The Story of Noah
Long ago in Bible days, there lived a man named Noah. He was a very good man. He did not steal or commit sodomy or take the name of the Lord his God in vain. But the world was full of people who did those things and all other forms of wickedness. In fact, the world was so wicked in those days that even the animals and insects and birds of the air became wicked and made God their Creator really bummed out.
“This creation of mine has me really bummed out,” said God.
So God made up His mind to teach the world a lesson by destroying it with a great flood. That way he could get rid of the wickedness that existed in the hearts of all the world’s creatures except Noah’s.
God decided to save Noah from the flood, him and his wife and his three sons and their wives. But He wanted all the different species of animals and birds (and insects) to make it too, so He gave Noah directions. First, there was the Ark, a special kind of Bible boat, that had to be built.
God shouted loudly to Noah from the Firmament, a huge crystalline dome which God erected above the world to keep the waters above from the waters of the deep. People call the Firmament “the sky”. The earth was completely flat in those days and floated on the waters of the deep.
God said, “Noah!”
Noah thought it was his wife, so he yelled back, “Hold your tongue, woman. “Ya got something to say, speak softly!”
So God shouted a little less loudly, “Noah! It’s me, God, your Creator, the only real friend
you have! I have a message for you.”
Noah was embarrassed. “Sorry, Lord. Please forgive your humble servant this gross and flagrant disrespect, and grant me the…”
“Noah!” God roared, “Enough! I want to tell you about the flood. You will have to prepare very quickly, for there’s not much time. Next week I’m going to flood the earth and kill everything that you don’t save. So listen closely; I shall say this only once!”
“Oh Lord,” said Noah, “this Thy servant…”
“Knock it off, man. Just listen. I want you to build an ark,” said God.
“A what, dear God, Creator of…”
“An ark! A kind of boat. I’ll tell you how to build it. First of all, you must make it of gopherwood.”
“Gopherwood,” saith the Lord.
“Dear Lord, Creator of Heaven and Earth, what sort of wood might that be?”
“It’s a wood that’s good for making arks, a strong wood that won’t rot very easily. It grows around here. I created it just for ark-making.”
“Is that it over there?” asked Noah.
“Yea, verily,” said God. “That looks like it. Now go cut a bunch of it and make the ark as I tell you.”
So Noah took his stone ax and went into the gopherwood forest and chopped down all the trees.
Then God said, “These are the dimensions of the boat: Three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits…”
“Forgive, O Lord, Thy miserable servant, for I know not how long a cubit is. Could you give it to me in feet, please?”
“A cubit is the length of your arm from your elbow to the tip of your middle finger. Let’s call it a foot and a half just to get on. So your ark will be four hundred fifty feet long, seventy-five feet wide, and forty-five feet high. And when you get it finished, you have to get two—a male and a female—of every species of animal and insect and bird in the whole world to put into the ark. And you have to lay up enough of the right
kind of food for each kind of animal, as well as for yourself and your family.”
“The whole world, dear Lord? But where is the whole world?” asked Noah.
But God became wroth. (“Wroth” is the kind of anger God gets.)
“Do as I say!” said God wrothfully. “My wroth hath made me change my mind. Now I want you to get me seven pairs of every kind of animal, insect, and bird on the face of the earth, except for the unclean animals—only one pair of each of them; and you’d better be quick about it; you have only seven days to get it all done! And don’t forget the food!”
Now, please keep in mind that Noah was six hundred years old, and his arthritis really slowed him down. So he sent his son Ham to Africa to get the elephants, lions, baboons, and the tens of thousands of other kinds of animals and the hundreds of thousands of kinds of birds and snakes and so on, and also the untold millions of kinds of insects. And Ham had to work without a list, for no census of the animals had ever been taken. Another son Japheth was sent to Australia and New Zealand and all over the south Pacific for his collection. His third son Shem had to go all over Asia and Europe rounding up every kind of animal, seven pairs of each, as God had ordered. The wives had to go to Antarctica and the North Pole and the American continents for the millions of animals and their respective dietary requirements.
This was a tough job! Not all of the animals wanted to come, and some of them insisted on eating the others, because that was their kind of food. But God had given His orders and expected them to be carried out to a tee. So they all did their respective jobs. (It was possible to accomplish all this because the earth was perfectly flat in Biblical times and not nearly so huge as it is today.)
“Oi Veh!” exclaimed Noah, as he heard the commotion of all the animals arriving. “And I don’t have the ark ready yet!” He then doubled his efforts, nailing two boards at a time. But the gopherwood was extremely hard, and his nails were pretty weak and got badly bent by the stone hammer.
