One of the nice surprises when I moved into my new church office here ten months ago was the framed and numbered DuBois print left hanging on the wall. It is the fourth picture in the series from the artist depicting the Great Flood. Noah’s flood takes up four chapters in our section of Genesis we are preaching through this summer, chapters six through nine. We’ll get to it on August 18th and 25th.
The scene is called “The Celebration”, and depicts the embarkment of Noah, his family, and the animals following the flood.
Genesis 8:15–17 (ESV) 15 Then God said to Noah, 16 “Go out from the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. 17 Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh—birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth—that they may swarm on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.”
While the story of Noah and the Ark is one of the most well-known stories of the Bible, I think it is also one of the least understood. If you think about it for a moment, the flood story is really more along the lines of an apocalyptic, end of the world, everyone dies kind of movie! And this the story we love to put on children’s nursery walls!?
Yes, Noah and his family are saved, along with all of those cute and cuddly animals. But how on earth did they spend well over a year together on a big boat without eating one another? Indeed, the story is on a level of the miraculous that has caused many biblical readers and teachers to question its veracity. Was there really a worldwide flood, a flood covering even the tops of the highest mountains? And how was Noah and his family able to build a boat big enough to save the entire animal kingdom? And how did those animals keep from eating one another?
I think one of the things that has always attracted me to the DuBois Flood series is the realism it portrays. (If you look closely you can even see a pair of pheasants flying off from the ark – the artist must have been from the Midwest!) Renaissance biblical art placed halos over holy people, with the intent to to fan the flames of religious devotion and make the characters much holier than they really were. The Biblical story quite often getting lost in the artist’ attempts to over-dramatize. But DuBois simply painted it the way it was, or at least the way he imagined it from reading the Bible story itself. Which, by the way, isn’t such a bad idea – finding and re-reading the story yourself from Genesis six to nine sometime soon.
Thus, simply reading, and imagining, and seeing the story in your own minds eye. Seeing an old man on a wide open plain, building a boat. Watching the parade of animals passing by, filling up the ark. Feeling the first drops of rain, rain that had been warned of by that same old man. And then the realization, a realization come all to late to the people below that all of it was true; all that Noah said, all that Noah warned. All that Noah said God told him was true, as it always is. Simply use a little imagination, and you can see the story for yourself.
Which, I believe, is a very good thing to do when reading the Bible, especially when reading these first eleven chapters of Genesis. The stories we have been telling are big, big stories. Stories of creation and life, disobedience and fear, death and disaster. Stories that really do, in a very strong way simply tell themselves. That is, if we, like the artist DuBois, don’t let our own preconceived notions of what can and can’t happen get in the way, and simply let the stories tell us the truth. The truth of who we are as people, and the truth of who God is as God.
And when it comes to the flood the truth is simply this. Yes, there was a great disaster, a disaster of, well of Biblical proportions. But even more so, yes there was a savior, a man named Noah, who did whatever had to be done simply because God told him to do it. Thus, Noah, one of the very first portraits of the Savior to come, Jesus himself.
In Christ’s Loving Service,