God’s Covenant with Noah
Overview of all workshops in this Rotation:
--for 4th-6th grade:
- Art- Use printmaking techniques to create a picture that depicts the student’s interpretation of the story with the focus on grace.
- Cooking- Make dog biscuits. Discuss ways to be faithful and obedient to God.
- Music- Make rain sticks. Explore the images of God presented in this story.
--for 1st- 3rd grade:
- Science- Explore using the science of floating boats, measurement, and prisms to teach the story of Noah. Focus on the obedience & God’s covenant.
- Storytelling- Hear the story of Noah and his ark via Noah’s wife. Lesson focuses on learning the story as kids then re-tell the story using puppets.
- Video- Watch the video “Discovering Dry Land” from the Great Bible Discovery series.
Note: These workshops were written for 1st through 6th graders though not all grades visit all workshops.
Scripture Reference: Genesis 6:5 - 8:22, 9:8-17
Key Verse: “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” Genesis 9:13 (NIV)
Rotation Objectives — After completing this Rotation, participants will be able to:
- (Older students) Locate the story in the Bible; (Younger students) Name that the story is found in the first book of the Old Testament, Genesis.
- Tell in his/her own words the story of Noah, the ark, the flood and that the sign for remembering God’s covenant is a rainbow.
- Define a covenant as a promise or agreement.
- Identify the covenant God made with Noah (and with all of us).
- Recognize that God saved Noah because of his faithfulness and obedience to God.
- Explore the images of God that are created in this story — sorrowful, judging, punishing, rescuing, promising, filled with grace.
Noah obeyed (and built).
Wind blew. Earth dried-up.
God promised…and a rainbow was revealed.
People turned-away/God grieved
Our story is found early in the book of Genesis. At chapter six, it is not that far away from the colossal creation stories of chapters one and two. However the situation has changed since the idyllic Garden of Eden. The Lord looks upon the earth and sees violence and inequity. The thought of people’s hearts “was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5). What is God to do about his creation? Interestingly God is not angry but is rather is sad. “The Lord was grieved… his heart was filled with pain” (Genesis 6:6). God decides to eliminate humans by using a flood. However there are some people he decides to spare – Noah and his family.
“Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD” (Genesis 6:8). The Bible also tells us that: “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God” (Genesis 6:9). Things must have been really bad if Noah was the only “blameless” man living on earth at the time! Here blameless does not necessarily mean without sin. In fact the Bible records one of Noah’s sins in the verses following 9:20. Rather it implies that Noah loved and obeyed God. The words in Hebrew, which are used to describe Noah, suggest a proper attitude rather than a proper behavior (Gibson). Certainly Noah had faith in God, a faith that would be needed considering what God was about to tell Noah.
God spoke/Noah listened
God tells Noah to build a huge ark. Much has been written about Noah’s boat; first let’s look at what the Bible tells us. God told Noah to build the ark 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high. A cubit was a unit of measure – the distance from a person's elbow to the tip of the middle finger, which is approximately 18 inches. This makes the ark 450 feet long (about one and a half American football fields), 75 feet wide (equivalent to seven parking spaces), and 45 feet tall (a four-story building). Noah was to build three decks and to put rooms in it and to cover it with pitch inside and out (Genesis 6:14-17).
There has been much theorizing about what the ark could have looked like. The word “ark” means a box or chest, and not strictly a boat (Fox). It could have looked more like a rectangular box; after all, it didn’t have to steer it just had to float. It is interesting to note that this boat was built according to the standards used by modern ship builders: a size six times longer than it is wide. The remnants of Noah’s ark have been searched for over the years. Eyewitnesses claim to have seen a boat-like structure sticking out of the ice on Mount Ararat. There is however, no hard data to back up these claims.
God promised/ Noah obeyed/ Noah built
God told Noah that he was “going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens” (Genesis 6:17). But at the same time God also made a promise – the first of two promises. “But I solemnly promise that you, your wife, your sons, and your daughters-in-law will be kept safe in the boat” (Genesis 6:18, CEV) Here, even in the middle of judgment, is the first hint in this story of God’s grace. God promises that Noah’s family will be safe. Noah’s family included his wife, their three sons, and the wives of his sons.
