Sunday, June 25, 2017

NOAH THE BOAT BUILDER


The world-wide flood that the Bible teaches took place during the days of Noah is one of those stories that is so fantastically extraordinary that I think that most people in these days do not believe it actually happened. Even some people who believe the Bible have serious doubts about the literal interpretation of the events as they are described in the Scriptures.

This sermon is not intended to be an argument for or against any opinion, but because people are often so passionate about this subject, one can hardly speak on it without addressing some of the geological and hydrological, as well as a couple other aspects of the flood.

Broadly speaking, although I acknowledge that there may be some allegorical language used when describing the events on the flood of Noah’s time, I still accept the events as described as being true. One does not need to be an intellectual Neanderthal to hold to this view, and if you care to do some research, there are some good resources available.

I would first like to address two questions rather briefly so that I can move on to the real topic of this sermon. The first of the two questions is this: Where did all the water come from so that the entire earth could be flooded? And the second question is: How is it possible that one pair of every kind of animal, including the dinosaurs, could fit on the ark?
 

Water, Water Everywhere

Because the amount of water needed to cover the entire surface of the planet is so great, many people believe that the flood did not literally inundate the entire planet, but was a flood that may indeed have been great, but perhaps limited to the local area surrounding that region. To Noah, it would have seemed like the whole earth had been covered by water, but if there had been astronauts circling the globe at that time, they would have radioed back to Houston that most of the planet still has large regions of dry ground (probably Houston would not have been one of these areas).


It is a rather small matter to me and it is perhaps possible that the flood was limited to the region of Noah’s neighborhood, but the account does say that “all the high mountains under the heaven were covered.”[1] Because of the wording here, I would say that a fair reading would say that the text means to imply that the flood was indeed world-wide.
 

Fountains and Windows

Then where did all he water come from and where did it go afterwards? Let’s look closely at the account of the initiation of the flood itself:
 

In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights. (Genesis 7:11-12 ESV)
 

The text speaks of the waters of the flood having two sources: “the fountains of the deep” and “the windows of the heavens.”

At the time of Noah, the formation of the earth was still in its early stages, and I believe that the geology of the planet was probably much different. The difference could have been that there were no great oceans at that time, and much of the volume of the water of the planet was locked up in great aquifers underneath the surface of the ground.

Also, the topography of the landscape may not have been so irregular as it is today. In this age, the earth has very high mountains and very deep valleys. In Noah’s day, the land surface must not have been entirely flat, since the text tells us that during the flood, even the “high mountains” were covered, but perhaps the mountains may not have been as high as they are today. More on this in a moment.

When the flood began, these gigantic aquifers burst forth as the “fountains of the deep.” The huge volume of water they contained surged up out of the ground in great quantities. I conjecture that this was because the crust of the earth began to break up, causing what we today know as the tectonic plates. The breaking up of the crust triggered great movements in the continental land masses, causing them to collide with one another at places, and forming great mountain ranges. Also, the outpouring of these waters must have been so violent that the surface of the ground was eroded and altered rapidly and significantly, forming deep canyons and gullies.

This was the first source of the water for the flood. The second source of the water was “the windows of heaven,” which were opened to allow the rain to fall for forty days and forty nights. Concerning this, many people believe that at the time before the flood, the earth had a huge canopy of water-bearing ice crystals that encased the entire planet. The theory, in fact, is called the “Canopy Theory.” At the initiation of the flood, this canopy began to collapse, causing great quantities of water to fall for many continuous days, forty in all.

These are just ideas, that’s all. I am sure that any actual geologist would scoff at my explanation for its simplicity, and I grant that all this is conjecture, nevertheless, I do believe that the earth went through some violent changes during the days of the flood.
 

Then Who Pulled the Plug in the Bathtub?

“But if this be so,” you may ask, “what happened then to all this water?” Let’s again look at the text concerning the end of the flood:
 

The fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens were closed, the rain from the heavens was restrained, and the waters receded from the earth continually. At the end of 150 days the waters had abated (Genesis 8:2-3 ESV)
 

We can see that the text tells us that “the waters receded for the earth,” and that they “abated.” Where did they go?

