Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » In Our Ward: Lesson 6: “Noah … Prepared an Ark to the Saving of His House”

In Our Ward: Lesson 6: “Noah … Prepared an Ark to the Saving of His House”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - February 14, 2010

“Noah … Prepared an Ark to the Saving of His House”

Moses 8:19-30; Genesis 6-9; 11:1-9


To help class members desire to live worthily and avoid the evils of the world.

Scripture Discussion and Application

We have now reached one of the most familiar stories the Bible, the history of Noah and his ark and the great flood. It is an episode that has so many layers:

Perhaps because of the striking visual possibilities, Noah and the ark is one of the first scriptural events presented to children: You can probably think back to brightly colored pictures from your childhood showing the zebras and elephants and giraffes walking two-by-two up a ramp and into the side of the ark. Or maybe you had a toy ark filled with wooden or plastic animals. It was a very simple story then: God told Noah to build a boat, and Noah and all the animals were saved from a great flood.

Then the story got a little more complex as you ran into it as an older child: You learned that some of the animals went aboard by sevens, and you thought you were pretty clever when you caught an adult in a trick question (or maybe that was just me). You learned to watch for the rainbow after the rain and remembered that it was a sign of the promise made by God to Noah that he would not drown the world again. You learned that the ark was measured in “cubits” and that a cubit was the length of this segment of the human body [demonstrate], and you thought you were pretty clever when you measured the family car and told your parents how many cubits long it was (or again, maybe that was just me). Maybe you wondered how it smelled inside the ark, or why the tigers didn’t eat all the smaller animals. You probably heard jokes like “the reason there aren’t any unicorns today is because they were too late to get in the ark.”

As an adult you may have grappled with more serious questions: Why did God allow so many people to die, even children who were innocent of the wickedness of their parents? You may have wondered whether the story as recorded in the Bible was even a literal event when you read that the flood waters were 15 cubits deep (between 20 and 26 feet, depending on whose arm is the measurement for the cubit), and realized that that depth could not cover the mountains as Genesis claimed. You may have learned that “forty” is a symbolic number in Hebrew, meaning representing “sufficient,” and wondered whether the rain fell for exactly forty days and forty nights, or for an undetermined length of time that was sufficient to accomplish the Lord’s goals. As a Latter-day Saint, you probably learned that the man known in mortality as Noah is the same personage known as Gabriel elsewhere in scripture.

And today we’re going to talk about yet another layer of meaning in the story of Noah, his ark, and the great flood: Its meaning for us in our generation.

It is amazing to me that a single story could have so many layers and raise so many issues, especially when you consider how little we actually know about those events. The scriptural account is brief – any gossip magazine will give you more words about the break-up of two movie stars than we have in scripture about one of the most significant events of ancient history. It is that brevity and the incompleteness of the record, I think, that allows us to read so much into the story.

First of all, why should we care about Noah and the ark and the flood today? There are scores of stories in the Bible that we never get to in Sunday School, yet we return over and over throughout our lives to the story of Noah. Why?

[Among the answers offered, elicit the ideas that God gives us warnings of the calamities that are to come and gives us time and means to prepare for them – to build our own symbolic arks – to lessen the painful effects when those calamities come. Read verses from Genesis/Moses that support these ideas as they are mentioned.]

Why was Noah able to deliver his family from the calamity of the flood? What qualities allowed him to do so?

[Among other answers offered, elicit the ideas that Noah was a just man, that he listened to the Lord, that he took action (as opposed to only praying for relief), that he fulfilled his duties to his fellowmen by warning them as well. Read verses from Genesis/Moses that support these ideas as they are mentioned.]

In a way very much like Noah building his ark in response to the Lord’s directives, we can also “build arks” in a metaphorical way to help us survive – physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually – the calamities that we can expect from life. We all know that the typical Sunday advice of prayer, reading scripture, attending the temple, and living the gospel are important general guidelines for meeting crises. For the rest of our class time, I’d like us to discuss specific ways, in addition to righteous living, of building arks to see us through future troubles. I have three scenarios to discuss; perhaps you will think of others for us to discuss if there is time.

1. Every one of us has or will have to part from the most important people in our lives, through death. If your spouse or your child were to pass away a year from now, what concrete, practical steps can you take this year to be able to cope with that loss?

