By Dustin L. Abbott
During the lifetime of Noah, this Earth went through another cataclysmic transition. In Adam we see a rapid transition from purity and innocence to a world where sin and shame existed. in Noah’s day, we see a culmination of the trends that began with Adam and Eve’s sin. It is remarkable how quickly sin progressed! Those who try to marginalize Adam’s sin (he only ate a piece of fruit, they say) disregard the fact that the next recorded sin by Adam and Eve’s firstborn son was murder. Rebellion against God’s way always has insidious results and terrible consequences. Cain would have never murdered if sin had not first been released by the of the fruit. That groundswell of sin and its consequences crept out with the burgeoning human population and reached a crescendo during the life of Noah.
The Tenth from Adam
Noah was the tenth from Adam, with only eight generations separating them. Because of the extraordinary lifespan of the ancients, Adam would have seen the majority of these generations into existence. Lamech, the father of Noah, was probably about fifty years old when Adam finally passed away. The biblical in the book of Genesis traces only the descendents of Seth. There is a secondary (limited) genealogical record given for Cain’s line in Genesis 4. Biblical genealogies tend to focus only on the principle line and those that would carry the narrative forward. Typically only the principle son (usually the firstborn) is mentioned for each generation. It is the line of Seth that is given the full genealogical treatment, because this was the line of righteous seed. This is not to say that every man in this line was necessarily righteous, but rather that this was the line that had both a righteous beginning and an ongoing God consciousness. The Bible states that when Seth’s line began, men began to “call upon the name of the Lord” (Genesis 4:26). This phrase speaks of using the holy name of God in worship. There was a deeper God-awareness in this line; Adam’s family entered into a new depth of relationship with God. That heritage and influence was enough to keep God a part of this family line for hundreds of years. Noah was from this line and was the tenth man in the genealogies from Adam.
This “revival” would not permanently last, unfortunately. This view is disputed, of course, but I believe the early verses of Genesis 6 describe a period in which the two genealogical lines merged and started intermarrying. I will deal with this in more detail shortly. The by-product of this unholy merger was that the spark of worship and God-awareness was lost in a wave of increasing decadence and sin. Genesis 6:5 records that this reached a point where the thoughts of people’s minds were constantly consumed with wickedness, and God’s desire for fellowship with mankind was rapidly becoming impossible. The sad fact is that within about twelve to fourteen generations the world had become completely corrupt. In fact, even before Noah was born, it was apparent to his father Lamech that this was the way that the world was headed. The pace of the genealogy is interrupted to include his comment at the birth of this notable son. He named his son Noah, which means “rest.”
“When Lamech had lived 182 years, he fathered a son and called his name Noah, saying, ‘Out of the ground that the LORD has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands”‘ (Genesis 5:28-29 ESV).
It is questionable just what Lamech intended by this statement. Perhaps it was even a statement of Messianic hope, a hope that this son might be the promised “seed of a woman.” It is unlikely that he could have predicted the very violent way that the earth would receive its rest. A change was coming, and his son would be instrumental, but the execution of God’s wrath and mercy was certainly beyond man’s wildest imaginings. There was a sense of destiny impressed upon the mind of Noah’s father that obviously came from God.
The Sons of God and the Daughters of Men
When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the LORD said, ‘My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. 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 was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, “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” (Genesis 6:1¬7 ESV).
This change on Earth took place somewhere in the 500 years of Noah’s life before we meet him scripturally. Earth was becoming rapidly populated, for people had extraordinary life spans as well as hundreds of years of fertility (we see children being born to men from age 65 to over 500 years old). Until Noah, the shortest lived person on record who died a natural death had been his father, who lived to be 777 years old! People were living for hundreds of years and having children through a good portion of their lives but were not dying! Adam had probably lived long enough to see Noah’s father! We have already discussed the fact that there were two distinct genealogical lines of humanity, which also represent two distinct human societies. One society, the descendents of Cain, are marked by their human achievements and accomplishments. Genesis 4 records extraordinary advances in agriculture, metallurgy, the arts, and other innovations. They had fine minds and a long lifespan in which to hone their gifts. Their society was progressive, but it was also secular. There is no record of any of Cain’s descendents reversing his course of rebellion and defiance against God. In fact, what is recorded is that Cain’s sin of murder and a similar arrogance and disregard for human life is evident in his descendents.
