Updated: Sep 9, 2019
WHAT IS FAITH?
Faith is doing all that God asks you to do even when you don’t understand the “why” behind the instructions, or the “how” that explains making the impossible possible, or “when” the journey of obedience is going to end—if ever.
“By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” (Hebrews 11:7).
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”
A NOTEWORTHY NOTE:
Good news and bad news. The good news is that someone decided to put punctuation marks in the documents that make up the Scriptures and divide the documents into chapters and verses. Otherwise we would have great difficulty reading the Bible. The bad news is that whoever that “someone” was sometimes divided things in poor places.
Hebrews 12 belongs with Hebrews 11. The heroes of the faith of Hebrews 11 are the witnesses of Hebrews 12. They provide for us the “expert testimony” via their lives and their words, of those who resisted sin, endured persecution, and proved that the faith that pleases God is possible. Jesus, of course, is our prime example of the witness who knows what running the race to the finishing line is all about, as well as how much the cost will be along the way.
Our third example of a person of faith from Hebrews 11 is Noah.
If the earth was an evil place in Enoch’s day, it reached new heights of evil during the lifetime of Enoch’s great-grandson, Noah. Whether Enoch’s preaching had some effect on the people who heard his message, or God’s store of patience had not yet been exhausted by their rebellion against Him, we are not told. Obviously, Enoch’s influence, passed through the generations, had an impact on at least one other person—Noah himself.
Genesis 5:28, 29 tell us: “When Lamech had lived 182 years, he had a son. He named him Noah and said, ‘He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the Lord has cursed.’”
Lamech knows why life is tough. God had cursed the ground as part of the punishment laid on Adam and Eve after their fall into sin. No doubt he knew that story and passed it on to his son.
There are different views on the reason behind Lamech’s choice of “Noah” for his son’s name. “Noah” means “rest” which could be interpreted in two ways: i.e. as a son who would share in the toil, in the normal sense and/or as someone through whom a fresh start would come about, in the prophetic sense.
Barnes, in his commentary, writes: “In the biography of Lamek the name of his son is not only given, but the reason of it is assigned. The parents are cumbered with the toil of cultivating the ground. They look forward with hope to the aid or relief which their son would give them in bearing the burden of life, and they express this hope in his name.
This is only another recorded instance of the habit of giving names indicative of the thoughts of the parents at the time of the child’s birth. All names were originally significant, and still have to this day an import. Some were given at birth, others at later periods, from some remarkable circumstance in the individual’s life. Hence, many characters of ancient times were distinguished by several names conferred at different times and for different reasons. The reason of the present name is put on record simply on account of the extraordinary destiny which awaited the bearer of it.”
This may have a bearing on why the names by which people were called changed according to their stories. For example, Saul became Paul after his conversion. Peter is also called Simon.
“Peter” according to Strong, means: Πέτρος, Πέτρου, ὁ an appellative proper name, signifying 'a stone,' 'a rock,' 'a ledge' or 'cliff'; used metaphorically of a soul hard and unyielding, and so resembling a rock…
At times, Peter was referred to as “Simon” whose based on its Hebrew origins means: שִׁמְעוֹן Shimʻôwn, shim-one'; from H8085; hearing (with acceptance).
It’s not difficult to understand how Simon Peter lived out both names, strong, stubborn, but many times hearing truth and accepting it.
By the time Noah saw the floodwaters come upon the earth, Lamech was gone but he would have been around for most of his son’s preaching and building career.His son’s message was hardly comforting to an unrepentant people. But such an end to evil would certainly bring respite to an earth so badly effected by that evil.
On the same subject commentators Jamieson, Fausset & Brown write: “26. Lamech—a different person from the one mentioned in the preceding chapter [Ge 4:18]. Like his namesake, however, he also spoke in numbers on occasion of the birth of Noah—that is, ‘rest’ or ‘comfort’ [Ge 5:29, Margin]. ‘The allusion is, undoubtedly, to the penal consequences of the fall in earthly toils and sufferings, and to the hope of a Deliverer, excited by the promise made to Eve. That this expectation was founded on a divine communication we infer from the importance attached to it and the confidence of the expression’ [Peter Smith].”
