But God Remembered Noah: Hope for Those Who Feel Forgotten
August 25, 2002
The story of Noah is very exciting until you get to Genesis 7. At that point, the story seems to get bogged down in details. There is information about the various animals brought on board, and also a very specific accounting regarding the precise dates when certain events relating to the flood took place. It’s easy to skim over this chapter and the next one in order to resume the “action” in Genesis 9. But that would be a great mistake. For one thing, it’s hard to imagine any “action” greater than a worldwide flood. These details are placed in the Bible for a reason. The Lord wants us to know what happened and how it happened, step by step. Here’s a brief summary of those details:
· Noah entered the ark when he was 600 years, 2 months, and 10 days old.
· Seven days later the rain began to fall.
· The rain fell for 40 days and 40 nights.
· The “fountains of the great deep” (evidently subterranean caverns) also burst forth with water.
· The floodwaters spread across the entire earth, covering the mountains to a depth of 20 feet.
· All living creatures on dry land were wiped out.
· The flood covered the earth for 150 days.
· As the floodwaters receded, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat, evidently the region of far eastern Turkey, near the border with Russia.
· Seventy-four days later the tops of the mountains became visible.
· Forty days later Noah sent out a raven.
· Noah then sent out a dove on three occasions. The third time it did not return.
· Two weeks later he saw dry land.
· Noah stayed in the ark another 57 days until the Lord told him to leave.
· Noah was 601 years, 2 months, and 27 days old when he left the ark.
If you add it all up, Noah spent one year and 17 days in the ark. That’s a long time in a cramped space with lots and lots of animals. This was no luxury cruise. The ark was not equipped with a swimming pool. There were no movies, no entertainers, and no fancy buffets. There was nothing to do but stay in the boat while it floated aimlessly on the surface of the ocean. It was no picnic being on the ark.
The Bible does not tell us anything about Noah’s personal emotions during the long time he spent in the ark. We know that he was a man of faith who took God at his Word (Hebrews 11:7). That’s why he built the ark in the first place. But he was human, too. The sea is a lonely place. It could not have been easy to be shut up inside the ark with his family and all those animals. Did he wonder if God had forgotten him? I could not blame him if he had his doubts.
· He had done what God had said.
· He had preached to the unbelieving world.
· He had built the enormous ark.
· He led the animals two by two into the ark.
· Then he entered with his family.
Now he is in a giant boat bobbing up and down with the waves. One day fades into another. He cannot see the sun because of the cloud cover. There is no course to follow, just drifting on the surface of the endless, endless ocean.
Gone and Forgotten
Have you ever felt abandoned by God? Have you ever wondered if God has forgotten you? Have you ever felt as if your prayers were bouncing off the ceiling and hitting you on the head? If so, Genesis 8 is for you. The message of the chapter is given in verse 1: “But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.” Consider that simple phrase: “God remembered Noah.” Those three words tell us a great deal about the Lord. One of the greatest human fears is to be forgotten. We fear death because it means that ultimately we will be buried in a grave, the world will go on without us, and we will eventually be forgotten. If you doubt that, go to an old graveyard and study the tombstones of those who were buried in the early 1800s. Who are they? Where did they come from? What were they like? What did they do? And the greatest question: Does anyone today remember them? In most cases the answer is no. And if you go back far enough, you can find thousands of graves of forgotten people who lived and died and it is as if they were never here at all.
When the text tells us that God “remembered” Noah, it doesn’t mean that God had forgotten him. It simply means that in the midst of the great flood, God stayed true to his promises. He promised to deliver Noah and his family and all those animals, and during the flood, with all its death and destruction, the Lord looked down on the earth and remembered to have mercy on eight people floating in a big barge with all those animals.
Perhaps Noah felt forgotten by God. If so, he is in good company because the greatest saints of the ages have felt the same way. One man wrote of the “dark night of the soul” when he felt completely alone and abandoned by God. The psalms are full of similar sentiments. Consider Psalm 42:9-10, “I say to God my Rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?’ My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’” And in the Lord Jesus we have the supreme example of the righteous man feeling abandoned. In his darkest moments on the cross, he cried out, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”
Our text contains an important message of hope. In the midst of judgment, God always remembers mercy. He remembers those who suffer and he keeps his eyes on them. Though they suffer long and often feel forgotten, the Almighty will not abandon them. As God remembered Noah, even so he will remember you and me. There is no trial so severe that it can separate us from the God who loves us.
I. How God Remembered Noah
In his message on Genesis 8, James Montgomery Boice points out three ways in which the Lord remembered Noah during the flood.