By contrast, the descendents of Seth are characterized by their relationship with God. The notations in the genealogy invariably deal with those who enjoyed an exceptional relationship with God, such as Seth, Enoch, Lamech, and Noah. There were quite obviously two completely different priorities and measures of success for these two distinct societies. Surely the descendents of Seth were similarly advanced and intelligent, but unlike the descendents of Cain they lived with a God-consciousness. Seth, Enoch, and Noah in particular are outstanding in their relationships with God and are evenly distributed throughout the ten generations. At some point after Noah’s birth these two spiritually opposed societies merged. The “sons of God” (the godly descendents of Seth) began to notice the beauty (and doubtless sensuality) of the “daughters of men” (ungodly descendents of Cain) and began to lust for them. The children of Israel experienced a similar temptation orchestrated by Balaam and the Moabites, as recorded in Numbers 22-25. The sultry girls of Moab seduced the Israelite men, bringing the wrath of Jehovah upon His own people because of these unholy unions. God simply cannot allow His people to become allied with unbelievers, because He intimately knows the destruction that it brings.
Case in point is the matter at hand. The descendents of these spiritually incompatible lines began to intermarry, mixing godliness with ungodliness. The Bible states that “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days.” Nephilim is a word that is often translated “giants.” It doesn’t state that the Nephilim were necessarily the result of these unions; it just states that they existed in those days. This same word is used to describe giants after the Flood, so this term generally describes physically large, dominant people rather than some kind of unique unnatural blend resulting from these unions. The Nephilim of this day would have all perished in the Flood. The Nephilim are the primary argument for those who interpret this passage to indicate some type of unnatural union between fallen angelic creatures and human women. There is no other precedent for this in Scripture, and this line of logic in fact seems to contradict Jesus’ statements regarding the angels being sexless and not having any kind of marital relations, physical or otherwise (Matthew 22:30). If these Nephilim were some kind of unnatural progeny from a twisted illicit relationship between demons and humans, where did the Nephilim after the Flood come from? There is certainly no indication given in Scripture of more of these illicit type relationships; nor is there any evidence of such in the present. It seems this more mystical explanation is unnecessary.
It was not just their apparent size that distinguished the wicked souls that began to corrupt the earth; it was their deeds. They were men of great renown, mighty, but they were not noble people seeking a higher purpose. Their deeds and accomplishments were corrupt and self-serving. They used their technology and wisdom for their own benefit. Their corruption began to spread throughout every corner of society, and the godly line was lost in this unholy blend. The rising tide of secular godlessness swallowed the God-awareness that had existed in Seth’s line as long as they had remained separate. Man’s minds and hearts dwelt only on evil continually. At this point God despaired of humanity and resolved that He would not deal with this race of people any longer. He purposed to utterly destroy them, but as God scanned the Earth looking for any trace of the godliness of Seth He spotted Noah. There was something different about Noah, and he “found grace [favor] in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:8). In reality, all of God’s effort in extending grace and the building of the ark was the result of just one righteous man.
A Childless Man
Noah was different from the generations before him on a very basic level. Prior to Noah there is absolutely no record of anyone having difficulty producing offspring. It is logical to assume that most of these early families had a great number of children. Their years of fertility probably numbered in the centuries, not decades, which would mean that most couples could produce a great number of children. Noah and his wife appear to be the exception to the rule. When Noah is brought to our attention, he is already 500 years old and appears to be childless to this point. It is only when God starts to deal with Noah regarding the state of the world and His plan of mercy for Noah (and those who will join him) that his wife’s womb is opened and she produces three sons in fairly rapid succession. We see a foreshadowing of the unique way that God would bring forth the nation of Israel…through three barren women. Before Noah, the oldest that anyone had been before bringing forth their prominent child (not necessarily the first) was 187 years. This was Noah’s grandfather, Methuselah.
Genesis 5:32 makes it clear that Noah was 500 years old before he ever had a child. “After Noah was 500 years old, Noah fathered Shem, Ham, and Japheth” (Genesis 5:32 ESV). This probably qualifies as being a “late bloomer.” It is certain that God had a plan in this, of course. God’s intent was surely to preserve as much purity and innocence as possible for these sons who would be responsible for replenishing the earth. At the time of the Flood, Japheth, Shem, and Ham were most likely recently married and still childless themselves. Their family would start fresh on the far side of the Flood.
