Noah’s wife is unnamed as are her heroic daughters-in-law. Noah comes from the Hebrew name ‘Noach’ meaning rest or comfort. Shem, Ham, and Japheth are the three sons borne by Noah’s wife.
Main themes of the story
Trust in God, no matter what comes. God is watching and looking after you, even when it seems as if you are alone.
Look after the earth. If we don’t, Nature will be unleashed against us. If we are irresponsible and live only for today, we will be wiped out.
Even one person or one family can make a difference. Never think you are unimportant in God’s plan.
The story of Noah’s wife has three episodes:
A test of faith: God’s command to build the Ark
A test of courage: the Flood
A test of endurance: the Flood subsides
The Bible texts for these episodes are at the bottom of this page.
This is the story of a woman with extraordinary patience, and extraordinary love for her husband. How else to explain the fact that she went along with a task that was preposterous, to say the least?
Noah may have been nominal head of the family, but he could only have achieved what he did with the support of his family – and the leader of this family was his wife.
Stage 1: God’s command to build the Ark
This is a test of faith.
Map of Mesopotamia, the land between the two rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates
The earth was corrupt, and God resolved to wipe out all living creatures. But there would be one exception to this cataclysm: the family of a man called Noah, whose wife had borne three sons, each of whom was married.
The family lived in Mesopotamia, Land of the Two Rivers, original homeland of the forebears of Abraham. Farming on the land between the two rivers provided the basis for a great civilization: city states had grown up because a central authority was needed to regulate the water supply. But farming, or rather over-farming, could also bring disaster.
An enormous network of canals carried large amounts of water across the fields, and at first crops flourished. But poor water management contributed to salinization, and cuneiform tablets dating from 1800 BC warn that ‘black fields are becoming white’.
The effects of salination on farming land
In other words, too much water covering the earth destroyed it, and destroyed the people who had lived there for many centuries. This was perhaps the first ecological disaster, reflected in the Flood story.
At the same time, there is archaeological evidence of an unprecedented flood that covered the greater part of this area of the world. The Bible narrative does not directly affirm a universal flood; nor does it deny it either.
These two occurrences happening at roughly the same time may have given rise to the Bible story of the Flood.
Section of the clay tablet containing the Epic of Gilgamesh, which has a story similar to the Bible story of Noah
Initially, the Bible tells us, God became disgusted at the way human beings had mis-used his gifts to them. What he had created, he thought, he could also destroy, and he decided to do just that. He was, however, a just God and recognised that some human beings still honoured him and lived by his laws. These he wanted to save, and this is where Noah and his family first appear.
Noah and his family were God-fearing people who kept God’s laws. God saw this, as he sees all, and decided that they at least would be saved. He commanded Noah to make a great boat, large enough to carry not only his whole family, but animals and birds of all kind. In other words, Noah’s family was instructed to save the living creatures of this planet.
Noah was given specific instructions on how to build a gigantic boat, the Ark. The word used to describe it is teba, ‘box’, and it was designed for steady floating: the course, speed and destination were completely in the hands of God.
This is where the wife of Noah first appears. Somehow she was able to accept that this strange, crazy plan of her husband’s was genuine and feasible. She must have been a woman of patience and vision, backing up her husband and convincing her sons and daughters-in-law to do the same.
Stage 2: the Great Flood
This is a test of courage.
Norman Adams, ‘The Flood’, painted in the 1970’s
In the next part of the story, Noah and his wife and family collected all the things necessary to save themselves from whatever it was that was coming. To say they were terrified was an understatement, but they kept steadily to their task until all was ready and then, as the Bible says, ‘the Lord shut them in’.
They were sealed inside the Ark, safe in God’s hands, but completely powerless against the warring elements of Nature outside the great boat. It was ordeal by water in a tomb-shaped vessel.
And the waters covered the earth, and everything, everything, was destroyed.
Stage 3: The Flood subsides
This is a test of endurance.
Buffalo trapped in mud
Eventually the rain stopped and the waters abated. Noah sent out the raven, and then the dove, and the family were able to leave the Ark. This is where Noah’s wife showed her true value, for women are able to endure pain and misfortune better than men. Nature has seen to that.