[Ensure temple sealings have been done, tell loved ones now why and how much you love them, straighten out old grievances now so that you don’t have regrets later, practical details of estate planning, knowing where the paperwork is, making final arrangements, etc.]

2. If you haven’t already, chances are good that someday you will be faced with information or experiences that will challenge your belief in the gospel as you understand it now. That may be hearing something about church history that isn’t as faith promoting as we could wish, or being faced with scientific studies that challenge the accuracy of scriptural accounts, or at least the literal, fundamentalist ways you have heard those accounts taught, or perhaps a social or political issue will affect your family so strongly that you question a stand the Church has taken on that issue. What practical steps can you take to “build an ark” that will help you maintain your faith when those rains start to fall?

[Take a step back and identify what is truly essential to belief in the gospel – for example, that Noah was a real historical figure and that by following the instructions of the Lord he and his family were spared; it isn’t essential to know exactly how deep the water was or whether “forty days and forty nights” is literal or metaphorical – also, to study the gospel more deeply than we often do, listening for answers in conference and in scripture reading, considering the sources of critical information and recognizing the spin that is used, etc.]

3. This does not happen, of course, in our ward [!] but let’s suppose you move to another ward, or someone you care about lives in a ward, where a bishop or Relief Society president or other leader isn’t all he or she should be. Maybe they simply have a personality that clashes with yours, or maybe you think they teach false doctrine in some way. Maybe they deal unjustly with you, or maybe they become involved in actual crime or serious sin. What steps can you take now to “build an ark” that will help preserve your faith in the priesthood or in the claim that God calls his servants?

[Recognize that the principles are true even if any particular individual doesn’t live up to the call; acknowledge that you are not perfect in your own behavior, knowledge, or judgment (admitting that ahead of time is easier than in the heat of a hard situation); distinguish between the individual and his calling, and resolve to honor the position even as you struggle to honor the person.]

Invite other scenarios if there is time, and discuss. Allow time for a somewhat lengthier testimony than usual to close.

One class member wanted to discuss those times when faith and life are in a rut or in a plateau and you don’t feel like you’re progressing. In response, one suggested building up a network of friends who can give you a spiritual boost when you need it. Another talked about reading good books that gave new ideas to think about.


Bear testimony in a personal way to my own solutions to the three scenarios, and if relevant to any others suggested by class discussion.



  1. Excellent and insightful. This is much more likely to motivate people to live more christlike lives than comparing the size of Noah’s Ark to an ocean liner or aircraft carrier.

    Comment by john willis — February 14, 2010 @ 8:34 pm

  2. Ha! Thank you john, I appreciate that. I do think it’s important for people to have a mental image of the Biblical story as a way of hanging on to the theological and symbolic details, and that comparison chart would be helpful in accomplishing that. But I think by the time adults are participating in a Gospel Doctrine class, they have heard and read the story so often that they must have that image already formed. It’s time, I think, to talk about WHY those stories matter after all these thousands of years.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 14, 2010 @ 8:46 pm

  3. I like the notion of building our own arks in different ways, against different storms. (Makes me think of the scripture by Paul about not being tossed to and fro….)

    One thought that I’ll share piggybacking off of a comment that was made in our class is the notion of building strong relationships. Those on the ark had to work well together. As we ‘build our arks’ we can seek for harmony and unity and love and an ability to work and serve and do in ways that don’t leave us wanting to, er, throw someone off the boat! :)

    Comment by m&m — February 15, 2010 @ 1:07 am

  4. … or into the tiger pen!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 15, 2010 @ 5:04 am

  5. “Take a step back and identify what is truly essential to belief in the gospel.” I think this is extremely important. I enjoyed reading your lesson.

    Comment by Steve C. — February 15, 2010 @ 4:02 pm

  6. Marvelous, Ardis. I love your insights.

    Comment by Jami — February 15, 2010 @ 7:08 pm

  7. Ardis, #4, :)

    (…or the lion’s den? )

    Comment by m&m — February 16, 2010 @ 12:43 am

  8. I wish you were our Gospel Doctrine teacher. As y ou are not, I appreciate you sharing your outline and preparation with us.

    Comment by Maurine — February 16, 2010 @ 11:56 pm

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