How We Taught This Lesson in the Past: Lesson 6: “Noah … Prepared an Ark to the Saving of His House”
Our current manual covers Noah, the flood, and the Tower of Babel in a single lesson, with the stated purpose that “class members [will] desire to live worthily [interpreted, according to the illustrative material, as obeying God through the medium of a modern prophet] and avoid the evils of the world [interpreted as avoiding punishment for sin].” The 1930 manual, while drawing the same basic morals, is a little less black and white, a little more thought provoking.
The Noah lesson, for instance, raises but does not attempt to answer the physical difficulties of a literal universal flood and the housing of the animals. The old lesson asks class members to consider what his ancient neighbors thought of Noah, and where he found the strength to walk with God in the midst of an ungodly society. The lesson on the Tower of Babel approaches the Old Testament as a text with its own ancient audience and purpose; it teaches in simplified style that out of all the materials available to him, Moses selected the items that were of most use to his people at the time, to mold them into a separate nation apart from the other peoples of the world and to hold themselves aloof from the world in order to live a godly life.
Lessons for 23 February and 2 March 1930:
Traditions Regarding the Flood.
It is more than passing strange that nearly every nation of the primeval world has some tradition of the flood. These traditions bear a remarkable likeness to the Biblical story of the flood. Of course many arguments have been advanced to show that such a thing could not have happened, such, for instance, as that it was contrary to certain physical laws, that it could not have spread to the seacoast, that no ships had yet been built to weather such a storm, or to house the animals mentioned.
Our concern, however, is not with the physical, but rather with the moral side of the story. The occasion for the flood was the degeneracy of the antediluvians. The narrator of the story describes the demoralized condition of society before the flood in this striking manner: “God saw that wickedness of man was great, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
This is a gloomy prospect indeed. There is no representation of good, no moments of betterment, no visiting of compunction, no turning from evil. It was a world of men violent and lawless, unrepentant and uncompromising. That corruption and depravity had taken hold upon the hearts of men seems clear. Such evil is not characteristic of man as we know him. Hence God determined to obliterate and wipe out the human race.
The Call of Noah
From the Bible story announcing the birth of Noah, we are led to the conclusion that his father, Lamech, had already sensed the evils of his time for he said, “This one referring to Noah), shall comfort us I our work and for the toil of our hands because of the ground which the Lord hath cursed.” He would help in wresting from the stubborn soil the necessary sustenance for the family, he would help in devising ways to make life as tolerable as possible, but most of all, he would help to resist the ever increasing evil of society which was becoming more and more manifest.
If rescue work was to be undertaken, would God not call Noah to the labor? This son “shall comfort us” was the impression which came to Lamech, not only in his lifetime, but according to his vision of faith, after he had passed, God’s work would still go on in the world through the efforts of this gifted son. And in keeping with this thought, God called Noah, and Noah responded valiantly: “But Noah found grace in the eyes of God – Noah was a righteous man, and perfect in his generation: Noah walked with God.”
“Noah was a righteous man,” which, as applied to him, means that he was sincere, earnest, thoughtful, religious, and of a spiritual turn of mind. Amidst abounding ungodliness he held ‘the faith’ to the extent that he ‘walked with God.’ We may well conclude that he was a man of exceptional character since he was able to stand out alone against the men of his time. Behind the simplicity of results are qualities, moral and intellectual, attainments attended by discipline through long training, and not found in men of ordinary ability.
Noah Walked with God.
Noah’s personal. piety is described in the expressive phrase: He “walked with God.” this expression implies companionship. It means something more than God’s guardianship and protection. it means an intimate communion. To walk with another implies a movement toward a common object, looking to the attainment of the same end. We choose for our companions those whom we love. We may assume that God does the same. Noah “walked with God.”
Unless we are thoughtful about our reading, we are apt to overlook some of the outstanding qualities of greatness in Noah. “By faith Noah, being warned of God concerning things not seen as yet, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; through which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.” Herein lies the secret of a man of faith. From the narrative in Genesis we get the impression that the righteousness of Noah was due to the grace of God. But the grace of God is always a companion of faith.
Noah was surrounded by a people who had lost “the faith,” who had broken God’s commandments, whose every imagination of their thoughts was only evil continually. To retain the faith under such conditions required a stout heart, a strong will, and a Godlike purpose. Not only was Noah able to stand like adamant in an impure moral and social atmosphere, but his very life was a protest against the corruption of his time.
He was a preacher of righteousness when righteousness was unpopular. He walked in God’s atmosphere when none but he could detect such an atmosphere. He believed God when the warning came of an approaching calamity. It is sometimes difficult for us to believe in the reality of an unusual event, even after it has taken place, while to accept something “not seen as yet” is altogether beyond most of us. Not so with Noah. He believed God and acted accordingly.
How few of us realize that faith is the truest foresight. It is very likely that the least wicked people in Noah’s time, if asked what they thought of him, would have said, “A good sort of man, but weak-minded.” No one gave him credit for being long-headed; but it is not the simple who “foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself.” The flood was contrary to the world’s experience. There never had been a flood.
