My grandma was an eccentric art collector whose house was more like a museum than a home; one of the few rules I remember from my childhood was absolutely no running ever. As a kid, I never quite appreciated her style and regret that I never was able to share my present love of art with her.
Except for one piece. In front of her living room window, always catching the light from her front yard, was a stained-glass bowl depicting Noah’s ark. I always loved it. It felt comfortable to me. As a young believer in a house of art that didn’t make sense to me, it was familiar. When she passed, I found out that she had made sure to leave that piece to me in her will, and I love it to this day.
What’s interesting about the bowl, though, is that it doesn’t quite depict the severity of the flood story. And, come to think of it, as I’ve aged, I’ve started to notice that most depictions of Noah’s ark and the flood present it as more of a cruise for wild animals than God’s severe judgment on the earth for sin.
Over the last few years, I’ve found myself wrestling with the story of the flood. I’ve asked questions that I’m sure are not unique to me: Did God really need to go that far? Why did the animals have to be punished, too? Was God really caught off guard by humanity’s sin?
These are good questions, and ones I won’t be able to exhaust here. But to ensure we have the correct foundation, we have to remember how bad sin is. Only people who think that sin isn’t that big of a deal are people who object to God’s punishment of it. When the severity and reality of sin is grasped, punishment may not be desired, but it is understood.
The truth is that sin is serious, and God not only hates it but is grieved by it. I appreciate the clarity of the NLT’s rendering of God’s reaction to the extent of human wickedness: “It broke his heart” (6:6).
So God decided that he would undo his creation. The passage doesn’t allow for us to view God as a cosmic dictator wiping out innocent civilians at will– no, we cling firm to the truth that our wickedness truly breaks God’s heart. The resulting flood is not God’s rageful temper tantrum, it’s the solemn reversal of God’s good creation to the chaotic waters of the formless, void earth (1:2). This is the nature and severity of sin. The flood reflects how sin undoes the good order of creation until it is reduced to what God sees as wicked (6:5).
In his grace, the Lord chose to save Noah and his family on account of his righteousness (7:1). This is not a righteousness that implies Noah’s moral perfection; rather, it is an imputed righteousness on the basis of Noah’s faith, his walking with God (6:9, cf. 5:22-24, 17:1). Noah built the ark according to God’s specs and then entered with his family and the animals. The flood waters came, destroyed, and receded, Noah’s family exiting a year later to repopulate the earth under the umbrella of the new Noahic covenant.
Now, where’s Jesus in this?
In the introduction, I mentioned that one way we see Christ in the Old Testament is through something called typology. The Old Testament is saturated with types– symbols– of the coming Christ. This story is one such example. Take a second and reflect on the passage and see if you can see who or what is the type of Christ here…
It’s the ark! The ark is a type of Jesus. Noah and his family entered the ark, the single option graciously provided by God as the means to survive divine judgment, and were sealed from the outside by God (7:16). Similarly, Christians enter into Christ and are spared from the eternal death awaiting sinners (John 5:24). Jesus alone is the path of salvation (John 14:6). Jesus, like the ark, bore the full wrath of God in judgment, with all the waves beating ceaselessly against him while those inside remained unscathed. When the flood waters finally receded, Noah and his family exited the ark to fill the earth again. When the final judgment has passed, Christians will spend eternity with God on the renewed earth we see described in Revelation 21-22, eternally secure under God’s new covenant (Hebrews 13:20).
The flood story instructs us about the nature of our salvation. It is wholly a work of God’s divine grace (he has provided the warning of coming judgment and the means for us to survive it); nonetheless we have the responsibility to enter the ark (7:1). It’s not enough to look at the ark. It’s not enough to recognize that ark exists. The ark must be entered for you to survive the flood waters.
There’s also an assurance of salvation present in this passage I find beautiful. The ark is sealed from the outside by God, reminding us of the truth of Romans 8:38-39, that nothing within all creation has the power to separate us from the love of God. As I’ve heard it said, we shouldn’t put too much stock into our feelings when, as Christians, we periodically wrestle with doubts about our salvation. It is not our feelings that save us, but whether or not our feet are in the ark.
Jesus, discussing the final judgment, referenced back to the flood in Matthew 24: “For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (v.37-39). Don’t ignore God’s word. Live with purpose, helping bring as many people into the ark as you can, not living for the fleeting pleasures of this world that is passing away.