Noah was grateful for so many blessings so he gave thanks. We also give thanks for all God’s gifts.
Stephen G. Helwig
Do you think Noah uttered those words when he finally walked off the ark and stepped foot on dry ground?
Put yourself in his shoes. Confined—locked—in the ark for over a year! We talk about being cooped up in our heated homes for three months during the winter with refrigerators, stoves, TVs, beds, and showers. For Noah, a look outside was difficult—he had no glass windows. And inside the ark, it was dark, damp, and musty. And what did Noah hear? The pelting of the rain on the roof, the pounding of the waves against the walls, the thumping of the water below. And don’t forget the animals! The smell, the noise, the work—feeding them, cleaning up after them, day after day.
Could we live for an entire year confined to an area of 450 feet by 75 feet? And what about family? People on edge? People getting on each other’s nerves? What about conversation? After day 225, honestly, what did they find to talk about? And what about food? What did they eat? The same food day after day? This was anything but a luxury cruise.
After a year of confinement—perhaps a year of battling claustrophobia and even a bit of depression—Noah sent out the raven and he waited; then he sent out the dove and he waited; then he sent out the dove again and he waited. He waited patiently for the Lord to open the door of the ark. When God finally did, do you think Noah let out a good, old-fashioned, “Thank God”?
We know he did. But his “Thank God!” was not a sarcastic exclamation or a sigh of relief but, rather, it was said in grateful devotion. He uttered that thank you in stone, wood, and fire. Noah built an altar, took some of those clean animals that he had been keeping alive on the ark for the past year, and sacrificed them to God—a grateful expression of thanks.
Why? Because, quite simply, God had placed him on that ark! And God had personally seen to it that his ark had not been ripped apart by pounding water and crashing waves. In short, Noah could thank God that he was alive.
But it was more than that—so much more than that! Noah built the ark because of his faith in God’s promises. God had brought him to faith in a coming Savior. God had blessed him with a righteousness that was not his own. God had forgiven him his sins. God had saved him from something far more destructive and far more threatening than a worldwide flood—God had saved him from eternal damnation in hell.
Life may not always be what we want it to be. We may not always get what we want. Confined inside a dark, smelly boat for a year? It’s hard to find the blessing in that unless we consider the alternative. And yet, Noah and his family had all they needed. As we look back in our own lives, we know that God has given us more than we need. And, yes, sometimes it takes hard times to help us see and appreciate those blessings. Sometimes it takes having less than what we’re used to so that we can appreciate just how much we do have.
What do you have? God’s protection? You are in the palm of his hand! He commands his angels to guard you! God’s provision? Clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home; family and friends. God’s grace? A living faith in a living Savior in whom you are righteous and through whom you are forgiven; a living faith that is fed by the living water that wells up to eternal life.
Noah was grateful for even more. Yes, he was grateful for what God had done for him in the past but also because he trusted what God would do for him in the future. What would God do? Noah didn’t have to be afraid to step out of that ark and wonder if a tidal wave was going to smack him in the face and wash him away. Noah didn’t have to live each day in fear wondering if he should get to work on another ark. Never again would God destroy the earth with a worldwide flood. Every rainbow Noah saw assured him of that. Noah trusted God when he said, “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease” (Genesis 8:22). Noah was thankful for his future and the future of the world.
But there’s still more! Noah trusted that, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood, God would still send the Seed of the woman to crush the serpent’s head. In fact, for that very reason—because every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood—God would keep this promise. That was the very purpose of the ark! Yes, God had protected Noah and his family, but God had also protected—and preserved—his promise to send the Seed of the woman in spite of human sin and depravity. The time would fully come. And then, on an altar not of stone but on the altar of the cross, Jesus would offer himself—the Lamb with blemish or defect—as the perfect sacrifice for sin. Rushing flood waters could never wash sin off the face of the earth; Noah and his family still carried sin within. God knew that. But the rush of blood and water from the side of his Son could. The blood of a crucified and risen Jesus purifies us from all unrighteousness.
What altar will you build?
And so, we trust. We trust what God will do for us in the future—exactly what he said he would do. He will continue to provide for us. Seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will not cease. He will continue to take care of us—good care of us. But he will also, through his Word and sacrament, keep us in the faith until he returns to take us home to his Father’s house.
In the meantime, dear Christian, what altar can you build? Granted, our altars will not be made out of stone with fire for the sacrifice of animals; our altars will never be set on fire.
But, in view of God’s mercy, as Paul encouraged the Romans, “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (12:1). Living sacrifices. Our bodies, our lives—living sacrifices, living altars—dedicated to a gracious God; altars built knowing what he has done for us in the past and trusting what he will do for us in the future.
Stephen Helwig is pastor at Gethsemane, Omaha, Nebraska.
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Author: Stephen G. Helwig
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017
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