Noah’s Ark: A Picture of Salvation

Genesis 6:9-22

August 18, 2002 | Ray Pritchard

The story of Noah and the Ark is more popular than ever before. Even people who don’t know the Bible and never come to church know about Noah, his big boat, and all those animals coming in two by two. Two giraffes. Two tigers. Two snails, inching forward slowly. Two rabbits. Two parakeets. Even two skunks! And most people know about the great flood and how the boat floated until the waters receded. Then the animals departed two by two by two. Finally the rainbow appeared and God gave his promise never again to send a great flood that would cover the entire earth.

For those who doubt the popularity of this story, the evidence is everywhere. If you travel across America, you will find Noah’s Ark restaurants, Noah’s Ark paintings, Noah’s Ark music boxes, Noah’s Ark T-shirts, Noah’s Ark coffee mugs, Noah’s Ark aprons, Noah’s Ark earrings, and you’ll even find on the Internet a recipe for Noah’s Ark brownies. It should not surprise anyone to learn that the largest waterpark in the United States is located in the Wisconsin Dells and is called … Noah’s Ark.

A few years ago a man named Robert Fulghum wrote an essay called “All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten.” It was so popular that it spawned a number of spin-offs. This week I ran across one called “All I need to know I learned from Noah’s Ark.”

1. Don’t miss the boat.

2. Remember that we are all in the same boat.

3. Plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the Ark.

4. Stay fit. When you’re 600 years old someone may ask you to do something really big.

5. Don’t listen to critics, just get on with the job that needs to be done.

6. Build your future on high ground.

7. For safety’s sake travel in pairs.

8. Speed isn’t everything. The snails were on board with the cheetahs.

9. When you’re stressed, float awhile.

10. Remember the Ark was built by amateurs, the Titanic by professionals.

11. No matter the storm, when you are with God there’s always a rainbow waiting.

Learning the Right Lessons

There are basically two ways to approach this very familiar story. The first is to focus on the controversial issues. Examples would be, What was the extent of the flood? Did it really cover the entire earth? How large was the ark? How did Noah get those animals into the ark? I would include in this category the very pressing question sometimes asked (usually by teenagers), How did Noah and his family keep the ark clean with all those animals inside? Those questions are useful and important and I hope to answer some of them as we continue in our study of Genesis 1-11. But if we concentrate only on the controversial elements, we risk missing the larger message. Even though it is important to ask, “How did a flood cover the entire earth?” if we stop there we will miss the larger spiritual lessons the Lord intends for us to learn. It is worthwhile to enquire about the civilization that perished, but the emphasis of the text is not on those who died, but on the one family that survived. And that’s where we need to focus our attention. How did Noah and his family escape the terrible judgment of the flood?

I. Noah: The Man Who Built the Ark

Our text reveals a number of important facts about Noah. If we consider these things, we will understand why he and his family survived the flood while the rest of the human race perished.

A. He was a godly man 9

“Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God” (Genesis 6:9). This verse is the key to everything else. Noah was a righteous man. That means he believed in God and took his Word seriously. He was not a doubter or a skeptic. Like Abraham who would follow him many generations later, Noah believed God and his faith was counted as righteousness (see Genesis 15:6). His faith produced in him a lifestyle that was so categorically different from his contemporaries that he seemed blameless by comparison. Here was a man who walked with God and knew him intimately. Noah didn’t merely know about God, he knew God and walked with him on a daily basis. This is a high honor since he and Enoch (Genesis 5:24) are the only two men in the Bible who are specifically said to have walked with God.

B. He was a family man 10

“Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth” (Genesis 6:10). We know that Noah was married and that he and his wife had three sons, and each son was also married. Noah was the head of his household and the spiritual leader to his wife, his sons and his daughters-in-law.

