(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)
The Ark, the Animals and the Floodwaters
A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.
God (Heb. Elohim) told Noah to save his family, and “two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you” (Genesis 6:19). The story, as an archetype, didn’t cover details like how to feed carnivores (e.g. lions or snakes), or keep the food fresh. Instead, the story focused on God’s compassion for all of creation, including the animals. It presented Noah and his ark as a model pointing to the human role in caring for creation.
The first Flood story differed from the second in one major way related to the animals. It assumed the ritual division of clean from unclean animals (cf. Leviticus 11), which related to their use as sacrifices as well as food. Therefore, this story said the Lord (Heb. Yahweh) told Noah to save seven pairs of clean animals, so that some could be sacrificed as soon as he left the Ark (cf. Genesis 8:20-22), but just two pairs of unclean animals.
The picture of God’s concern for animals as well as humans, such a key part of the Flood story, was revisited in other parts of Scripture. In a fascinating short story, the prophet Jonah grudgingly warned Nineveh (capital of Assyria) of impending judgment, and was angry when God spared the repentant city. At the end of the story, God asked the furious prophet if it was not right that God should pity 120,000 people “and also many animals.”
Genesis 1:28, Revelation 11:15-18
In God’s “original mandate,” God made humans stewards to guard and guide God’s good earth, not “owners” free to plunder, kill and ravage the people and other creatures of the planet. The seer of Revelation said (like Genesis 6) that God would destroy those (specifically, in his focus, the brutal Roman emperors and those who served them) who wickedly destroy the earth.
In Jonah’s story, which we reviewed earlier this week, the key confession was, “Deliverance belongs to the Lord!” (Jonah 2:9) The primary focus of both of the Flood stories in Genesis was similar: in the end, only God is a reliable source of safety and salvation. That Noah’s family was safe when they did “just as God commanded” was far more vital than questions about boat dimensions or how rabbits, foxes and hawks managed to coexist in one boat.
Genesis 8:1-5, Hebrews 11:7
When the text said that God “remembered” Noah (and all living things with him), that did not suggest that God had ever forgotten Noah. Rather, it was a Hebrew way of saying that, through all of the stormy days, God had had Noah on his mind continually. Just as God had shut the ark’s door initially to protect Noah, so God had continued to act in mercy to watch over and preserve the ark and its living cargo (cf. Genesis 30:22).
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
Almighty God, your creation always gives us fresh reasons for wonder. We refresh our own devotion to you and welcome your creative touch in our lives. Thank you for bringing us into the ark of your church. Keep us always faithful and true. Amen.
CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)
When you attend a movie based on Bible stories, do you expect it to remain true to the “original”? If not, what do you expect?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
NOTE: We encourage study groups to have several different Bible translations available for these readings. Reading aloud from the Common English Bible or The Message may help to clarify the meaning of some passages.
Read Genesis 6:17-22. Do these verses imply any human responsibility to care for living creatures? If so, in today’s world, how would you see that responsibility lived out? How important are animals to God? Why would God consider the continuation of the animal world as important? What would happen if animals were wiped out? What picture of God’s eternal kingdom do these verses suggest to you? What kind of covenant was God establishing with Noah?
Read Genesis 7:1-5. In this version of the Flood story, why were more of the clean animals than unclean animals saved? What was it about Noah that made God see him as “righteous” or “moral”? In today’s world (and in broad terms rather than specific), what does it take for us to be seen as “moral” in God’s eyes? What did Christ say were the two greatest commandments? Re-read verse 5. What does this say about Noah? What does this say about how we should live?
Read Jonah 4:6-11. Why were these verses included, when we are studying the story of Noah? What is it about God’s attitude that seems different from the Flood story? The Ninevites were Israel’s enemies, and Jonah didn’t want God to show them mercy. Are there people you’d rather that God didn’t show mercy toward? Does Jonah’s story challenge those feelings, or do you think it simply doesn’t apply to today’s enemies? How does God feel about humans and animals? How the, should humans consider their actions and how they affect both humans and animals?
Read Genesis 1:28, Revelation 11:15-18. Did God’s mandate to “master” and “take charge” of the earth and everything on it mean we can do anything we want? Or do we have to protect and nurture it? As population expands, does God care whether we “pave paradise and put up a parking lot”? Are there better and worse ways to do this? Do we ever consider God and the earth as we plan projects or activities? What can you personally do to protect and nurture “mother earth”?
