Noah’s name means “rest” or “comfort.” His father Lamech so named him in the hope that “he will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the Lord has cursed” (Gen. 5:29 NIV). What kind of comfort Lamech had in mind is not stated, but there seems to be a sense that, beyond the fatigue of physical labor on a cursed earth, things in general were not going well and that the Creator would soon intervene. Might this be an effect of the preaching of Lamech’s grandfather, Enoch, a generation or so (69-369 years) before Noah’s birth?
Jude 14-15 tells us that “Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied … ‘See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of His holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.’” Enoch’s obvious keynote is the ungodliness of mankind – a lifestyle that had no room for God.
Enoch preached out of the inspiration of a life of walking with God (Gen. 5:22). One wonders whether his son Methuselah, and grandson Lamech followed his example. Or were they more affected by the deteriorating society around them? It’s not until Noah that we again read that “he walked with God” (Gen. 6:9).
Noah entered history just as a hybrid super-race was developing from the profane union of “the sons of God” and the beautiful “daughters of men” (Gen. 6:1-2) that profoundly accelerated the process of moral decay to the point that “the Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time” (Gen. 6:5).
The deterioration of human morality and relationship with God described in Romans 1:21-32 was already full-blown after just nine generations and little more than 1,000 years of human history. David’s commentary on the moral/spiritual state of the human race (Ps. 14:2-3; 53:2-3) was true then, is true now, and has been true more or less at any point in history: “God looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. Everyone has turned away, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
That blanket statement has at times had numerically minor exceptions, as in the case of Noah, who “found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen. 6:8). How refreshing he must have been to the heart of the God: “From heaven the Lord looks down … He who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do” (Ps. 33:13-15). Noah’s life in such a society would have been very lonely in the human dimension, but he walked with a God who ached for the company of His creatures. Noah and God had each other. What a rich fellowship it must have been! How is your intimate day-to-day relationship with this same God? How is mine?
As the narration continues we are again reminded of how drastic the situation was: “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence” (Gen. 6:11). It was intolerable, and God had to do something. A faith relationship with God requires that one “believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). In his time Noah was the only person who qualified. So when God spoke to him one day about building an ark by which he and his family would be saved from destruction, Noah obeyed. The record is dramatic, powerful: “By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith” (Heb. 11:7).
Faith connects the individual believer with God, even though he lives within a society that is rotten to the core and wants none of God. Living as he did, in God’s company, Noah was quite aware of the depraved conditions around him, and could not have been surprised at God’s need to pour out never-before-seen judgment. With “holy fear” he heeded God’s warning and obediently built the ark. The rest of the race paid no attention to warnings. The 300-year preaching campaign of Noah’s great-grandfather seemingly had no effect, at least in the sense of turning a corrupt race to repentance.
The ark was under construction in Noah’s backyard for most of a century – doubtless very obvious. Was it a local, even universal, tourist attraction? Might Noah have answered reporters’ questions or conducted tours of the site, explaining his mission and warning people as he did so? Perhaps he even set aside time daily or weekly to loudly proclaim God’s coming judgment, presenting the ark as mankind’s only hope of rescue. He was, after all, a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Pet. 2:5) But to the people it was like a Disney World fantasy. The more seriously Noah took his faith, the more ridicule he no doubt endured. Things haven’t changed much, have they?
We know nothing about the personal faith of Noah’s family. Did his sons help with the construction? Were they embarrassed by the looks, comments and finger-pointing of neighbors, friends, peers, and tourists gawking? We don’t know. But we do know that Noah’s faith held true and saved his family. We don’t believe that anyone is saved by another’s faith, in the spiritual sense; faith is a private, personal, individual commitment to the God who reveals Himself to those who pay attention. Yet the influence of a parent’s or grandparent’s faith has a powerful effect, as in the case of Timothy (2 Tim. 1:5). Though faith cannot be inherited, it can be taught. Noah’s example was powerful and it had a mighty effect on his family.
