We had our floors refinished last year. They were showing the wear of five kids over twenty-two years. While we were at it, we changed the stain from dark to light. Oh my. It was hard to walk on them at first. They were so gorgeous, I forgot what floors were for. After scolding about taking shoes off and constantly wiping up, I realized, floors are just floors, after all. Not furniture. Not treasure.
God’s do-over with Noah and the flood has the same sort of feeling for me at the end, hoping that people will make good on his investment. Hoping they’ll rise up. But God knows all along—people are just people.
[Note: if you’re following the One Year Bible reading schedule, I’ve included Genesis 6-7 in today’s comments in order to cover the whole story of Noah.]
It’s no coincidence that the story of a great flood exists in nearly every ancient culture. It makes sense, because all people on the face of the earth are descended from Noah’s three sons, Ham, Shem, and Japheth, (http://answersingenesis.org/noahs-flood/).
There are about 1500 years after Adam and Eve sinned before Noah comes along and God brings the flood. God’s so grieved by the rampant wickedness of mankind by then that he decides to bring judgment on the whole earth. “The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the Lord said, ‘I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth,” Ge 6:6-7.
Sexual sin was prevalent as was demonic activity (implied in Genesis 6:1-4), but the wickedness of that time included more than that. The whole earth was “corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence.” What seems to grieve God most is that “every inclination of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil all the time,” Ge 6:5, 11-12, (http://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/genesis-6/).
By the time of the flood when Noah is 600 years old, the number of righteous people on the earth had dwindled down to one–himself, “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” He was righteous and blameless among the people of his day, “and he walked with God,” Ge 6:8-9. Noah wasn’t perfect, as is seen after the flood, but he still had God’s favor. When God considered wiping the world clean and starting over, Noah and his family were the ones he chose to start over with, Ge 6:18.
Peter says that Noah was “a preacher of righteousness” to his generation, 2 Pe 2:5. Not only did Noah walk with God himself, he spoke to others about the coming judgment. Sadly, he had no converts, as there was no one else saved in the ark. No one came along with him except his wife, their three sons, and their wives. Jesus said that in the days of Noah, no one had any idea what was up. They were still feasting and marrying and living it up when the rains came, Mt 24:37-39.
What’s most remarkable to me about Noah is his simple obedience to do exactly what God tells him to do. He didn’t live near a large enough body of water to float the ark, but he began to build it just the same. How would it get into water–and where? He had to wonder. Many scholars believe that it hadn’t even rained to speak of until the flood, so when God tells Noah to build an ark because he’s going to “bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens…,” Noah likely had no idea what “floodwaters” even were, (http://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/genesis-6/).
But he asks no questions.
God tells him to make an ark of cypress wood and to make rooms in it and to cover it with pitch inside and out. He gives Noah the overall dimensions and says to make a roof and to leave an 18 inch opening all around between the walls and the roof, presumably for windows and ventilation. He’s to put a door in the side and make lower, middle, and upper decks. And that’s it. This is all God gives Noah by way of blueprints, Ge 6:14-17.
God says he will make a covenant with him, but he doesn’t say more about this until after the floodwaters dry up, Ge 6:18. And then God tells him to bring two of every kind of creature with him, male and female, plus enough food for them and for himself and his family. The creatures will “come to you to be kept alive,” Ge 6:19-21.
If Noah’s troubled thus far about what God’s asking him to do, the Bible doesn’t say. Noah doesn’t complain. In fact, there aren’t any recorded words of Noah at all until after the floodwaters dry up. He just gets to work building, and it takes him maybe 70 years to finish. Noah’s response to God was to “do everything just as God commanded him,” Ge 6:22, (arkencounter.com/blog/2011/11/18/how-long-for-noah-to-build-the-ark/).
This is a patient, hardworking, faithful man beyond anyone I’ve ever known. I’m trying to wrap my head around how it would feel to be the only person I know outside of my family who knows God. Just this would be very hard. But no one listening to what I say about him would feel embarrassing, shaming, too. I’m guessing Noah had no friends or social life.
