The Bible is not only the greatest, most influential book ever written, it contains the greatest stories ever told. In fact, it’s not much of a stretch to say that the greatest stories in literature all find their basis or inspiration in the Bible. Over the next few weeks, we’ll look at some of those stories you may know so well and hopefully you’ll learn some new things about the greatest stories ever told.
Our first story occupies four chapters in the Old Testament book of Genesis but is summarized over in the New Testament:
Noah was another who trusted God. When he heard God’s warning about the future, Noah believed him even though there was then no sign of a flood, and wasting no time, he built the ark and saved his family. Noah’s belief in God was in direct contrast to the sin and disbelief of the rest of the world-which refused to obey-and because of his faith he became one of those whom God has accepted. (Hebrews 11:7 | TLB)
The story of Noah and the ark is familiar even to people who have never cracked open the Bible. Every culture has it’s “flood narrative,” meaning that somewhere in the collective memory of every culture in the world, resides the story of one man who defied the odds and survived a catastrophe.
In the case of Noah, we’ll focus on his single-minded obedience to God. And that’s where the story begins.
The only just man
When the Lord God saw the extent of human wickedness, and that the trend and direction of men’s lives were only towards evil, he was sorry he had made them. It broke his heart. And he said, “I will blot out from the face of the earth all mankind that I created. Yes, and the animals too, and the reptiles and the birds. For I am sorry I made them.” (Genesis 6:5 – 7 | TLB)
Things were bad back then. How bad? These verses serve to illustrate how far the descendants of Adam and Eve had fallen. The story of Noah isn’t so much about Noah, although it is that, it’s really about God’s relationship with mankind, especially with the one who listens, pays attention to, and obeys Him.
The contrast between these verses and those of the creation narrative is obvious. In the beginning, God looked at the earth and all was “good,” but now all was wicked. Every impulse of man was continually evil. Nobody ever described man’s sinful condition better than Paul:
I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn I can’t make myself do right. I want to but I can’t. When I want to do good, I don’t; and when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway. (Romans 7:18, 19 | TLB)
In terms we understand, God “regretted” that He created man and He determined to wipe out all life on earth because of man’s evil. In some translations, it sounds as though God “changed His mind” that He had made man. Before you think He did, you should know this:
God is not a human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19 | TNIV)
Man may indeed have been “rotten through and through,” to use Paul’s words, but the source of evil on the earth at this time was actually something even worse:
Now a population explosion took place upon the earth. It was at this time that beings from the spirit world looked upon the beautiful earth women and took any they desired to be their wives. In those days, and even afterwards, when the evil beings from the spirit world were sexually involved with human women, their children became giants, of whom so many legends are told. (Genesis 6:1,2,4 | TLB)
That’s how The Living Bible translates it, and it may or may not be exactly what the author of Genesis intended to convey (he may have been referring simply to intermarriage between believers and non-believers). Regardless, the corruption that entered the human race due to those relationships spread throughout the whole human race, touching almost every person.
Then Jehovah said, “My Spirit must not forever be disgraced in man, wholly evil as he is. I will give him 120 years to mend his ways.”. (Genesis 6:3 | TLB)
But, God did set up a grace period of 120 years, during which time Noah would act like a prophet, warning the people about the impending judgment. In spite of how evil people had become, God liked Noah – the man “found favor with God” according to the KJV – because Noah was a man of unimpeachable character. Apparently the only one on all the earth at this time. His family was also free of the spiritual corruption that had touched all the rest of mankind, and God established a covenant with Noah and his family:
But I promise to keep you safe in the ship, with your wife and your sons and their wives. (Genesis 6:18 | TLB)
Noah’s response to God’s covenant (which was expanded in 9:8 – 17) was to build the ark. In all, 120 years elapsed and all during that time, Noah was mocked and jeered as he built a boat on dry land with no rain in sight. It begs the question: How is it possible to obey God in a sinful world? Obedience to God is independent of your circumstances; regardless of what’s going on in your life or around the world, if you call yourself a Christian then you must do all you can to live in obedience to God’s Word.
