Genesis 7:24- 8:16 “The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days. But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky. The water receded steadily from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down, and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible. After forty days Noah opened the window he had made in the ark and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. But the dove could find no place to set its feet because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him. By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry. Then God said to Noah, ‘Come out of the Ark’”
We were to travel to the north of Scotland by car, and so my wife and I borrowed a talking book from the library. The book was Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. It charts the 227 day sea journey of a 16-year-old Indian called Pi and the bizarre menagerie of animals that accompanies him on his raft: a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena and the formidable Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. We enjoyed listening to the fantasy very much. It was escapism, helping to keep us awake during a twelve hour round trip. Martel’s book focuses on what the account in Genesis is quite oblivious to, that is, the dynamics of living together for a long time in the close confinement of a drifting vessel at sea. Martel is the modern man, and modern man is preoccupied with himself and his feelings and ‘relationships’ – that is almost the buzz word of our civilization. Genesis is concerned with who God is and how he acts.
1. THE LORD WAS IN CONTROL OF THE ARK.
How was that year in the Ark in the life of Noah? We are told nothing at all. The eight men and women on board had to be plenty to do every day, animals dying and being born; animals to feed and clean out. What a year! Noah’s Ark floated aimlessly along with nowhere to go. What did the future hold? The Bible is silent about life on board the Ark because the eight chastened people were not only aware that they were in the midst of the world’s worst disaster, but that for some inexplicable reason they had been saved by the will of God. That was their peace and consolation; it was also their guilt and wonder. Way down below the Ark lay the ruins of a dead and buried world. Everyone in the world had perished – the children they had gone to school with; their neighbours and family members – all except Noah and his family. The giants and the heroes were no more, yet they were alive because God had given them life. It was devastatingly humbling; you would need a quiet year to let that sink in to the depths of your mind. Life for them; death for all the rest.
Each year John Wesley’s Methodist preachers would meet in a conference to report to one another on how the past twelve months had gone by of bringing the gospel to England. Many of them had been stoned and spat on and thrown into the village duck pond and had their clothes torn off them. They had walked from place to place sleeping under hedges and sometimes surviving by eating turnips which they had dug out of a field. They had endured all that for Jesus Christ, and when they gathered together in the ‘ark’ of the annual assembly they invariably began their meetings by singing one particular hymn of Charles Wesley. It expresses truths which – if the octet on the Ark had known the words – would have been so applicable to their situation. The hymn was “And are we still alive?” (every great hymn has a memorable opening line). I can imagine Noah’s family singing these words, and also Noah and Wesley talking together in a part of heaven. The hymns says this;
And are we still alive,
And see each other’s face?
Glory and praise to Jesus give
For His redeeming grace.
What troubles have we seen,
What conflicts have we passed,
Fightings without, and fears within,
Since we assembled last.
But out of all the Lord
Hath brought us by His love;
And still he doth His help afford,
And hides our life above.
Then let us make our boast
Of his redeeming power,
Which saves us to the uttermost,
Till we can sin no more.
That is the Christian’s confidence in the storms of life. A friend of Blaise Pascal went through a grievous bereavement and Pascal wrote a letter of condolence to him. Instead of repeating the ordinary platitudes of consolation Pascal comforted him by reminding him of the Sovereignty of God. He said: “If we regard this event, not as an effect of chance, not as a fatal necessity of nature, but as a result inevitable, just, holy, of a decree of God’s providence, conceived from all eternity, to be executed in this very year, day, hour, and at such a place and manner . . . we shall bless the acts of God’s providence; and uniting our will with that of God himself, we shall want from him, in him and for him, the very thing that he’s willed in us and for us for all eternity.” Pascal tells this grieving friend that the way of peace is to bring your will into harmony with the will of God. Say to God in humility, “I want from you what you want for me. Even so Father, for so it seems good in thy sight.” That is the bedrock of Christian comfort.
So Noah and his family survived history’s worst disaster with a sense of purpose, and you can more than survive your disasters; you can be more than conquerors. Your world this past year might have fallen apart around you. You’ve thought at times, “Does God know what is going on in my life? What possible good can come from this?” Your comfort comes from remembering that God is in control of your life. It is God’s part in the pain of the last months, not your own part, that gives meaning to everything, and so can provide you with peace and hope.
