Story: Noah's Ark
In most of our minds, the classic fairy tales always begin with “once upon a time” and end with “and they lived happily ever after.” However, most fairy tales in their original forms do not have happy endings. Many of the stories written down by Hans Christian Anderson or complied by the Brothers Grimm would be considered too dark and violent for children today. Many of these stories were originally told to children as morality tales, and so they featured severe consequences for the character’s undesirable behavior. Over the years storybook paraphrases and Disney movies have done a lot to sanitize these stories, and they often replace the downer negative ending with a happier one. For this reason Disney classics like Snow White, The Little Mermaid, the Lion King and Frozen all have much cheerier endings than their source material. In fact for a lot of the classic children stories we know, the actual version is probably quite a bit different than what we know. The Little Mermaid is a good specific example, of a story that I have to really question how it ever became a children’s story in the first place. The actual story is extremely dark and depressing, and they very much do not all live happily ever after. Over the years we have changed these stories to make them friendlier, less controversial, and happier. We have also done the same thing with some stories from the Bible. In the way that we have retold them, we have removed some of the rough edges, some of the harder truths, and sanitized them. If there is one story from the Bible that this has happened to more than any other it is the story of Noah’s Ark. A literary study by the website Openbible determined that Noah’s Ark is the most popular story from the Bible to tell to children. Right now on Amazon.com, there are 770 children’s books available about Noah’s Ark and 80 different playsets. I know we made this story a children’s story because it has animals in it, and it is all of the animals that make this so good for a children’s playset (like the little people one we have). However, it is somewhat odd that this story became a children’s story because it has some dark, uncomfortable elements. For instance, when it comes to sheer body count, this story has more deaths than any other in the bible. Many of us are probably most familiar with the children’s version of this story, so we might be surprised to learn that the story of Noah’s Ark has less to do with animals and more to do with how God relates to humanity.
It needs to be mentioned, that Noah’s Ark is one of the most controversial stories in the Bible. For many of the atheists who want to tear down the Bible, the story of Noah’s Ark is one of their go to targets. Scientifically, there are a lot of problems with this story. Because of this, people who militantly dislike the Bible use it as a way to tear down the whole thing. In response to this those who are proponents of creation science have put a lot of effort into answering these issues and explain how and why the story is true. We could spend a lot of time going on and on about the hows and whys of Noah’s Ark, but in the end we choose to believe the truth of the story or not. I choose to read the bible, including Noah’s Ark, assuming it is true. The details of the story, like how the animals all fit, how species diversification was possible after the flood, or how a global flood is even possible are all up for interpretation. Debating on the details can help us understand a story, but we can also get lost in them. Specifically, we can get so caught up in debating the scientific possibility of the story that we lose sight of what the story is about: Once God used water to render judgement on humanity but chose to spare a man named Noah and his family.
The story of Noah’s Ark can be found in Genesis chapter 6 through 9. It really begins in Genesis 6:5 “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.” I especially like how the New Living Translation continues verse 6, it reads: “So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart.” Did you notice, this is Genesis chapter 6. That’s it. It is only a few pages back that the whole story begins with “In the beginning. . .” It only took humans six chapters to thoroughly mess everything up. We can look around us today, see so many things that are wrong, so many ways it seems that evil is winning, and that sin is rampant. I have to wonder, were things really worse during the times of Noah? “Just how bad was it?” Is a question that makes me curious but also one I do not think I really want to know the answer to. God had originally created people to be in a loving relationship with Him. However, the first people rebelled against God and it seems by the time of Noah this rebellion and abandonment of God had reached full tilt. The relationship, the way the world was intended to work was completely broken. The created had completely abandoned the creator. What was meant for love was now only being used for violence. God as the Creator, decided that ending it would be for the best, and it broke God’s heart. There is hope though because verse 8 records “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.”
We are created with free will to choose God or not and it seems in the days of Noah, just about everyone else but Noah had chosen to reject God. Noah was different though, the bible describes him as “a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God.” As we know God gives him a mission to build a boat, and God provides the exact specifications, including gathering two of every kind of animal. What happens next is one of the most loaded sentences in the Bible. Verse 22 records: “Noah did everything just as God commanded him.” There is a lot packed into that one small sentence. We are later told that Moses was 600 years old when the flood started, but we have no idea how old he was when he started. However, to build a boat, a big boat by hand, had to take a long time. It was not like he had machines that we had today. A few years ago, a couple of friends took on the project of building their own sailing yacht by hand. Their boat was 53 feet long, and it took them an estimated 12,000 man hours to make. The boat that Noah made was approximately 450 feet long. Presumably Noah had the help of his sons, but even if Noah quit whatever his job was and devoted himself completely to boat building, it would have been a long process. Can you imagine the decision, the name calling, and the scorn that Noah must have endured taking on a project, that his neighbors probably viewed as crazy? Despite the time commitment, despite the personal investment, and the ridicule Noah did it. Noah was faithful as God commanded him.
