The story of Noah’s Ark seems to be a favorite with kids and parents. Most of the songs that we sing about it are happy and upbeat. They paint a picture of a big boat with animals going into it two by two. We sort of skip the flood part and before long Noah is sending out the dove which returns with an olive twig and then the raven which does not come back at all. The ark settles on the mountain and before you know it, it is all over. Everyone and everything is out of the ark – the earth is fresh and new and a rainbow seals the deal with God promising that this will never happen again. The nice part of the story is on full display complete with cartoons, wallpaper and toys. But this story is not really for children. The grown-up version is not ‘nice’ at all and it seems to raise far more questions than answers.
As with other miracles, the details of this event provide multiple targets for ridicule and attack. There are so many unanswered questions, which in turn leave so much room for disbelief. Where did all that water come from? Where did it all go? How could it cover Mount Everest? How did all of the animals fit onto one boat? And if all of them did, where did all of the bio-diversity come from that we see today? And given that only 8 people survived to repopulate the earth, how did they multiply and spread out so much? When and how did racially distinctive features come about along with a plethora of languages?
Interestingly enough, most ancient peoples preserved their own stories of a flood – by some counts there are about 275 of them. Many of these predate the writing of Genesis. For example, the Epic of Gilgamesh has an account of a great flood that is similar to the Genesis account in very general terms but very unlike it in others. If an actual event lies in the background, the existence of these stories is reasonably explained. Periods of oral transmission before committing each to writing may furthermore account for the dissimilarities.
Some object to the historicity of these events on moral grounds. While there is no conflict between the capricious gods of the pagan world and the destruction of human beings, that is not so with the God of the Bible. How after all could a supposedly loving God be so cruel as to commit genocide?
The account of the flood takes up a full 4 chapters in Genesis (ch.6-9.) And, while we won’t read the whole thing today, we will consider some excerpts and comment upon them.
The first observation is…that this story is really not for children. It is an account of both the depth of sin and the breadth of human rebellion. It is about a time that was as bad as any in the history of Mankind. And it is a sobering account of God’s judgment upon all of humankind, along with a measure of God’s grace.
Unanswered questions do not however cancel out the ones that are answered. And yes, there are reasonable explanations for questions raising reasonable doubt.
Consider the following:
Contextually, the ‘sons of God’ were the descendants of Seth – who sought the will of God and ‘called upon His name’. These, it would seem, intermarried with that branch of humanity that had rejected God, with results that destroyed faith in God.
The term Nephilim is used in the O.T. to refer to men of stature and prowess. They were in the land of Canaan at the time of Moses and the some of the spies found them intimidating. The term is otherwise undefined – but is simply a reference to men.
The reference to ‘land’ or ‘earth’ may also have been regional yet have had a universal effect. If all of humanity still lived in close proximity, a more limited flood would still destroy all of the living.
And as for the carnivores surviving the flood without eating the herbivores, we must not forget that God’s intervention from first to last is a miracle. Demands for ‘natural’ explanations for miracles is nothing more than a refusal to believe in the God who performs them.
It is important to distinguish between unanswered questions and questions incapable of answers. And while some questions remain unanswered we ought not let that distract us from the point of this story or fail to embrace what it teaches.
So for example, why did God do it?
- What was accomplished?
- What do we learn about God from it?
- And what lessons are there for us, today?
We’re going to look at three things the account tells us about God.
- God’s heartache
- God’s joy
- And God’s grace.
We hope then to arrive at a better understanding of God and who He is, and also of ourselves and where we stand with God.
The picture that Moses painted as he penned these chapters, was of a completely corrupted world. Wickedness and evil had become the norm to such an extent that it was all pervasive, encompassing the world of thought and action.
Genesis 6:5-13 (NIV) 5 The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. 6 The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. 7 So the LORD said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.
9 This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. 10 Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. 11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. 12 God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 13 So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.
The moral state of humanity in the days of Noah was deplorable. The presence of faith in God and good in society had all but been extinguished. There was almost no ‘salt or light’ left in the world and this helps us to understand God’s reaction. His heart was troubled to such an extent that He regretted making us. The purposes for which He had created mankind had been thwarted to such an extent that only drastic measures remained.
We are reminded then, that God sees evil.
- He sees the evil in peoples’ lives, just as He sees everything. Our joys and sorrows, our righteousness and our sinfulness. He sees where we go, what we look at, the things we listen to.
- Gloria Gaither talked about how it was never really hard for her to believe that God made the universe and all of creation and all those big things. But, that God chose to get involved in her Monday mornings – that’s what she said was hard for her to grasp.
- God still sees the wickedness in the world. This is both a source of comfort and discomfort. To the degree that the world remains in each of us, it puts us on edge. It reminds of the distance between the holiness of God and our soul’s condition. For God both sees and knows.
God will not contend with sin forever. In other words, there is an end to the patience of God.
Genesis 6:17-22 (NIV) I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark —you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. 19 You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. 20 Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. 21 You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.”
22 Noah did everything just as God commanded him.
God is patient, and He’s kind, and He’s loving. But, in verse 3, God says, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever.” (NIV).
- There came a time, when ‘time was up’. It happened within history in Noah’s day. God decided to take punitive action, visiting the consequences of sinfulness upon a world captivated by sin.
- In the years that followed, there were many other ‘days of the Lord’ when God said ‘time is up’. So when Israel sacrificed their sons and daughters to Molech, God distanced Himself from them saying, “though I never commanded – nor did it enter my mind – that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin.” (Jer 32:35)
- God’s plan was off-track and needed to be put back on-track.