This means, of course, that it is very likely that God spoke to Noah about preserving their future before Noah even had any children. What future would he have to preserve? There were no children to carry on his name! The Flood happened when Noah was 600 years old, and he did not have children until he was 500 years old. He began to preach and make preparations for building the ark very likely somewhere between his 480th and 500th year, for God had made His decision 120 years before the flood, in Noah’s 480th year! “Then the LORD said, My Spirit shall not abide in man never, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years” (Genesis 6:3 ESV). We often interpret this as the lifespan, but in reality this was the point where God decided to destroy the world, and was stating that would give 120 years of grace, 120 years for a world to come to repentance before His destruction came – and if it weren’t for the righteousness of one man, all could have been lost.
Noah Found Grace
Noah is a perfect illustration of just how far God will go to redeem one man. The Bible seems to make it clear that there was no other person on Earth that was righteous or pleasing in the sight of God. Not one. Not even Noah’s wife. God had already decided that He would grant a 120-year extension of mercy to humanity, but before God’s interaction with Noah there was no mention of an ark or any way of escape from the coming wrath. In God’s infinite knowledge, of course, He knew that Noah would be found righteous, but Scripture seems to indicate that if not for Noah (or a general repentance in society) the whole of humanity could have come to a conclusion at the end of the 120 years. The whole purpose of God’s design in building the ark, the preservation of the animals, and the extension of mercy to the whole of humanity came solely on the merit of Noah finding favor with God. Noah became the object of God’s affection and His vehicle of offered redemption to an apostate world. Noah’s pedigree is made even more impressive when compared with the absolute wickedness of his generation. Consider this:
“But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:8-9 ESV).
These are strong words. Noah is called righteous and blameless. Any way you take these words, they are high praise for the character of Noah. Righteousness speaks of being in right standing with God, godly and just; Noah’s character was unimpeachable. The use
of the word blameless reveals that his actions could not be impugned. There were no “skeletons in his closet,” no secret sin, but amongst all his generation he alone was blameless. This is not say that he was perfect, but his spirit, actions, and character all found God’s approval. The final endorsement is the simple line “Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9 ESV). These words are identical to the description given of Enoch’s relationship with God, a relationship so unique and special that God broke the rules of death and the grave to translate Enoch directly into His presence. It implies a life of close fellowship, “rubbing shoulders” as two close friends might. Noah’s relationship with God was not shallow or contrived; it was the genuine article!
It is because of this intimate relationship that we find a remarkable ease in the way that God and Noah communicated. God’s words are clearly not just indistinct impressions or generalizations; they are remarkably direct and specific! God gave him specific instructions about the Flood, His purpose in it, and the preparations that Noah should make for the survival of him and his family. God was specific about the dimensions of the ark, what building materials were to be used, how it was to be sealed, how many stories the ark would have, and even the placement of the window. At this point God gave Noah specifics about the animals that would accompany them and the food stores that should be brought along. There is no hint of vagueness in the communication between God and Noah. Everything was very open and specific. God would later intimate (in reference to Moses) that He loved the ability to speak “face to face” with Moses, like a friend (Exodus 33:11 ESV). No dark sayings or cloudy utterances, just open communication. I see this same depth of relationship in Noah as well.
It is interesting to note that the Bible contains no record (that I can find) of God specifically instructing Noah to preach to his fellowman. Yet Peter calls Noah the first “preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5). The concept conveyed in the word preacher is “one that proclaims a message in the authority of a greater power (like a king on earth), a herald of divine truth (in the spiritual realm).” Noah preached the “gospel” message for his day. He defined sinfulness and offered a way of escape through obedience to God’s salvation plan. It is possible that God instructed Noah to preach to his generation and this command is just not recorded in Scripture, but it is also possible that Noah simply preached out of a righteous conscience that cared enough for his fellowman that he did not want to see them lost. His love for souls is shown in his persistence in preaching to them despite the obvious amount of rejection that he received. Jesus compared the rejection that He received to that of Noah, and His generation to the generation of Noah’s day. Jesus stated that in Noah’s day people continued with their lives, completely rejecting the message that Noah passionately preached to them. Right up until the day Noah and his family entered the ark, his words fell upon deaf ears (Luke 17:25-27). Peter compares this spiritual ignorance to those in the last days who will scoff and say, “Where is the promise of his coming?’ They will blindly look around and say that everything is just the same as it has always been, willingly ignorant of the fact that Noah’s generation thought the same thing… and yet the destruction did come, and the preacher of righteousness was justified! (2 Peter 3:3-7). The godlessness of Noah’s generation will be mirrored by the final generation. And, once again, the world will only have rest following a time of cataclysmic destruction. Despite the carnal nature of his audience, Noah was faithful in passionately heralding the truth to them.
