Noah: How to Find Favor with God
We begin a series of messages for the summer that are based on characters in the Old Testament Scriptures. A warning needs to be sounded concerning what are often referred to as “biographical sermons.” They can easily be illegitimate to the text.
Biblical characters must not be preached with the idea in mind of imitating the characters. If the figures become examples or models for imitation, we have missed the biblical point. Preaching a biblical character with the idea in mind of recommending to the congregation that the good qualities of the character be imitated and the bad qualities of the character be avoided is a “wrong-headed” interpretive method.
What standards are to be used to evaluate the “good” or the “bad”? The Old Testament standards? The New Testament standards? contemporary standards?
When preaching is biographical and suggests imitation of the biblical character, it does not do full justice to the historical context of the story in the Scriptures. Basically, much biographical preaching ignores the gap between the contemporary time and the biblical time and simply equates the two times, as if there were no gap. The “now” and the “then” are laid on top of each other as if they were one and the same; but, of course they are not.
When preaching biographically, there tends to be shift from the descriptions found in the stories to prescriptions found in the preacher’s sermon. That is, what the story describes, the preacher prescribes. Description is a necessary tool for telling a story and when biblical characters become the sermon topic, the descriptive elements of the story may one by one or in groups become prescription for the contemporary audience. One is left wondering if the description of characters in the Bible is meant by the original author to be a prescription of certain behavior to the modern reader.
Another strong problem with biographical preaching is the tendency to present the human characters as in some way worthy of imitation so that the focus of the message is shifted from a theocentric one to an anthropocentric one, that is from God to man. The stories of the Old Testament are not related to us so that we can learn how humanity acts in any given story but so that we can learn how God acts. And as you are aware from your reading of the Old Testament and New Testament stories, God often works his work despite the works of men, rather than through their works.
There is a tendency when preaching sermons from the biblical stories of people’s lives (or more accurately, very, very small slices of their lives) to make the sermon a moralizing experience for the contemporary congregation: See, do this and the same thing that happened to this character will happen to you. Moralizing can go either toward the good or the bad. Do the good of this character and the good that happened to him or her will happen to you. Do the bad of this character and the bad that happened to him or her will happen to you.
A problem is immediately recognized: how do you put the “good” and/or “bad” of the character in right perspective? Which moral demands do you choose out of the character’s presentation in the Scriptures?
So, why are we entering a series of sermons with the stories of certain Old Testament figures as guides to the selection of the messages?
These stories are in the Bible and they need to be told. However, we must, as a contemporary audience, yield to the original intention of the biblical author relative to the stories told. We must always ask, what was the original relevance of the story?
Overhearing the biblical story allows us entry into the story and provides an opportunity for us to learn something about God and his actions, not simply to pick up some character traits, positive or negative, of biblical characters. We retell these stories to hear God speak afresh in our own lives through these stories. If we do not hear God speak or see God act, we have abused the story or, at least, misused the story.
But the narrative tales are a large portion of the Bible and we can gain insight into the work and word of God by overhearing his work and word with others.
[Much is owed to The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text, Sidney Greidanus, 160-66, 175-181]
We begin our series with the story of Noah. But we must recognize that what appears to be Noah’s story is God’s opportunity to show us his word and work in our world.
Genesis (NIV) The animals going in were male and female of every living thing, as God had commanded Noah. Then the LORD shut him in.
Genesis (NIV) Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; men and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds of the air were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.
Genesis 8:1 (NIV) But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.
Genesis 8:17 (NIV) Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you--the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground--so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number upon it."
Genesis 9:1 (NIV) Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.
Genesis (NIV) So God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth."
Genesis (NIV) Altogether, Noah lived 950 years, and then he died.
We suggested in the introduction on biographical preaching that we must determine what the author meant by the stories told. It seems clear from the words of Genesis 6:8 that the original readers were to understand that Noah found favor in God’s eyes. We will briefly see what God favors in our lives.
Genesis 6:5-8 (NIV) 5 The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. 6 The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. 7 So the LORD said, "I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth--men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air--for I am grieved that I have made them." 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.
How did Noah find favor in the eyes of the Lord?
1. Noah was a righteous and blameless man
Genesis 6:9 (NIV) This is the account of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time
Noah was a righteous and blameless man. Was he so because of his “genes and chromosomes”? No. The action of God in Noah’s life allows Noah to be righteous and blameless.
Can we be “righteous and blameless” today? Yes. Do we achieve this goal by our own goodness and our own personality? No.
2. Noah walked with God
Genesis 6:9b (NIV) and he walked with God.
The key is that Noah walked with God. None of the story is possible if the story is read from an anthropocentric focus. Noah’s story is absolutely dependent upon God for its telling.
Can we walk with God today? Yes. Do we do so because of something about us or something about God? It is God’s work in us that allows us to be pleasing to him. We can only be a living sacrifice to God because God esteems us so. He esteems us so because he redeems us so.
3. Noah obeyed God
Genesis (NIV) Noah did everything just as God commanded him.
Again, imagine this statement that Noah obeyed God without God in the statement. It cannot be imagined. Did Noah do something that required God to come to him and honor him with guidance and direction? No. Noah was absolutely dependent upon God’s move toward Noah.
Can we obey God today? Yes, but only as we yield to God’s Spirit at work in us to escort us to obedience.