God had given Noah, Ham, Shem, Japheth and their wives a century of energy to serve him. He had given them deliverance from the Flood. They were safe and secure in the Ark. They knew that the God they served was at the helm of this vessel – there was no steering wheel or rudder. He was regulating the whole progress and movement of the Ark. He had appointed the conclusion to this whole affair. He had planned their entire future; he would never forsake them; he would work out his eternal purposes for the world through all of them who were on board this ship. Because of what God has said Noah and the family knew they were people of destiny.
Noah didn’t think in terms of the world operating by natural law. If you could have mentioned that phrase to him then he would reply “What do you mean, ‘natural law’?” looking utterly perplexed. There was no such thing as ‘nature’ for Noah. That is simply a recent romantic concept, a mere abstraction. Nature as such has no laws because ‘nature’ has no being. It is only an entity, an idea in the minds of men. The only laws that this universe submits to are the laws of Noah’s God, the Almighty, the personal and speaking Lord.
If you talked to Noah about the rationality of the universe, the moons waxing and waning, the winds blowing, the four seasons, the buoyant Ark floating in the water, then again Noah would have no idea what you were talking about. The universe that Noah saw had no rationality; the waves had no minds; the moon had no mind; the stars had no minds. The only rationality that Noah’s world had was an orderliness imposed upon it by the infinite intelligence of Almighty God. The ultimate thing in Noah’s universe was the will of God, and alongside that the ultimacy of the mind of God. The first and the last thing, and the absolutely foundational thing as far as Noah was concerned was a Person. It was not water; it was not wind; it was not matter; it was not energy, it was God, and it is his will that imposes upon the whole universe its every feature and characteristic and movement. As Paul says, “God has given it a body as it pleased him.” It is not the rationality of water that means it behaves in a certain way. It is the will of God, imparting to every particle of matter its own particular qualities.
You science students are merely observing. You are seeing what God has done. You are concerned only to describe the way that God has ordained that things should be. The universe of Noah which is our universe too is built entirely upon God’s will, and as that is the case it is the height of folly for men to argue dogmatically that is would be impossible for the God of the universe to drown the world and to spare Noah and the animals in an Ark. They are forgetting again that the last and foundational thing in the universe is not physics; it is not natural law; it is not human rationality, but it is the will of God. You take that great phrase, “It only takes a flash of the will that can and the dead rise,” because it is God who controls everything. God gives to every particle of matter the properties he decides and he causes it to behave in the way that he has determined. The will of God is the first and last thing in the whole material universe. It is the foundational thing in the whole of Noah’s world and in our world too. That was Noah’s philosophy, and it was the basis of his peace and the peace of his family as they worked on the Ark for that year. God had begun this work and he would complete it in his day.
2. THE LORD REMEMBERED NOAH AND HIS FAMILY AND THE ANIMALS.
With words like that the eight chapter of Genesis opens. Our God is in control; that is the bedrock, but then there is more, our God remembers us. That is another great comfort. God had spoken to Noah and had told him, “I will establish my covenant with you” (Gen. 6:18). The Lord is a covenant-keeping God. He has made certain commitments to Noah and he is not about to renege on what he has promised. It is a place of wonderful security to be in covenant with the heavenly promise keeper. Noah knew these sentiments which we often sing of God in the words of Edward Mote,
“His oath, his covenant and his blood
Support me in the whelming flood.”
God has not forgotten about you – not for a moment! This insistence that God always remembers his people runs through the Bible. When the Israelites cried out to the Lord during their slavery in Egypt, then “God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them” (Exod. 2:24&25). It really got through to him that they were hurting ‘real bad.’ They were his covenant children; he had made promises to them and now they were in bondage. We are soon told that “God remembered Abraham,” and then that “God remembered Rachel,” and Psalm 9 tells us that “God remembers . . . the afflicted.” The psalmist says in psalm 136 that “God remembered us in our low estate” (Psa. 136:23). Then again at the coming of the Lord Jesus into the world we are told that Zechariah the father of John the Baptist made a prophecy, and this is what the Holy Spirit gave him to say, “God has raised up a horn of salvation for us . . . to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham” (Luke 1:69, 72 & 73). Why did Jesus of Nazareth come into the world? One reason was that two thousand years earlier God had called Abraham to leave the city of Ur and go to a land that he would give him and his descendants. He would greatly multiply his line; he would make a nation out of his descendants, and one of his seed would be so great that all people that on earth do dwell would be blessed through him. He was talking of the coming of God’s holy Son Jesus Christ. God had made a covenant promise with Abraham that the Messiah would come, and God remembered his covenant.
