The first storm broke by the fire pit at the end of a long and exhausting day when Noah and his teenage boys had dug tirelessly for water. Noah was increasingly wary of the daily need to enter the distant Oasis. He sensed a hostility brewing towards violence, so he realised that they would soon need their own source of water. He had chosen the largest tree stump in the fallen forest. He figured if they could dig along the large roots that sank deeply into the stony ground, they would surely find an underground spring or river. It was hard, backbreaking work, and they were all weary beyond words; too weary for a song or even one of old Methuselah’s stories. Noah was quietly seething, not at his sons, for he knew how hard they had worked that day. No, his anger was at the dry, unrelenting stony ground, and with himself; and if he were honest, he was angry with God.
All these days of toil, seemingly without end, huge wooden carcasses lying across the valley floor, too heavy for them to lift, they could barely drag them, and yet somehow these wooden trunks would soon have to be placed and fixed atop one another. He poured himself another cup of wine, ignoring the concerned look on his wife’s face. The boys, unused to their fathers melancholic mood, looked within themselves to find fault ; their young minds frustrated that they had failed to do enough to please him. Methuselah watched and waited, waiting until Noah had poured his third cup of wine before deciding to break open the first storm. ‘Noah, my beloved grandson, long have I watched, and long have I waited, Long have I stayed silent, waiting for you to know for yourself the steps God would have you take. I have seen you work tirelessly in obedience; I have watched your family work their hearts out for love of you and your God. I have watched and waited, but now I will wait no more. Now I challenge you; What exactly is it that you are doing here?’ Noah glared over his cup at his grandfather. ‘You know what I do here,’ he answered gruffly, ‘I’m building a boat, an ARK for God!’ He was surprised at how harsh his voice sounded, but Methuselah was not, he had seen this storm brewing for several years. ‘An ARK you say? And what, pray tell, is an ARK?’
Naamah and her sons looked up sharply at this question – the mood across the fireside changed ever so significantly. There was still tension, anger even; but now there was a new feeling – fear. Noah noticed the shift, saw the question taking root within his family. He knew, at once, where Methuselah was going with this. ‘Leave it be, old man,’ he grunted, ‘do not ask questions that any fool could answer!’ Methuselah smiled serenely, ‘And yet Noah, I know of a fool who doesn’t yet know the answer!’ Rage swelled within Noah, and then expired within him immediately. The old man was right, he was a fool. He had never thought to ask God what on earth an ARK was – the only boat he had ever seen was the small hollowed tree trunks which the Taller-men used to fish the river feeding into the life-saving oasis at the other end of the valley. For decades now, Noah had just been focusing on each individual tree that needed to be cut down to make way for the next one to be felled. Even now, they were digging dry earth, searching for water that might actually be hundreds of cubits beneath them. His silence hung heavy on those around the firepit. Shem made to speak but a glance and a slight shake of his mother’s head stopped him. Methuselah smiled at the gesture: she knew the significance of this first storm, she understood that the answer could only come through Noah.
Noah rose slowly and walked over to his three sons, each one gazing up at him, their young strong faces lit and shadowed by flickering flame. Finally he spoke, as he laid a calloused hand on each of them, ‘Thank you grandfather, for reminding me of my calling to prepare a sanctuary for each one of my sons who emerged from the sanctuary of their mother’s womb. These boys will need a place where they can find shelter and safety from the storms that are, even now, beginning to break. I am not building a boat, God has told me to build a ‘teveh’, a sanctuary, an ARK. It will be a vast wooden vessel with many levels, where all who come would find safe haven from the gathering storms. A place where the future of God’s creation will survive to bring life again.’ He turned and placed his rough hand softly on his wife’s face – ‘I think it is time to warn people, they need to know, to prepare. There’s got to be room for all who would come.’ Turning again to his three sons, a look of pride and love softening his weather-worn face, he smiled and said, ‘Besides, we’ll have to find wives for these young men, they are going to become fathers of many nations.
It started as a disbelieving chuckle, then became a ripple of laughter; those listening to Noah assuming a joke was being told that they couldn’t quite understand. But one look at Noah’s face confirmed that he was serious. ‘A boat?’ they cried, ‘in the desert? A giant boat to carry hundreds, nay thousands’. The rippling laughter resumed around the firepit – the men first, then their women. By the time the laughter reached the children, some were rolling around on the ground, convulsing with mirth and ridicule. Noah did not laugh with them, nor did Naamah, Shem nor Japheth. Ham smiled weakly in embarrassment for his father. His face reddened when he saw the white teeth of the pretty girl that he had noticed before on his daily treks for water. He dropped his head to avoid seeing her laugh too as his father spoke again, ‘For too long have I kept this from you, a storm is rising, death and destruction will follow it. All will be lost, all except those who board the ARK. We can work together…’ The laughter died just as quickly as it had flared – a sullen silence hung heavy over the gathering. The chief of the village, with a signal from the Taller-men, stood upright and came right up to him, so close that their noses were practically touching. Noah held his ground, even as spittle flew into his face. ‘We could help you?’ he snarled, ‘help you to build this wooden box, this monument to your folly and your madness. Never! Never shall this village be enslaved by your crazy notion. Never shall we help you build your cursed ARK!’ He spun around to his own people, ‘cursed be anyone who lifts a finger to help this mad man! You will be cast out from the village, you will die of thirst or hunger for your betrayal!’ He turned slowly and deliberately back to Noah, ‘and as for you, you fool of an excuse of a man, with your scarred woman and your weak sons; you shall no longer get water, nor food, nor friendship from us! Die? to your folly, and begone!’