An Ark of Gopher Wood
“Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch” (Gen. 6:14).
The story of Noah provides many illustrations of Christ-centered biblical interpretation. Today we will see another way the flood story preaches Jesus as we examine how the ark foreshadows salvation from sin and death (1 Peter 3:18–22).
In today’s reading from Genesis, the Lord gives Noah instructions for building an ark to shelter him from the upcoming deluge (6:14–16). It is a large structure, about the size of a modern battleship, and the exact identity of the “gopher wood” is unknown to us.
An attempt at a Christ-centered view of this text is found in the church fathers who say the wood and other details allegorically symbolize the cross and the church. While we sympathize with their effort to find Jesus in the story, it is hard to imagine Moses had such things in mind. Moreover, no interpretive control exists if we are this loose with the text—we can read any meaning into the narrative.
However, we can be true to Moses and find Christ in Genesis if we study this passage in context. Besides the ark, Moses only describes the tabernacle’s design in such detail (Ex. 26–27). Those who entered the tabernacle by faith were saved from God’s wrath (Lev. 1; 2 Chron. 6:12–7:16; Ps. 65:1–4). Similarly, those who entered the ark by faith were spared destruction.
Peter says that baptism, corresponding to the flood, saves us (1 Peter 3:21). Some find baptismal regeneration here, as if water apart from faith cleanses us from sin. Yet the thief on the cross (Luke 23: 39–43) and the doctrine of justification by faith alone makes this conclusion impossible. Instead, the correspondence between the flood and baptism is one of faith. Noah was rescued because he believed God and trusted his fate to the Lord’s gracious deliverance through the ark. Baptism saves us, not by water but through faith, for Jesus only saves those who confirm the sacrament by trusting in Him.
Thus, like Noah, our salvation is based on God’s promises. We affirm that Noah was justified by faith alone in the Messiah who was to come. Unlike Noah, we have the benefit of consciously placing our faith in the One who has already come.
As we trust on the Messiah who has already come, the Old Testament saints trusted on God’s promise of the One who would come. Noah was saved because of the work of Christ, the goal of the covenant God made with him, but he did not know Jesus in his lifetime as we do now. Noah’s salvation, as Calvin said, “rests exclusively on the covenant of God.” Ours does as well because to rest on God’s covenant today is to believe on Christ.
Passages for Further Study
Gen. 15:6 , Isa. 26:4, Mal. 4, John 14:6, Acts 4, Heb. 11:7