C. He was a unique man 11-12

“Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways” (Genesis 6:11-12). These verses are placed here to stress the contrast between Noah and his generation. The word “corrupt” means rotten or putrid or utterly foul. It describes a world in the final stages of moral decomposition. Having rejected the Lord, the men and women of the world had sunk into a deep pit of violence, hatred, abuse, murder, dishonesty, and every ugly expression of the depravity of the human heart. If we are honest with ourselves, we all think things that we would never dare to speak aloud (nor should we). The heart is wicked beyond belief. But in civilized society, many evil thoughts are left that way—as thoughts, never to be mentioned or spoken or written or acted upon. In the days before the flood, evil thoughts became evil words that ultimately led to acts of unspeakable atrocity, brutality, lust and perversion. The unthinkable became thinkable, then speakable, then doable. And finally the unspeakable was done openly and praise was given to those who did it openly. Romans 1:24-32 offers another picture of how this process works in society.

And in the darkness of those days, one man stood out from the crowd. Noah was a bright shining light in the prevailing moral darkness.

In an impure world, he was pure.

In an unrighteous world, he was righteous.

In a world that dismissed God, he walked with God.

He stood alone, believing God, building the ark, no doubt receiving much abuse, always confident that God could be trusted and that the flood would someday come to the world. If his friends called him “Crazy Noah,” it did not bother him. Or if it bothered him, it did not stop him. He stood his ground, and God noticed.

D. He was an obedient man 22

“Noah did everything just as God commanded him” (Genesis 6:22). This verse comes immediately after God gives specific instructions for building the ark. Note the two things said in this verse:

His obedience was complete: He did everything the Lord commanded.

His obedience was absolute: He did everything just as the Lord commanded.

Nothing halfway. There was no “Well, I think I’ll build two decks instead of three” or “I think I’ll use oak instead of gopher wood” or “Let’s make it 350 cubits instead of 300 cubits long.” And he didn’t try to bargain with God about all those animals. Because he believed God when he said a flood was coming, he had no reason to question the design of the ark or the need to provide space for all the land animals. God said it and that settled it for Noah.

E. He was a bold man II Peter 2:5

This fact is implied in Genesis 6 and stated explicitly in II Peter 2:5, where Noah is called a “preacher of righteousness.” He wasn’t just a builder who knew how to construct an enormous boat. And he wasn’t just a godly man who let his life speak for him. During the 120 years before the flood, Noah built the ark and he also preached righteousness to his own generation. I’m sure he warned them of judgment to come and invited them to join him in the ark. But no one seemed to listen. Perhaps they were too busy to pay attention. After all, it seems as if no one had ever seen rain before. Certainly no one had ever seen a worldwide flood before. Why should they take Noah seriously? To his contemporaries he was like those people who preach on the street corners. It’s always easier just to walk on by than to stop and listen.

Jesus made a direct comparison between the days of Noah and the days preceding his return to the earth (Matthew 24:37-39). As it was then, so it shall be again. The past is the key to the future. Go back to Noah’s day and what do you find? Widespread unbelief and skepticism, a generation that had no time for the Almighty. Killing and violence on a daily basis. Human life was cheap. Sexual perversion was the rule of the day. Better yet, there were no rules. Men and women did as they pleased, and the result was a putrefying mass of evil so sickening that God decided to start all over again. On one level it was “business as usual,” on another level it was “sin to the 12th power.” That same combination of moral corruption and “business as usual” will be the order of the day when Jesus returns.

Dangerous Times

We do live in dangerous times, don’t we? In the last several weeks Marlene and I have been on the road almost constantly. During one stretch we drove 3,400 miles in nine days to attend a family reunion. Our travels took us through northern Minnesota, across North Dakota, into Montana and then to southeastern Alberta, through Wyoming, across South Dakota, across southern Minnesota, through Wisconsin, and finally back home to Oak Park. Because we drove so much, I listened to the radio much more than usual. Every hour the news was the same: Another killing in the Middle East, more threats of terrorism in the United States, more worries about anthrax, the possibility of invading Iraq, talk about nuclear war and bioterrorism, and toward the end of the trip, it seemed as if every other day, a child was being kidnapped in America. All too often, the children are not being found alive. This is our world.

