Sometimes, it’s hard to stand by your man. There were times when she just didn’t understand him. Why couldn’t he be like everyone else? Why was he so obsessed with this God of his? Other men, like her father and her brothers, had gods. Even the women she met in the market place spoke about the gods their families worshipped. But none of their gods did strange things like her husband’s God did.
It wasn’t even as though Noah had his own God in his home. There was no carved statue or piece of rock or any sort of idea what his God looked like. She asked him about it. She wanted to be able to join him in worshipping his God as she united with him as his wife, and bore his sons, but he had confused her even more.
“Tamar,” he had said, his eyes gentle with the love he had for her, “the One God is greater than any piece of carved wood or stone. He created everything we see in this world – even you and me and our babies. How can I worship something which has been created, when I can worship the Creator himself?”
Tamar couldn’t answer. She didn’t know. But, looking back later, she realised this strange answer was like a seed, planted deep inside her, which took years to grow, even if she was unaware of it at the time.
Life had been uneventful for their family. The boys were growing, her husband was dedicated to his family, after giving his first allegiance to his God – and it had been a quiet day, the day when everything changed.
That night, Noah had come home from the fields and she had known at once something was troubling him. She asked him what had happened to disturb him in this way, but he said he needed to think about some things. To her dismay, he refused the meal she had prepared for him and went back into the fields where she could see him pacing up and down, gesticulating as if he was arguing with someone. Yet he was alone.
She sat, watching him in the light of the full moon, waiting for him to return.
She was concerned he was ill. But when he came back to the house as the dawn broke she had hot water and bread ready for him.
She placed a bowl of water in front of him so he could wash, and then gave him the food and some wine.
He was ravenous and slaked his thirst before he spoke.
“Tamar,” he turned to her. She could see, from the way his jaw clenched, that whatever it was he was about to say, meant a great deal to him.
But his words came as a shock.
“Tamar, I’m going to build a boat.”
That was all he said, but it was enough to make her suspicions of illness grow stronger. He tore off a chunk of bread as she sought for the words to question his decision.
“What? What do you mean, Noah? Why do you need a boat when we live so far from any water we can use it on? Will you drag it to the nearest sea to fish for us? Aren’t you happy with the meat and vegetables I cook for you? Why …?”
He smiled and put out his hand to touch her arm.
“Enough, Tamar. I am going to build a boat because the One God has told me to do so. It will not be a boat we can drag anywhere. He has given me the dimensions. It will take me and the boys a long time to build. And then the water will come to us.”
“But, Noah, …”
“No, Tamar, no buts. This is something I know I must do. I have argued with Yahweh all night, and I am now convinced this is what he wants.
“When the boat is built, he will send rain for forty days and forty nights. The waters will flow and cover the earth. But our family will be safe inside the boat.”
“What about the others? Our friends and the rest of our family? Noah, we must tell them! They must build their own boats if what you say is true. I…”
“Tamar, the One God has been calling them and they have ignored him. Nothing you or I can say to them will change their minds. It is time. Yahweh’s patience is worn thin. They will not listen and now he is going to act.”
Noah was adamant. Nothing Tamar could say would convince him this was extreme behaviour. Her tears didn’t even help to soften his determination. To her amazement, as the boys joined them, they were enthusiastic about the idea, excited by the thought of the adventure.
But Noah had not finished yet. It was his final words that convinced Tamar he was losing his mind.
“Oh, and Tamar, the Lord says we will not be going alone.”
For a moment, relief washed through her. They would be able to take some of their friends and family after all. Her friends were important to her, living as she did in a family of four men. Why had he said it was too late for them if there was going to be room in the boat for them?
But her man continued.
“The One God will fill the boat with every living creature – two of each – male and female – and we are to care for them while they are with us.”
The boys whooped in delight! This adventure was getting better and better. They punched each other on the shoulders and began asking questions. Their father stopped them.
“Go and run off some of your energy, my sons.” He laughed as he saw their excitement. “Put it to good use. Feed the animals and thresh the wheat we have already harvested. I need to sleep, but we will talk again later.”
The boys ran out of the house, shouting to one another, their voices fading as they entered the cattle shed.
Noah left her alone, ready to sleep after his long night wrestling with his God.
Tamar stood, still holding the pot she had had in her hands when Noah spoke about their travelling companions, shocked rigid, unable to take it all in. Creatures? What did he mean, creatures? Sheep, cows and dogs she could cope with. But creatures? Did that include the lizards which dozed on the rocks, sunning themselves, and then scurrying away in such a fashion that made her shudder with distaste? Or rats? What about rats – and snakes? Oh no, she was not just going to accept that without an argument!