Read Genesis 7:6-9. How could the story of the physical flood represent spiritual drowning throughout the entire world? In the story, only a small remnant maintained faith. Do you see that still recurring today? What was the only salvation for the faithful remnant then, and who saves the remnant today? Can you draw any parallels between the ark and the church of today? How has the church been an “ark of salvation” for you?
Read Genesis 8:1-5, Hebrews 11:7. What does Genesis 8 mean when it says God “remembered” Noah? When the water receded, new life was formed on the earth. If we compare this to Christ’s death and resurrection, how was new life created? How have you experienced “newness of life” in your own walk with God? How have you seen that kind of renewal, of re-creation, in the lives of others you know well?
From last week: Did you, as a group, keep praying for each other, focusing on the concerns you shared in last week’s final discussion question? Did you watch for moments when you might sense God helping with those concerns? Please share any of those moments with your group.
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Adam Hamilton’s sermon, May 11, 2014:
Today we’ll consider the ark, God’s concern for the animals, and reflect on what we learn about the storm and floodwaters….
First, think about how God speaks to us. We hear God speaking through sermons, scripture reading, other people, through an impression we feel or hear, and sometimes through dreams. Few people report hearing the audible voice of God. It is usually more in the “still small voice”—the inner whisper—that I hear God. I think it is likely that Noah heard God in the same way.
If this is how God speaks, then it becomes important for us to listen carefully, and to pay attention. That includes prayer, silence, meditation, scripture reading, being in worship and in small groups. I try to listen in my heart, and not to miss what God is doing.
But it’s not only listening, it is actually acting upon what you’ve heard. Noah believed he was to build an ark. We’re right to think about how absurd this must have seemed, building a giant ship on dry land in preparation for a flood that was coming. Acting upon what God called him to do required Noah to spend everything he had, and to devote at least three years of his life, and undoubtedly earning him the ridicule of all who knew him, as he built the ark.
Noah becomes a pattern or type for us of faith and faithfulness. I want you to notice this week what we learn about Noah that is meant to shape our own lives: In Genesis 6:22, after God gave Noah the command to build the ark we read these words: “Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.” For emphasis this is repeated in Genesis 7:5: “Noah did all that the LORD had commanded him.” Again in 7:9 we read that Noah did as God commanded him.
Obedience is the true test of our faith. We can believe in God, and call ourselves Christians. Do we actually do what he asks?…
The ark represents a place and instrument of God’s salvation. Early Christians came to see the ark as prefiguring the church. People entered the ark and were delivered from destruction. In the church, they find salvation from the storm. As church buildings were built the building itself came to be seen as the ark. The portion of the church where the congregation sits is called the NAVE from the Latin term navis which means ship. Architecturally, you are sitting in the nave, the ship, the ark of salvation.
This week I read Frederic Buechner’s essay, “The Church as Noah’s Ark.” Buechner compares you and the church to the ark:
[In the church as in the ark] just about everything imaginable is aboard, clean and unclean both…the predators and the prey, the wild and the tame, the sleek and beautiful ones and the ones that are ugly as sin…There are times when they all cackle and grunt and roar and sing together…Most of them have no clear idea just where they’re supposed to be heading or how they’re supposed to get there or what they’ll find if and when they finally do…There’s jostling at the trough. There’s growling and grousing…and sometimes it smells to high Heaven…Even at its worst, there’s at least one thing that makes it bearable within, and that is the storm without…At its best there is…shelter from the blast, a sense of somehow heading in the right direction in spite of everything, a ship to keep afloat, and, like a beacon in the dark, the hope of finding safe harbor at last.
That leads to a few thoughts about the animals. 13 verses in the story are devoted to speaking of God’s commands concerning the animals. Noah’s family is hardly mentioned, but the animals seem really important to God in this story. What does this tell us about how God sees the animals?
