Tuesday 25 August 2009

Genesis 8: Total Recall

It was dark and frankly quite smelly. Everyone was shivering from the cold and damp. But no one dared complain. No one was thinking about themselves.

Everyone’s attention was drawn outside – outside the ark. Above us was the heavy splatter of rain on the roof. But all around us were the awful cries of people - men and women screaming for help. Some were pounding on the walls begging to be let in. Others were violent in their threats.

But God had shut us in. Just the eight of us; and the animals. We held on to each other tightly in the pitch darkness.

Water was lapping against the side of the hull. The wood creaked under the rising pressure. Before long the whole ark was shaking as waves began to crash against the thick walls of gopher wood.

Suddenly everything jerked forward. That last wave dislodged the ark from a fixed position it had held for 120 years. We were now swaying back and forth at the mercy of the increasing waters.

We could feel ourselves being lifted up higher and higher above the ground. The sound of pelting rain echoed through every level of the ark like a deafening roar. Even so, in the far distance, we could still make out shrieks and cries –younger men and women had fled to the mountains, though there were far fewer voices now. The sounds were all we had to go on. All we could see was darkness.

It was probably the second or third day when we realised that all we could hear was the rain. No more cries for help. No more pounding on the walls. Not even a bird in the sky. No more life. Just rain – constant rain. We knew we ought to be thankful to still be alive, to still have one another. But being inside the ark, here in the darkness – it felt more like being in a tomb than a lifeboat.

How do live through a tragedy? How do you make sense of life when you have been through a calamity that has caused so many deaths? What would you say to a survivor of a war, an earthquake or a tsunami?

Sometimes all you can do is cry with them. You make space and time for tears and grief.

Often after a death of a loved one a hug or a hand on a shoulder, conveys more comfort – creates a more powerful connection – than any amount of words can express.

But in our day and age, one thing we do not do is try to understand it. One thing we areforbidden from doing is to make sense of a tragedy.

Oh, newspapers can report on it. We’re OK with TV cameras covering every inch of a disaster area ridden with death and destruction – we long for more information, more detail, more statistics behind its cause and implications. We can even discuss how to prevent such catastrophes from recurring.

But no one must ever comment on it. It is not our place to try and make sense of such horror. That’s offensive. It’s just wrong.

By all means describe how it happened, but don’t you dare imply the reason why. And under no circumstances are you to use words like “evil”, “judgement” or “God”.

That is why some of us are not going to like today’s message. You see, Genesis 8 is the bible’s analysis. It is God’s interpretation on not just the effect but the cause of tragedy.

Genesis 8 tells us why there is depression, destruction, death. But it also tells us why there is hope, life and comfort.

Some of you are not going to like this, especially if you have lived through a tragedy and experienced a loss. It is not what we are used to hearing.

But I hope you will listen anyway – because the bible is telling us something that
will help and because the bible is telling us something that is true.


1 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.

For 73 times in the Old Testament, God is said to have “remembered”. This does not imply that God is forgetful. Each time God “remembers” in the bible the following words describe God saving and blessing.

He remembers Abraham in chapter 19 and saves his nephew Lot. God remembers his covenant with his people and saves them from slavery in Egypt.

Still it can be surprising to read this: God remembering? That’s because in church we usually hear words like “Remember to pray! Remember to read your bible!” The emphasis being: remember what we have to do.

But here the bible reminds us of what God has done.

He remembers. He acts and He saves.

God remember me! – That is a powerful prayer you find again and again in the psalms – it is a way of crying out for help; it is a way of crying out to God. Isn’t that what the thief says to Jesus on the cross? Remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Jesus answers, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”[1]

Here, God remembers Noah and this triggers a series of events on a cosmic scale.

2 Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky.

Never underestimate the power of God. He controls the wind and waves. The flood ends because of his power and his presence.

The Hebrew word for wind is the same word for spirit.[2] So verse 1 could be translated – God sent the Spirit over the earth[3]. As a result the waters pull back, the rain stops, the heavens are closed.

