The other day my wife and I became the proud owners of a new shed. That allowed me to move her house implements and décor items from the tool shed area, and get them into a little home of their own. I am proud to say that our garage is now free of Christmas décor items, fall flags and Easter flower arrangements. They are neatly tucked away in marked plastic totes, set on shelves in an organized shed of their very own. I am certain they are happy, and I know I am!
There is a special satisfaction in organizing chaos. There is a wonderful gratification in building something that is both functional for your life and well outfitted to help you accomplish important tasks in the future. A well-placed outlet pleases me. A hose bib that is located right where the water needs to be controlled brings contentment. Whether you are a contractor or just working a small home improvement project, when you take the time to plan and build something, there is a special kind of fulfillment in taming your landscape and bringing organization to what appears to be nature’s chaos.
In this lesson, we want to consider how the items we build reflect the state of our heart. We want to follow a very famous builder of antiquity, who is best known for things he constructed, and observe how his projects reflected the state of his heart. As we drop our eyes back into Genesis, we will be observing the long life of a world-saving contracting company known as “Noah and Sons.” As we search the pages of the Scripture for keys to understanding the lessons provided by his example, I believe you will come to see his life as a crafted example of a Biblical truth…
Key Principle: Our heart is exposed by where we expend our greatest efforts.
That’s right! This is a plagiarized restatement of Jesus’ own words from the end of Matthew 6:20: Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Think about the life of Noah for a moment. To really grasp what this monumental builder and his sons left behind, we must look through the background statements for our story in Genesis 5. We find, with some careful inspection, the following facts about Noah:
He got a late start building a family. The text recorded he was five hundred years old when he became the father of Shem, Ham and Japheth (5:32). Apparently, Noah was not swift when it came to family ambitions and planning.
He was raising a family at a dark time. Genesis 6 opened with a reminder that evil was spreading at a fantastic rate, and that it was a deliberate attack by God’s enemy to ruin mankind both genetically and morally (Genesis 6:1-2). The attack included polluting the gene pool of man by impregnating women of varied lines within the race to counter God’s promise that a woman would bear the redeemer of man (back in Genesis 3:15). Note the special conditions of that time:
Genesis 6:4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown. 5 Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
He received a promise from God. The Lord’s counter-attack against the demonic overthrow in the realm of men was revealed. God would unleash judgment in a period of one hundred and twenty years from the time it was revealed (Genesis 6:3). His reasons cannot be fully understood by men, but the text offered a sense that God was deeply grieved by what happened on earth, and made clear His divine plan was to eliminate the demonic incursion from the planet. Included in the counter-attack, God would eliminate animals that could become the resting place of the demonic hordes. Genesis reminds:
Genesis 6:7 The Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the [f]sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.”
Even with that impending peril, Noah found God’s blessing. God took note of Noah and marked him for grace. Genesis 6:8 noted: But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. A bit later, the text also noted:
Genesis 6:9 These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God.
The words of the text are not merely repetition of the same idea, they reveal different aspects of Noah.
• The term righteous or “tsaddik” is the term used of a godly elder, or one known in the community as a man of honor and integrity.
• The term blameless is “tawmim” and is used for something that is “sound, purely as advertised, or of clean blood (when used of a sacrifice).
Noah was a GOOD GUY in a BAD COMMUNITY, but the text tips us off that he may have been something more – a man with a clean bloodline and pedigree in the middle of a genetic war. That is worth noting. Now, take a look at what he DID that reflected what he FELT.
Reading a man’s heart through his building projects
The building of the ark is not an unfamiliar story. The most secular person among us knows at least the general frame of the story. It may seem like Noah’s story is about saving the earth from total annihilation, and clearly part of his story IS that – but that isn’t the whole idea. In fact, the ark is only ONE of the items built by Noah and Sons construction company. If you read his whole story, Noah’s life was marked by three objects he built with his hands. The first he was called by God to build, and it led to his family’s physical salvation. The second he built because of overwhelming thanksgiving and it led to God’s renewed blessing and promise. The third he built out of boredom and pain, and it led to shame. Consider his three building projects:
• Noah built an Ark – This was built out of obedience. The mammoth effort appears to be constructed alongside preaching of repentance, for Noah’s greatest efforts were expended in compassion and hope for his neighbors, sharing salvation with people. This ark was the building by which God would save the race, but one must choose to enter believing in the coming doom.
