Noah and the ark makes it on everyone’s list of top ten Bible stories. But what do we really know about Noah?
Noah was the grandson of Methuselah, the oldest man in the Bible, and father of Ham, Shem, and Japheth. We don’t know when Noah lived, but estimates range from 5,500 BC to 2,300 BC, putting him squarely in the Neolithic Period—the last part of the Stone Age.
Noah is remembered for having built an ark in preparation for a Great Flood that destroyed the world, with only Noah, his family, and a boatload of animals being saved.
Wickedness was rampant on the earth. There was violence, sexual immorality, corruption, and widespread lawlessness. People ignored God. “Human evil was out of control. People thought evil, imagined evil—evil, evil, evil from morning to night.”
But Noah was different. He was a good man, a man of integrity.
God told Noah that He was going to destroy every living thing on earth with a flood, but Noah should build an ark out of gopher wood and cover it inside and out with pitch. God told Noah how big to make the ark, and to make it with three decks and rooms inside and an opening at the top and a door in the side.
Once Noah finished building the ark, God said, he should take into it his wife, his three sons and their wives, and a male and female of every kind of “unclean” air-breathing land animal. He should also take seven pairs of ritually “clean” animals and birds. And he should take enough food for the people and the animals.
The Bible does not record any words spoken by Noah before the Flood. However, the Quran, which tells essentially the same story, says Noah preached to anyone who would listen, warning them of the coming flood: "O my people! Worship God! You have no other god but Him. I fear for you the punishment of a dreadful day!" Jewish legend says that for 120 years Noah urged people to change their wicked ways. Evidently no one listened to him.
Noah, his family, and the animals boarded the ark, God shut the door, and seven days later, “all the outlets of the vast body of water beneath the earth burst open, all the floodgates of the sky were opened, and rain fell on the earth for forty days and nights.”
The floodwaters rose until “all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered” and everything not on the ark died: “Birds, farm animals, wild animals, the entire teeming exuberance of life—dead. And all people—dead.” The floodwaters covered the earth for about five months.
As the water began to go down, the ark came to rest “on the mountains of Ararat.” Noah opened a window and sent out a raven, which flew around looking for land. Noah then sent out a dove, which could not find a place to land either and came back to the safety of the ark. A week later Noah again sent out a dove, which this time came back with an olive leaf in its beak, indicating the water was subsiding. After another week, Noah sent out the dove once more, and this time it didn’t come back.
One year and ten days after the flood unleashed its fury on the earth, God told Noah to leave the ark with all the animals.
The first thing Noah did was to build an altar and make a sacrifice of clean animals and birds. God then promised, “never again will everything living be destroyed by floodwaters; no, never again will a flood destroy the earth.”
For as long as earth lasts,
planting and harvest, cold and heat,
Summer and winter, day and night
will never stop.
The sign of God’s promise was the rainbow. Every time there is a rainbow, God said, He would remember His covenant with humans and every living thing, and never again would floodwaters destroy all life on earth.
When Noah’s family left the ark, they were the only eight people left alive on the earth. God said,
Whoever sheds human blood,
by humans let his blood be shed,
Because God made humans in his image
reflecting God’s very nature.
lavish life on the earth, live bountifully!
Traditionally, it was thought that everyone on earth was descended from Noah’s three sons. “From these the whole earth was populated,” the Bible says. Ham was said to be the father of southern people—Africans and the Canaanites. Shem was said to be the father of the middle people—Jews and Arabs; the term “Semitic” is still used today. Japheth was said to be the father of northern people—European or Caucasian people. Scholars have attributed Asian people to each of Noah’s three sons.
Noah lived for 350 years after the flood, dying at the ripe old age of 950. He died well after the birth of Abraham, although the two most likely did not meet.
Noah is mentioned several times in the New Testament and praised as a hero of faith: “It was faith that made Noah hear God's warnings about things in the future that he could not see. He obeyed God and built a boat in which he and his family were saved. As a result, the world was condemned, and Noah received from God the righteousness that comes by faith.”
The story of Noah and the ark is found in Genesis, the first book in both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament, chapters 6 through 9. It is also found in the Quran.