083.1: The Flood and Tower of Babel; OT Lesson 6 (Core)

“Noah … Prepared an Ark to the Saving of His House”

Class Member Reading: Moses 8:19–30; Genesis 6–9; 11:1–9; Hebrews 11:7

Additional Reading: Moses 7:32–36

Other Reading: Genesis 10


The flood story is one of the best known in the Bible (my children played with their Fisher Price Noah’s Ark while I recorded this lesson), but also problematic on multiple levels. This episode introduces some of those concerns and then focuses on the positives in the story–the flood and its aftermath representing God’s covenantal mercy and the renewal of creation.


Anna, Brian, Jake and Sheldon join the discussion.


You can access the Annotated Reading here (or PDF)

You can access the Lesson Notes here (or PDF)



Lesson Part 1

0:00        Introduction

4:04        Problematic Nature of Noah’s Flood

6:51        Moses 8:19-30

10:55     Genesis 6-9 (JPS Study Bible)

22:45     The flood and Environmentalism

Discussion Part 1

27:10     Discussion Intros

29:52     What to do with the flood in Sunday School

34:54     God of the flood

42:54     Personal application of the flood

45:45     Tower of Babel



Thanks to Jim Henderson for content editing, James Estrada for his audio editing, and to Steven Nelson for the beautiful bumper music.

Latest Comments

  1. considersour says:

    I liked this discussion for the most part. I am not sure who made the comment (it is hard to tell voices apart sometimes), but someone had the takeaway from the flood and tower of Babel stories that God is always able to help you no matter how far gone you are or how many sins you have committed. I did not have the same understanding of the flood especially. I saw the exact opposite, a people that were too far gone for God to help. Their transgressions were too great and so God destroyed them. This does not seem like a God of saving and pulling up from the trenches of sin. It is hard to find the loving God of the New Testament much in the Old Testament.
    A second thought is about the sins of the parents falling to the children. If the story is taken literally, as it is taught, then children and babies also died in the flood. They may not be held accountable for their parents’ sins before God, but they died due to them. And yes, children and babies often die because of neglect from parents. But this was directly due to a decree from God, not parental action. The story taken figuratively, is much easier to swallow, as I feel with most of scripture.


  2. Brian says:

    I was the one with the comment about god always being able to find a way. This is an attempt to get some devotional value from the story. Trying the swallow the story whole doesn’t work, it is to awful. I had meant to mention, if I actually hadn’t, that I find it best to put yourself in the perspective of one character rather than all of them. Consider yourself Noah or the earth. They were both indeed trapped in a deep sinful state (referenced in the passages as violence) and God provided a creative way to save them, despite the dire circumstances. That is one way to put a positive spin on the story, and it has its flaws indeed.
    More importantly I think we need the freedom to challenge the scripture, consider the sources and their biases/culture. I get sick of people (including lds folks) trying to justify every single word in the OT/NT/BOM/D&C/POGP rather than considering potential flaws (which the title page of the BOM tells us to consider. The folowing quote from Elder Richards regarding the God of the OT and the OT as scripture is insightful and applies equally to even utterances of modern prophets.

    Responding to skeptics’ claims that “the God of the Hebrews is a capricious, jealous, tribal God, fighting the battles of his favored people and reveling in the defeat of their enemies,” Elder Stephen L. Richards asked:

    “What if Hebrew prophets, conversant with only a small fraction of the surface of the earth, thinking and writing in terms of their own limited geography and tribal relations did interpret Him in terms of a tribal king and so limit His personality and the laws of the universe under His control to the dominion with which they were familiar? Can any interpreter even though he be inspired present his interpretation and conception in terms other than those with which he has had experience and acquaintance?

    Even under the assumption that Divinity may manifest to the prophet higher and more exalted truths than he has ever before known and unfold to his spiritual eyes visions of the past, forecasts of the future and circumstances of the utmost novelty, how will the inspired man interpret? Manifestly, I think, in the language he knows and in the terms of expression with which his knowledge and experience have made him familiar. So is it not therefore ungenerous, unfair and unreasonable to impugn the validity and the whole worth of the Bible merely because of the limited knowledge of astronomy and geography that its writers possessed.”

