The Ark of Salvation and the Covenant with Noah
If you have your Bibles, please turn with me to Genesis 6. We have seen God's glorious work of creation recounted in Genesis 1. We have seen his special favor towards man highlighted in Genesis 2. We have come to the saddest moment in human history in Genesis, chapter 3, with the fall. We've seen the consequences of sin in Adam's family in Genesis, chapter 4, and we've seen a scent of hope in the birth of Seth, and in the inauguration of the worship of the Lord – The corporate worship of the Lord at the end of Genesis, chapter 4. In Genesis chapter 5, we've seen the consequences of death in the generations of Adam because of sin, and we've seen that promise of hope in the life of Enoch. And then in the first verses of Genesis, chapter 6, we have seen the condition of the world, in the old Adamic world, that world prior to the coming of the flood. We've seen the general conditions of society explained in explicit and depressing detail in the first eight verses of Genesis, chapter 6. This summarization gives us the results of sin in the Adamic world, but it also shows us somewhat of the culmination of sin in that world. Those verses, we said last week, were still part of the book of Adam, the book which recounted the generations of Adam. And the next section of Genesis begins in Genesis, chapter 6, verse 9, and that's where we're going to start tonight. So let's hear God's holy word, beginning in Genesis chapter 6, verse 9:
Our blessed Lord, You have caused all holy Scripture to be inspired and to be written for our learning. Grant that we may hear Your word in such a way that we read and mark and learn and inwardly digest its truth. And that by patience and comfort of Your holy word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life which You have given us in our Savior, Jesus Christ. We ask it in His name, Amen.
Genesis 1 teaches us, among other things, is that this universe is a personal universe. It is not the result of fate, or chance, it is not ruled by impersonal forces that do not care about us. It is the product of a sovereign God who spoke it into being and who cares about the people that He has made. The culmination of that first chapter of Genesis is in the creation of man on the sixth day and on the relationship that God establishes with man, whom He had created on the sixth day. So when you read Genesis, chapter 1, you are immediately struck with the fact that this massive universe which so outsizes us, which so dwarfs us is not all there is. There's something bigger, there's someone beyond that universe. And so we do not live in a world where we are part of a vast machine, simply tiny cogs in the wheel. We may be small in comparison to the size of the universe, but we are cared greatly about the one who made that universe. And so you can't miss Genesis 1 presenting you a personal universe.
What a tremendous contrast that is to the view of the universe held by so many still today. We talk about being in a post-modern world where people are much more aware of the spirituality and the nature of things. And yet at the very heart of it, our generation is a very rationalistic generation. We believe, with Carl Sagan, that billions and billions of years ago, the cosmos came into being as we know it now, and that the cosmos is all that there is, it is all that there ever was, and it is all that there ever will be. That's the fate, that's the belief of many, many people in our own generation. And Genesis 1 flatly contradicts that. It says, “No, this universe is not all that there is. A personal God created this universe, and He intends to be in relationship with the people that He created.”
When you turn to Genesis 2, it is clear this special role that man will have in relationship to God in this personal universe. Man is made is God's image. Male and female. Man enters into a covenant relationship with God. God giving him, lavishing upon him, blessings. Man being obligated to perform certain positive duties and to refrain from certain negative actions, such as taking of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And so again we see in Genesis, chapter 2, God in personal relationship with man.
In Genesis, chapter 3, we see the rebellion of man against God. We see the universe is a moral universe in the sense that God sets the standards for right and wrong. And when those standards are rebelled against, that is sin by definition. And God speaks in Genesis, chapter 3, of the consequences that result from that rebellion.
In Genesis, chapter 4, we see those consequences worked out in human society. And in Genesis, chapter 5, we see the ultimate consequences of death recorded generation after generation after generation, thus proving that God had spoken rightly, and that Satan was a liar when Satan had said to Eve and to Adam, “You surely shall not die.” Whereas God had said in the day that you eat of the fruit, you will die. Satan had denied that there would be the consequence of death for sin. God had said let me assure that where there is sin, there will be death. Genesis 5 proves that.
