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Noah's Ark

Date: Feb. 18, 2018

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Genesis 6:9-22

Key Verse: Genesis 6:14

“So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out.”

Today, we are going to start our study about Noah’s ark. The story of Noah’s ark is one of the most popular Bible stories. Even people who know nothing of the Bible have heard of Noah’s ark and can tell you a few things about it. The imagery of the ark has even become a popular decoration for young children because you have this picture of a boat with all those animals hanging out the sides. However, the truth of Noah’s ark is far darker than any children’s story or cute decoration. The story of Noah’s ark is a story of God’s judgement on all of humanity, and how mankind was preserved through a single righteous man, Noah.

Last week, we heard how God grieved that he made mankind. God had created a good creation, but ever since man had fallen away from God, people just kept mucking everything up. The sin of people was corrupting all of creation and it broke God’s heart. So, God said that he would wipe everything out, but right at the end of the passage, it says that Noah found favor in the Lord, which leads us to our passage today. “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. Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth.” (9-10) The passage starts out, “This is the account of Noah and his family.” These words mark a new section in Genesis. The first of these sections started in chapter 2, concerning the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created. Then again, in chapter 5, there is the account of Adam’s line. The pattern continues throughout Genesis to mark a new narrative and this one marks the story of Noah. We’ve heard a few things about Noah already. Two weeks ago, we learned that his name means comfort and last week we learned that he found favor in the eyes of the Lord. Here, the passage says that Noah was righteous, blameless and walked with the Lord. These three terms all reveal different facets of the inner person of Noah. He was righteous means that he was right before God. Being blameless among the people meant that he was fair and good with his relationships with others. Walking with God means that he enjoyed a personal relationship with God and trusted him. Only one other person in all of history is known to have walked with God, Enoch. This give us an idea how close Noah was with God.

Now, it is important to note that even with all these good things about Noah, he was not perfect. It wasn’t because of righteous acts that Noah was righteous. He didn’t do anything to curry favor with God. He was righteous, but he was not Jesus. I bring this up because, there are a lot of stories from the Middle East where God, or a god, tells someone to build a boat to escape a coming flood, but there are many differences in accounts. One such difference is in who is called to build the boat. In each case, it is a person who is better than all the rest. In other accounts, it is shown that the person is good because of some of the acts they have done. They did something good and they were chosen based on that act. In the Bible, Noah doesn’t show his obedience until after he was chosen by God. He is said to be righteous, but it is important to note that he found favor in the eyes of the Lord. God made the choice first.

The rest of the world on the other hand was not so righteous. “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence.” (11) As we saw last week, every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. It’s not that the thoughts were evil all the time, but even every inclination of the thoughts. Evil was in people in every facet of their being. There was not one drop of good in them. This passage extends the problem to the whole earth. The whole earth was corrupt in God’s sight. The earth had deviated from God’s design. It was corrupted by the sin of man and filled with violence. God had blessed mankind with the charge to fill the earth, but instead they filled the earth with blood. Violence was rampant, and the earth soaked in more and more blood. The good soil became dirty with blood and its purpose was twisted. The earth became corrupt and dark. The light of God was nowhere to be seen. This past week saw two violent tragedies. One was the killing of a Chicago police officer, who was buried yesterday. Commander Paul Bauer was downtown helping other officers chase a suspect carrying a gun. The suspect shot and killed Cmdr. Bauer. The suspect was apprehended and taken to jail, when he arrived in jail, the suspect received cheers from the other prisoners. The other violence that we saw was on Wednesday, a 19-year-old man open fire at a high school in Florida, killing 17. It is the latest in a long line of school shootings. Young, innocent lives were taken because of the violence in one person’s heart. Our times are filled with violence, just like in the days of Noah.

In Noah’s time, though, God had an idea. “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.’” (13) Just like it was mentioned in last week’s passage, God made a plan to destroy all the evil people because of the sin and violence that had run uncontrolled over all the earth. Meaningless death was everywhere, and sin was infecting all of creation, so God wanted to wipe the slate clean. He told Noah his idea and even gave Noah a plan to carry out.

