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Leaving A Legacy Amidst a Global Disaster

Photo by peter-f-wolf Unsplash.com

My parents both passed away within the last decade. They are buried in a Jewish cemetery in North Lauderdale, Florida. Whenever I am in the Sunshine State, I make every effort to show my respect and visit their gravesites.

I find it a bewildering experience to observe the engravings on the grave stones in this memorial park. Some headstones illustrate that the departed were avid gamblers. On their markers are carved images of dice, playing cards, roulette wheels and cocktail glasses. The only thing missing is whether after thirty years of gambling, they came out ahead or died with a heavy debt.

Why would someone who lived for almost a century desire to be known for their gambling passion? What kind of legacy are they passing on to their loved ones?

In this article we look at Noah, a man who left us a legacy of faithfulness to God in the midst of an impending worldwide disaster. He has many descriptions written about him in Scripture that chronicle how he handled the universal crisis that confronted him. Any one of these statements could have been written on his tombstone: a man who “found favor in the eyes of the LORD (Genesis 6:8); “a righteous man, blameless in his generation . . . walked with God” (Genesis 6:9); “an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith” (Hebrews 11:7) and a “herald of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5).

Noah left us an example of how we can conduct ourselves when life does not meet our expectations. Yes, there are vast differences between ourselves and Noah that impede us from drawing an exact parallel. Yet there are some spiritual attitudes possessed by this patriarch that can help us during the current COVID-19 crisis of crippling economic deprivation, extreme health hazards and separation from loved ones.

A spiritual legacy of continuation despite calamities

Recently a friend steered me to a text someone sent her about the meaning of the word “quarantine.” The Latin root of the word is “forty.” More information is supplied by the CDC website:

“The practice of quarantine . . . began during the 14th century in an effort to protect coastal cities from plague epidemics. Ships arriving in Venice from infected ports were required to sit at anchor for 40 days before landing. This practice, called quarantine, was derived from the Italian words quaranta giorni which mean 40 days.

However, the text sent to my friend went a bit further by posing the question “What does the Bible say about the number forty?” How did this person jump from a Latin word meaning “forty” in the context of a quarantine to the Bible’s handling of the number forty? The message went on: “The flood lasted forty days. Moses left Egypt forty years. Moses stayed on Mt. Sinai to receive the Law forty days”. More examples of “forty” in the Scriptures were included. Then the other shoe dropped.

In reference to the coronavirus, the text claims something will happen after forty days. I ask, “What forty days? Starting from when? Why “days” and not “months”. Forty means “change,” according to the writer. Unfortunately, the coronavirus has lasted well over 40 days. There has been some change, but nothing on a biblical scale.

While these speculations are interesting, they are unreliable and subjective. Yes, the Bible uses numbers like 7, 70 and 40. But to take a leap to apply these numerical references in the Scriptures to a contemporary dire situation is not taught in the Word of God.

With our feet firmly planted on the ground, we want to take a look at Noah to learn from his attitude when he confronted a major calamity. His experience of constructing an ark to escape the coming flood was real and not a tool to communicate something cryptic and mystical for our current pandemic.

According to the chapters in Genesis that discuss Noah, God wanted this soon-to-be sailor and his tribe to survive to enter a post-Flood world. We read in Genesis 6:17-18, “For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.”

Surprisingly, the Lord did not spare Noah solely to start a new humanity. Instead, the Creator wanted this patriarch to continue in his walk with God in a post-Flood world and to transfer his faith to his children and subsequent generations. Do we have the kind of relationship with God we would want to bring into the next generation?

The most important aspect of the current crisis is how we are handling the lack of security. Are we locked into an unhealthy fear that causes us deep depression and anxiety? Are we walking in total trust in the Lord like Noah when he faced his cataclysm?

Some want to deal with our present medical deadlock by stocking up on toilet paper, paper towels and hand sanitizers out of unfounded anxiety. Acting out of fear can take us to a place where we become even more fearful. Rather than selfishly stock up on material goods, our approach must be to build up a growing inventory of trust in the living God. Our trust in God will migrate over to the “new normal” after this pandemic.

Photo by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash

We either have a fear of the unknown that debilitates us or a fear of God that propels us forward during difficult times. This is where we must start in our desire to leave behind a legacy. Instead of standing still frozen in dread, God enables us to step forward during unstable times. Noah was not stifled by anxiety. Instead, he replaced human worry regarding the unknown with a unique confidence in God. This is the kind of connection to God Noah would pass on to a post-Flood world.

As children of God, we need to be stockpiling our connection to God and reach out to others in need. We are surrounded by people fearful lest they run out of food and hygienic supplies. People are facing loneliness. Individuals are frightened by the possibility of contracting COVID-19. Sadly, they are hoarding their concerns and anxieties. Like Noah we are called to have a cache of a consistent walk with God that can withstand these times of instability. Our calling is to live out of our walk with God like Noah and face the insurmountable obstacles in our lives without fear. The operative word is “fear.”