A. He sent a wind.
Genesis 8:1 is specific on this point. God sent a wind that blew across the whole earth and caused the floodwaters to begin to recede. This speaks to God’s authority over the forces of nature. He commanded the wind and the wind blew. He said to the waters, “Settle down,” and they settled down. At his command the water level began to decrease around the globe. Proverbs 30:4 says that he holds the wind in his hands and wraps the waters in his cloak. According to Job 38:8-11, he puts limits on the waves and says to them, “Thus far and no farther you may go.” Psalm 135:7 tells us that he brings wind out of the storehouses of heaven. Every drop of water, every gust of wind, and every tiny snowflake comes from the hands of God. Even hurricanes and tornadoes serve his purposes. The storms that batter the earth are fully under his divine control. Just as God has the key to open, he also has the key to shut. He turned off the faucet, the heavens dried up, and the water began to evaporate from the surface of the earth.
We should learn from this that when affliction has done its appointed work, it will be removed from us. Whether it be sickness or ill fortune or bad circumstances or hateful opposition or even truly bad weather, when God’s purposes have been served, the hard times will go away. On our recent trip to Montana, Marlene’s Uncle Lloyd spoke of how difficult things had been for the wheat farmers. In northern Montana the wheat farmers have suffered through seven straight bad years, mostly caused by recurring drought conditions. Farming has become extremely difficult as a result. When I asked Uncle Lloyd what wheat farmers do in situations like that, he smiled and said, “You make due the best you can and hope for better days to come.”
It is significant that the flood did not disappear in a day. The waters rose slowly and fell slowly. Even so, God usually works deliverance for us gradually, little by little, day by day, step by step. We don’t get into trouble overnight and we don’t get out of trouble overnight either.
B. He gave him a sign.
Noah was looking for signs that the flood was coming to an end. I’m sure he was tired of being around those animals day and night. We can’t even imagine the smells and the other aspects of living in the ark. No doubt Noah was ready to see the family have a little bit of elbowroom. It’s not easy to dwell with your sons and your daughters-in-law and your wife in close range for over a year and, as one writer put it, you could never get out of the house and you could never get far enough away that you were out of trouble for whatever you had done wrong. I’m sure that Noah was ready to get out of that ark.
So he sent out a raven. Since ravens feast on rotting flesh, it no doubt found plenty to eat on the surface of the ocean. It flew back and forth but did not return to the ark. The first time Noah sent out a dove, it came back because the water wasn’t low enough. The second time the dove returned with an olive leaf, indicating that plants were beginning to grow. The third time he sent out a dove, it didn’t come back at all. Noah knew then that the end of the flood must be very near.
But why did he send the birds in the first place? The answer is simple and perhaps easy to overlook. God had told him when the flood would start but not when it would end. He needed to know the approximate date it would begin so he could build the ark in time. But God never told him how long the flood would last because he didn’t need to know. I think we can all relate to Noah’s intention. We can endure almost anything if only we know when it will end. That applies to sickness, personal pain, broken relationships, trouble at work, financial stress, or even watching our loved ones suffer. Whatever it is, we can take it if we know that two weeks from next Tuesday, our troubles will come to an end. Often, it is the not knowing that wears us down. We watch and wait and wonder and pray as the uncertainty gnaws away on the inside. Our chief question is always: “When will this end?” And the answer is always: “In God’s time, not one day sooner, not one day later.” Nothing can rush, change or hinder God’s designs for his children. In our doubt and confusion, we rest on this truth: God can make the dry ground appear anytime he chooses. We may feel forgotten and abandoned in the flood, but the dry land will appear in due time.
Notice also that Noah didn’t get out of the ark for a long time even after the first land appeared. I think after a year on the ark, I would have jumped over the side and started swimming for shore as soon as the first peak poked through the surface of the water. But Noah still had lots of waiting to do. This should not surprise us. In the course of life, God often delays his mercies in order that we should properly thank him when they finally appear. We pray, “Lord, help us,” and the next day we pray again, “Lord, have mercy,” and the next day we cry out, “Lord, hear our prayers.” Sometimes we are compelled to pray the same prayer for many days or weeks or months or years. All of this is for our ultimate benefit. His answers are delayed in order that his sovereignty might be established (He’s God and we’re not), and that our hearts might be humbled, and to ensure that when the answer finally comes, he alone gets the glory.
In our haste (or frustration or desperation) we may try to leave the ark too soon. We may try to unhinge the door or climb out through the window or even knock a hole in the side of the ark. But when we do, we slip and slide through the mud and end up in the water. It is better that we should wait for God’s answers to appear, and to trust that our Heavenly Father will give us what we need when we need it.
