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Prior to the flood, God told Noah, “I have decided to put an end to every creature, for the earth is filled with wickedness because of them; therefore I am going to destroy them along with the earth” (Gen. 6:13). Then God told Noah, “Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it with pitch inside and outside” (v. 14). (HCSB) So, what does Ark mean?

A Place of Safety

God went on to give specific instructions about the dimensions and construction of the ark, and then He said to Noah His spokesman, “Understand that I am bringing a flood—floodwaters on the earth to destroy every creature under heaven with the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will die. But I will establish My covenant with you, and you will enter the ark with your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives. You are also to bring into the ark two of all the living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you” (vv. 17-19). Clearly the ark Noah would build would be a place of safety for him, his family, and the animals—the only place of safety in the midst of pervasive, widespread destruction.

Hebrew and Greek

The Hebrew word translated ark appears just 28 times in the Old Testament. It means “a vessel” like the one Noah built, or “a basket” like the much smaller vessel in which Moses was placed. In fact, every time the Hebrew word occurs in the Bible, it refers either to Noah’s ark (26 times in Gen. 6–9) or to the basket that carried Moses down the river in Egypt where Pharaoh’s daughter discovered it and its priceless human contents (2 times in Ex. 2:3-5).

In the Old Testament, two different words are used for Noah’s ark and the ark of the covenant. The Hebrew word referring to the ark of the covenant means “a chest.” It also can refer to a coffin, as it does in Genesis 50:26. Interestingly, in Psalm 132:8 it is used figuratively, but to point to an absolute, bedrock reality. In the New Testament, the Greek word employed to refer to Noah’s ark (see Matt. 24:38; Luke 17:27; Heb. 11:7; 1 Pet. 3:20), also is used to designate the ark of the covenant (see Heb. 9:4; Rev. 11:19). This Greek term refers to “box or chest made of wood” or “a vessel.”

B. Nathaniel Sullivan
Christian educator, Bible teacher, and Editor

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