Now Genesis 6 through 9 is an expanded lesson teaching us that this is a moral universe. And I find it strange that we have come to the reading of Psalm 141 in our public reading this Sunday morning. And that we come to Genesis, chapter 6, verses 9 and following this Sunday evening, and the context of our current societal situation especially here in America. And I do not intend to politicize this message at all, but I think that there are some things which speak directly to our situation. As we look at our own society today, if you are anything like me at all, the last few days have been very, very depressing as we look at our nation and as we look at our leadership. It is almost too much to think about for an extended period of time. Not only does one not want to hear the accounts which are being shared over the media of radio and television, one does not want to read the accounts, whether they be in newspapers or whether they be on the Internet. It's shocking, it's horrifying, it's depressing and especially for those of you in an older generation, a generation which was born in a time of sacrifice and need and which served valiantly in a time of trial, not only in the Second World War, but in the Korean conflict, and in many other challenges as well. It's depressing to see what you have bequeathed that hard labor to. And frankly let me say what is depressing is not simply the spectacle of what is happening at the national level, but the way the nation as a whole is reacting to it. The shrugs of apathy, the ‘so what?’ And this Genesis 6 through 9 passage reminds us that God does not shrug with apathy about wickedness. And in a strange way that is an encouraging thing. I want to look at this passage with you tonight, because it gives us a picture of both God's judgment and His grace.
I. God sees and judges faithfulness.
If you’ll look at verses 9 and 10, I want you to see first how God sets forth the character of Noah in contrast to his contemporaries. Already in Genesis, chapter 6, he has painted a picture of what the world was like in Noah's time. That every intent of the thoughts of their hearts were only evil continually. And over against that backdrop which has already been painted in Genesis, chapter 6, verses 1 through 8. We have here a picture of a man who was faithful to the Lord, and we learn in Genesis, chapter 6, verses 9 and 10, that God sees, and He judges faithfulness. One of the things that comes throughout Genesis 1 through 6 is that God is a God who sees. When Adam and Eve rebel, God sees it. He's not taken by surprise. He's not unaware of what is going on. When He comes to speak with them in the garden and ask them questions, it's not because He needs information. It's that He already knows, and He's calling them on the carpet and saying what in the world are you doing? In Genesis, chapter 4, when Cain secretly slays Abel, God sees that. When He comes to Cain and asks him a question it's not because He doesn't know what's going on. It's because He's calling Cain on the carpet. In Genesis, chapter 6, when the world has gone awry and is filled with corruption and violence, we are told that God sees that, and He judges. But, you know, isn't it interesting. Here in verses 9 and 10 God's judgment is not something to fear. It's something to rejoice in. In Genesis, chapter 6, verses 1 through 8, when you think of God's judgment in connection to the description of how people are living in those verses, you know that God's judgment is going to fall in condemnation. But in Genesis, chapter 6, verses 9 and 10, God sees Noah's faithfulness in contrast to his generation and His judgment is favorable towards Noah. So let's look at how He describes Noah in this passage.
Noah's character is immediately described. As soon as we see that this is the book of Noah, the very first thing that is said about Noah is a description of his character. And I want you to look at the four components that are used to describe Noah. First of all, he is described as a righteous man. Now sometimes we think of righteousness as speaking of our relationship at the human level. Man to man, and of blamelessness as speaking of our relationship to the Lord in our hearts. But in this passage, I suspect that righteousness indicates Noah's willingness to conform to God's standards not only in how he relates to his fellow man, but also in how he relates to the Lord. And when he is described as a blameless man, it does not mean that Noah was perfect. It means that Noah was a wholehearted man. That is, he was a man who desired with all his heart to glorify God. He sought the advancement of God's kingdom. He wasn't after his own agenda. He was following in the way of the Lord, and if you’ll notice the qualifier, he is blameless in his time. So the very phrase attached to blameless is meant to compare him to his contemporaries. It is not that Noah is sinlessly perfected in the midst of a corrupt land. And we're going to see that Noah was far from sinlessly perfected when we get to Genesis, chapter 9. Even in the great hour of his victory and of the Lord's victory against sin, Noah is going to greatly disappoint us by his behavior. But it is that in comparison with his contemporaries, Noah is a man whose heart is aimed towards the kingdom of God.
