Science can at times yield surprising biblical insight. Take for example the fact that lignin makes hardwood trees hard. Lignin is a group of organic compounds found in the cell walls of plants that give structural rigidity to the plants’ overall growth and architecture. One type of plant lignin contains Sulphur while the other is Sulphur free. But it is the Sulphur bearing lignin that forms the fundamental structural basis of all hardwood trees used for lumbers products.
This botanical fact casts an interesting theological light on Genesis 6:14 where God instructs Noah to build a large Ark of גפר, gofer, aka gopher wood. Much confusion has been connected to the term gopher wood. No one seems to know exactly what type of wood it is or what the Hebrew word means. It is only used one time in the Old Testament so the King James Bible wisely leaves it untranslated.
Most people believe it is cypress wood because in the ancient post-Flood world, the cypress tree was large and strong and its wood was long-lasting, which is why it was used in Judea for the most substantial elite structures such as in Solomon’s place and in the Temple. Other trees suggested include pine, cedar, fir, ebony, juniper, or acacia. They are all simply guesses and may all be incorrect.
It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word gofer is the root of the word gophriyth, which is translated seven times in the Old Testament as brimstone, in the context of God’s fiery judgment on human wickedness. Examples would be Genesis 19:24 and Psalm 11:6.
The New Testament Greek equivalent of gophrith is theion and just like in the Old Testament it is used exactly seven times within the context of God’s judgment on wickedness, which is a remarkable mathematical coincidence. Brimstone is translated one other time in the Book of Revelation 9:17 in conjunction with the colors in the Priest’s breastplate, from the Greek word theiodes meaning sulfur like in color (yellow).
The number seven represents completion, perfection and veracity as noted in the seven day creation week and in Psalm 12:6 where it is written “The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.” The number seven is even used in reference to God’s displeasure of humanity’s sinful traits as in Proverbs 6:16.
When you put these original biblical terms into the context of the organic compounds that form the structural basis of trees and industrial applications of lumber, the coincidence is remarkable. For all practical purposes, God is speaking a scientific truth to Noah in telling him to use a form of plant material with sulfur-bearing lignin.
Given the depth of God’s wisdom in Scripture, the scientific truth of sulfur-bearing lignified plant tissue yields profound insight into His eternal purpose in judgment and redemption.
Noah is also told in Genesis 6:14 to cover the Ark inside and outside with pitch. The Hebrew word cover is kaphar which literally means to cover and by extension to insulate or to atone for (by covering). This word is widely used in Mosaic Law to describe the process of the high priest making atonement for the sins of the people as in Exodus 30:10.
A related and similar word used for pitch, kopher, most often describes the covering payment of a ransom for one’s life or that of an entire village. In other words, we have the symbolic act of a high priest making atonement for the sins of the people, insulating and protecting them from judgment.
The very materials used in the construction of the Ark not only convey protection from the judgment of the flood waters but a deeper layer of meaning in the protection against a sulfurous fiery judgment in the afterlife.
The deeper we dig into the treasure chest of Scripture, the more nuggets of truth we uncover. Practical biblical truth and profound examples of judgment and redemption can be found throughout Genesis. Both the Ark and Noah serve as foreshadowing types of Christ and much has been written about them in this respect.
Even the scientific reality of biblical truth has much to reveal not only about the veracity of God’s Word but about the omnipotence and eternal genius of our Creator and Redeemer. Every detail of the Ark’s construction shows His care, His love and His redemptive purposes.
Source: Scientific and Biblical Truth Converge for Gopher Wood, Institute for Creation Research