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In order for these studies to be practical and fully related to the spiritual life of the reader, we have included the following biblical references, which should be read in advance, so that an attempt can be made to answer the questions posed before reading this study. As you read this article, you should also consult the references given throughout the paper.
References: (Ge 5:28; 9:29; Lu 17:26,27; Ro 6:1-7; He 11:7; 1Pe 3:18,23)
How many days did Noah spend in the Ark?
In what way does the account of the flood refer to the work of God for mans salvation?
What are those aspects in which Noah symbolizes Christ, and to what extent?
The ultimate goal of any biblical study is to nurture the soul in its relationship with Christ. What lessons do you draw from reading this study for the growth of your personal spiritual life?
Noahs character is associated with the flood which took place as a result of mans evil deeds (Ge 6:5, 11-12), thereby necessitating the annihilation of the corrupted mankind (Ge 6:7,13,17; 7:4,21-23; 8:21). Nevertheless Gods purpose was not the annihilation of the human race, but the salvation of a small "remnant" of the people, as a prefigurement of the new creation.
Noah was one of the men of faith in the Old Testament, who, having listened to the word of God, believed it and obeyed it irrespective of the cost. This is evident from his spending 120 years in building the Ark, in spite of being ridiculed by the whole world at that time. But, "By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, took heed and constructed an ark for the saving of his household, by this he condemned the world " (He 11:7)
The dimensions of the Ark are estimated to have been 133.5 meters in length, 22 in width and 13.5 in height; it consisted of three decks, with a window of less than half a meter in the upper level. It has been estimated that 35,000 animals were brought into the ark.
Even though the flood lasted for only 40 days, the water covered the earth for 110 days after the end of the flood, and it took another 200 days for the earth to be completely dry. Noah spent 371 days in the Ark, after which the new creation came out to live under a new covenant with God (Ge 8:20-9:17).
The spiritual interpretation of the flood episodes
The fathers of the Church in the first four centuries unanimously agreed that the story of the flood referred to the work of God for mans salvation. This can be studied from six different perspectives:
First: The relationship between Noah and Christ
Origen, the3rd century scholar, states in his "Homilies" that "Noahs name means rest or righteousness" (Ge 5:29), which is the attribute of the Lord Jesus. If Noah is the head of the creation that was saved in the Ark from Gods judgement passed on the earth, our Lord Jesus Christ is the head of the new creation who alone endured the fair judgement of God that came in the form of a gushing flood as portrayed in the psalm, "Deep calls to deep at the thunder of thy cataracts; all thy waves and thy billows have gone over me." (Ps 42:7).
But, although Noah can be portrayed to symbolize Christ, he cannot be compared with the perfect, holy character of the Lord Jesus, and the work done by Noah can in no way be compared with that of the Lords work of salvation. This is depicted by Origens explanation of the words of Lamech when he begot Noah, "this one shall give us rest from the labors and the sorrows of our hands and from the earth which the Lord God cursed"(Ge 5:29):
Is it true that old Noah gave rest to Lamechs pains or to the pains of his contemporaries? Have the sorrows and labor in the time of Noah come to an end? Has the curse, which the Lord had placed on the earth, been removed? We can see that Gods wrath has become greater, so that God was sorry to have made man; the destruction of all living things is given, above all, as an indication of the extent of displeasure. But if you look to our Lord Jesus Christ who "being made a curse for us that he might redeem us from the curse of the law" (Ga 3:13), and read in the Bible, "Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest"(Mt 11:28-29), we find out that it is He who truly has given rest to men and has freed the earth from the curse with which the Lord God cursed it.