Notice the third thing that is said about Noah. He walked with God. That is a phrase that is, of course, only used in Genesis prior to this to describe Enoch. So both Enoch and Noah are said to walk with God. In other words, they are in living communion with God. So what do we have so far with Noah? Noah is a man who is righteous. He is obedient to God's standards of what is right and wrong. He is a man who is blameless. That is he is wholehearted in his love for God, and he is above reproach in the eyes of his contemporaries. Then we're told that he is a man who walks with God. He's in living communion with God. So already there in those three descriptions what do you have a picture of? You have a picture of man who inwardly communes with God and who outwardly obeys His will. So you have a man who is truly a man of God inside and out. There is no pretending to be godly on the outside while the inside is empty. There is no piety that is disattached from action. He doesn't say, “Oh, I love the Lord,” and then act as if he serves the devil. No, there is a balance between his inner life and his exterior actions. There is in fact a connection. He is a truly godly man.
And then fourthly we are told that he was a father. He was the head of a family. What had been said about him in Genesis, chapter 5, verse 32 is repeated. He was the father of Shem, and Ham and Japheth. And that particular point is going to become very significant in this passage. Because in this passage, it will be the favor that God has for Noah that results in the salvation of Noah's wife, of his sons and of his daughter-in-laws. In fact, it will be the favor of God for Noah that results in the preservation and salvation of all the animal life which is eventually brought into the ark. So Noah is a man of God inwardly and outwardly. Derek Kidner beautifully phrases that phrase that you see there in Genesis 6, verse 9, right at the end:
“Noah walked with God.” He translates it this way. “It was with God that Noah walked.” And it's a beautiful summarization of the kind of man that Noah was. Though Noah may have seemed out of step with his contemporaries, and you can imagine how a man like this would have felt in a society as described in Genesis 6, verses 1 through 8. I mean this man would not have won any popularity contest in that society. Though he may have been out of step with that society, yet he was literally in step with God. Why, he walked with God. He was in step with God, though out of step with his contemporaries. And this is a tremendous encouragement to us because God sees that faithfulness, and He judges it. Remember that in the scriptures, judgment is not a negative term. We usually use judgment in a negative term. We’ll say to someone, please don't judge me. But when one is faithful to the Lord, judgment is the most blessed thing that there can be and especially if you are a faithful person in an unfaithful world, and you experience the injustice of the world, judgment is the most beautiful word that you can hear because it reminds you that God is going to set things right. And here the man who was doing right was judged to be faithful by God. In other words, God's judgment has two sides. It is retributive. That is, he visits punishment on those who do wrong, but it is also remunerative. That is, He blesses, He rewards those who do what is right in His sight. In this case the remunerative judgment, the rewarding judgment, the blessing judgment of God is pronounced on Noah in a time that was characterized by unfaithfulness. And so remember that. When we live in a time of anarchy, when you live in a time of injustice and a prevalent societal wickedness, God's judgment is a blessed thing. Because even though it may look like God doesn't care what's going on, yet God sees and he rewards that which is good, and he punishes that which is wicked.
Now, let me say one thing as an aside. The apostle Paul does make it clear that one way that God punishes wickedness is He allows it to multiply and destroy itself. We see that in Romans, chapters 1 and 2. Sometimes God's judgment against wickedness is to confirm that wickedness. In other words, He does not turn a people that has set its face toward wickedness. He does not turn them from the wickedness that they have already determined. He allows them to go on, deceiving themselves and deceiving others. That is one manifestation of God's judgment. And so when we see that happening in a society, don't think that God is not active. Quite the contrary. God is active. It may be that what He has decided to do is withdraw His common and restraining grace and allow that wickedness to go to its logical end and the punishment that is connected with it.