Bible doesn’t talk about Noah’s neighbor’s response to his boat – but we can imagine that they mocked him. This is an example of real faith – building a boat on dry ground especially while being harassed! It is unclear as to at what point in the building process that God told Noah that he planned to destroy the earth. Perhaps Noah had finished building the ark when God told him this. That would surely be an example of blind faith! Regardless of when he knew, Noah was obedient to God: “Noah did everything just as God commanded him” (Genesis 6:22).
How long did it take to build the ark? The answer is not obvious in the Bible; it takes digging. Actually it is in a verse outside of our recommended reading: Genesis 6:3.
Then the LORD said, “My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years.”
Scholars interpret this, as being the length of time it would take Noah to build the ark: 120 years. That’s a long time to work on a project! It is even more significant considering Noah’s age at the time – 480 years old. (Genesis 7:6 says Noah was 600 years old when the flood started.)
It is interesting to compare this story to stories where other Biblical characters meet God, such as Moses meeting God in the burning bush. In that story Moses had a conversation with God. There are no words recorded that Noah spoke! But Noah obviously decided to obey God. He trusted God that a flood was coming, even when there were no clouds in the sky.
The ark is now complete, and ready for boarding. But wait – how many of each kind of animal? Genesis 6:19 speaks of two pairs of animals:
You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you.
But Genesis 7:2-3 speaks of a different number of animals:
Take with you seven of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and two of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth.
This disparity in numbering of the animals is but one disagreement found in our story. (The other major difference is how long the flood lasted.) The answer can be found in that scholars propose that this portion of Genesis is actually a compilation of two written sources. (Gibson) The first voice is that designated the “J document” (the Jahwist or Jerusalem source, whose writers were from Judah, the Southern Kingdom). The second is the voice of priests, designated as “P” or the Priestly source. One subtle difference points out these two different sources – the word they use to denote God. The P source uses the name Elohim or “God”; the J document uses Yahweh or “the LORD”. (Gibson)
Regardless of the number of animals that boarded, how they got to the ark is interesting. Many children’s stories indicate that Noah went out to get the animals. The Bible tells a different story – the animals came to Noah. God was in on their collection.
Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark. (Genesis 7:15)
God also played a part in the final boarding process:
Then the LORD shut him in. (Genesis 7:16b)
Had the people ever seen a flood before? How about rain? It’s not clear but the Bible suggests that it hadn’t ever rained. Genesis 2:5-6 makes reference to a subterranean watering system. Genesis 7 is the first time that rain is mentioned.
All the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. (Genesis 7:11)
God decided to destroy all living creatures. So how do we teach this story without focusing on destruction? Carefully! Actually there is little attention given in this story to the devastating affects of the flood – just three verses including 7:22
Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died.
What about children who question floods, which occur today in our communities? Reassure the students that floods are not a result of God’s judgment but are a naturally occurring part of our world. Don’t get “hung up” on this part of the story. The important point is God's mercy and love (Lindsley) and that Noah’s faithfulness and obedience to God are what saved him.
Before moving on in our story it is important to point out that there are numerous flood stories in many different cultures, telling of a destructive flood that wiped out nearly all civilization. American Indians even have a flood story! Much discussion has focused on the striking similarity between these many flood stories. Which one story came first? Surf the Internet for much discussion and disagreement on this topic.
Rain had fallen for 40 days and nights. The earth was flooded; even the mountains were covered to a depth of more than twenty feet (Genesis 7:20). Imagine what life would have been like on the ark – dark, crowded, noisy, and stinky! Did God talk to Noah during this time or was it a time of soundless waiting? It could have potentially been a frightening time. God had promised that Noah would be safe but he hadn’t told him how the story would end. Why is it that in our lives there are always periods of silent waiting? What can we learn in our waiting?
