Great Moments in Bible History
Friend or Foe?
It would be hard to be charitable in such a situation. Imagine going on a cruise and having it rain all day and all night for over five solid weeks. You wouldn’t want to see water ever again. But it was even worse than that for Noah. Not only did it rain for the first 40 days, but he had to stay cooped up in that ark with all of those animals for nearly a year. What do you think he thought of water after that?
So it comes as quite a surprise to us to find that several thousand years later Peter described Noah’s experience by saying that “eight souls were saved by water” (1 Peter 3:20, New King James Version). Can you imagine Noah’s reaction to that statement? “Saved by water?” he might reply, “Why, we were nearly drowned by that water. We would have been, too, if it hadn’t been for the ark that I built. Peter, why don’t you say that we were saved from the water?”
This raises an interesting question. Were the flood waters Noah’s friend or his foe? In one sense they were his foe. Had he not built the ark to protect himself, those waters would have drowned him just like they drowned everyone else. But in another sense they were his friend. They lifted up the ark and saved him from death.
God had determined to destroy the human race. It was just too wicked for Him to stomach. He could have used any of several means to destroy mankind: fire, cold, plague, drought, etc. He chose to use water so that Noah and his family could be saved from the universal destruction.
So in a very real sense Noah and his family were saved by water. This was the first time in the Bible that water was used in such a way. But it was not the last. In the next article we will look at several other unusual uses of water in the Bible .
Water, Water, Everywhere
There is a tremendous amount of power to be found in water. A river raging out of control can wash away whole houses. A storm at sea can toss ships around like corks. And a huge tidal wave can demolish entire towns. But these catastrophes are mundane compared to what water did at times in the Bible.
The flood of Noah’s day must have made every other flood look like a gentle spring shower. What is even more unusual about that flood, though, is that it separated the righteous from the wicked. The wicked people were all destroyed and the righteous were all saved.
Many years later water was again used in a similar unusual way. When Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt they marched until they were blocked by the Red Sea. Pharaoh’s army came charging after them (Exodus 14). Moses stretched out his rod over the sea and the waters divided. The Israelites were able to march across without even getting their feet wet. When Pharaoh’s army tried to follow them Moses stretched his hand out over the sea and the waters came back together, drowning the soldiers. The good people were again saved by water while the bad people were destroyed.
Several hundred years later there was an army commander by the name of Naaman who had leprosy (a terrible skin disease). He visited the prophet Elisha, wanting to be healed. “Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, ‘Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean’” (2 Kings 5:10). That command made Naaman angry. Why should he have to wash in the Jordan? How could that help his leprosy? But God had done stranger things than that with water. Naaman nearly blew the whole thing when he got angry, but his servants calmed him down and pointed out how easy it would be to obey the prophet. When he went and dipped in the Jordan he was completely cured, just like Elisha had promised. Of course, Naaman understood that the water had not cured him. God had. God had simply used the water to teach him (and us) a valuable lesson: that we must obey God no matter how foolish His commands may seem to us. When we turn over to the New Testament we find that the very first miracle Jesus did was with water. They had run out of wine at a wedding feast. Jesus told the servants to fill six pots with water (John 2:7). They did and when they served it, it had become wine. Jesus didn’t have to use water to perform this miracle, but He chose to. And the servants, of course, had no choice but to use it .
Perhaps the greatest use of water ever was introduced by Jesus when He told Nicodemus, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5). Jesus did not explain why water would be needed to get someone into God’s kingdom. Perhaps it was the same reason Elisha said Naaman must dip himself in the Jordan in order to be healed: just because God said to.
But what does it mean to be born of water? How can someone be born like that? Peter answered that question, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). It was Peter also who compared baptism to the way Noah was saved by water: “Eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:20-21). It is obvious from these two passages that if anyone wants forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ he must be baptized in water.
But someone may very well object, “How can water save you? There’s no magic in water. It’s the blood of Jesus that saves.” But how did water heal Naaman? Was it magic water he dipped in? No. He was healed because he believed God’s word and showed that belief by doing what God said. The same is true today of baptism.
But what about the blood of Jesus? It is most certainly true that we are saved by His blood. But how do we make contact with that blood? Paul said, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4). Jesus shed His blood at His death. Paul says we are baptized into that death. So it is actually in baptism that we are saved by the blood of Jesus. Surely that is the greatest use of water in the history of the world !
Born of the Spirit
In the previous article we noted that Jesus told Nicodemus that if he wanted to get into the kingdom of God he had to be born of water and the Spirit. We learned that being born of water meant being baptized. But what does being born of the Spirit mean?
One of the biggest problems with God cleaning things up is that we sinful humans have an amazing ability to mess things back up almost as fast as God cleans. With the flood God wiped out all the wicked people so that only righteous Noah and his family were left to start a new race of people on the earth. Yet we do not have to read more than a chapter after that in the book of Genesis to learn that people were sinning again. That is a pattern that continues throughout the Old Testament. It is very discouraging, especially for anyone who would really like to obey God. But even people who want to obey God soon learn that wanting and doing are two different things. The apostle Paul talked about this problem when he said, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15).
Toward the end of the Old Testament God made a wonderful promise. “I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God” (Ezekiel 11:19-20). The new spirit that God promised to give His people is closely related to being born of the Spirit.
How do we get this new spirit? It is important to understand that it is a gift of God. It is not something that you or I can do for ourselves apart from God. Yet it is available only for those who want it. In fact, the same verse we looked at in the previous article gives the answer to this question as well. “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).