Somehow Noah and his family were able to get everything done that God commanded him within the seven day time limit. And then the flood began.
To understand how the flood occurred, one has to know something about how God had made the heavens and the earth on the Second and Third Days of Creation. First, God made the Firmament, which, as noted earlier, was a crystalline dome forming a hemisphere over the earth. This kept the waters above the Firmament away from the waters below. God had separated these waters below to make the dry land on the Third Day. Now, in the firmament God had made windows which He could open on appropriate occasions to let the rain fall through.
And that is what God did to cause the flood. He opened all the windows in the Firmament. He also opened up great holes in the ground (fountains of the deep) to let the waters beneath the earth shoot up like fountains until the entire surface of the earth was covered. And the ark was borne upon the waters which got higher and higher and higher until they covered the highest mountains all over the world.
Now, the ark had three decks, and each deck was divided into rooms which were so jammed with animals and living creatures of every sort that it was impossible to get around to feed them. Fortunately, they managed to get their own food. But cleaning up after them was another matter. That was the job of the three wives of Noah’s sons.
The noise was very great, so Noah called out to God. “O Lord of Hosts, Maker of Heaven and Earth, hear Thy servant.”
“What is it, Noah?” saith the Lord.
“Not to complain, O Lord, but the noise is terrible. And the smell! Please consider our plight and relieve our condition. And O my God and my Salvation, please stop the lions and tigers from chewing each other up.”
“Noah!” saith the Lord, “It is not for you to complain. Be glad that I have chosen to save you and your family from the flood. You’ll have to tough it out. So quit griping and save your energy for after the flood. You’re going to have to replenish the earth with people, don’t forget.”
This news did not trouble Noah or his three sons, but it sent his wife into shock. And the three daughter-in-laws grew faint and did swoon at the thought of the enormity of the procreative task before them.
Now the rain poured down from the windows of the Firmament and the fountains of the deep shot huge surges of water into the air for forty days and forty nights, covering all the earth including the highest mountains. In fact, the water rose to fifteen cubits (twenty-two and a half feet) above the highest peak. Now Mount Everest is the highest peak in the world, being 19,352 cubits (29,028 feet) high. Thus, the water rose to a depth of 19,367 cubits (29,051 feet). That means that the five and a half mile deep flood came on the earth in 960 hours at a rate of more than 20 cubits (30 1/4 feet) per hour continuously throughout that period. Only a miracle prevented the ark from sinking.
The salt oceans of the world became diluted and unfit for sea creatures, and the sweet waters of the world became salted and unfit for the creatures that lived in them. So all living things on the earth were terminated in that great flood. Except for Noah and his crowd in the ark.
When the rain stopped, Noah opened a window in the ark and looked out at all the water. He grabbed a bird—it turned out to be a raven—and tossed it from the window. It just kept flying and flying and didn’t come back.
“Look at that stupid bird!” complained Noah. “Doesn’t know enough to go look for dry land.”
So Noah grabbed a dove, figuring that doves are one step higher on the animal IQ scale than ravens, and tossed it out of the window. He was right. When the dove found no dry ground it came back.
From now on, the story gets confused. A great mystery is set before us who would know the truth of the Bible. How long did the flood last until Noah and all his family and animal charges could step out onto dry land? The clear statement of Genesis 7:24 is: “And the waters prevailed upon the earth an hundred and fifty days.” No mystery here.
Noah was six hundred years, two months, and seventeen days old when the flood began (Gen 7:11). He was six hundred one years, two months, and twenty-seven days old when he and his tribe came out of the ark (Gen. 8:14-19). That is just slightly over a year (375 days) during which they all survived in the ark. At the end of one hundred fifty days the waters had abated, according to Gen. 8:3; that is about five months. Two months later, the ark came to rest on top of Mount Ararat in Turkey (Gen. 8:4), which wasn’t really Turkey until the Turks came to live there. Yet strangely another three months passed before the tops of the mountains were seen (Gen. 8:5).
But, dear readers, according to Gen. 7:17, “And the flood was forty days upon the earth.” And in Gen. 8:6-12, we read that after these forty days Noah sent out the raven and the dove. The dove returned, since there was not yet any dry land for it to stand on. (The raven was flying around in circles quothing “Nevermore”.) Seven days later he sent out the dove again and it came back with an olive leaf, freshly plucked and none the worse for wear despite the raging flood, meaning that “the waters were abated from the earth” (Gen. 8:11). And seven days later, the dove was sent out and did not return, meaning, of course that it was now safe to come out of the ark. So according to this section, the flood lasted fifty-four days, after which it was safe to come forth from the ark onto dry land.
How long did the flood last? Three hundred seventy-five days or fifty-four days? When Noah himself was asked that question, he was annoyed.
