Today, we commemorate Noah, faithful follower of God through the flood. We take our devotional reading from Courageous Fathers of the Bible: A Bible Study for Men.
Using the adjective courageous to describe Noah is hardly a novel or daring suggestion. Of the great patriarchs of Genesis, Noah is probably the leading candidate to be coupled with the virtue of courage. We think immediately of pious Noah living in a debauched world of violence and excess and imagine his courage to stand for morality and decency when everyone else was celebrating what is decadent and evil. One can hardly exaggerate the depths of wickedness to which the earth’s inhabitants had descended. Things were bad—bad enough to provoke the wrath and curse of God. “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).
Things were so far gone that the Creator’s only acceptable solution was to wipe out virtually every living thing and start over. But there, in the middle of the mess, is Noah. Noah “found favor in the eyes of the LORD” (Genesis 6:8). Indeed, he found favor because Noah was a man apart. “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation” (Genesis 6:9). In fact, Noah was one of the handful of scriptural characters described with the breathtaking, wonderful, and simple sentence: “Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9). Incredible. Living like that in a world like that took courage.
Before we tread too far down that path, though, it might be wise to check the text. All the books and film representations of Noah notwithstanding, the account in Genesis says nothing about Noah’s neighbors or about any exchanges between the patriarch and those who lived next door. Such potential meetings are excellent fodder for our imaginations, of course. We love to picture the men and women of Noah’s clan laboring on the ark and its provisions, while neighbors gawk and mock at the folly of building a monstrosity of a boat, presumably on dry land far from any body of water. But the biblical record is silent on this point. The space between God’s directive to Noah and the time that all the passengers embarked for their voyage is covered by a single verse: “Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him” (Genesis 6:22).
Three words in English present a lesson that most of us perpetually struggle to learn much less practice. God gave a command and Noah responded: “Noah did this.” No discussion. No clarification. No deliberation. God commanded and Noah did. While others may call it courage or dogged determination, what’s clear is that Noah’s God-given faith had yielded the fruit of obedience. God had chosen Noah for a reason: Noah believed, and thus Noah obeyed.
Righteous is a big, loaded word. It is not used lightly. Christians hear the word righteous and hear “sinless, and worthy of God’s praise.” And since we have been taught, and taught quite rightly, that no one is perfect, that no one is righteous (Romans 3:23), we are taken aback by the description of Noah as righteous. This deserves a closer look, then. We need to understand what it meant that Noah was righteous, because when that is understood, the real courage of Noah the patriarch, Noah the father, will be understood.
It is true, of course, that righteousness is a “God-word.” It is used to describe a person who is able to stand before God without fear of incurring God’s wrath. And when the word is used in this context—and this is probably the typical religious context—then the message of the Christian Church needs to ring loudly in our ears: no one is righteous. The only righteous ones are those who have received God’s forgiveness delivered for the sake of the life, death, and resurrection of God’s Son, Jesus. No one earns the designation of righteous. It must be given. This is absolutely, categorically true.
Thus, when it came to his relationship with God, Noah was righteous, but not because he had earned that designation. He was righteous the same way that you are righteous—only by God-given faith, which trust in God made possible; faith that clung to God’s promise. “Noah did this” did not make Noah righteous before God. Noah’s obedience was merely one manifestation of Noah’s righteousness that had a source other than his deeds or convictions. Noah was righteous because he relied on God, and God alone, to make his righteousness a reality.
In another sense, though, with regard to Noah’s relationship with the rest of the world around him, it is quite possible to determine that Noah was righteous simply in light of the fact that he was living the way that he was supposed to live. This is civil righteousness. It does not and cannot aid a man to be righteous before God. It does not save. Noah was doing what he had been created to do. He was doing what God had put him in the world to do. He was being a human according to the will and plan of God. Noah was following God’s will, he was obeying God’s Law. So, in the eyes of the world, and by the standards of the world—conformity to the rules built into the fabric of the world itself—Noah was righteous. He was a man who was living the way he was supposed to live. This fact was all the more apparent in the context of the debased and decaying world in which Noah found himself. This is what Moses meant when he introduced Noah: “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation” (Genesis 6:9).
Noah is righteous in two ways. He is righteous before God by his faith and trust in the promise of God and his reliance on the provision of God. And, he is righteous before all creation, before his fellow men, by virtue of his exemplary living and fulfillment of his God-given purpose.
Devotional reading adapted from Courageous Fathers of the Bible: A Bible Study for Men by Joel Biermann, copyright © 2011 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.