[Originally published as Only Eight Saved]
For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. 1 Peter 3:18-20
One of the many attributes of God is that He is longsuffering. The English word first appears in Exodus:
And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation. Exodus 34:6-7
The word “longsuffering” translates two Hebrew words: ‘ârêk meaning long or patient and ‘aph meaning nose or nostril, hence the face. Together they picture the face of God as He patiently looks on His wayward children. The word appears three other times in the Old Testament: Numbers 14:18, Psalm 86:15, and Jeremiah 15:15.
In the New Testament, “longsuffering” appears thirteen times. It appears first in Romans 2:4,
Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?
In the New Testament, “longsuffering” translates the Greek compound word, makrothumia – makrós meaning “long” and thymós meaning “passion, anger.” Together they render “long-passion,” i.e., waiting a long time before expressing anger.
God’s longsuffering can be misconstrued as indulgence, leniency, or indifference. On the extreme side, some interpret God’s apparent laxness in punishing evil to mean that God does not exist. However, that is not what the Bible teaches.
The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9
God patiently waits a long time, giving sinners sufficient opportunity to repent. He does this for individuals and for mankind in general.
Not long after God created Adam and Eve and placed them in the Garden of Eden, the couple disobeyed God’s only command, which brought death — separation between God, the Creator, and man, the creature — to all their posterity (Genesis 3). Adam and Eve had many sons and daughters (Genesis 5:4). Cain was born first (Genesis 4:1), and Abel came sometime after (Genesis 4:2).
As the narrative unfolds, we learn that Cain rebelled in his offering to God, while Abel sacrificed according to God’s prescription. God accepted Abel’s sacrifice and rejected Cain’s, and this incited Cain to jealousy and anger. Eventually, Cain murdered his brother, and God banished him from the rest of the family (Genesis 4:1-16).
Cain’s progeny followed their father’s rebellious attitude to the point that murder was a bragging right:
And Lamech said unto his wives, Adah and Zillah, Hear my voice; ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech: for I have slain a man to my wounding, and a young man to my hurt. If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold. Genesis 4:23-24
God’s longsuffering produced in Adam and Eve a son in the place of godly Abel.
And Adam knew his wife again; and she bare a son, and called his name Seth: For God, said she, hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew. Genesis 4:25
Over the next 1500 years or so, the human population of earth exploded and became perverse:
And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. Genesis 6:5-6
Even God’s longsuffering has its limits.
Seth’s line, however, remained pure to the end.
And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them. But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD. Genesis 6:7-8
God instructed Noah to build a massive barge, 450’ x 75’ x 45’ (calculated on an 18” cubit.), large enough to carry all who would be saved. It took Noah less than 100 years to complete his task.¹ During that time, Noah did all that he could to warn the people of the coming Flood. Peter describes Noah as “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5), demonstrating God’s longsuffering in providing a warning to an ungodly world.
The Ark had sufficient space to save many besides Noah and his family.
The “kinds”² of animals onboard probably took up less than half of the available space. At one time, I calculated that the Ark could have carried more than 2400 human passengers,³ yet only eight were saved.
I wonder whether God would have sent the Flood if 2400 had listened to Noah’s preaching and repented. It reminds me of Abraham interceding for Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:23-33). He pleaded for 50, then 45, then 40, 30, 20, and finally, 10. God, “not willing that any should perish,” would spare the cities for ten righteous people. Alas, only Lot, his wife, and two daughters were the only ones saved, and even they were dragged out by the angels (Genesis 19:16).
The Old Testament is a history of God’s longsuffering.
The book of Judges, in particular, ends with the sad refrain,
In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes. Judges 21:25
Two thousand years from Abraham, Messiah came as promised and His own rejected Him (John 1:11). Jesus died on a Roman cross to pay our sin debt. They buried Him in a borrowed tomb, and He rose again on the third day. Forty days later, He ascended to His throne in heaven, of which He said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:2-3).
It has been more than 2000 years — six millennia since the Creation. God is longsuffering, not willing that any should perish, but the time of the Sabbath rest is drawing near. There is a limit to God’s longsuffering.
The voices of the prophets sound from every corner of the world. God is not willing that any should perish. The old hymn says, “There’s room at the cross for you,” but just as only eight were saved in the Ark, and only four saved from Sodom and Gomorrah, only a few will be saved from the wrath that is coming.
Jesus said, “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:14). Don’t miss the boat. Jesus will come very soon. Don’t get left behind. If you have not given your life to Him, read my page on Securing Eternal Life.
- Noah’s sons were born when he was 500 years old (Genesis 5:32), and they entered the completed Ark when Noah was 600 years old (Genesis 7:11). We are not given Noah’s age at the time God gave him the task to build the Ark, but we can infer that it was after his sons were old enough to help.
- The biblical “kinds” equates to taxonomical “families” in modern terms. The Ark did not carry every species of air-breathing land animals. It only carried the basic families from which all other variations would derive.
- The Ark’s passenger capacity is based on 2/3 of the total available square footage (96,750 sq. ft.) of the Ark or 64,500 sq. ft. Taking 25% of the remaining space for stores leaves 48,375 sq. ft. for passengers. Allowing 80 sq. ft. per a family of four, or 20 sq. ft. per person (the average size of an 8×10 2-man prison cell), and dividing 48,375 by 80 yields about 605 living spaces. At 4 people per space, that comes to 2420 total passengers. More could have been accommodated if needed.