“…Noach was a righteous man, flawless in his generation, and Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9).
With these credentials, why wasn’t Noach tapped to be the progenitor of God’s chosen nation? The Alshich notes that Noach walked with God, but wasn’t so connected to the rest of humanity. If we compare him to Abraham, we see that they each faced essentially the same crisis, but reacted very differently. Both were told by God that he was going to destroy the entire world or the major population centers at that time.
God instructed Noach to build an ark to save his family and animals, and he diligently obeyed. But Abraham strongly protested and argued against God’s decision to destroy the major population centers in the area of Sodom. “Will You destroy the righteous with the wicked?” (Genesis 18:23). This was grossly unjust to Abraham. But instead of pleading that God remove the righteous people from the cities before destroying them, he argued that if there were at least ten righteous people living in the cities, everyone had to be saved.
The actual text of Abraham’s proposal didn’t just say there had to be ten righteous people living in the city. Abraham required that they be “within” the city, and not cloistered away from the others. Abraham reasoned that such a group could model righteous living and potentially influence everyone else. That’s why everyone had to be spared.
Noach probably couldn’t imagine that people steeped in wickedness could ever turn their lives around. Abraham, though, always believed strongly that because every person is created in the image of God, they have free will and the ability to change. It is this belief in mankind’s ability to change that qualified Abraham to forge a nation that God tasked with changing the world by being a light to the nations.