Was Noah’s Ark real?

Jun 1st, 2010 in Basics of Christianity, Bible, Tough Questions by Jim Denison

A woman once told me, “If you can prove God loves me, I’ll trust him.” I asked her if she could prove that her husband loved her, that his words were true and his actions sincere. She admitted she could not.

As with all relationships, faith in God requires commitment which transcends the evidence. If you wait until you can prove you should be married, you’ll never see a wedding altar. If you must prove that you’ll be a good father or mother before you have children, you’ll never paint a nursery.

Noah is the supreme example in Scripture of faith which became sight. If we’ll learn from his example, we’ll see his God.

Starting at 500 years of age
Nothing is known of Noah’s early days. He first appears in Scripture when he is 500 years old (Genesis 5:32). If we think him an old man, we should meet his grandfather, Methuselah. This patriarch lived 969 years (Genesis 5:25-27), longer than any other person in the Bible. In fact, he died in the year of the flood: he was 187 years old when Lamech was born; Lamech was 182 years of age when Noah was born; and Noah was 600 years old when the flood came (Genesis 7:11). You can do the math. It may be that Methuselah died in the flood.

How did they live such long lives in those days? It is possible that the word translated “year” meant a different period of time. Perhaps the numbers used were symbolic in nature. But the most likely option is that these men and women actually lived such life spans, well into the time of Abraham (cf. Genesis 6:3, “My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years”). It would seem that God either needed or chose to populate the earth through such long lives.

Noah’s name apparently means “rest.” It came true for him and his Ark, but not for the rest of humankind.

Finding the favor of God
God was grieved over the sin of humanity (Genesis 6:5-7). However, “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (v. 8). “Favor” translates the Hebrew word chen, meaning to bend or stoop; it shows the act of a superior man stooping down to an inferior one. This word is the perfect picture of what God did for Noah and what he does for us today, extending his undeserved grace and favor.

God wanted to do this for all of mankind, but they would not accept his mercy. As we will soon see, they rejected every opportunity for salvation. On the other hand, Noah positioned himself to receive such grace. He was “a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God” (v. 9). His righteousness did not earn God’s favor, but it put Noah in position to receive what God wanted to give. Noah was by no means perfect—remember his drunkenness in Genesis 9. But he responded to God’s grace, for himself and his family.

And so God called Noah to build an ark which would preserve his family and the rest of God’s creation. Its dimensions would be 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, 45 feet high, creating a displacement of 14,000 tons. The ark possessed a carrying capacity of 522 standard railroad cars: 188 for 45,000 animals (17,600 species), three trains of 104 cars each for food, family, and room to move about. Building this ark took Noah 100 years (he was 500 years old at the beginning, and 600 at the end). Then “the Lord shut him in” (7:16), another picture of divine grace.

Now the rains came, falling for 40 days and 40 nights (7:12). They covered the mountains to a depth of 20 feet (7:20), flooding the earth for 150 days (7:24). Five months after the flood began, the Ark came to rest “on the mountains of Ararat” (8:4). Eight months after the flood began, the tops of the mountains became visible (8:5). A year and 10 days after the flood began, the earth was completely dry (8:14).

And God made a new covenant with Noah and with all humanity. He would never again destroy the earth by a flood (9:11, although 2 Peter 3:10 says the world will one day end by fire). In this covenant, God prohibited idolatry, blasphemy, murder, adultery, robbery, and eating the flesh of a living animal. Then he gave the world the rainbow (9:13-17), as the sign of this covenant and promise that no rains will ever destroy the world again. The Lord proved that he has the power to end life, and to preserve it.

The story of the ark and flood is so remarkable that some discount it as myth. But the text is written as historical narrative, with no hint that it intends to be seen as symbolic. And other ancient documents also tell of a universal flood, as we would expect if such an event did indeed affect the entire human race. If God made the universe, he certainly possesses the power to perform the miracle this story describes.

Noah obviously believed in such a God of power. It is likely that he built his ark against the coming flood when no one had ever seen rain; God initially watered the earth from streams or mists which “came up from the earth” (Genesis 2:6), so that “rain” is not mentioned until Genesis. 7:4. He spent 100 years at the task, with no record that anyone helped him. And no one else even believed him: he was a “preacher of righteousness” to the world, but none accepted his offer of salvation (2 Peter 5:2). He persevered, and received the grace God intends for all.

Conclusion
Today we “find favor in the eyes of the Lord” exactly as Noah did. We obey his word as we know it, positioning ourselves to receive the grace he intends for us all. And he offers us a place in the ark of his salvation, protection from the coming flood of justice and judgment, and eternity in a new land filled with promise and peace. The choice is ours.

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