It would be easy to judge Noah’s effectiveness on a very superficial level and call him a failure. He did, after all, not “win” or “convert” anyone outside of his immediate family. The altars never filled up; the membership never grew. By that same superficial judgment, Jonah was the most effective preacher in Scripture. He had an immediate conversion rate of over 120,000. Yet Jonah was arguably a backslidden apostate who did not have an inkling of the true beat of the Father’s heart. His story ends with him angry at God over showing mercy and confessing that the real reason he had fled God’s command was that he knew God would be merciful if given an opportunity (Jonah 4:1-2). Furthermore, his results were only very temporary. The Ninevites did not permanently change; nor did their temporary repentance affect the greater Assyrian empire. Their cruelty and idolatry continued unabated. Yes, Noah “reached” only his immediate family and only had a church of eight souls, including himself, but in doing so he helped save humanity, preserve the plan of God, and provide an opportunity for salvation to be extended to us today. He is living proof that a minister’s effectiveness cannot be solely judged by his immediate tangible impact. Noah is, in fact, held up as a standard of effective ministry on two distinct occasions in the prophetic ministry of Ezekiel. He states,
Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord GOD… Though these three men were in it, as I live, saith the Lord GOD, they shall deliver neither sons nor daughters; they only shall be delivered, but the land shall be desolate (Ezekiel 14:14-16) .
This was a testament to how deeply apostate Israel had become. The implication is that despite all of these men’s effectiveness at being a righteous example during an unrighteous hour, Israel would still not be reached. As related to these three men, however, it is obviously a case of them being held up as examples of passionate intercessors who would fight for righteousness and seek to influence others through their godly example. I think it is safe to say that Scripture certainly holds Noah up as being effective despite his apparent “lack of effectiveness.”
By Faith, Noah Built an Ark
By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith (Hebrews 11:7 ESV).
Noah is held up as one of the heroes of the faith in the “faith chapter.” Noah had no more “evidence” of the destruction that God warned of than any of the many thousands who heard him preach and warn of the coming destruction. Noah had never seen a storm either. He was no more familiar with the scale of destruction that God described than anyone else. There were no special “signs in the heavens” for him to confirm that God’s words could be trusted. No, unlike his audience, he simply took God at His word. In reverent fear he obeyed, and the writer of Hebrews demonstrates that his act of faith (where others had none) actually condemned his generation. It showed that faith in God and obedience to His word was in fact possible!
The Old Testament is a little more prosaic in its wording, describing Noah’s obedience in simple terms: “Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him” (Genesis 6:22 ESV). God spoke; Noah obeyed. That simple! He didn’t need God to perform signs, didn’t need a course or a seminar, nor did he need a debate session; he just obeyed the voice of God out of reverence…and trust. His faith was all the substance he needed.
The Bible gives virtually no details of the construction process, but it is clear from the sheer size of the ark that it would have been astronomical. It has been noted that a seagoing craft of this size was not built again until the nineteenth century. There is some debate as to the actual length of a cubit (the biblical unit of measurement given to describe the dimensions of the ark), but the minimum figure given is 18 inches. Others state that a cubit was more like 24 inches. This makes the dimensions of the ark anywhere from 450 to 600 feet long, 75 to 100 feet wide, and 45 to 60 feet tall. Even at its smaller dimensions, it would have had a floor space over its three levels of well over 100,000 square feet. Think Wal-Mart, not just a big boat! Creation scientists have thoroughly demonstrated how there was plenty of room on the ark to accommodate all of the animal species and food stores necessary to sustain them. Furthermore, scale models of the ark have demonstrated that it would have been exceptionally seaworthy and able to withstand mammoth waves without capsizing. Bear in mind that it required navigational functionality; they weren’t sailing it anywhere! It just needed to float, and it was exceptionally designed for that purpose. In a very real sense it was not a matter of the ark being too crowded; if anything, the ark was too empty! God had left room for many more human souls to be on board than actually were. Noah’s preaching would have been false and in vain if there was no room left for others to get on board the ark!
