The story of Noah and the Ark is one of the most well known stories in the Bible. It’s the subject of children’s books and songs. It’s made into posters and figurines and all manor of art from trite to profound. There is a Noah’s Ark Water Park in Wisconsin. There is a Noah’s Ark White Water Rafting company. There are Noah’s Ark crafts and Noah’s Ark baby gifts. There are websites with ideas for Noah’s Ark themed baby showers.
I have wondered for a long time why we take this theologically dense story and turn it into a baby quilt or a coloring page. Perhaps it is easier to trivialize the story than to take is seriously. The story in Genesis is long and complex. It’s a story that has important things to tell us about who God is, and who we are. Take a moment and read the story, Genesis 6:5 to 9:17.
There is much to think about in this story. There are many important questions we could focus on, issues of justice, judgment, restoration, salvation, grief and hope. There are important questions to ask about how this story presents a worldview distinct from the worldview of the surrounding cultures. One could spend weeks thinking about this one story. We can’t begin to explore it all today. As you might have guessed from the title, we’re going to focus on what the story has to say about God and humans and animals.
We are also going to set aside questions like, “Did the flood really happen?” , “Was the entire earth involved?”, “How did Noah care for all those animals?”, “Could you really fit every living thing on one boat?” , and “Why does one part of the text say Noah took two of every animal and another portion say Noah took seven pairs of clean animals and one pair of unclean?”. We are not going to wonder where the Ark is today.
We are not going to worry about historical and scientific accuracy. We are not going to concern ourselves with textual problems caused by using two versions of the story. We’ll leave that to others. We are going to focus on what this story has to say to us about God and humans and animals.
I think there is one overriding message about God and humans and animals in this text. That is simply put- we’re all in this together. At the beginning of the story, the wickedness of humans causes our destruction and the destruction of all animals. Humankind’s actions impact every other living thing. This shouldn’t surprise us, humans are given great responsibility for creation in the earlier chapters of Genesis.
As the story begins, God is grieved. God is sad at what has happened to the earth. It matters to God that things have gone wrong. It matters that wickedness was taking over the creation. What humans do affects animals and the creation. What happens to humans, animals and creation matters to God. And what happens on earth affects God- God is sorry and grieved. God acts to give us the chance to get things right, to do better. This action is tremendously costly, to humans, to animals and to God.
This costly action, the flood, serves to preserve the world. God continues to be active in the world he created. That includes animals. The text is very clear that God wants all flesh, all the kinds of animals preserved.
As commentators have observed, the one changed by the flood is God. Humans don’t change, it doesn’t take long for sin to return. Ham to see the nakedness of his father. The Tower of Babel is built. Human sin and the flood causes God to act in a particular way. God makes the decision to enter into a covenant with every living creature. God commits to the creation in a new way. It is a complex world. Human sin is still present and has changed things. Humankind’s relationship with animals has changed. Animals “fear” us. We are allowed to eat them. The original harmony of creation has been damaged. But God promises to be present, to be with us, all of us- human and animal. In the Bible, flood and water often represent chaos and chaotic forces. When God promises that flood will never destroy the earth, God is promising to prevent chaos. God is promising to protect us, all of us, from chaos.
This first covenant in the Bible is made to all of creation. In this covenant nothing is asked of creation in return. God gives God’s self to the creation. There are many other things that can and should be said about this story. But today, I want to highlight God’s care and commitment to all creation- humans and animals alike. God preserves all of us. God covenants with all of us. God commits to all of us. It was an imperfect world after the flood. It still is an imperfect world. But God cares for us, all of us human and animal. That doesn’t change.