Second: The flood and the end of the world
The flood, which destroyed the Old World, was a symbol of the end of the world. This is evident from the words of the Lord, "As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son-of-Man. They ate, they drank, they married, they were given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all;" (Lu 17:26-27; Mt 24:37-38). The water of the flood is the water of justice and judgement, but it was necessary for the new creation, as prayed in the nighttime litanies of the Holy Pascha:
"O Thou, who saved Thy servant Noah, the righteous, his children, their wives and the clean and unclean animals from the flood in order to renew the earth, we ask Thee, O Lord, hearken and have mercy on us. O Thou, the creator and Provider of all, deliver Thy people from the flood of the sea of this passing world, and remove from them all harm."
Third: The flood and the baptism of the Lord
The flood stands for the baptism of Jesus Christ by John; it also prefigures the Lords death on the cross (which the Lord himself calls baptism in Lu 12:50). St. Cyril of Jerusalem contemplates on this saying, "Just as salvation came in the time of Noah by the wooden ark and water, and as the dove came back to Noah in the evening with an olive branch, so the Holy Spirit came down on the true Noah, the Author of the new creation, when the spiritual dove came down upon Him at His baptism to show that He is Who, toward the evening, by His death, gave the world the grace of salvation."
St. Justin Martyr, 2nd c., explains, "In the Deluge was accomplished the mystery of the salvation of men. Noah the just, with the other men of the Deluge formed the number 8, (1Pe) and so showed the symbol of the eighth day on which our Christ appeared risen from the dead. For Christ, the first-born of all creation, became in a new sense the head (arche) of another race (Col 1:18) of that which was regenerated by Him, by the water and the wood which contained the mystery of the Cross."
Fourth: The flood and the mystery of baptism
The fathers of the church find an association between four issues for which the old flood stood as a symbol: (i) the Baptism of the Lord, (ii) His work of salvation (in His death, His descent to Hades and His rising from the dead), (iii) the mystery of baptism, and (iv) the day He comes for judgement. These are not allegorical words that are far from the word of God, but they draw from straightforward texts in the Bible. In his second epistle, St. Peter says, " For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when Gods patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you " (1Pe 3:18-22).
The flood is the symbol of baptism; this is a common teaching of the early fathers of the church. Christ himself, the true Noah, is the link between them through His death on the cross and His descent into Hades (as stated in the holy Liturgy and as stipulated in the "Creed" (Declaration of faith of the Apostles), bearing the brunt of the heavenly judgment passed on all men, then His victorious rise from the dead. The work of Christ embodies that of all the faithful; for we have all been crucified with Him (Ga 2:20), died with Him and rose with Him (Eph 2:6); we will not come into judgment since our Lord has passed it on our behalf (Jn 5:24).
We notice that these three aspects (the Flood, Gods work through incarnation, and His baptism) have two things in common: (i) the existence of an evil world that was expected to be destroyed (the ancient world at the time of Noah; the sins of the whole world borne by the Lord Jesus; and our old self that was crucified with Him and buried with him by baptism into death (Ro 6:1-6), and (ii) the presence of a righteous man who was spared from judgement (Noah; the Lord conquered death through His resurrection; our new self, which is born through baptism). This was elaborated by Turtilian , 3rd c., in his article on baptism:
"As after the waters of the Deluge, by which the iniquity of the ancient world was purified, -after the Baptism, as it were, of the world, - the dove, sent from the Ark and coming back with an olive branch which is even now a sign of peace among the peoples announced that peace had come to the earth. According to the same plan, on the spiritual level, the dove of the Holy Spirit descends on the earth, that is to say, on our flesh, when it comes out of the baptismal pool after the cleansing of its old sins, to bring the peace of God sent down from the height of heaven where the Church is, prefigured by the ark."
Fifth: The Ark and the Church
Thus we come to the last symbol of the flood, where the ark designates the Church, a teaching that has been brought about, in addition to Turtilian, through the writings of the Fathers of the Church as exemplified in the following, quotation written by St. Cyprian the Martyr, 3rd c., bishop of Carthage summarizing those teachings, saying, " The one Ark of Noah was a symbol of the one Church. If anyone could have been saved outside the ark of Noah, then he who is outside the Church is saved."