II. God sees and judges wickedness.
Now if you will look at verses 11 and 12 we see also that God sees and judges wickedness. It's not just that he sees and judges faithfulness, but He also sees and judges wickedness. In verses 11 and 12 you see the final condition of the old Adamic world. This is the last picture of what life was like before the deluge. God, in this passage we are told, sees the corruption of the world. Notice the language of seeing being used over and over. “Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God. The earth was filled with violence. God looked on the earth, and it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. Then God said to Noah, ‘The end of all flesh has come before Me.’” Over and over it is stressed, I see it, Noah. Noah, I know that you think that I am out of control. I know that you think that a world that looks like this couldn't be a world that I'm in control of, but I see it and I'm going to act. God sees wickedness, and he determines to punish it.
And again in verses 11 and 12 Noah's faithfulness is contrasted to the general unfaithfulness of his generation and situation. And I want you to see as well, that what God is doing in Genesis 6, verses 1 through 8, and also in Genesis 11 and 12. If He is making it clear to you that what He is about to do in the flood is absolutely just. And if we, just in general, announce that God was going to wipe out everybody on earth but seven people, I suggest that there would be a least a few brave souls who would be willing to ask whether that was really fair. I mean, is that fair for God to do that? And what God is saying to you here in Genesis 6 is, ‘Yes, it's fair for Me to do this. In fact, it's just. In fact if I didn't do something about this, it would mean that I am not much of a moral God. If I didn't do something about this it would say that I am not holy, and that I don't care about holiness, and that is the opposite of what I have revealed about myself in the Scripture.’ And so God is building His case to explain to you that no matter how dramatic and drastic and extensive this judgment is, yet He is fair.
Now, by the way, this judgment is, of course, a portent of a final judgment. The judgment of God in the days of Noah is a reminder to us that there will be a final judgment where God will again render a judgment on the world. Peter, by the way, tells us that this judgment will not be by water, but it will be by fire. The world, he says, will be consumed and regenerated in that great judgment. And this passage reminds us that that kind of assessment, that kind of estimation, that kind of judgment awaits us. And notice again the words of Derek Kidner. He says, “The first full scale judgment demonstrates that with God the truth of a situation prevails regardless of majorities and minorities. The minority, seven. The majority, who knows how many thousands, how many tens of thousands, how many hundreds of thousands, how many million? Seven is the minority. That is the group that God has set his favor and grace on. Is it fair? Absolutely. The only thing that you could complain about is that God was more gracious to the seven that He saved than they deserved. You cannot say to Him it was wrong of You to punish and condemn the rest.
And friends it's just like that in salvation, isn't it? So often we hear, “But how could God possibly send someone to hell?” That's not really the question, is it? The question is really, “How could God send someone to heaven?” And so it is in the time of Noah.
III. God's judgment and gracious saving provision.
A third thing we see here in verses 14 through 17. The instructions given by God for the Ark of Salvation. Remember that Moses is writing this. And remember that Moses knew something about arks, and he knew something about explicit instructions from the Lord. I mean, read Exodus, chapter 25 and following on the instructions that Moses had to obey. This is a man who knew what instructions were like from the Lord, and he knew how to the follow them out. Just bear that in mind. As we look at 14 through 17, let me just mention several interesting things about this passage.
First of all we have no idea what gopher wood is. The best that scholars can do is guess that this is cypress. We just don't know what the meaning of the word is here. But Noah is instructed to make an ark of gopher wood. Now an ark is a very interesting term. It is apparently an Egyptian term that has been taken over and borrowed. It is only used one other time in the Old Testament. This word; it is used in Exodus, chapter 2. Do you know for what? To describe the little floating vessel that Moses was put in. It's used to describe the little vessel that Moses was put in the bull rushes in order to be saved from the destruction of the first born of Israel by Pharaoh. It's interesting, isn't it? This little vessel would carry Moses who would become the savior of his people, and the same vessel massively larger would carry Noah, who would be the leader of salvation for his people. The ark itself was not a ship. It wasn't built to be some sort of a speared seagoing vessel. It was more like an Egyptian barge and apparently that term was often used for barges that would carry great memorials up and down the Nile on the way to make these massive structures for the Pharaoh, but it is also the term that is used for a chest.
