ALIVE: Chapter 17 The Empty Ark

Bodiless God watched the winds blow over the face of the waters, and was reminded of the beginning, moments before He called forth light and the moments right after when His view of the earth was of nothing but water and wind. He was mesmerized by the movement of the waves slamming against each other. This time He needed to agitate the sea to cause the waters to evaporate into the air. Meanwhile, sand and soil drank and drank as rapidly as they could. God knew that after such a devastating blow to the biosphere, the earth would need more than wind, it would need regeneration. It was too late to start from scratch; too much had been invested in this planet. After all, what could not be undone was the motion of the earth around the sun, and the moon's rotation around the earth. The universe had been set in motion at least two thousand years before. There was no reason to undo that; besides, God had his precious human creation, and the animals and swarming creatures in the ark to consider. God had destroyed creation as much as He thought prudent.

Several months after the rain stopped, when land in high places showed its face, the process of regeneration began. God sent out seeds and planted trees here and there as He did in the beginning. Nothing drastic; just a small spark of new life that the earth needed, and only enough for it to kick-start the proliferation of vegetation. God only called forth enough trees and plants to support life for the few living creatures and His children. There was no great announcement about it as in the beginning. It was just one of many unnoticed interventions that our creative involved and loving Father, God performs every day of every year.

While gazing at the violent ocean, God remembered back in His infinite memory, the garden that He had prepared for the man and the woman. The lovely green grassy garden in Eden that contained the powerful tree of life and the deadly tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God allowed that garden with both of its trees trees to vanish in the flood. Someday, He thought, humankind would discover these trees and Eden again, but not as a place on earth. It was too late for that.

Nostalgic God's thoughts turned to the evil in men's hearts. How He wanted to destroy that wickedness; so much so that He caused the destruction of all humankind and all creatures except for those in the ark. Forty days and forty nights of rain devastated the earth, but it did not wipe out wickedness and evil from it. Something more was needed. He could not eliminate evil in humankind by welding the violent sword of nature. He saw that now.

It was not because evil was more powerful, or more shrewd. It was because He tried to fight evil with evil. God wondered if it had been a mistake to even try. 'No' He answered Himself. A lot of good had been accomplished in the ark. Noah and his family had in many ways been restored to His image and likeness. Removing all that wickedness was essential to that. Freeing them from the anger, the murderous rancor that pervaded their village eliminated the tendency for Noah's sons to hate back. God wanted to live in a world where no one hated, if only for a moment. His eight people were now pure in their weakness and complete reliance on Him. God loved them, and they loved Him. Besides, humankind would forevermore know the power of God to annihilate what He made, and of the superhuman restraint that He knew would be needed not to do it again.

The gratefulness of the family of man for the olive leaf impressed God. They interpreted the olive leaf as a sign of Mercy knowing that God could have killed them too and worrying every day, that He would. Heaven knows there were reasons, Japheth's murder, Ham's gluttony and stealing, everyone's doubts and fears, their lack of faith and trust, and yet, instead, God protected them and lead them through the devastating flood, and showed them by the olive leaf that the end was near; that the earth was almost ready to host them again. Noah knew that his family deserved destruction and were given renewal. God knew that Noah knew that.

God recognized a power that was more transformative than destruction. The power of His love and His ability to forgive and to be the merciful God humankind needed to survive. Was it possible, thought God, for Him to put down the broad brush He had used to create light and the sky and seas and land, and that He used to destroy all of the inhabitants of the earth, and to pick up a hair-thin tool and work slowly and carefully, and painstakingly to shape the human psyche from the inside, one person at a time, as He had done with Enoch, and Methusalah and Noah?

Noah and Sha-me, Japheth and Coochie, Ham and Aurelia, Shem and Lazaria worshipped God for His mercy and for guiding the ark to its resting place. Their faith and gratitude was worth the devastation of the earth. And yet, there had to be a better way. God knew that He could not go through this again.