The four women of Noah’s family faced a desolate world. Everything was destroyed. There was no home to return to, no neighbours to share the grief, no familiar customs to observe. The desolate world had to start again from scratch, and the hardship these women faced must have been extreme. Had they given in, succumbed to the disaster and refused to go on, God’s plan would not have succeeded.
They were great heroines, and their names should have had been recorded.
Paintings of the Deluge story
The Return of the Dove, John Everett Millais
Noah’s wife and her family in the Ark
During the Reformation this late 14th century window was transferred from Marienkirche, Germany, to St Petersburg Hermitage
The Ark drifting on the water,
The Animals enter the Ark, Edward Hicks
The Animals enter the Ark,
Jan Brueghel the Elder
The Deluge, Francis Danby
The Bible text Genesis 6, 7 and 8
God’s command to build the Ark Genesis 6
Traces of an ancient irrigation system in Iran
5 The LORD 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. 6 And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the ground, man and beast and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favour in the eyes of the LORD. 9 These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God. 10 And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. 13 And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh; for the earth is filled with violence through them; behold, I will destroy them with the earth. 14 Make yourself an ark of gopher wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. 15 This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its breadth fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. 16 Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above; and set the door of the ark in its side; make it with lower, second, and third decks.
Reconstruction of the Ark, from the movie ‘Noah’
17 For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall die. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.
19 And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. 20 Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground according to its kind, two of every sort shall come in to you, to keep them alive. 21 Also take with you every sort of food that is eaten, and store it up; and it shall serve as food for you and for them.” 22 Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.
The Great Flood Genesis 7
A pair of turtles
1 Then the LORD said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation. 2 Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate; and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate; 3 and seven pairs of the birds of the air also, male and female, to keep their kind alive upon the face of all the earth. 4 For in seven days I will send rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground.” 5 And Noah did all that the LORD had commanded him. 6 Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters came upon the earth. 7 And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him went into the ark, to escape the waters of the flood. 8 Of clean animals, and of animals that are not clean, and of birds, and of everything that creeps on the ground, 9 two and two, male and female, went into the ark with Noah, as God had commanded Noah.
10 And after seven days the waters of the flood came upon the earth. 11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. 12 And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights.
13 On the very same day Noah and his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them entered the ark, 14 they and every beast according to its kind, and all the cattle according to their kinds, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth according to its kind, and every bird according to its kind, every bird of every sort. 15 They went into the ark with Noah, two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life. 16 And they that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him; and the LORD shut him in.
17 The flood continued forty days upon the earth; and the waters increased, and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. 18 The waters prevailed and increased greatly upon the earth; and the ark floated on the face of the waters. 19 And the waters prevailed so mightily upon the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered; 20 the waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep. 21 And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, birds, cattle, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm upon the earth, and every man; 22 everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. 23 He blotted out every living thing that was upon the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the air; they were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those that were with him in the ark. 24 And the waters prevailed upon the earth a hundred and fifty days.
The Flood subsides Genesis 8
1 But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided; 2 the fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens were closed, the rain from the heavens was restrained, 3 and the waters receded from the earth continually. At the end of a hundred and fifty days the waters had abated; 4 and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest upon the mountains of Ararat. 5 And the waters continued to abate until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains were seen.
John Huston as Noah in the movie ‘The Bible’
6 At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made, 7 and sent forth a raven; and it went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth. 8 Then he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground; 9 but the dove found no place to set her foot, and she returned to him to the ark, for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth. So he put forth his hand and took her and brought her into the ark with him. 10 He waited another seven days, and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark; 11 and the dove came back to him in the evening, and lo, in her mouth a freshly plucked olive leaf; so Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. 12 Then he waited another seven days, and sent forth the dove; and she did not return to him any more.
13 In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried from off the earth; and Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and behold, the face of the ground was dry. 14 In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry. 15 Then God said to Noah, 16 “Go forth from the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. 17 Bring forth with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh–birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth–that they may breed abundantly on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply upon the earth.”
Mud, mud, everywhere
18 So Noah went forth, and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him. 19 And every beast, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves upon the earth, went forth by families out of the ark. 20 Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.
21 And when the LORD smelled the pleasing odour, the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done. 22 While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”