What characterizes the person who has faith? How does faith set them apart from those who are yet lost in unbelief? What makes them a peculiar people? The writer to the early Hebrew Christians answers these questions in Hebrews 11. In verse 1 of this chapter we find that faith is the substance of things hoped for, that is, the conviction that what we hope for is true. It is the evidence of things not seen, that is, it is the confidence that things that we do not see with the eye are real. Faith is the knowledge and confidence that relies upon the promises of God that center in Jesus Christ.
This faith, we have found, was evident in the sacrifice of Abel as opposed to Cain. It was evident in Enoch who, after testifying against the wicked of this world, was not found because God had translated him. Both of these men were characterized by what the writer describes for us in verse 1 of this chapter. Both of these men lived during the prediluvian period—the time before the Flood—the first world. Since the beginning of time God’s people have lived out of faith. We now consider a man who lived at the very end of world before the Flood, and the man who was the first to see the new world after the Flood: Noah. We read in Hebrews 11:7, “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.”
Noah was born in the line of the church and covenant. There were few left in the church of his day, however. God saved only eight souls alive in the ark, meaning that the cause of God’s church was all but lost. The sons and daughters of the church had mingled with the women and men of the wicked world, forsaking the truth. As a result, the church had dwindled to the point of disappearing. But Noah was faithful. Only three of his children—three sons—Shem, Ham, and Japheth shared in their father’s vision of building an ark to save their household. Only two of these sons, Shem and Japheth, shared in their father’s faith. The outlook for the church at that time looked bleak. Much can be said about the Flood itself and the days before the flood, but we wish to concentrate on Noah and his building of the ark. The Word of God we consider today points us solely to the faith that Noah exhibited in building the ark.
By Faith Noah Prepares an Ark
I. His Actions
The Word of God here in Hebrews 11 teaches us, first of all, that Noah was warned of God of things not seen as yet. This means God spoke to Noah. This is confirmed in the account of Genesis 6:13: “And God said unto Noah.” No doubt this was true, because we find that Noah, as Enoch many years before, walked with God. He lived in a close relationship of fellowship with God. We learn that God spoke to Noah of things not seen as yet. He instructed Noah to prepare an ark, a boat or ship as we might call it, although the word ark simply refers to a box. Such a construction was unknown in Noah’s day. The size of that ark would be gargantuan—huge. Something never before imagined. Genesis 6 gives us the exact dimensions.
Add to these instructions the reason Noah had to build that ark. God explained to him that he was going to send a flood of waters that would cover the entire earth. A flood of waters? Again, something that had never been seen, much less heard of. A flood that would destroy every living creature save those who were in the ark? Fantastic! Everything that God spoke to Noah that would come to pass was far beyond one’s greatest imagination. Certainly, as the writer to the Hebrews points out, these were things not seen as yet. Yet, what God spoke to Noah was more than mere divine prediction of things to come. It was more than simply what God had in store for the future. We learn in our text that God warned Noah of things not seen as yet. Literally the word “warned” means a “divine response.” God explained to Noah His divine response to or judgment upon sinful man, who had corrupted his way upon the earth. You see, in the days of Noah all flesh had corrupted its way. The earth was filled with violence. God’s divine response to this corruption of the human race was spoken in these words to Noah in Genesis 6:13, “And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.”
This is the warning the writer to the Hebrews refers to in the verse of Hebrews 11 we study. It was the declaration to Noah of God’s terrible judgment upon a world that was serving man rather than God, the divine Creator. What Noah heard from God therefore concerned a doom and destruction that brought dread, that is, fear to, his heart. Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house. Noah did not question God. He did not resist God. God did not have to take hold of his heart and soul to coerce him to build the ark. On the contrary, Noah did according to all that God commanded him.
Noah spent 120 years building the ark. That is more than our lifetimes. But then the ark was a huge undertaking for this man. It is not as if he had the modern equipment that we do today. I do not believe that, after 1600 years of the world’s existence, Noah’s tools were just a wooden mallet and an axe. But certainly he did not have cranes and hoists and battery-powered drills and saws as we have today. The term “prepared” means that Noah framed or fit the pieces together in such a way that at long last he erected a large wooden structure of the size that God had commanded him. It took blood, sweat, and tears—quite the feat. The ark was not built the easy way by God simply saying the word and the ark miraculously appeared. Neither was Noah given some super human strength by God to be able to erect that ark with little effort. Nor did God miraculously hold the ark together despite shoddy, inexperienced work of Noah. Noah was not a robot of sorts that God used to build the ark for him. God did not build the ark. Noah did. It would take quite the stretch of human logic to say Noah did not build the ark. That Noah built the ark is a fact beyond dispute.