God realized that He needed to keep in mind that that though they are made in His image and likeness humans are only flesh, a wind that passes and does not come again (psalm 78). Humankind would test Him over and over again, and provoke Him. But He would have to find a better way, more ways, to be merciful. Had He not been merciful to Cain when he killed his brother, and to Adam and Eve when they violated the one command? God knew that some day He would have to become human to fully comprehend the plight of a creature with the psyche and soul of God, and the vulnerability of flesh. How He despised death when it removed a loving soul from His reach. But first He would do whatever He could to avoid such drastic measures.


"Father Noah, a full week has passed. Let's send this dove out again." said Lazaria offering her patriarch the dove nested in the palms of her outstretched hands.

"Yes, my dear. It's time." Noah and Lazaria walked to the gathering room, meeting Shem and Japheth along the way.

"Come with us, help father open the window." said Lazaria cheerfully. "We are going to release the dove again!"

The four captives paraded over to the gathering room with the nested dove in Lazaria's hands followed by father Noah in procession.

The day was calm. When the men opened the window, they were surprised to see more earth uncovered. The bright warm sun penetrated the cool dark room with scintillating anticipation of new life.

Sha-me and Aurelia entered and then Ham and Coochie one by one. The warm, luminous, healing sun called each one in from the four corners of the ark where they had been quietly filling the barrel of time to the brim.

The dove did not wait for ceremony, but as soon as it spotted the opening he flew like the wind out of confinement into the new world to explore, wanting never to return to its prison again. His job was done when he had delivered the olive leaf; now he was free to go.

"I am certain that we have seen the last of that bird." said Ham to the others who were all smiling and nodding with envy.

Noah said, "Family, let's prepare for our own departure, but let's not be too impatient, the dove may return. We do not know what it will find."

"Not this time father. I don't believe we will ever see that bird again." replied Aurelia gleefully.

"May we too leave father? It looks good enough for me." begged Coochie with echoes of nodding heads around her.

"No!" replied Noah emphatically to Coochie and the nodding heads. "The Lord has yet to give me permission. Instead, let's remove the covering of the ark."

With a chorus of alrights and okays, all seven followed Noah to the deck stopping to pick up whatever tools they could find to help them with the massive chore of disassembling the roof where they had placed the cisterns that had been dry for weeks.


In Noah's 601st year, in the first month, and on the first day Japheth was the first person to arrive in the gathering room. He stood gazing out the window to see that the land was more expansive than ever before, even much more than the day before. The blazing sun had replaced the wind as the tool God used most to restore the land mass.

'Noah looked and saw that the face of the ground was drying.' "It won't be much longer, my children." Said Noah. "Now we are called to be patient."

The truth was, the family was too weak to argue. They needed the sun to strengthen them before they could start the journey to find places to settle.

Without permission from either God or Noah to disembark each member of the family had to adjust to a new phase of inner struggle. No one knew if it would be a day or another year of confinement in the smelly and loud ever-shrinking boat. The view of the outside world, especially with all the dry land immediately surrounding them and the bright sun by day and clear starry nights made the ark of their refuge feel more and more like a prison. For the first time since they entered the boat a year earlier the ugly sounds of bickering and quarrels further polluted the rancid air.

Ham and Japheth talked to each other about escape, but then started arguing about the details, until the arguments turned into fist fights so violent that Shem had to step in and break it up.

"Look brothers! No one is going anywhere until we are given permission. Now get used to that!" shouted Shem.

"You are just a coward, Shem. What's the threat? All the predator animals are in here, and every one of them is as weak as a kitten."
"God is out there Ham," shouted Shem, "and He wants to be obeyed. Once we get out there too we will need each other, so cease this fighting, and be patient! Ham get out of here; leave me alone!"

"Who are you to tell me what to do Shem! I am so sick of your holier than thou attitude, I could vomit!"

"Well then go vomit Ham; it will do you good, and give the animals something to eat."

Japheth chimed in, "Hey squirt, did you say we should be patient? PATIENT, are you seriously telling us to be patient! I see no reason to stay here, I have been patient enough! What are we waiting for, to starve?!"

