubles that descend upon us. Job described such a fear (27:20) saying, “Terrors overtake him like a flood; A tempest steals him away in the night.” The approach of death is also like a flood to the ungodly man (II Samuel 22:5, “When the waves of death surrounded me, The floods of ungodliness made me afraid.”
Yet even the Christian, who is right with God by grace through faith, can experience a similar type of fear. King David admits this as he begins Psalm 69:
“Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold.
I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me.
I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched.
My eyes fail, looking for my God.” NIV
When such fears fall upon a believer, they ought to drive us to petition our Lord through prayer. David does just that later in the Psalm (69:15), “May the flood of water not overflow me, And may the deep not swallow me up, And may the pit not shut its mouth on me.” Elsewhere, David further encourages believers to withstand the flood of such fears by prayer: “Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to Thee in a time when Thou mayest be found; Surely in a flood of great waters they shall not reach him” (Ps. 32:6).
(3) Floods of Forewarning. To a world of men and women insensible of such fears, who fearlessly pursue self-centered lives, the onslaught of a physical flood (or a metaphorical flood of troubles) is a warning of the danger they are in. Jesus’ parable of the two builders (Luke 6) attempts to get us to rethink our lives. Could our ‘house’ withstand the trial and judgment which is surely to come? Every flood we see today — as with earthquakes and other (so-called) “natural disasters” — are well paced warning signs: life is fragile and short; be ready for its end, or the return of your judge, the Lord Jesus Christ! The New Testament points to the Flood of Noah’s day as a great, and lasting warning to us all —
“For as in those days which were before the flood
they were eating and drinking, they were marrying
and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered
the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came
and took them all away; so shall the coming of the Son
of Man be. Mt. 24:38-39
(4) Welcome Floods. The Bible occasionally uses flood-like language also to convey abundance of blessings. Many of our hymns and songs of praise have made use of this, just as the great psalmist of Israel once did:
“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff,
they comfort me. Thou dost prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies; Thou hast anointed my head
with oil; My cup overflows.” (Ps. 23:1-5)
The Hebrew term revayah – translated “overflows” – conveys much the same imagery as our word flood: to run over, to saturate, to fill, to soak, to be satiated, etc., but also meant “wealthy” or “rich” as if one’s possessions and blessings were full to overflowing! Revayah also appears in Psalm 66:12, where it is translated in its context of blessing: “Thou didst make men ride over our heads; We went through fire and through water; Yet Thou didst bring us out into a place of abundance.” Who is eligible for such a welcome flood of blessing? Psalm 66 gives us plenty of clues: the one who has been preserved alive by the gracious workings of the Lord (66:5-9).
(5) Above all Floods. Thoughts about the Bible’s use of flood imagery would be incomplete without seeing the many, significant instances it is used as a backdrop for exalting the great power and sovereignty of God. David’s Psalm 28 does this (emphasis added)—
“Ascribe to the LORD, O mighty ones, ascribe to the LORD
glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due to his name;
worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness.
The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders,
the LORD thunders over the mighty waters. The voice of the LORD
is powerful; the voice of the LORD is majestic.”
“The LORD sits enthroned over the flood;
the LORD is enthroned as King for ever.
The LORD gives strength to his people;
the LORD blesses his people with peace.” (29:1–4, 10–11)
The whole of Psalm 93 seems dedicated to the One who is above all floods:
“The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty;
the LORD is robed in majesty and is armed with strength.
The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved.
Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity.
The seas have lifted up, O LORD, the seas have lifted up their voice;
the seas have lifted up their pounding waves. Mightier than the
thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea —
the LORD on high is mighty. Your statutes stand firm;
holiness adorns your house for endless days, O LORD. “
Our Creator God is to be worshipped and glorified for He, and He alone, is above the noise and power of all floods! When men and women tremble, or are awakened to the dangers of their house built on sand, because of a flood, there is One to whom we can flee, who can set our feet high and dry upon a rock.
Today, as dreadful images of a flooded New Orleans come into our homes, ponder why floods even exist, and seek to learn what the Bible teaches in reference to them.
Be not afraid, nor overwhelmed, nor hopeless — the Lord our God is greater than the mighty waters, and has power over them all. He lone can preserve your soul, and guard your lives — and cause blessings to overflow your cup!
Yours by divine mercy,
Pastor David Bissett