Noah, The Ark, and COVID 19

When our second son was born, one of my favorite baby gifts was a Noah’s Ark children’s lamp. The base was a ceramic ark with Noah’s head looking out one window, and the long neck of a giraffe sticking out of the other window. There was even a ceramic rainbow above the ark. This lamp stayed on straight through the night for at least the first year of my son’s life.

I realize now that I never took Noah very seriously. He made for a cute nursery accessory, but the idea of a bunch of animals in an ark along with eight human beings, just seemed far-fetched. The recent events of this pandemic, however, have cast Noah and his boat in a very real light.

This man, the only righteous person in God’s relatively new creation, obeyed God’s command to build a boat roughly 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high out of gopher wood. We are told why Noah was to do this in Genesis 6:17–22:

For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female. Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground, according to its kind, two of every sort shall come in to you to keep them alive. Also take with you every sort of food that is eaten, and store it up. It shall serve as food for you and for them. Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him. 

What does the story of Noah teach us today as we lock ourselves up in our homes and wait on this modern flood of the coronavirus to come to our neighborhoods and cities?

God shut the door for Noah

Genesis 7:16 reads: And those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him. And the Lord shut him in.

Noah could not have sealed shut the massive door of his boat without the divine intervention of the Lord. God’s action made Noah’s new home waterproof and buoyant, two necessary qualities for viability. God is in this current time of quarantine with us. God is working through science and doctors and infectious disease specialists in order that we might as safely as possible ride out this storm. God both enables and provides during our isolation and self-containment.

Noah had to stay in the boat for a good while after the rain had ceased

In this Biblical epic, several seasons occur while Noah and his family are in their boat. First the “fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened.” This ceased after 40 days and 40 nights, but the flood waters had reached such a level that those onboard could not even see the tops of the mountains. There was only water, the ark, and the sky. Gradually, as the water began to recede, the tops of the mountains became visible, and then the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. And still they waited for God’s signs that would indicate they could open the door and leave the ark.

I predict we, likewise, will live through more than one “season” during our isolation. These might include stocking up and getting prepared, a new routine, anxiety over the future, boredom, anger, impatience, grief, expectation, and more waiting. I imagine that the daily routine on the ark had a “Groundhog’s Day” quality about it, too: feed the animals, feed the human beings, clean up after the animals, look out the window, release a bird, sleep, repeat.

Noah did not know how long he would be in the ark. He only knew that he was following God’s command and he trusted the Lord to see him through.

Noah’s first response to stepping out onto dry land was an act of worship

We are told that the first thing Noah did upon leaving quarantine was to build an altar to the Lord and offer burnt offerings on that altar. This was an act of praise and atonement. And it caused the Lord to make a new covenant with Noah, and therefore all of humankind. God promised never again to destroy his creation. He blessed Noah and his sons and told them to be fruitful and multiply. The flood changed everything, including man’s relationship with the Lord.

The resolution of this pandemic will similarly be an opportunity to worship God and to give thanks for our renewed relationship to Him. We are going to be changed, and that is a good thing. But it’s important to note that this pandemic is also different than the flood of Noah – it is NOT God’s revenge on us; it is not God wiping out his creation. We are saved people through Jesus. Full stop.

Yet as we continue to live through this crisis, God will even use disaster for His purposes, He will turn everything toward good. May God himself turn our hearts, like Noah’s, to worship His goodness and lovingkindness.

Jesus likened Noah and the flood to His Second Coming

In Matthew 24:36–39 Jesus tell his disciples, But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

Jesus is making it clear that no one but God knows when the Son of Man will come again, but it will be like the time of Noah when most of the people on the earth did not have their hearts aligned with God, and their minds were distracted by temporal things.

For Christians, COVID-19 is a reminder that we are not in charge. As we find ourselves shut up in metaphorical arks, swept by flood waters we cannot control or predict, we realize now more than ever that we do not script our own destinies. May we look to God as the waters rise, for guidance, strength, and evidence of how He is changing us in this pandemic, for how He is re-orienting us to keep our eyes on Him. And may we be ever mindful that He is most powerful in our greatest weakness, ever with us through Jesus.

Carolyn Lankford lives in Birmingham, Alabama and has three grown children with her late husband, Frank. Formerly a co-director of Christian Education at the Church of the Advent, Carolyn served as the Advancement Officer at Beeson Divinity School at Samford University before transitioning back to the Advent to work as Interim Director of Women's Ministry from 2021-2022.

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