Pretend that you are Noah and you’ve been on the ark for about a year. You and your family alone have been spared in this worldwide, comprehensive annihilation, and at last you step off the boat onto dry ground. What is the first thing you would do? Would you kiss the ground? Would you organize your family to explore and see just what was left of the world?
We have a historical record of what Noah did as soon as he got off the ark: he worshiped God. It says in verse 20 that Noah built an altar and sacrificed animals as a burnt offering on it. Now, we don’t know exactly what was going through Noah’s mind at that point, but we do know (through God’s later revelation) that burnt offerings meant two things: dedication and forgiveness. It’s possible that Noah wanted to communicate to God that he was totally dedicated to him after witnessing his power, and maybe also as a confession that he was sinful and needed forgiveness. The Bible simply doesn’t tell us what Noah was thinking. However, what we are told is what God was thinking, because this whole story is not about Noah, but about the Lord.
Human Wickedness Displeases God – Genuine Worship Pleases Him
God had just completely destroyed the entire earth because of its corruption and the sinfulness of humanity. The evil of the world displeased him, and he “regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (Genesis 6:6). Compare that with this situation where, because of one man’s worship, God is pleased. In verse 21, we read that the Lord smelled the aroma of Noah’s burnt offering and was pleased. Before, he saw the wickedness and resolved to destroy – now, he smells the worship and resolves to protect and preserve. The curse of Genesis three is still in effect; the ground still fights back with thorns and thistles, and it is not perfect. Yet, the Lord promises he is not going to destroy the earth in one fell swoop like that again.
Noah and his family did not have to worry every time clouds gathered that God was going to flood the earth again. And we don’t have to worry about it either. Yes, there will be natural disasters and wars, but we don’t have to worry about global warming or a nuclear Armageddon making the whole earth uninhabitable. There will not be another comprehensive destruction of all living things on the earth – at least, not for a while.
The Lord gives us a beautiful promise in verse 22, but it starts out rather cryptically: “While the earth remains . . . .” If you remember your New Testament scriptures, this earth will one day pass away, and the Lord will create a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1). Until that day, however, we don’t have to worry that something will happen out of God’s control making the world uninhabitable.
A Different Kind of Renovation
The Flood did not end man’s sinful nature. It’s like God rebooted the computer, but the virus is still there; sin is still present in our lives and in our hearts. The Lord wiped the earth clean, but he knows that the problem is not on the surface, it is in the heart. In the first part of verse 21, it seems like God is saying he will not destroy the earth every time there is sin, because the sin is in man’s heart. Instead, he makes a way for sins to be washed clean. Instead of renovating the whole earth, he decides to renovate individual hearts.
This story of Noah points ahead to Jesus Christ. Jesus was the ultimate pleasing aroma to God; the ultimate sacrifice (Ephesians 5:2). His sacrifice on our behalf is what enables that heart renovation to take place. When the Lord looks at us (even though we’ve all sinned and fallen short of the perfection that is required), he sees Jesus Christ and smells the pleasing aroma of his sacrifice.
Trust in Jesus as your savior, and allow him to clean you up and renovate your heart; receive that forgiveness, that cleansing. And once this is done, rest assured that God is pleased with you because of Jesus Christ.