What I have learned from Noah?
- Don’t miss the boat.
- Don’t forget that we’re all in the same boat.
- Plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.
- Stay fit. When you’re 600 years old, someone might ask you to do something REALLY big.
- Build your future on high ground.
- When you’re stressed, float awhile.
- Remember that the ark was built by amateurs; the Titanic was built by professionals.
- Take care of your animals as if they were the last ones on earth.
- Stay below deck during the storm.
- No matter how bleak it looks, there’s always a rainbow on the other side.
This is just a small example of the great array of Noah jokes that you can find on the internet if you look. Noah has long been the pin-up of comedians. The story of his ark-building exploits provides a great source of material for jokesters.
But what was Noah really like? Was he someone to be taken a little more seriously than comedians have done over the years?
Genesis does give us some important insights into his character. We read in Genesis 5.5-6: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. But then in verse 8 we read: “But Noah found favour in the sight of the Lord.”
Doesn’t this tell us something important? God looks at the race of humans and is so grieved by their propensity to evil – “every inclination of their hearts was only evil continually”, God is sorry that he made them. In graphic language we read: “…it grieved him to the heart.”
But not so Noah. He “found favour in the sight of the Lord.” This is further emphasised in the next verse where it says: “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation.”
The writer could not depict a greater contrast between Noah and the rest of humankind. He alone was righteous in the eyes of God. He alone was not given to evil continually like the rest.
Then God gives Noah this large and complex task. Build an ark, to these dimensions. Gather the animals and your family, and a store of food for God is going to send a flood.
And despite the size and difficulty of the task that God gives to Noah, what is his response? “Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.” Noah’s response, the response of this one righteous man in the midst of evil, is to do “all that God commended him.”
And after the calamitous flood, when the waters dried up and Noah and his family and the animals came out onto dry land, what did Noah do? We read in Genesis 8.20: “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt-offerings on the altar”.
The result of this gratitude expressed by Noah was immediate. We are told; “And when the Lord smelt the pleasing odour, the Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of humankind’.”
A little later we come upon the passage we heard today, where four times God announces that he is establishing a covenant with Noah and every living creature.
So what does this tell us about Noah? Certainly, that he was not just a figure to parody.
It tells us that he was a man prepared to stand apart. In a world that was peopled by those who were inclined to evil, Noah was prepared to be different. If we apply that to our own times, it gives us some encouragement to resist the temptation to be dragged into the values of our secular world where so many decisions are made based on greed, self-interest and lack of concern for others who are vulnerable.
Would that Noah was involved in our world of banking and finance, of corporate adventurism.
In many ways in our daily lives, we can be challenged to display the values of God in the face of a society that values little but self. Here is a fruitful field for our reflection and attention during the weeks of Lent.
We also learn from this story that Noah was a man of action. Despite the enormity of the task that is put before him (and might we say it looked a foolish task before the rain came) he did what God wanted him to do. As the Bible states it: “Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.”
Obedience is not one of those words that we throw around a lot these days. Godly obedience stems from our willingness to trust God and all that he wants for us. Noah trusted God, and “did all that God commanded him.”
Perhaps obedience to the commands of God is an area that we could explore during Lent. And as I say, in looking at obedience, we are at heart considering the question of how much we trust God to want only what is truly good for us.
Another thing that we learn about Noah is that he is full of gratitude to God. He is quick to express his thankfulness for the salvation of himself, his family, and we night presume the living creatures as well that accompanied him on the ark. He challenges us to review this Lent the level of our gratitude for all that we have received.
The story of Noah ends where we would all want to be – in a covenant of love freely given by God. Noah is an archetype of the human at one with God along with all the earth and every living thing.
We treat Noah as a joke at our peril. He is a really serious man in relationship with God. He resists the sinfulness of the world around him; he does all that God commands him to do; he is full of gratitude to God for the goodness that has been showered upon him. Noah should not be the butt of our jokes, but an inspiration for our Lenten journey of repentance.
As we commence this season of Lent, fill us with your grace to respond to your call to repentance. Help us to know the strength that you provide for the challenge of life in our secular society. Make us ever grateful for your loving care and give us the courage to trust your call wherever it may lead us. We make our prayer through your Son Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Fr Allan Paulsen
Priest in Charge
St Matt’s Anglican, Holland Park