    An Open Letter to College Students
    Elder Stephen L. Richards
    of the Quorum of the Twelve
    (Improvement Era 36:451-453, 484-485, June 1933)


    • considersour says:


      Thanks for your reply. I should have listened to the second part of the podcast before commenting. I feel that the sentiments you write in the comment above are more salient in the second part. I very much agree with the challenge and be challenged motto of the podcast. It begins to stir an inner authority most LDS members don’t know they have.

      I feel certain you know why people fear to find fault with scripture.

      And I love the quote from Elder Richards (even though I’m not generally a fan of quoting GA’s), though I wonder how the quote might go down read in a Sunday School lesson.

      Thanks again for taking the time to reply.


      • Jared Anderson says:

        “It begins to stir an inner authority most LDS members don’t know they have.”

        Yes! That is a major goal of this project.


      • Brian says:

        “Inner Authority” for the WIN!!!

        I do not like to use GA quotes either but it seems to be the only way to validate yourself when speaking in non-correlated ways. Otherwise the message doesn’t seem to go beyond the messenger (in most cases, not yours).


      • Jared Anderson says:

        I don’t mind using GA quotes. Authoritative sources are important and grant a sense of safety and stability and familiarity. I seek to understand human nature as best I can, and insider/outsider checks serve important purposes.


  3. James N. says:

    Jared, Thank you for doing your work on these podcast and also to the contributors.

    Comment part 1.

    Let me first say I had a horrible day at Sunday School. This of all lessons should be the hardest to swallow for any thinking compassionate human. But herd like, we all fell into the same routine answers for the flood in making excuses for God’s actions. The answers were, “God slayeth the wicked to accomplish his righteous purposes” and “my ways are not your ways”. The whole room agreed! God is all righteous in His works and all powerful so don’t confront nor question Him.
    I was pained beyond all measure. These two were comments that came from men I respect for their intellect. How can they not see it? This is not a God worthy of worship.
    The answer that occurres to me tonight is that if you accept this story as literal and accept all scripture as literal then you will always make excuses for God. It is a matter of one’s world view. If scripture is 100% true then all God does is right, you will never see any other way. Jared your goal is to open minds to new paradigms, to make us creative in our reading of scripture. But it can’t work with the majority of members thinking like this. To drop the “God of Noah” you then begin to drop other scripture stories and then cognitive dissonance and then comes the dark night of the soul and a long journey of faith searching for whatever is the “truth”. I don’t think this podcast nor anything can change that literal thinking mindset and maybe it shouldn’t. Keep the masses smug. I didn’t contribute to the sunday school discussion for one, I am weak in expression and nerves, two my wife says don’t disrupt the spirit of the room and three there are a few simple minds coming out of inactivity.

    Comment part 2.

    What God is worthy of worship, the “God of Noah” or the “God of “Enoch”? The God of Noah: all powerful, all just, not all loving. The God of Enoch: not all powerful, all just, all loving.
    The God of Noah doesn’t respect agency and freedom (the real first principle of heaven not satanic obedience). That isn’t love to stop your children from sinning by taking away their chance to “prepare to meet God” by killing them. You are God! Just send down a few more Enochs to preach and save them all. How can I worship this kind of character flaw in God?
    The God of Enoch, weeps when he sees His children’s violence. But is restricted in His power by love and respect for agency. I love this God. Though it is hard to allow wickedness he lets it take its course.
    History is replete with this love. He lets Nazis cart of children to gas chambers, He allows Serbs to perform atrocities, He allows the horror of the Belgium Congo in the late 19th c., He allows Rwanda, etc. etc. THIS IS VIOLENCE! He allows it, because of love and respect of agency. He cannot stop it! I did cry yesterday thinking about Schindler’s List. I stopped my car and cried for the pain of those mothers and fathers, for the sorrows of all humanity. After putting myself together, my prayer was, “Lord, thy ways are just, allow agency!”.

    Comment part 3

    We are empowered with better non-destructing God models. Abraham when told by God that Sodom and Gomorrah’s days were limited he questioned God. He petitioned God, asked Him to reconsider. Noah was obedient. Abraham has a heart and mind and Abraham got God to change His mind though the destruction came anyway. Challenging God is the answer here.
    We also have Nephi the 2nd. When he was told that God was going to use war as a way to get people to repent. Nephi challenged back and asked God, why not famine? God was moved and the people repented. These two examples show a more loving God, one who can be moved (as in our daily prayers) and work with His children to bring to pass His work and glory.

    So, engaging doctrine community, what works above, what fails in my opinions?


