Noah: Righteous first or favour first?

I had always wanted to write a note on Noah. About 2 years ago my lovely wife came to me and asked me to help her to finish her Bible Study assignments. One of the question of that study was this, “Noah was righteous and as such he found favour with God. How would you live your life to find favour with God?” I found the question troubling. It did not sit well. I was led at that moment to read Hebrews 11:7 where it says that Noah had not righteousness of his own but that he inherited by faith. In other words, God has grace upon first and then gave him His righteousness. I found this article which says the same thing.

Noah’s righteousness

By Darien Santiago

KING JAMES VERSION

7 And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.
8 But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.
9 These [are] the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man [and] perfect in his generations, [and] Noah walked with God.

ORIGINAL HEBREW

7 וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶמְחֶה אֶת־הָאָדָם אֲשֶׁר־בָּרָאתִי מֵעַל פְּנֵי הָֽאֲדָמָה מֵֽאָדָם עַד־בְּהֵמָה עַד־רֶמֶשׂ וְעַד־עֹוף הַשָּׁמָיִם כִּי נִחַמְתִּי כִּי עֲשִׂיתִֽם׃ (wayyomer yhwh emcheh eth-ha’adam asher-barathi me’al penei ha’adamah me’adam ad-behemah ad-remes we’ad-owph hashshamayim ki nichamti ki asithim)
8 וְנֹחַ מָצָא חֵן בְּעֵינֵי יְהוָֽה׃ (wenoach matsa chen be’einei yhwh)
9 אֵלֶּה תֹּולְדֹת נֹחַ נֹחַ אִישׁ צַדִּיק תָּמִים הָיָה בְּדֹֽרֹתָיו אֶת־הָֽאֱלֹהִים הִֽתְהַלֶּךְ־נֹֽחַ׃ (elleh twldt noach noach ish tsaddiq tamim hayah bedorothaiw eth-ha’elohim hithehallekh-noach)

MY TRANSLATION

7 And YAHWEH said, I will wipe out the people whom I created from upon the face of the earth; from mankind, to animal, to creeping thing, and to the flying creature of the heaven; because I repent that I have made them.
8 But Noah found acceptance in the eyes of the LORD.
9 These [are] the generations of Noah: Noah was a righteous man, he was perfect among his generations, [and] with the God Noah walked.

Here we have God’s response to the great wickedness of mankind. God had extended mercy to mankind, God strove with mankind, and gave them time to repent, and to turn to Him, however because of man’s failure to respond to the grace and mercy of God, God’s holiness demanded that justice be executed, and thus God determined to destroy man from the face of the earth as judgement for what has taken place. God’s holiness demanded justice; therefore God had determined to execute the judgement of the flood. The Scripture also says that God would destroy “both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air;…” The “beast” here refers to the same animals called “cattle” in Gen 1:24, or it could be a general term for all land animals here, and the “creeping thing,” refers to those creatures whose bellies are very close to the ground, or those whose bellies touch the ground. The “fowl” refers to those creatures which have the ability to fly. The animals suffer due to the sin of mankind (Rom 8:19-22). The KJV was correct to begin with the disjunctive “but,” even though the Masoretic Text did not have a preceding disjunctive accent to signify this, nevertheless, Verse 8 begins with a disjunctive clause, formed by the combination of the vav/waw conjunction, immediately followed by a noun/subject, immediately followed by a verb, which is justification enough for the rendering “but.”

Firstly, “grace” here, which is in the original Hebrew, חֵן (chen), comes from the root word, חָנַן (chanan), which means “to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior,” and thus “grace,” can refer to unmerited and undeserved favour and kindness, and can refer to bestowing upon man, that which he does not deserve. Some Hebrew scholars believe that it can also simply mean “favour,” kindness,” “compassion,” or “acceptance.” A question that may be asked is how did Noah find grace in the eyes of the LORD? I notice that answering this is avoided by many, and wrong answers are given by many who attempt to answer it.

Heb 11:7 is pointed to as the answer by some very able and scholarly men for why God showed Noah grace, and may be in fact the scripture to accurately reference. The Scripture in Heb 11:7 says, “By FAITH Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by FAITH.” The Bible says that “faith is the result of listening to God’s word” (Rom 10:17). Some take this to mean that Noah could only have faith in something God had spoken, and that had been made known to Noah, and so, Noah must have been saved after God warned him of the flood.

