Adapted from a sermon by Steve Hwang—New York, USA
So those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him; and the LORD shut him in. (Gen 7:16)
Many of us, even non-Christians, are familiar with the story of Noah and his ark. God commanded Noah to build the ark and to enter it with his family of eight and every kind of animal and bird, both male and female. Before the flood came, Noah obeyed God and did all that was commanded of him. But what is noteworthy is that the hand that finally sealed the door of the ark belonged to God: “the LORD shut him in.”
Today, in 2020, the government has shut our doors. Many of us have stayed at home—in lockdown—for forty days and, in some cases, longer. But how does our confinement compare with Noah’s? What can we learn from being shut in? Why did God shut Noah and his family in the ark? What was lockdown in the ark like? Finally, how did they come out of their lockdown? These are some questions discussed in this article.
WHY DID GOD SHUT THEM IN?
Before God flooded the earth, He “saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5, emphasis added). He later revealed to Noah: “The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth” (Gen 6:13, emphasis added).
Even before the Mosaic Law was established, since the time of Adam and Eve, the people had rebelled against God’s perfect will to satisfy their desires. It must have been a truly terrifying and immoral time to live in, where men, women, and children thought only of evil. The wickedness was so much that “the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart”(Gen 6:6).
We often perceive the God of the Old Testament as vengeful and unforgiving, yet the Bible teaches us that the God we worship is full of love, mercy, and justice. This destruction was not lightly done, nor was it pleasing to God. The author of Hebrews reminds us that our Lord transcends time—He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow (Heb 13:8)—so He does not experience regret as we do. Yet, at this time and in this space, the Bible expresses that the Lord was “sorry.” Only such great sadness and grief would move God to destroy what He had lovingly created. The Lord shut Noah and his family in to save them from His destruction.
A LOCKDOWN CHANGES EVERYTHING
The waters prevailed fifteen cubits upward, and the mountains were covered. And all flesh died that moved on the earth: birds and cattle and beasts and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every man. All in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, all that was on the dry land, died. So He destroyed all living things which were on the face of the ground: both man and cattle, creeping thing and bird of the air. They were destroyed from the earth. Only Noah and those who were with him in the ark remained alive. (Gen 7:20–23)
The flood had irrevocably changed the environment and people’s lives: destroying the biblical records of giants—strong, great in stature, and living even to nine hundred (Gen 6:4)—introducing the four seasons (Gen 8:22), and the eating of meat (Gen 9:3). Similarly, for us today, our lives have been changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. What we once considered to be everyday occurrences—traveling, shopping, dining out, doctor’s consultations, family visits—these, too, have changed, and we must establish a set of “new norms.”
Undeniably, the flood would have hugely impacted the lives of Noah, his family, and all the living creatures in the ark, not to mention the very landscape of the earth. However, as prepared as Noah was—he preached the way of God for one hundred years—many were utterly unprepared. Despite Noah’s warnings and calls for change and preparation, the floodwaters hit them when they least expected, and they perished according to God’s will. Today, some countries have prepared wisely. Yet, others have struggled to keep up with the demand for medical supplies and experienced empty shop shelves in the first few weeks of the lockdown. Most tragically, ever-mounting deaths have devastated developed nations such as those in Europe and America.
GOD’S WILL IS ABSOLUTE
When God was aggrieved by humanity’s wickedness, His decision to destroy the earth was not without His mercy. Noah preached to others and tried his best to warn those around him. Similarly, today’s pandemic is not without God’s mercy. Despite human attempts to explain the virus through bats and pangolins, and blame its spread on poor hygiene, government cover-ups, and political and medical ineptitude, the pandemic is the work of God, just as the flood was.
When the flood came, only eight humans were saved; the rest of the world’s population perished. We now see similar, heart-rending scenes on the news: mass deaths, healthcare workers exhausted and in tears, loved ones dying alone, and funerals attended by a handful of people while family and friends stay away. The death toll statistics are equally as alarming. Coronavirus has now claimed more American lives than all wars, domestic terrorist threats, and mass shootings combined since 1945 and more British lives than the World War II Blitz. In April, national US news reported that crematoriums were operating around the clock as their workload had more than doubled. In Colombia, a company has designed cardboard hospital beds, which can be folded into coffins. This pandemic is just a foretaste of what will happen in the future: we must not take the warnings lightly, but be prepared and seek salvation today.
LOCKDOWN IN THE ARK
“And this is how you shall make it: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. …And behold, I Myself am bringing floodwaters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall go into the ark—you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. 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.” (Gen 6:15, 17–19)
Staying in the ark preserved the lives of Noah and his family. The ark was constructed entirely according to the measurements of God. At 80,000 square feet, with three levels, it was more extensive than an American football field. At the time, other boats were not built according to God’s precise measurements, and of course, they were destroyed.
Today, spiritually speaking, are our homes built according to God’s measurements? Do you teach your children according to the Bible? Do you treat your spouse according to biblical standards? Are your concept of wealth and material possessions the same as God’s? If we build up our home, ourselves, and our families based on God’s measurements—His teachings and His guidance—indeed, we will be prepared and ready to be saved, just as Noah and his family were.
