When my wife and I discipline our children we try to relay the understanding that the discipline is necessary because we are trying to curb their behavior that could eventually get them into trouble. If they steal now, we discipline them so that they don’t steal when their older and receive jail time. If they lie now, we discipline them so they don’t lie later and lose their job. We try to help them understand that when we do bad things, discipline becomes a necessary, though not really enjoyable, responsibility of a parent.
And it’s this understanding of necessary discipline that brings us into our Christmas series. Where we’re going to be opening first to Genesis chapter 6. So if you have your Bibles, let’s open together to Genesis chapter 6 verse 5. And as we do that, I want to share with you a little about how we came to this particular sermon series.
Last November, as I was preparing for our last Christmas series, I stumbled upon something that I found very interesting. And I thought that it would be the basis for that past series. But as I dug into it and prayed about it, I realized that I needed more time with it before moving forward.
Fast forward to today, and we’re going to be embarking on a journey where we are going to talk about the four arks of the Bible. In these next four weeks, we’re going to see how God’s provisions throughout the Old Testament with three arks, points to the final ark that arrives at the beginning of the New Testament.
First, before we can jump into today’s ark, we need to know a little bit about the word. Why? Because there are different variations of the word ark in Hebrew, but we don’t always translate those words, as ark in modern English.
So, the Hebrew root word for ark is tebah (tay-baw’), this word is found in numerous places throughout the Old Testament, with different additions to the word in different contexts. The first of these is, hat-te-bah (ha-tey-baw), which is most extensively used between Genesis chapters 6 through 9. The root word tebah (tay-baw) means two very simple things, a box or a chest. Now this is important because we’ll see that the word used for ark, doesn’t necessarily mean a box or chest, but rather something that contains important objects.
But let’s get into the passage, see what it’s saying about what God’s use of the word ark is.
Genesis chapters 6 through 9 is the story of Noah and the flood. If you have ever been to Sunday school, or been in the church long enough, you’ve heard this story.
But, as we jump into this tried and true biblical story, we need to look at it with fresh eyes to discover the consistent line of thought that moves it’s way from the beginning of the Bible, to it’s conclusion.
Let’s begin this Christmas time in Genesis chapter 6 verse 5 were we’ll discover God’s ark for humanity.
5 The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. 6 The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. 7 So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.
In these opening verses to the flood story, we get a synopsis of the world in which our story takes place. Every person on the earth had become engulfed in wickedness. So much so, that were told, “every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was evil.” That word for inclination in Hebrew is yetser (yay’-tser), which means to form for purpose. In other words, every thought of the humans was focused on forming evil plans to be carried out.
Then in verse 6, we’re told that God regretted making humanity. Now, that seems like it means that God made a mistake that he’s sorry for, but the Hebrew word nacham (naw-kham’), is deeper than simple regret. The word means to be moved to pity. Or in other words, God isn’t regretting making man, as if he made a mistake, but rather, his heart breaks for them because of what he has to do next, he has to judge them.
In other words, God is reflecting on how the situation has gotten this bad, and now, he has to pass judgment on the people, which gives him no pleasure in carrying out.
My wife has relayed to me a situation where her father had to come down to her room to dull out a spanking. She remembers as her father talked about the act, she could see that he was feeling the pain of carrying out the discipline. This is God’s heart at this moment. The heart of a father, who does not want to carry out the discipline, but knowing that it needs to be done.
So as we go into the story of the Flood, we can see the heart of God breaking over the coming events. But there is a glimmer of hope for humanity, Noah has found favor by God. This is huge, because it gives God a way to pass judgment and to continue creation. And it’s then that we are given the process in which God will show his love for humanity, even in the coming judgment.
Let’s drop down to verse 13, where we pick up God’s description of events to Noah.
13 So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. 14 So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. 15 This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high. 16 Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. 17 I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. 19 You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. 20 Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. 21 You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.”
22 Noah did everything just as God commanded him.
It’s here that we get our first ark, and if you notice, this isn’t a simple box or chest, but a large boat. This ark is what I’m going to call the ark of God’s Regret and Rescue.
The ark that Noah is to build, represents the regret of God in having to dull out judgment and punishment on the world. Yet in that regret, he provides a way of rescue for humanity and the other creatures.
God regrets that his crowing jewel of creation has taken themselves to a place where every thought was focused on creating more evil. God now regrets, as a father loving his child, that he has to now give out discipline befitting the crime. Every aspect of creation is becoming tainted with the sin of people, and so every aspect of creation receives the punishment that is to come. God’s heart becomes troubled, but there is hope. Noah has found favor, and provides God the way in which to rescue humanity.
God has him build and ark and place animals in them to continue creation. Then, 120 years pass, and Noah builds the ark awaiting the judgment of God. This 120 years gives ample time for people to repent and join Noah. Even when the people’s minds have nothing in them but evil, God still gives time before the judgment for people to repent. But we see the only ones who go with Noah, is just as God said, his wife, sons, and daughter in-laws.
Then the time comes, the rain begins to fall. Noah and his family enter the ark, and in verse 16 of chapter 7, we’re told, “The animals going in were male and female of every living thing, as God had commanded Noah. Then the Lord shut him in.”
I want to take a moment and to think on those six words, “Then the Lord shut him in.” At that moment, God’s regret must be at it’s peak, because God himself literally closes the door and the only opportunity for anyone else to be saved. In a sense, shutting the door on thousands of lives that would not be saved, but die in their sin.
To me, this scene shows us the wholeness of God. He is both Judge of sin, and Father of love. Though the people were intent on evil, God gave them an additional 120 years to repent, and they didn’t. So he himself takes on the role of closing the door, making him solely responsible for carrying out judgment on the people.
In one act, God simultaneously closes the door on those who have rejected him, and provides a rescue for the future of humanity.
This is the ark of regret and rescue. Regret that it had to come to this, and rescue that there is still a path to him.
In this first ark of the Bible, we see God’s heart for humanity. A deep hurt that we cause to God by our sin. He regrets that he made us, in so far as to see us succumb to evil. But even in that, he still finds away to bring us out of our sin, and back to himself.
The story of the flood ends with God making a promise and giving a sign. God says in Genesis 9:13, “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” In the sign of the rainbow, we again see God’s regret that this destruction had to occur, but he makes a promise that this type of judgment would never occur again.
But this won’t be the last ark that God uses to save humanity.
In the Old testament it’s easy to see the God’s judgments as him simply dolling out punishment, over and over again. But the reality is, God desires for us to come to him actually stays his hand at the judgments that we are deserving. And even when he gives out his judgment, there is still hope of experiencing his grace.
The ark of Regret and Rescue, is the ark that shows us just how deeply God hurts from our actions and his needed response to them. And yet, God loves and provides a way to escape his judgment and enter his grace.
My challenge for you this week is simple. Take a moment of reflection and ask yourself, what am I doing right now in my life that would cause God to regret the discipline he has to take me? Take time to repent of those thoughts, or actions that would bring you into places that God doesn’t want to take you.
But then praise him, because he is the God of rescue. God’s desire is to bring you to himself, and he will do whatever he can to do just that. Praise him, that he provides the ark of regret and rescue, because it shows that he is the God who cares deeply for us, and desires that nothing should separate us from him.
Let us be people who would find favor in God’s eyes, that we would be those called to the ark that would save us from the floods of our own lives.. Amen.