She banged the pot down on the table and hurried after Noah. But she was too late. Her man had thrown himself on the sweet grasses that were their bed at this time of year, and was snoring. As she looked down at him, vulnerable in sleep, she felt love flood through her. He had been good to her, this man. He had given her a comfortable home and three strong sons. She would not fight him. But she would certainly discuss it with him and try to change his mind. She did not plan to spend several days in a boat with any rats!
In the following days, Noah, helped by their eager sons, began to gather materials. It was no secret, for gathering such vast quantities of wood and cutting them to the lengths he needed could not go unnoticed. People laughed at him. Kindly at first – after all, he was their friend and well respected for his honesty and kindness. But gradually, as time passed and the boat took shape, and people realised the enormity of the project, their laughter turned to contempt and their comments became cruel.
It was hard on Tamar. She took to going to the well in the middle of the day when it was quiet, so she wouldn’t have to face the hurtful taunts of the women. She was lonely.
It was hard on the boys too. They were no longer boys, but young men, toned and fit from all the tough physical work they were putting into building the boat. The girls flocked around. Tamar was concerned about the choices they would make.
But Noah allowed them little time for girls. He set them to work as the sun rose and he worked alongside them until it set. By then they were all exhausted and would eat the meal Tamar had prepared for them, then sleep until it all began again the next day. The boys grumbled, but they had been brought up to obey their father. So they did as he demanded of them.
Day after day, month after month, year after year, until one day the final plank was lashed into place. It was as water-tight as they could get it. They filled it with leaves, grain and grasses, as well as supplies for the family.
Enough for several days.
Tamar hoped it was enough – for it could hold no more if there was to be room for eight people and who knew how many creatures. She shuddered every time she thought about it. How were they going to find these animals?
Noah sighed as he stepped back to look at the boat they had built. He smiled and nodded in satisfaction. They had fulfilled God’s command. He stepped forward and opened the enormous doors of the boat. The usual crowd was there, jeering and mocking him, but he ignored them. He called his family to him.
“We have done what God demanded of us.”
He turned to the boys.
“Follow God’s lead. Go and find the young women you wish to be your wives and bring them back here as soon as you can, for time is short.”
With tears in her eyes, Tamar watched her three strong sons hurry away. She knew, even if Noah did not, who her boys would bring back with them. In spite of their work on the boat, each one had met and fallen in love with a young woman who loved him in return.
So it was not long before they came back, each bringing a beautiful young woman with them.
“Good,” Noah said. “Now stand aside and let’s watch as God brings in our other travelling companions who will accompany us on our journey.”
As he fell silent, far, far away in the distance, a rumble of thunder could be heard. The family looked at one another, eyes open wide. Could the rain be coming so soon? The thunder rolled around the hills, on and on. Even the taunting crowd heard it and fell silent. It was unceasing, growing in volume, and seemed to surround them.
Then one of the men in the crowd pointed to the east.
“Look! The old man’s got it wrong! It’s not a boat he needs, but a tent! There’s a dust storm coming! Not rain! It’s a big one too. I’m off home to tie down my belongings and get my livestock into shelter.”
Others, who had been laughing at the mistake Noah had made, realised the gravity of the situation and they left too and raced back to their own homes.
Tamar clutched Noah’s hand as the dust cloud grew higher and wider. She glanced north and tugged his hand.
“Look, there’s another one in the north! And there’s one over there behind the hills!”
The whole family gazed around, confused. How could so many dust storms come from so many directions all at once? Each one was getting bigger, and the continuous thunder roared around them.
“Don’t be afraid,” Noah said, as he drew Tamar close to him. “This is the miracle – the first of many the One God will bring about in the coming days.”
He fell to his knees. The young people followed his lead.
“Come, Tamar, it is time we worshipped the One God together.”
Tamar did as he asked because she loved him, but her eyes burned bright with misgiving. She pulled away from him, then knelt, rigid and disapproving. Bad enough he should spend all this time building a boat. She had supported, if not encouraged him, this whole time. But now, what was this talk of miracles? And how could he have got it so wrong, talking of rain when they were about to be engulfed in the biggest dust storms she had ever seen.
Noah raised his arms and the others worshipped his God with him. But Tamar did not move. Wide-eyed she stared straight ahead, hardly able to believe what she could see, unable to look away.
