The First Herald of Righteousness

The Construction of the Ark

One of the major themes of the Old Testament is the foreshadowing of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in many of the great events it records. This is one of the most impressive proofs God has given of the authenticity of the new covenant and that it is the sole means of salvation for all men in all ages. God has sealed the testimony of the Christian Gospels by giving clear indications of the coming work of Jesus in the lives and experiences of the former prophets. So many of them are types of Christ and these types can be used very effectively to show Muslims that all the promises and purposes of God were destined to find their fulfilment in him.

Significantly, none of these prophets typified each other but all of them pointed to the coming of God’s Saviour and the redemption he would achieve. As the Qur’an names most of the prominent Old Testament prophets and generally repeats the stories in which the typology is found, Christians have tremendous common ground from which to show Muslims that everything that happened in those days was building towards an awesome climax in Jesus rather than a re-affirmation of it all in the prophet of Islam.

Noah was the first type of Christ. You do not have to read more than three pages of the Bible before he appears. After the fall of Adam and Eve, the human race steadily fell into great wickedness and, contrary to God’s hopes and wishes, turned away from and against him. Its rejection of God was emphatic and universal and is summed up in these words:

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. Genesis 6:5

The emphasis in this verse must not be lost: "every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." The human race had fallen into a state of complete separation from God. Paul’s combination of quotations from the Old Testament in the following passage makes the same point:

None is righteous, no, not one. No one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong. No one does good, not even one. Romans 3:10-12

Genesis goes on to say that the Lord was grieved to his heart and regretted creating man. He wasted no time in deciding to blot the human race out together with all living creatures on the surface of the earth for he was sorry that he had made them. Yet there was one ray of hope, one exception, which was to become the first symbol of God’s ultimate purpose to provide a salvation and redemption for mankind. We read:

But Noah found favour in the eyes of the Lord. Genesis 6:8

This is not the first mention of the great patriarch in the narrative. When Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden they were told:

Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Genesis 3:17-19

Men and women lived much longer then than they do now, yet the effect of the fall and the toil and sweat they were offered (almost in Churchillian fashion: "I can offer you nothing but blood, toil, tears and sweat") was painfully felt. When Lamech reached the age of a hundred and eighty-two, he became the father of a son and called his name Noah, saying:

Out of the ground which the Lord has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the toil of our hands. Genesis 5:29

The very name Noah means rest or relief and Noah’s birth symbolised a struggling world’s desperate need of a Reliever. Because of its rejection of God, however, the relief was to come to Noah’s descendants and not to the masses alive at the time. Noah became a figurehead because he was the only God-fearing man on earth and the first herald of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5). Again the Bible says:

Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God. Genesis 6:9

The first sign that God’s ultimate purpose is not to save the whole human race but only those who form the household of his Saviour Jesus Christ, their figurehead, is found in God’s command to Noah. Having warned him that he was about to make an end of all flesh because the earth was filled with violence and wickedness, he commanded him to build an ark, giving him express directions how to build it, for the saving of his household. More expressly, God said to him:

But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your son’s wives with you. Genesis 6:18

What happened next is important, because it typifies the saving work of Jesus Christ. God told Noah he would destroy the world through a great flood but, while he was patiently constructing the ark, not a drop of rain fell. As long as it was incomplete nothing changed. So it is with the Church today. God has warned of a second judgment to come:

By the word of God ... the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist have been stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. 2 Peter 3:5-7

While Jesus is still drawing out men and women to himself, the judgment will not come. So with Noah, while he was still putting the finishing touches on the ark for the saving of his household, there was no sign of the flood to come. This was a momentous task – the ark was the size of a large building. Not only was he preserving human life but was also redeeming a host of birds, animals and reptiles. In the same way when Jesus comes he will not only raise all his own followers to glory but will also ensure that the whole creation will "be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Romans 8:21).

Piece by piece, nail by nail, plank by plank, the ark came together. In the same way man by man, woman by woman, believer by believer, repentant sinner by repentant sinner, the redeemed people of God in Jesus Christ are also coming together. As Noah built God’s ark, so Jesus too builds a redeemed household for God (Hebrews 3:3). The typology goes further. We do not know how the crowds reacted to Noah’s apparently senseless venture in building such a large ark high up on dry ground, but the Qur’an makes an interesting statement at this point:

And he began to make the ark (fulk). And whenever the chiefs of his people passed by him, they laughed at him. Surah 11:38

This has a remarkable parallel in the life of Jesus. As he hung on the cross and completed his saving work for the household of God, just as Noah had toiled in the construction of his ark, the same thing happened:

So also the chief priests, with the elders and scribes, mocked him, saying, "He saved others, he cannot save himself." Matthew 27:41-42

Although the parallel is not found in the Bible, its presence in the Qur’an can effectively be used to show how similar the works of Noah and Jesus were at this point. Noah’s building of a great ship must have seemed like an exercise in absurdity to his people and it is highly likely that they ridiculed him mercilessly. So also, when Jesus hung on the cross his dying agonies hardly seemed to indicate that the greatest success story in all human history was just moments from being accomplished.

