In 2 Pet. 2: 5, Noah is called a “preacher of righteousness”, but it was what Noah did that “condemned the world” not what he said: “By faith, Noah, oracularly warned concerning things not yet seen, moved with fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his house; by which he condemned the world” (Heb 11:7). It is a well–worn proverb that actions speak louder than words.
Lot was also a preacher, but Lot’s preaching to his sons–in–law and their wives was unheeded by them, for his deeds belied his words. When he proclaimed the coming judgement of Sodom “he was as if he jested, in the sight of his sons–in–law” (Gen. 19: 14). Why? Because he had first lifted up his own eyes and chosen all the plain of the Jordan (13: 10, 11), eventually dwelling in Sodom itself (14: 12), and sitting in its gate (19: 1), which means he took part in the government of Sodom and fulfilled the duties of citizenship. He was thoroughly settled there. No wonder that he seemed like one that jested when he warned the men to whom he had given his daughters in marriage, and told them of the imminent judgement of Sodom––the very place in which he was so rooted.
What Lot did condemned himself. What Noah did condemned the world, because though he was in it, he was not of it. He did not spend his time in improving it, for he knew it was soon to be destroyed. He did not waste his energies in entertaining its inhabitants for he knew that the flood was coming which would take them all away. His seat of government was not on earth, for he believed a God who was in heaven. If Noah had looked on things as they appeared he would have seen building, planting and marriage going on all around (see Gen 4: 20–22; Luke 17: 27). He would have seen outward progress and advancement. Many, no doubt, thought the progress was upward, and the advancement onward, but Noah knew that it was downward and onward to judgement. Lot lived in a similar day (Luke 17: 26–28), but looked at things through natural eyes and was deceived by what men call ‘progress’. As a result he was misled into a false position.
No doubt Lot was able to hold his own in Sodom. By contrast, Noah was probably regarded as a madman and subjected to many a sneer and jibe. The end of the world? What a ridiculous notion! Who but an idiot would waste his life constructing a huge boat when “all things remain thus from [the] beginning of [the] creation”? (2 Pet 3: 4) At the end however, the roles are reversed. Noah is vindicated by God with the flood taking all his tormentors away, and Lot is laughed at.
Yet if Lot’s testimony accomplished little or nothing, by outward results and appearances Noah’s preaching was also a failure. This tells us that in our witness for God, faithfulness is the one great essential and the one great measure as to success. We are not commissioned to accomplish this or that, but we are simply to be faithful in our testimony. We are to preach the Word whether men will hear it or not, (Ez. 2: 5, 7; 2 Tim 4: 2). If men will not hear then we are not to provide something else to which they will listen, but simply to preach the Word. Looked at from this point of view, Noah’s faith exhibits one of the greatest examples of witness for God that the world has ever seen. All through those long lonely years his message was the same. Why? Because he was doing what God had told him to do.
People today look for results, and unless we are able to show some, or make up some report, our work is usually considered a failure. Yet we have nothing whatsoever to do with results. What we have to do with is faithfulness. Results are in the hands of the Lord, but for our faithfulness we are alone responsible. What is it that we look upon and regard as ‘results’? Something that we have laid down for ourselves? Some ends that we have set before ourselves to accomplish? For whom are we witnessing, if not for the Lord? For whom are we working if not for the Master? If so, then surely it is for Him to know what His purposes and counsels are, and it is for Him to decide what the results are to be! He knew what the result of Noah’s preaching was, yet He commissioned Noah to continue. The Master does not always explain to His servant His purpose, or what ends are to be accomplished. He does not need to make known why He wishes this or that to be done. He simply gives His command––and it is for His servant to obey.
When a meeting has been arranged and only a few persons are present, we regard that as a failure, but there may be one there whose heart the Lord has prepared to receive the message. What does it matter to us how many are present so long as there has been faithfulness in making that meeting known? It matters whether that prepared one is there, but not how many others. It did not concern Philip whether he ministered to crowds in Samaria, or whether he had to leave that work at its height and be sent into the desert to minister to one soul (Acts 8). How many today are ready for service of this sort, or indeed to preach to any except a large audience? Oh to learn the lesson of Noah’s faith and Noah’s faithfulness! It would revolutionise much that we see around us.
Lot was active, but active in his own way. As a result his life, as regards God, was a failure. Noah was also active, but active according to God’s mind. Yet as to outward ‘results’ the two preachers both achieved little. It is only as we see things from God’s perspective that a true account of the service rendered is perceived: “By faith, Noah.....”(Heb 11: 7). What an epitaph!