    • Ron Tenney says:

      I have learned to negotiate Sunday School with the following aids…
      1. My wife listens to me. She is traditional and believing. I am becoming less traditional. I am so fortunate that I have her and 5 sons that love to engage in vigorous, deep discussions on gospel topics.
      2. I am actually one of three assigned Gospel Doctrine teachers in my ward. I have had this calling for nearly 4 years. Believe it or not, my class has come to appreciate inspired questions. I teach very little. We read some of the passages and then I open discussion on the points with deep questions. For those who sincerely struggle with challenging doctrines, there is a chance to contribute.
      3. In our ward we have many “fundamental” members who have certainty about truth. I am not disputing their witness. Answers to questions like those I like to ask are annoying to these members at best. But we have mutual respect and I don’t try to force my points/questions on them.
      4. Every Sunday when it is my turn to teach, I email a list of resources and articles (from BYU Studies, Dialogue, Sperry Symposiums, etc.) to the class with a few comments about the lesson in advance. I often include my “thought questions” in the email. I feel that this is appreciated. I don’t send out emails on weeks I am not teaching as I don’t want to be a “know it all” or upstage the other teachers in our ward. One of the other teachers is a wonderful person whom I love, but is very fundamental in her approach. I cringe at the implications of right/wrong and righteousness on the hearts of those that struggle.
      5. Finally, in our ward (like any ward in the world) there are many members whose lives have not played out like the script they were provided with as young men and women. I see their faces and look into their eyes when I teach. Beyond learning, my number one goal in each of my lessons is to be a voice of comfort and assurance to them. Since Elder Uchtdorf is my favorite church leader/speaker, I attempt to emulate his message of HOPE.

      Thanks Jared. You have been a big part of my ongoing love of Gospel Study. For the past month or so, I have been buried in Robert Alter’s Translation and commentary of the Five Books of Moses (by the way Jared, in your Study notes you cited Alter’s Four books of Moses – in case someone goes on Amazon to find it). I find his commentary instructive and worthwhile.


      • Jared Anderson says:

        Thanks for sharing these fantastic ideas Ron! With influence like yours times thousands (hopefully), we can make a real difference in improving teaching, conversation, and even lives.


  4. Haggoth says:

    Is this a god worth worshiping? I’ll side step this and ask is this is a God worth attempting to understand. I’m going to push back at the notion that a God who causes mass extinctions is cruel. The fact is, death is part of life–I’m not trying to speak a platitude. Consider the evidence–as hard as life tries to claw out existence, geologically speaking, Life snuffs it out, like clockwork, and the more sophisticated the organism, the faster the extinction comes. Is there a grand purpose to micro and mass extinctions that would justify the pain and terror? You and I would likely not be hear without an exceedingly long chain of events that contributed to our evolution, including, from our selfish perspective, benevolent extinctions. Consider these thoughts penned by Bill Bryson in a Short History of Nearly Everything:

    Each of these massive transformations, as well as many smaller ones between and since, was dependent on that paradoxically important motor of progress: extinction. It is a curious fact that on Earth species death is, in the most literal sense, a way of life. No one knows how many species of organisms have existed since life began. Thirty billion is a commonly cited figure, but the number has been put as high as 4,000 billion. Whatever the actual total, 99.99 percent of all species that have ever lived are no longer with us. “To a first approximation,” as David Raup of the University of Chicago likes to say, “all species are extinct.” For complex organisms, the average lifespan of a species is only about four million years—roughly about where we are now. Extinction is always bad news for the victims, of course, but it appears to be a good thing for a dynamic planet. “The alternative to extinction is stagnation,” says Ian Tattersall of the American Museum of Natural History, “and stagnation is seldom a good thing in any realm.” (I should perhaps note that we are speaking here of extinction as a natural, long-term process. Extinction brought about by human carelessness is another matter altogether.)   Crises in Earth’s history are invariably associated with dramatic leaps afterward. The fall of the Ediacaran fauna was followed by the creative outburst of the Cambrian period. The Ordovician extinction of 440 million years ago cleared the oceans of a lot of immobile filter feeders and, somehow, created conditions that favored darting fish and giant aquatic reptiles. These in turn were in an ideal position to send colonists onto dry land when another blowout in the late Devonian period gave life another sound shaking. And so it has gone at scattered intervals through history. If most of these events hadn’t happened just as they did, just when they did, we almost certainly wouldn’t be here now. Earth has seen five major extinction episodes in its time—the Ordovician, Devonian, Permian, Triassic, and Cretaceous, in that order—and many smaller ones. The Ordovician (440 million years ago) and Devonian (365 million) each wiped out about 80 to 85 percent of species. The Triassic (210 million years ago) and Cretaceous (65 million years) each wiped out 70 to 75 percent of species. But the real whopper was the Permian extinction of about 245 million years ago, which raised the curtain on the long age of the dinosaurs. In the Permian, at least 95 percent of animals known from the fossil record check out, never to return. Even about a third of insect species went—the only occasion on which they were lost en masse. It is as close as we have ever come to total obliteration. “It was, truly, a mass extinction, a carnage of a magnitude that had never troubled the Earth before,” says Richard Fortey. The Permian event was particularly devastating to sea creatures. Trilobites vanished altogether. Clams and sea urchins nearly went. Virtually all other marine organisms were staggered. Altogether, on land and in the water, it is thought that Earth lost 52 percent of its families—that’s the level above genus and below order on the grand scale of life (the subject of the next chapter)—and perhaps as many as 96 percent of all its species. It would be a long time—as much as eighty million years by one reckoning—before species totals recovered.

