What Is the Meaning and Significance of Noah’s Ark?

Noah knew God’s loving, omnipotent character before he closed the Ark door and shut out all latecomers who had ignored the evidence of God’s glory. We also have evidence of God’s character reflected in Jesus Christ. All we need to do now is to remember.

Candice Lucey
Noah's Ark in the storm

“So the Lord said, ‘I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created — and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground — for I regret that I have made them.’ But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:7-8).

Floating on the endless waters of destruction for months, Noah might have felt cursed and forgotten, not favored. Christians can relate to the challenges Noah faced: Waiting on God and remembering his promises.

Jesus and the Ark

Dr. Ray Pritchard compared the flood to “the Second Coming” because, for the unbelievers who scoff at Christians, “it will be business as usual until the very day Jesus returns.” On that day, as it was when Noah sealed the doors of the Ark against latecomers, it will be too late. “Just as God didn’t prepare two arks, he doesn’t have two plans of salvation.” Noah foreshadows the Messiah in this sense.

He had to remain faithful for a long time. Scripture is not specific about how long it took him and his sons to build the Ark, but it was a massive undertaking. Since they were the only men God would save, were they the only men involved in building the Ark? If so, then the project would have taken even longer than with a team of boat builders on-board.

We don’t know if Noah had ever sailed; if he knew how to build even a small structure: This might have been the first time he picked up the tools for such a job. Christians know what it’s like to wait for God to give a “yes” to prayer, and they understand what it’s like to wait for the real Savior to return.

Noah and his sons needed patience to complete their work. They had to toil under the constant scrutiny and, perhaps, laughter of those who would pass them in their labors and shake their heads, express disbelief, or openly ridicule them.

Jesus and his disciples were also mocked, rejected, and threatened with physical violence up until the end of Christ’s mortal life when those threats were realized. They could relate to Noah, the outsider, and laughingstock.

The Planner’s Precision

God’s building plans for the Ark in the Bible are so precise that biblical scholars often use them to argue the veracity of Scripture. When scientists and boat builders consider the dimensions and type of wood used, they agree that this vessel could not only float but also hold two of every species of land animal, a few humans, and all of their food for one year. The Ark “had about as much space as 250 railroad stock cars, which some folks have calculated can hold between 20,000 and 40,000 animals roughly the size of sheep.”

We are often tempted to imagine God designing only epic things: The universe, the plan for salvation, and the Exodus. Perhaps God is not interested or involved in the tiny details of life. Genesis 6:14-16 says otherwise. While the ark and the flood were, indeed, epic, God directed Noah in the finer points also.

He was to use “cypress wood” and to coat rooms “with pitch inside and out.” He gave Noah exact dimensions for the Ark: “Three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high” with a one-cubit-high opening below the roof. Finally, God instructed Noah to “put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks.” Noah knew exactly what to do and how to do it.

The Hebrew word denoting this space below the roof is “sohar” or “window.” The Lord even thought ahead to how dark the interior of his vessel would be once the doors were closed, and it was sealed tight against the water. His people needed light to see by, and they needed light in the figurative sense also.

The Ark and Light

Two thousand years after the Great Flood, Daniel prayed to God “because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who are around us. [...] O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary” (Daniel 9:16-17).

The Psalmist pleads, “O God, restore us, and cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved” (Psalm 80:3). The prophet Micah proclaimed, “Though I dwell in darkness, the Lord is a light for me” (Micah 7:8).

Jesus told his followers, “‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life’” (John 8:12). Not a single theme or word appears in Scripture by accident. Readers can find hope in God’s merciful reminder: I will supply the light you need. 

The modern reader can imagine a ferry or a cruise ship, where there is plenty of light. Compartments that are airy and passengers can climb to the top deck, watching waves roll, birds soar, and whales follow. The Ark was not like a modern ferry, it was not built for pleasure but protection.

God’s blueprint included an opening at the top which would draw fresh air into the Ark and suck out the fetid smell of sweat and dung. The opening also let in light, which would have been practical for performing daily duties. Even more than that, light reached Noah during the long days when he might have felt hopeless and forgotten. God knew what psychiatrists and doctors understand today: We need light to survive.

God speaks — he provides direction — and then, once a plan is set in motion, there is a long wait before the purpose of that plan becomes clear. The light goes out, the visual equivalent of God’s silence, leading to hopelessness. And then we remember the light. “During the darkness,” wrote Dr. James Boice, “you may have felt quite dead. But suddenly the life of God is there again, and you [...] begin to move forward.”

This narrow space at the top of Noah’s floating world was a reminder to Noah that he not only needed light, but God had already worked light into his plans for Noah’s future. Not just light for Noah, but light for the world. In John 8:12, John Piper says, “We have a picture of people passing from death to life. They will not die in their sins.”

Noah’s Ark gives Christians a foretaste of what that really means. Noah was not sinless, but he was faithful, and God saved him. As with Abraham, his “faith was counted to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3). So, it is with Christians now, waiting for Christ to return just as Noah waited for light to glint off of a dripping mountain peak poking out of the water.

God Remembers

God directed and Noah obeyed, built the Ark, loaded up, closed the doors, and water rose around him. All land disappeared. He waited for about a year from the first rainfall until a dove brought him an olive branch, the sign that land had reemerged.

During this time, God might have spoken again, but no mention is made of it. “Noah must have begun to wonder whether God had forgotten him, his family and the animals as they floated like insignificant bits of refuse on the great tide.”

Most believers know that feeling. At first, God seems to provide direction through Scripture, prayer, even advertisements on billboards and songs on the radio. They are signs that a door is opening or closing. What a relief to receive such clear direction! While one might feel abandoned or worthless during the long wait for step two, God does not forget his children. “God had never actually forgotten Noah, for God never forgets anything.”

Scripture portrays God as forgetting and remembering in order to make him accessible and familiar. “If you think yourself to be abandoned by God […] the hope is in knowing that God will act again! And in the meantime, your job is to go on in faithful obedience to what he has already shown you — however long ago that may have been” for it is “God’s nature to remember. He is faithful.”

The Faithful Remember

Later, when Noah’s ordeal was over, he and his shipmates (animal and human) had disembarked, “Noah remembered [...] God. He showed it by [...] building an altar and then sacrificing some of all the clean animals and clean birds as sin offerings.” Although we forget God’s goodness “immediately after we have been delivered from some distressing situation,” Noah did not forget. What example has Noah set for the Christian living thousands of years after The Great Flood?

We pick up our crosses and follow Christ, making a sacrifice of joy and gratitude; our desires for his desires. Our sacrifice is not duty or legalism. The Lord wants “mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).

We want signs, like the dove carrying an olive branch, but Christ’s death and resurrection was our sign of his love and faithfulness. Meanwhile, The Lord desires a sign from us, his children: Patience, which demonstrates our trust in him; thankfulness, which honors and glorifies the Lord.

Noah knew God’s loving, omnipotent character before he closed the Ark door and shut out all latecomers who had ignored the evidence of God’s glory. He knew he could trust God. We also have evidence of God’s goodness, his kindness, his power, his faithfulness: God’s character, reflected in Jesus Christ. All we need to do now is to remember.

Photo Credit: © iStock/Getty Images Plus/Javier_Art_Photography


Candice Lucey loves Christ and writing about His promises brings her much pleasure. She lives in the mountains of BC, Canada with her family. 


Originally published October 05, 2020.