In scripture God takes delight in creating the animals. Repeatedly the scripture demonstrates God’s concern for the animals. I love Job 38 and 39 where God describes his delight in these creatures from mountain goats to whales. I think of Proverbs 12:10 which says: “The righteous care for the needs of their animals.” John Wesley, the 18th century founder of the Methodist movement, even conjectured that there will be animals in heaven, and that God may give them greater cognitive abilities there!…
Now let’s talk about the storm. Once Noah has everything on the ark, we read: “Then the Lord shut him in.” I love that picture of God closing the ark to keep Noah, his family and the animals safe. We often imagine that there was a nice rain for 40 days and 40 nights, and Noah, his family and the animals took a little cruise. But Genesis talks about terrible storms, gale force winds, rain for 40 days, but flooding for another 110….I was taken this week with the GPS reflection Brandon Gregory wrote. He linked Noah’s story with our own, with the times when we are lost at sea: “Noah spent five months on that ark, drifting aimlessly with no end in sight, wondering some days if he would ever set his feet on solid land again.” Brandon related this to his story, to journeys he did not want to make, and drifting he thought was aimless at the time, yet which God ended up using to bring profound good in his life.
Some of you have faced unemployment, or you’ve lost people you love, or your spouse left after 20 years, or 40, or 4. Maybe you’ve been diagnosed with something that leaves you confused, afraid and listless….Some of you are riding in the ark, tossed to and fro. You can’t see where you’ll land, and wherever it is won’t be the same place you boarded the ark. But God won’t let you go. This is where faith comes in. We don’t give up. We trust that we’ll come to rest on a mountain some time. We have faith that God will never abandon us, that good can and will come again, that this horrible thing we’ve been through will have a good ending.
I’d end here: Just as Christians saw in the ark the church, they saw baptism in the floodwaters. We hear this in I Peter 3:20-21: “God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience.” In baptism we accept God’s grace and forgiveness. We are marked as his people. It represents a death to sin and a resurrection, a new birth to God….Today we want to invite you to remember your baptism, to remember that you’ve been called to board the ark, you’ve been washed by baptism and become a part of the family of God.
God and Animals
by Billy Graham—Aug. 16, 2010
Q: My pets mean a lot to me, and I hate to see people neglect animals or treat them cruelly. Does the Bible say anything about how we should treat animals? God made them also, didn’t He?
A: Yes, God made everything that lives on the earth — including the animals. In the beginning, the Bible says, “God said, ‘Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals….’ And it was so” (Genesis 1:24). And yes, the Bible commands us to take care of the animals under our care. One of the signs of a righteous man, the Bible says, is that he takes care of his animals (see Proverbs 12:10). Even the animal of an enemy was to be treated kindly: “If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him” (Exodus 23:4). One reason God commanded His people to rest one day out of seven was so their animals would be refreshed (see Exodus 23:12).
In fact, the Bible says we must never treat any part of God’s creation with contempt. When we do, we are indirectly treating our Creator with contempt. God calls us to be stewards or trustees of His creation…We’ve often forgotten this — but it’s still true, and when we ignore it we not only hurt God’s creation but we also hurt ourselves.
A literalist view of the Biblical flood story, summarized
Did you know that stories about a worldwide flood are found in historic records all over the world? According to Dr. Duane Gish in his popular book Dinosaurs by Design, there are more than 270 such stories, most of which share a common theme and similar characters. So many flood stories with such similarities surely come from the Flood of Noah’s day.
The worldwide catastrophic Flood, recorded in the book of Genesis, was a real event that affected real people. In fact, those people carried the knowledge of this event with them when they spread to the ends of the earth.
The Bible declares that the earth-covering cataclysm of Noah’s day is an obvious fact of history. People “willingly are ignorant [that] … the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished” (2 Peter 3:5–6, KJV). This Flood left many evidences, from the fact that over 70% of the rocks on continents were laid down by water and contain fossils, to the widespread flood legends. Both of these evidences provide compelling support for this historical event.
If only eight people—Noah’s family—survived the Flood, we would expect there to be historical evidence of a worldwide flood. If you think about it, the evidence would be historical records in the nations of the world, and this is what we have. Stories of the Flood—distorted though they may be—exist in practically all nations, from ancient Babylon onward. This evidence must not be lightly dismissed. If there never was a worldwide Flood, then why are there so many stories about it?
The reason for these flood stories is not difficult to understand. When we turn to the history book of the universe, the Bible, we learn that Noah’s descendants stayed together for approximately 100 years, until God confused their languages at Babel (Genesis 11:1–9). As these people moved away from Babel, their descendants formed nations based primarily on the languages they shared in common. Through those languages, the story of the Flood was shared, until it became embedded in their cultural history.
During the week, consider your role in protecting and nurturing all living creatures. Find at least one thing you can do to improve the condition of animals and the earth. Next week, share with the group what you discovered.