reason for living

What can we learn from Noah and his boat?

The story of Noah and his floating zoo is known to many people and is told near the beginning of the Jewish scriptures.  Let us begin by finding out why we should want to learn anything from Noah.

Sometime during the first century AD, a person that we know as Luke wrote:

Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man.  People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark.  Then the flood came and destroyed them all.  It was the same in the days of Lot.  People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building.  But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulphur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.  "It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed.  On that day no one who is on the roof of his house, with his goods inside, should go down to get them.  Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything.  Remember Lot's wife!  Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.  I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left.  Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.

One very obvious thing about the events that Luke describes is that most, if not all, of the events are unpleasant.  Luke is telling us about destruction, sudden devastation, separation from loved ones and painful deaths.  Another point worth noting is that Luke begins his description by comparing these nasty events with what happened in Noah's lifetime.  In fact Luke compares the events to come with two historical events — the flood of Noah and the destruction that came to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah a few hundred years later.  In each case the destruction was sudden, devastating and only a few people survived.  Luke also shows us that most of the people who were destroyed were apparently either unaware of what was going to happen or they didn't care because they did not stop their ordinary daily activities in order to avoid or prepare for the destruction that was soon to come.

In each case however, a small number of people were preserved.  In chapter 7 of the first section of the Bible, the section called Genesis, we find the following excerpt from the story of Noah:

The LORD then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation.  Take with you seven of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and two of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth.  Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.”

So it is clear that God intended to destroy almost all the creatures on the earth.  Only the people and animals that were in the boat were preserved through the flood that came.  Now there is a very simple but very important point to understand here, namely: If you were in the boat when the flood waters came then you lived but if you were not in the boat when the flood waters came then you drowned. The difference between living and drowning was not complicated; to be in the boat was life, to be out of the boat was death.  So which people were preserved?  Were only good people saved?  Were only those who believed that there was a God saved?  Were only those whose lives were totally without sin saved?  No!  The people in the boat were saved.   The boat was all that mattered.  If you had been an idolatrous murderer and you were in the boat then you would have lived.  If you had been a God-fearing, prayerful, peaceful man taking a walk when the water came then you would have died.  The sins of the murderer would not have made him drown any more than the prayers of the righteous man would have kept him afloat.  If you wanted to know whether a particular person lived through the flood or perished in the water you would not need to enquire about their church attendance or their good deeds or their prayer life or their sins.  All you would need to know is the answer to the simple question: “was the person in the boat or outside the boat when the flood waters came?”  If they were in the boat then they lived but if they were outside the boat then they died.  It really was as simple as that.  So what is the relevance of this to us?

Well Jesus, as quoted by Luke, gave us a warning that terrible things were going to come upon the earth again and that, as in the days of Noah, many would be caught unawares and would be destroyed.  The question we need to ask ourselves is “how shall we be preserved through this destruction?”  We should ask ourselves whether there is anything like Noah's boat into which we can flee and be safe.  Clearly a replica of Noah's boat — built from timber and tar — will be quite useless in a destruction of fire, but is there anything else that will serve the same preserving purpose?

If we turn again to the letters that the first Christians wrote we find that they often talk about being “in Christ”.  For example, in the letter that Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome he was trying to make it very clear exactly how they could be saved from the wrath of God.  He wrote:

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Chapter 6, verse 23

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,
Chapter 8, verse 1.

And, to give another example, on one occasion when Paul was writing to Timothy, his co-worker, he wrote:

...  I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.
Paul's second letter to Timothy, chapter 2, verse 10

So we can see that Jesus is himself the “boat”.  To escape the forthcoming destruction we need to be “in Christ”.  He is the only possible refuge, the only place of safety in a world under condemnation.  This is not very helpful, however, if we do not understand what it means.  It is easy to see how Noah and his family could get “in” the boat.  It is not so obvious how we can come to be “in Christ”.


Genesis 7      The flood
Genesis 19    The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah


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