Rom 10:17 however does not mean that you must hear God’s very audible voice to be saved from hell-fire, but simply that you must hear His words, whether by Him directly or by another source, such as the written word of God, i.e., the Bible, or a preacher speaking God’s words. Noah perhaps at some unknown point in his life to us, trusted in whatever divine revelation he had from God, and was thus saved. There must have been some revelation present to the inhabitants of the world, something that they could trust in that had been revealed from God, just as how the world has the Bible today as God’s divine revelation. God wouldn’t have made it impossible for people to be saved, so there must have been some sort of revelation that could be trusted in and believed. Whatever revelation was present, humanity had rejected it, similarly as they reject the Bible today, which is God’s divine revelation to humanity.

It might then be asserted, that Noah’s faith in God’s warning was not the cause of his deliverance, although I do not outright deny this possibility, but rather, his saving faith in God which existed before God warned Noah of the flood was the cause of his deliverance. As stated before, I believe that it is very likely that Noah was already saved before God warned Noah of the flood, and some may appeal to the original Greek verse of Heb 11:7 to support Noah’s salvation as occuring after God’s warning. The Greek reads saying, πιστει χρηματισθεις νωε περι των μηδεπω βλεπομενων ευλαβηθεις κατεσκευασεν κιβωτον εις σωτηριαν του οικου αυτου δι ης κατεκρινεν τον κοσμον και της κατα πιστιν δικαιοσυνης εγενετο κληρονομος (pistei chrēmatistheis nōe peri tōn mēdepō blepomenōn eulabētheis kateskeuasen kibōton eis sōtērian tou oikou autou di ēs katekrinen ton kosmon kai tēs kata pistin dikaiosynēs egeneto klēronomos), and may be rendered as, “In trust, Noah having been warned concerning that not yet seen, having been reverent, prepared an ark to the deliverance of the family of him, through which he condemned the world, and by that trust, he became an inheritor of righteousness.”

The KJV translation could imply the same thing that the translation that I have provided implies, namely, that Noah became a receiver of righteousness, BY the faith he had in God’s warning of the flood. If this righteousness is the justifying righteousness of Jesus Christ received by faith, then it means that Noah was saved after he believed God’s warning of the flood, thus also striking out the viewpoint that Noah’s saving faith was what caused God to initially bestow His grace upon Noah. Taking this position however, makes it increasingly difficult to determine what God meant by Noah being perfect and righteous in verse 9; terms which appear to already describe the righteousness of Jesus Christ by imputation.

One proposed solution then, is to treat Heb 11:7 as dealing with Noah’s practical righteousness wrought through faith, while attributing the imputed righteousness which is the result of saving faith to the declarations “perfect,” and “just.” I am far from this view, as I really believe that the “righteousness” of Heb 11:7 is Christ’s justifying righteousness of which men are said to receive and inherit upon faith in Christ (Rom 5:19; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9; Tit 3:7). Furthermore, why and how can the words, “heir of the righteousness which is by faith,” being in the Greek, και της κατα πιστιν δικαιοσυνης εγενετο κληρονομος (kai tēs kata pistin dikaiosynēs egeneto klēronomos), which closely parallels Phil 3:9 in structure, possibly describe practical righteousness, of which no person can properly be said to be a “receiver” or “inheritor” of?

Another proposed solution would be treat Heb 11:7 as dealing with the acquisition of the justifying righteousness of Jesus Christ, received through faith, while treating the declarations “perfect,” and “just,” as a practical righteousness not quite wrought through saving faith, but a righteousness of conduct by comparison to Noah’s contemporaries. I am also against this view, because an unsaved person who is only outwardly righteous, although maybe genuinely sincere, can very hardly be said to have “walked with God.” The best alternative from my perspective is to treat Heb 11:7 as dealing with the acquisition of Christ’s justifying righteousness, while simultaneously attributing the declarations “perfect,” and “just,” to the acquisition of Christ’s justifying righteousness. It may be asserted that Heb 11:7 states that Noah prepared the ark through faith, but that it does not necessarily teach that that faith had not existed before, but only that it was by that faith Noah prepared the ark. It was by that saving faith which existed before God’s warning, that Noah believed God’s warning. Saving faith believes and trusts God. If you do not trust God or believe God then you are not and cannot be saved. If you disbelieve and distrust God somebody needs to tell you that you are going to hell. I never made that final, God did.

