By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
The biblical account of Noah has been so familiar to practically all churchgoers for years that we might have stopped giving it any real consideration as to what we can learn from it. A Sunday School staple for years and a “Bible Story” favorite for our kids, it could be easy to dismiss the passages about Noah as a cute tale about animals in a boat during a big storm. In reality though, what happened to Noah and the world in which he lived is more an R-rated tragic warning for adults than a G-rated kid’s anecdote.
Consider how the Hebrew writer speaks of Noah in the passage cited above. According to Hebrews, Noah built that ark “by faith.” Specifically, it was his faith in an event foretold to him by God that defied one’s capacity to comprehend it: the complete destruction of all human and animal life through a massive global flood (Genesis 6:7, 13, 17). The scriptural record indicates that only after Noah had built the ark did God specify to him that this flood would come through rain after (Genesis 7:1, 4); there is no indication God had told Noah of the coming rain before he built the ark or during its construction. There is likewise no indication that God specifically informed him ahead of time of the other factors which would bring this flood, such as the unimaginable torrents of water coming from the sky due to “the windows of the heavens (being) opened” or the great earthquakes and tsunamis that would also come from “the fountains of the great deep burst(ing) forth” (Genesis 7:11). All we know for sure is that God warned him of a massive flood that would kill everyone and everything before he started building that ark.
However, let’s hypothesize that God did tell Noah about all of this before the ark was completely built. The concept of water falling from the sky in any fashion would have been completely foreign to Noah, considering that the Bible infers that agricultural hydration came about through mists coming up from the land and that God had not yet allowed rain to occur (Genesis 2:5-6). Even if Noah had been familiar with rain, the idea of a flood that would wipe out all living things with water rising to cover the highest mountains (cf. Genesis 7:20) was unimaginable. It still is.
Yet Noah still believed that it would happen. The man believed God when God warned him of literally incomprehensible “events as yet unseen” (Hebrews 11:7). And it was his faith that prompted this man and his family to undertake the massive expense and back-breaking labor necessary to construct a vessel whose biblical measurements of cubits would by modern dimensions make Noah’s ark the same height, width, and depth as the S.S. Jeremiah O’Brien, a cargo barge used in World War Two measuring at about 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high (cf. Genesis 6:15).
It was due to his faith that he did so “in reverent fear” (Hebrews 11:7). That’s what true faith produces, friends: reverential fear in the Almighty. Those who speak flippantly of God, who make jokes about him and use his name in vulgar, vain ways, who scoff at the notion of his existence or who could not imagine that he would punish anyone with hell for rejecting him and his Son…their faith at best is astonishingly weak, if it exists at all. Nor are they very wise, considering that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). Noah was wise. He feared God, and he revered God. The Hebrew writer would later charge all of us to do the same (Hebrews 12:28-29). No one else alive at that time had this faith save for him and his family (Genesis 6:5, 8; 7:1). Thus, it was Noah’s faith which “condemned the world” (Hebrews 11:7; compare with Matthew 12:38-42).
Noah’s faith also made him “an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith” (v. 7). Do you want God to consider you a righteous person? Have the same kind of faith as Noah, a faith proven to be real by obedience to God’s will (cf. James 2:14-26), even if it requires believing things which one could not imagine to happen.