7 By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. – Hebrews 11:7 ESV
Can things get any worse? That’s a question every person living on planet earth seems to be asking themselves these days. With each passing day, the global state of affairs seems to be on a decidedly downward spiral. But as bad as things may seem to be in our day and age, there was a time when things were far worse. In fact, according to the book of Genesis, the moral conditions on earth had degraded to such a degree that God decided to do something about it. Dissatisfied with the degenerated moral state of humanity, He vowed to wipe out everything and start over.
The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. And the Lord said, “I will wipe this human race I have created from the face of the earth. Yes, and I will destroy every living thing—all the people, the large animals, the small animals that scurry along the ground, and even the birds of the sky. I am sorry I ever made them.” But Noah found favor with the Lord. – Genesis 6:5-8 NLT
Now before we get smug and pat ourselves on the back for not being near as bad as our antediluvian ancestors, we should consider that the only reason we haven’t experienced the same fate is because of the covenant God made with Noah promising to never destroy the world by water again. But the apostle Paul gives us another reason we should refrain from thinking that we are somehow better than our pre-flood relatives.
…even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who are destined for destruction. He does this to make the riches of his glory shine even brighter on those to whom he shows mercy, who were prepared in advance for glory. – Romans 9:22-23 NLT
It is simply because of God’s desire to shower His mercy through the gift of His Son that He has not chosen to destroy each and every one of us.
But back to Noah. Notice what it says at the end of the passage in Genesis: “But Noah found favor with the Lord.” In the midst of all the human wickedness on the earth, Noah had managed to remain in a right standing with God. We might ask ourselves how Noah stayed the course while everyone else was headed in the opposite direction morally and spiritually. How was he able to stay faithful in the face of such rampant wickedness? What kept him from giving up and giving in to the constant peer pressure? The author of Hebrews tells us. As he did when speaking about Enoch, he opens his short essay on Noah with the words, “By faith…”
Noah was a man of faith. He believed God existed and was a rewarder of those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). Moses, under the inspiration of the Spirit, wrote, “Noah was a righteous man, the only blameless person living on earth at the time, and he walked in close fellowship with God.” (Genesis 6:9 NLT). Noah wasn’t perfect or sinless. The word “blameless” simply means that he was whole or complete in his devotion to God. He lived his entire life before God with no hidden areas. He kept no secrets from God. He practiced complete transparency, rather than trying to compartmentalize his life into secular and sacred categories.
He had managed to remain faithful to God because he believed God was faithful. Noah was well aware of the wickedness of the culture in which he lived, and he knew that God was aware as well. So, when Noah was “warned by God concerning events as yet unseen,” he listened and believed. God shared with him the bad news concerning His decision to destroy mankind.
Now God saw that the earth had become corrupt and was filled with violence. God observed all this corruption in the world, for everyone on earth was corrupt. So God said to Noah, “I have decided to destroy all living creatures, for they have filled the earth with violence. Yes, I will wipe them all out along with the earth! – Genesis 6:11-13 NLT
In one sense, God was not telling Noah anything he did not already know. He knew the world around him was corrupt and filled with violence. He knew his neighbors well. He had been living his life in an ever-increasing climate of sin. But the news of God’s plan to wipe out everything and everyone must have left him shocked and surprised. God’s divine decision to destroy all that He had made would have been difficult to understand. So, God followed up the bad news with some very good news. He was going to spare Noah and his family, and this is the part where Noah’s faith comes into play. God gave Noah one more detail concerning His plan that was going to have a dramatic, life-altering impact on Noah.
“Build a large boat from cypress wood and waterproof it with tar, inside and out. Then construct decks and stalls throughout its interior. Make the boat 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. Leave an 18-inch opening below the roof all the way around the boat. Put the door on the side, and build three decks inside the boat—lower, middle, and upper. “Look! I am about to cover the earth with a flood that will destroy every living thing that breathes. Everything on earth will die. But I will confirm my covenant with you. So enter the boat—you and your wife and your sons and their wives. Bring a pair of every kind of animal—a male and a female—into the boat with you to keep them alive during the flood. Pairs of every kind of bird, and every kind of animal, and every kind of small animal that scurries along the ground, will come to you to be kept alive. And be sure to take on board enough food for your family and for all the animals.” – Genesis 6:14-21 NLT
There are a number of things we have to keep in mind when reading this all-too-familiar account. First of all, Noah had never seen a boat before. In fact, there is no indication that Noah had even seen a body of water large enough to float a boat before. And there are those who believe that Noah had never seen rain before. They arrive at this conclusion from a passage found earlier in Genesis that describes conditions on the earth before God had made man.
When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground. – Genesis 2:5-6 ESV
On top of all this, we know that Noah was nearly 600 years old when he received this devastating news from God. He was being asked by God to build a massive boat and collect two of every kind of animal, all under a looming deadline that was bringing the destruction of the entire planet. Oh, and as if there wasn’t enough pressure on Noah, this boat was going to be his only means of salvation. So, how did Noah respond to this unbelievable and seemingly impossible assignment from God? Moses tells us, rather matter-of-factly: “So Noah did everything exactly as God had commanded him” (Genesis 6:22 NLT).
What was the description of faith given to us in verse one of Hebrews 11? “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” In the Genesis account, there is no indication that Noah questioned God or tried to talk Him out of His plan. He didn’t complain about the scope of the project or the impossibility of the assignment. He simply did what God told him to do. Why? Because he had faith in God. In “reverent fear” he went about constructing the ark that would prove to be the means of his salvation. It all sounded implausible and impossible. The task before him had to feel overwhelming and insurmountable. This was not a typical do-it-yourself project. He wasn’t adding a deck onto the back of his house. He was building a massive boat, and all on blind faith. Yet he had an assurance of what he was hoping for – that he and his family would survive the flood. He had a conviction of things unseen – that this boat would float and that this entire project would not end in disaster. Because he had faith in God.
When all is said and done, Noah was saved by faith, not a boat. Actually, Noah was saved by God. But it took belief in the plan of God for Noah to experience that salvation. Had he never built the boat, he would have died, along with his entire family. But he listened, believed, and obeyed. And he was saved. Noah had to believe in the wrath of God as well as the mercy of God. He had to believe that God, in His justice, would destroy mankind because of their sin. But he also had to believe that God was offering him a way of escape, a means of salvation – by faith. And we read the sobering words in Genesis:
All were destroyed. The only people who survived were Noah and those with him in the boat. – Genesis 7:23 NLT
God kept His word. He did what He said He would do. Including to provide Noah and his family with salvation from death. Noah’s actions, based on his faith in God, resulted not only in his salvation but in him becoming “an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith” (Hebrews 11:7b). His example of faith and trust in the promises of God was a foreshadowing of the salvation that God would make possible for all those who would eventually place their hope in the promise of eternal life through faith in His Son. Noah provided a model of faithfulness for generations of his own descendants. He wasn’t saved because he built an ark. He wasn’t saved because he was righteous. He was saved because he believed God and stepped out in faith and obeyed God.
Salvation has always been accomplished through faith. It was true in Noah’s day and it remains true even now. No matter how bad things may get in this world, there is always hope in the promises of God, and the apostle Paul provides us with a much-needed reminder of God’s power to save – by faith.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” – Romans 1:16-17 ESV
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.