By faith Noah, when he was warned about things not yet seen, with reverent regard constructed an ark for the deliverance of his family. Through faith he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. – Hebrews 11:7 (NET)
Such an interesting character, this Noah fellow. We love to tell the story of him and his ark, of God’s judgment upon wickedness through the flooding of the world, and the miraculous preservation of the animals, as they, along with Noah and his family, rested safe in the ark. Here in Hebrews, we learn something quite interesting about Noah. We learn that “he was warned about things not yet seen.” Essentially, in this, though it was negative, Noah was given a promise of something to come. Having received this warning, Noah, “with reverent regard constructed an ark for the deliverance of his family.” So Noah, though he could not look out and see what God had promised, responded in faith to the promise by building an ark for the purpose of delivering his family. What was the result of this? We can see that “he condemned the world,” but more importantly for our purposes here, through this response of faith to the unseen promise of God he “became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.”
Who does this sound like? It sounds a lot like Abraham. If we look into the fourth chapter of Romans, what is it that we find there in regards to Abraham? We read “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (4:3b). With this, of course, the Apostle Paul is quoting from the fifteenth chapter of the book of Genesis. Before we can get there, however, we need to know why this is said of Abraham. In chapter of twelve of Genesis, God speaks to Abram and says, “Go out from your country, your relatives, and your father’s household to the land that I will show you. Then I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great, so that you will exemplify divine blessing” (12:1b-2). Here, we could safely pause and say that Noah, in the salvation that God offered to him, most assuredly exemplified divine blessing.
God continues speaking to Abram and says, “I will bless those who bless you, but the one who treats you lightly I must curse, and all the families of the earth will bless one another by your name” (12:3). With this, we can further connect Abraham and Noah, as Abraham stands in the line of covenant speaking and covenant language that begins with Noah, because there is only a people to be blessed through the nation into which God has promised to make him, because God told Noah, and Noah was faithful to, “be fruitful and multiply; increase abundantly on the earth and multiply on it” (Genesis 9:7).
Continuing on, we arrive in chapter fifteen, where Abraham, still childless though having a promise from God, says “O sovereign Lord, what will you give me since I continue to be childless, and my heir is Eliezer of Damascus?... Since you have not given me a descendant, then look, one born in my house will be my heir!” (15:2-3) Abraham was taking God very seriously. He was not wavering at the promise. These are questions rooted in faith. Because of that, God does not rebuke Abraham but says to him, “This man will not be your heir, but instead a son who comes from your own body will be your heir… Gaze into the sky and count the stars---if you are able to count them!... So will your descendants be” (15:4-5). Here is where we find the source of Paul’s quote in Romans, where we then read “Abraham believed the Lord, and the Lord considered his response of faith as proof of genuine loyalty” (15:6). Here, along with seeing that righteousness is equated with a genuine loyalty to God, we learn that just like Noah, Abraham was given a promise of things not yet seen, reverently regarded the promise of God, and through faith became an heir of righteousness.
Going forward in Romans, we find that “Against hope Abraham believed in hope with the result that he became the father of many nations according to the pronouncement, ‘so will your descendants be’.” (4:18) Like Abraham, did not Noah believe God against all reasonable probability? For Noah, what God was talking about seemed highly unlikely, based on mankind’s experience up to that point, and it was no different for Abraham. Yet Abraham, and Noah likewise, “did not waver in unbelief about the promise of God but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God” (4:20). God received glory through Noah’s faith-motivated construction of the ark, in confident expectation that his God would deliver on His promise. Both Noah and Abraham were “fully convinced that what God had promised He was also able to do” (4:21). This “was credited to Abraham as righteousness” (4:22), which is what the Hebrews’ author says of Noah as well.
So what is it to which all of this is leading? Just like Noah, and just like Abraham, who became the heir of righteousness (Noah) and the father of many nations (Abraham) when they believed, so we too become heirs of God’s promise of a resurrection just like Jesus when we believe, by Holy Spirit gifted faith, in His new covenant of the Gospel message that Jesus is Lord. We become recipients of the down payment and heirs of the complete inheritance of eternal life that is set forth in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Paul writes, in the same way that Abraham was credited with a complete trust in God’s covenant faithfulness, it is us “to whom it will be credited, those who believe in the One Who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” (4:24). Though Noah became an heir of righteousness that comes by faith, “God had provided something better for us” (Hebrews 11:40a), as we live and walk and serve in Christ’s Resurrection power, as instruments for the out-raying of God’s glory.