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“The Day of Small Things”

Genesis 8:1-22
Bob DeGray
November 6, 2005

Key Sentence

Keep looking for the small evidences that God is keeping his big promises.


I. Keep looking for evidence (Genesis 8:1-14)
II. Rejoice when promises are kept (Genesis 8:15-19)
III. Trust God’s further promises (Genesis 8:20-22)


        On March 26th, 2000 our church had its annual meeting. At the time we met in a shopping center, Brook Center, on Hickory Knoll road in Clear Lake. The previous year had been pretty good for Trinity, but it had become clear that Brook Center wasn’t a good place. Our landlord was negligent, and the center was becoming more and more run down. Roof leaks and other water entries had given a unique foul smell to the building. If we had smell-o-vision in the sanctuary I’d re-create it for you - but it’s a bad memory. In any case, we’d become convinced something had to be done, but we weren’t sure what. With less than $10,000 saved, we knew we couldn’t buy property or a building any time soon. But at that annual meeting we did one of the sanest things I think we’ve ever done as a church. We decided, in the coming year, to ‘knock on doors only God could open’. In other word, we decided to pray for a new facility, and to pursue any opportunity God provided.

        And that’s what we did: we prayed for a year, we pursued a number of leads, and came up empty. But in 2001 we were still sure that ‘knocking on doors only God could open’ was our best course of action. We continued to make inquiries. Some years before we’d heard that the Church of Christ in Friendswood was selling their building to build a new one. It was a lot of money; we didn’t pursue it. But then someone, I think maybe David Emerson, decided to drive by the building again. It was still for sale. So we arranged to look at it, and discovered the asking price had dropped. Still, it was much more than we had, and we knew of no way to get a mortgage. But we kept pursuing; one by one the barriers began to drop. The price came down a little more, and the Church of Christ made it clear they’d like to sell to us. Then we found that Christian Investors, the Free Church financial arm, would make a loan if we had a twenty percent down payment. So we unanimously voted, to walk through that door - to make an offer, contingent on raising the funds.

        That was a daunting task: we needed about $150,000 and had less than $20,000. So we prayed some more, and communicated in many ways the significance of what we thought God was doing, and on November 18, 2001, almost eighteen months after we began to knock on doors, we received that offering - and the total was $170,000 dollars. I’m still in awe of that. Even so we had to wait another year to move in, a year of collecting money and closing on the building and waiting for the Church of Christ to complete their building. Finally, on November 1st, 2002, three years ago this week, we moved in. It’s an anniversary worth remembering and answered prayer worth celebrating. But I wasn’t really thinking about that anniversary until I began to spend some time looking at Genesis 8. In today’s chapter Noah is aboard the ark, which certainly smelled worse than Brook Center, and he was waiting and hoping for new facilities, and we see him knocking on doors only God could open.

        During that process Noah sees a number of milestones, little things that give him hope that the big thing will be accomplished. And I think the lesson for us from Noah is to keep looking for small evidences that God is keeping his big promises. Keep looking for small evidences that God is keeping his big promises.

I. Keep looking for evidence (Genesis 8:1-14)

        We begin with the first fourteen verses of the text, in which Noah repeatedly sees these small evidences. I want to take the fourteen verses in two chunks, so we’ll start with Genesis 8:1-5 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. 2Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky. 3The water receded steadily from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down, 4and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. 5The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible.

        God remembers Noah - not that he’d forgotten him, but judgment was focused on others, and now God turns his attention back to those he will save. And he shows his intention through a series of small evidences. The first is the wind, that God sent over the earth. This is nearly the same wording used for the Spirit moving over the waters in Genesis 1:2 - wind and Spirit are the same word. Here, probably, the wind simply shows God at work: he sends it and it accomplishes his purposes. The second and more obvious evidence that God is keeping his promise comes when the springs of the deep and the floodgates of heaven are closed; the rain stops and the water stops flowing forth, and verse 3 says the flood receded steadily through the 150th day. So Noah is seeing a few indications that the endless horizon of ocean will some day change back to land.

        Let’s take a minute to look at a time line. Between the closing and opening of the doors there were about 375 days. The flood started in the 2nd month, 17th day of Noah’s 600th year, and the water kept coming for 40 days. For the rest of five 30 day months the water receded, so that after 150 days had passed, on the 17th day of the 7th month, the ark made contact with the mountains of Ararat. It may be this was a very light contact that simply caused Noah to drop an anchor. Most reports from Ararat place the elusive remains of the ark some distance down from the highest point, possibly as many as 18 miles away. And by the way, there have been many such reports - some conflicting, some extremely intriguing. As far as I’m can see no definite proof has been given, but I’d be surprised if one of these sites wasn’t the actual location of the remains of the ark. So the boat touched on month 7, day 17, but it wasn’t until the first day of the 10th month that the tops of the mountains became visible, and I suspect by this time Noah had anchored lower down to avoid having the ark rest at a steep angle. Perhaps he used a sounding line to look for a flat spot for when the water receded.