I believe that Noah was saved before God warned him of the flood, and that it was by that very same saving faith, that Noah believed God and consequently constructed the ark. This however, still leaves the question unanswered, as to why God bestowed grace on Noah? Even if Noah was saved before the warning of the flood, if we define “grace” here in its New Testament sense, to mean the extension of undeserved and unmerited kindness and favour, then it still cannot be that God bestowed grace to Noah in response to Noah’s saving faith, because God’s grace in the New Testament sense, cannot properly be said to be in response to faith or works, since it is always first, and is not preceeded by any change on the part of man, but instead God’s grace preceeds the change on the part of man. Salvation is a clear indicator since man did not trust God for God to bestow grace, but God’s bestowal of grace provides the opportunity for man to trust God. To say that God initially bestowed grace in response to Noah’s works, is a downright foolish and very unscholarly suggestion, because grace by very definition of what it is in its New Testament sense cannot allow for that interpretation at all. If God showed grace in response to Noah’s works, it implies that Noah merited God’s grace which is impossible.

On the other hand, if one seeks to translate “grace” as a mere “kindness,” “acceptabilty,” or “favour,” without necessarily injecting the New Testament sense of the word into the usage here, and proceeding to justify that position, especially by the fact that nobody’s eternal salvation is anywhere in the context, then one might at least escape with the possible conclusion that God was being “compassionate” to Noah because Noah trusted in Him, or that Noah found “acceptance” in God’s sight, because Noah trusted God. This is the position I lean towards. Noah did not and COULD NOT earn God’s favour. Noah couldn’t work his way into God’s favour or acceptance, neither could Noah merit God’s favour, but God graciously and mercifully favoured Noah, and concluded Noah acceptable to Him, due to Noah’s faith and trust in God, which although existed before God warned Noah of the flood, was the same faith by which Noah prepared the ark to the deliverance of his family. The word “generations,” means here “records,” “family records,” or “geneaological history of descendents.” The Scripture also tells us that Noah was, “a just man [and] perfect in his generations, [and] Noah walked with God.” Does this mean that Noah was sinless? Absolutely not. Such an interpretation contradicts other Scriptures which specifically states that “ALL” men are sinners (Rom 3:10; 3:23; Ecc 7:20; Gal 3:22). The Word of God has made it clear that a person’s “FAITH” is counted for righteousness (Rom 4:5; Gen 15:6).

When the Scripture tells us that Noah was a “just man” and “perfect in his generations,” this could be describing, not Noah’s sinlessness, for being a descendent of Adam, Noah would have possessed a sinful human nature, therefore not in that respect, but rather in reference to the imputed righteousness of the LORD Jesus Christ, received by FAITH ALONE IN CHRIST ALONE (Rom 3:28; Rom 4:20-24). The only way Noah could be described as “perfect in his generations” is if God was looking at His own righteousness imputed to Noah by virtue of Noah’s FAITH in the LORD. The difficulty which may arise as stated before, is that if Heb 11:7 teaches that Noah was saved after God warned him of the flood, then this verse increases in difficulty. I am thoroughly persuaded however, that verse 9 describes Noah’s disposition before God warned him of the flood, and that Heb 11:7 does not necessarily mean that Noah was saved after God warned Noah of the flood, but that by Noah’s former saving faith which existed before God warned him of the flood, he believed God by it, and was also justified and made a possessor, inheritor, and receiver of the imputed righteousness of Christ by that same faith.

Others hold the view that this phrase is simply describing that Noah was spiritually mature in the LORD, but personally, though Noah was indeed mature in the LORD, seeing that the text says that Noah “walked with God,” I prefer the view that Noah being described as “just” and “perfect” is in relation to the righteousness and perfection of God that was placed on Noah’s record because of his FAITH in God. The Scripture also says that, “Noah walked with God.” This is where I believe Noah’s spiritual maturity comes into play. The same phrase is used to describe the prophet Enoch who was translated (transported) from the earth by virtue of his faith (Gen 5:22; Heb 11:5). When the Scripture says that Noah “walked with God,” this is referring to the fact that Noah exercised godly standards in his life, and as a result, experienced intimate fellowship with God.

It was however God’s grace that enabled Noah to do that. It was His favour that brought Noah near. When a person is intimately close with God, you will always find that they are submitted to God, and determined to obey God, they are separated from carnal events and people, they are in a state of relative solitude, since not many people choose to walk with God, and they are in a state of persecution, since by nature, all human beings despise God, and so despise those who become too close with God. Noah was indeed spiritually mature in the LORD. He wasn’t a carnal believer, but one who loved the LORD greatly, and produced fruit (godliness) in proportion to his love for God. Of course this doesn’t mean that believers who produce no fruit are no believers at all. You have genuine Christian believers, who sadly, do not produce fruit (John 15:2). They are called carnal believers (1 Cor 3:1). Noah was not a carnal believer, he was mature in the LORD, i.e., he was a spiritually mature believer, evidenced by the statement, “[and] Noah walked with God.”

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