given on Sunday, January 15, 2012
Telling the Story: Noah and the Great Flood
Reading through today’s Bible story this week, I have discovered a second lesson that surprised me. I needed to hear this lesson because I have failed to use it.
Noah’s story has always been cataloged in my mind as a lesson on relying on God and following His law rather than falling into man’s evil ways. It is a lesson that I continue to hear throughout the Old Testament in various stories and prophecies. As long as one maintains complete faith in God, then the earth will never be destroyed.
Certainly that is an oversimplification of the Old Testament and the coming of Christ in the New Testament, yet it was a promise—or a covenant in Biblical language. This promise gives me hope, but I also found a lesson about patience in Noah’s story this week.
“Patience is a virtue” is a saying I have repeated to myself—and to students—for years. I really have no idea where I picked it up or even why, but for one reason or another I thought its origin was in Proverbs. In searching for it, the closest I found in Proverbs were verses 19:11 and 14:29:
- 19:11 A man’s wisdom gives him patience;
it is to his glory to overlook an offense. and
- 14:29 A patient man has great understanding,
but a quick-tempered man displays folly.
These two verses were the closest I could get and in the Message translation, the word patience is not even used.
Turning to the New Testament in search of lessons on patience, I discovered that only once in the gospels is it mentioned, and that is in “The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant.” That story certainly does not teach patience.
Yet, reading the story of the flood, I realized that the story followed an extensive timeline that I had not acknowledged before. First, there had been 10 generations between Adam and Eve and Noah’s family. During that time, the decisions of these people kept leading many farther and farther away from God. Evil was everywhere (Genesis 6:5):
God saw that human evil was out of control. People thought evil, imagined evil—evil, evil, evil from morning to night. God was sorry that he had made the human race in the first place; it broke his heart.
After 10 generations, evilness was out of control. God’s disappointment leads him to destroy all that he created.
Enter into the story Noah. Noah was not evil, and his family was not infected by the evil that was swirling around them. Therefore, God chose him to preserve creation—humanity and the animals. We have read the story, but reading through all three chapters expanded the time frame from the children’s story preserved in my memory.
- Making an ark: not done instantly nor within a week or so; this took months as only a few men were working on it together and its size was beyond anything comparable—it was 450 ft. by 75 ft. which is similar to modern ships, not the small fishing vessels we visualize from the New Testament stories.
- Loading the ark: completed, Noah had to round up everybody and pack the boat—seven couples, and up to 45,000 different animals. Even getting that done, it took more than a day and once they were in, they waited for seven days before the rain began.
- The rain: once it began, it lasted 40 days. This is not 40 days of rain like we are accustomed to, but 40 days and nights of non-stop downpours.
- The flooding: after the rain, the flood “surged” for 110 more days. That means a total of 150 days of flooding—five months!
- The water recedes: already the story has lasted much longer than the 7 days and 40 days I had in my childhood memory, now we are looking at the reality of a tremendous amount of waters that must recede—and remember, the ark is in the mountains that are covered by more than 20 feet of water.
- Looking for dry land: rain stops and for another 150 days—5 months—the water “decreased significantly.” The story has now reached 300 days and it is not over yet—Noah is still locked in the ark with the creatures.
- Finding dry land: the water may be going down, but where is dry land. The process of releasing the birds and waiting for their return is longer than a few moments; it takes 40 days after the tops of the mountains are seen for birds to find dry land.
- Duration of flood: add up the days and we learn that from the first day of boarding to the first day the bird does not return is somewhere between 370 and 377 days, if we have added correctly.
After reading through the resources and calculating those time elements, I realized that patience had to be a personality trait of Noah’s. Patience and complete trust in God is why Noah was chosen to preserve humanity and all living creatures.
What is today’s lesson from Noah’s story? Clearly I had never heard one on patience before, and this week I probably needed to hear it. When a new year begins, I am still trying to finish the year before. I can turn my frustrations into a self-destructive mindset. Shouldn’t I be able to get everything done now! Decisions can be quick, so shouldn’t the work to get it done be quick, too?
God’s choice of Noah was based on years of faith and how closely he followed God’s law. What today’s society tends to do is to remove the reliance on God and put the emphasis on getting something done—now! We fail to wait patiently. We may take a problem to God in prayer, but we do not allow him the time to provide a solution. We become impatient and turn away from God.
Noah’s story illustrates that sticking to God’s law–despite all the demands of the world, the shortcuts tempting us, the easy way rather than the right way—God’s law is the best way. God’s way leads to rewards we cannot even imagine.
God made a covenant with Noah that after the flood he would never destroy all living creatures again. The sign of the rainbow was a reminder of the covenant, and Noah’s story continues. God’s patience with the renewed world continues.
Christ was born as another means to maintain God’s promise. When evil seemed to be overtaking the world, God loved us so much that he chose to send Jesus to teach us how to live a faithful life. No flood was needed, only love.
If each one of us can maintain the one law, to love one another, then evil can be overcome. If each one of us uses patience and waits for God to answer or to lead us, then we can transform the world. When we fail to use patience, we can become our own worst enemy.
The lessons from Noah’s story are lessons that can transform our lives in today’s fast-paced, secular world filled with quick fixes, false promises, and frustrations. Hold on to your faith, talk to God, and then turn it over to him. Let go of the problem and be patient. God’s deadlines do not match our deadlines.
Dear Everlasting Father,
Noah proved that keeping his faith
was rewarded by your faith in him.
Noah listened, followed, and built
the ark that safely weathered the flood.
Faith and patience combined
to transform the world.
Today guide us to keep our faith
and to follow your commandment.
Today let us listen, follow and do
what you want us to do.
Let our faith be strong enough
to preserve the good in our world
And to defend the world from evil.