Judgement itself is reversed through of God’s power and his presence.


And yet even as we read these amazing acts of grace by a powerful God, the fact is Noah can’t see any of it. He is inside the ark and all this is happening outside.

For some of us we need to see the big picture. We want to know that God has our back.

Yet I suspect for many of us who are struggling in our daily lives, we’re not looking for a hero who has gone the distance, but a friend just a few steps ahead. Someone we can identify with. A companion going through the same doubts and struggles we have.

If that’s you, I wonder if you can identify with Noah at this stage of his life. The storm has passed. Everything seems OK, the ark is no longer moving.

But Noah is never quite that sure, is he? What should he do next? Are things going to be OK?

That’s the impression you get as you read the following verses:

6 After forty days Noah opened the window he had made in the ark 7 and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. 8 Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. 9 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.

Do you get the sense of the turmoil that is in Noah’s heart. The ark has come to rest on the mountains of Ararat. Judgement is being rolled back. Outside, the storm has passed.

But these verses tell us a different story: the storm is still raging inside of Noah’s heart. We see this in verse 7, when Noah sends out the raven – a scavenger and nomadic creature. The raven flies back and forth; back and forth. It is a picture of restlessness, frustration and anxiety.

When you have been through an intense emotional experience, the external conditions may change but it takes time for your internals to respond to that change. Your heart do not work like an on-off switch.

Last week Genesis 7 focussed on the outer storm, but today Genesis 8 gives us a glimpse into the inner storm – the turmoil within Noah.

Let me tell you why this is so significant:

The search for rest

You see, Noah’s name is the Hebrew word for “rest”. His father gives him the name Noah, in Genesis 5:29, saying “this one shall bring us relief (or if you like, rest) from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.”

For all his life, Noah has lived with a name and a purpose for finding that true rest. He hasn’t found it yet – not for 600 years. But Genesis 8 tells us he is very close!

That’s why verse 4 is so significant. Verse 4 doesn’t simply say that the ark stopped, does it? In a symbolic way, Genesis tells us the ark comes to rest on the mountains.

And Noah knows this. He sends out a dove to determine the state of the earth. But the creature is not simply on fact-finding mission. Symbolically, verse 9 in Hebrew reads “the dove could find no place to rest – to rest its feet.”

I think many of us can identify with this notion of rest. It is that longing for a get away, to clear our heads, to escape the busyness of life. For some, it’s a weekend or a holiday. For others, it is the image of retirement in comfort, relaxation after tens of years of hard work.

But this rest the Noah longs for is not simply a state of peace or calmness. This rest is a reversal– a reversal of the curse by God for the sin of Adam. The labour and painful toil, Noah’s father says in Genesis 5, is caused by the ground the LORD has cursed.

The end of verse 9 provides a strong link to the account of the Fall of Adam. Here, Noah reaches out his hand and takes the dove back to himself – this is the exact same phrase found back in Genesis 3 after the fall, when God says man must not be allowed to “reach out his hand and take” from the tree of life[4].

So Noah is sending the dove out on a mission not simply to find safe ground, but to search for life. And that is confirmation he receives in verse 10:

10 He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. 11 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. 12 He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.

This is a touching scene as Noah sends out the dove one final time, in effect releasing it from the ark.

The dove had done its duty. It brought back the olive leaf signalling not just that it was safe on the earth, but that life had returned to the earth.

Still Genesis goes on to record this third sending of the dove. The first mission was unsuccessful and the dove returned. The second mission brought back the evidence Noah was searching for. But why send the dove out on a third?

He already knows the state of the earth. He doesn’t need any more assurances. In fact just a couple of verses later he in confident enough to open the main entrance of the ark. So why release the dove one last time?

It might help if I told you that the Hebrew word for dove is “hanoyyah”. For the past three weeks, Noah has been sending Hanoyyah out of the boat. The dove represents Noah’s deep longing to leave the ark.

