Profiles of Faith: Noah - An Example of Righteousness

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Noah - An Example of Righteousness

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As the sun rose on the horizon every day, large crowds gathered around the skeleton of a gigantic ship resting on the dry ground. Immediately they were struck by its enormous size and shape: a flat keel with giant bowed ribs shooting out and upward more than 40 feet. How strange this was. The man Noah must have taken leave of his senses!

As the crowds gathered to observe this landlocked monstrosity, they likely jeered, perhaps asking, "What's your problem, Noah? Why do you need such a giant boat? And how are you ever going to get this thing to the water?" He surely told them, as God does not bring such judgment as was coming without revealing it through His servants. But the onlookers refused to believe.

Being human, Noah could have become disheartened at times from having to listen to the local blowhards. What probably hurt him most, however, was to hear his relatives and friends scorn him. 

Days turned to weeks, weeks to months, and months to years. Would it ever come to an end? Would God follow through with His decree?

Being human, Noah could have become disheartened at times from having to listen to the local blowhards. What probably hurt him most, however, was to hear his relatives and friends scorn him. To them he was building a monument to stupidity; to God he was building a monument to faith and obedience.

As time passed, Noah may have had moments when he wondered whether his scorners were right. After all, he suffered their relentless ridicule day after day, year after year. Yet clearly he remembered and followed the words of God, who had told him of His great purpose in an incredible prophecy. Those words must have greatly strengthened, comforted and encouraged him to be true to his original mission and never quit.

After many decades of labor, the ark was nearing completion. There it stood, a colossal structure some 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high (137 by 23 by 14 meters). The ark was gargantuan.

Finally, after all the animals were loaded on board, Noah and his family entered the ark and God, not Noah himself as many assume, closed the door behind them.

A week passed and still nothing happened. The mocking of those outside was likely incessant and growing. But then, in the distance, they saw a flash of lightning, followed shortly by the thunder roll. The laughter and jeers dropped markedly.

And then it happened. The rains fell—and fell, and fell. With the waters rising, some people around the ark probably scampered to the highest hills while others may have tried in vain to cling to the ark. But the time had finally come for God to fulfill His warning to wipe the earth clean of evil men and to start the human race over again through faithful Noah and his family.

For a short time outside the ark, while the waters reached ever higher, Noah's faith was vindicated in the eyes of the now-fearful naysayers and scorners. As darkness covered the ark, righteous and faithful Noah probably privately shed tears for an unbelieving and doomed mankind.

Noah and his family

Noah was the grandson of Methuselah, the oldest man who ever lived. Noah's life may be divided into three parts: For hundreds of years nothing was recorded about him. During this time, Noah apparently was busy maturing spiritually. Then, as Genesis 5:32 tells us, "After he was 500 years old, he became the father of Shem, Ham and Japheth" (New International Version).

God spoke to Noah and commissioned him to build an ark to spare himself, his wife and his sons and their wives and pairs of the various land animals. God had determined to drown wicked mankind in a universal flood (Genesis 6:17-21).

With his three sons, Noah undertook this gigantic project. They continued to build the ark as the years stretched by, until Noah's 600th year (Genesis 7:6).

At the end of that extended period of probation for mankind, God gathered the animals of the earth to the ark, instructed Noah and his family to enter the ark, and God Himself closed the door behind them.

"Then the Lord said to Noah, ‘Come into the ark, you and all your household, because I have seen that you are righteous before Me in this generation. You shall take with you seven [pairs] each of every clean animal, a male and his female; two each of animals that are unclean, a male and his female; also seven [pairs] each of birds of the air, male and female, to keep the species alive on the face of all the earth. For after seven more days I will cause it to rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and I will destroy from the face of the earth all living things that I have made'" (Genesis 7:1-4).

Noah did what God commanded him. He, his wife, his sons and his sons' wives, went into the ark. They were accompanied by an amazing menagerie—seven pairs of "clean" animals—those the Bible designates as being suitable for human consumption—and two each of the "unclean" animals, those that aren't to be eaten (see Genesis 7:2, Tanakh: New Jewish Publication Society Translation).

After seven days "all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. And the rain was on the earth forty days and forty nights" (Genesis 7:11-12). The waters beneath the earth's surface broke through and flooded the land even as it rained incessantly for 40 days and nights. Except for those on the ark, all of mankind perished under the rising waters.

The lesson of Noah is the lesson of God to mankind: Righteousness and faithfulness saves, but sin destroys.

A rampant pandemic of evil

Since Noah's personal life is not depicted by a colorful story, we can only deduce what he was like from the little the Bible says about him. God does clearly identify Noah's character in a couple of verses, and a further description of what Noah was like can be inferred by contrasting him to the surrounding evil world.

The apostle Peter called Noah "a preacher of righteousness" (2 Peter 2:5). To what should we contrast that?

In Noah's day, men were heaping evil upon evil, leaving nothing to the imagination (Genesis 6:5). There were giants on the earth in Noah's day (Genesis 6:4). The word "giants" in Hebrew is nephilim from naphal, a word that connotes giant men who "fall on" or violently overthrow others (see NASB Key Word Study Bible, 1990, p. 10). These giant men were legendary, "men of renown" (Genesis 6:4). (We might note that the "sons of God" in Genesis 6:2 and Genesis 6:4 aren't angels as some suppose since Jesus said that angels do not marry, which is to say they do not cohabit with women, Mark 12:25.)

The context of Genesis 6:1-5 directs our attention to the wickedness of mankind as they did what they considered right in their own eyes—not unlike most people do today. The general population was arrogant and hedonistic, refusing to honor God or His laws.

