I think most christians have a favourite part of the Bible, for no logical reason, but for the simple fact that’s what clicks with you. For me it’s the book of Genesis. I love the stories of familes so different to our own, tales of pioneers who were the first to do everything. I like the narrative of the book, and particularly Noah.
I was re-reading the story again and (as often happens) I picked up on something new.
I’ve never realised how difficult it must have been to build an ark. In Chapter 6, verses 14-16 show all the structural details God gave to Noah and I guess I never really questioned how he worked with just this. For me, a guy brought up in a christian home having seen countless pictures of practically identical arks, I’ve never had to imagine what an ark looks like. Working from that image, I might in time be able to come up with something like a blueprint, but getting the ark from those instructions, not likely.
It had never clicked that although the instructions are specific, they are not complete. God hasn’t laid down exactly how He wants it to be, but He gives Noah some freedom. The size has to be sufficient for the need and only certain materials will do, but otherwise God gives Noah creative control. There is no indication as to whether Noah had any carpentry experience, but he was almost certainly not a ship-maker. I imagine it was a big case of trial and error.
Despite all this, Noah still chose to do what God said. That choice was not a simple thought, but an active lifestyle change. He had to seek out new skills, scour the earth for animals and keep them alive, all to no specific deadline.
If that were me, I imagine my first reaction would be to pray for a clear plan. “God”, I’d say, “please show me what to do, so that I may glorify you.” I wonder if Noah did that for a bit too? I doubt he got an answer. That would probably have led to me going back to my normal life. I would have gone, “If you want me to do this, give me a clear sign of what it is.”
I don’t believe that Noah waited for that. It says in verse 22, “And Noah did everything that God had commanded him.”
This tells me two things. One, that Noah (or at least the author of Genesis, but by implication, Noah too) took these words as a command. It was a non-negotiable order, not just a suggestion that was in our best interest. It was not a picture of the sort of thing that he should do, but a direct instruction. That affected his whole attitude and gives an indication of how he reacted. A command implies that he didn’t just put it on his to do list, but it was his to-do list. A soldier is never issued 2 commands to do at once. They are given a sequence of events, to be followed straight away.
The second thing is that he did it. The story makes it clear that he built an ark, but this proves that he managed it. That means that if we get an equally obscure word, why should we dismiss it? If we haven’t got the skills required, we can always learn them.
It was 100 years after the command was received when the flood came. That is a long time to be doing something so unconventional without any proof he wasn’t wasting his time. That said, imagining the consequences of refusing is even more terrifying.