One idea (and one that I agree with) is that when the “fountains of the deep burst forth,” it was because the crust of the earth began to collapse in certain areas, such as in the Pacific and the Atlantic basin. The waters that had once been confined to aquifers burst onto the land. When the crust had reached its limit in its collapse, the water that at first had rushed forth out of the aquifers, now began to recede back into these areas of depression, causing the great oceans. As I mentioned a moment ago, another result of these catastrophic events may have been that some of our great mountain ranges were pushed up the continental movements.

All this also involves much conjecture, but it is conjecture that is at least allowed by the text. Also, if you care to investigate further, it is also allowed by what we know of the geological history of the earth.

And there is also this: whatever you choose to accept or not to accept concerning the flood, everything is merely conjecture. We were not there to see it. At least with the flood of Noah, we have an ancient written record that is found not only in the Bible, but in some modified ways, is also found in the history of other traditions around the world. It seems clear at least to me that something extremely and fantastically extraordinary happened at that time.
 

The Floating Zoo

Then how was it possible for Noah to fit at least one pair of every species on the ark? Estimates of the number of species on the earth today range from two to fifty million! Noah’s boat may have been massive, but not that massive!

First of all, I need to mention the dinosaurs fitting on the ark. The ark may have been huge, but as we know from their fossils, dinosaurs would have taken up a lot of space! Besides this, what about feeding them?

Don’t you think it would have made sense for God not to send full-grown specimens of the dinosaurs, or even any large animal? Young specimens would certainly take up less room, and would not eat as much (unless they were teen-aged specimens). Perhaps all of the animals were young, regardless if they were large or small animals in their adulthood. This also makes practical sense, since young animals would have more reproductive years ahead of them in order to repopulate the earth.

Second, we need to clarify what is meant by the words species. Generally, this word is used to describe a group of animals similar enough genetically to be able to interbreed and produce viable and fertile offspring. For instance, two types of cows can do this, but not a horse and a cow. This also is a simple definition and some may have a few nuances that they would like to add, but we will go with this for now.

I also need to make a distinction concerning degrees in evolution. Thanks to our educational system, evolution has become the new truth in our society, and the fact that God created every kind of animal is largely put down to religious myth. But by believing in creationism by God does not mean that one must completely discount any changes at all that may occur in succeeding generations of animals.

The classification system that we use today and by which we categorize the animal kingdom into “families” and “species,” as well as the other divisions, was largely developed by the Swedish botanist and zoologist Carolus Linnaeus in the eighteenth century. The Bible did not use this system, since it was written much earlier. The Bible speaks mainly of animals in “kinds.”[2] It is quite apparent from chapters such as Leviticus 11, that the created “kinds” is a much broader classification than our present-day classification of “species.”

Thus, beginning with the fact that we are dealing with unlike terms of animal classification, and then added to this the largely dogmatic acceptance by many people of evolution, along with their unqualified denial of any type of creation, we can see that this is a discussion that gets long and ugly. That is not what I want to do here. I have something more important to talk about. That subject is the man named Noah – an astounding and admirable individual. He was not perfect by any means, but he has much to teach us.
 

The Age of Wickedness

The assessment of the state of the world during the days of Noah is given to us in Genesis chapter six, verse five: “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.”

We do not know what it would have been like to live in such a depraved society. In our society today, even the most hardened criminal, if he is not pathological in some sense, has at least a spark of goodness in him. There is something within him that calls him to greater decency, and to which, if we only knew the path to reach that higher part of his personality, we could appeal for reformation.

But evil does not arise only from criminality against society. Wickedness can come even from within the society itself. When the virtues and the standards of morality of a society as a whole have degraded sufficiently, the civilization itself is one of wickedness.

This apparently was the case in the days of Noah. I do not know if the writer of Genesis could have used any more extreme invectives than he did: “Every intention of the thoughts of man’s heart was only evil continually.” The people of Noah’s day had descended so far into wickedness that there apparently was no hope of reform.

Listen to what the writer’s commentary was of the society of that day: “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.”[3]

The world was violent in Noah’s day; that much is clear from the statement. But did you notice that another word appeared in this sentence? The word is the word “corrupt.” The word in Hebrew is shachath. It appears almost 150 times in the Old Testament and is translated in various ways: destroyed, harmed, marred, ravaged, spoiled, wasted, corrupted, and other ways as well.

The central idea is something that is brought to ruin. The earth had been brought to ruin.