        Over the next two months Noah continued wait. Verses 6 to 14: After forty days Noah opened the window he had made in the ark 7and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. 8Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. 9But the dove could find no place to set its feet because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. 10He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. 11When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. 12He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him. 13By the first day of the first month of Noah's six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. 14By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry.

        Noah sends out first a raven then a dove. The raven doesn’t appear to have returned to the ark; it may be that as a scavenger it found enough dead animals in the water or cast up upon the mountains to survive. But a dove eats seeds, and finding no food, it returned. This must have disappointed Noah. A week later he sent the dove again; this time it returned with a freshly plucked olive leaf - clear evidence that plants were starting to regrow on the earth. But a dove won’t eat leaves. A week later, Noah sent it out again, and this time it must have found seeds, for it didn’t return. Still, Noah waited, but at some point the rain had quieted long enough, and the sun had dried things long enough that he decided to take another small step of faith by removing some or all of the covering of the ark. The way I see things, he did this on his birthday - the first day of the first month of his 601st year. He saw quite a bit of dry ground, but apparently not enough to satisfy him, for he stayed on board 57 more days, until the 27th day of the 2nd month, someplace between 370 and 375 days after the door had been closed.

        It’s not hard to imagine why the flood would take so long to recede. My conjecture, you’ll recall is that before the flood the continents were lower compared to sea level, there were vast storehouses of water under those continents, and the earth’s crust was solid, not tectonic platest. The flood changed all that, as the storehouses of the deep burst forth, the continents collapsed a bit, and the waters covered them. Furthermore the original crust was broken into tectonic plates, now floating on the earth’s molten interior, colliding in some areas and separating in others. When plates collide you get a phenomenon called subduction, which is responsible for the earth’s highest mountains and deepest ocean trenches. The ocean plates are drawn under, the continent plates are pushed up. Even while Noah was still in the ark this process had begun to raise mountains and lower seabeds, thus allowing the waters to gradually drain.
        Psalm 104:5-9 describes this “He established the earth upon its foundations; it can never be moved. 6You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters were standing above the mountains. 7At Your rebuke they fled, at the sound of Your thunder they hurried away. 8The mountains rose; the valleys sank down to the place which You established for them. 9You set a boundary that the waters may not pass over, so that they will not return to cover the earth.” That’s a remarkable description of the flood and it’s aftermath.

        So notice what has happened. Noah has seen repeated small evidences of the grace of God at work, revealing the mountains, drying up the land, and re-growing plants. Every one of these was a moment of reassurance for Noah that the big promise would be kept. And that’s still the way God deals with us. I keep thinking of our church’s outreach efforts. We’ve not had spectacular successes, but lately we have had encouraging evidence that God is at work. For example, a couple of families visited recently who first heard of us through the Fourth of July water give-a-way. We’ve also seen our Christmas caroling make a difference: the contact we had with the evacuee group came because we caroled for a neighbor. Even benevolence, which is not something highly visible at our church, has had its effects. Some of you know I had the chance to lead a couple to Christ a few months back because we had from time to time given them benevolence help. We haven’t seen conversions in waves, but we’ve seen these signs that God is faithfully doing his part when we do our part in outreach. It says in Zechariah, ‘who despises the day of small things?’ Surely it shouldn’t be us. Instead we should rejoice in these days, when God gives small evidences to remind us that he keeps his big promises.

II. Rejoice when promises are kept (Genesis 8:15-19)

        Verses 15-19 Then God said to Noah, 16"Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. 17Bring 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." 18So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons' wives. 19All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds--everything that moves on the earth--came out of the ark, one kind after another.

        This is, simply, the promise kept. And it is not a small thing, an olive branch or a bit of dry ground: God speaks to Noah and says “Come out of the ark” just as over a year before he had said “Come in to the ark.” God had been present with Noah in the ark, and was still present with him as he left. Through all that time and catastrophe God had kept Noah and his family and the ark safe. Henry Morris describes this well in his commentary: “The world had not been annihilated by the flood, but was drastically changed. As the Apostle Peter says ‘the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished.” . . . the Ark provided the bridge - seemingly fragile and easily demolished - from the old cosmos through the terrible cataclysm to the present cosmos - the heavens and the earth which are now.”

        So the promise is kept, and the occupants of the ark come out to repopulate the world. Verse 17 “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.” Morris describes what it might have been like: “The lands that had teemed with animals, people and lush vegetation had been replaced by a desolate wilderness. The air which had probably been warm and gentle, now moved in stiff and violent winds, and there was a chill on the mountain slope where the Ark rested. Dark clouds rolling about the sky, formerly free of rain, seemed to threaten a recurrence of flood conditions.”

        Above all, I think, this would have been a world in flux. The mountains, even the one on which Noah stood, would still have been rising, the seas would still have been lowering and filling, the land would only just have begun to solidify, and the great transformation of the pre-flood world’s sediments and creatures into sedimentary rocks and fossils would be ongoing. The geologic column, which evolutionists claim was formed over 500 million years, was being laid down in these months as the mountains rose and fell and the waters swirled and settled. One great evidence that this is a good explanation for the geologic column comes from the Mt. St. Helens explosion, where stratified layers of mud, sand, and organic matter more than 400 feet thick formed in a few months. And it doesn’t take millions of years for these layers to turn to sedimentary rocks. Depending on the chemical impurities in the water, in can happen quickly. Australian researchers have recently perfected a chemical technique to turn soil into sedimentary rock in a week, with the use of two common non toxic chemicals. All this was happening as Noah stepped out of the ark, and more was to come - the separation of the continents, flows of runoff forming valleys in these new-formed rocks, the formation of polar ice caps and the advent of an ice age that further molded the earth’s geology and formed great land bridges by which humans and animals could cross from continent to continent.