• Noah built an Altar – This was built to facilitate worship. Noah’s greatest efforts were driven by his sense of thankfulness for what God did for him and his family – and for the world.
• Noah built an Arbor – This appears to be built out of pain. Noah’s greatest efforts reflected self-pain, where he mused over losses and a life that no longer existed. It became about his compassion twisted into rage. He would fit into the skin of many who live today.
Each construction project reflected Noah’s heart. They offered a glimpse into where he was placing his HOPE, and what he was living for. The ark was a reflection of a long period of pleading with men about the state of their heart and hoping they would come to a place of repentance and salvation – but it was largely unheeded beyond his family. The altar came amidst the delivery of more promises of God to Noah (and by that to mankind). The small pile of rocks was heaped in gratitude, in thanksgiving, and in relief that time on the boat was over! Noah’s final building project included a vineyard, and I am using the term “an arbor” to keep the pattern of the words as a device to make it easier to recall the details of his life. Clearly, toward the end of his life, something changed that demands we look more closely at the text.
Before we do, let me ask you something pointed this story begs to challenge in each of us: “What do you really LIVE for?” Looking at the productivity of your life right now, where is your treasure? What are you building, right now in your life, that reflects where your heart it?
Clearly, Noah’s life reflected different values at different stages in his life. Maybe you can see the same thing in what you have built.
The First Construction Project: An Ark (6:11-8:12)
Let’s take a few minutes and lay out the record of the story of his building work of the ark, breaking it into three logical parts:
• The Construction of the Ark
• The Cataclysm of the Flood
• The Continuation of Life
The Construction: Building the Ark (Genesis 6:11-7:5)
Essentially, the account of the ark’s construction is revealed in four stages:
Stage One: First, in the opening of the construction narrative there is a note about the cause of “the Flood.” There is a clear reminder that evil, violence and corruption became the norm in Genesis 6:11, but there is also an indicator the story had a specific corruption of the flesh, or the genetic material itself in 6:12:
Genesis 6:12 God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.
In light of the attack and its devastating results, God made clear to Noah the end of the world was coming in Genesis 6:13.
Stage Two: A second part of the construction narrative is dedicated to the construction plan given by God to Noah. You can check Genesis 6:14-16 to see the specifics:
• It was to be made of “gopher” wood – a term we cannot actually determine, though some suggest a type of cypress.
• It would be subdivided into rooms.
• It would have tar pitch lining the bulkhead to make it watertight.
• It was to measure about four hundred fifty feet long, be forty-five feet wide and thirty-five feet high. It was a long, sleek and low profile vessel.
• It would house three decks, each more than a dozen feet high. The giraffe section was likely a high spot in the design.
• Near the top, a window shutter was designed. (Putting one at the bottom would have been a disaster.
• What the ark did NOT have was any steering mechanism. There was no rudder. This wasn’t the “love boat” cruising off to the islands – it was a vessel without a port of call to reach. It would only make one voyage, and her captain was in the heavens! Noah didn’t put a rudder on, because Noah didn’t know where he was going!
Stage Three: A third part of the construction record is dedicated to notes about an invitation to populating the cabins (Genesis 6:17-21). If you look carefully, the instructions included:
• The plan to bring the flood (6:17)
• The promise to keep Noah’s family alive (6:18)
• The proposal to fill the ark with at least one pair of each of three kinds of living creatures: bird, animals, creeping things Each was to remain distinct from one another 6:19-20).
• The parceling of food for both people and each animal on board (6:21)
Stage Four: The final section in the account about the construction of the ark recalls entering the ark at the end of the building project (Genesis 6:22-7:5). The beginning and the end of this narrative emphasized Noah’s obedience:
Genesis 6:22 Thus Noah did; according to all that God had commanded him, so he did. Genesis 7:5 Noah did according to all that the Lord had commanded him.
Between these endorsements, God told Noah to get inside with his family and to bring along the zoo. God added to the original number of “two by two” some other animals for the purpose of sacrifice at the end of the journey.
Genesis 7:2 You shall take with you of every clean animal by sevens, a male and his female; and of the animals that are not clean two, a male and his female…
The Cataclysm of the Flood (7:6-8:1)
Construction complete and all hands aboard as planned, the flood commenced. A six hundred year old Noah and his one hundred year old children entered the ark with the animals (Genesis 7:6-9).