“So whose counting,” he replied. “You should try it sometime. Tell me then what difference does it make. It was pretty awful, I’ll tell you!”
So Noah and his family came out of the ark, and so did the animals and birds and bugs and everything else. It was very noisy, animals roaring and screeching and chasing each other down the mountain. Now Mount Ararat is 11,297 cubits (16,946 feet [3.2 miles]) high and very cold, so it was no piece of cake getting down. Only the polar bears, penguins, and other cold-loving animals thought it was pretty neat up there.
Only a miracle got them down to flat land again. And Noah built a very huge altar with which to thank God for His blessing. Meanwhile, his three sons, his wife, and his daughter-in-laws were busy chasing and catching animals for the sacrifice—but only the clean ones, of course. There had to be one of each kind of animal and bird. There were many millions of animals, including very large ones, that had to be killed and prepared for the sacrifice. “‘Tis surely a strange thing to do,” complained Shem’s wife, “after feeding and cleaning up after them all this time.”
“Silence, woman!” said Shem. “God loves the smell of burning animals. You saw how terrible the flood was. Ya want another one?”
Noah had to keep making the altar larger and larger as his family killed more and more animals for the sacrifice.
“Yea verily, cease and desist! This is surely enough,” said Noah. But a great clap of thunder sent him back to work again.
At last all was ready and the enormous clouds of smoke from burning animals rose upward to God’s nostrils, and it pleased him so much that He promised Noah never to do such a thing again. No more great floods. But, God said to Noah, he and his wife and his sons and their wives would have to get busy and replenish the whole world’s population.
“But O my Creator and Savior, Maker and Preserver of my flesh, I am six hundred and one years old. And my poor wife is also very old like me. How, O God, can this be accomplished?”
“I wouldn’t tell you if I didn’t think you could do it, Noah. Anyhow, I’m giving you three hundred fifty more years to do it, so get busy and start having kids!”
“No more floods?” asked Noah. “No more floods,” saith the Lord. “That is my Covenant with you. And every time anyone anywhere sees a rainbow, he will remember this Covenant because the rainbow is my signature on this Covenant.”
Noah turned to farming. He was the first farmer in the world (which is a bit odd, since according to Genesis, Cain was the world’s first farmer.) He poked holes in the ground with a sharp stick and dropped seeds into them. He also found some wild grapes and ate them, but he spit the seeds on the ground. Then, one day he saw grapevines growing where he had spit the seeds. This gave him an idea. He gathered lots of grapes and planted them in the ground and raised a great vineyard. And he knew what to do with the grapes he gathered from the vines, too. He crushed them for their juice and let them ferment and became the world’s first li’l ol’ winemaker.
After his first harvest of grapes, Noah made a batch of wine and tasted it. It tasted fine, so he drank it all. He started to giggle and say funny things. He took off all his clothes and danced naked in the sun. Finally he stumbled into his tent, where he passed out. Noah was also the world’s first drunk.
Now Ham, Noah’s youngest son, happened to pass the tent and glance in. He saw his naked father lying there, chuckled, and ran to tell his brothers. Shem and Japheth were serious men. They didn’t want to see their father’s nakedness, so they took a garment between them and walked backward into the tent to cover their father. They did not see their father’s naked body.
When Noah had slept off his drunk, he arose and held his head.
“Holy floodwater!” he cursed. “Someone has covered my nakedness. Someone has seen me naked! It was Ham! I know it was. I’ll fix him.
So Noah called Ham. “Come here! And bring your kid Canaan with you.”
Ham brought Canaan to Noah, and Noah looked upon his grandson. For some reason, even though Noah was over six hundred years old, he never had any great-grandchildren. So Noah scowled at his grandson, who didn’t know what this was all about.
“You, Canaan, are hereby cursed! I hereby make you a slave to your two uncles, Uncle Shem and Uncle Japheth! My eldest son Shem shall be the greatest, and Japheth shall come to live with him. And Canaan will be slave to both!”
“What about me?” cried Ham. But Noah looked fiercely upon him and said no more.
“It’s not fair!” complained Canaan. “It’s just not fair.”
So that’s the story of Noah—more or less.
John P. Irwin was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania, in 1926, and enlisted in the army in August 1944. He was honorably discharged in July 1946 and went on to Ursinus College in 1952, eventually earning his Ph.D. in philosophy from Syracuse University. He taught philosophy at Lock Haven University from 1964 until his retirement in 1990. He lives in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. He is the author of Another River, Another Town: a Teenage Tank Gunner Comes of Age in Combat–1945 and the recently published A Quaker Soldier in the Civil War.