Written by Peter Blanch
17 For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. 18 The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. 19 They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered.
There’s plenty of debate about whether the flood covered the whole planet, or was just a large localised flood. The debate hinges around what “earth” means. Even in modern english, the word “earth” does not always mean the whole planet. At the start of any major construction project, ‘earth-works’ are needed in order to lay a proper foundation – and by that we just mean working the earth at the foundation of the project. Out in the garden you can pick up ‘earth’, but you’re not picking up the whole planet, just a small amount of dirt in your hands.
It is the same in the Hebrew language. The Hebrew word translated “earth” [‘erets] in Genesis 7 is a word that can be used a number of ways – to mean dirt, or the land that is there, or an entire country or the whole world. You can get a feel for this by seeing the same word in Genesis 4:14
13 Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is more than I can bear. 14 Today you are driving me from the land.
The word “land” [‘erets] in this verse is the same word for “earth” as used in the account of the flood in Genesis 7. Very clearly, in Genesis 4, the word does not mean the whole planet. Cain was not driven off the planet and out into space, he was driven off some localised area of land and forced to go to a different land, the land of Nod [Genesis 4:16].
So in Genesis 7, each time the word “earth” appears, a decision needs to be made. What is the word “earth” referring to in this situation? In the account of the flood, we keep on thinking that the word “earth” means the whole world, but we know there are other legitimate options for this word. The flood may have covered a region of earth from horizon to horizon, just as much as it may have covered all the known world at that time [the land as they knew it], or indeed it may have covered the entire planet.
We cannot conclude which of these options is correct from the Biblical text. The size of the flood cannot be measured from the text of Genesis chapter 7 or indeed the rest of the account of Noah.
To make the claim from Genesis 7 that the flood waters covered Australia would be therefore to make a claim that goes beyond God’s word. If you have other evidence to show that the flood covered Australia, then that is well and good, but from Genesis 7, you cannot conclude that it did. Please realise that in writing this way, I am not saying that the flood did not cover Australia, I am also not saying that it did, what I am saying is I just don’t know. The passage is not telling us the extent of it of the flood, other then it extended completely over the land, over what they knew to be their world. The flood may have included Australia, but it may not.
Given the extent of the flood is inconclusive from the text of the Bible itself, we do not want to be making bigger claims than what the Bible is actually making. Defending any bigger claims takes the focus away from far more important truths that the Bible is seeking to emphasise. Defend what the Bible says, but please don’t make it say more than God intends.
The far more important point we need to take from the account of the flood is that our God is one who notices the evil in the heart of every human being. And God is patient, giving people ample time to turn to him and seek forgiveness. But there will come a time when God says “Enough!” – when He will judge the whole world and put a stop to all evil and every sin. In the days of Noah, the only way to be safe from God’s judgement was to be part of Noah’s family in the ark. In our day, the only way to be safe from God’s coming judgement is to be in the family of Jesus, adopted into his family through Jesus’ Death and Resurrection. If we have been adopted into Jesus’ family, then we have nothing to fear from the coming judgement, for our every sin has been paid for in full by Jesus. We have no need to fear the coming judgement – we can look forward to an eternity without sin, enjoying peace with God forever.
This is the news from the account of the flood that every human being on the planet needs to hear. This is the news that those already in Jesus’ family will want to share with anyone and everyone they can – in order to bring more people into the safety that is only found in Jesus.