And just as God gave Noah a sign, he still gives signs and tokens of his grace today. Often it is a Scripture or a song repeated at just the right moment. Or a phone call or a letter that came when we felt like giving up. God does not always spare us the pain of life, but he gives us tokens, roses that bloom in the snow, to remind us that even in our sadness and even in our despair, we are never alone, never forgotten. Last Monday night I attended a farewell reception for Tom and Tiffany Crane who were leaving the next day for Germany. After a year of language training, they will begin their first term of service as missionaries in Austria. To many who knew them, their departure was a miracle of sorts. Because of the expense of living in Austria, and because of the size of their family (they have four children), they had a great deal of monthly support to raise, far more than missionaries to regions of the world such as Africa or South America. During the four years they were raising their support, there were many times when the situation seemed worse than hopeless. A year ago it seemed likely that they would never make it to the mission field. At the reception I reminisced with Tiffany about how difficult it had been. She smiled and said that over the years they had learned a great deal about God. When she and Tom spoke to the group, she commented that the long struggle had given them many “God stories,” little signs along the way that God had not forgotten them. And the representative from their mission agency noted that late last year, the Cranes were told they had to raise all their support within a six-month period, which seemed humanly impossible. But suddenly, amazingly, near the end of the six months, the money started to come in. They were finally given the green light to leave with just one week’s notice. It turned out that Tom and Tiffany had been aiming for the mission field for 12 years. By the time you read these words, they will be in Germany. As I ponder their story, I am amazed at their persevering faith and I marvel at a God who gives us just enough “God stories” to keep us going when it would be easier to give up.
C. He spoke to him again.
The final way God remembered Noah was by speaking to him again. In verses 16-17 the Lord instructed Noah to leave the ark with his family and the animals. As far as we can tell, this is the first time God had spoken to Noah since he told him to enter the ark. The year in between had been a time of silence from heaven. What a long year it must have been inside the ark with the boat drifting aimlessly on the waters. As Noah watched and waited, he went about his duties, wondering when the Lord would speak to him again. Who could blame him if he felt forgotten? The same thing can happen to any of us. You may come to a time in your life when you feel forgotten and alone. You may think that the heavens have become as brass and that your prayers are bouncing back at you. You may lack the conscious sense of God’s presence so that you feel abandoned and left to face life on your own.
What do you do then? You must do what Noah did. Stay faithful to what you know to be true. Obey the Lord and follow the light that you were given in the past. Day after day, Noah had to get up and take care of his responsibilities on the ark. It did not matter if he “felt” like it or not. God had given him a job to do and it must be done. His feelings did not matter. He knew that God had led him this far, and he believed that God had his best interests at heart. While he waited for the Lord to speak again, he did the only thing we could do. He remained faithful. Years ago I heard someone put the truth this way: Do not doubt in the darkness what God has shown you in the light. That’s good advice. Wait on the Lord. And while you wait, obey as much as you know. When the time comes, God will speak to you again. You can’t rush God. In his time, you will hear his voice once again. Until that day comes, stay faithful. Do your duty. There is no reason to stay in bed and mope. Get up and do what must be done. And just as God spoke to Moses again, so he will speak to you in due time.
II. How Noah Remembered God
II. How Noah Remembered God
Although Genesis 8 is primarily about God remembering Noah, it also contains wonderful truth about how Noah remembered God. Over 300 years ago, Matthew Henry offered this comment: “Those that remember God, shall certainly be remembered by Him, no matter how desolate their condition.” Our text reveals two specific ways in which Noah remembered the Lord.
A. He left the Ark
“So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds—everything that moves on the earth—came out of the ark, one kind after another” (Genesis 8:18-19). I do not think we appreciate how much courage it took for Noah to leave the ark. As I have already pointed out, the ark had been crowded, cramped, and no doubt somewhat smelly. But it has been home, and it was safe. Now they were leaving the known for the unknown. The world they had known was gone forever. Cities gone, roads gone, homes gone, people gone. Geography changed, landmarks all different. Nothing looked the same. Everything was new.
It might have been easier to stay in the ark, uncomfortable though it was. It took great courage to step out of the ark into a brand-new world. It meant leaving behind safety and security. And it meant trusting God for a totally unknown future.
Sometimes—often!—God calls us to do things that are hard and may even seem impossible. We are called to leave the known for the unknown, and we have to leave the ark that has taken us this far and step out on our own. It’s scary and unnerving and harrowing because once we leave the familiar confines, we can never go back there again. To leave the ark meant embarking on a new life with new dangers and new opportunities. That takes courage and resolve and a decision not to look back or to second-guess yourself.