III. Trust God’s further promises (Genesis 8:20-22)

        But for Noah, as he stepped out of the ark, God’s big promise had been kept - his feet were on the soil again. Noah’s response is worship. Verses 20 to 22: 20Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. 21The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: "Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. 22"As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease."

        Noah builds an altar. We’ve already seen that people before the flood offered sacrifices to the Lord. These had great significance as pictures of atonement, but there was also an element of thanksgiving in them. There can be little doubt Noah’s sacrifices, using some of the few precious clean animals who had come across in the ark, were significant expressions of thanksgiving to the God who had saved him.

        And the Lord responds to this sacrifice. The text says that the burnt offering was a soothing aroma, a phrase used by Moses at least 40 times. The picture is that the smoke and fragrance of the sacrifice rises to the presence of God, and he is pleased. It’s typical of Scripture to associate human pleasures with God. He doesn’t have a body per se, doesn’t have nostrils or eyes or ears, but such phrases express spiritual realities through human images. In this case the smoke represented a significant sacrifice of trust and thanksgiving on Noah’s part. And that pleased God. David says in Psalm 51 “You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. 17The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”

        As he does so often in Scripture, God responds with a promise. The text records him saying this ‘in his heart’, but he must have also communicated his thoughts: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.” Never: God makes eternal promises, and is sovereign to keep them. This is a promise of comfort to Noah, it’s a promise of comfort to all mankind. “Never again will I curse the ground. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease." God had disrupted the old order of things, but he promises a new order; day following night following day; season following season; seedtime in the spring, heat in the summer, harvest in the fall and cold in the winter. The earth would find a new rhythm. It would not at this time be freed from the impact of the fall: disease and death; it would not be freed from the impact of the flood - much of the earth’s surface would now be hostile, and the uniform conditions that made for prolific growth before the flood would never come again - but there would be a new order and a new ecology, in which men and animals could again be fruitful and multiply.

        And never again would God destroy the world, even though the thoughts of man’s heart are only evil from childhood. This is where the flood started - God looked on the people he’d created and saw that the thoughts of their hearts were evil continually. And he judged the whole world. But never again. And it’s not that God is now looking at the world through rose colored glasses. In saving Noah and his sons God had also carried across the cataclysm the very thing he had judged - sinful men. He had significantly cleansed the earth from sin, but he had not cleansed the source of sin - the rebellion and evil of men’s hearts. And he knew it. In fact, though God will never judge the earth again by water, 2nd Peter teaches he will judge it by fire. And then will come a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

        You see, no such judgment, past or future, can really deal with the heart problem of sin. The only reason that a coming judgment will truly cleanse the earth is because of a Savior who has truly cleansed men’s hearts. God had already made the promise that the seed of the woman would smite Satan’s head.

        But the flood was not that smiting - it was merely a new beginning toward the ultimate rescue. In fact the flood was a picture of that rescue - Jesus came to be the ark, to rescue all who will enter into him from the judgment of their sins and from the death that was sin’s penalty. He became our ark by taking our judgment. Sacrifices like Noah made were also a picture of that rescue. The offering of blood and of life shows how the blood of the lamb can make atonement and cover our sin. God had already begun to foreshadow the fulfillment of his promises - as in his acceptance of the sacrifice of clean animals. And he would continue to do so through the life of Abraham and through the giving of the law and through the messages of the prophets and through the promises to David. For thousands of years men would wait for the promise of a Savior, until one day, the seventeenth day of the second month of the Hebrew calendar, one man would keep all those promises. In dying and in rising from the dead Jesus made it possible for us to survive the judgment to come. He provided rescue by providing forgiveness and cleansing that when God looks at any man, woman or child who has believed this about Jesus and trusted in him, God doesn’t see sin anymore: he sees the righteousness of Christ. Paul says ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’

        So the big promise has been fulfilled. And yet we’re still waiting for other fulfillments, especially of the final promise, of a new heaven and a new earth and a final rescue to a place with no more death or mourning or crying or pain is yet to come. What should we do? Should we despise this day, this day of small things, this day when no key promise is likely to be fulfilled, this day when God’s people are called to the same patience Noah displayed on the ark? No - for this day we will see evidence of God at work. We’ve seen it in the life of this church. And if you’re a believer and you’ve been observant, you’ve seen it in God’s faithfulnesses, his little miracles that he gives to sustain your hope. And even without those things, and unlike Noah, or Abraham, or Moses, or David, you have the Lord’s supper - the bit of bread, the small cup, these little evidences by which our Lord instructed us to remember the great promise already fulfilled - remember his death - until he comes - and fulfills the rest of the promises that we have made.