A spiritual legacy of obedience in calamities

Coloring Outside the Lines

As a young boy I gravitated towards exploring my artistic abilities. I enjoyed experimenting with oil paints, coloring using crayons and sketching with artist’s pencils. Do-it- yourself books provided me step-by-step instructions on how to become the next Jon Gnagy. I practiced with a picture already printed on a surface with numbers guiding me where to apply specific colors. Nevertheless, I still contemplated the freedom to compose my own color scheme, whether I was painting a vibrantly colored parrot or a sand-swept seascape. If I wanted I could I paint a body of water purple adjoining a blue beach. The final results of my composition surely raised the artistic eyebrows of my parents.

Noah was given a canvas on which he was to construct an ark under the guidance of the Lord. Genesis 6:14-15 lays out the architect’s blueprints of the ark that would provide humanity a fighting chance, “Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark 300 cubits, its breadth 50 cubits, and its height 30 cubits. Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above, and set the door of the ark in its side. Make it with lower, second, and third decks” (Genesis 6:14-16).

Ordinarily, Noah was expected to follow God’s design. Yet he might have been inclined to improve on the size or appearance of the ark. Perhaps he preferred only two decks with a longer hull. Maybe he found a better sealant than pitch to keep the water from leaking into the ark. However, any creative juices Noah might have stirred up to construct the ark his way would have been an act of disobedience to God.

All Noah needed was God’s warning about the Flood and he responded with obedience. He did not need a thunderstorm as a precursor to know God was serious. Without much data other than God’s command, the patriarch remained obedient.

Yet Noah’s efforts resulted in more than building an ark; he was to preach to his generation the need for repentance. Rather than criticize the onlookers who perhaps mocked him as he erected this strange craft, he demonstrated what a man faith and trust in the Creator looked like. Noah knew he was accountable to God for one quality: obedience to the Creator’s instructions.

In our current situation people have been informed about COVID-19. Nevertheless, many sincere people still choose to see things their own way despite seriously affecting their own health and the health of others. They pay attention to conspiracies, question medical science and put their trust in experts who have little to no medical expertise.

Noah had the future of human civilization in his hands and had no room to ignore God. We too have limited room to ignore the instructions we are asked to follow for the health of others. As citizens of the U.S., it makes scarce sense to act in a self-centered manner when so many others are affected by our questionable decisions.

We read passages like Philippians 2:3-5 which states, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (ESV).

We hear these words of scripture, but then our political agenda influences us to shift in another direction. God is left out of the picture. The ark we construct according to our desires may not bear us up in torrential flooding. We ultimately build a leaky legacy in which our confidence in God is lip service rather than obedience to the Lord.

A spiritual legacy of reverent fear in calamities

You may be wondering why I went off on a tangent about the number “forty”. I become extremely concerned when people use the Bible as a magic book as if the Scriptures are filled with hidden meanings only the enlightened ones can decipher. The unsuspecting are made to feel one needs be a codebreaker to unlock the mystical messages allegedly in the Holy Writ. This kind of delusional thinking discourages people from considering that the plain sense of Scripture can speak to us.

When Noah heard from God about the flood bearing down on his generation, he went to work on the ark. He did not pursue an alternative message tucked away in God’s instructions. He knew his personal future and God’s promise of a future Messiah to redeem mankind was dependent on his compliance. Anthony C. Thiselton in the Eerdman’s Commentary on the Bible on Hebrews explains, “Noah provides an explicit model of the future-oriented faith of a person who acts in the present on the basis of a promised future which as yet cannot be seen”. This is faith in action.

Let us hone in on what is said further about Noah in Hebrews 11:7:

“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear (Italics mine) constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.”

Hebrews 11:6–7 (ESV)
Photo by alco from Pixabay 

In the description of Noah provided by the writer of the Book of Hebrews, this maritime engineer is described as a person who obeyed God out of “reverent fear.” This fear was not an experience where Noah’s knees were knocking together while he is hammering in nails to construct the ark. Rather, Noah showed respect towards the person of God by taking His instructions seriously. Thiselton in his commentary on Hebrews states, “Noah ‘built an ark’ on no other basis than a divine ‘warning’ that not only saved his household, but thereby ‘condemned’ the refusal of ‘the world’ (11:7) to take his ‘preaching by action’ seriously” (Anthony C. Thiselton, “Hebrews” Eerdman’s Commentary on the Bible). The quality at work in Noah we do not want to miss is “reverent fear.” But what exactly is reverent fear?

Reverent fear demonstrates caution before men and God.

Korhan Erdol of Pexels

The Greek word for “reverent fear” used by the writer of Hebrews is “εὐλαβέομαι” (eulabeomai). Hebrews 11:7 is the only place in the New Covenant where this word is found. Various English translations make worthwhile attempts to translate this Greek word: “reverence” (NASB); “reverent regard” (NETS); “holy fear” (NIV); “moved with fear” (KJV). From these translations, it is clear Noah operated with a fear that was not static, but dynamic. Having a fear before God that immobilizes us is not the fear discussed here. Instead, Noah’s faith took that step forward and initiated the construction of the ark.