Then there’s the work itself. How would it feel to begin a project like this? And how would it feel in year, say, 37 when you wonder if this is the only thing you’ll ever have to show for your life–an enormous, landlocked barge and your fame as the butt of the jokes in town? How would it feel to be given a task of this magnitude with so little in the way of conversation and direction about it, let alone what it would cost in terms of time and money?
How did Noah put his head down and get ‘er done? I’m guessing it had to do with what we’re first told about him: Noah “walked with God,” Ge 6:9. And because he walked with God, he knew him, he talked to him, he trusted him. And he had to believe that if God wanted him to spend all his time building an ark, then building the ark was the best thing he could do, regardless of what the rest of the world thought, regardless of what he might rather do instead, and regardless of what it cost him.
A faithful life isn’t flashy. It’s not looking for a ministry to build a name. It’s not having thousands of followers or concern for having any followers at all. It’s believing in God and doing what he says. It’s trusting that the life that’s been given is the very best life one can have, including all of its troubles and challenges. It’s honoring God and taking the low road for one’s self, the humble path. This is what Jesus did, after all. The way he described himself was “I am gentle and humble of heart,” Mt 11:29.
I’m guessing that a healthy dose of fear of the coming judgment would have been part of what motivated Noah to get up every morning. Believing that God will do what he’s said and “put an end to all people” would’ve been a compelling reason to work hard day after month after year. Noah’s got saving his family in mind as well as himself.
As far as the amount of room inside the ark goes, it’s been estimated that there would have been enough room for two of every kind of animal and all their food in a vessel only half the size of the ark. So there was plenty of room for animals and people plus room for the reproduction that likely came, (http://creation.com/how-did-all-the-animals-fit-on-noahs-ark-creation-magazine)
But I’m not really all that interested in these sorts of details, though I’m glad to know about them. What jazzes me about the story is watching God. He’s grieved and brokenhearted about mankind. Their wickedness moves him. He’s not some detached God, doing his cloud riding shenanigans with the cherubim, unconcerned for what’s going on in the world he’s created. No. He’s watching. He’s grieved. And he’s hacked, Ge 6:3, 5-7, 11-13.
In the Bible’s words, “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become…,” he “was grieved,” and “his heart was filled with pain….” He said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth–men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air–for I am grieved that I have made them,” Ge 6:6-7. “God saw how corrupt the earth had become…,” and he said, “I am going to put an end to all people….” God saw because he was watching. God saw because he cares about the people he’s made, Ge 6:12-13.
Why is God grieved? I’m guessing because he doesn’t like watching people hurting people. If sin actually made people happy, if it could do us any good at all, then God would be a killjoy to complain about it and judge.
But he knows it doesn’t have the power to do good. Only he does. He invented all the good stuff, after all. And this is God’s world. He knows the best way to live in it. For him to let people go their own way, doing their own thing without him, and not make any effort to bring them to himself, well, that would be a kind of hatred.
God has plans to intervene in Noah’s day, because mankind is literally about to miss the boat. He gives Noah a heads’ up so that he can set about to build the barge, and so he has plenty of time to tell everyone what’s coming. God “waited patiently” while Noah built the ark and preached, “but only a few people went into the ark. In fact, there were only eight,” 1 Pe 3:20, NIRV.
And I have to wonder why he bothers saving those eight? I mean, why not just wipe them all out? After the flood recedes and the land dries, there’s still plenty of sin to be had. God repeats the same words he said before the flood, almost word for word, afterwards, that “every inclination of [man’s] heart is evil from childhood.” He knows what’s up. Noah gets drunk and his son, Ham, makes fun of him and disrespects him in front of the family–maybe something even worse, the text isn’t clear about what really happened, Ge 8:21; 9:20-24.
God knew the flood wouldn’t get rid of the sin each of them carried in their hearts. So why save any of them? What’s the point? Won’t this group do the very same thing that Adam and Eve and their kids did? Yes. God knows.