After over 200 days on the ark, Hanoyyah gets to leave, but Noah stays behind. Noah is still waiting. He is waiting – searching for something else. And it isn’t for the earth to dry.


13 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. 14 By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry.

3 times the passage emphasizes – the earth is dry. It is safe. The waters are gone. Noah can see this for himself. Verse 14 underlines this by saying that the earth was completely dry.

But Noah is waiting for something else.
He is waiting for verse 15.

15 Then God said to Noah, 16 "Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. 17 Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number upon it."

What is the hardest thing in life as a Christian? Could it be the same struggle we see Noah has here? Could it be the waiting?

I mean sure, persecution is bad. Hardship can be unbearable. Temptation can snare our hearts away from God.

But add to all these – time!

Prolonged pain. Extended suffering. Temptation that comes again and again and again.

We might be strong right now, able to stand and withstand with confidence in Jesus today – but what about tomorrow? What about next week or next year?

Yet what Genesis 8 is challenging us to see is the purpose and not the duration of the wait. It is not a question of “how long” but “what for”?

What was Noah waiting for? Was it just to simply leave? To finally get away from the stinking ark?

Part of him did. We’ve seen that the dove represents a motivation inside of Noah to get out of his current situation.

And yet he waited. For 40 days; and then another 3 weeks

And when he could see with his own eyes that it was safe; nothing could hold him back from taking that step forward into freedom– he waited again for 2 whole months.

Can you imagine how ridiculous it was to have the door wide open for 2 whole months and not go out? I wonder if Noah was sorely tempted to do so!

If you look at verse 13: Noah opened the door on a very significant date. It was his 601stBirthday! I’m just postulating here – it just my imagination – but I wonder if Noah thought, “Hey! It’s my birthday – I’ve been through so much; I deserve a break.” But no! He waited.

He waited for God’s word – for God’s voice.

And as we look at Noah before the flood and now, after: we find a man of God who seeks after God’s presence, His face; longs for His Word - whether in judgement or in blessing!

This is hard. If you’re a mum who stays at home all day with the kids – this is hard. If you’re a man with a family waiting for a job to come through – this is hard. The days are long yet the years come by so quickly. The first chance, any opportunity that comes by to get out of the rut – that’s the one we will jump on. I've done my time - why wait any longer?

You want me to wait for God’s word? What if it doesn’t come? What if it never comes?

Ah, but let me remind you again: it’s not a question of “how long” but “what for”. Unlike Noah wehave God’s word – revealed in the scriptures, displayed in Christ. Perhaps even now, God is speaking to you – calling you to himself.

It is very tempting to use time and effort as a badge of honour – we are entitled to the blessing because of this. But God’s blessing comes through his word. Sometimes our refusal to seek God’s word, which readily speaks to us now, is indicative of our desire for God’s blessing instead of God’s word.

But Noah waited for God’s word – and it was through this word that he received God’s blessing.


Verse 17: “Be fruitful and increase upon it.”

Notice that God does not simply instruct Noah to empty the ark, but the fill the earth.

In the flood, God has judged all life.

In the ark, God has preserved life.

But now on the earth, God renews and blesses all life.

First things first

Here is the perfect conclusion! Judgement has passed. Life is restored. Noah is blessed.

And yet Genesis 8 doesn’t end here.

20 Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it.

Noah leaves the ark and what is the first thing he does? He worships the LORD.

What would you have done? You have been through a terrible ordeal. The day finally comes when you can put everything behind you. What is the first thing you do?

You can tell a lot about a man – his character; what he values – by his response to this simple question. Some of us have been working so hard and waiting so long for something big to happen: a job, a marriage partner, a change in life circumstance.

Then what? What would you do if God so graciously grants you today – right here, right now – your hearts desire. Or more accurately, what would be the first thing you would do.

You know, don’t even think about the big stuff. Just this week, you’ve worked your butt off in the office, Friday comes; the weekend – what’s your first course of action, the first place you head to, that first words that come out of your mouth?