What I most would like to ask is more detail on the line, or “scarlet thread” that ran through the stories of these people descended from Adam and Eve and mentioned so briefly. What did they know about God? How had they learned what they knew about Him?
Genesis 5:21-6:10-13 and 2 Peter 2:5 describe the man named Noah for us.
That story begins with Noah’s great-grandfather, Enoch, who is described as one who “walked with God.” Of Noah’s grandfather and father we know little but the God connection was passed on through the line because when we come to Genesis 6:9 we read: “This is the account of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.”
Genesis 6:8 says, “But Noah found favour in the eyes of the Lord.” The word “favour” is synonymous with “grace.” In the midst of evil, Noah represents the minority—those who resist the evil and remain righteous. The Book of Ezekiel (14:14, 20) mentions Noah twice as one of three righteous men (Noah, Daniel, and Job) who, in spite of that righteousness, could not hold back God’s judgment on sin. Ezekiel also quotes God’s lament on not finding a righteous man “to stand in the gap” between His people and His wrath (Ezekiel 22:30). Sometimes, as in this case in Genesis, not even one righteous man can hold back the judgment of God on sin. “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever…The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human heart was evil all the time…I will wipe them from the face of the earth…for I regret that I have made them.”Eventually man’s rebellion against God becomes so great that only judgment remains. Later in GenesisAbraham will plead on behalf of Sodom, the city where his nephew, Lot, is living. Doubting that there were many believers in that city Abraham begged God to spare it if there were ten righteous men within its walls. God agreed. Abraham stopped at ten. We will never know what might have happened if Abraham had asked what God would do if there were only five. Still, it appears there was only one, Lot himself, “…a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless.”Not even that one man would have been enough to hold back God’s judgment. Not even Noah was enough to hold back God’s judgment.
According to 2 Peter 2:5, Noah didn’t keep what he knew to himself but like his great-grandfather, Enoch, was a “preacher of righteousness.”
Noah played many roles in the society of which he was a part and each role was accompanied by its own complications and challenges when it came to being a man of faith in a society as ugly as any society can get. We sometimes hear it said that things are “different” today; that it is harder to be a person of faith in a corrupted and violent society. But if God was at the point of destroying everything in Noah’s day because of evil we have to admit that evil today must not be as bad as it was then since as yet we remain—but how close are we to the same judgment remains the question.
But though the circumstances might be different from generation to generation, being a person of faith in a world of the faithless is never easy.
Given that God was about to destroy the world because of the evil that existed in Noah’s day, and assuming that God is not more tolerant of sin today than He was in Noah’s day, speaking up for truth and righteousness would not be easy.
What challenges might Noah have faced as a “God-told-me-to-construct-an-ocean-liner” builder far away from water in a corrupted and violent society? Being asked to do something as totally insane as what God asked Noah to do would certainly not be easy. He was probably considered to be a madman in his day, a fool, an idiot, delusional.
What challenges might Noah have faced as a “God-told-me-to-collect-pairs-of-animals-of-every-kind” zookeeper in a corrupted and violent society? Not only would Noah have had “people issues” but certainly “animal issues” were a challenge as well.
Part Two of Noah’s story is told in Genesis 6:13-7:5. Hebrews tells us that Noah built the ark “By faith…in holy fear” (“By faith…moved with fear” KJV). The phrase means primarily to “act cautiously, circumspectly,” secondly “tobeware,” and thirdly “to reverence, stand in awe of.”Noah experienced both faith and fear and pleased God.
Alexander MacLaren writes in his commentary: “It is the fear of pious regard, of religious awe, of reverence which has love blended inseparably with it, and is not merely a tremulous apprehension of some mischief coming to me. Noah had no need for that self-regarding ‘fear,’ inasmuch as one half of his knowledge of the future was the knowledge of his own absolute safety. But reverence, the dread of going against his Father’s will, lowly submission, and all analogous and kindred sentiments, are expressed by the word.”
