Bible Stories for Grownups -

Noah's Ark

Genesis 6:1-22, Noah's Ark
Genesis 7:1-24, Noah's Ark
Genesis 8:1-22, Noah's Ark
Genesis 9:1-17, Noah's Ark
Random Walk in a Gallery of Religious Art, Step 25: Genesis 10:1-32, Map – Descendants of Noah
Response to Reader Questions and Comments, Noah's Ark

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Genesis 6:1-22, Noah's Ark (9/21/2009)

Everybody knows the story of Noah's Ark. Children whose parents never darken the church door get quilts with Noah and the animals in the fabric. There are at least two full-size replicas of Noah's Ark – in Hong Kong and in the Netherlands. Everybody knows that Noah's family and two each of all land animals and birds went into the Ark. Given that everybody knows all this, what are we going to talk about this week?

The story of Noah's Ark is one of a series that begins in the Garden of Eden and ends with the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. First crack out of the barrel, Adam and Eve sin against God by doing what they have been told not to (Genesis 3). They get themselves sent out of the Garden and have to look for work. Then one son murders the other (Genesis 4). Things are going downhill fast. Genesis 5 is devoted to some genealogical materials, and then in Genesis 6, we discover that everyone on earth is wicked. God is sorry he ever got himself into this.

Let's think about that last sentence a little bit. It's very popular to say that the Bible and the Church "anthropomorphize God," that is, that we attribute the characteristics of human beings to God. This text in which God is sorry that he ever made people and decides to wipe them out is one of the verses frequently cited – because, the argument goes, God couldn't possibly be sorry he did something, and he certainly wouldn't wipe out humanity. Why then does Jesus say that unrepentant sinners will be cast "into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth" (Mathew 13:42)? The argument goes that Jesus couldn't possibly have meant that. Jesus tells us, "Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect." The argument goes that Jesus couldn't possibly have meant that, either.

You wanna bet your life on that?

Personally, I think that the Bible is a book about theomorphizing human beings – God, Jesus, and the Biblical writers are trying to get us to take on the characteristics of God. (I thought I had made up "theomorphize," but it's in the dictionary.) Noah escaped the general destruction not because he was a good builder and liked animals, but because "he did everything that God commanded." That's the beginning of being theomorphized.

Genesis 7:1-24, Noah's Ark (9/22/2009)

We all learned as children that Noah took two of every animal into the Ark, but it's actually a little more complicated than that. God directed Noah to take two, a male and a female, of every unclean animal, but seven pairs, or 14, of every clean animal and every type of bird. That's a lot of livestock! Fortunately there are many fewer clean animals than unclean animals.

First you have to know that clean/unclean does not mean the same as clean/dirty. Clean animals are ones that may be eaten or used as a sacrifice in worship. Generally speaking, they are stock and game animals that have split hooves and chew the cud. Cattle, sheep, goats, and deer are examples of clean animals. As a rule of thumb, most birds that are not raptors or other kinds of predators are clean, e.g., turtledoves and pigeons. Among the fish, those with fins and scales are clean.

Unclean animals are ones that may not be eaten or used as a sacrifice. This doesn't necessarily mean that you can't use them for other purposes; for example, donkeys and camels are unclean, but you are perfectly free to ride them or use them as pack animals. As a rule of thumb, animals that do not have split hooves (e.g., horse and hyrax) or do not chew the cud (e.g., swine and camel) are unclean. Predators are unclean. All animals that crawl on the ground are unclean. Bugs are unclean, except for locusts and their ilk. Among the birds, all raptors and a lot of birds that eat other animals, like herons and pelicans, are unclean. New Mexicans should make a special note that birds that creep on the ground are also unclean, so hands off the roadrunners! Among the water dwellers, shellfish in general cannot be eaten or sacrificed; ask your rabbi about sturgeon and catfish, because opinions differ about whether they have scales.

These important rules are laid out in detail in Leviticus 11. If you are Jewish, or a Christian convert from Judaism, you are supposed to be following these rules. If, like me, you descend from tree-worshippers, then you are exempted from them by the decision of the Church at the Council of Jerusalem, around A.D. 50 (Acts 15).