The amount of time spent on building the ark is debated. Some believe that that Noah began at the point 120 years before the Flood when God determined He would destroy the world. It doesn’t appear that God spoke to Noah about building the ark until about 100 years before the Flood, so the work happened somewhere within that 100-year framework, although not all of it would necessarily have to be spent on building the ark itself. Even with the great intelligence of the ancients and whatever advanced technologies that they had, this was a staggering pro-ject. It is reasonable to assume that Noah may have hired some laborers along the way and that his sons also aided him, but without divine direction and aid they probably could not have accomplished it. They did have divine assistance, however, and God made sure to provide the wherewithal for His man to fulfill His directive!
It is impossible to separate a study of Noah from the historical fact of the Flood. The Flood appears to have happened about 1,536 years from Creation, according to genealogies. The early genealogies seem to be accurate, for Jude confirms the place of Enoch chronologically in the genealogy, calling him the “seventh from Adam” in Jude 1:14. This makes Enoch Noah’s great-grandfather. Noah was exactly 600 years old at the time of the Flood. Once again God required an act of faith from Noah, for God required him to get on board the ark a full week before the Flood actually began. If people had mocked before, one cannot imagine how severely they mocked after Noah and his family (and the animals) had sat on board that massive ark for days while the sun continued to shine and there was nothing but clear skies. That being said, one cannot help but wonder at what the onlookers thought about the endless procession of animals (surely directed by God, perhaps by a migratory instinct) that came unfailingly to the ramp of the ark. That can’t have been something they saw on a regular basis! Even that did not seem to move them, however. Nor did it move them when the invisible hand of God lifted the great loading ramp and slammed the door shut. I wonder if Noah and his family could hear the mocking calls from the crowd outside as they sat in the great cavern of the grounded ark?
The laughter would soon die.
On the seventh day everything on Earth permanently changed. The earth was literally rent by the fury of the seismic eruptions. Superheated steam and volcanic eruptions spewed scalding steam and cacophonous sound into the air. The sun disappeared behind the first storm clouds, and the greatest fury of nature ever seen was unleashed. Nature can be unbelievably frightening even in its natural course, but there was nothing natural about this process. The hand of God was at work, and His wrath was both furious and thorough. The great continent splintered, poisonous ash filled the air, and the water levels quickly rose until the highest mountains were covered. The crush of water pressure was so great that great seams of fossil fuel were quickly laid down. Animals and humans rushed to “safe spots” only to leave behind massive bone yards fossilized beneath the crush. Marine fossils were laid down even on the tops of mountains. The earth died, save the great wooden chest heaving atop the waves. When the fury of the storm finally abated almost a month and a half later, an eerie silence lay like a blanket atop the black waters. The earth finally had her rest. The voices of the wicked no longer sounded in the ears of God.
This cataclysmic event changed everything about the world, but in interest of Noah’s narrative alone, this was the most significant change of all. Because the unrighteous line had been destroyed in the Flood, a new generation of righteousness was at least given a chance. The merging of the lines of Seth and Cain no longer mattered, because Noah was righteous. He was the beginning of a new line of righteousness. He sacrificed and called on the name of the Lord in the tradition of the godly line of Seth. Through him the bloodline of both the Jewish nation and Jesus Christ was birthed. All people of the world have common ancestry in both Adam and Noah. He became the new father of the human race. There were no longer two lines descending from Adam, Cain and Seth, but one new line, the line of Noah. His three sons became the three major variations of humanity.
