Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch. (Genesis 6:14)
The creation ministry Answers in Genesis opens its long-awaited project the Ark Encounter on July 7, 2016. As implied by the name, the project promises to give visitors an “encounter” with Noah’s Ark. The main attraction is a full-scale model of Noah’s Ark based on the Egyptian Royal cubit of 20.6 inches and making the model an enormous 515 feet long. That is almost the length of 1 ¾ football fields.
The Ark will house many exhibits including life-sized animal models – many animated to be sure – to help visitors experience what life on the Ark might have been like. This will include the storage of food for the crew of eight, plus that of all the animal passengers. It will instruct the visitors on how the care and feeding of so many animals could be accomplished with only eight people onboard.
The importance of this attraction lies in the understanding that a large majority of people today reject the Bible as myth due to accounts such as that of the Global Flood recorded in Genesis 6-9. Even many liberal theologians compromise with the secularist in attributing the origin of the account to the Epic of Gilgamesh, or suggest that the Flood was only local and not global as described in Scripture. Many adults today, if they think of Noah’s Ark at all, remember the stories read to them as children and remember the pictures of a tiny little boat with animals sticking their heads out of different port holes. Or they remember cute little bathtub toys with which they played at bath time. So, the idea of a wooden vessel large enough to house so many animals defies reason. The Ark Encounter will change that thinking, or at least give them something to think about.
I look forward to visiting sometime after it opens, and I would encourage others to plan a trip up to northern Kentucky to experience it for yourself. While there, you can also visit Answers in Genesis Creation Museum. To get the most out of the visit, I would plan for at least three days. It will really be worth your time.
Not to take anything away from this most excellent endeavor by Answers in Genesis, but I do have one small bone to pick with the exterior design of the Ark. The ark replica under construction sports a tall stationary “sail” at the bow of the “ship” and a rudder-like structure, called a skeg, at the stern of the “ship.”
Tim Lovett is the designer of the ark replica. I do not know anything about Mr. Lovett, but according to the cover on his book Noah’s Ark: Thinking Outside the Box, he is a naval expert and a mechanical engineer. Lovett employed sound reasoning in the design of his ark. The “sail” is a wooden superstructure that rises high above the weather deck along the centerline of the ship. I say “ship” because the hull construction of this ark resembles what one would imagine for a modern ship with a tapered prow and stern. Hence the idea of “Thinking Outside the Box.” Prior to Lovett’s ship-like ark, most conventional thought rendered the Ark more box shaped – like a barge – than a navigable ship. Though unconventional, Lovett’s design makes good sense. The design prevents “broaching” i.e. catching a wave broadside. A tsunami-like wave in order of 100 ft or higher (which we would expect from the catastrophe described in the Flood account) could possibly swamp and capsize the vessel. On a navigable ship, an experienced sea captain would turn his ship into the wave to prevent broaching, but the Ark was not a navigable ship. Taking this into consideration, Lovett designed his ark with a sail and skeg that take advantage of the wind that generates the waves (sometimes but not always) and the motion of the wave to turn the ark in the direction of the wave and accomplish something similar to that of the experienced sea captain. It really is a very clever design.
Lovett defends his design by pointing to the ship construction of the ancient Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, etc., and suggests that pre-Flood people probably possessed similar shipbuilding skills. If that were the case, then Noah probably had access to the same technology, and assuming, as we do, that pre-Flood people were actually of higher intellect than modern man (being that they were genetically closer to the perfectly created man, Adam), then it stands to reason that Noah had the intellect, knowledge and skills to build such a vessel.
There Lovett argues from scriptural silence. The Bible makes absolutely no mention of maritime travel in the pre-Flood world. We can surmise that they were technologically skilled by the descriptions given in Genesis 4:20-22, but the description is rather limited: they kept cattle, made musical instruments, and worked in brass and iron. That is really not up to the standard that we might consider technology today, however, that is not the point of the narrative. These people were not “knuckle draggers;” they were highly intelligent, yet there is nothing said about their abilities to navigate the open seas. Would that not be significant? So, Noah’s shipbuilding skills are merely a product of Lovett’s speculation, and we should leave it at that. There is nothing wrong with that as long as we remember that it is “speculation,” not Bible.