We know what happened next, it started to rain. One of the details that all of the children stories get right is that it rained for 40 days and 40 nights. Not only did it rain, but the bible says the springs of the deep burst forth. Water came up out of the ground as well. The earth was flooded, and “everything that had the breath of life” died. Everything but those that God had saved on the Ark. We often remember the 40 days and 40 nights, but we do not realize just how long Noah was on the ark. All said, from the time the rain started until they got off the boat a whole year had passed.
Once the year had passed and the waters had all receded, God told Noah to come off the ark. Once getting off the ark, Noah makes a sacrifice to God- which probably explains why we do not have unicorns anymore. God then makes a promise in verse 22 “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat summer and winter day and night will never cease. The world will never be destroyed by water again, and the rainbow is given new significance as a reminder of that promise.
This well-known story teaches us two things about God, and specifically about how we should relate to God. The first is that we should fear God. In fact the bible tells us this over 300 times. Often time we reduce God to some sort of jovial grandfather figure, who is all about making us happy. We forget that God has the power to create and the power to destroy. Often when we think of fear, we think of horror. We think of the things that scare us the most. Things like the dark, like height, like spiders, and scariest of all: clowns. That is not the meaning here. The Hebrew word used for fear here is more than scared type of fear. The word conveys more than fear, it also conveys awe, wonder, and reverence. A good way to think about it is like this. Years ago, I was a counselor at church camp. It was the last night of camp and the director decided it would be great if the entire camp slept together outside, under the stars. I did not sleep much that night. The sky was perfectly clear, the closest light source was miles away. I have never seen that many stars or seen the stars that brightly. I do not know of any of you have ever that experience to see the sky like that, but it is incredible beyond words. I could not sleep because I did not want to close my eyes, I did not want to turn away from the beauty of it. That night though I also understood what it meant to fear the Lord. I was in awe of the creation that was laid before me. I could literally see thousands of stars in all of their glory and radiance, and I knew that God had created every single one of them, placed each of them exactly where he wanted them in the sky, and knew every detail about all of them. In the grand scheme of all of the universe that I could see that night, earth felt very, very small. Then when I considered the fact that I was just one person out of seven billion on this very, very small planet well then I felt very, very, very small. Yet, I then considered that the God that created all of those stars has to be bigger and greater than the universe. When I compare the size and scope to me and God it does not even compare. It is like a skyscraper stacked up against a tick. More than that though, if I found the universe to be great, then God must be greater. if I found the stars awe inspiring to be hold, God must be more awe-inspiring. If I found the night sky to be truly beautiful, then God the creator of it all must be more beautiful yet. To realize that God is that great, that God is that powerful, that God is that wonderful, and that beautiful; that is what it means to fear God. Proverbs 9:10 says, “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom.” Fear of the Lord does not mean we cower before a capricious and vengeful God, but it means we keep things in perspective and revere God for His greatness.
The second thing this story teaches us about God, is how much God wants to love and be in relationship with people. That is why we were created. God, as the creator, had every right to pull the plug on humanity when we went off the rails in the time of Noah. Yet because God found one righteous person, we endure. This is a pattern throughout the bible. Time and time again God spares divine judgement just for the sake of a handful (or even a couple) of people who are righteous. It is worth mentioning that these people were often not super saints, they are simply people who acknowledge God, who respect God, who fear God. Time and time again, in the Bible God is willing to forgive the most grievous sins and great unfaithfulness.
God created people to be in relationship with him, but we rebelled. Because of God’s great love, the flood was the end. The great flood was something of a rain delay, a reset button, but people still rebelled against God. This time though, instead of destroying the world, out of God’s great love, God save the world. As we all know John 3:16 states “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” No matter how awful the world gets, God does not have to destroy it again because God has already saved it.
In 1 Peter 3:20, Peter makes the connection that water is both destructive and life giving. He points out that through the water of the flood only eight people are saved. Yet through the water of baptism, and the love of God that the water represents, many are saved. We may not get all of the details right in the children books about Noah’s Ark that we read, but we should keep reading them because the truth of the story remains. The controversy that surrounds the scientific accuracy of the story will endure, but that does not change the truth of the story. The truth is that our God is great enough to destroy the world by water, by fire, or by any means God chooses. We should keep that in mind and treat God with the respect and reverence that God deserves, but the greater truth is that despite our continued wickedness God chose to save the world rather than destroy it. And that is something we can be eternally thankful for.