The biblical figure of Noah and the account of the flood is known to adults and children worldwide. But what does the Bible actually tell us about this man?
Noah is introduced to us in Genesis 5:28–29 in a listing of Adam's descendants through Seth: "When Lamech had lived 182 years, he fathered a son and called his name Noah, saying, 'Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.'" The meaning of Noah's name gives us a hint as to the account that will come.
In Genesis 5 we also learn that Noah was born about 1,200 years after the creation of Adam. Additionally, we discover that Noah fathered three sons—Shem, Ham, and Japheth—after he was 500 years old. Genesis 6—9 gives us the rest of the account of Noah's life, and we continue to hear about him even into the New Testament.
Genesis 6:5 says, "The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." God was grieved and said He would blot out man and animals from the earth. "But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD" (Genesis 6:8). In the midst of a society so evil God chose to destroy it entirely, Noah stood out. He "was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God" (Genesis 6:9). Noah was not sinless (Romans 3:23), but he knew God and walked with Him. God preserved Noah and used him and his family to repopulate the earth.
God told Noah His plan to destroy the earth and its inhabitants with a flood. God instructed Noah to build an ark of gopher wood, providing him with the measurements and specifications. He explained, "Everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons' wives with you" (Genesis 6:17–18). Noah was also to take seven male and female pairs of each type of clean animal on the ark with him, one male and female pair of each type of unclean animal, and food. "Noah did all that the LORD had commanded him" (Genesis 7:5). The flood began when Noah was 600 years old. He and his family disembarked about a year later (Genesis 7:11; 8:13).
Noah built an alter to the Lord on which he offered sacrifices. "And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, 'I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease" (Genesis 8:21–22). As God had promised to Noah when He commanded the ark be built, God established His covenant with Noah and his family. "God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth'" (Genesis 9:1). He spoke of the dread that animals would have for humans and gave the animals as food for humans. God instituted the death penalty for murder. He also said, "Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth" (Genesis 9:9–11). God gave the rainbow as a sign of this covenant.
Lest we think Noah was perfect or somehow free of sin, the next thing we learn about Noah is that he "began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent" (Genesis 9:20–21). One of Noah's sons, Ham, saw his father's nakedness and told his brothers. His brothers, however, covered their father's nakedness. Noah cursed Canaan, Ham's son, because of Ham's (or possibly Canaan's) shameful actions. In part, this explains the relationship between the Israelites, who were descendants of Shem, and the Canaanites at the time of the Exodus, when it seems Moses would have written Genesis. Noah lived for 350 years after the flood. "All the days of Noah were 950 years, and he died" (Genesis 9:29).
The person of Noah and the account of God's judgment through the flood are referred to several times throughout the rest of Scripture. Isaiah 54:9–10 records this prophecy: "'This is like the days of Noah to me: as I swore that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you, and will not rebuke you. For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,' says the LORD, who has compassion on you." God has been faithful not to destroy the earth through a flood, and He will be faithful to fulfill this promise to Israel as well.
We also see Noah used as an example in rebuke. Ezekiel 14:12–14 says, "And the word of the LORD came to me: 'Son of man, when a land sins against me by acting faithlessly, and I stretch out my hand against it and break its supply of bread and send famine upon it, and cut off from it man and beast, even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, declares the LORD God'" (see also Ezekiel 14:20).
In talking about His return, Jesus said, "But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 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" (Matthew 24:36–39; see also Luke 17:22–30). Just as God was patient in the time of Noah (1 Peter 3:20), He is patient with the world now, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). But, just as in the time of Noah, judgment will come (2 Peter 3:10).
Hebrews 11:6 tells us "without faith it is impossible to please [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him." The chapter includes Noah as an example of such faith: "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). Second Peter 2 explains, "if [God] did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly … then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment" (2 Peter 2:5, 9).
We, of course, want to be like Noah in putting our faith in God, even if we do not fully understand all the details. We also want to be like Noah in walking with God and being a herald of His righteousness, through both word and action. We want to be considered righteous before God—something that only comes by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
Noah, like all of us, was in need of a Savior. His story is a foreshadowing of the salvific work of Jesus Christ. First Peter 3:18–22 explains, "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him." As Noah was rescued from the flood through the ark and brought into a new life, we, too, are rescued from God's judgment of our sins and brought into newness of life through Jesus Christ (John 3:16–18; Ephesians 2:1–10).
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