First Things First – How the World Came to Be
14. Noah's Ark: A Picture of Salvation (2)
Genesis 6: 14 - 22
A growing number of scientists believe that geological evidence indicates our world has undergone a catastrophic flood. This is causing them to question whether or not the biblical account of Noah’s ark could be true. Many people are rereading the Biblical description of the Ark to see if such a vessel could fulfill its designated purpose in light of present day knowledge of both zoology and shipbuilding. There is nothing mystical here. The text reads like an historical account of what actually happened. This is not a fantasy story made up simply to teach a moral. If we take Genesis 6 seriously, then we ought to conclude that God really did speak to Noah and told him to build the ark because a great flood was coming. And he really did tell him to bring the land animals into the ark in order to keep them alive until the flood was over.
1. The Ark Noah Built
A. Very specific design v. 14 – 16
B. Very specific reason v. 17
C. Very specific promise v. 18
D. Very specific passengers v. 19, 20
E. Very specific cargo v. 21
The Hebrew word “ark” is used in only 2 places in the OT. In both places it basically means “box” or “container.” The other occurrence of this word comes in Exodus 2 where it refers to the basket in which baby Moses was placed when his mother hid him in the bulrushes. It is not a coincidence that the “basket” of Exodus 2 is coated with “pitch,” the same resinous material used in the ark Noah built. The major point here is that Noah’s Ark was not like a motorboat or a yacht. It was essentially an enormous container designed to keep Noah and his family and the animals afloat during the yearlong duration of the flood. It had no rudder because Noah didn’t need to steer it. He just needed a boat that would float, which is exactly what God told him to build.
The ark itself was very large. The Hebrew text of Genesis gives the measurements in “cubits,” usually taken to equal 18 inches – (46cm.) The ark would have been 140m long, 14m high and 23m wide. That means it was long and narrow and relatively low-slung - basically a floating barge. Various engineering studies have revealed that such a design ratio (l:w 6:1) produces a vessel that is incredibly stable and almost impossible to capsize. The basic design is very similar to the massive supertankers that ferry oil from the Middle East around the world.
Again using the 18-inch cubit, and allowing for 3 floors inside the ark, the floor space would be equivalent to 20 full-size basketball courts. Total storage space was almost 500 000 cubic meters, roughly the capacity of 570 standard railway wagons.
That brings us to a question we cannot answer with certainty: How many animals were on the ark? We know that Noah was told to include a male and female of all the land animals. Some authorities suggest that the total number of animals would have been no more than 2000. Others suggest as many as 16000. But suppose the number equals 50000. Would the ark have been large enough to accommodate them?
Christian Answers -“Remember there are really only a few very large animals, such as the elephant, and these could be represented by young ones. Assuming the average animal to be about the size of a sheep and using a railway truck for comparison, we note that the average double-decker rail truck can accommodate 240 sheep. So, 3 trains hauling 69 trucks each would have ample space to carry the 50000 animals, filling only 37% of the ark. This would leave an additional 361 trucks or enough to make 5 trains of 72 trucks each to carry all of the food and baggage plus Noah’s family of 8 people. The Ark had plenty of space.”
The question is thoroughly discussed on a number of creationist websites, often in great detail. It is enough to say that when the evidence is fairly considered, it is clear that the ark was easily large enough to deliver Noah and his family and the land animals safely through the flood.
2. Jesus Christ, the Ark of Our Salvation
After considering the nature of the ark itself, it is important that we recall the spiritual lessons that arise from this story. 3 obvious ones come to mind:
A. God Judges Sin
From the standpoint of those who died, this is the central message. Though God is patient even in the face of outright rebellion and repeated blasphemy, his patience must eventually come to an end. God will not always strive with men. Sin will be judged sooner or later. It is judged in this life through the suffering and pain that comes to those who presume to live life apart from God’s holy commandments. And it is judged ultimately in eternity when the unrighteous are sentenced to everlasting punishment in hell. The flood stands as a stark reminder that no one gets away with sin forever.
B. Even in Judgment, God Displays His Grace
Though the world perished, one man and his family were saved. God never leaves himself without a witness in the world. This truth saves us from despair when we see evil men rising to power and sin being praised openly. It gives us great hope as we spread the gospel. Until the day the flood came, the door was open. Anyone could have entered.
