"Build an Ark"
February 14, 2021 Speaker: Pastor Bob Davis
Passage: Genesis 6:1–22
We begin several weeks with Noah this morning.
Like prior weeks, our verses today are a familiar story to most people – at least the basics of it. Also like prior weeks, this chapter tends to raise more questions than answers. So, let me remind you of two key elements of our sermon series on Genesis:
We are not going to try to answer all the questions you may have had or heard regarding these verses. For example, was this flood the same as other floods in ancient literature? How does this description match the fossil record we find in archaeology digs? These are great questions for a Bible study. The author did not provide us with any detail on these things because the focus was elsewhere. For our purposes here, we are going to look within the text to see what is being revealed to us about the nature, character, and purpose of God? Who is this God who has revealed himself to us? What has God revealed? What does God’s revelation mean for how we understand who we are and how we are to live?
We have to remember that Genesis is the first book of a larger set. This is really important today. It has to be read as part of the whole, and it functions as the preface to that larger story. We cannot read it separate, apart, or distinct from the rest. It has to be read in light of the rest.
The Sons of God and the Nephilim
The first part of Chapter 6 can be confusing and is not clear to us. Perhaps the first readers had a better handle on the references made by the author, but that clarity has been lost to us. Specifically, we have to spend a few moments looking at who is being described by the terms “sons of God” and “Nephilim.”
Although this seems like more Bible study material, these things are in the text. In order to see what the author intended to reveal about the nature and character of God, we need to explore a little. We cannot make sense of God’s command to Noah to build an ark without the predicate circumstances that made God’s judgment necessary.
I am going to take them in reverse order. Who were the Nephilim? We do not know definitively, but it seems like these were a well-known warrior people. They appear only here and in Number 13, where the frightened spies reported back to Moses that the Nephilim were among the inhabitants of Canaan, the Promised land. The root of the Hebrew word for Nephilim generally means “to fall” or “to prey” upon others. In Numbers, they were considered to be the ancestors of the Anakites who were considered giants – think Goliath – and who were reputed to be powerful warriors.
Who were the sons of God who took wives from among the daughters of men? Over time, three possibilities have been considered: angels, the lineage of Seth marrying the daughters of Cain, and royalty. I am going to briefly go through these – just know that this is the stuff of great debate among scholars.
Angels are the first candidates for understanding who were “sons of God who took wives from among the daughters of men”? In the ancient world, there were plenty of stories told of sexual relations between divine beings and humans. Semi-divine offspring were created.
In Mesopotamia and Canaan, divine-human marriage was celebrated in the sacred marriage rights that took place in the temples. These rites were supposed to ensure the fertility of the soil and ordinary marriages. [The rites] involved fathers dedicating their unmarried daughters for service in the temple. In practice these girls served as sacred prostitutes giving pleasure to priests and wealth worshippers.
In this interpretation, the author was distinguishing behavior was offensive to the one true God contrasted with its acceptance in the false religions surrounding Israel. Prostitution was a corruption of God’s plan for partnership and unnecessary because humans were increasing in number. The pursuit of that which was knowingly opposed to God’s created order gave rise to God’s judgment that “the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.” Another way of saying this would be that “each did what was right in their own eyes.”
The next theory is that the sons of God were from the favored line of Seth and the daughters of men were from the line of Cain. St. Augustine adopted this view in his work City of God and it prevailed in the early church through the time of the Reformation, even into the 1700’s.
The problem with this view is that it selectively picks from what the author wrote while ignoring the plain language involved.
It ignores the question of the existence of other lines of descent from Adam and Eve (besides Cain and Seth), assumes that the lines of Cain and Seth remained separate for millennia, and extrapolates from the statements about Enoch and Lamech that the entire line of Seth was godly and the entire line of Cain was wicked.
The final major theory is that the sons of God were local royalty.
[T]he offense is the practice of the “right of the first night.” In this practice, the local authority (whether king, governor, or lord of the manor) imposes his will on his people by demanding and exercising the right to spend the first night with any woman who is being married. This practice is universally recognized as oppressive.
Regardless of which of the three theories is strongest, the one thing they all have in common is that evil was manifest in the corruption of God’s intention for relations between male and female. Exploitation replaced partnership. Selfishness replaced mutuality. The desires of the corrupt flesh stood in opposition to life according to the Spirit.
