A study of the Genesis Flood account and related questions. From the March 2010 Creation Answers Newsletter
In God’s Flood, Part 1 we looked at why the Flood took place, that Christians need to know more about the Flood, and how we know from Scripture that the Flood was truly global in scale. In this installment we will consider more about Noah, his sons, and life on the Ark during the Flood. Some of my thoughts on Noah and his sons to follow here are not certain. There may be other possibilities on some details. But this is my attempt to put puzzle pieces together regarding Noah's life and his sons. I think this will suggest some possibilities that are not often considered. The important thing is that building the Ark, and living in the Ark for a year, were possible. Noah and his family really lived this. Genesis 6-9 is not a mythological story, but a narrative of a real family living through a world-wide catastrophe.
Regarding Noah and his Family
II Peter 2:5 describes Noah as a “preacher of righteousness.” Could it be that when God spoke to Noah telling him the Flood would occur, this prompted Noah to preach to people? Did God’s message to Noah motivate Noah to preach righteousness to try and persuade people to repent and be saved from judgement by coming on the Ark with him? I used to believe this and this has been believed by many Christians. But after considering Genesis more carefully, I have doubts that this is possible. First, Genesis 6:18 is very explicit about who was supposed to be on the Ark, from the time God first told Noah about the Flood. Then in Genesis 7:1 God says Noah’s “whole family” were to get on the Ark. If Noah would have brought in someone else outside his family how would that have been permitted when God had already told him exactly who was going to be saved on it? While it is tempting to draw a parallel with the New Testament and say that Noah’s preaching was an attempt to persuade others to get on the Ark and be saved, this does not seem to be the picture. There is a common idea Christians and many creationists use saying that just as Jesus Christ is the only way to be saved today, and Jesus described himself as “the gate” (John 10:7 NIV), Noah’s Ark also had one door, thus one way to be saved. So a parallel is made between Jesus as “the door” and the one door of the Ark. I do not think this analogy is valid, though it may seem reasonable. Of course Jesus is the one way to be saved and there was one Noah’s Ark, but the Flood account is about God’s judgement on the world. It is not impossible that other people may have tried to save themselves on other boats. But I suspect they would not have been prepared for such a powerful long event as Noah had worked hard to prepare for. In addition, other people did not have God’s providential protection.
It is true that there would have been room for some people on the Ark other than Noah’s family. There would definitely have been some extra space on the Ark not needed by Noah’s family or the animals or for storing food. When God spoke to Noah telling him the Flood was coming, God had decided exactly who would be saved on the Ark. So, though Noah may have preached to people after learning about the Flood, I do not think he was persuading them to get on the Ark, since that would have been contrary to God’s clear directions. It could have been before God spoke to Noah about the Flood that Noah was preaching. Perhaps Noah had spoke out against sin all his life. Perhaps Noah told the people to repent and ask God for forgiveness. It is possible Noah preached to people before he knew the Flood would happen! If Noah did preach to people after God spoke to him, his message may have changed, in the light of the coming judgement.
There is an interesting issue related to Noah’s three sons that may provide insights into Noah and into how the events of the Flood relate in time. Genesis 5:32 states in the NIV, “After Noah was 500 years old, he became the father of Shem, Ham and Japheth.” There is some question on which way to take this verse. Does this mean that by the time Noah was 500 he had borne three sons? Or does it mean that at age 500 he began having sons, which were eventually three. This line at the end of this geneological list is different from the others in the series. For the other fathers in the series of names some of them had other sons and daughters yet it does not list three sons together like this. Genesis 7:6 indicates Noah was 600 years old when the Flood began. Genesis 11:10 gives the clue that Shem was 100 years old two years after the Flood. So Shem must have been 97 or nearly so at the time the Flood began. Genesis 10:21 mentions Shem and Japheth but English translations vary on which son was the older. The Hebrew is apparently difficult to translate on which was older.