He said to Noah, “So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out.” (14) God told Noah to build an ark. An ark is a big box that carries things, and in this case, it would carry the hope of the world. God tells Noah to make the ark out of cypress wood, which is a wood that is good for building boats and has good decay resistance. This box would be big enough to have rooms in it and it would be coated with pitch inside and out. This box would be totally waterproof, which is helpful for its purpose of being a boat. The Lord would give Noah very specific instructions on how to build the ark, which is important because Noah never built a boat before.

God told Noah, “This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high. Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks.” (15-16) God gives Noah the dimensions of the ark. It was to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high or about 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high. That is a volume of 1.5 million cubic feet or 101,250 square feet of floor space. For comparison, the Willis Tower has 4.5 million square feet of floor space and the Field Museum has 480,000 square feet of exhibition space or about the floor space of one Home Depot or Target. In terms of ships, the longest ship ever was the Seawise Giant at over 1500 feet in length, but it was retired in 2009. The largest passenger ship the Symphony of the Seas and is almost 1200 feet in length.

Those are massive ships, but let’s look at something a little more similar. The largest wooden ship ever was the schooner Wyoming that sailed from 1909-1924. Interestingly enough, the Wyoming was also 450 feet long. It was also 50.1 feet wide and 30 feet from the water line to the keel. Because of the Wyoming’s size, it had a tendency to flex and twist in bad conditions. The only way we have been able to make a bigger boat was to move to steel construction. You can see that God knew what he was doing when designing the ark. He made it as big as it needed to be and as big as it could be. There are some differences between the Wyoming and the ark. While the Wyoming was a typical ship shape, the ark was a flat-bottomed boat like a barge. The Wyoming, like most ships, needed to be steered and controlled because they were going somewhere. The ark was intended to ride out the coming flood and had no need to control its destination. It just needed to be a box that floats to keep its contents alive until the flooding receded. There is no rudder or sails to control its direction. The flat-bottomed nature of the ark possibly also prevented the twisting and bending the Wyoming experienced. There is one other thing to note about the dimensions of the ark. In other narratives about a flood, the hero makes a boat to escape, but the dimensions of the boat are strange and not seaworthy. In the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh, the hero Utnapishtim built a boat that is a perfect cube. If that were built, it would sink. However, the Biblical account of Noah shows a ship that is truly seaworthy and gives credence of its trustworthiness.

Like I mentioned before, there were a number of stories in the Middle East about a cataclysmic flood, wiping out the world. There might be some questions about which of these stories is the right one. If there are enough legend about a flood, there must be some truth to it, and if there is truth to it, then one of these accounts must be more truthful than the others. Moses, who wrote Genesis, probably hear about some of these other stories. He may have been familiar with them without actually knowing any detail about them. Some may have been written before Genesis, but that doesn’t make them truthful. They may have all started from the same point, but they deviated. Many made the survivor the hero, but God is the hero of Noah’s Ark, and the ship is seaworthy in Genesis, unlike the other narratives. This gives a lot of weight to the Biblical account of the flood, showing it to be trustworthy.

Besides the dimensions of the ark, God gave other instructions about it. It was to have a roof with an opening all around the top, just below the roof. It was like the walls stopping except for some posts that held up the roof. On top of that the ark had three decks and a door in the side to get inside the ark. These details allowed Noah and the ark’s other inhabitants to fully utilize the space. But why did God tell Noah to build the ark? All that we know at this point is that God was going to destroy the earth and wipe everybody out. But he tells Noah more, “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.” God tells Noah to build the ark because he was going to send a flood to destroy everything. All life would cease in the flood – all people, all animals and all plants would be wiped out. God was going to wash the earth clean and start over.

But starting over would not mean creating from scratch. God continues to tell Noah, “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. You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. 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. You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.” (18-21) God did not just call Noah to build the ark. Noah was to go into it with his family, along with a remnant of the animals, two of each kind. Noah would become the seed of humanity from where all humanity would spring once more. It was a heady thing to think about. God was going to establish a promise with Noah about the enduringness of mankind. That promise would pass from Noah to his sons, down the line until it reaches even us, but it all starts with Noah. He would enter the ark and take hold of God’s promise.