So what makes this do-over worthwhile? Maybe God’s thinking that this time, the folks who got off the ark have a story to tell that will knock the socks off of everybody who’s born after the fact. It would be hard to believe, but easy to prove with a quick look up Mt Ararat.
And what’s the story? That they lived through a worldwide flood? Yes, but that’s really only the second half of the story, the good half, the redemptive half. The first half is a dark tale of unimaginable evil and sin, and what God did about it.
There’s nothing like a little reality check about God’s very real judgment of wickedness to make folks sit up and take notice, right? Maybe God is thinking this is what Adam and Eve didn’t get–a story of other people’s sin and his judgment of it before the serpent came along.
But their kids were told what happened. And look how they turned out. Their firstborn Cain kills their second born Abel. Stories of sin and judgment don’t seem to do a good job changing anyone.
After the flood, Noah comes out of the ark and builds an altar, sacrificing some of the clean animals and birds in thanksgiving to God. They’ve just lived through an extraordinary miracle and it must be an overwhelming thing to simply be standing on dry ground again (the things we take for granted until we don’t have them), Ge 8:18-20.
God smells the “pleasing aroma” of the sacrifice and said in his heart that he’d never again curse the earth because of man, and he’d never again destroy all his creatures. “‘As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease,'” Ge 8:21-22. God makes what sounds like a promise to himself and his creation first, that he won’t take the earth and animals through anything like that again.
And then he blesses Noah and his sons and tells them to “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth,” the very same words he’d said to Adam and Eve. It’s a new day in a brand new creation, a do-over day. God tells them they can eat meat, whereas before he’d only allowed people to eat plants. And he puts fear of man into creatures, to make hunting fair to the animals, of course, Ge 9:1-3.
God then establishes his covenant with Noah and his sons, the covenant he mentioned before the flood. He includes the animals in the covenant, “every living creature on earth,” a little surprise I’d never noticed before. He says, “Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood, never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And he says the rainbow is the sign of the covenant “…I have established between me and all life on the earth,” Ge 9:8-17.
Whenever he sees the rainbow in the clouds, he says he’ll remember his covenant with life on earth. There’s a rainbow that surrounds God’s throne in heaven now. I’m guessing he’s thinking of life on earth pretty much all the time, Re 4:3.
I’d love to end on that note, the rainbow and God’s throne and a bright shiny new day in paradise. But it’s in the very next scene that Noah gets drunk and the business about seeing him naked comes up, and Noah curses Ham’s family line, saying they will be slaves to their brothers, Ge 9:20-27.
And that’s pretty much it. Chapter 10 tells about the descendants of these three sons that “spread out over the earth after the flood” and become all the nations, Ge 10:32. And I’m so disappointed. I don’t want to end with thoughts of Noah’s depravity or his son’s impending slavery and the lists of unknown people with strange names in chapter 10 like Arphaxad and Peleg and Uz.
What gives, God?
I remember my earlier thought, why does God bother with Noah? If he knows that saving people out of wickedness leads to more wickedness, why does God bother with us?
If God knew all that would happen after the flood (and he did), and he still went through with it, then the goal wasn’t to make anybody good. Because that didn’t work. It would have to be because he just wanted to. He wanted to save Noah and his family and to begin again with people. It was for love that God chose to suffer Adam and Eve. He had to know before he made them that they’d eat the fruit. And it was for love that he chose to do it all over again with Noah. He could so easily have said “The End” instead of “Let’s try this again.”
We were worth it to God to suffer for.
All of the helping God does, all of the bailing out and forgiving, all of the saving and healing for all of our backsliding and repenting, our failing and forgetting, all of it becomes a grand chorus that loudly and emphatically says the same thing only with different words and different voices, “GOD. We are a mess, but YOU are glorious!”
And I think about Jesus, the “gentle and humble” Savior, and I realize that this is who God is. This is why he can suffer us. I’ve been pondering and pondering this very thing for years and have been unsuccessful understanding why God bothers with people. But something is making my heart skip a beat: Jesus told Philip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father,” Jn 14:9.