Beyond that, Noah’s faith-in-action was so refreshing to God that He rewarded him by including his family in his salvation, the same thing he tried to do for Lot (Gen. 19:12-22). In Paul’s case, too, God honored his faithfulness by saving all those traveling with him on a doomed ship (Acts 27:24). We’re dealing with a God who desires to save, and so honors an individual’s faith that He often blesses others through it. He destroys the sinner only after all salvation efforts are rejected.
Noah’s project (actually God’s project) must have seemed absurd indeed. Evidently, there was no large body of water nearby. Had it ever rained on the earth (Gen. 2:5)? Had anyone ever seen a ship before? Noah’s story of a coming flood that would overwhelm the earth may have been inconceivable to the people of his day. And, it seems, the concept of God’s judgment was also incomprehensible. Noah was committed to preparing for something he had never seen (Heb. 11:7). But he trusted God, whom he had gotten to know in his daily walks. So, besides dealing with extreme moral corruption, Noah also bucked a deep cynicism with respect to his reason for building a monstrous ship in the desert. Like Moses (Heb. 11:27), Noah “persevered because he saw Him who is invisible” and went ahead and prepared for coming events that were equally invisible, though evident enough to faith.
Noah’s perseverance was also a reflection of God’s patience in this crisis time. Peter writes of those “who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built” (1 Pet. 3:20). As the judgment was being readied and the means of salvation prepared, things continued to go from bad to worse, trying the infinite patience of a loving God whose favorite creation had turned against Him. Is it much different today? May we all be found as faithful as Noah, patient and persistent against all odds and all opposition, our eyes fixed on the God who is always right and who never fails.
As a “preacher of righteousness” Noah won no converts outside of his family. But his family is critically important. Noah was faithful at home and, though he won no other converts, his faithfulness with his family supported his witness to a wicked, heedless world. And “by his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith” (Heb. 11:7). Noah is a mighty example to us all, an ideal for our own faith and practice. May we be “Noahs” in our day when moral rot has just about destroyed the society we live in – Noahs who talk and live the truth, warning the sinner that judgment is coming, and offering them entrance into God’s ark of eternal safety and security, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Through The Flood
The Flood story wonderfully highlights God’s precise timing and careful control of events. “Noah was 600 years old when the floodwaters came on the earth” (Gen. 7:6). That was the very year that the longest-living human of all time, Noah’s grandfather, Methuselah, died; Noah’s father, Lamech, had died five years earlier. Thus, none of the line of Noah’s faithful predecessors lived to experience the horrible cataclysm of the flood. It was intended for the faithless and the morally corrupt.
The Bible gives no insight into day-to-day life aboard the ark during the year that it was home to the Noah’s family (Gen. 7:11; 8:13-14). Though knowing nothing about this family’s activities during their year in seclusion, we know their God well enough to know that He did not let them “die of boredom.” Many think that life for Christians is dull, “deprived” as we are of the thrills and attractions of this seductive, doomed world. At times it’s a challenge for us to realize that our God will always be enough to keep our lives interesting, satisfying and productive – until we realize that we are His delight and at his mercy. What blessed helplessness and intimacy! Just focus on him, what He’s doing and what we’re privileged to do for Him.
It’s tempting to speculate as to how God kept them interested and alert during their strange voyage. I’m sure that no TV show, concert, athletic contest, vacation or other human event has ever been as interesting as those 375 days as God’s guests aboard the world’s first cruise ship.
What We Can Learn
Noah’s first project upon leaving the ark was to build an altar to the Lord and sacrifice burnt offerings on it (Gen. 8:20), immediately asserting his own identity as a worshiper of the true God as well as re-establishing worship on the renewed earth. His subsequent moral lapse is anti-climactic and needs no great emphasis, except to note that, no matter how successful or victorious we may be, no matter how well we may have “walked with God” in the past, we are always easily susceptible to sin. Noah was human. His God, and ours, is gracious, loving, kind and forgiving. We need Him so much.
By Bill Van Ryn
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org