I have the strong impression that some people, some churches, put such an emphasis on God’s love and His grace and His mercy and His patience that they get the idea into their heads that God WILL contend with our sin forever.
- But – the Bible tells us that a point can come where God says, “Enough is enough”.
- We see it over and over in the story of God’s people. Like when God sent Assyria to conquer Israel and Babylon to lay waste to Judah. His people were carried off into foreign captivity, forfeiting their lives and their freedom for refusing to let go of sin.
- His judgment carries over into the New Testament. No one spoke more often about the ‘judgment day’ than did Jesus. We get a taste of what is to come when Jesus used a whip to drive those who were desecrating the temple, away from the presence of God.
- It seems clear, then, that God will NOT contend with sin forever. He does not change – He is the same God now as He was then.
Although God will not contend with our sin forever, He does grieve over our sin (v6) – His heart was deeply troubled.
- It breaks God’s heart when we follow a sinful path. The starting place for all sin is when we reject of the sovereignty of God. And this begins when we remove Him from the place that He deserves in our lives.
- He longs for us to ‘hunger and thirst for the righteousness’ that defines who He is.
It is the righteousness of God that leaves Him no other alternative than to condemn sin. Since the God who is righteous is eternal, He will not allow sin to persist.
This is the hard part of the story – the part that innocent children cannot yet understand.
- But it is the part of the story that should grieve us. We should grieve the sinfulness of the world and our part in it. For God takes sin seriously. He holds us accountable for our thoughts and actions, rewarding righteousness and punishing sin.
Let us not lose sight of that fact that God loves sinners:
- He loves us so much that He gave his one and only Son, that whomever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
But God also hates the sin in the sinner.
- We have to take responsibility for our sin. In order to accept God’s salvation in Jesus, we must repent of our sins. We must own them, confess them, turn away from them, and, to whatever extent that we are able, make amends.
In Noah’s day – God knew that every inclination of the heart was only evil all the time.
- Eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil opened a flood-gate that has not yet been closed.
- In the flood, God served notice that He would not overlook sin nor would He leave righteousness unrewarded. He distinguished between the two, sparing one man and his family
Noah found favour in the eyes of the Lord. He was righteous, and blameless, walking faithfully with God.
- That doesn’t mean Noah was sinless – but his heart was in a different place than the rest of humanity’s. He had a relationship with God choosing to go with God and not the world.
Noah walked with God by being obedient – he did things just as God commanded him (6:22)
Noah built the ark – which probably took about 120 years, and wasn’t something he did in his basement or his garage.
- The ark was about 145 metres long, 24 metres wide, and 15 metres tall.
- What do you think people thought about Noah building that big boat? About Noah himself?
- Noah put his faith on display for all to see.
Which raises the question…is our obedience visible to others?
- And if so, how ridiculous does it look in the eyes of the world?
- In some parts of the world, a noticeable faith invites persecution. It adds risk and challenges each believer to ‘count the cost’.
It seems likely that Noah was ridiculed about what he was doing – but he kept right on. He finished the work that God had given him – both as a warning to the world and the means of salvation for himself.
In a word, Noah was faithful.
- He believed God when He said He would destroy the world by a flood – even though it was likely over 100 years before the first raindrops fell.
- He believed God when he was told to enter the ark with his family, all the animals, and the provisions – again, before the rain started.
We’ve already seen that God chose to spare Noah even though Noah wasn’t sinless. Blameless is not the same thing as sinless. It is a measure of God’s grace, that He accepts blameless people at all.
Yet…’God remembered Noah’ (Gen 8:1)
- It was not that God had forgotten him, perhaps thinking after a few months, ‘Hey, I better do something about Noah on that boat.’ God remembering Noah is more along the lines that God always had Noah in mind, and was ensuring that Noah and the whole cargo of family and animals had a future.
I Peter 3:21, compares the ark to baptism – life rising out of death. From the shelter of the ark, out of the death and devastation of the flood, a new world arose. As water separated the believing and unbelieving world in the days of Noah, it continues to do so today.
There was only one door in the ark – which was operated by God. And we read of another doorway to go through – a narrow door – that leads to salvation in Luke 13:24
In Noah’s day, simply knowing there was an ark didn’t save anybody. It was being in the ark that saved Noah and his family. That is still true. It is those who are in Christ that are saved, not just those who know about him or utter the words ‘Lord, Lord’.
God promised never to destroy the earth again by water.
But God’s judgment of the whole world within history is a type of the universal destruction that is yet to come.
Jesus said this, when asked about His coming back:
Matthew 24:37-40, 42 (NIV) 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. … 42 Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.
And Peter tells us some additional things about that day.
2 Peter 3:10 (NIV) 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.
Jesus’ warning isn’t primarily targeted at those who don’t know Him – but at those who do. We are to keep watch. We’re not to be like the world. ‘Normal’ in the sight of the world never has been ‘Righteous’ in the eyes of God.
We know that God will never again destroy mankind through a flood. But destruction will come. Like Noah, we’ve been given advance notice along with instructions about how we are to live in order to be ready. Unlike Noah, our ark already exists and we have entered into it through the narrow door, who is Jesus. Let’s make sure we are still inside when the end comes! The great thing is, that God has made room for all of mankind inside of his new ark. So let us reach out to others so that as many as will, may be saved.
Portions of this are inspired by ‘Noah’s Ark – For Adults’, by Betty Johnson, 2012.