Pencil Sketches: How Old Testament Individuals Outlined the Messiah's Colorful Life

Reading Time: 4 mins

When we read about Noah, we are reading backward to Adam and forward to Jesus.

This is an excerpt from “The Christ Key: Unlocking the Centrality of Christ in the Old Testament” by Chad Bird (1517 Publishing, 2021).

By the time we are introduced to Noah in Genesis, God’s good creation has gone rogue. Adam and Eve rebel in Genesis 3. Cain murders Abel in Genesis 4. And Noah is introduced in Genesis 5, where the litany of “and so- and-so died” tolls over and over like a funeral bell summoning mourners. Things are so bad that “the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth” (Gen 6:6). And you can’t get any worse than that.

A reboot of creation is needed. And there’s only one man for the job: Noah, who “found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen 6:8). “On this thread hangs the whole world,” as W. Vischer wrote. Indeed. Were we watching a play, Noah alone would stand on stage. All eyes are now on him, as all eyes were once on Adam.

His birth announcement both backshadows and foreshadows his importance. His father, Lamech, gives him the name Noah, saying, “Out of the ground [adamah] that the Lord has cursed [arar], this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil [itztzavon] of our hands” (Gen 5:29). The three Hebrew roots for “ground,” “cursed,” and “work” also occur in Genesis 3:17, when God tells Adam, “Cursed [arar] is the ground [adamah] because of you; in pain [itztzavon] you shall eat of it all the days of your life.” Lamech is purposefully parroting God’s speech to Adam. As such, Lamech is the first typologist in Scripture.

We are not told why this father was so certain that his newborn son was going to bring relief to the world— perhaps because, if you do the math, Noah is the first recorded birth after the death of Adam—but that he thought so is certain. Lamech thinks that Noah will be Adam #2, only a much better one.

His nativity therefore backshadows (to Adam) and foreshadows (to his work of bringing relief).

What happens next? The ark building, the animal gathering, the deluge pouring. God rewinds creation to the beginning, when “the earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep” (Gen. 1:2). The ark floats over the face of the waters as the Spirit once hovered there. The waters eventually dry up “in the first month, the first day of the month” (Gen. 8:13). A new year for a new genesis. Noah and his family, flanked by animals, disembark into a purged creation, mirroring Adam and Eve when they were surrounded by animals in Eden. Philo, a first- century Jewish philosopher, rightly notes that Noah “is the beginning of our race and the end—end of all things before the flood, beginning of all afterward” (On Abraham 46).

In his speech to this second Adam, God begins by blessing Noah and his sons (Gen. 9:1), as he blessed Adam and Eve (1:28). Then he repeats the command, verbatim, that he gave to the first couple, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 9:1; 1:28). As if this weren’t enough for us to connect Adam to Noah, the Lord supplies one more clue. To Adam and Eve he said, “Behold, I have given you every plant” (Gen. 1:29). Now, to Noah and his sons, he says, “As I gave you the green plants, I give you everything” (Gen. 9:3). That little word “as” explicitly joins the two passages.

Genesis, therefore, pictures the days of Noah as a time of renewal. A fresh start.

Many generations later, the prophet Isaiah perceived this same truth about Noah. So, as often happens in the prophets, he wove a story from the Torah into his preaching. Following his detailed description of the suffering of Christ in chapter 53, Isaiah depicts the resurgence of joy among God’s people as a result. They sing! They rejoice! Though divine anger struck them “for a brief moment” (54:7), with “everlasting love” he will have compassion on them (54:8). To picture this, God says through Isaiah, “This is like the days of Noah to me: as I swore that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you, and will not rebuke you. For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed” (54:9– 10).

Just as the flood was temporary, so was God’s anger. Just as God swore never to flood the earth again, so because of the work of the Messiah, God will never be angry with his people. And just as the Lord made a covenant with Noah after the flood, so he makes a new covenant of peace with his people. Isaiah, therefore, interprets the story of Noah and the flood as a paradigm for the work of his Servant.

This is an instructive example; it shows us that reading the Torah as a book about the Messiah did not begin in the NT but was practiced already in the prophets.

Building on this ancient layering of Adam-Noah-Messiah, Jesus compared his second coming to the days of Noah (Matt. 24:37). The original flood, which foreshadowed the temporary flood of anger at the time of the Messiah’s coming (Isa. 54:7– 9), also pointed toward the final flood of judgment when the Messiah returns (Matt. 24:38– 39). The implication is that just as those with Noah were saved, so those with Jesus will be rescued. Peter confirms this analogy when he says that just as a flood of water once destroyed the earth, so a flood of fire is coming (2 Pet. 3:5–7) . But just as Noah “constructed an ark for the saving of his household” (Heb. 11:7), “in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water . . . baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you” (1 Pet. 3:20– 21).

Baptism places us into the ark of the church— that is, the ark of the body of Christ— so that we are saved now, and will be saved from the final judgment.

When we read about Noah, therefore, we are reading backward to Adam and forward to Jesus. As Noah was Adam #2, so Jesus was both Adam #3 and Noah #2.

Their lives and deeds are intertwined in this unfolding drama of redemption. Both Adam and Noah pointed forward to the goal or telos in the Messiah. To read about them is to read about Jesus.

This is an excerpt from “The Christ Key: Unlocking the Centrality of Christ in the Old Testament” by Chad Bird (1517 Publishing, 2021), pgs. 48-51.