Is it: thank you Lord? I praise you for your blessing.

Noah has been through a lot. He didn’t take time out to grieve – to just deal with the loss and depression. Neither did Noah throw a big party to celebrate. Noah didn’t kick back on his computer to update his Facebook status – “Just got out of ark – lol XP”.

He spent the entire day building an altar. He took animals and slaughtered them one by one. It was tiring. It was bloody.

Noah’s first priority was to worship the LORD.

Rest and restitution

But you might still be wondering: Why was it a priority to worship God? Was he being religious? Or maybe he was just really, really thankful for being alive?

I think it is more than that. This is the first altar recorded in the bible.

Do you know what an altar is? It is a place of sacrifice. Animals are killed and burnt at the altar as an offering to God. In fact, this word for (whole) burnt offerings is “holod” where we get the word “holocaust”.

It all comes back to Noah’s life purpose. Do you remember what it was? Noah was on a search for rest.

But you see, Noah now realises that the rest he has been seeking all his life is not his own. The sacrifices tell us point us not to man’s rest but God’s rest.

In verse 21, the NIV reads “The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma” but in the original language it reads – can you guess? – “The LORD smelled the restful aroma.”

What this implies is God has also been in a state of unrest due to our sin and wickedness.

God says in his heart: "Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood.”

Who is God talking about here? He is talking about Noah. He is talking about us. Every wicked thought of our hearts brings grief and pain to God’s heart.[5] All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

By sacrificing the animals, Noah was saying that he was no better than any who died in the flood.

And the only reason why I am not standing here sacrificing a goat, a bull a pigeon for each and every one of you is because Christians have a better sacrifice in Jesus Christ. His death on the cross is our sacrifice for our sins.

Jesus is described in the book of Revelation as “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world”[6]. That word “slain” is polite-sounding word. Slain sounds so sanitized. It could better be rendered “slaughtered” or “butchered”. The Lamb that is slaughtered – see him with a big red gash down its neck[7].

The Greek word is “slogizomai” it even sounds horrible. This is the God we worship. Forever and ever Christians will sing praises of the cross. What is that? It is thanking Jesus for dying, for getting butchered in my place. He takes the penalty of my sins and dies my death. This is the punishment we deserve laid on a sinless Christ.

Noah understood this. He looked back at the flood and understood this. And now he looked at the sacrifice and understood this. He deserved judgement. He escaped judgement. The sacrificial animals take on judgment that should be on him.

In the same way when we look at a tragedy. When we read in our newspapers of Typhoon Morakot, cancer, war, 9-11 – we see judgement. Not on those we are worse than us. We see judgement we deserve.

The ground should open up and swallow all of us right now, and God would have done no wrong. We are all sinners in his sight.

We must not close our eyes to the tragedies of this world – each and every one is a warning from God to turn to him. And yet the bible tells us it is not in a disaster – personal or global – that we find God’s final word on our sin. No, we keep our eyes open on death and disaster not just to make sense of our sin; but so that we can make sense of the ultimate sacrifice for our sin.

We look to the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. For there is God’s true judgement – his full anger and wrath poured out on a sinless man; Jesus the only man who could take the penalty of death for all our sins. For on the cross, God dies.

And through the cross we live. We find the reason for living. And we enter the true rest that is God’s rest.

Jesus says:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.[8]

Come to Jesus. Find your true purpose in life. Receive forgiveness through his sacrifice. Only he can take the storms in your life and give you the rest you so long for and need.

[1] Luke 23:42-43 – Note also the significance of Jesus’ use of the word “Today” – cf. Hebrews 4:7

[2] Hebrew “ruah” – interestingly enough the same double-meaning is found in the New Testament Greek word “pneumatos”.

[3] Genesis 1:2 “… and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters”.

[4] Genesis 3:22

[5] Genesis 6:5

[6] Revelation 13:8

[7] An illustration by John Piper given at a talk at New Word Alive 2008

[8] Matthew 11:28-29

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