Why does the age of Noah and his sons matter? It may shed light on the question of when he was preaching to people. Consider that Noah lived in a world more lush and green than ours, where food was likely healthier and people lived to over 900 years in age. In such an almost ideal environment, why would Noah have only three children after all those years? Remember Genesis 7:1 indicates his whole family was to be saved on the Ark. By the time Noah began having children, and by the time the Flood took place, all three of his sons were grown and had wives of their own. The events of the Flood are laid out chronologically in Genesis in relation to Noah’s age.
Scripture does not answer all the interesting questions about Noah and his family. Some have suggested Noah had children other than Shem, Ham, and Japheth who died in the Flood, but Scripture does not say so. In fact, Genesis 7:1 implies these three sons were all the children Noah had. Why is it Noah had only three children when he was 500 years of age, if he was married through most of those years? It is interesting to imagine what life would have been like for Noah’s family in the preflood world, in the Ark, and in the post-flood world. In order to reconcile all the facts we have in the Bible about Noah and the events leading up to the Flood, some speculation is necessary. My speculation is following. Noah may have actually been unmarried until he was near 500 years old. It seems unlikely to me that Noah would have been married for 500 years and yet had no children, when humans were healthier and the environment was healthier as well. I suspect it was primarily during Noah’s early years, before age 500, that he was preaching. This would mean that the people had plenty of warning to repent. Noah may have preached repentance for many years. Then when God spoke to Noah, there was no longer any opportunity for people to be saved from the judgement. At least they could not have been saved on Noah’s Ark. Theoretically, others could have built additional Arks if they would have believed Noah. Noah may not have married during those years, perhaps because of the difficulty in finding a righteous wife. Then, after the people of the time had ample opportunity to hear Noah, God appoints a time for the judgement of mankind.
Genesis 6:3 has an interesting statement that has sparked much debate among Christians. In it God says, “My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years.” Many Christians have taken this to mean that from the time of the Flood on, the maximum lifetime of men would be no more than 120 years. This just can’t be correct. I also seriously doubt that the 120 years is to give Noah time to build the Ark. Scripture does not say that the statement about 120 years was spoken to Noah. Genesis indicates that both Abraham’s father Terah (Gen. 11:32) and Abraham’s son Isaac (Gen. 35:28) lived more than 120 years. I do not believe there is any reason to suppose that these men were made to live longer because of God’s purpose in their life. Rather, it’s just that lifespans of everyone apparently dropped off after the Flood. The Earth was no longer as healthy an environment after the Flood as it had been before the Flood. There are a number of possible scientific reasons for this. We can't be sure about the cause of this. But, since the lifespans decrease in Genesis 11 over time, it seems more like a natural effect than a supernatural effect. One of the most plausible possible reasons for this would be the decay of Earth's magnetic field. There is reason to believe it weakened during the Flood and this would have lead to increased radiation exposure that could have caused genetic defects and shortened people's lifespans. But there could be other factors to the decrease in lifespans as well.
I suspect the statement by God in Genesis 6:3 may be God speaking “to himself” (or possibly to angels) in a manner similar to Genesis 1:26. Thus, Genesis 6:3 could represent the moment of God’s decision to send the Flood and set a time limit for mankind. It was then 120 years from the time of God’s decision to send the Flood to the time when it took place. Some time no later than 20 years after God makes this decision, Noah began having children. We can safely infer that Noah must have been married by age 500 at the latest. Sometime between when Noah was ages 500 and 600, after Shem was born, God spoke to Noah. Apparently, judging from Genesis 6:18, Noah already had all three sons and they may have already been married when God told Noah about the Flood. Or, it could be possible God spoke to Noah when his sons were young and not yet married. It is not clear how long was needed for building the Ark, other than that apparently it was less than 100 years. Noah’s sons apparently did not have children of their own when the Flood began, since Genesis 7:1 says that Noah’s whole family was to get on the Ark and yet no grandchildren of Noah were mentioned.
Life on the Ark
Many have challenged the historicity of the Flood saying it would be impossible for eight people to live on the Ark so long or to take care of all the animals. This does raise many questions. Complete answers on these issues may not be possible, but creationists have published much material answering these type of questions. Even the construction and design of the Ark has been challenged. Some have challenged creationists saying that it would be impossible for a boat as large as the Ark to be built out of wood so that it could survive the event. It would be a very challenging engineering task to build a vessel like the Ark out of wood that would be strong enough to survive the physical stresses it would be put under. If you can believe in the God of the Bible, you can believe God provided Noah some means of constructing the Ark that was adequate for its purpose. Here I only intend to address some of these issues about the Ark very briefly.
