Now he called his name Noah, saying, “This one will give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the LORD has cursed.”Genesis 5:29
Eight people were saved. Only eight.
In children’s books, the story of Noah tends toward the rainbow—with pretty colors, a neat and tidy ark, and well-behaved animals. Noah and his wife are serenely experiencing their extended quarantine as their former life washes away. How lovely.
An adult Sunday School class, on the other hand, easily tends toward the storm clouds—the violent days, the unheeding neighbors, the lone survivors.
Noah, the text tells us, was righteous and blameless, finding favor with God. The lesson is clear: be like Noah and you will be saved. If you attain his level of success, you may even be able to save your family. Just don’t be like the people around you, the ones who prefer violence and evil and corruption. Given these parameters and their stark outcomes, a class conversation easily begins to identify the legitimate failures of modern society, hoping to separate itself from unrighteousness and its accompanying judgment.
The children’s story is light. The adults’ story is heavy: only eight people were saved. Only eight.
A mind that is inclined towards numbers and ratios might even begin to extrapolate:
- What was the population of the earth at the time?
- What is the population of the earth now?
- What might this mean for us?
- What are the numerical implications?
The number eight is so very small. As the mind grapples with this information, it drifts into a mindset of scarcity, perceiving the underlying lack of salvation.
When we relate to the story from scarcity, five things happen.
- We experience fear.
- We attempt to portray ourselves as righteous and blameless, or at least faithful.
- We shift all judgment onto our neighbors—their violence, their movies, their politics, their lack of faith.
- We begin to misunderstand God.
- We miss the point.
Noah and his wife were quite old by the time the rain started, as were his sons. This was not a couple in their mid-40s with sons in their early 20s. There was plenty of time for them to have had many more children—grandchildren—great grandchildren. Instead, we have a family of eight. Not eleven, not fourteen, not twenty-seven: eight.
As it turns out, the number probably matters a great deal, not because of its numerical implications, but because of its symbolic implications. What do we know about the number eight? At first glance, the eighth day signifies the beginning of a new 7-day cycle. The first is complete; the new has come. We have been living and rehearsing this cycle from the day we were born. At second glance, God is all-in-all after seven thousand years. And at third glance, circumcision occurs on the eighth day, symbolizing the eventual circumcision of the heart. The number eight, then, holds within it the promise of newness and a sense of completion or completeness.
Back to Noah, the lesson is not that “only eight people were saved”—the lesson is that “all eight people were saved.” The full and complete number. God saved the entire “family” of Noah because Noah found grace in his eyes. The parallels become obvious:
We are not Noah—Jesus is Noah. | We are only the family.
Jesus is righteous and blameless. | We are neither righteous nor blameless.
Jesus is the reason we are saved. | We are not the reason we are saved.
Gone is the fear. Gone is the need to pretend we are either righteous or blameless. Gone is the need to discuss our neighbors. Gone is the misunderstanding.
If the Noah story were a parable about baskets or fish or coins or sheep, we would not miss the point. We would naturally draw out lessons of abundance. We would read it and say, “And then they were all saved—the entire family.” All eight.
Thank you, God, for Jesus. This one will give us rest. Thank you for being a God who saves.
Sandra Walker says
I’m thinking about the story of Noah at this time of our lockdown. Noah and his family were in a totally different kind of lockdown that never before had the same import. Thanks Corina I loved your thoughts on this, “this one will give us rest”.