So these months had gone by since God had closed the door and the Ark was lifted up by the Flood, and God had been silent through this time while Noah busied himself on board. Now it is time to focus his redemption on this courageous man who is our forefather. So God did things. You were expecting God to speak to Noah, but he doesn’t speak yet. Not until the earth was completely dry does God speak, instead God does something. Now you must be aware of this when you have passed through a storm and you are expecting sermons to be explosive and particularly helpful and relevant as if all the message were just for you, but that does not happen, and you are disappointed. But when God remembers us the sign may not be that he speaks to us but that he does things for us which displays his loving concern and care. He sends Moses; he sends Jesus Christ; he sends Philip to talk to an Ethiopian reading Isaiah 53; here he sends a wind (v.1), and that was the most important thing that could happen then.
When we are drifting in a storm we need to pray, “Lord remember me!” We see it in Nehemiah’s prayer, “Remember me with favour, O my God. For all I have done for these people” (Neh. 5:19). Like most of you Nehemiah hadn’t been wasting his time; he had been working for the people of God, but then enormous problems, mainly fierce opposition and threats, had come crashing into his life. Does God act like that, actually bringing problem after problem into the lives of his own people? Why? Nehemiah prayed that God wouldn’t forget him, and God moved towards the object of his memory. There was a time for God to act towards Noah, and there will be a time for God to act towards you too. There was a time when young Timothy was meeting a lot of opposition and so Paul remembered him and wrote him a letter telling him that the foundation of God stands sure “having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his.” (2 Tim. 2:19). If God had not remembered him then Noah would have lost his soul, we would have lost the one who would bruise the serpent’s head, and God would have lost his honour. Let me urge you all to remember God – “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth” (Eccles. 12:1) and please ask God to remember you. Some of you are not yet Christians and the thought that the Creator God, so mighty and glorious, could think of a person like you so that you could become his child, and you could call him your Father – that is all too awesome. I plead with you to pray, “Lord remember me.” There was a criminal dying alongside Jesus Christ. He was in the last hours of his wasted life and all he said to the Saviour was “Lord remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” The Lord is dealing with the whole world of men this moment, people crying to him from Australia, and Mexico, and Korea, and Fiji. He gives each one his full attention. He is sanctifying and strengthening people all over the world at this present moment. He is administering the affairs of the Milky Way as well as all the stars outside our galaxy. Wouldn’t it be easy for him to overlook someone like you, especially if you are a dying man and had done nothing for him in your life? Yet this man on the cross with his little knowledge of theology asked for one thing from the Lord, “Don’t forget about me, about these hours we spent here together.” I am saying, pray that yourself; make it your first definitive and real prayer. “Don’t forget me,” and go on praying it while the Lord speaks to you and does things for you. You will know surely God’s great answer, “Today thou shalt be with me in paradise.”
3. THE LORD SENT A WIND OVER THE EARTH.
When God remembered the Israelites in Egypt he saw their plight. On one day they were hemmed in between a rock and a hard place, between the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s advancing army. What did God do? He sent a wind; “He drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land,” so that the Israelites could go through the Red Sea “on dry ground” (Ex. 14:21&22). Ezekiel was brought by the Spirit one day to see a valley full of bleached bones, the site of a terrible battle in which all the vanquished had been killed and their bodies left to decay. The sight symbolized the state of true religion in the land in his day. Then God asked him, “Son of man, can these bones live?” (Ez. 37:2). Ezekiel said, “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” God told him to preach to the bones and as he engaged in such a hopeless and foolish a task there was a rattling and the bones began to come together, but still there was no life. Then God spoke again, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live” (Ez. 37:9) and as Ezekiel prophesied the breath from heaven came and the men stood up on their feet, a vast army. God says, “I will put my Spirit in you and you will live” (Ez. 37:14).