You heard this in Paul’s letter to the Galatians:
For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.
This sounds like the working topic list for most entertainment these days, right? But look at how Paul concluded this thought, “I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
That sounds like a parallel of the world of Noah’s time, too, doesn’t it? And, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
I want to stop here for a moment to show how these distortions occur today and remain a source of great brokenness. Perhaps many of you are anticipating that I am going to use the impeachment trial as an illustration. Or, perhaps some of the executive orders related to gender issues would make the case. Let me just say this: it is too easy to point to all the brokenness in our social, political, community relationships and say, “Aha! Look at that! Look at all the bad things all those bad people do.” While it may be accurate, that kind of approach lets us off the hook.
Instead, let me illustrate from within the church. Before I talk about this, let me just say this: it breaks my heart to talk about the corruption and brokenness within the church; but I also know that it is important. I am a sinner in need of God’s grace and mercy. I am forever and wholly grateful to God for the atoning work of Christ for me. I serve as pastor only by God’s grace, calling, and provision; not because I have earned it or deserve it. This congregation – First Presbyterian Church, Carson City, belongs to Jesus and not to me. We – you and I – worship Jesus, not me. So, I share these illustrations with a broken heart to open our eyes to the reality of our condition.
In this past week, two falls from grace in the church have been widely reported: Carl Lentz from Hillsong, and the late Ravi Zacharias.
Carl Lentz was the pastor in New York City considered a rising star along the lines of Joel Osteen. In a Vanity Fair expose this week,
After joining Hillsong as head pastor of the New York outpost in 2010, Lentz quickly became the church’s most recognizable face. Liberally tattooed, elaborately coiffed, and often dressed like a teenage hypebeast, Lentz, 42, achieved mild mainstream fame based on his proximity and access to the millennial celebrities in his flock: Justin and Hailey Bieber, Vanessa Hudgens, Kevin Durant, Selena Gomez. Tens of thousands of urban evangelical professionals followed Lentz for his soaring sermons at weekly services that resembled rock concerts. …
But in late 2020, Lentz needed a new path. On November 4, Hillsong’s global senior pastor and founder, Brian Houston, publicly fired Lentz and his wife of 17 years, Laura, pointing to “leadership issues and breaches of trust, plus a recent revelation of moral failures.” …
On December 3, audio surfaced of Houston explaining Lentz’s firing in an internal meeting: “These issues were more than one affair, they were significant. And at least some bad moral behavior had gone back historically.” …
That afternoon, Lentz’s publicists said he enrolled in a 28-day outpatient program for “pastoral burnout.” A few weeks later, The New York Times reported that Hillsong NYC volunteers had complained to church officials about rumors of Lentz acting inappropriately with women in 2017.
I was aware of Lentz but did not really have much interest in him. It did not really surprise me that this series of events occurred. He struck me as being along the lines of Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Baker, and Ted Haggard – all televangelists who abused their power and sought personal satisfaction at the cost of others around them.
Ravi Zacharias, on the other hand, was a shock and surprise. Unlike Lentz, I have admired Zacharias’ witness, writings, and speeches for a number of years. Before his death, I had the opportunity to meet him on several occasions and found him to be gracious and a powerful apologist for the faith.
Christianity Today published an expose about his sexual misconduct that had come to light after his death. “A 12-page report released Thursday by Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) confirms abuse by Zacharias at day spas he owned in Atlanta and uncovers five additional victims in the US, as well as evidence of sexual abuse in Thailand, India, and Malaysia.
The most disheartening paragraph of the article – and the link back to our Genesis passage – was this:
[One woman] said Zacharias “made her pray with him to thank God for the ‘opportunity’ they both received” and, as with other victims, “called her his ‘reward’ for living a life of service to God,” the report says. Zacharias warned the woman—a fellow believer—if she ever spoke out against him, she would be responsible for millions of souls lost when his reputation was damaged.
What’s my point?
My point is that we continue to experience brokenness, sin, and corruption – even in the church. More to the point, we experience the same kind of corruption described in Genesis. When we make heroes of men; when we make exceptions for, excuse, or tolerate sin for the greater good; when we ignore God’s command and created order in favor of our own idols of good and evil; we are revealing the truth of Calvin’s description of total depravity and re-affirming that we – without Jesus – fit squarely within the statement of the author of Genesis, “the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.” “O, wretched man that I am! Who will save me from this body of death?”