Genesis 8:1-22, Noah's Ark (9/23/2009)

You have to be a little careful when you are reading numbers in the Bible. Sometimes the numbers mean a certain number, and sometimes they are symbolic.

One number that you should be particularly alert for is 7, which is symbolic of completeness or perfection. It's sort of like our modern "10," as in, "She's a 10," or "He scored a perfect 10 with that routine!" So Noah could have waited 7 days by the calendar to send out the dove, or he could have waited just the right amount of time. He could have taken 7 pairs of clean animals, or he could have taken just the right number.

Another number you should usually suspect of being symbolic is 40, which usually occurs as 40 days, 40 days and 40 nights, or 40 years. "40 days" or "40 days and 40 nights" means, "a long time – like about a month." It's a long time to stay cooped up in a boat with all those animals. 40 days is a long time to be out in the desert without eating. "40 years" means "a long time – like a whole generation." It's a long time to be wandering around in the desert with Moses. Of course, sometimes it actually means 40 days or 40 years. It doesn't pay to be too dogmatic about these things.

Other important numbers in the Bible are 3, 10, and 12, but we'll leave those for another time.

Genesis 9:1-17, Noah's Ark (9/24/2009)

Remember that Jews and Christian converts from Judaism are supposed to be eating only the clean animals? Acts 15 exempts the rest of us from that rule; however, we are not completely exempt from the dietary laws. Here's James's decision (Acts 15:28-29):
The prohibition of blood (and strangled animals, which still contain it) first arises from God's covenant with Noah. The blood is where the life is, and the life belongs to God!

Random Walk in a Gallery of Religious Art, Step 25: Genesis 10:1-32, Map – Descendants of Noah (4/3/15)

Fellow-reader Terri and I adore census lists! For those of you who have other hobbies, however, I have indicated which color to look for on the map for each of Noah’s sons. From Genesis 11:16-26, we learn that Eber was the fourth-great-grandfather of Abraham – which is actually quite a close relative, by Terri’s and my standards.
  • (PINK) Japheth’s descendants (vss. 2-5)
  • (YELLOW) Ham’s descendants (vss. 6-20)
  • (GREEN) Shem's descendants (vss. 21-24)
  • (ORANGE) To Eber were born two sons (vss. 25-31)
Previous Step. Next Step.
Lands of the descendants of Noah. Click to enlarge.
"Descendants of Noah" from the Thomas family Bible,
now in a private collection of a family member.

Responses to Reader Questions about Noah's Ark (9/24/2009)

First, a note from Pastor Craig on the use of numbers in the Bible: "I love these! 3=divine or heavenly things. 4=earthly (winds, corners, directions) 3+4=7 or completeness. And what number falls short of completeness? – – 6!"

Reader Nancy S. wonders about the possibility that Noah's sons' children also entered the Ark. The "sons and sons' wives" are mentioned in Genesis 6:18, 7:7, 7:13, 8:16, and 8:18. By now you all know that my normal answer when the Bible doesn't say is to tell you, "The Bible doesn't say." In this case, however, I think we are safe in assuming that there were no grandkids yet. The Bible, especially the OT, is very big on families, households, and genealogy – so big that if the family is enumerated, as in these verses, without mention of so-and-so, then so-and-so almost certainly wasn't in the picture.

And finally, reader Ginger J. asks, "Aren't we tree-worshippers mainly exempted [from the dietary laws] because of Peter's vision on the roof top?" Peter's vision and his experience with the household of Cornelius (Acts 10) were the basis for letting us Gentiles into the Church at all, and certainly they were one argument in favor of exemption (Acts 15:7b-11). However, James is the one who decided what rules we need to follow (see Acts 15:13-21, especially 13 and 19), and his decision was based on the whole discussion – which included reports from Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:12) and all the counter-arguments as well (15:5 and 7a).

More Bible Stories for Grownups

Old Testament Stories

New Testament Stories



The Tower of Babel

Noah's Ark

Jacob and Esau

Stories About Joseph

Moses Parts the Red Sea

Joshua Parts the Jordan

Samuel's Call

David and Jonathan - Part 1

David and Jonathan - Part 2

The Lost Tribes of Israel

Hezekiah's Reprieve

Ruth, Jonah, and Divorce

Feeding of the 5000

Three Parables of Jesus

Six Short Stories About Jesus


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