The writer to the Hebrews also informs us that Noah built the ark to the saving of his house. There are those who would in some way like to spiritualize this act of Noah and relate this to our salvation in Jesus Christ. This is not the intention of the inspired writer however. Our text states a simple fact: by means of the ark Noah was able to deliver, preserve, and keep safe his family in the ark. The ark saved his family from the sudden death that fell upon the human race. The Bible speaks of the salvation of the church by means of the Flood itself. The Flood saved the church from ungodly men. This salvation by the water of the Flood, we learn in I Peter 3:20, 21, was a type of our baptism in the blood of Christ. It was not the ark that is the type of our salvation in Christ. It was the Flood itself that is a picture of our salvation. The idea of our text is simple therefore: Noah prepared an ark that would deliver his family from the waters of the flood. The doctrine, the truth, of the gospel the writer to the Hebrews is interested in here in this Word of God is that which motivated Noah to build the ark. What lay behind this action of Noah? Why would he spend 120 years of his life building a mammoth boat when a flood of waters was unheard of?
II. His Motivation
The Word of God before us teaches that Noah’s actions were motivated by faith. Faith is the evidence of things not seen, that is, it is the conviction that the promises God makes, though not seen, are nevertheless true and will happen. But let us back up a bit in order that the full truth of this faith of Noah might be revealed in all its beauty. In Genesis 6:8 we read of this important truth regarding Noah: “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” Noah was the object of God’s grace. God’s grace is His favorable disposition toward one who is undeserving of that favor. God viewed Noah in His favor and love. Noah did not earn this favor. God did not look upon Noah and say: “now there is a just and perfect man. I think he deserves My favor.” Just the opposite was true. Because Noah was the object of God’s grace he became a just and perfect man. Before the work of God’s grace in the heart of this man, he was no different than the rest of the fallen human race. God’s grace is not simply God’s undeserved favor, but in His grace God powerfully works in the hearts of those whom He has chosen in Christ, delivering them from the power and dominion of sin and making them partakers of the blessings found in the cross of Christ.
God’s grace is that attitude of His favor according to which He grants to His elect people in Christ deliverance from the hold sin has on us. That is true of us today. It was true of Noah then, though the Messiah was not yet born. Already Noah was viewed by God through the promise that Christ would come. But what specifically did God in His grace perform in Noah’s heart that would eventually lead him to prepare the ark? God regenerated Noah. He took this fallen man who was born dead in sin and infused into his heart the life of Christ. Because of that work of regeneration, man believes and repents, and that, by virtue of the grace received! This was the grace Noah found in the eyes of the Lord.
By virtue of the work of God’s grace in Noah’s heart he was regenerated, and as a result he was given to believe in God. By that faith Noah, being warned of God, prepared an ark. By means of faith God grafted Noah into Jesus Christ so that as a result of that life of Christ, Noah was convicted in his heart that what God told him would indeed come to pass. He did not see it with his eyes. It seemed so preposterous that with the natural eye a man could not see the vaguest possibility of it happening. But Noah set to work building a large ark with a view to saving his family from a flood of water that would cover the whole earth and destroy every living thing. The thought of that was so fantastic that the wicked world around Noah laughed and scoffed at him. They were willingly ignorant of the truth that, even as God created all things by His power, so also God controlled His creation and could do with it what He chose. But Noah believed God. God had by His grace worked such faith in the heart of Noah, and Noah proceeded by faith. Such faith was also sustained by God, or Noah would have given up many years before completing that ark. It was only by the work of God’s grace in him that he was able to perform such an amazing feat!
But, that being said, Noah was himself convicted! He trusted that God would perform what He promised would happen. Through the work of regeneration, God so actuated and strengthened the now good and obedient will of Noah that like a good tree he brought forth the fruit of good actions. Noah built the ark.