We often imagine the ark floating peacefully on the water, as depicted by many children's books. However, this was no ordinary flood. The Bible tells us that “on that day all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened” (Gen 7:11b). The force of the water would have been greater than a tsunami. However large the ark was, it would have been tossed about by the waves. Later, the description continues: “The waters prevailed and greatly increased on the earth, and the ark moved about on the surface of the waters” (Gen 7:18). This description reflects our situation today: as we shelter in the haven of our homes, our lives will continue to be rocked by outside forces. Noah and his family, while looking after the wild creatures inside the ark, would have had to remain steady in heart and in faith, to ride out the flood and trust in God’s plan. Similarly, we must remain steadfast and focused during this pandemic, no matter the waves of negative news, and however impacted our lives may be by the lockdown.
PATIENTLY ENDURE LOCKDOWN
Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters were on the earth. (Gen 7:6)
And it came to pass in the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, that the waters were dried up from the earth; and Noah removed the covering of the ark and looked, and indeed the surface of the ground was dry. And in the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dried. (Gen 8:13–14)
If you count the number of days Noah and his family were shut in the ark, you will see that they were in there for a total of not just forty days, but 422 days—more than a year!
When the lockdown was first announced, many could not stand even one week at home, let alone a month. Stuck in flats with no gardens, at home with children climbing the walls, and caring for vulnerable family members—for many, it has been a terrible experience. But compared to Noah and his family, we really cannot complain. Their one source of natural light would have been the window at the top of the ark. They were surrounded by animals, eating, moving, and defecating in the same space! Those of us who can go for daily walks, shop online, and have access to online entertainment during this lockdown are blessed indeed!
Paul writes that we “glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom 5:3–4). Being in a lockdown requires us to endure. Pre-lockdown, our lives consisted of going from place to place, being busy, living fast, and having no time to stop, think, reflect, and evaluate. We did not focus on persevering, developing character, and, finally, nurturing hope. Now, while we may be longing to return to work, to our fast cars, fast food, and fast lives, the Bible teaches us that we must endure. We cannot miraculously take away pain and suffering: endurance, perseverance, and resilience through hardships will eventually reap the reward of joy. This is something that many cannot accept. It is the reason why some people leave a job after one year because they cannot stay with long-term projects, and the reason why resilience is now explicitly taught in schools. If Abraham had this attitude, he would have given up on God’s promise—after all, he was already seventy-five when God promised him descendants, and he had to wait another twenty-four years for this to be realized. There is a purpose behind the lockdown. God wants us to use this time wisely, to slow down, and to learn patience, like Noah, who went through a period of endurance training.
Finally, when the waters subsided, God allowed Noah to leave his lockdown, but it was not as simple as opening the door and walking out. Noah spent time observing and, again, waiting patiently for the right time to leave the ark. First, he sent out a raven that did not return. Then he sent out a dove, not once, but three times. The first dove left and returned, as water still covered the earth and it had no place to land. The second dove returned with an olive branch in its beak, signifying new life on earth. Finally, the third dove left and did not return, signaling just the right time for Noah and his family to step out of the ark.
After being confined with his family and the world’s greatest zoo for a year, Noah must have been longing to leave. Yet, he knew he had to observe, check for safety, and patiently wait on God’s explicit instruction: “Go out of the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you” (Gen 8:16). Noah did not willfully ignore the lockdown (as some people have done, as reported by the news) or decide for himself when would be the best time to leave. He obeyed God and followed instructions.
Today, even though many countries have opened up, it does not necessarily mean it is safe to return to business as usual. We still need to observe, check for safety, and patiently wait on the Lord. Some churches have started to worship with small numbers, and other churches may be considering doing the same. The key is to put it to prayer and ask the Lord when the best time would be to resume services. It was God who told Noah when he should leave the ark, and, likewise, it will be God who tells us when to leave our lockdown. When that moment finally comes, we can be at peace, knowing God directs our movements.
When we do, finally, leave the lockdown, we must follow in Noah’s footsteps and build an altar to praise and thank God:
Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the LORD smelled a soothing aroma. Then the LORD said in His heart, “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done.” (Gen 8:20–21)
The number of people who perished in the flood seems unimaginable. There were only eight survivors. The same applies when we think of the magnitude of COVID-19 cases and COVID-related deaths. Noah knew to offer thanksgiving, and we, too, should offer prayers of thanksgiving.
We have seen how our situation today parallels Noah’s. Do not be angry or stressed over staying at home because this is saving your life. We may feel as though we have been cut adrift, as the floodwaters rise around us. But only a heart at peace, steady in God’s hope, will keep us going. Endure, hope, and be patient.
 Anthony Cuthbertson, “Coronavirus tracked: How US deaths from Covid-10 compare to other great tragedies,” Independent, June 3, 2020, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/coronavirus-us-death-toll-update-covid-19-vietnam-war-9-11-terror-attack-a9531146.html.
 “More people have probably been killed by coronavirus than were killed during the Blitz,” Full Fact, June 24, 2020, https://fullfact.org/online/deaths-coronavirus-blitz/.
 Rick Jervis, “ ‘It’s carnage’: Crematoriums run around the clock to meet demand from coronavirus,” USA Today, April 20, 2020, https://eu.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/04/20/coronavirus-crematoriums-meet-demand-cemeteries/5148779002/.
 “Hospital bed designed for coronavirus transforms into coffin,” CNN, accessed September 8, 2020, https://edition.cnn.com/videos/world/2020/05/18/colombia-coffin-shortage-coronavirus-pkg-vpx.cnn.