God Calls Noah and Creates a New World (Genesis 6:9-8:19)

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project
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Some situations may be redeemable. Others may be beyond redemption. In Genesis 6:6-8 , we hear God's lament about the state of the pre-flood world and culture, and his decision to start over:

The Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, "I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them." But Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord.

From Adam to us, God looks for persons who can stand against the culture of sin when needed. Adam failed the test but sired the line of Noah, "a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God" (Gen. 6:9). Noah is the first person whose work is primarily redemptive. Unlike others, who are busy wringing a living from the ground, Noah is called to save humanity and nature from destruction. In him we see the progenitor of priests, prophets, and apostles, who are called to the work of reconciliation with God, and those who care for the environment, who are called to the work of redeeming nature. To greater or lesser degrees, all workers since Noah are called to the work of redemption and reconciliation.

But what a building project the ark is! Against the jeers of neighbors, Noah and his sons must fell thousands of cypress trees, then hand plane them into planks enough to build a floating zoo. This three-deck vessel needs the capacity to carry the various species of animals and to store the food and water required for an indefinite period. Despite the hardship, the text assures us that "Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him" (Gen. 6:13-22).

In the business world, entrepreneurs are used to taking risks, working against conventional wisdom in order to come up with new products or processes. A long-term view is required, rather than attention to short-term results. Noah faces what must at times have seemed to be an impossible task, and some biblical scholars suggest that the actual building of the ark took a hundred years. It also takes faith, tenacity, and careful planning in the face of skeptics and critics. Perhaps we should add project management to the list of Noah’s pioneering developments. Today innovators, entrepreneurs, and those who challenge the prevailing opinions and systems in our places of work still need a source of inner strength and conviction. The answer is not to talk ourselves into taking foolish risks, of course, but to turn to prayer and the counsel of those wise in God when we are confronted with opposition and discouragement. Perhaps we need a flowering of Christians gifted and trained for the work of encouraging and helping refine the creativity of innovators in business, science, academia, arts, government, and the other spheres of work.

The story of the flood, found in Genesis 7:1-8:19, is well known. For more than half a year Noah, his family, and all of the animals bounce around inside the ark as the floods rage, swirling the ark in water covering the mountaintops. When at last the flood subsides, the ground is dry and new vegetation is springing up. The occupants of the ark once again step on dry land. The text echoes Genesis 1, emphasizing the continuity of creation. God blows a “wind” over “the deep” and “the waters” recede (Gen. 8:1-3). Yet it is, in a sense, a new world, reshaped by the force of the flood. God was giving human culture a new opportunity to start from scratch and get it right. For Christians, this foreshadows the new heaven and new earth in Revelation 21-22, when human life and work are brought to perfection within the cosmos healed from the effects of the Fall, as we discussed in "God brings the material world into being" (Gen. 1:1-2).

What may be less apparent is that this, humanity’s first large-scale engineering work, is an environmental project. Despite—or perhaps as a result of—humanity’s broken relationship with the serpent and all creatures (Gen. 3:15), God assigns a human being the task of saving the animals and trusts him to do it faithfully. People have not been released from God’s call to "have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth" (Gen. 1:28). God is always at work to restore what was lost in the Fall, and he uses fallen-but-being-restored humanity as his chief instrument.