Two events are recorded that caused the great worldwide flood. First, the crust of the earth was opened and water beneath the surface poured over the landscape. Very likely, subduction of the crust caused huge tsunami waves to cover large portions of the landscape in Genesis 7:11. The rains followed, but weren’t the main reason for the huge flood (7:12).
In Genesis 7:16 there are some very sad words found – words that would haunt Noah later in his life:
Genesis 7:16 Those that entered, male and female of all flesh, entered as God had commanded him; and the Lord closed it behind him.
That day people may have sneered at him, but the shaking of the earth’s crust wasn’t far off. Destruction began with a vengeance and the earth rocked with a surge of water. The sad summary of Genesis 7:23 reminds:
Genesis 7:23 Thus He blotted out every living thing that was upon the face of the land…24 The water prevailed upon the earth one hundred and fifty days.
If Noah was a good man, this wasn’t a moment of victory – but one of a sobering and painful reality. All of life as he knew it was swallowed up in judgment. Few are the hearts so hard that could find satisfaction in such a time. At least he had his family, and he had a lot of work to do with the animals on board. The lifting of the ark brought an uncertainty into his footing, but the meaning of the ark certainly also put some shakiness into his heart.
Don’t make him a “Teflon” character where nothing stuck to his heart. By every appearance, Noah was a man who cared about people – not only animals. There is nothing noble about someone who clings to justice so much they feel no pain or compassion for the one who is judged.
The Continuation of Life (8:1-9:29)
Eventually, the Flood receded about a half year later (8:1-5). Hearing nothing from God for a time, Noah ran a few tests to let him know when life would continue outside the floating zoo. About forty days after the receding of the water, Noah launched a raven drone to little success. Next he tried a dove drone, but it didn’t work out well either. A week later, he re-tested with a dove and that one brought back a sprig of olive, suggesting plants were beginning to be renewed. A week after that he sent a third dove text, but that one didn’t return. It was time to get off the boat! That set up the second building project of Noah.
Cut everything away from the story of the flood and you will see a man building a boat out of obedience. His heart must have been wrenched with the thought of the loss of his world, but he did what God told him to do, at the time God told him to do it, according to the method God told him to accomplish it. If I had a wish in my heart it would be this: that I would grow in my walk to the place where God would look at my life someday and see such an obedient heart. Noah’s ark was a physical manifestation of Noah’s obedience, his trust in God’s will for his life, and his focus to do what he was told in service to God. His hands built what his heart valued.
The Second Building Project: An Altar (Genesis 8:13-9:17)
Much shorter than the story of the Ark, there is a short passage about Noah stepping off the ark into a new world, and building an altar.
Genesis 8:13 reminds us that it had been a LONG time since Noah walked on the earth. The surface showed and God spoke again to the great captain of the floating zoo. God said:
Genesis 8:16 Go out of the ark.
He, his family and the whole zoo left the ship. Then Noah stopped to build something else.
Genesis 8:20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 The Lord smelled the soothing aroma; and the Lord said to Himself, “I will never again curse the ground on account of man…”
Anyone with a brain can figure out that Noah recognized he had just lived the top line of his biography. What would he ever do to “top” the ark experience? His obedience offered him his greatest victory. What now?
Noah stood on new ground, surrounded by his closest loved ones. He stared at a new landscape and stood in a strange place. He understood how he got there – God took him there. He wasn’t claiming his ability as a cruise ship captain as he exited a rudderless vessel! He knew all that he had had come from the Lord of Heaven and Earth. He had no other response than to build an altar and worship. It was made of stones that were all provided by the maker of all. He offered animals the Lord preserved for the year long ordeal. He bowed because it was the right thing – the ONLY THING – that he could do.
Every believer gets to that place. In the beginning, salvation is all about us. We enter the Kingdom thinking about OUR sin and OUR eternal life. As we grow up, we increasingly realize that our life and our salvation is really about HIM. It is about HIS WORK, HIS HONOR, HIS WORTH. We bow in wonder. We bow in awe. We bow because it is all we can think to do to one who loves us enough to give what He gave.
In the shadow of the altar, God gave new rules and new promises. The first half of chapter nine recorded God’s words. They included:
Genesis 9:1 And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.”