The Great Flood – Salvation for some, Judgment for the rest

For forty days a relentless flood covered the whole earth and every living creature was destroyed. The highest mountains were covered by the waters and they prevailed on the earth for one hundred and fifty days. What God did is summarised in this verse:

He blotted out every living thing that was upon the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the air; they were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those that were with him in the ark. Genesis 7:23

What must not be missed is the contrast between the effect of the waters on Noah’s ark, on the one hand, and the whole earth below. They drowned and destroyed every living creature on the ground but, as the waters increased, they "bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth" (Genesis 7:17). The ark was lifted up with the waters and towered high above the land. So when Jesus returns, although the masses of unbelieving, ungodly sinners will be judged and thrown into the lake of fire, "the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). The destruction of the world will be accompanied by the lifting up of the saved, just as it was at the time of the flood.

The story of Noah and the flood is, like so many others we will consider in this book, a wonderful base for witnessing meaningfully to Muslims of God’s grace in Christ. Muslims generally love to hear stories, especially those of the ancient prophets which are set out in the Qur’an, and without having to preach at them any Christian can, through comparing the Biblical and Quranic narratives, show how the Gospel was prefigured in the events of past ages. Jesus often spoke in parables to make his points more emphatically and, in the same way, you can share the Gospel with Muslims more effectively by showing how it was prefigured in events like the great flood.

He did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven other persons, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly. 2 Peter 2:5

So God will likewise not spare the wicked when Jesus returns but will raise up the followers of Jesus to be heirs of God and fellow-heirs with Christ to be glorified with him (Romans 8:17). Jesus put it in these words:

When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. ... And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. Matthew 25:32-33,46

Noah became a Saviour through the ark which he built with his toil and labour, so Jesus became the Saviour of the world through his death on the cross. Noah, as his name implies, gave "rest" and "relief" to his household. So Jesus gives eternal rest to all who believe in him.

By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, took heed and constructed an ark for the saving of his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness which comes by faith. Hebrews 11:7

Typical Similarities between Noah and Jesus

The comparisons between Jesus and Noah go much further and there are many other obvious points where the typology continues. You can use so many of them in showing how Noah was a type of Christ. Ten come to mind and they follow.

1. Noah and Jesus were rejected by their people

The Qur’an states that, despite his passionate appeals to them to accept the messages God was giving him, Noah’s people flatly rejected him (Surah 10:73) and called him a liar (Surah 7:64). So also the Bible says of Jesus:

He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. John 1:11

2. Both Jesus and Noah were accused of being possessed

As already mentioned the Bible does not mention the reaction of the masses to Noah’s construction of a huge ark but the Qur’an does and it adds this statement:

Before them the people of Noah rejected – they rejected our servant and said he was possessed, and drove him away. Surah 54:9

The word for "possessed" here is majnun, a word generally meaning crazed or mad. It was commonly used of poets in the time of Muhammad and, when he received the first portion of the Qur’an in what he said was a vision of a strange being in the sky, he came down and, sweating, cried to his wife Khadija to cover him with a mantle as he feared he too was becoming majnun like the eccentric poets around Mecca. Interestingly the Arabic word jinn, meaning a demon, comes from the same root letters. Jesus was also accused of being possessed by his opponents:

Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon? John 8:48

He has a demon, and he is mad; why listen to him? John 10:20

3. They both sought the forgiveness of their opponents

Once again, according to the Qur’an, Noah engaged in intense discussions and arguments with his people and called to them, saying, "Ask forgiveness of your Lord, for he is ever-forgiving" (Surah 71:10). On the cross Jesus prayed these words:

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Luke 23:34

The Qur’an does go on to say that, when they disobeyed him and persuaded all around to hold to their idols Wadd, Suwa, Yaghuth, Ya’uq and Nasr, Noah changed and prayed to God to leave none of the unbelievers alive on earth. Instead he prayed earnestly for his own forgiveness and the forgiveness of his believing household (Surah 71:21-28).