The Ark needed to be able to stay afloat and be the home of Noah and his family, and the animals, for a little over one year. The Ark also needed to be able to withstand the stresses placed on it by the waves of the Flood. Today, even with modern engineering and shipbuilding techniques it would be very challenging to build a boat out of wood as large as the Ark. Noah’s Ark did not need to move fast, it only had to keep afloat. So, the Ark did not need to be constructed in a streamlined shape, like large vessels of modern times. This is important because it is much easier to build in the trusses and necessary structural bracing if it is built in a box-like shape than if it were a streamlined shape.
From Genesis, we cannot tell exactly what type of wood was used in its construction. Genesis 6:14 mentions the wood to be used for constructing the Ark, called "Gopher wood" in the King James Bible. But we do not know what this refers to. There are varieties of wood that are especially dense and strong that may have been used. It is also possible that “Gopher wood” is an extinct variety of tree we no longer have. There is also some fossil evidence that there were once extremely large trees, larger than any in the world today. Some sort of lamination process could have been used to increase the strength of the planking. It is not impossible Noah may have found trees as tall as the Ark was long, to build from. Constructing the Ark would have required some very ingenious engineering skill, but it would not be outside of the realm of possibility for Noah. It is also logical to suppose that there was a high degree of skill in the preflood world with metalworking and carpentry, since the beginnings of these skills are hinted at in Genesis chapter 4, many years before the time of Noah. Genesis 4 indicates that people were skilled in alloying metals well before the time of Noah. Special means of joining planking and trusses together would had to have been devised to make the Ark strong enough to bear up under the forces put on it by the catastrophe. But, I suspect it could be shown that all this is possible with engineering and construction techniques known and used throughout history.
A group of South Korean ship engineers once did a study of the Ark to evaluate its stability. They found that the unique Ark dimensions optimize the various factors that determine its stability against large waves. The late Henry M. Morris, of the Institute for Creation Research showed in hydrostatic calculations that the Ark could be tilted close to 90 degrees in angle side-to-side and it would still right itself, due to its unique proportions. When the Ark encountered a large wave, it would have turned lengthwise into the wave and then it would ride over the wave. Thus, the people and animals in the Ark would experience the Ark turning left or right frequently perhaps but they probably would not experience too much tilting from side-to-side. This is easy to see for yourself by making a scale model of Noah’s Ark according to the Biblical proportions and placing it in water. Thus, the Ark was very capable of surviving the Flood and protecting those aboard it.
Another frequent challenge to the Genesis account from sceptics is how could Noah and 7 other individuals care for all the animals? The Ark was an extremely large vessel. It’s volumetric capacity was nearly 1.4 million cubic feet. If you were filling the Ark with sheep, it would likely hold on the order of 125,000. The Ark was large enough that at least 24 standard sized mobile homes could have fit inside it, on each deck! It could have been even a little larger, depending on what value for the cubit Moses may have referred to. Not all species of animals would have had to be saved on the Ark, only those that could not have survived in the Flood waters. This would have included land mammals, birds, reptiles, dinosaurs, and probably a number of smaller creatures. Many insects would have survived in the waters of the Flood, as would some fish and other marine creatures. The Flood waters would not be safe, however, even for ocean creatures, because the violence of the Flood would have buried many marine organisms. Also, all the material washed into the Flood waters as well as all the dying organisms may have altered the water pH, or concentrations of various substances may have made some of the waters temporarily uninhabitable to some fish species. But, marine organisms, and many plants would survive in representative numbers in the Flood waters.
Another point that is important is regarding the Biblical “kinds”. There was no need for Noah to save 150 varieties of dogs, for instance, on the Ark. All the varieties of dogs on the Earth today could have descended from only 1, 2, or maybe 3 pairs of dogs. Dogs, as well as most other living things today, have become more specialized genetically with time. So, at the time of Noah the dogs that were on the Ark had built into their chromosomes all the information necessary to give rise to all the varieties of dogs, wolves, coyotes, foxes, etc., that we see today. This would very drastically reduce the number of animals that would have to be saved on Noah’s Ark.