God remembered/ Wind blew/ Earth dried-up/ Birds flew
After one hundred and fifty days God “remembered” Noah. This has been called the turning point in the story. (Fox) God made a wind to blow over the earth, which began to dry up the water. Five months after the flood started the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. (Pronounced: AIR-uh-rat').
After waiting some more, Noah sends out a succession of birds to test the status of earth. First he sent a raven, then a dove three times. The second trip for the dove yielded an olive branch, signifying that land had been found. An olive branch has long been considered a symbol of peace.
Everyone disembarked/ Noah worshipped
God told Noah that everyone should leave the ark. How long was Noah on the ark all together? 12 and ½ months! Noah’s first act is to build an altar and to worship God with burnt offerings. (The extra animals for a sacrifice are accounted for in the J document version of this story.) “It was a further evidence of his faith, and surely an expression of his gratitude for the salvation that God had provided.” (Deffinbaugh)
God promised/ A rainbow is revealed
God responds to Noah’s sacrifice by “thinking” to himself:
Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood (Genesis 8:21b).
Now that the flood is over, God acknowledges, “that humans haven’t changed! They still deserve judgment.” (Williams) What was originally the reason for a flood becomes the reason for not sending a flood. (Fretheim) This is saying that God realizes that we will continue to screw up, but he will reach out for us anyway! This is good news! God is a God of grace rather than just a God of justice.
Next God establishes a covenant with Noah; never again will a flood destroy earth. What is a covenant? A covenant is a solemn promise or agreement. This vow is made not just with Noah but also with all of us: “a covenant for all generations to come” (Genesis 9:12b). Moreover God provides a sign of his covenant:
I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth (Genesis 9:13).
This rainbow sign is primarily to remind God! Yet a rainbow can become a secondary sign for people, one in which they may take comfort and hope. (Fretheim) It is evidence that God keeps his promises. God is faithful to his word.
One other word about Genesis 9:13: This is our key Bible verse; the one in which we encourage the students to learn by heart – which is different than memorizing. Memorizing is like learning facts for a test; this is a different sort of learning. We say we are keeping God’s word in our heart. There may come a time when you are feeling low, like you’re nobody special, and then from your heart come these words. And you’ll say, oh, yeah – God made a promise with me!
Images of God found in this story
As with every Rotation story we teach we need to ask ourselves: what does this story teach us about God? We have already looked at the grace of God exposed in this story. But look also at the images of God that are created in this story:
o A God feeling sorrowful,
o A God who judges, but doesn’t want to,
o A God who goes beyond justice and determines to save every animal and bird,
o A God who commits to the future of a less than perfect world,
o A God who promises never to do this again (Frothier).
A God who sealed his promise with a rainbow.
- Butler, Trent C. Editor. “Entry for ‘ARK’”. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.
- Constable, Thomas L. “Notes on Genesis.” 2005. https://www.planobiblechapel.o.../genesis/genesis.htm
- Deffinbaugh, Bob. “The Flood.” 2007. http://www.bible.org/page.php?page_id=68
- Fox, Everett. The Five Books of Moses. New York: Schocken, 1993.
- Fretheim, Terence E. The New Interpreter’s Bible: Volume 1 “The Book of Genesis.” Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994.
- Gibson, John C. L. The Daily Study Bible (Old Testament) Genesis. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1981.
- Lindsley, Steve. “Noah's Ark & Flood Lesson Set - St. Elmo's Choir.” 2001.
- Williams, Michael E. The Storyteller’s Companion to the Bible: Vol. 1. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1991.
Except as noted, Scripture quoted is taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
When version noted “CEV”, Scripture quoted is taken from the Contemporary English Version © 1995 by American Bible Society. Used by permission.
If you use this material, even in a modified form, please include the following reference:
Hulbert,Carol. ”God’s Covenant with Noah: Bible Background." Sept. 2007. Place URL where lesson found inside angle brackets<>.
A Lesson Set written by Carol Hulbert from:
First United Methodist Church
120 S. State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
Copyright 2007 First United Methodist Church, Ann Arbor, MI.
Permission to copy materials granted for non-commercial use provided credit is given and all cited references remain with this material
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