C. Judgment will Come When Jesus Returns to the Earth
This is the point Jesus makes in Matthew 24 when he compares the “days of Noah” to the days before his return to the earth. There was total unconcern with even the remote possibility of divine judgment. Just as the men and women of Noah’s day did not believe him (or perhaps they didn’t even care enough to disbelieve him. Perhaps they ignored him altogether, which in many ways is much worse.), in the same way the world will have little concern for the possibility that Jesus will return and judgment will come to the earth. They will be too busy eating or drinking or playing or sending e-mail or buying or selling or building or dreaming or singing, or doing just about anything but getting ready for the coming of the Lord. But make no mistake. That day is coming. Just as certainly as the flood came to Noah’s generation, even so the Day of Judgment will come to the entire earth. And it may come sooner than anyone thinks.
1 Peter 3: 18 - 21 is a fascinating passage that some scholars consider the most difficult to interpret in the New Testament. In just a few verses Peter connects Jesus, Noah, the flood, baptism and the Resurrection:
“For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
Peter may be suggesting that the pre-incarnate Christ preached through Noah to his generation. Because they rejected his words, those unbelievers are the “spirits in prison” awaiting final judgment. In what sense do the floodwaters represent baptism “that now saves you also?” In which sense did the floodwaters “save” Noah? The answer lies along these lines. The same waters that destroyed the world of that day also delivered Noah to a new world after the flood. Likewise, the waters of baptism deliver a believer from the old life of sin and destruction to a brand-new life. But before we jump to the conclusion that water literally saves us, let’s remember that not a drop of water actually touched Noah. He was saved “through” the water—that is, he passed through the flood—because he was in the ark. If he had literally been “in” the water, he would have perished with everyone else who died. It was the ark that saved him; the water merely delivered him from the old world to the new one.
Peter is not teaching the idea that we are saved by baptism or that water baptism is part of our salvation. It is Christ who saves by his death and his resurrection. Baptism is the pledge of a new believer whose conscience has been made clean by the blood of Christ. It is the believer’s Pledge of Allegiance to the Lord who saved him.
The Ark Points to Jesus
If the water symbolises baptism, then the ark must symbolise Jesus Christ. He is the “ark of salvation” to everyone who believes in him.
1. Just as the ark was provided by God, Christ was sent from heaven as a gracious provision for our salvation.
2. The ark was sealed inside and out with “pitch.” The Hebrew word for this resinous substance comes from the same root word translated elsewhere as “atonement” or “covering.” Just as the pitch sealed and covered the spaces between the planks of gopher wood, the blood of Christ covers our sins so that they cannot rise up and condemn us any longer.
3. There was only one ark provided and it had only one door. God never said, “Make four or five arks and let the people make their choice.” He never offered more than one door to the ark. Only one ark! Only one door! Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14: 6).
4. The ark saved everyone who entered. Everyone who comes to Christ is saved. No one who comes to him in faith will be turned away (John 6: 37).
5. The ark was a place of total security. No matter how high the waters rose, the people and the animals inside were safe. Let the winds howl and the waves crash against the side. Let the rain fall for 40 days and 40 nights. It did not matter. The ark was so strong that it preserved everyone and everything inside. Those who come to Christ find that they are not only saved, they are safe forever and eternally secure.
6. Once God shut the door, no one else could enter. This is a sad and solemn thought. While the door was open, anyone could enter and be saved from the coming flood. Once the door was shut, it would not be opened again until the flood was over. Today is the day of grace. The door of salvation is open to all who care to enter. Whosoever will may freely come. The invitation goes out to the entire world. God takes no delight in the death of the wicked. He delays the coming judgment that all may come to repentance. But the day of grace will not last forever. Death comes to all men sooner or later. And there will come a time when the gospel call will end and judgment must begin.
Consider this final thought. When the flood finally arrived, everyone inside the ark was saved while everyone outside perished in the rising waters. Perhaps some people came and banged on the door and cried, “Let us in!” When the floodwaters rose, the skeptics at last knew that Noah wasn’t so crazy after all. But it was too late then. The same thing will happen when Christ returns to the earth. There will be a final separation between the saved and the lost.
Only one question remains. Are you in the Ark of Safety? I am not asking about your religion or your giving or your good works or your background. I am not inquiring as to your baptism or your church membership or even about your Sunday School attendance. Those things are of small value when it comes to the issue of eternal destiny. If Christ is the ark, are you “in” Christ by faith? Or are you “outside” Christ because you have never trusted in him?
If you want to go to heaven, you must be in the ark. Jesus is the “Ark of Salvation.” He alone can save you from your sins. He alone can deliver you to the shores of heaven. He alone can rescue you from the judgment to come.