Old Testament Lesson 6
In this lesson we explore the story of Noah’s Ark and the story of the Tower of Babel, two potent symbols, and their meaning to our lives today in our journey back to our Savior.
One of the great ironies of scripture is that in the days before the Flood, there were two cities of Enoch.
The first city was built by Cain and was called “after the name of his son, Enoch.” A counterfeit system of covenants and ordinances had grown up among his descendants, who “covenanted with Satan”: “From the days of Cain, there was a secret combination, and their works were in the dark.” This city was dedicated primarily to gain. They spent their time acquiring things-cattle, precious metals like brass and iron. When they couldn’t get what they wanted, they would murder for it. So this first “city of Enoch” was the capital of Satan’s kingdom on earth. “Their works were abominations, and began to spread among all the sons of men.”1
So God called a prophet-another Enoch, who was a descendant of Adam’s righteous son Seth, to preach the Gospel “of Jesus Christ, a righteous Judge, who shall come in the meridian of time.”2 Enoch went forth to warn the people of his day that God would send the floods upon them,3 and those who listened joined him in the building of another city known as “Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.”4 Eventually, these people became so righteous that the city was taken up into heaven to save it from the destruction that would come-“God received it into his own bosom; and from thence went forth the saying, Zion is fled.”5
The departure of the faithful left the earth in the grip of wickedness. After several generations came Noah, the last of the godly line of Enoch remaining in the world. Noah’s father had prophesied that this son would bring “comfort” to the world (the Hebrew word noah means “rest” or “comfort”). We learn in Genesis that “Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God.”6 The phrase “perfect in his generations” might better be translated as “blameless in his home” (the Hebrew word dowr, here translated as generations, actually means “household” or “dwelling place”); thus, we can assume that Noah was an exemplary leader of his family. Perhaps this is one reason why Noah “found grace in the eyes of the Lord.”7
Noah and his sons “hearkened unto the Lord, and gave heed, and they were called the sons of God.”8 Noah was also a faithful priesthood holder: “the Lord ordained Noah after his own order, and commanded him that he should go forth and declare his Gospel unto the children of men.”9
But Noah lived in a world dominated by Cain’s system of gain and murder and an abominable counterfeit of the Gospel ordinances in which men made covenants with Satan. This last extension of the Lord’s mercy to a wicked world bore no fruit. “They hearkened not unto his words.” Intriguingly, Noah’s neighbors saw nothing wrong in their lives: “Behold, we are the sons of God . . . are we not eating and drinking, and marrying and giving in marriage?” In other words, they saw themselves as upstanding citizens, pious and religious people just going about their routine “business as usual.” But “every man was lifted up in the imagination of the thoughts of his heart, being only evil continually.”10
“In those days there were giants in the earth, and they sought Noah to take away his life.”11 The Hebrew word for “giants” is nephilim, and according to scholars, “a literal translation of nephilim is ‘fallen ones.'”12 Intriguingly, the German Bible translates the word nephilim as “tyrants.” The “giants” were the proud tyrants bought up by Satan to rule the world Noah lived in. Noah was clearly an irritant to their Satanic system.
We know what became of these despots and their followers. “Behold,” the Lord said, “I will destroy all flesh from off the earth.” But before the flood, Noah preached to them for 120 years-an extraordinarily long mission that testifies to the incredible patience and endurance of this godly man. According to Jewish legends, Noah had to work hard on the ark, spending long years learning how to build it and master the various sciences he needed. Noah labored on it for 52 years, working slowly on purpose in the hope that the people would repent.13
They did not, and the flood completely eliminated the counterfeit “city of Enoch” and the kingdom of Satan that dominated the earth. God destroyed what was already destroying itself and would have utterly corrupted his plan for his children. It was necessary to start over. In Noah’s ark, according to 1 Peter, “few, that is eight souls, were saved by water, the like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us.”14 Thus the ark prefigured baptism as the means of salvation in Christ.
The ark is therefore a symbol of the Savior. Like the ark of Noah, Jesus Christ is our refuge in the storm, safely carrying us through the tempest and calming the anxious waters. The Church News has said, “As we go through the storms of life, our closeness to the Lord will, in a large measure, determine the peace and comfort and renewed strength that we feel.”15
The ark can also be likened to the temple, a celestial refuge in a telestial world. It was in the ark that the human family found salvation, and it is in the temple that our families find the means of exaltation.
