Genesis 7

Today, if you travel to Williamstown, Kentucky, you can visit the landscaped gardens and educational  presentation of the “Ark Encounter.” It is an impressive, even breathtaking, replica of Noah’s ark, designed by architects scrupulous in their faithful reproduction of God’s ancient blueprints found in Genesis 6. It was their concerted intent to recreate the very vessel Noah had built, in which God preserved the eight people who would repopulate the whole earth, scrubbed clean by the Flood.

A tale thousands of years old, pointing to a time even farther back, can be difficult to envision. How real, how concrete, is this story? What are we to take away from it? How important is it to reconcile every detail with what we know now, concerning geography, carbon dating, evidence of people groups, and timelines that don’t seem to dovetail with Genesis’ account of a world-wide cataclysmic event?

Though not all our questions can be easily answered through scripture, the writer of Genesis did take care to give us some idea of what Noah’s experience was, and what happened to his family and the world he knew. Stepping inside the story helps to experience the emotions this account bears. There is not much impact if we have no empathy for Noah, and no sympathy for the people about to die in a terrifying tsunami-like disaster.

Oral history is meant to be spoken, portrayed in story form, complete with hushed tones followed by frightened cries, rapturous swoons, angry shouts, and careworn sighs. Without those emotional markers, the next best thing is to let the Spirit carry you through an imagined landscape, listening and watching as an invisible observer traveling through time.

The Flood

A hundred years ends up being a pretty long while. In just the past fifty years telephones have moved from being heavy instruments attached to walls and sitting on tables, using a dial and a handle, to relatively small, lightweight devices using touch screens. In fact, computers themselves, which once occupied whole rooms kept at a special temperature, are now telescoped into these very palm-sized instruments. We’ve gone from catalogues and file cabinets to the internet and online providers. So, what changes took place in Noah’s one hundred years of ship building? How many Nephilim had been born, raised, and loosed into the world? What new inventions, and new perversions for that matter, had this season produced?

For Noah and his wife, three sons had been born, raised, and now married, all against the steady backdrop of the slowly shaping ark. In that day, raising a boat was heavy labor. Think of the massive trees that needed felling, milling into boards, curing into hardwood, planing into smoothed building material. Then came the measuring, sawing, fitting, and pegging (for this was long before the Iron Age, when things like nails were invented). Curved boards would be soaked for days then painstakingly shaped. Finally, the pitch work would be done, vats of tar over open flame, to keep it soft.

Where did they build the ark? It must have been near a largish body of water, where they could soak the rib boards, and also have a drinking supply for the animals they collected. There must have been something of a large, flat area where they could build an aviary, pens, mews, pounds, corrals, crates and folds, for their growing array of animals, birds, and all manner of living things. What else did they do for a living? Perhaps Noah was already a carpenter by trade, and becoming a shipwright was a natural, sideways step.

One hundred years of laboring, first Noah alone and perhaps his wife, and then, slowly, each son would be introduced to the family work and be apprenticed. Noah was now 600 years old. He had recently buried his grandfather, Methuselah at 969 years old. Just five years earlier, he had buried his father, Lamech. Noah and his family knew, because of Methuselah’s prophetic name, the time was drawing close.

At long last, when four generations had come and gone, the ship was ready, and God spoke, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation.” It would be something of a production, since now all the creatures they had collected over this same time period would be gathered from their enclosures and brought into the ark, safely ensconced each in their own specially designed habitat. God gave them seven days to complete their move, and Noah saw to it that all was accomplished exactly as God had commanded.

One little known fact is found in verse 2. For all the animals that would later be delineated as unclean, only a pair was required. But, for all birds, and for all animals that would later be qualified as clean, seven pairs were called for.[1] Why? Because, once landed, Noah and his family would need to eat, and would need to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving and worship to God. Since these ancient stories were curated by scribes during the Babylonian exile, it was a reminder of God’s injunction against unclean animals, and God’s requirement of covenants drawn in blood.

After 100 years, perhaps the growing ark operation had become a local fixture, a sort of zoo and ongoing reality play, where people would go of a Sunday afternoon to gawk, and perhaps egg Noah on to do a little preaching. I wonder if there weren’t some episodes of vandalism, theft, perhaps a little fire here and there to hinder the work. Would the shift in program have generated new interest? Would a town crier have run back to Main Street and shouted, “They’re moving the animals! They’re parading the animals into the ark!” Would a crowd have come thundering back to the ark’s shipyard to monitor their activities?

Perhaps God Himself prompted one last surge of interest in Noah’s project, to give Noah a chance to warn the people, to offer them a berth in God’s rescue plan.

The apostle Peter would later write, “…it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” That must have put his mind on Noah, who had certainly suffered a century for doing good, for he continued, “being made alive, [Jesus] went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits—to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.”

How God loved those people, and grieved over them. He had been unwilling for any of them to perish, that’s why He had been so patient, even when wickedness had reached its absolute nadir of evil.

Look at verse 16. “Then the Lord shut him in.” What did that look like to the growing crowd?

Did a great hand descend from the sky, shut the giant doors of the ark, and rub pitch over the outside?

Or, did the doors mysteriously shut and seal themselves, as though by an invisible hand?

Whatever it may have looked like, it was clear something supernatural was happening, perhaps the first unmistakable indication Noah had been preaching truth.

The narrator was very specific about the timeframe. That the Epic of the Flood provides particular dates for the beginning and end of the deluge is a fascinating detail not often talked about. Seven days to load up the ark, and enter it. Then God sealed them in, “on the seventeenth day of the second month”—in the Hebrew calendar, this would be the 17th day of Iyar, an anachronism surely inserted later by the anonymous team of scribes in 560ish B.C.

One way to understand why these dates were given is to think about the original audience — well, that is to say, for the Old Testament we hold in our hands today.

The stories in Genesis 1-11 are so old, their original dating is lost. To take them as they’re told is to accept they come from the dawn of human history itself, undoubtedly first as oral history, later to be written down.

During the Judean exile, all these ancient annals, wisdom literature, prophetic utterances, and records (written as plays, poetry, narrative and biographies) and so on were curated by a group of scribes who were (as I see it) inspired by God to remind the people of God’s character and nature, His plan for creation, and His love for and covenant with them.

They were stunned and horrified at the loss of Jerusalem and the temple. They were beyond discouraged. Everything they had believed in seemed to be proven wrong, and God Himself proven either weak and ineffectual, or perhaps even nonexistent.

So, the scribes went back to what they had, God’s revelation, in salvaged scrolls, remembered oral history, journals, and whatever else they had managed to rescue from the flames. Most importantly, they had God Himself to inspire and guide them, as they pieced together the sacred writings.

The dates they recorded in the Epic of the Flood had particular significance to their audience, and, prophetically, significance for us today, the modern readers they surely never imagined.

Why is the exact day, so important? One answer might simply be because the Flood really did come, on that day, and as described.

Jewish scholars talk about which month this really was? Commentators point to a number of ways to understand which month is the first month. Is it Nisan or Tishrei? Either way, the second month begins Israel’s rainy season, and for the ancient audience, this would have made sense.

Still other scholars feel there might be a prophetic hint hidden in the date of the Flood, pointing to the final Day of Judgement. Whichever way, it is an interesting add, isn’t it, to what feels like a fantastic story, yet told with such specific, concrete details.

[1] Leviticus 11 gives an exhaustive list of clean and unclean animals

[Noah’s Ark | Courtesy Pixabay]