This relationship between the Ark and the Church can be found in the liturgical prayers. In the Kiahk hymns, the Church glorifies the Virgin Mary who is the image of the Church (Zep 3:14; Rev 12:1-17) calling her "the ark of Noah". This relationship is further elaborated by a number of the Church fathers, including Origen who says: "This people, therefore, which is saved in the Church is compared to all those which are saved in the ark. The three decks and compartments show that also in the Church, although all are contained within the one faith and are washed in the one baptism, progress, however, is not one and the same for all, but each one in his own order. (1Co 15:23)."
St. Didymus (the blind), dean of the Alexandria School of Theology, 4th c., explains, "The Deluge which purified the world of its ancient iniquity was a hidden prophecy of the purification of sins by the holy pool. And the ark, which saved those who went into it, is an image (icon) of the awe-inspiring Church and of the good hope that we have because of her. As to the dove who brought the olive-branch into the Ark it designated the coming of the Holy Spirit and the reconciliation to come from on high: for the olive is the symbol of peace."
In his book The Mysteries, St. Ambrose of Milan says, "You see the water, you see the wood (of the Ark), you see the dove and do you hesitate as to the mystery? The water, then, is that in which the flesh is dipped, that all-carnal sin may be washed away. All wickedness is there buried. The wood is that on which the Lord Jesus was fastened when He suffered for us. The dove is that in the form of which the Holy Spirit descended, as you have read in the New Testament, Who inspires in you peace of soul and tranquility of mind. The raven is the figure of sin, which goes forth and does not return, if, in you, too, inwardly and outwardly righteousness be preserved."
St. John Chrysostom explains, "The narrative of the Deluge is a sacrament (mysterion) and its details are a figure (typos) of things to come. The ark is the Church; Noah, Christ; the dove, the Holy Spirit; the olive branch, the divine goodness. As in the midst of the sea, the ark protected those who were inside it, so the Church saves those who are spared."
In his book The Bible and the Liturgy, patrologist Cardinal Danielou(1) comments on Chrysostoms words saying, "We have here the witness of an author little inclined to allegory, and it has the more importance for us since it shows us that we have here a common ecclesiastical tradition. All these witnesses, borrowed from the elementary teaching of the Church, show us to what degree the biblical figures were an integral element of early Christian thought. For the Christians of that time, the narrative of the Deluge was their own history prefigured ahead of time: "By the Deluge was accomplished the mystery of the salvation of men," so writes St. Justin.
Sixth: The Flood and our Spiritual Life
We have seen how the Fathers of the Church interpreted the Holy Bible. It was through the events and characters of the Bible that they saw Christ, and they experienced His work of salvation in their life as members of the Church, His holy body, united with Him in her mysteries. The ultimate goal, however, is that each one would personally meet with Christ through his word, listening to Him as He talks to each one amidst each ones personal life. We, therefore, conclude the story of the Flood with contemplation made by Origen in his homilies commenting on the book of Genesis:
"If someone in the midst of the increasing evil and sins that surround us can hear the word of God as Noah heard it, he will built an ark for salvation inside his heart and make it a store for the sacred words. If you do that, collect in it the words of the prophets and apostles and those who followed them in the orthodox faith. Study the word in its three meaning (literal, moral, and spiritual as exemplified in the three decks of the ark). First, learn the historical events involved; thereby get to know the profound Mystery that was accomplished in Christ and the Church (Eph 5:32). Also learn how to improve your personal habits and cleanse yourself. And cover this "ark" inwardly and outwardly with pitch (Ge 6:14), for man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved (Ro 10:10), obtaining the fullness of knowledge within yourself and doing righteous deeds outside it, do not let any blemish in your body from outside."
(1) Jean Danielou, S.J.: "The Bible and the Liturgy." This book has been frequently quoted in the present article. The reader will find an extensive collection of the writings of the Fathers of the Church, explaining the references to Church sacraments and feasts in the verses of the Bible.
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