On Thursday I flew to Minneapolis to speak at a conference for a fine ministry called Love INC. On both legs of the flight, I had to stand in long lines at the security checkpoint. Hold your arms out, please. Take off your belt and your watch. Take your computer out of the case. Stand over here for closer inspection. By the time you get on the airplane, you can’t help but look at the person next to you and wonder, “Could you be a terrorist?” “Are you hiding something?” This is our world.

A week ago we were in Alberta at the Cypress Hills Provincial Park in a village called Elkwater. It’s a lovely wooded resort by a lake that seems to materialize in the middle of the endless prairie. To get there we traveled north from Havre, Montana and entered Canada at a remote spot called the “Wild Horse Crossing.” Entering Canada was a snap. We told the customs officer where we were from, where we were going and why, and when we would return. She waved us on through. Things were different when we tried to re-enter the United States. I should pause to say that I have visited Canada several times and have never had the slightest problem going in either direction. But last Sunday morning, as we approached that remote crossing, things were different. The man with the US Customs Service asked a series of questions, which we answered briefly. Then he asked for proof of US citizenship. When we gave him our driver’s licenses, he said, “This just tells me you can drive. Do you have birth certificates or passports?” No, the thought had never occurred to us. We were just spending a couple of days in Canada, that’s all. “You told me to ask for this,” he said, referring to the laws passed by Congress. Then he took our licenses, turned to go inside the little station, and said, “I’ll be back when I get back.” He wasn’t in a jovial mood. We sat there so long that traffic began to line up behind us. Finally, he came out and asked us again where we were born. “That’s what you told me before.” Then he said, “Please, when you travel internationally, take proof of citizenship with you. It makes things much easier.” Then he gave us back our driver’s licenses and waved us on through. The whole experience was unnerving and a bit harrowing. The world has certainly changed since September 11. We’re all on the front lines now.

He Saved His Own Family

That’s the sort of world Noah lived in before the flood. A world where violence was the rule of the day and no one could ever feel completely safe. How did Noah manage to save himself and his family in such a negative environment? We are not left to wonder about the answer because it is spelled out for us in Hebrews 11:7. This is a powerful verse that I recommend that you read, then memorize and then teach to your own family. “By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” We can break this verse down into four smaller statements that help us see what Noah did:

1) He believed what God said.

2) He built an ark to save his family.

3) He rejected the corruption of the world.

4) He and his family were delivered from destruction.

First, he believed. Then he built. In so doing he rejected the ways of the world. As a result, he saved his own family. While others mocked him to scorn, he and his boys labored year after year, building that massive ship. Day after day they lugged huge pieces of gopher wood and put them carefully into place, one plank at a time. For decades no one knew what it was, but then it began to take shape. Eventually the ark was completed and the days drew near for the flood. Finally the rains began, the animals arrived, and Noah and his family entered the ark together. Then the door was shut, the floodwaters rose, and the ark lifted Noah and his family to safety. How did he do it? “By faith!”

Here is a message especially for all the men who read this sermon. Fathers, listen up. Sons and brothers, pay attention. Husbands, read this carefully. Single men, take notice. All men and all boys, heed this word. Noah was a righteous man who had great faith in God. His faith saved his entire family. But note this. Not one word is ever said about the faith of his wife or the faith of Shem, Ham or Japheth or their wives. But they must have had some faith. How do I know that?

When Noah entered the ark, his wife went with him.

When Noah and Mrs. Noah entered the ark, their boys went with them.

When the boys entered the ark, their wives went with them.

I don’t know how much faith they had, but they had enough to follow the head of the family. And Noah had enough faith to inspire all of them to follow his example. That’s the power of a godly leader. Noah’s faith saved his entire family. He believed so deeply and obeyed so completely and walked so intimately with God that it was natural for his entire family to do what he did. They believed because he believed.

This is the power of a godly example. It is also the power of a godly husband and father. Men, God holds you accountable to set the pace for your entire family. Your wife looks to you for leadership. Your sons and daughters will be like you, for better or for worse. If you abdicate your responsibility, your wife will never be able to fully take your place. And if you live out your faith every day, it’s natural and normal to expect your family to follow in your steps.