At the end of the passage, there are but a few simple words, “Noah did everything just as God commanded him.” (22) They are eight simple words with profound implications. Noah did everything just as God commanded him. He was told to build a ship, and he built a ship. He had no prior knowledge of how to build a ship, but he did. It is thought that where Noah built the ark was nowhere near any body of water, but he built a ship, nonetheless. Noah would have had to do everything when building a ship. Even though it was the size of a Home Depot, there was no Home Depot around to get materials. Noah would have to cut down the trees that were required to build it. He would have to source the nails to hold it together and fashion the tools. Noah had to do it all.

On top of all that, the passage says that all other people in the time were just wicked. They were all evil all the time. It must have been hard for Noah to build the ark in such an environment. He was probably ridiculed for his actions. He must have seemed foolish to everyone else. Here he was, Noah, building a massive ship in the middle of the wilderness, miles from any respectable body of water. This wasn’t some small fishing boat. It would probably would have been one of the largest structures of the time. Because of that, Noah may have been a target of the contemptable people around him. He may have been attacked during the construction of the ark. No matter what happened to Noah during the construction, it may have been hard for Noah to continue on. We find out in the next chapter that it took Noah 100 years to build the ark. Days and days pass buy and Noah soldiers on with the construction of the massive ship in the middle of nowhere, but he continued to do as the Lord instructed. It must have taken a tremendous amount of faith to continue and not despair. Noah knew that all the people around him would die in a flood, but for 100 years, the waters did not rise. He could have wondered if he should continue building. He could have wondered if he was doing the right thing. He could have doubted if the flood was even ever going to come. All the meanwhile, Noah needed to provide for his family. He had to work the ground, so his family could eat, but Noah did everything as God commanded him. They are small words, but they carry so much weight.

In the famous passage about faith in Hebrews 11, the author of Hebrews writes of Noah, “By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.” (Hebrews 11:7) It was by faith that Noah built the ark. He trusted in the unseen God and followed his instruction to the very end. Through Noah’s actions, the world was condemned, and he became the heir of righteousness because of his faith. This is keeping with the thought that the righteous would live by faith. Noah was righteous because of his faith in God and his actions in building the ark show that he had faith. Just think of how we are. It is difficult for us to keep soldiering on to do things for a short period of time. We get tired and wonder if it is all worth it. We have been having worship service here for eleven years and during that time, there hasn’t been a massive movement. We haven’t seen droves coming to Christ and it gets tiring sometimes. Week after week, we are here sharing God’s word by faith, but Noah did that for 100 years. He endured and soldiered on for a century.

Through faith, wood and water humanity would find salvation through Noah and his ark, and that makes this story a prototype of Jesus and the cross. Through the gospel message of Jesus and the cross, we have salvation through faith, wood and water. We have faith that Jesus died for our sins on the cross, a wooden cross, and it is by baptism that we identify ourselves as his followers. Noah is in some ways like Jesus. The whole world was saved through Noah and his obedience to build the ark. Plus, the ark is like the cross. When Noah entered the ark, there was hope of salvation for all who would come after him. When Jesus hung on the cross, there is hope of salvation for all who could come to believe in him. It is not a perfect comparison, because salvation had to happen again, through a different message, but that is why Noah and the ark are merely a prototype of Jesus and the cross, but we will see more about this in later passages.

In the meantime, we can see Noah’s faith in building this massive ark, in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by evil. It was not an easy task for Noah to build the ark, but it can serve as an example to us in how to endure holding on to our faith in hard and troubling times. Just like in Noah’s time, the world is filled with hatred and violence. It can be tempting to fall in with likes of the people of the world. We can give in to hatred, but Christ calls us to love even our enemies, especially our enemies. It is by this love that we identify ourselves as Christian. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) It is not an easy task for us to love the people that ridicule us, but Jesus loved us when we ridiculed him. Jesus died for us, even though violence filled our hearts. By holding on to our faith in Jesus, he changes us and helps us to endure and thrive in this life. Fear no longer holds us back, but we can proclaim our faith because we have examples in Jesus and Noah. The ark isn’t a cute little story. It is a story of death and judgment of the evil in the world, but it is also hope because of Noah. We live on the other side of the flood and because of Noah’s devotion and faith, we are here to have faith in Jesus. It is hope of faith, hope of endurance and hope of a new life. The hope of the world was held in a massive, but tiny ark.

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