In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. The rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights. – Genesis 7:11-12 (NIV)
Forty days is a good, solid, biblical number. It signifies completeness, totality. It is time fulfilled. For it to rain for forty days means it well and truly rained for as long as one could imagine.
But here’s the part of the story that I forgot from Sunday School: exactly how long Noah and his family had to stay in the ark. Hint: it’s a lot longer than 40 days.
“And the waters swelled on the earth for one hundred fifty days.” (Genesis 7:24, NIV)
Yup, 150 days. That’s how long Noah and his family were sequestered in the ark, forced by calamity to withdraw from the world with no human company but one another. If 40 days signifies completeness of time, then 150 days signifies … way too stinkin’ long of a time. No longer symbolic, no longer cute, no longer novel.
Just way … too … long.
As those first 40 days and nights came to a close and the rain stopped, Noah and his family must have felt thrilled. With the worst of the danger passed, they must have been itching to end their confinement.
But that’s not what happened. It dragged on and on.
The story of humanity’s deliverance from global devastation is a story of counting days and losing track of days. It is a story of thinking the worst is over, only to find it’s just begun.
It is a story I am holding on to today, because it means I am not the first child of God to feel the way I am feeling.
God of the endless march of days, be with me in these hard times.
John Edgerton is Lead Pastor at First United Church of Oak Park, Illinois.