And the LORD smelled a sweet smell; and the LORD said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake…
It must have been a day of intense solemnity; and if ever men could be struck with awe, if ever men could feel their spirits bowed down and overwhelmed by the tremendousness of God — those who now presented that sacrifice, the lonely wreck of an unnumbered population, must have crouched, and trembled, and been full of the most earnest humility. And possibly they might have thought that, since the wicked were removed, a moral renovation would pass over mankind, and that themselves and their posterity would differ altogether from the ungodly race which had perished in the waters. It could not have seemed improbable that, after removing the multitude which had provoked Him by their impieties, God would raise up a people who should love Him and honour Him, seeing that, if there was to be the same provocation of wickedness, there was nothing to be looked for but a recurrence of the deluge; and if this earth were to be again and again the theatre of the same provocations and the same vengeance, it would be hard to say why God spared a remnant, or why He allowed the rebellious race to be continued and multiplied. Yet, however natural it might have been for Noah and his sons to calculate on a moral improvement in the species, it is certain that after the flood, men were just the same fallen creatures that they had been before the flood. There had been effected no change whatever on human nature, neither had God destroyed the wicked, expecting the new tenantry would be more obedient and more righteous than the old. And it is every way remarkable, that the reason which is given why God sent one deluge is given as the reason why God sent not a second deluge. He sent one flood because "the imagination of man's thoughts was only evil continually"; and He resolved that He would not send another flood because — or, at least, though — this evil imagination remained unsubdued. Now, it is scarcely necessary for us to remark that wickedness must at all times be equal in God's sight; and that however various the modes by which He sees fit to oppose it, He is alike earnest in punishing it. Why, then, did He not follow the same plan throughout? Or why did He administer once that punishment which He thought fit not to repeat? Such questions, you observe, are not merely speculative. If God Himself had not given the same reason for sparing as for smiting, we might have thought that the flood had made a change in the moral circumstances of our race, and there was not again the same intense provocation; but when we hear from the lips of Jehovah Himself, that there was precisely as much after the deluge as before, yea, that He refrained from cursing in the face of that very wickedness, we are only endeavouring to be wise up to what is written in searching out the reason for the change in God's conduct.
I. SINCE A FLOOD WAS AS MUCH CALLED FOR TWICE AS ONCE, WHY SHOULD IT HAVE BEEN SENT ONCE, THE PROVOCATION BEING JUST THE SAME, AND YET THE DEALING MOST DIFFERENT? WAS ANY END ANSWERED BY THE DELUGE? Now, our first thought on finding that there was just the same reason for destroying the world twice as for destroying it once is, that no end was answered by the deluge which might not have been answered without a deluge. But though it is most certain that there was as much provocation after as before the deluge, it is a most unwarranted conclusion that no great ends were answered by the deluge. The deluge was God's sermon against sin, whose echoes will be heard until the consummation of all things. We give no harbourage for a moment — we know there could be nothing more false than the opinion — that the antediluvians must have been more wicked than ourselves because visited with signal and unequivocal punishment: but if you infer from this that the flood was unnecessary, that the antediluvians might as well have been spared as their successors, we at once deny the conclusion. Had there never been a flood, we should have wanted our most striking attestation to the truth of the Bible. We are prepared to contend that, in bringing water upon the earth, God was wondrously providing for the faith of every coming generation, and was writing in characters which no time can efface, and no ingenuity prove to be forgeries, that He hates sin with perfect hatred, and will punish it with rigid punishment. But it is important to bear in mind that, when God visibly interferes for the punishment of wickedness, there are some ends of His moral government to be answered, over and above that of the chastisement of the unrighteous. Ordinarily God delays taking vengeance till the last day of account; and we judge erroneously if we judge from God's dealings with man on this side eternity. When there is a direct interposition, such as the deluge, we may be sure it answers other designs besides that of punishing unrighteousness: and before, therefore, we can show that there was the same reason for a second deluge as for one, we must not only show there was the same amount of wickedness, and the same evil in the imagination of the heart — we must show there was the same end of moral government to be answered, over and above that of the punishment of the rebellious. And here it is you will feel established in the belief that a great lesson was recorded as to God's hatred of sin, and His determination to destroy, sooner or later, the impenitent. And God furnished this lesson, so that ages have obliterated no letter of the record, by bringing a flood on the earth, and burying in the womb of waters the unnumbered tribes that crowded its continents. But the lesson required not to be repeated; it was sufficient that it should be given once — sufficient, seeing that it is still so powerful and persuasive that it leaves inexcusable all who persist in rejecting it.