Further to this, Barnes writes: “His reverence and respect for God induced him to act under the belief that what he[God] had said was true, and that the calamity which he had predicted would certainly come upon the world.”
That is faith—believing that what God says is true.
Noah was taking some enormous risks—more risk than he was even aware of as he built the boat that God had commanded he build. But like so many others mentioned in the Scriptures, Noah’s faith made his “leap” into the unknown one taken despite the pressures around him.
John Ortberg writes, in Love Beyond Reason, “…when we look at the lives of great followers of God, we see this combination of breath-taking risks, with an almost brazen confidence of being safe in God’s hands. Assurances of God’s protection generally come in Scripture as jolts to get frightened people to risk obeying God when it feels unsafe.Like a father coaxing a panicky two-year-old to jump into his arms at the swimming pool: ‘You can trust me. I won’t drop you. The pool is a perfectly safe place for you to be.’ But the child will never know if she doesn’t jump. The father cannot take that step for her. If she is simply grabbed and carried into the pool she never makes the choice, never exercises her own courage. She must take the leap of faith for herself. So God coaxes his anxious ‘two-year-olds’:
• You can defy Pharaoh
• You can occupy the Promised Land
• You can stand up to Goliath
• You can give all you possess to the poor and join my ragged band of followers.
• You can sit in a Roman prison and face imminent execution.
All of these apparently high-risk ventures turn out to be perfectly safe places to be. You too are in the watch-care of a great big God. His arms are very strong. He has not dropped anybody yet. He will not drop you. But you will have to trust him. You will have to jump.”
We find Part Three of Noah’s story in Genesis 7:5-24. Being one of the very few who believed God, then speaking out for God, doing seemingly insane things in public view in God’s name, and driving the local ASPCA crazy by “hoarding” animals was risky enough. But in this part of the story Noah is now on the high seas with no land in sight in a boat full of animals.
What Noah did was a leap of faith.
Genesis 7:16 ends with: “Then the Lord shut him in.” These are six of the most wonderful words ever written.
“There is a world of security in these wonderful words: ‘Then the Lord shut him in.’ God personally locked Noah and his family in. People who ridiculed Noah for building a boat where there was no water weren’t laughing anymore. They were on the outside—and it was beginning to rain. People who persecuted him for preaching to them about God’s coming judgment on their sins were beginning to feel the slipping and sliding of wet ground underfoot.
‘…the Lord shut him in.’ Safe. Secure. Splat. Nowhere are we told that either the animals or the humans in the ark ceased to have all the normal needs of animals and humans. They still had to eat, drink, and exercise their bodily functions. I wonder if Noah ever wished that the Lord hadn’t shut him in? Who fed the animals? Who changed the straw? Who shoveled the manure? On the other hand, short of a marathon swim, Noah didn’t have any other options. But that year of being shut in must have had moments when Noah wondered: ‘Why me, Lord?’
Being “shut in” by God has a wonderful, highly spiritual sounding tone to it. Who hasn’t longed for that perfect quiet time ‘shut in’ with God? But, even such an intimate time can get painful and troublesome. When God speaks in those moments alone with Him, it might just as often be to kick us in the backside as it is to pat us on the back.
When God shuts us into a particular circumstance, no matter how complicated, fearsome, or wearisome the journey gets, we can relax in the knowledge that our ark won’t leap, reek, creak, except to bring Him glory and to benefit us.
There are challenges to be faced in Noah’s floating water world, but having done ‘all that the Lord commanded him’ (7:5), having had the door locked behind him by the hand of none other than God Himself, Noah could have had nothing but confidence that this unusual, impossible voyage would end well.
What God shuts in, He also always lets out.”
We are told that Noah did “all that the Lord commanded him.”James 2:26 describes that vital connection between faith and obedience: “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”
Faith is a muscle. Without use, without exercise, it atrophies and dies.
“By his faith he condemned the world.” This is a most interesting phrase. What aspect of faith condemns the world, and how does it condemn the world? The exercise of faith is a rebuke to those who have no faith. Perhaps it is that rebuke that triggers acts of violence against people of faith. Instinctively those without faith know that others have what they most want but most fear to embrace. The only way to deal with their own frustration is to stamp out that which they view as being its cause.