A Brave New World
It would be more than a year before any of the eight souls aboard the ark would ever see land again. The waters covered the whole surface of the earth for 150 days, then after another 77 days the ark came to rest on Mount Ararat. They would sit aboard the ark for more than 130 additional days waiting for the earth to return to habitable conditions. The tediousness of that year was certainly only balanced by their thankfulness at being preserved from the fury of the Almighty. Eventually Noah began sending out exploratory birds to try to discover whether or not it would be safe to exit the ark. A glorious day came when a dove returned with a freshly plucked olive leaf, evidence that the earth was beginning to be renewed (Genesis 8:11). Buried seeds had sprung into life once again, and the earth was being healed. A week later that same dove did not return when sent forth. She had found a new home. Noah was soon allowed a peek at the healing world, but God did not authorize them to leave the ark for another 56 days.
One cannot imagine the elation bubbling out of the stream of life that flowed off the ark into a new world. Life was given another chance; death would be driven back.
First things first: Noah immediately built an altar and made the first sacrifice in the new world, after the tradition of the line of Seth (Genesis 8:20). God was pleased with his spirit and sacrifice, and rewarded him by making a new covenant with him. God promised protection and provision. He promised a new stability for the planet, one involving regular seasons and times of planting. Prior to this, both biblical and fossil evidence indicate a global tropical climate, but the earth had been transformed to a new model that we are more familiar with. The rainbow was placed in the sky for the first time as a sign from God that He would fulfill His end of the covenant. He would never again destroy the Earth by flood, and this beautiful new sign would be a reminder whenever it rained (Genesis 9:1-17). God again commanded mankind (and the animals) to be fruitful and multiply. The ground was not cursed again but would rather be governed by the law of nature. Where nature created dryness, dryness would remain. In the places where nature produces lushness, it would be so. Some areas would produce better than others, depending upon the state of nature. God further stated in Genesis 9 that He was putting a fear of mankind into the animals. Man would have dominion over the animals, but it would no longer be a willing subservience. There would be competition and fear to divide them from the animals. God allowed mankind the right to eat the flesh of the animals for the first time, as all (both man and beast) had previously been herbivores. Animals also began to eat one another (and humans). However, God stated that He would require the blood of humanity at the hands of whomever took it, be it man or beast (Genesis 9:5-6). There will always be a consequence for taking a human life.
So Noah and his family began a new life in a new world where almost all the rules had changed. The splendor of the antediluvian world was forever lost. The innocence of Eden was now fully buried, and all traces of what had been a very different Earth were gone. Starting the new life on the far side of the Flood with worship to God was a perfect beginning. Noah himself is a unique bridge between both worlds. He lived 600 years before the Flood and a full 350 years on this side of the Flood. He would have lived even into Abraham’s lifetime. Noah is the last of the amazingly long-lived ancients, living an incredible 950 years. Shem, for example, lived 600 years. His son lived 438 years, and within a few generations we are down into the 230-year range. Abraham’s grandfather lived “just” 148 years, although Abraham enjoyed a bit longer life at 175 years. By this point, however, the Bible adds the comment that Abraham “died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years” (Genesis 25:8). The standard had definitely changed over the ten generations between Noah and Abraham. By the time of Moses the standard was 70 years, and 80 if one were exceptionally strong. The lifespan of the ancients was obviously a combination of superior genetics and environ-mental conditions. Some of the “magic” of Eden remained in their veins!
Blessing and Cursing
Noah’s first act on this side of the Flood was a wise one; his second recorded act was far less so. He is the first recorded to purposefully cultivate a vineyard and become a vinedresser. He succeeded, and this unfortunately led to the only blemish on his record. “Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent” (Genesis 9:20-21 ESV).
How unfortunate that one of the great righteous men of the world became one of the most prominent victims of the effects of alcohol! Noah’s delight over his first vintage perhaps encouraged him to imbibe too much, and the resulting drunkenness had no respect for the greatness of the man. Noah discovered the effects of alcohol, and his resulting foolishness ended in a situation that would forever divide his family and their descendants. Drunkenness has a way of subtly (or not so subtly) altering the character of a man, and the behavior of the drunken Noah is certainly out of character for the man himself. In his drunkenness he nakedly revealed himself in a fashion that reflected some lewdness while within his tent. Very likely it was a situation in which he was in some way publically exposed, and by this point the family had obviously grown beyond the confines of the original immediate family. His sons had multiple children, and it is even possible that some of the grandchildren were married and having children. It is clear from Scripture that Noah’s exposure was certainly not appropriate. It unfortunately opened the door for division and derision within the family.
