He had always wondered why his parents called him “Rest”, especially since names were supposed to be prophetic. His father, Lamech, had decreed at his birth that he was to be a source of comfort to those who were weary with the toil of working in a world whose very ground was cursed by sin, but he had never been able to see how that applied. Not only had he needed to work just as hard as everyone else just to survive, for the last hundred years he had worked even harder, spending every spare minute on “the boat” – either putting hours of labour into building it according to God’s meticulous instructions, or earning extra money to pay for all the materials. Even if help had been available (and it never was) he wouldn’t have felt right about entrusting this work to anyone except himself and his family. It was a holy task, as well as being a difficult one.
But even all that hard work wasn’t the core issue that disturbed him. He was never at rest because no one would give him any. His neighbours mocked him for a hundred reasons, especially his refusal to give his worship or allegiance to anybody except the God of his fathers, and once he started to build the boat, they thought he had gone completely mad. And when he learned to ignore all their jeering and jibing, they started on his sons. Once they even succeeded in doing some damage, after that he and the boys took to working in shifts, so that the great boat was always guarded. He used to look at his old father sometimes and wonder what the poor man must be thinking. Life seemed to have worked out so differently from everything that was prophesied.
The boat wasn’t finished till five years after his father’s death, and then a whole new labour commenced. Food was needed for all the animals that were going to come, and for themselves; it must be bought or gathered and packed away securely so that it would not rot or spoil. Then they themselves moved into the ark, and still the neighbours jeered. When the animals came, the neighbours were silenced at first by the remarkable spectacle, as, two by two, or seven by seven, all kinds of beasts, familiar and unfamiliar, came towards them in orderly procession. Even Noah felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickling with awe.
But these were a jaded people, for whom the newest wonder was already tired and outmoded, and they soon found a way to ignore the evidence of divine agency. Their jokes now centred around the fact that Noah had no human friends left, and so he was going to live with the animals. The measure of prospective truth that was in that nearly broke his heart, and he made a last ditch plea for them to change their minds. That went down even worse than any of his previous attempts to persuade them, and he found himself with nothing left to say.
And now? Torrents of water were falling from the sky, and rising from the earth. He had never seen, or heard of, anything like it. It was a terrifying moment when the waters grew deep enough to lift their boat from the earth, and they found themselves floating on the deep. It was only then that he realised that he had no way of steering or controlling the boat. There were moments when the wind and the waves were terrifying, but as they continued to float through chaos, terror was slowly replaced by an uneasy monotony. Was this the prophesied rest?
It was only then that he began to understand. Yes, despite all the labour of keeping so many creatures fed and cleaned, here, in this boat, this ark, there was truly rest from the horror that raged without. But it was only a symbol. The true resting place wasn’t this physical structure of wood and pitch; the true resting place was where he always had been, in the hands of God. So long as one lived in this broken world there was no rest from toil or pain or disappointment, but there was a deeper place where rest already existed; where peace and love wrapped his broken heart in the comfort of hope; where all the labour and weariness and incompleteness of this world were fulfilled and made complete by God himself, and where even failure was not the final word, because one day God would break through into humanity’s brokenness, and all would be made right. There was a resting place, and it was his, and now that he knew it he realised that nothing in all creation could ever take him away from it.