I’m teaching the Old Testament at Lander University and I am also teaching it at our church this Fall. As I prepare, I am noticing many things about the Old Testament that are misunderstood. One of them is that Noah and the Ark is not a children’s story. It’s a story for all of us. It’s deeper than rain and animals. It has to do with the fact that God takes sin seriously.
Adam and Eve sinned and were banished from the Garden. Their son, Cain, killed their other son, Abel. After this event, God blesses them with another son. When Eve births another son, Seth (Gen. 4:25), solemnity is slowing taking over. Seth’s birth gives a subtle indication of deeper things transpiring with Mankind.
While the first people were made in the image of God, Seth is curiously described as a son in Adam’s “own likeness, after his image” (Gen. 5:3). On the external level, this reveals that Seth’s appearance is similar to that of his father’s. This phrase possibly also acknowledges the fact that these following generations are more and more marred by the curse of sin first seen in the father Adam.
This sinful nature and Adamic likeness grows. Sin continues to pervert, distort, and destroy what is good in God’s creation. Evil increases greatly, and God becomes evermore grieved over Mankind. God begins to impose an age limit of 120 years (Gen. 6:3) except for a few unique exceptions (Abraham lives to 175, Gen. 25:7).
Further, God declares that he is going to destroy his Creation which was good before sin corrupted it. “‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.’ But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD'” (Gen. 6:7-8). The fact that God feels “sorry” does not indicate that he is now aware of something he didn’t see coming and he wish he would have never done it in the first place. God foreknew all that had transpired and all that would transpire. The actualization of enduring Mankind’s sinfulness produces a different type of grief within God than previously described.
Noah is the exception here. Chosen by God for a specific task, Noah “was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God” (Gen. 6:9). God’s wrath was coming for earth ever so filled with violence and corruption (Gen. 6:11-12). To save himself, his family, and a remnant of animals, God instructed Noah to build an ark that could sustain the coming wrath of God (Gen. 6:14-22).
Noah and the Ark was never intended to be a mere children’s story.
This account reveals the severity of God’s wrath. In an attempt to get children interested into biblical stories, many adults will focus on stories with animals or courageous feats by adults. Out of all the biblical truths that could make themselves into nursery decor, for some reason, the story of Noah and the Ark has succeeded to the top of the list as a marketable yet spiritual alternative to other themes.
In numerous nurseries, children are rocked to sleep and ask the question, “Mommy, why are all those animals getting on that boat?”
“Well, honey, God was about to drown all living creatures on earth. Sleep tight, tonight. And don’t worry about that sound outside, it’s only rain.”
The Ark is not a cute story revealing that God is an animal lover. The Ark is not a story used in study because children can make entertaining rain sounds while telling it. The Ark should call all people to stand in fear of a just God who takes sin very seriously. When someone sins, someone has to die. And Noah did not avoid or escape the wrath of God. The Ark took the wrath of God in Noah’s place. Its side was battered by the wind and the waves. It had to endure the relentless pounding of the rain. That boat was never the same after 40 days and 40 nights of a God-sized storm of that magnitude (Gen. 7:12).
“He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark” (Gen. 7:23). Noah’s family and the pairs of animals descend from the boat safe (Gen. 8:16-17) after 150 days of waiting for the water to retreat (Gen. 7:24). God gives Earth a second chance by commanding the world’s remnant to “be fruitful and multiply on the earth” (Gen. 8:17).
After this event, God promises to never destroy the earth again – by flood. “I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Gen. 9:11). Many will misquote this passage saying God will never destroy the earth again. That’s not at all what he said. He said he would not destroy it with water. The Apostle John would later see a vision of a “new heaven and a new earth for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more” (Rev. 21:1).
The sign of the rainbow is placed in the sky as a reminder of God’s promise (Gen. 9:13-15), but it should also remind that while God will not destroy the earth with a flood ever again, there will be a time when he puts an end to this earth in a way in which it will never be able to recover. God’s cause to punish the earth again is reinforced after the Flood in that the most righteous man on earth, Noah, shows a sinful streak some time after. Noah had enough time off of the boat and onto the fertile ground to plant himself a vineyard, become drunk with the wine, and get naked around his family (Gen. 9:20-21).
While one of Noah’s sons, Ham, made light of the situation, his other sons, Shem and Japheth “took a garment, laid it on both of their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness” (Gen. 9:23) which was a good thing since the earth had no counselors remaining after the Flood to help these boys process through such a possible scarring ordeal.
The most righteous man saved from the most wrathful event so far in Mankind’s history, and he is unable to maintain holiness for an extended period of time.
Life after life throughout the pages of Scripture reveals that it is not in Man’s power to obtain holiness. For those who don’t trust the Bible due to a rosy picture painted of all the main characters have not made it through the first few pages.
The most righteous of Creation is still leagues away from the immense holiness required by the standard displayed by the Almighty God.
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Just (About) Married.
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