"You idiots, both of you," shouted Shem even louder than before, at the same time wondering where he was getting the strength."have you learned nothing all of these months? Do you not remember what it was like to live among all those heathen, that rude, angry, disrespectful clump of humanity. Do you remember how we were relieved to have vicious animals in our midst rather than to have to endure our neighbors? Do you remember why we are here in the first place? God, the same God who forgave our forefathers Adam and even his murderous son Cain, could no longer abide the evil in men's hearts. So much so that He banished them from His world. Do you want Him to regret that He saved you? What is another day or another year of being here when the alternative is to show God that we are as bad as the wicked men He destroyed, and less worthy than ignorant animals?"

"Get out of my face." grumbled Japheth and left the room. Ham walked away too without a word. Noah walked in.

"What's going on here Shem?"

"Nothing, father; less than nothing." It was Shem's habit to diffuse hostility rather than to build on it. "What should we do today to prepare for our departure?"


In the second month after the dove had flown away, on the twenty-seven day of the month, three weeks after the fore-mentioned squabble, God spoke.

God said to Noah, "Go out of the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons' wives. Bring out every living thing that is with you ."

"Hallelujah!" Shouted every son and daughter of Noah."Let's go!"

They all rushed down to the hold on the ground floor where an era of months before Japheth and Ham had barred the door tight with a beam to keep the doomed from barging in. The memories of that day seeped into everyone's mind and from there trickled down to sadden their hearts. Only Lazaria and Coochie showed evidence of it with tears welling up in their eyes. They each wiped the tears quickly away forcing the thoughts and memories of the howling begging people to dissipate as fast as possible.

The beam budged. After a long struggle, it became dislodged. This task would have happened much faster had the men been as strong as they were when they barred it closed. The sense of urgency was not as strong either, nor the fear of possible intruders, now dead.

After much time and struggle, the doors finally opened, the first to be released were the birds whose imprisonment was the most unnatural. Lazaria and Shem had gone to the bird room together while Ham and Japheth worked on the door.

"Dear, dear friends," sang Lazaria to her feathered friends "I have come with good news this morning! Today you leave this wooden chamber and return to your precious sky. Today!" Shem knew that it was not the words that stirred the birds, but the sense of them that made the bird's wings flutter wildly. A mad aerial rush for the door forced Lazaria and Shem to the ground. Shem wondered how they would tell the horses and sheep, lest they be trampled to death.

Noah and Sha-me were the first to exit the ark. The warm sun beat down to warm their thin skin. Hand in hand, they stepped over the wooden threshold and onto a hard rough rock. Neither of them in their hundreds of years had ever seen such a large rock. After braving a few more steady steps away from their lifeboat, they stopped and took a good long look at each other, thin and pale. A warm breeze brushed past them blowing wisps of white hair across their wrinkled faces.

Noah was the first to turn his head away to see the new world. Their old homeland had been flat and woodsy, but this place was in the sky and rocky and barren. It was so foreign and seemed so surreal. Could this be earth, they thought. While they were still getting their bearings the birds rushed through the opening in a mass exodus such as the world had never known. Hundreds of wings small and large and huge fluttered overhead, slicing the air with thousands of motions to catapult themselves through it.

The birds went so far so fast that the sound of them could not be detected by the family on the ground. Noah and Sha-me stood gazing up at the free birds until they were all out of sight soaking in the joy of them to be finally free after so many months, finally in their natural surroundings again. How much worse must have been the ordeal for the birds than for the earthbound creatures. What must it have been like for the birds to exist for over a year of long days and nights in the dark confines of the ark without even the knowledge that someday they would fly the skies again? At that moment Noah realized how their anticipation of freedom and the new world, how knowing the reason for their travails sustained them. Noah wondered if a secret language between God and the birds helped them through the plight of the flood and the prolonged wait that followed.

Back in the ark, Ham and Japheth and their wives were curiously timid. They lingered together inside watching Noah and Sha-me and the birds. Shem and Lazaria were still making their way from the bird room to the door.