Let us consider what the Bible does say. We know that the human race had become wicked and corrupt (Genesis 6:1-7) to the point that God had no other option than to destroy them all; “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD” (Genesis 6:8). God instructed Noah to build an ark. The Hebrew word translated “ark” is têbâh, and it means “box” – not a “ship” or a “boat.” It is a box. Further, God instructed Noah what building materials to use: gopher wood and pitch. No one knows what gopher wood is. Some think it is some kind of extinct tree, and some think it may have been a method of construction or a process of laminating wood. We do not know. The point is that Noah knew what it was. “Pitch” is the Hebrew word kôpher which literally means “cover,” the same word that is used for “atonement.” Some have suggested that it was bitumen – a tar – but whatever it was, it was meant to seal the Ark and make it watertight.
Noah was given the dimensions for the Ark 300 x 50 x 30 cubits (Genesis 6:15), and it was to have three decks and animal pens (Genesis 6:14). God’s instructions also included a “window” (Genesis 6:16). The Hebrew word translated “window” is tsôhar, which literally means “double light,” and is translated elsewhere in the O.T. as “noon” or “midday.” Considering these details, one would think that something so prominent as a “sail” or a “skeg” would have been noted. But again, this is an argument from silence that does not necessarily negate Noah having added this detail of his own volition. We can infer from Scripture that Noah employed some of his own initiative when, at the end of the Flood, we read, “And it came to pass at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made” (Genesis 8:6, emphasis mine). In this case the Hebrew word translated “window” is challôn, which is always translated as “window” in the O.T. This was something different than the “window” God specified for construction.
So, could the Ark withstand the ravages of the catastrophic global flood without the benefit of a sail and skeg? To answer that question, we must answer some fundamental questions. Who brought the judgment upon the human race (Genesis 6:7)? Who decided to save Noah and his family (Genesis 6:18)? Who gave the order to build the Ark and provided the specifications (Genesis 6:14-16)? Who selected and called the animals to the Ark when it was completed (Genesis 7:7-9)? Who caused the fountains of the deep to burst and for the rain to fall for 40 days and nights (Genesis 7:11-12)? Who caused the waters to continue to rise for 150 days (Genesis 7:24)? The answer to all of those questions is God. It was all God’s doing. The next question to ask is: “What was God’s purpose for the Ark?” “Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind, two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive” (Genesis 6:20, emphasis mine).
Considering that God directly planned, directed, and superintended every detail of this catastrophic event, it stands to reason that (since His plan included preserving life on the Ark) He also kept the Ark safe through the turbulence of the storm.
Noah was instructed to build a big box, not a ship. God did not require him to possess shipbuilding skills, only enough skills to build a watertight box. God would take care of the rest. So, while Tim Lovett’s design is clever, well thought out, and reasonable, it is really unnecessary when God’s plan all along was to preserve life. More than that, a simple box preserved in turbulent waters, glorifies God more than a sleek ship designed by man. A ship designed to resist rough waters glorifies the ingenuity of man; but with a simple box, God gets all the glory.
The Ark is a “type” of Christ. Salvation is through grace; it is not by works of man (Ephesians 2:8-9). Those who place their trust in Christ are saved from the storms of life and preserved to enter into a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1). It is all God’s doing. The only thing man needs to do is obey God’s call and enter through the only door (John 14:6) to be saved. No clever scheme of man, no matter how refined, can compete with God’s very simple design.
So, if you have an opportunity to visit the Ark Encounter, please do so. It will really be a blessing to you. But when you look at that massive sail and skeg, take it for what it is: a clever product of someone’s imagination. And remember, God does not need our help to accomplish His will.