Let’s take a deeper look at the Greek word “εὐλαβέομαι”. If one looks back at ancient Greek sources, the word in itself does not speak of fear of God, but rather “to act cautiously, circumspectly” [Xenophon, Plato] (Thayer Greek Lexicon). The word is used in the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint), in Proverbs 2:8 speaking of “watching over the way of the saints”. Thus, from Greek classical literature and the Greek Old Testament, the word leans in the direction of “acting cautiously; to be discreet, to beware.” The person who has “reverent fear” is afraid to not be cautious. Noah did not want to be sloppy or careless in the way he conducted himself.

When this Greek word came into vogue in the New Testament, the term took on the added meaning of showing “reverence for God.” Bill Mounce adds the definition, “to be influenced by pious awe.” Thus, the term in the context of the New Testament revelation describes a person who is fully aware of the dangers of his situation as He walks before God. He acts circumspectly because he know he must answer to the Creator. Therefore, someone like Noah is aware that in a difficult time, he is accountable to God in the way he deals with calamities.

Today I observe well-meaning people who exercise their lack of fear of COVID-19 by not wearing a facemark or refraining from practicing social distancing. Their concept of not having fear is expressed by ignoring the rules of safety meant to protect their health and the health of others. A young man in my local Starbucks walked into the store without a facemask and was closer than six feet to the staff and customers. I asked him why he has a problem heeding the posted requirements. He looked at me and laughed. I suspect he is a person proud of his lack of fear, Yet he fails to understand ignoring rules and disregarding the respect for others is not being fearless but lacking smarts.

Reverent fear demonstrates humility before man and God

I have observed many social media posts and memes during the current COVID-19 crisis in which the poster proudly declares that they are not afraid of the virus. I understand that scripturally. My trust during this pandemic is ultimately in the goodness and power of the Lord. However, in a practical sense, how does declaring you are fearless address the reality of an impersonal virus that attacks people regardless of their level of fear. The virus does not know someone is unafraid. COVID-19 will attack regardless.

Faith before a holy God humbles us and makes us cautious how we live. The issue is not ultimately about the over-reach of the federal, state or local government. The issue is health and submission to the authorities the Lord has put in place. Of course, we are free to disagree with some of these orders. A handful of these regulations are illogical and inconsistent. Nevertheless, our disagreement with the order of ruling authorities does not give us the freedom to disregard them. Such an attitude manifests pride rather than humility or being without fear.

Yes, Noah feared God. Yet that fear did not make him reckless, ignoring any precautions or concerns. He was totally in touch with what he needed to do-walk with caution in a very difficult time.

Noah was given the responsibility to bring all the animals on the ark to save them to survive and reproduce in the post-flood world. The Scriptures teach, “And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female. Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground, according to its kind, two of every sort shall come in to you to keep them alive. Also take with you every sort of food that is eaten, and store it up. It shall serve as food for you and for them” (Genesis 6:19-21). Noah was told to be cautious, pay attention to details and think of the future world that would exist after the Flood. Are we any different? Do you think about how your actions today might affect the well-being of future generations?

Conclusion

Noah Post Flood
photo by jeffjacobs 1990

From the example of Noah and his faithfulness to the Creator, we have learned about obedience, humility and demonstrating reverent fear in the midst of conflict. At the conclusion of the Flood God sent a dove to Noah with a branch in its beak. It was a sign of God’s favor and an indication the flood waters had subsided. Life was ready to begin again. We too shall be given an indication when we can return to the “new normal.”

After the trials of this pandemic, we may have to look back and ask ourselves some penetrating questions about our behavior during COVID-19.

I recently became upset with a Facebook post I read. The writer of the post was concerned how a seasoned pastor was being treated on social media because he, as an older man, confessed his concern about his health in light of COVID-19. He acknowledged on his profile page he was fearful of going out into public places in Los Angeles without a mask.

In response, his Facebook “friends” piled on him with negative criticism, accusing him of fear mongering. The critique was often mean-spirited and heartless. This vigilant man had devoted three or more decades pastoring his congregation and playing a key role in the Los Angeles messianic community. Yet how quickly these Facebook buddies turned against him.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with this servant of the Lord in wanting to take precaution to protect himself during this pandemic, he does not deserve this kind of treatment. No one does. Yet he experienced this social media pile on because he desires to walk circumspectly in relation to his health. He is being humble before the Lord and others and manifesting obedience in light of his health concerns.

I wonder how Noah would have faired if he were alive today? Would he be criticized because he obeyed the Lord to build an ark in a world that has never seen torrential rain? Noah provides us an example of a servant of God who was both obedient and accountable to the Lord. May we heed Noah’s spiritual perspective of continuation, obedience, and reverent fear of the Lord in trying times.

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