It was by faith that Noah built a large boat to save his family from the flood. He obeyed God, who warned him about things that had never happened before. By his faith Noah condemned the rest of the world, and he received the righteousness that comes by faith.Hebrews 11:7
This is the first major example of faith which the writer of Hebrews chooses and yet there is so much implicit information hidden in this one verse. The previous two examples of Abel and Enoch are mentioned only in a cursory way. However, Noah is the first of the major examples, yet is treated in the same kind of way with a passing comment, which hides the implicit information of Noah’s faith. The writer leaves the readers to put the pieces together while highlighting the nature of Noah’s faith with some short summary statements. He clearly knew his readers were familiar enough with the Genesis account of Noah. There are four chapters in Genesis dedicate to Noah’s story. But notice the writer of Hebrews only picks out four elements to comment on, while mentioning Noah’s faith twice. Look carefully at the four points made by way of summary. But first note that the writer begins with “by faith” like the other two examples. It is ‘because of their faith‘ that these heroes of faith are chosen.
It was by faith
Noah built a large boat to save his family from the flood.
He obeyed God, who warned him about things that had never happened before.
By his faith Noah
condemned the rest of the world,
and he received the righteousness that comes by faith.
Each example of faith the writer includes begins with the lead line “by faith”. But in Noah’s case “by faith” appears twice. In the second case the element “by faith” is actually a relative pronoun “by (the) which” where the reference is not made clear. This leads commentators to discuss whether “by faith” is meant or is it “the ark” that is in focus? Most agree it is “faith” which is in focus. Faith best fits all the statements made. Hence there is a strong statement made in the repetition of “by faith”.
Allow me now to examine the four statements the writer of Hebrews recorded in some detail.
Noah built a large boat to save his family
God told Noah to build a boat to specific dimensions and structure to save his family and the animals. Noah carried out God’s instructions to the letter. Can you imagine the reactions Noah received when he told people that God had told him to build a boat with the dimensions God instructed him to build? Just think if you were the one building the boat with the design and scale of what God told Noah. The people around you: your family, your peers, your neighbours, visitors who heard the story and came to see what you were doing would think you had lost your mind. “Why are you doing this again?” “Because God has told me disaster is coming. There is going to be a flood like nothing we have ever seen before.”
“Do you hear from God often or is this the first time you have heard from him? Have other things worked out according to God’s voice?” Imagine the comments you would field if you were embarking on a grand project you felt God had instructed you to do. People would question your sanity. They would investigate your track record with this God you have claimed to hear. This is what the Bible says about the matter:
Noah was a righteous man, the only blameless person living on earth at the time, and he walked in close fellowship with God.Genesis 6:9
“Who is this boat you are building for?” “Well it’s for my family and the animals but I guess you can join us too if you want to be saved from the disaster that is coming.” Just imagine the derision that Noah experienced when the people of his generation in his local area criticized what he was doing and why? The scale of the boat was like nothing that had been built before. It was not something he could hide in the boat shed while he finished it. Everyone would have known about it and yet he persisted in carrying out all of God’s instructions to him. He was faithful to implement all that God had told him despite the size of the task and the criticism he undoubtedly received.
Noah obeyed God’s warning about things unseen
Let’s spend a moment thinking about the second element of what the writer of Hebrews wrote. Noah obeyed God despite the fact that God had told him about things that Noah had never heard of before. The first aspect for us to think about is the flood and the nature of rain. The concept of a flood is normal to us in association with rain, but think about these verses.
For the LORD God had not yet sent rain to water the earth, and there were no people to cultivate the soil. Instead, springs came up from the ground and watered all the land.Genesis 2:5-6
We could assume that rain was a feature by the time of Noah but you have to admit it is a point we could debate. It is highly likely that the world in Noah’s day was vastly different from ours. Most versions opt for the word “mist” to describe the precipitation at this time. Other versions describe [אד] (êd) as fountains, underground streams, underground water sources or even fog. What is indisputable is that not only was God predicting heavy rain enough to flood the earth, but the scale of the rain coming was indeed of a kind never seen before. This was a watering the like of which Noah had no concept of. Hence he was building a vessel the size of which he had no comprehension and this he was told would save him and his wife and immediate family and some animals. I could imagine if it were me building this vessel, I would be stopping from time to time and asking God again. “Are you sure we need something this big LORD. This just seems a little out of proportion.: Yet he continued to complete the project given to the scale God required. Now that is another dimension of faith.
Noah’s faith condemned the rest of the world
What is meant by Noah’s faith condemning the rest of the world? It is a curious statement. Clearly his actions related to his faith were visible to the eyes of all who gathered to watch. Noah didn’t build his boat in a boat shed. It was on display for all the world to see and poke fun at. The mere fact that he was undertaking this project was evidence of the fact that he believed disaster was pending, despite the fact he had never seen rain or rain of that magnitude before. That hints at the fact that this was a practical evidence of the things unseen. Isn’t that exactly what the writer of Hebrews was meaning? How then was condemnation of “the rest of the world” a logic outcome of Noah’s actions? I would say the difference between Noah’s faith and the world around him was in stark contrast. Noah’s faith and reliance on hearing accurately what God had told him set a new standard of conduct or action in the face of being asked to exercise faith in what God has told you. The Bible paints a very stark contrast between Noah from Genesis 6:9 above and the following verse.
The LORD observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil.Genesis 6:5
Or as Eugene Peterson translated in the Message: “GOD saw that human evil was out of control. People thought evil, imagined evil—evil, evil, evil from morning to night.” You can see for yourself the contrastive nature of how the Bible describes Noah and those around him that it was inevitable that Noah’s actioning of his faith would mean those who were warned by Noah were without excuse.
What is interesting to me is that it is highly likely that Noah’s faith doesn’t just condemn those ungodly people in Noah’s generation but also is likely to include those ungodly in this present generation. The Bible story is well known right up to today and yet there are an abundance of skeptics who ridicule the Noahic account even today. The account of Noah’s faith in the light of what God warned him to do condemns the ungodly and those who reject the veracity of the biblical account right up to this present day and age.
Noah received the righteousness that comes by faith
The word the writer of Hebrews uses to describe Noah and the saving of himself, his wife and his immediate family is the word [sōtēria]. Oh yes it is the word for saving their lives but more than that it is the word used in the New Testament for the salvation or redemption of their souls. What astounds me in what the writer of the letter to the Hebrews has written is that Noah received “the righteousness that comes by faith”. How is that possible when such understanding didn’t surface until the time of the New Testament via Jesus’ and Paul’s teaching. How can the words of Paul in Romans be credited to Noah?
For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.Romans 1:16-17
Yet the writer of Hebrews tells us that Noah’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. This principle holds true throughout the Bible. So it stands to reason that faith as strong as Noah’s, which the writer of Hebrews pointedly emphasises twice that his actions were the result of his faith, must surely have been credited with having saving faith.
Noah’s kind of faith set a new standard. Yes, Noah, by faith accomplished all four of those things the writer of Hebrews has said about him. You could almost say that Noah was the epitome of faith. But hang on; surely the next hero of faith on the list could lay claim to that accolade.
Faith is putting all your eggs in God’s basket, then counting your blessings before they hatch.R.C. Carroll
You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt.Samuel Ullman
You don’t have to constantly doubt or defend the faith when you know the Faith Giver.Ian
Faith Is Not The Absence Of Fear. It’s The Divine Confidence That Causes Me To Forget The Reason Why I Ever Thought I Would Never Make It.Robb Thompson