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
The state of affairs on planet earth have not always been as bright and cheerful as they are today. Believe it or not, there was a time when things got so bad that God decided He had had enough and decided to take a mulligan. He was going to wipe everything out and take a do-over. We read about it in the book of Genesis.
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, 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 there’s another reason we should refrain from thinking that we are somehow better than our pre-flood relatives. Paul tells us in Romans, “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 our selves why. Why had Noah kept faithful to God when everyone else was headed in the opposite direction morally and spiritually? What kept him from giving up and giving in to the peer pressure around him? The author of Hebrews tells us. As he did in 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 lives his entire life before God with no hidden areas or compartmentalization. He had managed to remain faithful to God because he believed God was faithful. And we’re told that Noah was “warned by God concerning events as yet unseen”. God shared with Noah some bad news concerning His decision to destroy mankind. We read about it in the Genesis account.
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 surrounded by an ever-growing climate of sin. But he had to have been blown away at the news of God’s plan to wipe out everything and everyone. But the good news was that God was going to spare Noah and his family. Now here comes the part where Noah’s faith was going to come 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 we read 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 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.” There is no indication that Noah questioned God or tried to talk God 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 believed God. In “reverent fear” he went about construction 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). 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).