"May we come out Father?" said Japheth and Ham in unison.

"Yes, my sons. Fear not, enter into our new world."

The thin ragged young men stepped hesitantly over the weather beaten wooden threshold while their wives held back fearfully, squinting at the bright and strange new world. The intense light hurt their eyes so they could hardly see. Exiting the ark was to them like landing on the moon.

Ham and Japheth walked straight to their parents. The manner in which the young men greeted the hard new world was like chicks birthing themselves out of their tight eggshell. They fought to be released, but once out were unsure of the next step.

"Where is the soil to grow our food!! cried Ham horrified at the massive rock under their feet and all around them. The bright sun and great distance blinded the men to the rich fertile valley below.

"Come out my daughters," urged Sha-me, "come and look at our new world with us." She watched as Coochie, then Aurelia very slowly and carefully stepped over the threshold and onto the hard rock.

"Oh my!" exclaimed Aurelia looking all around her at the majesty of the mountaintop surveying the earth below.

"What is this?!" echoed Coochie.

Japheth answered, "Don't you remember, when we used to till the soil back home, and we would find small rocks that we tossed aside? These are gigantic versions of the same substance."

"What are we to do with this? How will we grow our food!" said Coochie alarmed.

Noah stepped in to allay their fears. "This is only where the ark landed, my dear. We will not stay in this place. We must journey down this mountain. The Lord has provided a fertile valley below. For now, He has set the ark on a most stable surface, above the waters where we have been resting whilst the waters were receding. This is why we had to wait so long, the waters were far below us. Be at peace my child. The Lord will not forsake us."

Coochie looked embarrassed wondering how she could have distrusted the Lord, after all they had been through.

"Before we do another thing, let us give thanks." added Noah.


Before being asked Lazaria, who had just arrived with Shem, began her hallelujah chant and all of the young men and ladies with their mother Sha-me joined in while Noah bellowed for God to hear, "Not to us O Lord, not to us, but to Your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness. For you have delivered our souls from death, our eyes from tears, our feet from stumbling that we may walk before You in a new land of the living. What shall we return to the Lord for all His bounty to us? Let us lift up the cup of salvation and rejoice in the name of the Lord. O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His steadfast love endures forever! Praise the Lord for He is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting. Praise the Lord sun and moon; praise Him all you shining stars! Praise Him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens..." Thus Noah continued for over an hour extolling the Lord for His goodness and faithfulness, for His mercy and providence, alternately speaking directly to Him and to his family.

While Noah prayed, and His children chanted, Sha-me and her son's and daughters looked up wishing that they could see their Provider, if only for an instant, their souls brimming with contentment, gratitude, and adoration.

After, the worship time, when every heart was emptied of its fear, and strengthened by the spirit of hope, and faith, father Noah began to discuss the logistics of emptying the ark and their journey down the mountain.


Noah knew that he couldn't just open every door and gate and release all the animals at once, the predators with their victims. Just as they had been carefully installed in the ark, so did they need to be selectively released. There were farm animals useful for plowing and transportation and there was vermin and rodents and reptiles. Noah could plainly see that this new environment would be as impossible to thrive in as the deep seas for some of the creatures, and that they too would need to be transported to better ground. The logistics of disembarking was overwhelming. Without counsel from God, they would have been met with disaster. The sheer weakness of the animals would sometimes make their work easier, sometimes harder.

The first job was to reconnoiter while escorting the first family of animals. The menfolk would go ahead with the mountain goats and explore their surroundings, while the women continued to feed the other animals, disassemble the ark for its wood wherever they could, and pack.

The air was clean and fresh. The warmth of the sun penetrated man and woman, hiker and zookeeper deep into his and her skeleton. Flesh and bones rejoiced together in light and heat.

Descending Mount Ararat was no easy task, but the men were on a mission that neither their hunger nor their weakness could thwart. Noah wondered how they would get back up the mountain, but didn't dare give voice to his concern. In fact silence accompanied the men most of the way. Even random thoughts dared not interfere with their need to concentrate on where to place their feet.