Because of this faith Noah, we learn in our text, was moved with fear. Noah feared God and was motivated out of that fear to build the ark. This does not mean that Noah was afraid that God would severely punish him if he did not build the ark. The fear Noah exhibited was dread, of course. Think of what God told him was going to happen to the earth! Think of what was going to happen to the millions upon millions of people who were living in rebellion against God. God’s judgment upon sin always strikes fear into the hearts of men. God’s judgments are harsh. Think once of the judgment of God upon man in everlasting perdition! Frightening! Yes, Noah was filled with dread over the impending judgment of the world. But Noah’s fear did not arise from his nature but from grace, and it was a fear that is consistent with faith. It was a deep reverence and awe at the power and glory of God that caused Noah to bow in worship and adoration of God. God had chosen to save him and his house! Because of God’s grace, he and his family would be delivered from judgment through the ark! In himself he did not deserve that any more than anyone else in the world. Noah’s fear rose out of the wonderful fact that God had chosen to walk with him.
The fear that motivated Noah therefore was the fruit of faith. Noah believed that nothing would separate him from the love of God. Out of that love for God, that godly fear, that piety or godliness, Noah set himself to build the ark. Faith in God caused him to persevere in his faith, though the world was against him. The more faith is challenged, the more it digs its roots into the God Jesus Christ. Faith is the power to resist the proud and persist in the work God has sanctioned for us.
III. The Result
For 120 years Noah, while preparing the ark, was a witness to the world. The actions of God’s people are always a witness to the world around them. The wicked world watched Noah as the ark started to take shape. The ark spoke to them of the coming judgment in the Flood. To the unbelieving mind, it was ridiculous to speak of rain—water falling from the sky. That had never happened in the 1600 years of the earth’s existence! To the mind that has no fear of God or His judgments, it was ridiculous to think that this God whom Noah served was going to destroy the whole earth with water! Then to see this man spend 120 years of his life building a big wooden box that was going to carry him and animals on the water—what a wasted effort! Some scoffed at Noah. They mocked him. Others were angry with him. By his very actions he was condemning them in their sin.
How did the building of the ark serve to condemn them in their sin? Because they learned the meaning of what Noah was doing from the mouth of Noah as he worked. He told them. Obviously, they would ask him what he was doing. Obviously, he would explain to them what he was doing and why. This is why Peter refers to Noah in II Peter 2:5 as a preacher of righteousness, that is, a preacher of judgment! So the wicked world looked at Noah not just as an oddball who had gone mad, but they were angry because he was condemning them in their sin! Who was this man that dared accuse them of not living a good life!
This is oftentimes the reaction of the ungodly: They are angry with the believer when he lives a life of godliness. We too are witnesses to the world around us. The days in which we live are as the days of Noah. The world is running faster in its sin as the final judgment approaches, just as it did in Noah’s day. The world is filled with violence and immorality. When the church witnesses to the world in its preaching that judgment is at hand, the world, even the church world, mocks and becomes angry. When we level a godly witness by the way we live and the wicked ask us of the hope that is in us, they mock us and even some become angry. The world today too is become ripe for judgment. Noah, therefore, is to us a godly witness or example of the need to live in faith. We must flee the horrible sins that characterize our world and society. We must in faith cling to the promise that Christ returns soon in judgment to the saving of His people. That hope must be reflected in the way we live!
Then we are given this incentive: Noah was an heir of that righteousness which is by faith. The preparing of the ark did not make Noah an heir of righteousness. Literally our text reads: “and he through the according-to faith-righteousness became an heir.” The emphasis falls on the faith of Noah once again. Because he was righteous by faith he became an heir of eternal glory. Not in the future but right then and there. Faith united Noah to Christ through the promise—and it was on the grounds of what the Messiah would perform on the cross that Noah already then was declared righteous before God. The righteousness of Christ was by Noah’s faith imputed to him. This righteousness Noah also experienced while building the ark. He was assured therefore that he did not stand under God’s judgment but was an heir to eternal life. That life was his on the basis of the coming Messiah.
And such also is what we experience as we walk in this world of sin. We are heirs of eternal life. The Spirit witnesses with our spirits that we are joint heirs with Christ to eternal life. May the faith that Noah exhibited in preparing an ark be incentive to us to walk in a world given over to sin in the same faith. May God grant to us the joy that we are heirs to eternal life for the sake of our Savior.