As much as we would like to think humanity has progressed, we see how completely mired in brokenness are we. Friends, do not be deceived: God will not allow sin and rebellion in the kingdom of heaven. As we approach Ash Wednesday and Lent, we need to see who we are as God sees us. When we do, we become abundantly aware of why we need a savior.
God’s command to Noah: Make an Ark
The author made clear that things were not as they ought to be. In Genesis 6:6, the author wrote, “And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth and it grieved his heart.”
What do we do with that? On the one hand, it would be a very understandable reaction to corruption and depravity. On the other hand, the author was writing about God – was the author saying God made a mistake?
We cannot pretend that Scripture does not include this verse. We have to wrestle with it.
Does this undermine our understanding of God’s sovereignty and perfection? It certainly causes pause. However, in the context of God’s power to create the cosmos by the uttering of his command, in the context of God’s power to create the Garden and banish the man and the woman for their disobedience, and in what we know of God’s power through the remainder of the set for which this is part of the preface, it seems more likely that this is part of the mystery of God we are not going to be able to fathom or fully comprehend. That may sound like a cop-out, but we know that God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts. We can explore with the humility of recognizing we may not know now or fully understand.
Was the author employing anthropomorphic – human centered – language in order to make God understandable? Perhaps. That has been the most common explanation.
Do we miss something in translation? That is likely, but the extent is somewhat difficult to assess. One commenter worked hard to argue that a better translation would be in accounting terms where God found an imbalance and sought to effect a remedy to bring things back into order.
We have to wrestle with a God we cannot fully comprehend. The overall point was that God was going to take action to address the corruption and violence.
Into that mix we get Noah.
Noah was different than others. We have already seen that his name had a special meaning, specifically, “Out of the ground that the LORD has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the toil of our hands.” Noah was one through whom redemption from the curse and consequence of sin and rebellion would be realized. And so we see it. In verse 9, we get the language that marked individuals as different, “He walked with God.” As with Enoch, it signaled Noah’s adherence to God’s call and command, with the reward that he experienced life.
To Noah, God declared what he was going to do. Then, he commanded Noah to build an ark. God told Noah to bring his family. God commanded Noah to bring the animals, male and female into the ark. He commanded Noah to bring every kind of food. And then came the line so important to the author, “Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.”
Noah built the ark. It was not easy. It required effort, time, and resources. It did not necessarily make sense to Noah and Noah may have wished there was another way. Nonetheless, in obedience to all God had commanded him, Noah built the ark. In this obedience, God provided a saving grace for humankind. Judgment was effected, but so was salvation.
In this action, God was foreshadowing what he would do for all of humankind through Noah’s descendant, Jesus Christ. It was not easy. It required effort, time, and resources. Jesus wished there was another way. Nonetheless, in obedience to all God had commanded him, Jesus walked to the cross. In this obedience, God provided a saving grace for humankind. Judgment was effected, but so was salvation.
Again, we cry, “Wretched man that I am, who will save me from this body of death?” This time, though, with Paul, we realize it is not a rhetorical question. There is an answer, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Judgment was effected, but so was salvation. ”There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” He is our Ark.
As we continue through this pandemic and its global impacts, I want you to be aware of the salvation we have received by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. That is our joy, our rescue, and our gospel to share. We have been steadfast in holding onto Jesus for hope – not the government, not the science, not money, not the things of this world. Yes, we are paying attention to those things, but we are not putting our hope in those things. Those things can – at best – be a means by which illness and death can be delayed. The only hope we have of defeating death is Christ. We have been steadfast in continuing to proclaim that salvation is only in Jesus Christ, that there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.
For now, as we begin our stormy journey with Noah, I invite you to see his example. God’s call to discipleship – to “go” – is not easy. It requires effort, time, and resources. It may not always make sense. We often wish there would be another way. Nonetheless, we are called to obey. Friends, when God commands, build the ark.
 G.J. Wenham, New Bible Commentary, p. 64.
 John Walton, NIVAC Old Testament, Genesis, p. 292-293.
 Ibid, p. 293.
 Walton, NIVAC, Genesis.