From time to time the men stopped to look around. From the heights of the mountain they saw seas, one day to be known as the Black Sea to their right, and the Caspian Sea to the left, and also in front, the Mediterranean Sea. At a longer nourishment stop halfway down, each brother claimed his land. Japheth being the eldest nestled himself neatly between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. Shem said he would go south, farther from the mountain to what would be known in centuries to come as the land of Midian to the east of the Red Sea and west of the Persian Gulf. Ham would travel to the west side of the Red Sea into the land that would come to be known as Egypt and Ethiopia. Having settled that, the men continued down the mountain with renewed enthusiasm and vigor.


Ham was the first to reach the floor of the valley after the goats which helped them mark the path. He looked around to see a wide and magnificent plain that went on for miles. What a perfect land this turned out to be. Groves of olive trees and fig trees and fertile farmland greeted the men to their delight.

Japheth was the first to site the massive fresh water lake. They ran over to it far behind the goats and drank and splashed to their hearts content. Not even a duck could have been happier. Certainly God had provided everything for His people.

After the best night's sleep they had had in over a year, the menfolk, strengthened and refreshed, headed back up Ararat to fetch their wives and other animals.


Climbing back up the mountain was not as difficult as they expected it to be. Most of the goats followed them. They stopped from time to time to catch their breath and let their hearts slow down, but the joy of the good news they were bringing with them seemed to catapult their bodies as well as their spirits.

The men arrived to find the women ready. They had already released as many creatures and swarming things they could. The reptiles, arachnids, and little flying bugs had all been released. Dogs and cats ran around the camp merrily chasing each other.

Most of the animals would be fine, but Noah was concerned about how they would get the cows and bison, horses and giraffe, down the mountain. There was really nothing they could do, but release them one family at a time and watch to see if they got in trouble.

Sha-me reported that their larder was just about empty. Noah replied, "Let's pray and ask the Lord what we should do, for He gives us everything we need,."


At the next worship service Noah spoke to the Lord, "Father, we see the rich valley below you gave in store for us, but our nuts and dried fruit are gone. What shall we eat?" Everyone sat in silence, waiting for the reply.

Simultaneously man and woman alike received the answer, but no one wanted to say it aloud, lest the answer shock everyone else. Finally, Ham blurted out. "We must kill certain animals and eat them."

The women gasped loudly, but they each knew Ham was right, because that is what they too had heard in their hearts.

Never before that moment, even in the days of evil and wickedness had mankind eaten an animal. Never. They had taken their eggs, and taken their mother's milk when it seemed that both were in abundance and could be replenished easily enough, but of their flesh, no, never.

But these were not ordinary times. The whole world was new and different. Nut trees would need years to bear, as would the new fruit trees. Even eggs and milk were scarce as the animals were malnourished and not producing. They had no choice.

The women refused to have anything to do with killing, but they agreed out of necessity that they would force themselves to eat the meat.

The men seemed to know instinctively which animals would be good for food. The men had no desire to kill, not after all they had been through and all the death that they witnessed, and knowing that these very animals were their brothers in the storm. It seemed unthinkable that they should want to harm an animal in any way.

Yet, this was not a killing out of malice or anger; it was a sacrificial killing. The men sacrificed their own repulsion over killing the animal out of obedience to God and physical need. A necessity. The animals would, albeit involuntarily, give their lives for the survival of humankind. Men would take their lives from them for their own survival. These men, having cared for their animals so well, having gone through death and baptism together, indeed felt that they were as sacrificing their own lives through the animals, so that they themselves could live. This was a stunning and altogether unexpected situation.

It occurred to Lazaria that this sacrifice would make the animal, whether it be a chicken or a sweet little lamb, once eaten, a part of her being. She thought that in a sense the animal would continue to live in her own body and in her blood, to become part of her. She thought that by eating the animal she could elevate it to a height of existence that the animal could never reach on its own. Such a thought helped Lazaria to commit this act, this cannibal act of eating an animal. Lazaria shared this thought with her family, Aurelia responded with a hug. Sha-me smiled.