The ark itself would have looked like a coffin. Squared, flat and long. Roughly in the dimensions of a man laid out in a coffin. Three decks are described of this particular ship and the measurements that we get which are roughly 437 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high give us a ship of massive size. Something like 95,700 square feet, or 1.396 million cubic feet with a tonnage of 13,960. It would have displaced about 43,000 pounds. This is a massive ship, and it would have been ample to hold very easily 35,000 different varieties of invertebrate species. Now people have done all sorts of scale model work on the ark and explained how it was ideally suited for floating in a catastrophe like this. How it would have been low in the water, it would have been almost virtually incapable of being capsized in the midst of the deluge, but the ship which Noah is given to build is perfectly suited for what God has for it.
Let me mention one other interesting thing about this ark. We are told again in verse 14 that it was to be covered inside and out with pitch. And if this word is from a Hebrew root, as opposed to an Arcadian root, it is the same word, this noun, pitch, has the same root as the verb to atone, to cover. And so again here we may have a hint at the covering of atonement even within this vessel, this ark, which is to be the place of protection for God's people in the time of destruction.
Notice that when God first speaks to Noah in verse 13, He doesn't tell him how He's going to destroy the earth. He doesn't tell him how He's going to destroy the earth until after He has given him the instruction on building this ark. Only then does he say, “I'm going to bring destruction to the world by water.”
IV. God confirms His grace relationship with His people in tribulation.
Then we look at verses 18 through 21. Here the Covenant of grace is made with Noah. And again we see God confirms His grace relationship with His people in a time of tribulation. The first usage of the word covenant in the Bible is found here in Genesis, chapter 6, verse 18. But it's very interesting. The very first usage of the word covenant already assumes that that covenant relationship exists. Notice the term that God uses here in 6:18. “I will established My covenant with you.” In other words I will make firm the covenant that I am already in with you. So though the word covenant has not been used prior to Genesis 6:18, it is assumed that God is already in covenant relationship with the line of Adam and Seth down to Noah. And so we are told in the very saving of Noah, God will make firm His covenant with him. He will prove to Noah that His promises are sure and true and eternal by saving him from the deluge to come. And so he is instructed to build this ark and to bring in the animals, both the clean and the unclean. Noah is saved by God's gracious, redemptive covenant which had been inaugurated in Genesis 3:13. He is to become a new Adam for the new world.
V. The response of faith to God's commands.
And then finally we see in verse 22, Noah's response to God's covenant. “Thus Noah did according to all that God had commanded him, so he did.” You recognize that phrase? How many times is that phrase repeated in the book of Exodus? Over and over. After God's commands to Moses we hear this phrase: And Moses did just as the Lord had commanded him.” This crazy task that Noah is called to do, he did just as the Lord had commanded him. And we see in that the proper response of a faithful man to the commands of God. It is obedience. It's not to question what God is doing, it's not asking why, it's not to argue with Him about the significance or the relevance or the usefulness of the particular task to which he is called, it's to obey. To trust and obey. That's the response of the righteous man to the commands of God. So in this passage we see the ark which is going to provide salvation. It's going to preserve the life of man in the world. It's going to be part of the sparing of judgment even as God brings a universal judgment on the world, and in it we see a picture of how God chooses out of the sea of humanity in rebellion against Him. Some to be His own. He shows His favor on them, and He extends His plans for the blessing of the world through those who are faithful to the covenant. Let's look to the Lord in prayer.
Our Heavenly Father, we love Your word, we ask that You would teach us from it. We ask that we would respond as faithful men and women in a wicked generation. Help us, we pray, to walk with You even when the world is walking in a different direction. We ask all these things through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.