TIMING: Potentially corroborated by geological data of flooding related to melting ice caps around 5600 B.C. (http://www.nytimes.com/library/national/science/010599sci-black-sea-flood.html).
REASON TO READ: This epic story has the sort of excitement that movies are made of. My personal favorite is Evan Almighty which does not try to be historically accurate but rather captures the spirit of how crazy Noah must have felt to build his ark.
BRIEF SUMMARY: The world had become so evil that God wanted to purge the world of its evil and start over. He tells Noah about His plan and tells him to build an ark so that he can survive the impending flood. Noah listens to God and builds an ark on land despite the ridicule from the people around him for the decades it took him to build it. He brings his wife, three sons, their wives, seven of every clean animal, two of every unclean animal, and seven of each type of bird. God brings rain upon the earth that lasts 40 days and 40 nights so that everyone on the ark is saved and everyone else perishes. Noah sends out a raven that does not return. He sends out a dove three times: the first time it returns empty-beaked, the second time it comes back with an olive leaf, and the third time it does not return. This is Noah’s sign that it is safe to leave the ark with his family and the animals that came with him.
HOW THIS FITS IN THE TOP TEN: We as Christians are asked to be different from the world around us. This is uncomfortable sometimes. There is no better story in the Bible to put our lives into perspective than Noah, who is asked to do something much more ridiculous than eat a vegan sandwich for lunch during lent, politely decline a cigarette, avoid social engagements on Sunday morning, or any of the other things we feel make us “stand out too much.” First and foremost, we must use Noah as an example of embracing God’s will even when it makes us feel silly.
An academic significance of this story is that in addition to being a descendant of Adam, we are also descendants of Noah. No other human beings survived the flood so any genealogy traced back enough (e.g. Luke 3:23-38) must include Noah and one of his sons. In trying to construct the Bible in our heads chronologically this is important to remember because if everyone is a descendant of Noah then other important genealogical figures (e.g. Abraham, David, etc.) must have come after Noah or else being a descendant of Abraham or a son of David would be meaningless.
From a spiritual standpoint, we see how God cares for those whom He loves. Yes, we also see the wrath of God, but we know that God also promised never to eradicate all of the earth’s inhabitants again. God loved Noah because Noah loved God; Noah loved God because God loved Noah first. This reciprocal relationship of love is maintained despite being after the fall of Adam. This is significant because we also live in this fallen world and if we put ourselves in Noah’s shoes we must ask “would I have done what he did?” I’m not sure if I would have had the same faith that Noah had so that he “moved with godly fear ... and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (Hebrews 11:7). Personally, I think if it weren’t for the Church and the positive peer pressure of my friends and mentors I would not have the same relationship with God.
This brings us to the metaphorical interpretation of Noah’s Ark as a symbol of the Church. God is the one who told Noah to build the ark, just as He told the apostles to build the Church - this speaks to the importance of Church Tradition. God is also the one who closes the door of the ark and protects Noah and those who are with him - this speaks to the presence of the Holy Spirit in our worship and God’s care in protecting His children inside the Church. The ark is in the flood but the flood is not in the ark, just as the Church is in the world but the world is not in the Church. We have the Church as a refuge from the world as Noah had the ark as a refuge from the flood. In the Church there is life and salvation from the flood of sin in the world.
Now that we have put Noah on this pedestal of faith, let us remember that despite his faith he was not perfect in every way. In chapter 9 of Genesis, Noah gets drunk and “becomes uncovered in his tent.” His middle son, Ham, who happens to be the father of Canaan, sees his father naked and in doing so earns a curse from his father. The other two brothers, Shem (the ancestor of Christ) and Japheth, “took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and went backward and covered the nakedness of their father.” This earned them a blessing from their father that made Ham and his descendants subservient to them and their descendants. What we take away from these events is that in saving humanity God is not looking for perfection. He was looking for repentance and a people that despite their shortcomings are still inclined to seek a relationship with Him.
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