God looked around and saw that there was only one righteous man on earth: Noah. The future of mankind hung by a thread, and at the end of that thread was faithful Noah. He didn't just believe in the existence of God, He believed what God said and that His way was right.

Since God loves righteousness and hates evil, and since He doesn't want mankind to destroy itself, He was compelled to stop the growing mayhem and carnage. He would wash away the evil of mankind through a worldwide deluge.

God's warning ignored

It's been said that amateurs built the ark while professionals built the Titanic. What irony! God—hardly an amateur—was involved in the design of the ark (Genesis 6:14-16). He gave explicit instructions for its design and waterproofing.

Picture this ongoing scenario: Businessmen, farmers, woodsmen, shepherds and their families talked about and mocked Noah and his sons for building an enormous boat on dry land. Even if a great body of water was nearby, there was no way to move this massive construction to put it in the water. As a matter of record, no other ship of this size is known to have been built until A.D. 1858 (Halley's Bible Handbook, 2000, p. 96).

And perhaps Noah built the ark nowhere near a significant body of water. No matter. He knew that when the ark was completed, there would be no need to haul it somewhere. Instead, the floodwaters would simply buoy the ark up; its design would guarantee its stability.

As was earlier noted, onlookers must have jeered and joked, and some of the more enterprising ones may have set up shops to accommodate the hungry sightseers and passersby. Meanwhile, Noah and his sons continued their work on the ark, faithfully and consistently. Railing and ridicule didn't cause them to lose heart and quit.

Consider all the mornings Noah and his family came to work, over and over again. For all those years, from morning to evening and sometimes on into the night, Noah's ark represented a vibrant, living and growing testimony to God's prophetic judgment against mankind's evil deeds. You might think that the people who watched this growing spectacle would somehow stumble onto a sliver of the vision of things to come, would begin to think that perhaps Noah was not crazy—that maybe He was telling the truth.

But they never got the point until it was too late. If some began to see the light, they didn't follow through in repenting of their sinful ways. They ignored the obvious warnings or decided just to go along with the crowd. But when the floodwaters came, there was no escape—for the Flood covered the entire earth.

There is ample evidence that the Flood during Noah's time did indeed cover the surface of the whole earth. Those who don't believe the biblical account claim that this event was, at most, only local or regional. But the apostle Peter makes it clear that the Flood was indeed universal: ". . . The world that then existed perished, being flooded with water" (2 Peter 3:6).

Terms of endearment

Noah's character is described in a pair of verses: "But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord . . . Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God" (Genesis 6:8-9). We can analyze these two verses to gain insights into the character of Noah.

The word grace here is better translated as favor, a broader but similar meaning for grace. The next verse tells us how he found favor in God's eyes.

Noah was a just man, perfect or upright in his generations (Genesis 6:9). The word just means made right in a moral sense—lawful, righteous. Since God's commands define righteousness (Psalm 119:172), Noah must have kept God's laws sincerely and in a wholehearted manner, becoming a mature follower of God. To say that Noah was "perfect" or upright in his generations is to say that Noah's integrity emanated from keeping God's holy truth and commandments. He was wholehearted toward God. Not that he never sinned—but that when he did, he repented. Again, Noah "walked" with God, which is to say that he lived by God's ways and stayed close to Him.

These terms—favor, just, perfect and walked—all describe characteristics that endeared Noah to God and reveal to us what Noah was really like. Jesus said, "You will know them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:16). And using the Bible as our reference, we can know what Noah's life was like, how he thought and how he acted.

Putting faith into action

The book of Hebrews presents Noah as a faithful follower of God. "By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith" (Hebrews 11:7). This chapter is often affectionately referred to as the "faith chapter" of the Bible. Here we find concise thumbnail sketches of past paragons of faith—men and women who stood out in their exercise of faith toward God.

The word faith in this verse means constant trust and confidence in God and reliance on Him for salvation. This kind of faith persuades one to follow through with his deepest convictions. After God warned Noah of the coming universal Flood, Noah moved with godly fear to build the ark and to save his family.

The example of building the ark served to condemn the world. But let us all understand: Noah didn't directly condemn the world himself or even have any such desire; rather, the people of the world brought judgment on themselves by dishonoring and disbelieving the warning message Noah delivered to them from the God who made them. They could have repented and started putting God's laws into practice in their lives, but they didn't. In contrast, Noah did. And his faithfulness and obedience stood as further indictment against the faithlessness and disobedience of the rest of the world.

Noah: a preacher of righteousness

Strange as it may sound, the example of Noah is being played out on earth today by thousands of others. Noah was, by example and word, a preacher or teacher of righteousness. While Noah was only one person, today there are thousands of living examples of God's way of life who are committed to living righteously as Noah did. They know the difference between good and evil and have consciously and conscientiously chosen the ways that are good.

You can be like Noah. You can set a right example, too. You also can participate in a great work that is, like Noah, properly and appropriately warning this decaying world of its evil ways and urging it to turn to God in real repentance.

The time to act—to get your own life in order—is now. Jesus Christ Himself spoke of a time of worldwide catastrophe still ahead of us in which humanity would again face extinction if not for God's intervention: "It will be a time of great distress, such as there has never been before since the beginning of the world, and will never be again.

If that time of troubles were not cut short, no living thing could survive; but for the sake of God's chosen it will be cut short" (Matthew 24:21-22, Revised English Bible).

Make a conscious choice today to turn your life around. Choose the humble and obedient path of life, as Noah did. Like him, you can help save your life and the lives of your loved ones—beginning today.