Outside, with the ark of their salvation in the background, Noah took wood from the ark and lit a fire. There Noah, the first man ever to do so since the beginning of time, built an altar to the Lord. He took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and he shed its blood, and offered burnt offerings on the altar of wood and fire.

Everyone watched in silence and prayer. As awful as this moment was, it was also holy. Aurelia, Japheth, Coochie, Shem, each man and woman knew that this was the right thing to do. For many reasons, for their physical survival and for their spiritual witness and offering, they knew that offering these animals to the Lord as a burnt offering gave them psychological wisdom and physical strength. As they watched the animals' flesh cooking on the fire, they identified with the animal; it was as if man and woman lay on that fire too as a sacrifice to the Lord. The cooking animal said to each person in his or her heart, "I give of myself, inasmuch as this flesh will be part of me soon." And then something quite unexpected occurred.

When the Lord smelled the pleasing odor, for indeed, to everyone's surprise the burnt flesh gave a delicious aroma, the Lord said aloud for everyone to hear, "I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every creature as I have done. As long as the earth endures, and seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and nights, shall not cease." The incense of burning flesh spoke to the Lord, all that churned in the hearts of Noah's family.

The Lord saw the humility of the birds and animals of burnt offering, and the need for this violent act because He had cursed the ground for His anger at humankind, and He realized that the innocent cycle of nature, and the innocent animals should never again bear such a terrible burden of punishment for the evil that lay in men's hearts.

The family sat around the campfire, made from wood of the ark, that was an altar to the Lord and ate their meat in tears and silence. Not since the beginning of time had there been such a sacred and sorrowful meal. When they were finished their bellies were full and their hearts were full. The family had been humbled in a way that to their astonishment topped the year in the ark. The death of the innocents, even of nature, illuminated their unworthiness, and consequently their sense of the majesty of mercy.

Genesis 9

Genesis 9:1-17 God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear and terror of you will be in every living creature on the earth, every bird of the sky, every creature that crawls on the ground, and all the fish of the sea. They are placed under your authority.

Every living creature will be food for you; as I gave the green plants, I have given you everything. However, you must not eat meat with its lifeblood in it. I will require the life of every animal and every man for your life and your blood. I will require the life of each man’s brother for a man’s life. Whoever sheds man’s blood, his blood will be shed by man, for God made man in His image.

But you, be fruitful and multiply; spread out over the earth and multiply on it.” Then God said to Noah and his sons with him, “Understand that I am confirming My covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you—birds, livestock, and all wildlife of the earth that are with you—all the animals of the earth that came out of the ark. I confirm My covenant with you that never again will every creature be wiped out by the waters of a flood; there will never again be a flood to destroy the earth.”

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between Me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all future generations: I have placed My bow in the clouds, and it will be a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. Whenever I form clouds over the earth and the bow appears in the clouds, I will remember My covenant between Me and you and all the living creatures: water will never again become a flood to destroy every creature. The bow will be in the clouds, and I will look at it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all the living creatures on earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have confirmed between Me and every creature on earth.”


The family remained somber and sorrowful after the animal sacrifice and the first meal of meat. It was hard to look at their animals with the same joyful husbandry, however, as the days went by, the pain receded, and the nourishment that the chickens and goats provided became common place and soon it became welcome.

The parade of animals down Mount Ararat continued for over a week. There was much to do. A camp was set up in the rich fertile valley. The womenfolk soon made a home out of it where everyone still lived together. While the men trekked up and down the mountain with a new family of animals every day. The work built their muscles and the protein from the meat helped too, so that by the time the ark was empty Noah and his family were transformed into strong, tanned, muscular men and women.

With every trip more and more wood was brought down to build new homes and more fires, until the day when Mount Ararat was topped by only the footprint of the ark of their salvation. The rapidly diminished bank of wood was being used to build a new life on earth.