Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Noah's Ark and the Temple

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The following information was used as introductory material for a Gospel Doctrine lesson that I taught. My goal, as always, was to try and show how incredibly interesting the scriptures can be in order to encourage and inspire greater personal engagement with the scriptures. The following information, however, consists of a liberal borrowing of information from Interpreter and Benjamin the Scribe. For all quotations below, please refer to these two sources.

There are compelling reasons to connect Noah's ark with Moses’ tabernacle and the temple. The ark is the only instance in the Bible, outside of temple construction, in which the Lord provides revelation regarding building dimensions (Gen 6:14-16). The ark had three decks (Gen. 6:16), which correspond to the three divisions in the tabernacle. Each of the three decks of Noah’s ark were exactly the same height as the tabernacle, and three times the area of the tabernacle court. Both the ark and the tabernacle used mikceh, or animal skins (Gen. 8:13) as a covering for these structures. The ark was made of gopher wood (Gen. 6:14), commonly believed to be cypress wood, which was also used for the two doors and flooring of Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6:15, 34). Noah is instructed to “pitch [the ark] within and without with pitch” (Gen. 6:14).  The first word “pitch” is kaphar and the second word “pitch” is kopher. The second pitch, kopher, “looks to be an Egyptian loan word…it originally meant chest, or coffin, so Noah is quite literally building his own coffin, that he is figuratively going into death, and then being brought out of death.” Similarly, after Moses’ mother put him on the Nile on an “ark” (tebah – tāvah “vessel”), the same word as Noah’s ark, and seals it with pitch (Ex. 2:3).

The first word “kaphar” means to cover, purge, make an atonement, or make reconciliation. It is this same word that is used repeatedly in describing the purpose of sacrifices made in the tabernacle – to propitiate or provide atonement. These two words used for pitch have the “same tri-consonant root and same word throughout the Levitical accounts and the law, means to provide propitiation or atone for sin. It is quite clear that whoever the author is of this text knows what they are saying and is deliberately making a wordplay off of these words to direct their audience to understand this as a temple being constructed, a floating temple to keep and provide life.” At the tabernacle, the same action of smearing or wiping at the altar (during sacrifice), is the same method by which the “pitch” was applied to the ark. (The ark of the covenant within the tabernacle and Solomon’s temple had the same ratio dimensions of width to height as the ark and the tabernacle itself, although the word for ark here is a different Hebrew word).

The purpose of the ark was to renew the creation. “It is a reverse creation, undoing Genesis 1 by erasing order and structure, and returning the world to its pre-creation watery/chaotic state (as in Gen. 1:2, the tehom or watery Deep from which everything was created.) Then the waters recede, and Noah is the new Adam in the new creation." Much of the same verbiage in the creation and in the garden are repeated to Noah, including the directive to be fruitful and multiply. The family unit was preserved and saved in this temple/ark. Like Adam, soon after Noah enters this new creation, he built an altar and made sacrifices (Gen. 8:20). Subsequently the Lord made a covenant with Noah, and gave him a sign of the covenant (the rainbow).

The Lord also tells Noah to make a window to the ark “and in a cubit shalt thou finish it above.” The word tsohar is understood to mean noon, or midday. Other Bibles substitute different words in translation, but as referenced in footnote 16a, we are referred to Ether 2 (where the Lord touches the stones for the Brother of Jared). The footnote also mentions that some rabbis believed that tsohar was a precious stone that provided light in the ark. Throughout the Bible, every time ‘window’ is used, except for this instance, it is always challown, but in this single instance it is a different word, which has resulted in much speculation. What is interesting in the connection between Noah and the Brother of Jared is that there are additional parallels. Jewish legend also maintains that Noah saw the finger of the Lord as the construction of the ark was revealed to him. Similarly, the Brother of Jared sees the finger of the Lord, and then sees the Lord in person. Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer, wrote that Rabbi Shemiah taught, "The Holy One, blessed be He, showed Noah with a finger and said to him, Like this and that shalt thou do the ark." Similarly, the Jaredite barges were constructed based on revelation given by the Lord (Ether 2:16-18), and were even described as “being tight like unto a dish, and also they were tight like unto the ark of Noah” (Ether 6:7). See more previous write up on tsohar here.

We are also informed that the Jaredites had scriptures which they “brought across the great deep” (Ether 8:9). It seems reasonable to assume that the Jaredites may have had a more complete understanding of Noah and the Ark based on their pre-Mosaic records, and the ambiguous reference to tsohar in Genesis may have been perfectly clear in their scriptures. It seems that they applied their scriptures into their own lives as necessary.
Quotation from Elder Ladd:
We all need to build a personal ark, to fortify ourselves against this rising tide of evil, to protect ourselves and our families against the floodwaters of iniquity around us. And we shouldn’t wait until it starts raining, but prepare in advance. This has been the message of all the prophets in this dispensation…as well as the prophets of old….We need not panic or fear, for if we are prepared, spiritually and temporally, we and our families will survive any flood. Our arks will float on a sea of faith if our works have been steadily and surely preparing for the future.
The key is to accept the invitation of our prophet, whom we sustained this morning, “to live with ever more attention to the life and example of the Lord Jesus Christ, especially the love and hope and compassion He displayed.”1
Another quotation from Elder Ladd:
The immoral influences of the world are especially destructive to children. But our children, like ourselves, aren’t going to live in a vacuum. They never have and they never will. In all their growing and developing, we can do much to help them, to protect them, and to guide them. But we cannot isolate them from the influences of their own time and generation. There will be times when other voices are in their ears, when other hands are on their shoulders, and when they are away from home.
We would do well, then, while ours is still the strongest influence in their lives, to give them a sure set of standards and a firm foundation of safe and sound principles.2
Quotation from Pres. Packer:
All the water in the world, However hard it tried, Could never sink the smallest ship, Unless it [gets] inside. And all the evil in the world, The blackest kind of sin, Can never hurt you the least bit Unless you let it in.3
I apologize for the disjointedness of this post - as mentioned above, it was written as talking points for introducing this lesson.

1 W. Don Ladd, "Make Thee An Ark," General Conference, October 1994, Ensign (July 1994), 4
2 Ladd, "Make Thee An Ark," 4
3 Boyd K. Packer, "The Spirit of Revelation," General Conference, October 1999; available online here

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