In our western world the impact on us as people of faith is slight, though violence against believers is growing. In many other parts of the world to exercise faith, to be a person of faith can be life-threatening. Noah may have suffered all kinds of ridicule and even abuse because of his exercise of faith, but in the end it was the obedience born of that faith that saved his life and that of his family.
In his Commentary for English Readers, Ellicott comments: “His faith, shown in the building of the ark, exposed the unbelief of ‘the world.’ Which would not listen to his warnings, and thereby incurred the divine condemnation.”
Sometimes there arerepercussions for us when our faith offends others simply because they are reacting to the rebuke that our faith represents.
Our verse for today ends with this statement about Noah: “[he] became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” As would be the case of Abraham, Noah too was declared righteous, or justified, by the faith that he exercised.
Two thoughts come to the surface here:
Benson writes, commenting on the translation given to us in the King James: “A partaker of; the righteousness which is by faith.”
The Expositor’s Greek New Testament tells us: “But no doubt underneath the word there lies the idea, familiar to the Jewish mind, that spiritual blessings are a heritage bestowed by God.”
And Barnes, commenting on the subject of faith, writes: “It was ‘faith or confidence’ in God which was the ground of his justification, in accordance with the general doctrine of the Scriptures that it is only by faith that man can be saved, though the specific mode of faith was not what is required now under the gospel. In the early ages of the world, when few truths were revealed, a cordial belief of any of these truths showed that there was real confidence in God, or that the ‘principle’ of faith was in the heart; in the fuller revelation which we enjoy, we are not only to believe these truths, but specifically to believe in him who has made the great atonement for sin, and by whose merits all have been saved who have entered heaven. The same faith or confidence in God which led Noah to believe what God said about the deluge would have led him to believe what God he has said about the Redeemer; and the same confidence in God which led him to commit himself to his safe keeping in an ark on the world of waters, would have led him to commit his soul to the sake keeping of the Redeemer, the true ark of safety. As the ‘principle’ of faith, therefore, existed in the heart of Noah, it was proper that he should become, with others, an ‘heir of the righteousness which is by faith.”
The story of Noah and the ark is a “type” or a foreshadowing in the Old Testament of an event that would happen in the New Testament.
Part Four of Noah’s story is found in Genesis 8:1-22. Noah’s first act upon leaving the ark and stepping onto dry land was one of worship (8:20). Considering all that had happened to him, this would have been a logical step to take. As in the story of Abel, worship begins with an acknowledgment of what God has done to rescue us from ourselves and the destructiveness born out of our sinful nature. It is an acknowledgment of a new beginning because of His mercy is delivering us.
The final act of Noah’s story takes place in Genesis 9, and though it recounts a rather disgraceful moment in Noah’s life and its effect on his family (9:20-27), it serves to highlight that Noah struggled with the conflict between faith and frailty just as we do. His humanity reminds us that even heroes of the faith sometimes have feet of clay.
CONVERSATIONS AND CONSIDERATIONS
1. Sometimes faith requires us to do what the world would consider illogical if not crazy. Describe any experiences that you have had when your decision to exercise faith and obey God has caused others to react negatively.
2. How would you explain “holy fear” as due to God?
3. It was said of Noah that he had been “warned about things not yet seen.” Judgment is something no one wants to hear about and yet it was on the basis of judgment to come that Noah acted and built the ark to save himself and his family. What does that say to you about the need to warn others about what will come if they don’t repent?
4. How has your family backstory helped or hindered your journey of faith?
5. Report on how you are doing in strengthening your relationship with God as a vital part of your faith journey.
Genesis 5:28-32; 7:6
Genesis 6:3, 5, 7
2 Peter 2:7
Strong’s Concordance of the Bible
John Ortberg, Love Beyond Reason, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 2001), 172-3
Lynda Schultz, Divine Design For Daily Living, (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Word Alive Press, 2009), 5-6