Noah, his ark, and the flood that he survived have been fascinating Christians for thousands of years, sparking debates about biblical interpretation, symbolism, and the character of God. Every corner of this story contains faith-building insights. Here are some of those commented on by the Faithlife Study Bible.
Noah’s story begins in Genesis 6 with a troubling description of society’s degradation and an observation about God that challenges our presuppositions:
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. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. (Genesis 6:5–6)
Does God change his mind? This verse seems to imply that he does. The Faithlife Study Bible offers several tools to help us make sense of this.
An entry on Genesis 6:6 explains anthropomorphisms—a literary device that assigns human-like characteristics to non-human entities. Tap the plus symbol to reveal more information. Here I found a link to another book in my Logos library, the Lexham Bible Guide on Genesis 1–11, which has a wealth of information on this very interesting and challenging theological topic. The Lexham Bible Guide surveys a wide range of scholars, presenting each opinion side-by-side, empowering the reader to develop an informed opinion. In this case, I found John Calvin’s position to be the most helpful. He says:
“The Bible represents God in imagery we can understand since we are unable to understand him as He is.”
Following his sad evaluation of mankind, God searches for an individual with whom he will restart his relationship with society. In Genesis 6:8, he finds Noah.
I can only imagine how random and strange God’s instructions must have seemed to Noah at the time, but he responds in faith, following every detailed step to the letter. He builds a huge ark, engineered to survive the coming cataclysm. The Faithlife Study Bible contains a useful infographic to help us picture this massive structure.
A fair amount of debate surrounds the extent of the biblical flood. There are predominantly two points of view: a global flood and a limited flood. Very smart and sincere Bible scholars stand firmly on both sides of this debate. This article by Douglas Mangum does justice to each:
“The debate is over how these statements should be understood. Do they reflect an ancient Near Eastern worldview, or do they point to an actual global event? Interpretations that emphasize the ancient nonscientific perspective of the text focus on the literary parallels between the biblical flood narrative and other ancient Near Eastern flood accounts. Advocates of this interpretation also tend to reject attempts to harmonize the flood story with scientific data because harmonization requires drawing on data and concepts foreign to the ancient writer.”
The story winds down as Noah releases a dove and then a raven in search of dry land. The Ark finally comes to rest on Mount Ararat, and the inhabitants of the ark disembark after 150 days aboard. Noah immediately constructs an altar to give thanks for God’s protection. Another infographic helps to illustrate the wide range of different objects described by the term altar.
God responds to Noah’s offering of thanks by making a one-sided covenant with him. Though he does not require Noah make any promise in exchange, God promises to never again destroy the earth by flood. He makes this covenant with Noah and all the descendants of Noah, which would of course include you and me.
The Faithlife Study Bible includes a table of all the major covenants recorded in the Old Testament.
God marks this, the first recorded covenant, with a unique sign—a rainbow. The word God uses to describe the sign has a militaristic connotation, implying that God has put away his weapon of war. The Lexham Bible Guide: Genesis 1–11 proves helpful again with a interesting entry about the rainbow, derived from the work of Franz Delitzsch.
“Delitzsch sees in the rainbow an appropriate phenomenon of God’s pledge to maintain the order of nature. The sun shines through the dark clouds, symbolizing heaven’s willingness to reach down to earth.”
If you venture out this weekend to see Hollywood’s depiction of this story, download the free Faithlife Study Bible first. Afterall, the book is always better than the movie.