A change in relationship to the animals:
Genesis 9:2 The fear of you and the terror of you will be on every beast of the earth and on every bird of the sky; with everything that creeps on the ground, and all the fish of the sea, into your hand they are given.
An expanded diet into meat:
Genesis 9:3 Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant.
A careful restriction about eating blood:
Genesis 9:4 Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.
After an important “drop in” about what constitutes life and the sacredness of it before God, the Lord offered a “covenant” in Genesis 9:
Genesis 9:9 “Now behold, I Myself do establish My covenant with you, and with your descendants after you; … 11 I establish My covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 God said, “This is the sign of the covenant … 13 I set My bow in the cloud…”
Seven times God used the word COVENANT in the passage. In response to the assembling of simple stones on a flat piece of ground, God pressed light through the refraction of water in the air and built a rainbow. Noah’s construction was a simple brown pile of rocks. God constructed something colorful and beautiful.
Don’t miss the fact that the second building project of Noah held a symbol of thankfulness and was built to facilitate worship because he recognize God was worthy of praise for all that He did. The evil of the world was washed away – at least the part that came from the attack of demonic forces. Noah still had sin to contend with, and we will see that in his last building project…
The Third Building Project: An Arbor (Genesis 9:18-29)
Before we finish with Noah’s story, note yet a third building project. Genesis recorded:
Genesis 9:20 Then Noah began [farming and planted a vineyard. 21 He drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent.
Truly this story was designed to help us understand the character instilled in his sons Shem and Japheth, while highlighting the lack of character in Canaan, the father of Ham. There can be no doubt that was the great lesson of the verses. At the same time, don’t gloss to quickly over what Noah built and WHY.
Noah and his family had been through a time of trust, reverence and obedience that marked his heart within. At the same time, he MUST have had some tender bruises within when he looked around at the wilderness and remembered the camps and cities of his youth. Life was different now. The deaths around him changed everything. They changed him. Those who have been through war know what I mean. The images of those now gone could easily haunt him, even if they were evil. They were still people, and he was still an ordinary human being.
Noah’s last building project may have been about his own pleasure – I cannot tell – but I don’t think it was. The vineyard and its arbor seem more likely to have been built to quell the disturbance of his own heart tossed about by the memories of a world destroyed. No matter whether you think this was the case or not, you can’t argue that his last building project wasn’t a total failure and embarrassment. It clearly was. Too often I think we read of Noah and celebrate the salvation of his family (and by it our human family) without understanding the exacting toll on him emotionally. We simply tend to forget about the intensity of his pain.
• Noah lost everyone he went to school with in his youth.
• He lost all of the people in his neighborhood that didn’t live under his roof.
• He lost the fight to be heard by them in presenting his testimony and warnings.
• He lost his society… and it may have just crept up and gotten to his soul.
He planted the vineyard, not because he liked grapes with his morning yogurt, but because he wanted to drink and forget. His best days were past now. His today didn’t feel bright. It felt dismal. He started digging and planting vines. Where his earlier buildings overflowed with obedience to God and delight in God – this little farm adventure doesn’t have the same feel in the text at all. The arbor seems more like a symbol of some self-focus.
Let’s be honest: As we age, it becomes less and less about big plans for the future and we can easily slip into a nonstop conversation about our doctor appointments, our medications and our aches and pains. We can look back and feel like things were better before. We can look around and feel like people all around us are rushing by and life isn’t exciting; it is painful and often painfully boring.
People face pain a number of ways. In our day, they may not plant a vineyard, but there are dozens of very legal and respectable pills that will do the trick. For others, they use social media as a way to vent their lack of real connection, and their honest loneliness. For still others, they appear to live to fight a never-finished cause for justice, even when they don’t know the people for whom they have become so enraged. They may not know their neighbor next door, but they know what liberals are doing to destroy the American dream. Ultimately, our lives will not be about what social justice we rage for, but what loving Savior we promote.
I guess I have to honestly ask this: What is someone who is raging actually building? Then I have to get really personal and ask myself: “What are YOU building?”
Isn’t it true? Our heart is exposed by where we expend our greatest efforts. I ask you, Father, to help me grow in my desire to help, not critique. I ask you to help me build in the end things worthy of your great name. I want to leave behind an ark and an altar, but not an arbor.