And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him (Genesis 9:22-24 ESV).
There is some ambiguity here as to the actual series of events. Many believe that something even more deviant took place, a sexual abuse of some kind. There is probably too little evidence to make an empirical case either way, but the reaction of Noah was certainly very strong. There was more than just the sons of Noah involved in the narrative, however, for we see several references to Ham’s youngest son, Canaan. Canaan is obviously involved in whatever took place because the resulting curse is directed at him. Even within the three sons there is a markedly different reaction to the inappropriate exposure of their father. The original Hebrew language makes it clear that Ham not only told his brothers about their father’s condition, but he told it with delight. He reveled in mocking their father, a dangerous act in God’s eyes, as revealed by God’s law given at a later date. By contrast, Shem and Japheth reacted very respectfully by keeping their faces averted as they backed up to Noah and carefully covered him. They did not even want the shameful image impressed upon their minds. They were more interested in preserving their father’s dignity. Their actions reflect love and respect, while Ham and Canaan’s attitude reveals mockery, derision, and an utter lack of respect for this great man. Ham’s actions are clearly indicative of a coarser nature that was far too reminiscent of the world’s attitude before the Flood. Ham’s guilt is made clear, but the darker secret involving Canaan is not fully revealed.
When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said, “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.” He also said, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant” (Genesis 9:24-27 ESV).
A division in the family was the sad result of this affair. Noah prophetically blessed and cursed his family members. The two older sons who had shown respect to their father were blessed to become great people while Canaan was cursed to a lower state of servitude. Ham is not specifically cursed, despite the popular excuse for racism falsely known as the “Hamitic curse.” Ham’s name means “heat, or brown,” and his descendents are mostly dark-skinned Africans. Many bigoted conquerors justified their enslaving of Africans with this passage. Ham was not cursed; neither are his descendents cursed. The curse is upon Canaan, although it should be noted that because of Ham’s attitude he did not receive the blessing that his brothers received. Canaan was directly and specifically named, and his descendants became known even by secular historians as being the most corrupt and deviant society in the ancient world, particularly in matters of sexuality. Their civilization was rife with immorality, very corrupt and sensual worship practices, and all fashion of sexual deviations. Sodom and Gomorrah were, for example, Canaanite cities. The nature of their forefather affected the whole course of their society. The Canaanites at the time of Israel’s conquest of the land were so wholly given to idolatry and wickedness that God commanded Israel to utterly annihilate them. The Israelites were not completely thorough in this execution and paid the price by facing an ongoing corrupting influence that brought great destruction to their people, both physically and spiritually.
It is interesting to note the far-reaching effects of the two blessings that were given. Shem, the eldest son, has a name that means “a name of renown.” His blessing spoke of how God would be the God of Shem and prophetically spoke of how the promised deliverer, the Messiah, would come from this line. The greatest blessing they would have would not be material or political might, but rather spiritual blessing. Shem is, of course, the ancestor from whom the Hebrew people (and the Messiah) would come. It is interesting to note that the three major influencing religions of history, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, all have Semitic roots.
Japheth, the middle son, has a name meaning “wide spreading or enlarged” and comes from a root word meaning “fair or light.” His descendents were the fairer skinned people, who eventually populated Europe and northern Asia. As the prophecy stated, Japheth’s descendents have eventually become the most enlarged of all of Noah’s descendants (in wealth, population, and power). They dominate the world and have established might all across it. As the name and prophecy suggest, however, it was a process. The earliest great kingdoms were Hamitic (Egypt, Phoenicia, Tyre, Philistia, Crete, Carthage) or Semitic (Babylon, Assyria, Persia), but over the progression of history the descendents of Japheth slowly rose into power from their “caveman” origins in a harsh northern climate. The “Western” powers have dominated the latter half of history, beginning with the Greeks, then the Romans, and then the various other European or ancestrally European nations that have risen to power and dominance since. All of these are ancestrally descendents of Japheth. There has been an “enlarging” as described in the prophecy.