II. We propose to seek an answer to the inquiry, WHETHER LONG SUFFERING CAN PRODUCE THE SAME RESULTS AS PUNISHING. And this, after all, is the question most forcibly presented in our text. Whether God smites, or whether He spares, we know He must have the same objects in view — the promotion of His own glory and the well-being of the universe. But how comes it, then, to pass that it was best at one time to smite, and at another time to spare? We have given a reason for one deluge, which could not be given for a second. The lesson of the deluge was to be spread over the whole surface of time; and thus the one act of punishment was to have its effect throughout the season of long suffering. Punishment was a necessary preliminary to long suffering, to prevent the abuse of long suffering. God is only taking consecutive steps in one and the same design; and if we are right in saying that punishment was necessarily preliminary to long suffering, than even a child can perceive that God was only acting out the same arrangement when He said, "I will not spare," and when He said, "I will spare, for the imagination of man's heart is evil." It is as though He said, "I might send flood after flood, and leave again only an insignificant fraction of the population; but the evil lies deep in the heart, and would not be swept away by the immensity of waters. I might deal with succeeding generations as I have with this very one; and as soon as the earth sent up new harvests of wickedness, I might come forth, and put in the scythe of My vengeance; but after all there would be no renovation, and evil would still be predominant in this section of the creation. Therefore I will be long suffering; nothing but long. suffering can affect My purpose, for nothing but an atonement can reconcile the fallen; and long suffering is nothing but the atonement anticipated. I will not, then, again curse the ground, for man's imaginations are evil. I will not curse — the evil will not be grappled with by the curse — the evil would not go away before the curse. If the evil were not in the very heart, it might be eradicated by judgment; if it were not engraven into the very. bone and sinew and spirit, it might be washed out by the torrent; and I would again curse. But it is an evil for which there must be expiation; it is an evil which can only be done away by sacrifice, it is an evil which can only be exterminated by the entering in of Deity into that nature." It is thus that, so far as we can judge, without overstraining the passage, the corruption of human nature will furnish a reason why there was no repetition of the deluge. God's object was not to destroy, but to reconcile the world: and the reconciliation could not be effected by judgments; the machinery must be made up of mercies. Judgments might make way for mercies, but they could not do the work of mercies. Punishment was preliminary to sparing, but punishment continued would not have effected the object of the Almighty. So that long suffering was the only engine by which the machinery could be mastered. The whole of Christ's work was gathered, so to speak, into long suffering.
III. But who can give himself to an inquiry which has to do with the cause or reason of the deluge, and not feel his attention drawn to the TYPICAL CHARACTER of that tremendous event? The history of the world before the flood is nothing but the epitome of the history of the world up to that grand consummation, the second coming of the Lord. And if we wanted additional reasons why one deluge should be sent and not a second, we might find it in the fact that all the affairs of time shall be wound up by a single visitation. The antediluvian world had been dealt with by the machinery of the most extensive loving kindness: the Almighty had long borne with the wickedness of the earth; and it was not till every overture had been despised that He allowed Himself to strike. Shall it not be thus with the world of the unrighteous? Wonderful has been the long suffering of the Almighty: and as there has gone on the building of the ark — as the Church of Christ has been gathered and cemented and enlarged, the voice and entreaties of ministers and missionaries have circulated through Christianity; and the despiser has been continually told, sternly, and reproachfully, and affectionately, that a day will yet burst upon the creation, when all who are not included in the ark shall be tossed on the surges and buried in the depths of a fiery sea. But as the time of the end draws near, the warning will grow louder, and the entreaty more urgent, that all men put away their wickedness, and prepare themselves for meeting their Judge.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And the LORD smelled a sweet savour; and the LORD said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.
WEB: Yahweh smelled the pleasant aroma. Yahweh said in his heart, "I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake, because the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again strike everything living, as I have done.