You remember what happened on the Day of Pentecost? The 120 men who were disciples had not left Jerusalem. They were waiting for the Lord Jesus to fulfil his promise that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came on them and they would be his witnesses. So they waited for some weeks, thinking of he task that faced them, taking the gospel throughout Europe, Asia and Africa. Then the day of Pentecost came; “They were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven” (Acts 2:1 & 2). The Spirit of God came upon them all and filled them. Not one was unfilled with the Spirit. Then Peter preached and 3,000 men were cut to the heart and cried to Peter, “Brothers what shall we do?” Peter told them to repent and be baptized every one of them, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, and thousands accepted the message and were baptized.
God responds to our helplessness and need by doing something. God causes the wind to come. You know that the word ‘wind’ in our text is the same Hebrew word as that which is translated as ‘Spirit’ in Genesis 1:2. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep and yet there the Spirit of God came moving over the face of the waters, and here in our text is the same wind sent by God again in this re-creation of all things. There was this little boat; there were eight people left alive in the whole universe, but God remembered them and commanded forth his Spirit moving over the waters dispersing them. The clouds began to go; the sun began to shine.
God does things when everything seems so bleak. The Spirit of God begins to work convicting men of their unbelief, creating a longing to know God, revealing the perfection of Jesus Christ, drawing men and women to him, giving them new hearts, creating faith within, making everything new. He does that for thousands of people; he makes bare his arm; the world rediscovers his truth; men and women turn from all their defiant wickedness crying to him, “Remember me! Don’t forget me!”
A couple of years ago I preached at the annual meetings of the Covent Garden Evangelical Church in the heart of London, led by the pastor at that time, Mike Mellor who gave a report of the outreach of their work. What a battle Mike had had in becoming a Christian. An alcoholic he loved to drink and knew that if he attended Alcoholics Anonymous his delightful drinking would be frowned on. His marriage was in jeopardy and the Mellors have four girls. There seemed no way out as far as he was concerned, but then the wind began to blow. God brought into his office to sit at the desk next to him a nineteen-year-old lad with a Bible and a personal knowledge of God. Whenever there was an opportunity this man spoke to Mike and always prayed for him. But Mike argued back and dismissed his religion. We are told in John three by Jesus Christ, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell from whence it cometh or whither it goeth. Even so is every one born of the Spirit.” There is no way you can command the life-giving wind to blow at this moment and give you a new heart. The Spirit is sovereign in when and how he works. There were days when Mike was drunk in work; there was a time when he went on a three day drinking spree during which he hit another car and didn’t stop. The boy said to him. “Mike, you can’t carry on like this, can you? You believe in God, don’t you?” He muttered something like, “I suppose so.” You believe in God . . . you believe in God . . . you believe in God . . .
Something deep was going on in Mike’s heart that day – the wind from God was blowing. Mike couldn’t shake away the impact of those words, “You believe in God.” He later was to say these words, “‘I never denied that there was a God, but my mind used to say, “How can you know for sure?”’ I left the office and went into the little toilet (the only private place available). Right there, I, Mike Mellor, alcoholic, with completely messed-up life, got down on my knees and prayed, asking Jesus Christ to come into my life. I walked back into the office. The young man must have been dying to know what was going on in my heart, but I never said a word about what I’d prayed. I just left the office, got in the car and headed home. I broke down in tears of joy for I knew Christ was alive. Jesus Christ loved me and died for me. Even if I crashed the car now, I knew I was going to heaven.’” (Dorothy Carswell, Real Lives, Authentic, 2001, p.134). That was September 8th, 1979. Mike entered the house and told his very sceptical wife, Gwen, of what had happened and that from now on everything would be different. A year or so later she too became a Christian. So, how does Mike view his old habits? What difference did the wind from heaven make to his life?
“‘There is no cure for alcoholism. I know that is a controversial statement. It’s like going into the garden and picking up a weed. You take the top off but the root is still there. What Christ did is pluck out the root. What God gave me that day, was such a clean, pure happiness that there was no competition with what I could get from drink. I am thankful that I got into a mess. To have gone through life on an even keel, being a nice chap, would have meant going to hell when I died. With hindsight, I am strangely thankful that this crisis arose in my life. It woke me up to ask, ‘What is life really about?’ and ‘What lies ahead for me?’ I feel that though bad things happen in life, it is often through those bad times that we find the meaning to the big questions of life.’” (ibid, p.136). Still today, twenty-seven years after he trusted for the first time in Jesus Christ, Mike Mellor is spending his time speaking to others about the reality of Jesus Christ.