There was also a very interesting second aspect of this blessing, however, and that was that Japheth would “dwell in the tents of Shem.” The phrase carries a spiritual connotation, literally indicating that the descendents of Japheth would find fellowship with God through Shem. This prophecy has been very literally fulfilled, and since the time of Christ, most Europeans and northern Asians have found their faith through Judeo-Christian origins. God dwelt in the tents of Shem, and we Gentiles have found our God through the descendents of Shem. Our Messiah was a Jew! Clearly Noah’s prophecies have proved both accurate and long-reaching.
It is a shame that the historical record of Noah’s life ends on somewhat of a negative note, although it is clear from the ongoing record in Scripture that his reputation for righteousness and integrity remained unscathed. Noah’s faith and obedience preserved humanity. His tireless preaching of the gospel should inspire us to imitation. His example of living righteously in an unrighteous world speaks to us still.
Since we know of but one major failing in the life of Noah, it is on that we must focus. Scripture’s first mention of wine and its influence should clearly be a cautionary tale for all. If only Noah was the only one to experience shame and familial dysfunction at the hands of drunkenness! The very fact that such a righteous man with a previously unimpeachable character could be brought down so low by drunkenness clearly demonstrates how anyone can be defeated by the impairing effect of alcohol. His actions under its influence were clearly out of character! How many other families have been divided and cursed by alcohol? How many other good men have been corrupted by its influence? How many other immoral acts have been caused by the lowered inhibitions initiated by the influence of alcohol?
It is clear that those who seek to devote their lives to the service of the King of kings cannot afford to become servants to anything else, particularly any substance that so clearly makes humanity more susceptible to the darker aspects of our nature. We cannot afford to be impaired. We are commanded by Peter to “gird up the loins of your mind, [and] be sober” (1 Peter 1:13) and to “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). These references to sobriety are not direct references to abstaining from alcohol, but certainly the principle is true. Under the law, God assured the priests that if they imbibed while on duty, He would surely strike them dead. He made clear that this was a perpetual statute (Leviticus 10:9). God would not allow His men to serve Him while under the influence of something else. They were to be wholly devoted and attentive to Him. We, as believers, should always be on duty,” constantly prepared to serve our Master and minister for Him, so we cannot afford to be under the influence of anything other than the “new wine” of His Spirit!
There are many very admirable qualities to imitate from the life of Noah, but nothing stands out as much as the power of his obedience under what could not have been easy circumstances. Noah was very much alone in a wicked world, and while the Bible does not elaborate on it, there must have been resistance to him fulfilling the calling of God in his life. This was no minor project that Noah engaged in. His persistent and passionate preaching could not have made him very popular, but he was obedient to his calling. We never find one case of Noah questioning God’s word or balking at His instructions. Noah remained faithful, not for weeks, months, or even a few years. His obedience in these matters spanned a period of over 100 years! Obedience, in Noah’s case, required many years of very physical labor at his own expense. He was given an unbelievably massive building project with no “congregation” to aid him in fulfilling God’s command. God issued him no corporate credit card to cover the expenses, either. You cannot tell me that it was always simple and easy for Noah! There were surely frustrating days. How many times did the hammer find his thumb instead of the nail? How many times did he get hit by a piece of rotten fruit or vegetable from a heckler in the crowd? Despite the obstacles, Noah simply obeyed. Noah’s obedience to every detail of God’s plan is what saved his life. God alone knew what that craft would have to face in the Flood; Noah did not. Noah had to trust that everything God required was necessary…and that is the lesson that we all must learn.
We do not have the infinite knowledge of God! We may not always understand why God requires everything that He does. It is not our place to debate with God or put Him to the question; we are called to obey! Noah obeyed because He respected God and trusted that God knew what He was talking about. It seems simple, but this is actually a very difficult concept for humans to understand. Trusting God does not just require “confessions” of faith; it requires obedience to what God asks. As James so clearly stated, “faith without works is dead‘ (James 2:26). The “faith chapter” (Hebrews 11) is actually a list of great deeds accomplished through the faith of the individuals. Faith is a state of mind and heart, yes, but it is exhibited through obedient action! Genuine faith in God means trusting that His ways work and that we should obey even if we do not understand every little detail. Noah’s obedience was essential to his salvation; your obedience is essential to yours!
The above article, “Noah” is excerpted from Dustin L. Abbott’s book, Hard Knocks and Life Lessons. The article is the second chapter of the book.
The material is most likely copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.