We have noted, in a previous study, that the ark, which
was placed in the Holy of Holies of the tabernacle, was
intended to represent a coffin. As the coffin of God, it was a
symbol which anticipated the death of God, the Son, in the
person of Jesus of Nazareth. The word aron, which is applied
to the ark, is translated coffin in Genesis 50:26.
Our English word ark is applied also to the vessel built by Noah, and to the basket of bulrushes in which the infant Moses was placed. In both these cases, the word ark translates the Hebrew word tebah. However, in the New Testament, reference is made to the ark of Noah, (tebah) and also to the ark of the tabernacle (aron) and in both instances, the Greek word kibotos is used. In other words, the Greek kibotos is used by the inspired writers of the New Testament as the equivalent of both aron, and tebah. Therefore, since the word aron, as we have seen, properly denotes a coffin (and is used in that sense in modern Hebrew), it would appear that the primary significance of the word tebah is also coffin and that the arks of Noah and of Moses are to be regarded in that light.
Looking first at Noah's ark as having the nature of a coffin, we perceive that God's way of deliverance for Noah called for him to put himself into the very place of death. He was to construct a huge floating coffin which would be exposed to all of the fury and turmoil of the flood. Into this ark (or coffin) he and his family must enter and trust their safety to its ability to shelter them from the judgment of God. This way of deliverance exactly parallels God's way of salvation for sinners. Those who face the coming judgment of God are invited to enter into the death of Christ - to be identified with him in his death so as to become dead to sin and the law. By putting himself in the place of death, Noah escaped death. It is the same today.
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Note that the ark was pitched within and without with
pitch. The word pitch here is the Hebrew kopher, which also
means price of redemption, and is translated ransom in such
passages as Exodus 30:12 and Job 33:24. When a repentant
sinner puts himself in the place of death with Jesus, the price of
redemption which he (Jesus) paid keeps out the waters of
Without a doubt, during his one hundred twenty years of preaching righteousness, Noah exhorted his contemporaries to take the same way of escape - to put themselves into the place of death. None responded to his appeal, however, and by refusing to voluntarily enter into death, they were compelled to do so involuntarily. What a graphic picture of the way of salvation! When we reckon ourselves to be dead with Christ we actually find life. Those who refuse to die with him must die without him. Those who took their places as dead ones proved in the end to be the living ones.
"Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it and
whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it."
Before we turn our attention from Noah's ark, let us consider Peter's statement concerning it:
"When once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of
Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is,
eight souls were saved by (literally through) water. The like
figure where unto even baptism doth now save us (not the
putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a
good conscience toward God) by the resurrection of Jesus
I Peter 3:21-22.
This is confessedly a difficult passage, and many
retranslations have been made of it in an attempt to simplify it.
In spite of retranslation, however, the passage remains difficult
to cope with and seems to elude all attempts at simplification.
The writer believes that the reason for the difficulty
encountered in this passage is that we misunderstand Peter's
analogy. It is most natural to assume that he is making an
analogy between the water of the flood and the water of
baptism and it is the fact that there seems to be so little
resemblance between the two that creates our perplexity. Let us
forget the seemingly natural analogy and look for another.
Consider the possibility that Peter is pointing out a similarity, not between the flood and baptism, but between the ark and baptism. We have seen in an earlier study that baptism represents the execution of the law upon a confessed sinner and also an identification of the sinner with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection. Thus baptism is analogous to the ark of Noah, for both involve entering into the place of death that life may be obtained. Of course Peter is not saying that baptism actually puts us into the death of Christ and so saves us, but that it is a figure of how we are saved.
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Let us look now at the ark of Moses. It must be remembered that Pharaoh had commanded that all sons born to the Hebrews were to be cast into the river. See Exodus 1:22. Moses was born during the time covered by the king's decree, and for three months his parents kept him hidden. When that was no longer possible his mother, we read:
"... took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with
slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid
it in the flags by the river's brink."
Even the words are suggestive here. The word bulrushes is
gome, which comes from the verb gama, to absorb, to drink up,
to swallow. The word translated flags is the word suph, which
is translated elsewhere rush, reed, weed. Gesenius says
concerning its derivation, "The etymology is not known, and it
cannot be derived from the verb suph" This statement is a bit
surprising since the verb to which he refers is exactly the same
form as the noun which is translated flags. Probably he means
to say that he can see no connection between suph - meaning
flags, and the verb suph which means to snatch away, to carry
away, and in its Hiphil, or causative form means to take away,
to destroy, to make an end of. But Gesenius did not believe the
Bible to be the inspired Word of God, so that he was working
under severe limitations. Whether the noun suph was, or was
not, derived from the verb suph, the fact remains that in the
Hebrew language the word for flags, reeds, etc., has the same
form as a verb which can mean to destroy. Therefore, the word
suph as a noun could very easily have suggested to the Hebrews
the idea of destruction even though they may not have
deliberately used it in that sense. Now the body of water which
the Hebrews crossed in their exodus from Egypt, which we call
the Red Sea, is called in Hebrew Yam-suph, sea of reeds, or is
it meant to be sea of destruction? Certainly such a meaning is
more in keeping with what happened on that occasion than is
sea of reeds.
Thus Moses' mother placed him in an ark (coffin) of bulrushes (swallowing up) and laid him among the flags (place of destruction) at the brink (literally mouth) of the river (place of death according to Pharaoh's decree). How much more clearly could it be shown that Moses, facing a sentence of death, was deliberately put in the place of death - the very mouth of destruction and as a result, found life instead of death? Again the plan of salvation is foreshadowed and men are shown that to find life they must enter into death.
Let us now consider briefly the crossing of the Red Sea (Yam-suph: sea of destruction) by the Israelites. This experience is said by the Apostle Paul to be a type of baptism and that the people were baptized unto Moses. See I Cor. 10:1-2. What does this mean? In answering this question we must remember that Moses as a baby was put in the suph which carried with it at least a suggestion of destruction. The Israelites, by passing through the Yam-suph or sea of destruction, identified themselves with Moses in his death and at the same time acknowledged themselves to be his followers. Is not this what we do in baptism? Note Romans 6:3-4:
"Know ye not that, so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life."