God is humble?!
This is why he can endure so much from us. This is how he can suffer us and forgive us and keep reaching out in love to us again and again. He’s not stuffy and pious and hard to meet. He’s down-to-earth, “poor in spirit,” easy-to-reach. How else can he receive such crummy prayers and praise from us?
God’s last word on Noah isn’t his drunkennes. He’s listed in the “hall of fame” of faith in the New Testament with Abraham, Joseph, Moses and others, for “By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith,” He 11:7. He’s also mentioned by God in Ezekiel as being one of three great men of faith: “…Noah, Daniel and Job…,” Ez 14:14. This is high praise. And it makes my heart tight, this love of God for this faithful servant, who wasn’t perfect and didn’t claim any goodness apart from faith.
Pleasing God has never been about being good enough. It’s always been about God’s goodness covering us, caring for us, taking us safely through the judgment we deserve like the ark that carried a family and their creature friends through a flood. God carries us safely into new life with him, where do-overs happen every time we say, “God, help!”
[If you’re interested in well written, compelling evidence for an actual, historical Noah and the Genesis flood, you might like the articles at the links above. Some believe the flood is a fairy tale, but Jesus thought it really happened. That’s enough for me. See Mt 24:37-39.]
Like David, I need God’s answer, relief, mercy, and listening ear. These are things that give me life. I try to find life elsewhere, but nothing else meets longings as deep as these. “Delusions” and “false gods” don’t satisfy, v 1-2.
David gives advice about how to come to God in verse 4. He says:
–“Tremble and do not sin,” Repentance is turning away from sin. It’s not just stopping wrong behavior, an act of the will. It’s also turning from it in the heart and hating it. Trembling can be an emotional/physical response in repentance that comes from standing before a holy God, needing mercy once again.
–“When you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.” Sober, self-reflection can be good for the soul. “Silent” might mean not asking or speaking, but it could also mean not objecting to the thoughts that come up, not rationalizing my behavior in the day. If I have troubling thoughts, maybe I should enter them rather than block them out, my go-to. I can ask God to calm me with a fresh sense of his love, so that I’m open to what he has to say.
–“Offer the sacrifices of the righteous.” The sacrifices of the righteous are “a broken spirit…and contrite heart.” David says God won’t despise these, Ps 51:17. The focus is on the heart, not the behavior. Behavior comes from the heart.
–“Trust in the Lord.” My confidence and hope in life isn’t in my being good and finally getting it right. It’s in Jesus’ goodness for me that makes me right with God. Having that, I can enjoy his company, soak in his love, and get cleaned up inside by his Spirit so that I want to do what pleases him for love, not for duty or shame. When my heart trusts, obeying is delight.
Next, David says what God’s idea of prosperity is:
–to have God’s face “shining on us”—his presence and pleasure in us, v 6;
–to be so full of him that I can feel joy when others prosper materially, v 7;
–to have the rich peace he provides regardless of circumstances, v 8;
–to have the sleep he gives in complete safety, v 8.
These are blessings that money can’t buy.
Thank you, God, for providing both repentance and true prosperity, and for not charging a penny for them. Carve out the bitterness in my heart I can feel when I see my enemy prosper. Make it soft and empty, so you can fill me full of yourself, a fullness I can’t buy anywhere else.
“Let the light of your face shine on us.
Fill my heart with joy when their
grain and new wine abound.
In peace I will lie down and sleep
for you alone, Lord,
make me dwell in safety.”
My take away today is the ark, your lifeboat that carries me through floods and storms and in and out of all my days. You know my ways.
I’m really glad that making Noah perfect wasn’t the goal of your do-over, and that you weren’t surprised by sin in his kids. Thanks for saving them because you loved them, not because they were going to be “good fish” after they came through the flood.
Thank you for using the flood to show me how you take care of those who believe you and want to serve you, even when they mess up. Thanks for not being surprised about the mess ups. I’m glad that what you want are people who despair of being perfect and look to you in faith instead, letting you do the perfecting work by your Spirit, just like Noah did.