Noah was ready to accept the call and to do all that God commanded him. It was this “allness” that made the ark a reality. Most of us are quite willing to adopt God’s plans if we find that they fit our own preconceived notions, but if not, we are quite as willing to reject them. Noah built the ark according to God’s plan, length, height, width, windows, doors and all. He took God’s specifications as they were, and thereby saved his life.
Note; this lesson is taken almost wholly from the writings of Oliver C. Dalby – formerly an instructor in Old Testament at the L.D.S. College.
Questions and Problems
1. Give the story of the flood.
2. What do you admire most in Noah’s character?
3. See how many characteristics you can name which are respected in men, and which are found in Noah’s attitudes and actions.
4. If conditions arose in your community today which called for a man to stand out all alone and do something which the whole community ridiculed, how do you think such a man would be treated or respected?
5. Do you think this statement is true? “There could be no progress in the whole if a few men were not willing to stand out against the thought and ridicule of society.”
6. Name some men that the world today honors because they were willing to stand alone and against popular will for a cause or a principle.
7. Name Noah’s sons.
8. What was the rainbow made to symbolize?
9. Comment on the use of the rainbow as a sign of the covenant.
The Beginning of the Hebrew People
In commencing this lesson it will be well for all the students to remember what we said in the first lessons about the Bible. If the book of Genesis was compiled for the instruction of the people of Moses’ time, it is more than natural that the things which were the most essential for the people then will be found in this book. Moses’ great problem was to build a mighty nation out of a group of slaves. The purpose of this nation’s being was to preserve the worship of the true God. Moses had to instill a spirit of aloofness from other people; to emphasize a reason for this aloofness. The chosen people of God must be made conscious of their great responsibility. Moses’ God was to be a God of morals. A God that recognized right and wrong in men’s actions. A God that has a purpose in what He does; and therefore His chosen people will have a destiny.
How is the best way to teach things? First: the people must be taught about their origin. It is for this reason that genealogies are stressed. Through these genealogies also descent of priesthood and authority are traced. Then, too, by comparing genealogies, an explanation of other peoples or nations is made. The first step in arousing a national ideal and creating what we call patriotism today is to emphasize differences. The spirit of war, conquest, the destruction of those who were different were aims of Moses. Therefore we will find these things also stressed in his “history.”
Scholars tell us today that stories of various sources are found in the book of Genesis. We, of course, have no trouble in understanding that because Moses’ work was of necessity a compilation of those things which were essential to his nationalistic and religious purposes. The book of Genesis is not a complete history. It is an explanation of how things became as they were in Moses’ time.
Note how splendidly the genealogies found in Chapter 10 of the book of Genesis explain the origins of most of the peoples of the children of Israel came in contact with. First in the genealogy of Shem we find the origin of the Hebrews themselves. They get their name from “Eber” (Genesis 10:24) and “all the children of Eber’ (Genesis 11:14-16( denotes those who came from the other side of the Euphrates, that is from Haran from which place Abraham passed down into Canaan. In the genealogy of Ham we find two words used which had great significant meaning to the ancient Hebrews. “Mizraim” (Genesis 10:6) meant “Egypt” to the Hebrews and “Shinar” (Genesis 10:10) meant “Babylon.” These words are found among many others that have no meaning to us today, but you see how when we discover the key to the significance of these words they explain the origin of the nations the Hebrews were most interested in. Egypt and Babylon were of Ham; the peoples from the “isles of the Gentiles” (Genesis 10:5) were from Japheth, and the peoples from “Aram” (Syria, genesis 10:22) were closer to the ancient Hebrews because they like the Hebrews were from Shem.
Now because of the curse which was put upon Ham the fact that the Hebrews’ greatest enemies came from Ham satisfied splendidly their national pride. It satisfied their religious pride, too, and soon the gods of the Egyptians and the Babylonians became objects of hate.
Viewed in this light the story of the tower of Babel becomes more interesting. The writer does a very interesting thing. In the story of the great Tower we find many lessons. It first of all tells of the beginning of the Babylonians and their origin, say the Hebrews, came from “confusion” and they imply that the word “Babylon” actually means that (Genesis 11:8-9) in that they infer that “Babylon’ comes from the Hebrew word “Babel” which means “confusion.” But that is not true. ‘Babylon” is not a Hebrew word. It is a Babylonian word and means “Gate of God.” The word “gate” has many interesting meanings and uses in most Asiatic languages. It meant the gate where the king lived. Later on, and still later the king himself was called the “gate.” In Japan the word “Mikado” merely means gate, but it was what the people called the emperor and in Turkey before the world war the sultan was called the “Porte,” which also means gate. These interesting language customs can be traced back to Babylon, that great ancient capital.
Questions and Problems
1. If the Book of Genesis is a book written or compiled to explain beginnings, the origins of how many things can you find in the story of the Tower of Babel?
2. What great Book of Mormon people trace their beginning back to the time of the Tower of Babel?
3. What were the names of the sons of Noah?
4. Does the story of the flood teach that God is a God who likes the good and dislikes the bad? Explain.
5. Can people build well if there is a misunderstanding about the plans and purposes of the building?
6. Give a Fable of Aesop’s which illustrates the same lesson as the story of the Tower of Babel.
7. Can you think of any other stories which illustrate the motto: “United we stand, divided we fall”?
8. See if you can find a State of the American Union which has this motto.