Greater Men and Women of the Bible by James Hastings: 019. Noah

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Greater Men and Women of the Bible by James Hastings: 019. Noah

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Bain, J. A. Kerr, For Heart and Life (1894), 213.

Brown, A. G., In the Valley of Decision (1903), 96.

Champness, T., Plain Preaching, 205.

Dods, M., The Book of Genesis (Expositor's Bible) (1888), 55, 68.

Garbett, E., Experiences of the Inner Life, 234.

Gough, E. J., The Religion of the Sane Man (1894), 1.

Jukes, A., Types of Genesis (1875), 105.

Lewis, H. E., in Men of the Old Testament: Cain to David (1904), 19.

Liddon, H. P., Sermons on Special Occasions (1897), 243.

Maclaren, A., Expositions: Hebrews and James (1910), 112.

Matheson, G., The Representative Men of the Bible, i. (1902) 89.

Parker, J., Adam, Noah, and Abraham (1880), 54.

Raleigh, A., From Dawn to the Perfect Day (1883), 1.

Thorne, H., Bible Readings in the Book of Genesis, i. 107.

Whyte, A., Bible Characters: Adam to Achan (1896), 71.

Williams, I., The Characters of the Old Testament (1870), 23.

American Antiquarian and Oriental Journal, xxix. (1907) 1 (S. D. Peet).

Christian World Pulpit, viii. (1875) 356 (E. W. Shalders); xxx. (1886) 344 (H. G. B. Hunt); lxxx. (1911) 92 (W. L. Gibbs).

Churchman's Pulpit: Sexagesima Sunday, 381 (C. J. Ball).

Clergyman's Magazine, 3rd Ser., ix. (1895) 88 (G. Calthrop).

Literary Churchman, xviii. (1872) 61.


By faith Noah, being warned of God concerning things not seen as yet, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; through which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.- Heb_11:7

1. The first great event that indelibly impressed itself on the memory of the primeval world was the Flood. There is every reason to believe that this catastrophe was co-extensive with the human population of the world. In every branch of the human family traditions of the event are found. Some of these traditions bear a remarkable likeness to the Biblical story, while others are very beautiful in their construction, and significant in individual points. Local floods happening at various times in different countries could not have given birth to the minute coincidences found in these traditions, such as the sending out of the birds, and the number of persons saved. But we have as yet no material for calculating how far human population had spread from the original centre. It might apparently be argued that it could not have spread to the seacoast, or at any rate no ships had as yet been built large enough to weather a severe storm; for a thoroughly nautical population could have had little difficulty in surviving such a catastrophe as is here described. But all that can be affirmed is that there is no evidence that the waters extended beyond the inhabited part of the earth; and from certain details of the narrative, this part of the earth may be identified as the great plain of the Euphrates and Tigris.

2. It is, however, with the moral rather than the physical aspects of the Flood that we now have to do. The narrator ascribes it to the abnormal wickedness of the antediluvians. To describe the demoralized condition of society before the Flood, the strongest language is used. “God saw that the wickedness of man was great,” monstrous in acts of violence, and in habitual courses and established usages. “Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually”-there was no mixture of good, no relentings, no repentances, no visitings of compunction, no hesitations and debatings. It was a world of men fierce and energetic, violent and lawless, in perpetual war and turmoil; in which if a man sought to live a righteous life, he had to conceive it of his own mind and to follow it out unaided and without the countenance of any.

3. How is this abnormal wickedness to be accounted for? In the fourth and fifth chapters of Genesis the development of the human race is traced through two entirely different lines-that of Cain and that of Seth. It would seem that, notwithstanding the sense of the phrase elsewhere in Scripture, the Sethites, and not any beings of a higher world, are in this connexion meant by the august title “sons of God”; and the intermarriage between the Sethites, who had preserved the higher and better traditions of Eden, and the Cainites, who had entirely lost them, issued in the rapid moral degradation of the posterity of Seth. Distinct from this, but contemporaneous with it, was the appearance of the Nephilim, the “giants” of the English Bible. They seem to have been social tyrants rather than physically unnatural monsters; they made the law of might the ruling force of that primitive society. The corruption of the old world was therefore traceable mainly to two factors, each fatal to the moral well-being of man; it was due either to social oppression, or to cruelty, accompanied by a reckless sensuality.

4. Now it is especially to be observed that emphasis is laid on the source of the evil. It proceeds from the heart. The vision of corruption which Noah saw is very graphically and very characteristically described in the sacred narrative, “Every imagination of the thoughts of man's heart was only evil continually.” This is not the description we should have expected. It is, characteristic of the Bible, but it is not characteristic of human nature. We should have thought that an ancient narrative wishing to expose the wickedness of a short-lived race would have begun by making a catalogue of its actual crimes. So would any other ancient narrative in the world. But the Bible is on the very threshold true to its future self. It strikes here a chord from which it never deviates-the chord of inwardness. With surprising modernness, it refuses to indicate corruption by a catalogue of deeds done. It goes to the root of the matter-to the deeds not done, the deeds in the imagination. That is the refrain of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.

Paul cries to the Philippians, “Whatsoever things are pure and lovely and of good report, think of these things!” We expect him to say, “Do these things!” But he has simply reproduced the message which was given to primitive humanity, “Beware of your ideal!” There is not a more profound sentiment in all ethical literature. The radical difference between a good man and a bad man lies in what they think. The boundary line between virtue and vice is situated in the imagination.1 [Note: G. Matheson, Representative Men of the Bible, i. 94.]

We are not to be distracted by archæological questions about the Ark or the Flood. Our business is with Noah. The life and character of Noah may be conveniently considered in this way:-

         I.       A Child of Hope.

         II.      A Recipient of Grace.

         III.     A Man of Faith.

         IV.      A Preacher of Righteousness.

         V.       An Epoch Maker.

         VI.      A Sinner.

         VII.     A Giver of Blessing and of Cursing.

Whether we receive the accounts of the patriarchs as veritable histories, or whether we look upon them as popular legends, framed by we know not whom, and collected together we know not when, is not perhaps a matter of so much consequence to the interests of true religion as is commonly supposed. For although reference is not seldom made to these accounts in later Scriptures, and especially in those Scriptures upon which the fabric of our faith finally reposes-the writings of the Apostles of Jesus-I think we may assert that the reference is generally of such a nature that the question of historic fact is not raised at all. In short, the prophets of the Old Testament and the Apostles of the New use and apply the ancient narratives which they found ready to their hand, not for the purposes of historical study or antiquarian research, but for the inculcation of moral verities. When St. Paul states that whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, he means by this that they were written to further moral and spiritual as distinct from merely intellectual culture. By his own example, in the Epistle to the Galatians for instance, and in the Romans, which are perhaps his most characteristic writings, he indicates what he regarded as the legitimate mode of applying the ancient Scriptures to modern necessities. Everywhere he finds allegory, figures, types, foreshadowing things to come; and that, not so much because he was destitute of historical perception, as because he devoutly believed that the chief if not the entire value of the Hebrew records lay precisely in this illustrative use of them. To him they were the great lesson-books of humanity, out of which, under the interpretative guidance of the Spirit, instruction and warning and comfort were to be elicited for all succeeding ages.1 [Note: C. J. Ball.]