A Father’s Wise Words

And for all of us, men and women alike, take heart from Noah’s example. You can be godly in a very ungodly world. Let’s stop complaining about the evil of the present day. As bad as things are, they were worse in Noah’s day. Back then, there were only eight true believers in the whole world. There were more than that last Sunday in the left-hand section of our sanctuary, just the two rows closest to the east entrance. We have far more spiritual advantages than Noah had. All we need is the courage to do what Noah did and to believe what God has said.

Yesterday Marlene and I drove to the little town of Converse, Indiana for the wedding of Bob and Jean Boerman’s oldest daughter, Melissa. Bob has been on the staff here at Calvary for almost 15 years. For the last eight or nine years, he has been our family pastor. Melissa married a fine young man from Converse. I was struck by something that happened early in the ceremony. Bob and the father of the groom stood at the foot of the platform in the sanctuary while Melissa and Joe (the groom) stood facing the audience. Both fathers gave a challenge to the bride and groom. The groom’s father said something like this: “Son, some people say that success depends on money and education but that’s not true. The most important part of success is character. I’ve done my best to set high standards and to teach you the difference between right and wrong so that you will be a man of character. Today you and Melissa are happy and very much in love, but the day will come when those feelings of excitement will begin to fade. When that happens, only character will keep you faithful. Son, if the entire world says something is wrong, and you know it is right, go ahead and do it anyway. If the world says something is right, but you know it is wrong, don’t do it. Be a man of character and your wife will follow your example.” That strikes me as excellent advice, not just for newlyweds but for all of us.

Noah was a godly man in an ungodly age, a bright light shining in the darkness. Because he had character and obeyed God when the world thought he was crazy, he ended up saving his own family. God bless him. And God bless all those who follow in his steps. Let there be no complaining about how hard things are. No excuses about how evil the world has become. Be a man of character. Be a woman of conviction. Stand on the Word of God and don’t worry about what the world thinks. You’ll save yourself, and by God’s grace, you may save your family and many others besides.

II. The Ark Noah Built

Regarding the ark itself, there is a very specific design given in verses 14-16, a very specific reason stated in verse 17, a very specific promise given in verse 18, and some very specific passengers are listed in verses 19-20, along with some very specific cargo in verse 21. Rather than go into great detail, I would simply point out that there is nothing mystical here at all. The text reads like a sober historical account of what actually happened. This is not a fantasy story made up simply to teach a moral. If we take Genesis 6 seriously, then we ought to conclude that God really did speak to Noah and told him to build the ark because a great flood was coming. And he really did tell him to bring the land animals into the ark in order to keep them alive until the flood was over.

Regarding the ark, I discovered a fascinating fact during my studies this week. The Hebrew word translated “ark” is used in only two places in the Old Testament. In both places it basically means “box” or “container.” This is significant when you consider that the other occurrence of this particular Hebrew word comes in Exodus 2 where it refers to the basket in which the infant Moses was placed when his mother hid him in the bulrushes. It is not a coincidence that the “basket” of Exodus 2 is coated with “pitch,” the same resinous material used in the ark Noah built. The major point here is that Noah’s Ark was not like a motorboat or a yacht or a three-masted schooner. It was essentially an enormous container designed to keep Noah and his family and the animals afloat during the yearlong duration of the flood. It had no rudder because Noah didn’t need to steer it. He just needed a boat that would float, which is exactly what God told him to build.

The ark itself was very large. The Hebrew text of Genesis gives the measurements in “cubits,” usually taken to equal 18 inches (although some authorities suggest a cubit could be as long as 45 inches). If we assume that a cubit was 18 inches, then the ark was 450 feet long, 45 feet high, and 75 feet wide. That means it was long and narrow and relatively low-slung, basically a floating barge. Various engineering studies have revealed that such a design ratio produces a vessel that is incredibly stable and almost impossible to capsize. The basic design is very similar to the massive supertankers that ferry oil from the Middle East to North America.