One of her sons shifted on his knees and opened his eyes. He was facing her so she could see the shock on his face.
His cry alerted the rest of the family, his shock mirrored in their own faces.
“Look! It’s not dust storms! It’s animals!”
“Just as Yahweh promised, my sons.” Noah laughed and flung his arms open wide in worship.
“All praise to you, Lord, for you are faithful!”
They leapt to their feet and Noah danced in the sand, worshipping his God. But the others stood in awe as they watched the dust clouds draw closer.
Animals! No. Creatures!
Male and female. Some they could name – wolves, bears. lions. Some they had never seen before – creatures with long, graceful necks, horses with black and white stripes, cow-like creatures with heavy horns. Minute creatures with four legs, six legs and eight legs – and even a few with too many legs to count. Birds of all shapes and sizes, most of them flying, but some running, too big to fly; and one or two waddling like comical small men.
For hours the family stood in wonder, pointing out this one and that one, as each strange creature walked past them.
Tamar was in despair. She had seen many crawling creatures enter the ark. She had watched as pair after pair of mice, all different sizes and colours, had scampered in. She had looked on in fear as two enormous animals with flapping ears and long noses had entered, placing each huge foot with great care as they tested the strength of the boat’s floor.
She couldn’t help but marvel at the variety. It was a miracle. Not just the sheer numbers and diversity, but the fact that they came to her husband’s boat, just as he had finished it – just as it was ready. How did they know?
But how were they to care for all these creatures? What did they eat? Surely some of them would eat each other? And although the boat was stocked with vegetation, there would not be enough to see them through even a couple of days with these numbers.
The stream of creatures slowed … and finally stopped. As the last ones entered the boat, Noah once again turned to his family.
“Look! Look to the west!”
They turned and looked. Above the mountains, storm clouds were forming, advancing with increasing speed towards them. Lightning flashed, followed by deafening claps of thunder and wind that whipped up the sand.
“Inside, everyone!” Noah shepherded his family through the doors. The men fastened them as the gusts of wind hit the boat and made it shudder where it stood.
Tamar clutched Noah in fright.
“Don’t be afraid, Tamar. God is with us.” He took hold of her shoulders and turned her around to look deep into the boat where it appeared to be chaos.
Animals were everywhere, milling around, calling and whining, flying and crawling.
“How are we going to manage, Noah? What are we going to do?”
“This is God’s plan, my love. Come, let’s go amongst them and see who we have here. Isn’t God amazing? Isn’t his plan wonderful?”
Tamar was not so sure she could agree. She held Noah’s hand, determined she would not let go and get lost in the crowd of animals surrounding them as she followed her man among the creatures.
It was the tapir that did it. She was young. There was still evidence of her baby stripes. And she was lost. Her long nose whiffled in distress as she smelt the air. Her cries were forlorn and desperate in the crowd that surrounded her. Somehow she had been separated from her mate.
Tamar let go of Noah’s hand and fell to her knees, reaching out to the lost little creature. Noah turned to watch as his wife gathered the strange animal in her arms. He smiled and nodded.
“Thank you, Yahweh,” he whispered as he turned and walked on.
Tamar crooned to the tapir, as the funny little creature grew calm in her arms.
“She’s no different to any other small child,” Tamar thought.
“You are right, Tamar. And just as you can be a mother to your sons and your grandsons when they come, so you can be a mother to these creatures while they have need of you.”
Tamar did not need to ask who had spoken. It could only be Noah’s One God.
“I am your God too, Tamar. Will you do as I ask and care for these creatures for me?”
Tamar glanced around, panic flooding through her, as once again she thought of the enormity of the task, and some of the creatures who would be in her care.
“I will guide you and I will provide for you, Tamar. Do not be afraid.”
Do not be afraid. The words Noah said to her so often rang in her ears. Do not be afraid.
“Lord, now I know you are with me, I will not be afraid. I will do as you ask,” and she gave the tapir one last hug as the little creature wriggled out of her arms to run and meet her mate who had appeared from behind one of the buffalo.
She smiled at the small creature which had touched her heart. This little animal would grow, as would many of the others while they were in her care. She would love them and nurture them – just as the One God would love and nurture Tamar and her family
She wandered amongst the animals, caressing them and falling in love with them.
But for the whole time they were in the boat together, while the rain fell and the storm raged; the sun came out and the waters receded; all through that wonderful, crazy, hectic time, the little tapir was her favourite. For Tamar was with her when she first met the One God.
At last, she was able to understand her man a little more.