After the first mention of this corruption, this fact is repeated a second time in this passage: “And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt.” It was as if at the first time God saw the corruptness of the earth, he did nothing concerning judgment, in order to give the people of the earth time to correct their ways.

In truth, this is exactly the point that Peter later brought up in the New Testament. “The patience of God was kept waiting in the days of Noah,” Peter said.[4]
 
This was especially true during the construction of the ark. The building of the ark was a massive building project, and as far as we know, only Noah and his three sons were the carpenters. It took them many years to build the ark. Those who have done the math say that it may have taken between forty and one hundred years to complete the construction.

Peter also called Noah a preacher of righteousness.[5] During all of the years in which he was building the ark, Noah told the people of the great flood as a judgment on their wickedness that was coming. Of course they did not listen. Surely they mocked Noah and his family all of those years. They did not believe that God could send such a great quantity of water that the entire earth would be flooded. That is, if there was a God.
 

“I Am Sorry that I Made Man”

But indeed, there was a God, and we read that he came to regret that he had made man on the earth. “It grieved him to his heart,” the text tells us.

The Lord then went on to say “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”[6]

These words are problematic to some people. They are bothered by the fact that God could come to such a place where he would say that he was sorry he had created these things. “Isn’t he God?” they ask. “Why didn’t he do it right in the first place?”

But these words are not troublesome to me. Well… I should clarify that a little. They are indeed troublesome in the sense that the world had descended into such a wicked condition that God had to say this. However, the fact that it was possible for God to come to a place of such great regret so that he thought that he had to make a new beginning – the fact that there is this possibility is not troublesome to me.

Of course God could have made a first creation that functioned perfectly, one that was like a fine running machine. It would have been like you or I having a car that was perfect in every way. Imagine a car company that made automobiles that never broke down or even deteriorated in any way. You never had to change the oil and the tires never wore out. It never got dirty and even forever kept that new car smell!

I have to admit that it sounds great, and I also have to admit that some people identify so closely with their car or truck that it is almost a part of them. They seem almost to have a love affair with their vehicle. But no matter what they think, that new car can never love them back. It is a machine. It does not choose to function perfectly just because it loves you and wants to please you. It has to function in this way! It has no will of its own.

God wanted to create people not only whom he could love, but who also would love him back. But that meant introducing a very dangerous ingredient into to formula – something our perfect car does not have. That ingredient was a will that was free. As a result of this, we are free to choose whether we want to love God, or not. When this is the case, things can go wrong.

Indeed, during the days of Noah, things had gone wrong. So wrong, in fact, that it brought so much grief to God that he decided that he had to blot out those living beings that he created, not only man, but also animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens.
 

The World Under the Curse of Man

This brings up another question that may be troubling. In fact, for me personally, this is more difficult than the creation of men and women with free wills. The question is this: If it was man who became wicked, why did God see fit to blot out not only most of the human race from the face of the earth, but also most of the animal kingdom? What did they do? They were just running around in the forest.

Like it or not, from the very beginning, we as men and women have been put in charge of what happens to all living creatures on this earth. Do you remember what God said at the dawn of history during the days of creation? “Let us make man in our image… And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”[7]

Implied in the word dominion is responsibility. Having dominion over something does not merely mean that it is ours to do with whatever may please us. Having dominion does not allow us to abuse the resources and mistreat our natural environment. God has placed us here as the groundskeepers of his garden. Of course we are allowed to live off what the garden produces, both of its fruits and its animals, but we are also responsible to ensure that these have an existence as God intended them to have.

When he created the creatures in the beginning, he looked at what he had done and said, “It is all very good.” There was only one thing that could bring it to ruin, and God knew this from the beginning. That single thing was that he had given his gardeners a free will. They had the power to be worthy of what God had given to them to tend, but they also had the power to fail. During the days of Noah, the people had failed and failed miserably. They had rebelled against the creator of the garden.

But there was one man that was different. The text continues, “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”

I will have to wait until next week to speak more of Noah. He was an extraordinary individual who has much to teach us




[1] Genesis 7:19
[2] min in Hebrew, in Genesis 1:11–12, 21, 24–25
[3] Genesis 6:11-12 ESV
[4] 1 Peter 3:20
[5] 2 Peter 2:5
[6] Genesis 6:6-7
[7] Genesis 1:26 ESV

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