Why Build an Ark?

Why Build an Ark?

Excerpted from chapter 18 of Navigating Genesis

Depictions of giraffes, polar bears, kangaroos, and more all marching up the ramp of a big ship remain firmly fixed in most people’s minds when the name Noah is mentioned. Though appealing in children’s picture books, such images raise questions and even draw ridicule from skeptics.

Where did Noah obtain the technology and resources to build such a huge vessel? How could eight people possibly care for all those animals? If the flood was less than global, why bother to build an ark rather than move Noah’s family and animals to high ground?

Learning about these issues—the ark’s design and construction, its passengers and its cargo—can help answer doubts about the credibility of the flood story without resorting to the conclusion that it must be allegorical or a borrowed legend.

Given the flood’s geographically limited (though worldwide, with respect to people) destruction, a reader may wonder why God did not deal with Noah’s situation as He did with Lot’s later on—rescue by evacuation (see Genesis 19:15–17). God could have instructed Noah to move to a region far, far away where he and his family and livestock would be out of harm’s way.

Yet, when God pours out judgment, He gives ample warning. He sends a spokesperson, a prophet, and gives that prophet some kind of platform for drawing people’s attention. Prior to the flood, Noah was that prophet and the scaffolding around the ark served as his platform.

The efforts of a distinguished patriarch to build an enormous vessel in the middle of a desert plain that receives scant rainfall certainly would have commanded attention. Noah’s persistent devotion to an immensely challenging project for a hundred years would have heightened the drama. As crowds gathered to jeer, Noah patiently preached. He warned his listeners of impending doom if they refused to repent of their evil ways. He
freely offered passage to anyone who would heed his warning and call upon God for mercy. Perhaps one reason for the enormous size of the ship was to demonstrate the sincerity of this offer.

The New Testament confirms that Noah gave time to being “a preacher of righteousness.” Noah “condemned the world,” not so much in words as by the example of his faith while he “waited patiently.” He could have built the ark much faster if he had spent less time preaching, but the magnitude of the coming disaster compelled him to provide ample warning to his contemporaries.