It’s important to note that Noah’s first action upon leaving the ark was to build an altar and offer sacrifice “in similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father.”16 Noah received the same commandments given to Adam, and made a covenant to obey. In the rainbow, the Lord provided a token of that covenant: “I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.” Why the rainbow? Anciently, the archer’s bow was a symbol of divine power. Additionally, prophets have likened the glory of the Lord to the rainbow, as in the vision of Ezekiel: “As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was . . . the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.”17
Unfortunately, many of the descendants of Noah were unfaithful to that covenant, and the Satanic system was revived some generations after the Flood. “Go to,” they said, “let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven.”18
The Cainite city devoted to power, murder, and gain (“business as usual”) was thus restored. The tower of Babel was actually a temple devoted to the cult of Satan, symbolizing rebellion against God. In the Babylonian language, the word “Babel” is compounded of bab, which means “gate” and el, which means “god. “19 (“Babel” is the root of the word “Babylon,” which is throughout the scriptures a symbol of the capital of wickedness.)Thus, the people saw the tower of Babel as a gate to the heavens, a counterfeit temple raised in the rebelliousness of Satan. It was this symbol of their pride and wickedness that angered the Lord.
So the Lord confounded the language of the people and “scattered them abroad” to break the centralized power and priesthood of Satan. Such towers were raised throughout the ancient world for centuries thereafter. We see them in the ziggurats of Babylon and the pyramids of Egypt-all attempts by vainglorious men to raise monuments to themselves and their false gods. And we also see the confusion and conflict that results from the arrogance of power, symbolized in the confusion of tongues.
In 2 Nephi 12, we read the account of Lehi’s dream, that great symbolic summary of the Gospel. In journeying towards the tree of life, which represents the salvation of Christ, many of the multitude fall into a “fountain of filthy water . . . the depths thereof are the depths of hell.” Another great multitude “across a great and terrible gulf” occupy a “large and spacious building” symbolizing the “vain imaginations and the pride of the children of men.”20
The waters of the Great Flood were like the filthy waters Lehi saw, the “depths of hell” reserved for the wicked. And the Tower of Babel was like the “large and spacious building” Lehi saw, which stands for the monumental structures of this telestial world that represent the vanity and conceit of those who mock God.
What is the significance to us of these two great symbols-Noah’s Ark and the Tower of Babel? They have great significance for us in the last days.
Jesus Christ prophesied that “as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark. And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.”21 We know, therefore, that the last days will be similar to the days of Noah. It will be a time of great wickedness, a world ruled by pride and murder and a love of gain. But we also learn that those who listen to the prophets and follow their counsel will be spared the great destruction that accompanies the coming of the Son of man, as was Noah and his family.
In the symbol of the Tower of Babel we should see the monumental arrogance that accompanies wickedness. Unfortunately, this monument is “filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress [is] exceedingly fine; and they [are] in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those” who are seeking the fruit of the tree of life-the pure love of Christ.22 We know also that this symbol of the pride of the world will fall at His coming, as the book of Revelation tells us: “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen. . . for her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities. . . how much she hath glorified herself, and lived deliciously. . . . Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine, and she shall be utterly burned with fire. . . . and the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her.”23
Therefore, we should listen carefully and heed the prophet’s commandment: “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.”24These are some of the lessons for us of Noah’s Ark and the Tower of Babel.
1 Moses 5:42-52.
2 Moses 6:57.
3 Moses 7:34.
4 Moses 7:18-19, 21.
5 Moses 7:69.
6 Gen. 6:9.
7 Gen. 6:8.
8 Moses 8:13.
9 Moses 8:19.
10 Moses 8:21-22.
11 Moses 8:18.
12 Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: New International Commentary on the Old Testament, William B. Eerdmans, 1990,270.
13 “Noah-Making of the Ark,” Jewish Encyclopedia, https://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=
14 1 Peter 3:20-21.
15 “Refuge from the Storm, “Church News, Jan. 26, 1991.
16 Gen. 8:20, Moses 4:7.
17 Ezek. 1:28.
18 Gen. 11:4.
19“Babel, Tower of,” Jewish Encyclopedia, https://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=
20 1 Ne. 12:16, 18.
21 Matt. 24:37-39.
22 1 Ne. 8:27.
23 Rev. 18:2-11.
24 Rev. 18:4.