Greatest Hits: Noah and the Ark

Sunday October 13th 2019

Pastor Galen Zook

Genesis 6:11-22, Matthew 24:36-42

Noah and the Ark

The story of Noah and the Ark is one of the most iconic stories in the Hebrew Bible. The animals proceeding into the ark two by two, the earth covered by the waters of a massive flood, the boat eventually resting on the top of a mountain, and the rainbow as God’s promise never to destroy the Earth with a flood again.

Noah and the Ark makes for a wonderful children’s story, if you downplay the reality that almost every creature on earth was completely wiped out, with the exception of eight people and a pair of every kind of bird and animal. 

Actually, when you stop and imagine it, it’s a rather horrific story. People pounding on the sides of the ark, begging to be let inside as the flood waters rise, houses and villages and whole cities wiped out as the whole world is engulfed by water. Dead creatures floating to the surface and bodies intermingling with broken tree branches and shrapnel. Indescribable devastation.

The Ark as a Picture of Salvation

Christians have historically seen Noah’s ark as a symbol of Salvation, or of the Church. We know that there will be a day of ultimate judgement, and although God promised never to destroy the world with a flood again, as one Gospel song says, “it won’t be water, but fire the next time.” Just as Noah and his family looked to God for their salvation during the day of destruction, so we too can find our hope only in the Lord.

This is the main lesson for us to learn from this story.

Before the Flood Came

But this morning I’d like to focus in on the time before the flood. The time before Noah and his family entered into the ark, before Noah gathered the animals, before there was ever a rainbow or even a cloud in the sky.

We actually don’t know how long it took Noah to build the ark. We know from Genesis chapter 5 that the three sons who came into the ark with him were born after he had turned 500 years old (Gen. 5:32), he was 600 years old when the flood came (Gen. 7:11), and he lived 350 more years after the flood, to the ripe old age of 950 years old (Gen. 9:28). I guess people had better genes back then!

What that means is that Noah had already lived 2/3rd of his life before the flood came. That means it probably took him and his sons decades to build the ark — and if you look at the dimensions of the ark, you can see why. The ark was about 510 feet long — in other words, about 1.5 football fields! Without modern technology and using only hand tools, this would have been an extensive project. 

Not only that, but traveling around the world and gathering up 2 of every kind of bird and animal in the world, figuring out exactly what types of food every animal would need to eat to survive on the ark, and deciding what sorts of pens and cages each animal would need and custom building them to fit on the ark — all of this could easily have been a life-long project.

I can’t help but imagine that somehow Noah had been preparing for this task all of his life, whether he knew it or not. Noah was probably one of those kids with a voracious appetite for learning everything and anything there was to learn. He loved playing with toy boats and animals. When people asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, he had trouble deciding between being a carpenter, architect, nautical engineer, zookeeper, or a vineyard owner. In the end he got to do all of the above!

I’m sure there were days when Noah wondered whether his life had any purpose, any  meaning. Even after God commanded him to build a huge boat, he had to wonder, had he had heard God correctly? Noah and his family probably spent every evening and weekend sawing lumber, hammering nails, and collecting exotic animals. Then they had to wake up early the next morning to work at their regular jobs in order to make ends meet and earn a living. It all probably seemed like a rather absurd hobby to those around them, and I’m sure their friends, neighbors and family members watched with amusement, if not with outright mockery or scorn.

Meanwhile, life continued as normal for everyone around them. Jesus tells us in Matthew 24 that “in those days before the flood [people] were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark” (Matthew 24:38). But Noah wasn’t able to live like everyone else. He couldn’t ignore the warning signs. God had told him what was going to happen and what he needed to do, and Noah was compelled to act. 

Noah – Preacher of Righteousness

The New Testament book of 2nd Peter chapter 2 verse 5 describes Noah as a “preacher” or “herald” of righteousness, or justice. This is interesting, because in the book of Genesis we never hear Noah speak until after the flood. The Genesis account never indicates that Noah warned others to “flee from the wrath that is to come” like John the Baptist did in Luke 3:7. Instead what we see is Noah humbly and obediently carrying out God’s commands, building the ark to the exact dimensions that God laid out, and going around collecting animals and gathering food. 

So how then was Noah a “preacher of righteousness”? I want to propose to us this morning that it was Noah’s actions, rather than his words, that 2 Peter is referring to. As the saying goes, “actions speak louder than words.” There are many people who talk the talk but don’t live the walk. Many people can say a lot of things that sound deep and theological or philosophical, but whose words are not backed up with actions. 

Noah, on the other hand, was different. He didn’t use a lot of empty words. Nor did he seek to conform to the status quo. He wasn’t concerned with following the crowd, with fitting in, with keeping up appearances. Noah marched to the beat of a different drum. He had a higher calling, he was serving a greater purpose. 

There were some days, for sure, where his daily tasks might not have seemed too different from those around him. He went to the hardware store to buy more nails, the lumberyard to pick up more cypress wood, to the library to check out one more book on shipbuilding. But overall his life testified to the work that God was doing in him and through him, and to the world that was watching, Noah’s life screamed of righteousness and justice.

You Can’t Save the World Alone

Some of you might be here this morning, and you wonder what impact you can possibly have on the world.  You see the brokenness and injustice in the world around you. Perhaps there’s a particular issues that burdens or concerns you. Perhaps it’s the slow and steady destruction of the environment. Perhaps it’s the species that are becoming endangered or extinct. Maybe it’s escalating violence or homelessness or drug addiction in our city. Maybe it’s systems that perpetuate pain and injustice that seem to go unchecked. Maybe you’re just particularly burdened and concerned for friends and family members who are struggling with health or financial concerns.

You wonder, when is God going to come back to make everything right? And in the meantime you wonder what can you possibly do? The needs of the world — and even just our city and community — seem so great. 

And yet we have to go to work. We have bills to pay, e-mails to respond to, children or grandchildren to take to school or baseball practice. We have leaves to rake, dishes to wash, and a to-do list that seems to grow by the minute. So how can we possibly save the world?

Well the reality is that we can’t. We couldn’t, even if we had nothing else on our plates. We can’t fix all of the brokenness in the world. Only God can do that. But God can use us, in big and in small ways, each and every day, if only we are faithful to obey God’s commands. 

Maybe on the surface the things God is calling you to do don’t seem that grand. Maybe God hasn’t called you to build a huge boat or to collect two of every kind of animal on the planet. But maybe you can adopt one pet. Maybe God is calling you to sponsor a child who is hungry, or to send a card to a loved-one who is sick. Maybe God is prompting you to take a home-cooked meal to a grieving neighbor, or to invite an international student or a refugee family to join you for Thanksgiving dinner.

Although Noah’s task was enormous, he started small. He picked up a hammer and a nail, and nailed the first two pieces of wood together for the ark. And then he kept at it, and followed God’s instructions until the task was finished. He didn’t try to save every single animal on the planet — just two of every kind. He wasn’t even able to convince everyone in his own town or village or extended family to join him in the ark — only his immediate family members joined him. But he obeyed what God told him to do, and in the end God used him to preserve life on the planet.

“Preachers” of Righteousness

God is calling each of us to be “preachers” of righteousness. Not just with the words we say, but perhaps even more significantly with the lives we live. 

And so let us march to the beat of God’s drum. Let us live lives of honesty and integrity, compassion and justice in a world where such qualities are so often lacking. Let’s show the world that there is a different way to live. Let’s love our neighbors, and even our enemies. Let’s follow God’s commands. And let’s allow our words and deeds to point others to the One who truly can save, heal, and redeem this world, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.