Again using the 18-inch cubit, and allowing for three floors inside the ark, it contained at least 100,000 square feet of floor space, equivalent to 20 full-size basketball courts. Total storage space was over 1.5 million cubic feet, roughly the capacity of 569 standard railroad cars.

That brings us to a question we cannot answer with certainty: How many animals were on the ark? We know that Noah was told to include a male and female of all the land animals. It is a mistake to jump to the conclusion that Noah had to bring two of each species on earth. Genesis 1 speaks of created “kinds” of animals, a category that clearly seems larger than the species level. Some authorities suggest that the total number of animals would have been no more than 2,000. Others suggest as many as 16,000. But suppose the number equals 50,000. Would the ark have been large enough to accommodate them? The following quote comes from the Christian Answers website:

“Remember there are really only a few very large animals, such as the dinosaur or the elephant, and these could be represented by young ones. Assuming the average animal to be about the size of a sheep and using a railroad car for comparison, we note that the average double-deck stock car can accommodate 240 sheep. Thus, three trains hauling 69 cars each would have ample space to carry the 50,000 animals, filling only 37% of the ark. This would leave an additional 361 cars or enough to make five trains of 72 cars each to carry all of the food and baggage plus Noah’s family of eight people. The Ark had plenty of space.”

The question is thoroughly discussed on a number of creationist websites, often in great detail. Suffice it to say that when the evidence is fairly considered, it is clear that the ark was easily large enough to deliver Noah and his family and the land animals safely through the flood.

III. Jesus Christ, the Ark of Our Salvation

After considering the nature of the ark itself, it is important that we recall the spiritual lessons that arise from this story. Three obvious ones come to mind:

A. God judges sin.

From the standpoint of those who perished, this is the central message. Though God is patient even in the face of outright rebellion and repeated blasphemy, his patience must eventually come to an end. God will not always strive with men (Genesis 6:3). Sin will be judged sooner or later. It is judged in this life through the suffering and pain that comes to those who presume to live life apart from God’s holy commandments. And it is judged ultimately in eternity when the unrighteous are sentenced to everlasting punishment in hell. The flood stands as a stark reminder that no one gets away with sin forever. As Martin Luther King, Jr. put it, “The arm of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

B. Even in judgment, God displays his grace.

Though the world perished, one man and his family were saved. God never leaves himself without a witness in the world. This truth saves us from despair when we see evil men rising to power and sin being praised openly. And it gives us great hope as we spread the gospel. Until the day the flood came, the door was open. Anyone could have entered.

C. Judgment will come when Jesus returns to the earth.

This is the point Jesus makes in Matthew 24 when he compares the “days of Noah” to the days before his return to the earth. There was total unconcern with even the remote possibility of divine judgment. Just as the men and women of Noah’s day did not believe him (or perhaps they didn’t even care enough to disbelieve him. Perhaps they ignored him altogether, which in many ways is much worse.), in the same way the world will have little concern for the possibility that Jesus will return and judgment will come to the earth. They will be too busy eating or drinking or playing or sending e-mail or buying or selling or building or dreaming or singing, or doing just about anything but getting ready for the coming of the Lord. But make no mistake. That day is coming. Just as certainly as the flood came to Noah’s generation, even so the Day of Judgment will come to the entire earth. And it may come sooner than anyone thinks.

First Peter 3:18-21 is a fascinating passage that some scholars consider the most difficult to interpret in the New Testament. In just a few verses Peter connects Jesus, Noah, the flood, baptism, and the Resurrection. Here are his words:

For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Though various interpretations are possible, Peter may be suggesting that the preincarnate Christ preached through Noah to his generation. Because they rejected his words, those unbelievers are the “spirits in prison” awaiting final judgment. In what sense do the floodwaters represent baptism “that now saves you also?” And in which sense did the floodwaters “save” Noah? The answer lies along these lines. The same waters that destroyed the world of that day also delivered Noah to a new world after the flood. Likewise, the waters of baptism deliver a believer from the old life of sin and destruction to a brand-new life. But before we jump to the conclusion that water literally saves us, let’s remember that not a drop of water actually touched Noah. He was saved “through” the water—that is, he passed through the flood—because he was in the ark. If he had literally been “in” the water, he would have perished with everyone else who died. It was the ark that saved him; the water merely delivered him from the old world to the new one.