4. THE LORD GAVE HOPE AND PATIENCE TO NOAH.
The waters went down and finally the Ark was grounded and after some time passed the first of the mountain tops could be seen while the waters kept going down. Then after forty days Noah opened the window and sent out a raven. Ravens were unclean creatures because they eat carrion. No doubt the sea was full of dead animals so that the raven had no need to return to the Ark. It could gorge itself on the dead flesh, and sleep in the shelter of a rock, and the waters continued to recede. That is all right for ravens but not for man. Then Noah sent out a dove for the first time, but there was still no place for the dove to rest and back it returned to the Ark; Noah put out his hand and the dove landed on it and Noah brought it in again. He waited a week and then he sent out the dove again and that evening it flew back to the Ark and in its beak there was a freshly plucked olive leaf. So Noah knew that the waters were receding because olive trees grow on the lower slopes of the mountains, but still he waited another week before sending out the dove for the third time, and this time the bird didn’t return. So Noah removed the covering from the Ark and they saw that the surface of the earth was drying, and yet it was still another fifty-seven or so days before the earth was completely dry. It was one year and ten (or eleven) days after the beginning of the Flood for the earth to be dry again.
Of all the trees springing up around the world God directed the dove to an olive tree. The olive twig that the dove brought back to the Ark was a symbol of peace between earth and heaven. The wrath of a sin-hating God had been propitiated by the Flood. There is peace with God today, and we know that through the cross-work of Christ, as he bore our condemnation, all who trust have peace with God. When a Christian comes to God then you can think of an olive branch lifted up beckoning him to come near, as a sign of heaven’s approval. It is the chief blessing in life to know that all is well between us and God. Through the Son of God and our trust in him we have peace with God. You can’t disdain that without bring enormous grief into your life. You might know a song Elton John sings; Bernard Taupin wrote the lyrics;
And the waves are crashing around us
And we’re ready for the flood
And we don’t need a sign like an olive branch
In the beak of a snow white dove
We’re not as dumb as we might look
Or locked up in the dark
We can sort out the snakes from the animals
Just like Noah’s ark.
Then I am the dumb one because I need a sign like an olive branch if I am approaching a holy God in my sin. I want to know that all is well; my sins have been all forgiven; the wrath of a sin-hating God with me can have nothing to do. I need to know that. Thank God there is an Ark when the storms roar about us, especially that very last storm of all; the Ark is the Lord Jesus
Noah will not launch out from the Ark without knowing the will of God. Noah is never brash; he trembles at the word of God. He lives in hope; see how he sends out a raven first to confirm that the water is receding, and then he sends out the dove, once, a second time, three times. He will do nothing until it has been confirmed that it is God’s time for them to leave the Ark. What patience! Have you been some hours in a plane and finally it touches down and taxis to its unloading bay. At last the pilot switches off the seat belt sign. Immediately people jump to their feet; they open the overhead lockers and they hold their carry-on luggage in their hands. They can’t wait to get off the plane. Noah had been in the Ark for a year, but he still waited ten or eleven more days before he gave the signal to open the door. Noah rested in God. He wouldn’t go before God. He waited on the Lord. What self-discipline and patience. Noah did not move until God said, “Come out of the Ark” (v.16).
We have need of patience, of not snatching things from the Lord before he stretches out his hand to us. I was reading about a faithful Chinese pastor Wong Ming-Dao who was thrown into prison at the time of the Cultural Revolution. He was kept in a cell for twenty-three years. He wasn’t released until he was almost eighty. Throughout all these years he waited and rested on the Lord. One verse in the Bible had been particularly helpful to him, and this was Micah chapter seven and verse seven, “But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Saviour; my God will hear me.” It is a great example to us, to be in prison twice as long as John Bunyan. Then when you ask Wong Ming-Dao how he is he tells you, “I watch in hope for the Lord. I wait for God my Saviour; my God will hear me.” What happens when you wait on the Lord like that? Do you grow weaker and weaker through inactivity? Does your soul atrophy? No. Waiting on the Lord, trusting and hoping in him is the very opposite of doing nothing. “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isa. 40:31).
15th October 2006 GEOFF THOMAS