Noah and his family came out first. That wasn’t easy either. If it had been me, I think I would have sent out the tigers or the lions first. Maybe I would have slapped one of the elephants on the rump and said, “Okay, big fellow. Get out and look around.” Noah led the way and his family followed. That took courage as well. If things went bad, he would have to deal with it.
Faith means taking the next step … and then trusting God with the results. It is a paradox of life that even though the ark is smelly and cramped, we may be afraid to leave it because it represents the only security we have known. Sometimes we pray for a change in our circumstances, but when the moment comes, we are so overwhelmed with fear that we are paralyzed and unable to move.
Perhaps we should add a verse to Hebrews 11. By faith Noah built the ark; by faith Noah entered the Ark; by faith Noah left the ark. Which was harder? To enter the ark or to leave it? Both can be very difficult. Some of us are stuck because we know it’s time to move forward but we are afraid to take the first step. God bless Noah who knew when to get on the big boat and he also knew when to get off!
B. He built an Altar
“Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it” (Genesis 8:20). The sequence of events is very important. God tells Noah to leave the ark, he leaves the ark, and the first thing he does after stepping on dry ground is to build an altar to the Lord. Not many people would have done that as their first act after getting out of the ark. I can imagine most folks running from the ark, kicking up their heels, and saying, “Let’s go. Let’s get started. We’ve got a world to build. Time’s a wastin’. Not Noah. His first act was to publicly thank God for his deliverance. Like the ten lepers who were cured by Jesus and only one returned to give thanks (Luke 17:11-19), even so we often receive great blessings from the Lord and in our haste to enjoy them, we seldom stop to say thanks.
But Noah took time to build an altar and make sacrifices to the Lord. The offering represented his complete surrender and total dedication to the Lord. After the flood Noah could see that God was not only a God of wrath, but also a God of mercy.
Noah recognized that he owed everything to the Lord. It was God who warned him, God who told him to build the ark, God who designed the ark, God who called the animals to the ark two by two, God who shut the door, God who preserved the ark through the flood, God who brought the ark to a safe place, and it was God who told Noah when it was safe to leave the ark. God did it all! Noah was just along for the ride!
This is an Old Testament picture of salvation by grace alone. Noah added nothing to the equation. (Even the strength and perseverance to build the ark came from God.) Noah takes no credit but by his offering signifies that God has delivered him and his family. His offering is a way of saying, “By rights I should have perished in that flood but God in his mercy delivered me.”
What a challenge this is for all of us to “remember God” in all that we do. “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth” (Ecclesiastes 12:1). We are to remember God in our early days while we have strength and energy and all of life stretches out before us. If we remember God in our youth, we are less likely to forget him when we are old.
In your youth … Remember God!
In your high school days … Remember God!
In your college days … Remember God!
In your marriage … Remember God!
In your singleness … Remember God!
In your victories and in your defeats … Remember God!
In your joys and in your sorrows … Remember God!
In your sickness and in your health … Remember God!
In your old age … Remember God!
In your dying moments … Remember God!
Jeremiah 51:50 instructs us to “remember the Lord in a distant land.” In its original setting, these words applied to the Jewish exiles that had been taken from their homeland in Judah and carried into captivity in Babylon. They were now far from home, in a new culture, surrounded by people who did not share their faith, facing every day the twin temptations of despair and compromise. How would they survive? The answer is clear. Don’t forget your God! Remember who you are and whose you are. Remember where you came from! Remember the Lord who is with you even now, in your anguish and in your humiliation.
This is a good word for today. The “distant land” for some Christians means that you are far removed from family and friends. Some of you have moved to Chicago from other places. You came here to go to school or to find a job. And now you are separated from your Christian friends and far from the church of your childhood. It would be easy to turn away. Perhaps you are starting a new school or beginning a new school year or starting a new job or have moved to a new neighborhood. Perhaps you have just gotten married or perhaps you are single again. Life has suddenly changed! The familiar patterns of life have disappeared and now everything is different. You are cut off from your roots. Beware! This is a time of enormous spiritual danger. Do not listen to the whisper of the devil when he says, “Don’t worry about it. No one back home will know. Your so-called friends have forgotten you.” Remember the Lord in a distant land! Remember the Lord who saved you. Remember the Lord who forgave you. Remember the Lord who loves you. Remember the Lord who is with you even now.
Now is the time to remember God. Let this be your motto: I will remember the Lord. Take time to give thanks. Build an altar where you will meet the Lord every day. Take time to pray. Speak up for Jesus. Bless the name of the Lord—and do it publicly. Remember the God who remembers you. He will be your joy and comfort in this life and in the life to come. Amen.