John Woodmorappe, a creationist geologist and biologist, has done some very thorough research on many issues about the Ark and the care of the animals on the Ark. He estimates that the number of animals that would had to have been on the Ark would be somewhere in the range of 2,000 to 16,000. Arriving at this figure is a long technical process that will not be addressed here. Even if the number of animals on the Ark were more than this, there would be plenty of room. There would have been large amounts of space for storing all kinds of food and other provisions. In fact, I think Noah would have had room for a jogging track if he would have wanted one.
The questions on feeding the animals and dealing with their waste is also a question Woodmorappe addresses in detail. This would boil down to clever management and construction techniques. Woodmorappe shows that with known techniques used by experienced people in agriculture today, the problems of feeding and caring for the animals could be very manageable. It is possible a number of animals slept or hybernated or were in a state of torpor for part of the time, though this would not eliminate the need for some care. Even if this were not the case, wise animal care techniques could make the job workable for eight people. We should give Noah and his family credit for being clever, skilled, hard working, and creative.
They must have come up with some unique solutions to all sorts of problems and needs, to allow them to survive for over a year in the Ark. Woodmorappe, for example, shows that even assuming Noah did not collect any water from rain, storing enough water for his family and the animals would only take up about 9 percent of the volume of the Ark. Woodmorappe also estimates that approximately 11 to 15 percent of the Ark would have been used for storing food for animals, including hay and hay substitutes. Many animals could have been fed special diets while on the Ark, for reducing the amount of hay that would have to be stored or for other practical reasons. Even animals that are normally meat eaters today, can survive for a time as vegetarians, when necessary. Though we do not know everything about how the Ark and how Noah’s family managed to live on it for so long, the problems are not insurmountable. God was able to prepare Noah for a job such as this and to bring him and his family through the catastrophe.
What would the Flood have been like? The first 40 days I suspect was especially intense and widespread rain. Also during this time it seems likely there were many geological catastrophic events taking place. During the 40 days and continuing for some weeks after probably, there were severe storms, volcanic eruptions, occassional impacts from space, large hurricanes, tsunami’s from earthquakes and tectonic events in the ocean, the continent (or continents) may have been breaking up, and the sky would have become dark. Impacts would have put large quantities of material into the stratosphere, blocking some of the light to the Earth’s surface and causing temperatures to drop, possibly for a few months. Over half of the time Noah’s family were in the Ark, they were sitting on top of the mountain waiting for the water level to go down. I suspect it was not very comfortable in the Ark for a number of weeks at least early in the event. It would have been impossible for people to survive for long outside the Ark. If you imagine all the various types of natural disasters we have heard of throughout history, all happening at the same time throughout the world, that is probably what the Flood was like. It is a frightening thing to consider. God did not promise Noah that he would be comfortable, but God did give Noah a way to survive.
The post-Flood period would have been difficult as well for Noah and his family. The Earth was no longer always such a pleasant environment, there were wild changes in climate and now they had to experience harsh weather. There were occasional volcanic eruptions, sometimes enormous ones that would partially block sunlight over large regions. There may have been occasional impacts from space as well during this period, though probably in decreasing frequency. It would probably not be unusual for Noah to see meteors streaking across the night sky, or even to see bright flashes on the Moon as impacts took place on the Moon. The warm ocean waters, due to the Flood’s tectonics and Earth movements, caused much evaporation of water into the atmosphere in the post-Flood period. This and climate conditions caused by volcanoes combined to cause an “ice age” period that began a few hundred years after the Flood ended and continued for a number of years. This ice age did not make it impossible for people to survive, but it made it more difficult in some regions. The harsh and changing conditions of the post-flood period made it difficult for many living things to survive. As a result, dinosaurs and many species went extinct during the post-flood period. All this is the picture that is emerging from creationist research on the Flood as a global catastrophe. This is what I believe Noah and his family lived through, by God’s grace and mercy.
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