4. Both Jesus and Noah were rejected as ordinary mortals

The Qur’an has numerous passages outlining the debates between Noah and his people prior to the flood. Once again there are no parallels in the Bible but you can use these Quranic passages to show how similar Noah and Jesus were in support of proofs that Noah was a type of the coming Saviour. This passage in the Qur’an about Noah is interesting as it is very similar to a passage in the Bible about Jesus:

But the chiefs of his people who disbelieved said: We see you as only a mortal like us, and we note that only the meanest of us are your followers. Nor do you appear to be superior to us in any way. We consider you all to be liars. Surah 11:27

Familiarity breeds contempt, so the saying goes, and much the same was said about Jesus’ and his family by his kinsmen in this passage:

Many who heard him were astonished, saying, "Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom given to him? What mighty works are wrought by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him. Mark 6:2-3

5. Their works were to be a sign for all peoples

Noah’s sweat and toil in building the ark, in which he was soon to be shut away until the storms had passed, and his ultimate deliverance onto a refreshed earth is a type and symbol of Jesus’ suffering on the cross, being shut away in a tomb, and resurrection from the dead three days later. Here again you can use the Qur’an to make the point. This verse is significant:

So We delivered him and the inmates of the ark, and made it a sign to the nations. Surah 29:15

Jesus likewise gave the Sign of Jonah – his internment in a tomb for three days and deliverance therefrom – as a sign for his generation (Matthew 12:39).

6. They were the symbols of righteousness for their age

The quotations from the Qur’an are useful to draw comparisons with Muslims between Noah and Jesus from their own text book, but the most effective parallels come from the Bible. We have already read that, in contrast to all other men on earth who were filled with wickedness and violence, Noah "was a righteous man, blameless in his generation" (Genesis 6:9). So, in contrast to the Jewish leaders whom he had all convicted of sin in the presence of an adulterous woman (John 8:7-9), Jesus could say "Which of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?" (John 8:46).

7. Both were given authority over all the earth

When Noah and his family came down from the ark and released all the animals and birds on it to roam across the earth, God said to him:

The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of the air, upon everything that creeps on the ground, and all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered. Genesis 9:2

In this Noah symbolised the authority to be given to Jesus when, by his delivering work, he too would stand on the earth again with all authority and power over its inhabitants given to him. Jesus said:

All things have been delivered to me by my father ... all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Matthew 11:27, 28:18

The same point is made in this passage: "You made him for a little while lower than the angels, you have crowned him with glory and honour, putting everything in subjection under his feet" (Hebrews 2:7-8).

8. A dove symbolised their supreme purpose on earth

When the waters began to recede, Noah sent out a dove three times to see if the land had begun to reappear. The first time it simply returned to him, the second it returned with an olive leaf, and the third it disappeared for good (Genesis 8:8-12). The dove was a symbol that peace had been restored between God and man and the earth.

Likewise, when Jesus was baptised, the Spirit of God descended on him in bodily form, as a dove (Matthew 3:16) and anointed him for his work which he was to accomplish in bringing complete peace and goodwill between God and men (Luke 2:14) with the hope of the redemption of the whole earth (Romans 8:19).

9. Both left a symbol as a legacy of God’s saving grace

When the floods had fully receded God promised Noah that never again would the earth be devoured by such a massive flood and he added:

This is the sign of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant which is between me and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. Genesis 9:14-15

Just as the rainbow has become the symbol of God’s promise never again to destroy the earth until the final judgment, so Jesus also left a symbol of God’s open hand of grace to all men which will never be withdrawn until the end comes:

The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." 1 Corinthians 11:23-25

Both Noah and Jesus left a symbol of God’s covenant which was put into effect as soon as the storm had passed (in Noah’s case, the flood; in Jesus’ case, the cross). With Noah it was the rainbow, with Jesus the communion celebration of bread and wine.

10. The days of Jesus and Noah would both be the same

Jesus stated plainly that, when he returns to the earth with the final judgment of God, the earth will be taken by surprise in its daily experiences of life just as it was when the flood came down at the time of Noah:

As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be in the days of the Son of man. They ate, they drank, they married, they were given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all ... so it will be on the day when the Son of man is revealed. Luke 17:26-27,30

The flood came suddenly, unexpectedly, while all the earth was going about its daily business as if it were just another day. So, Jesus said, it will be when he returns. The heavens will be opened in a moment and the final judgment will come in a moment. Although he said there will be portents hinting at its imminent approach, it too will come suddenly while life continues as normal from day to day.

The story of Noah, the ark and the flood, has great material for an effective Christian witness to Muslims. During a quiet evening with a Muslim family, why not share the great likenesses between Noah and Jesus and show them how Noah’s ark is a symbol of Jesus’ saving death and resurrection to newness of life?

Sharing the Gospel with Muslims [Table of Contents]
Materials by John Gilchrist
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