“Who built the ark? Noah, Noah! Who built the ark? Brother Noah built the ark!” “Here come the animals, two by two.” “Oh look, there are the lions, Roarrr!” If there’s one story in the Bible that evokes warm sentiment and catchy tunes and has been a boon to the toy industry, it’s the story of Noah and the ark. If you have children, chances are you read them the story of Noah from a children’s book or children’s Bible. Maybe you even bought them a Noah’s ark toy, cute little animal figurines and all.
Then you read the Biblical account of Noah and it’s anything but warm and fuzzy. As chapter six of Genesis opens, we find that God is so grieved by the wickedness of mankind that He decides to start over. He is going to clean the slate and repopulate the earth through the line of one man, one of the few left who “call(ed) upon the name of the Lord.” (4:26) If you read the biblical account, the story is grittier than the cartoon depictions of rainbows and cheery animals peering over the railing. As you dig in, you find that building the ark took the better part of 100 years. Peter implies from the New Testament that Noah pleaded with his friends and neighbors to join him on the ark but they wouldn’t listen. Then we find out that the 40 days of flooding was just the beginning. Put everything together and you’ll discover that Noah, his family and those animals coexisted on the ark for about a year and ten days. That’s a lot of floating on an endless ocean. There had to be moments where everyone got a little stir crazy.
Admittedly, the story raises a lot of questions. Questions like: Did this really happen? Is there any evidence that there was a worldwide flood, wasn’t it more likely something regional? How could they have fit two of every animal on the ark? How could they have fed them for a whole year? What about the dinosaurs? If one is inclined to believe, each of those questions has reasonable answers (honestly, a trip to check out that Ark in northern Kentucky is worth the effort.) Similar to other questions about the Bible, the Lord gives us enough information to believe, though not enough to remove all doubt or answer every question. The Bible has been shown to be scientifically accurate, though it’s not a science journal and modern archeology has shown it to be historically accurate though it is not purely a history book. It is the unfolding of God’s plan to redeem a people set apart for His glory. As such, it is concerned with bigger questions and ideas than doubters are inclined to ask.
Paul says in Romans 15:4 that the account of Noah (and all the other stories of the Old Testament) “…was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” So how does this familiar story instruct us so that we may be encouraged and hopeful? We are reminded that there is reward that comes with faithfulness and courage. In other words, by faith, Noah and his family were spared from the wrath of God being poured out on the world. We also see that walking in faith is not always easy, comfortable or popular, but it is worth it. Peter uses this account in his second letter to remind us that another judgment is coming, so don’t lose hope. Stand firm in Christ even when it’s not easy or popular because the reward is worth it.
But let’s remember what Jesus said. This story is ultimately about Him. Jesus Himself is our very great reward. As my wife showed me a few years ago, when the Lord “placed His bow in the sky,” He wasn’t just decorating. He was making a declaration, not only that He would not destroy the world with water again, but that He would take the judgment Himself. The bow you’ll notice is pointed at Him. Peter ties this together in his first letter at the end of chapter three. He says Noah and his family “were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism….” Baptism then, is not just a symbol of identification, it’s a symbol of coming through judgment. This was, in large part, why Jesus was baptized. The sinless Son of God was not just following instructions, nor simply identifying Himself with the people of God. He was declaring in His baptism that He would be plunged into the judgment of God so that He could be the Ark of deliverance for all who will put their hope in Him. On the cross He was plunged into the eternal judgment of God’s wrath that you and I rightfully deserved. “He was pierced for our transgressions (the bow) and crushed (the flood) for our iniquities.” (Is. 53:5) So, when you and I, by faith, follow Jesus in baptism, we are declaring our trust in the One who took judgment for us, declaring Him to be our only hope for deliverance, the true and better Ark. Because as Peter goes on to declare, He is the Ark who can deliver us out of sin and death because He is raised from the dead! By faith in Him and His work, He gives us new life and a clear conscience before God (1 Pt. 3:21) and guarantees our entrance into a new, restored creation by virtue of His resurrection. There is no greater hope!