The rains came down, the flood came up
One week later, when Noah was 600 years, two months, and seventeen days old, the rain came down in mighty torrents from the sky, and the subterranean waters burst forth upon the earth for forty days and nights. (Genesis 7:10 – 12 | TLB)
Old Noah was obedient right till the day the rains came. As far as we know, he never wavered in his commitment to get that boat built and get the word out. 120 years he preached and for 120 years his warnings went unheeded. You have to admire Noah’s devotion to God’s Word. The day came to bring the animals into the ark, which was quite a task.
Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female. (Genesis 7:2 | KJV)
This is the first time in the Bible we are introduced to the notion of “clean” and “unclean” animals. We don’t know how Noah knew the difference between the two; it wasn’t until the Tabernacle in the wilderness was built that the idea of this kind of separation was codified in the Jewish law (Leviticus 7:19 – 21). Somehow he knew which animal was which and the job got done.
The idea of separation is an important idea throughout Scripture. In the Old Testament, the stress was on separating clean and unclean animals, clean and unclean people, and Jew and Gentile. In the New Testament, the necessity of separation continues, but this time, it has nothing to do with food. Here’s an example of separation as expressed by Paul:
Don’t be teamed with those who do not love the Lord, for what do the people of God have in common with the people of sin? How can light live with darkness? And what harmony can there be between Christ and the devil? How can a Christian be a partner with one who doesn’t believe? And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For you are God’s temple, the home of the living God, and God has said of you, “I will live in them and walk among them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people.” That is why the Lord has said, “Leave them; separate yourselves from them; don’t touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you and be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters.”. (2 Corinthians 6:14 – 18 | TLB)
It’s unfortunate that the people of Noah’s day didn’t have access to that paragraph! This whole catastrophe might have been avoided had they.
As He always does, God kept up His end of the covenant.
But Noah had gone into the boat that very day with his wife and his sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and their wives. (Genesis 7:13 | TLB)
He held the rain off until Noah and his family were safe and secure within the ark.
When you read the account of Noah and his building of the ark, the faith and obedience of Noah are astounding. Look at these verses:
And Noah did everything as God commanded him. (Genesis 6:22 | TLB)
So Noah did everything the Lord commanded him. (Genesis 7:5 | TLB)
But at the same time, so were the sovereign initiatives of God:
And Noah did according unto all that the Lord commanded him. There went in two and two unto Noah into the ark, the male and the female, as God had commanded Noah. (Genesis 7:5, 9 | KJV)
And they that went in, went in male and female of all flesh, as God had commanded him: and the Lord shut him in. (Genesis 7:16 | KJV)
And that’s the way it should be; Noah should serve as the perfect example of a faithful, submissive believer who does what God tells him to do. This was something the mother of Jesus understood:
But his mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you to.”. (John 2:5 | TLB)
God sealed the ark, the rains came, and flood waters rose, and all life on the earth perished. It may surprise you, but there is far more space devoted to the story of Noah’s flood than the creation of the universe – 56 verses compare to 81 verses. The theological significance of the flood is important to note because without it, we’re missing some important history. Over in the New Testament, we read this:
First, I want to remind you that in the last days there will come scoffers who will do every wrong they can think of and laugh at the truth. This will be their line of argument: “So Jesus promised to come back, did he? Then where is he? He’ll never come! Why, as far back as anyone can remember, everything has remained exactly as it was since the first day of creation.” They deliberately forget this fact: that God did destroy the world with a mighty flood long after he had made the heavens by the word of his command and had used the waters to form the earth and surround it. And God has commanded that the earth and the heavens be stored away for a great bonfire at the judgment day, when all ungodly men will perish. (2 Peter 3:3 – 7 | TLB)
The flood is seen as a foreshadow of a greater judgment to come; a judgment for essentially the same reason. And Noah and his family are seen as the faithful believers who will enter into a re-created world where Jesus Christ will rule and reign. The world as we know it today isn’t the same world Noah lived in before the flood. The flood began a new epoch of history, which was something Peter understood.
For God did not spare even the angels who sinned, but threw them into hell, chained in gloomy caves and darkness until the judgment day. And he did not spare any of the people who lived in ancient times before the flood except Noah, the one man who spoke up for God, and his family of seven. At that time God completely destroyed the whole world of ungodly men with the vast flood. (2 Peter 2:4, 5 | TLB)
So also the Lord can rescue you and me from the temptations that surround us, and continue to punish the ungodly until the day of final judgment comes. (2 Peter 2:9 | TLB)