    Bryson, Bill (2003-05-06). A Short History of Nearly Everything (pp. 341-343). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.


    • Jared Anderson says:

      I can very much get behind what you are saying Haggoth, but I still think God creating a world where mass extinctions happen is a different thing than God destroying the world with a flood in the way the Bible describes. The world required *millions of years* to recover from the Permian event….


      • Haggoth says:

        I didn’t intend to suggest otherwise. I see the flood narrative as we have it as a myth. I’m sure that there have been micro extinctions as a result of floods, but more likely than not, the mass, global extinctions were not with water (at least not in liquid form).
        I’m addressing a separate issue. The flood narrative attempts to ascribe god’s will to what seemed to the authors as mass extinction events. You challenged whether a benevolent god could cause such an event and be good. I’m positing an explanation for how mass extinctions, as terrible in the moment as they are, can be for the greater good. In this paradigm, God either causes or sets in motion or lets mass extinctions to occur for good. Whether a person sees God’s hand in mass extinctions or not, the fact is, they happen and these extinctions were part of the chain that led to us. Nature, either on her own or directed by deity, in fact works this way, whether I like or not. Has good come as a result? Selfishly, as one who loves life including my own, I say yes.


      • Jared Anderson says:

        Seems like we are quite on the same page. As I have said in other episodes, my take on theodicy is that God is playing a very long term game, with the end goal being the perfecting of conscious life in the universe.


      • James N says:

        What do we think is the best answer, is the God of destruction and renewal worthy of of worship? ( not the mythical flood kind of destruction, but an evolutionary kind of god)
        Jared, your idea about a higher consciousness got me thinking, supposedly, after the American g.i.’s saw the horror of the holocaust they came home more open to the idea of tolerance of the races and thus the civil rights movement. Out of destruction a higher consciousness? Another way of saying it, thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Was the cost worth it? How much is god behind it? Is he worthy of worship?


      • Jared Anderson says:

        Tikkun Olam

        God, to Creation:
        Be perfect. Be loving. Be whole.
        Knowing the cost
        Billions of years, broken hearts, broken souls.


      • Haggoth says:

        Wow. Can you tell us more about the source of the quote?


      • Jared Anderson says:

        My Tikkun Olam poem? I wrote that.

        Tikkun Olam is a Hebrew/Jewish idea that means “repairing the world”


  5. Haggoth says:

    Beautiful and haunting.


  6. Cyrus says:

    I haven’t finished the entire discussion portion of the study notes, but I have a question. Discounting a literal flood, is it acceptable that flood is simply another old creation story? If we believe that the Bible has many different authors, and that the stories were passed down for millenia prior to them being recorded, then might this just be a different version of the creation of living things?

    Also, to go even further down the “rabbit hole” perhaps the wicked people spoken of were from a “pre-existent” state (possibly even the 1/3 who were cast out for following Satan), and that Noah is similar to Adam. That the ark could be a metaphor similar to the garden of eden. And, on and on it goes.

    Not sure. But, when I study the scriptures, especially the OT, it’s easy to get caught up in the details, and to miss the symbolism.


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