Peter is not teaching baptismal regeneration, the idea that we are saved by baptism or that water baptism is part of our salvation. It is Christ who saves by his death (verse 18) and his resurrection (verse 21). Baptism is the pledge of a new believer whose conscience has been made clean by the blood of Christ. It is the believer’s Pledge of Allegiance to the Lord who saved him.

The Ark Points to Jesus

But that leads me to the all-important final point. If the water symbolizes baptism, then the ark must symbolize Jesus Christ. He is the “ark of salvation” to everyone who believes in him. Consider these points of comparison:

1) Just as the ark was provided by God, Christ was sent from heaven as a gracious provision for our salvation.

2) The ark was sealed inside and out with “pitch.” The Hebrew word for this resinous substance comes from the same root word translated elsewhere as “atonement” or “covering.” Just as the pitch sealed and covered the spaces between the planks of gopher wood, the blood of Christ covers our sins so that they cannot rise up and condemn us any longer.

3) There was only one ark provided and it had only one door. God never said, “Make four or five arks and let the people make their choice.” And he never offered more than one door to the ark. Only one ark! Only one door! Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

4) The ark saved everyone who entered. And everyone who comes to Christ is saved. No one who comes to him in faith will be turned away (John 6:37).

5) The ark was a place of total security. No matter how high the waters rose, the people and the animals inside were safe. Let the winds howl and the waves crash against the side. Let the rain fall for 40 days and 40 nights. It did not matter. The ark was so strong that it preserved everyone and everything inside. And those who come to Christ find that they are not only saved, they are safe forever and eternally secure.

6) Once God shut the door, no one else could enter. This is a sad and solemn thought. While the door was open, anyone could enter and be saved from the coming flood. Once the door was shut, it would not be opened again until the flood was over. Today is the day of grace. The door of salvation is open to all who care to enter. Whosoever will may freely come. The invitation goes out to the entire world. God takes no delight in the death of the wicked. He delays the coming judgment that all may come to repentance (II Peter 3:9). But the day of grace will not last forever. Death comes to all men sooner or later. And there will come a time when the gospel call will end and judgment must begin.

Consider this final thought. When the flood finally arrived, everyone inside the ark was saved while everyone outside perished in the rising waters. Perhaps some people came and banged on the door and cried, “Let us in!” When the floodwaters rose, the skeptics at last knew that Noah wasn’t so crazy after all. But it was too late then. The same thing will happen when Christ returns to the earth. There will be a final separation between the saved and the lost.

Dog Paddling to Heaven

Only one question remains. Are you in the Ark of Safety? I am not asking about your religion or your almsgiving or your good works or your religious background. And I am not inquiring as to your baptism or your church membership or even about your Sunday School attendance. Those things are of small value when it comes to the issue of eternal destiny. If Christ is the ark, are you “in” Christ by faith? Or are you “outside” Christ because you have never trusted in him?

I fear that many otherwise good and decent people (including some who may read this sermon) are hoping to “dog paddle” their way to heaven. They are not in the ark but they figure they can swim to safety if the need arises. But that’s like saying, “I can swim from California to Hawaii.” It can’t be done. You’re sure to drown and it doesn’t matter how far you can swim.

If you want to go to heaven, you must be in the ark. Jesus is the “Ark of Salvation.” He alone can save you from your sins. He alone can deliver you to the shores of heaven. He alone can rescue you from the judgment to come.

I have said this many times before and I say it again now, with only a slight change of wording. Run to the Ark! Run to the Ark of Salvation! Put your trust in Jesus Christ. May you and your family be found safe in the Ark of Salvation. Amen.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?