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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 21–24
Verses 21–24

Here is, I. The general destruction of all flesh by the waters of the flood. Come, and see the desolations which God makes in the earth (Ps. 46:8), and how he lays heaps upon heaps. Never did death triumph, from its first entrance unto this day, as it did then. Come, and see Death upon his pale horse, and hell following with him, Rev. 6:7, 8.

1. All the cattle, fowl, and creeping things, died, except the few that were in the ark. Observe how this is repeated: All flesh died, Gen. 7:21. All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was on the dry land, Gen. 7:22. Every living substance, Gen. 7:23. And why so? Man only had done wickedly, and justly is God’s hand against him; but these sheep, what have they done? I answer, (1.) We are sure God did them no wrong. He is the sovereign Lord of all life, for he is the sole fountain and author of it. He that made them as he pleased might unmake them when he pleased; and who shall say unto him, What doest thou? May he not do what he will with his own, which were created for his pleasure? (2.) God did admirably serve the purposes of his own glory by their destruction, as well as by their creation. Herein his holiness and justice were greatly magnified; by this it appears that he hates sin, and is highly displeased with sinners, when even the inferior creatures, because they are the servants of man and part of his possession, and because they have been abused to be the servants of sin, are destroyed with him. This makes the judgment the more remarkable, the more dreadful, and, consequently, the more expressive of God’s wrath and vengeance. The destruction of the creatures was their deliverance from the bondage of corruption, which deliverance the whole creation now groans after, Rom. 8:21, 22. It was likewise an instance of God’s wisdom. As the creatures were made for man when he was made, so they were multiplied for him when he was multiplied; and therefore, now that mankind was reduced to so small a number, it was fit that the beasts should proportionably be reduced, otherwise they would have had the dominion, and would have replenished the earth, and the remnant of mankind that was left would have been overpowered by them. See how God considered this in another case, Exod. 23:29; Lest the beast of the field multiply against thee.

2. All the men, women, and children, that were in the world (except that were in the ark) died. Every man (Gen. 7:21 and Gen. 7:23), and perhaps they were as many as are now upon the face of the earth, if not more. Now, (1.) We may easily imagine what terror and consternation seized on them when they saw themselves surrounded. Our Saviour tells us that till the very day that the flood came they were eating and drinking (Luke 17:26, 27); they were drowned in security and sensuality before they were drowned in those waters, crying Peace, peace, to themselves, deaf and blind to all divine warnings. In this posture death surprised them, as 1 Sam. 30:16, 17. But O what an amazement were they in then! Now they see and feel that which they would not believe and fear, and are convinced of their folly when it is too late; now they find no place for repentance, though they seek it carefully with tears. (2.) We may suppose that they tried all ways and means possible for their preservation, but all in vain. Some climb to the tops of trees or mountains, and spin out their terrors there awhile. But the flood reaches them, at last, and they are forced to die with the more deliberation. Some, it is likely, cling to the ark, and now hope that this may be their safety which they had so long made their sport. Perhaps some get to the top of the ark, and hope to shift for themselves there; but either they perish there for want of food, or, by a speedier despatch, a dash of rain washes them off that deck. Others, it may be, hoped to prevail with Noah for admission into the ark, and pleaded old acquaintance, Have we not eaten and drunk in thy presence? Hast thou not taught in our streets? “Yes,” might Noah say, “that I have, many a time, to little purpose. I called but you refused; you set at nought all my counsel (Prov. 1:24, 25), and now it is not in my power to help you: God has shut the door, and I cannot open it.” Thus it will be at the great day. Neither climbing high in an outward profession, nor claiming relation to good people, will bring men to heaven, Matt. 7:22; 25:8-9. Those that are not found in Christ, the ark, are certainly undone, undone for ever; salvation itself cannot save them. See Isa. 10:3. (3.) We may suppose that some of those that perished in the deluge had themselves assisted Noah, or were employed by him, in the building of the ark, and yet were not so wise as by repentance to secure themselves a place in it. Thus wicked ministers, though they may have been instrumental to help others to heaven, will themselves be thrust down to hell.

Let us now pause awhile and consider this tremendous judgment! Let our hearts meditate terror, the terror of this destruction. Let us see, and say, It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God; who can stand before him when he is angry? Let us see and say, It is an evil thing, and a bitter, to depart from God. The sin of sinners will, without repentance, be their ruin, first or last; if God be true, it will. Though hand join in hand, yet the wicked shall not go unpunished. The righteous God knows how to bring a flood upon the world of the ungodly, 2 Pet. 2:5. Eliphaz appeals to this story as a standing warning to a careless world (Job 22:15, 16), Hast thou marked the old way, which wicked men have trodden, who were cut down out of time, and sent into eternity, whose foundation was overflown with the flood?

II. The special preservation of Noah and his family: Noah only remained alive, and those that were with him in the ark, Gen. 7:23. Observe, 1. Noah lives. When all about him were monuments of justice, thousands falling on his right hand and ten thousands on his left, he was a monument of mercy. Only with his eyes might he behold and see the reward of the wicked, Ps. 91:7, 8. In the floods of great waters, they did not come nigh him, Ps. 32:6. We have reason to think that, while the long-suffering of God waited, Noah not only preached to, but prayed for, that wicked world, and would have turned away the wrath; but his prayers return into his own bosom, and are answered only in his own escape, which is plainly referred to, Ezek. 14:14; Noah, Daniel, and Job, shall but deliver their own souls. A mark of honour shall be set on intercessors. 2. He but lives. Noah remains alive, and this is all; he is, in effect, buried alive—cooped up in a close place, alarmed with the terrors of the descending rain, the increasing flood, and the shrieks and outcries of his perishing neighbours, his heart overwhelmed with melancholy thoughts of the desolations made. But he comforts himself with this, that he is in the way of duty and in the way of deliverance. And we are taught (Jer. 45:4, 5) that when desolating judgments are abroad we must not seek great nor pleasant things to ourselves, but reckon it an unspeakable favour if we have our lives given us for a prey.