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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Genesis 8

 

 

Introduction

This chapter continues the story of the Flood, including the period of the ark's flotation, its coming to rest, and the decrease of the waters (Genesis 8:1-5), the sending forth of the raven and the dove (Genesis 8:6-12), the disembarkation (Genesis 8:13-19), and Noah's burnt-offering with God's response (Genesis 8:20-22).


Verse 1

"And God remembered Noah, and all the beasts, and all the cattle that were with him in the ark: and God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the water assuaged."

God here began to dismantle the prevailing destruction that had been visited upon the whole world, for He had not forgotten His beloved human creation. The loving pity of the Father is the only thing that prevented the total annihilation of mankind, and that merciful concern is evident in God's remembering Noah.

The great point of this entire narrative is that humanity deserved destruction. This Flood is a type and symbol of that ultimate sentence of death that shall yet be executed upon all men for the rebellion against the Creator. This stupendous event was pointed out by Christ himself as a "foreshadowing of the final Assize"[1] that shall at last summons all men before that solemn tribunal where every man shall receive the appointment of his eternal destiny (Matthew 24:37-39). "Extinction is what we deserve and what man has always deserved."[2] (See also under Genesis 8:21, below.)

"God made a wind to pass over the earth ..." Such a phenomenon would have had a dual effect of (1) evaporation, and of (2) substantially aiding the movement of vast quantities of water back into the depression created by subsidence of the land level under the seas. The amount of the waters visible in this narrative requires the understanding that some major shift in land and ocean levels occurred. Tides that rise to great heights when a mighty hurricane moves inland are an illustration of how effective such a wind could have been. Whitelaw also discerned that this event saw both in its onset and its subsidence, "violent changes in the depths of the sea."[3]


Verse 2

"The fountains also of the deep and the windows of heaven were stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained."

Until a more normal situation prevailed, the wind was a great blessing, but when the ocean had returned to its usual level with reference to the land, such a wind would no longer have been a blessing but a great detriment. (See under the preceding verse.) Significantly, the wind, as an instrument of God, appears prominent in Jonah, and also in the opening of a passage through the Red Sea for the deliverance of Israel from Egypt.

"The fountains also of the deep ... were stopped ..." "This can mean only one thing; the land level was shifted again, so that the sea went back to its former place or nearly so."[4]


Verse 3

"And the waters returned from off the earth continually: and after the end of a hundred and fifty days the waters decreased."

So vast a subsidence of such tremendous amounts of water could have been caused by a phenomenal reduction of the earth's elevation "that lowered sea beds"[5] which had previously been abnormally elevated by such a disturbance as an earthquake, or other geological changes. The strange legend (if it is legend) of the disappearance of the fabled city of Atlantis could well have been founded on events related to the Deluge. Plato accepted that tale as a fact, and well it could have been. If indeed there was buried beneath the waves of the Atlantic ocean, named after the lost continent, an ancient antediluvian civilization, the logical cause of it would have been these changes evident in the Genesis account of the Flood.


Verse 4

"And the ark rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat."

For the duration of the Flood, see Genesis 8:14.

"Upon the mountains of Ararat ..." This designates, not a particular peak, but a district, described by Skinner thus: "It is the province of Armenia lying northeast of Lake Van, including the fertile plain watered by the Araxes, on the right (southwest) side of which Mount Massis rises."[6] The area is that which lies along the alluvial plain of the Aras (Araxes) river near the point were the three borders of the Soviet Union, Iran, and Turkey come together. Out of this region there rise two peaks, the Greater and the Lesser Ararat, the Greater rising to an elevation of 16,945 feet and the Lesser to a height of 12,877 feet above sea level. The plain itself is about 3,000 feet in altitude. The peaks are in Turkish terrritory[7]. Either of these peaks, or any of the foothills could have been the place where the ark rested. It is amazing that some scholars find "difficulty" with how the animals could have come down through snows from a high peak, but such difficulties do not come from anything in the Bible but from the interpretations that men have imported into it. Josephus wrote that, "The ark rested on the top of a certain mountain in Armenia"[8], and that is just about all that the text states. It is of interest that as late as the times of Josephus, the remains of the ark were said to be still visible: "Its remains are shown by the inhabitants there to this day."[9]


Verse 5

"And the waters decreased continually until the tenth month, on the first day of the month were the tops of the mountains seen."

This would indicate that the ark came to rest in an area of mountains; and the inference is that if the ark had been resting upon any except the tallest within eyesight, the mountains would have been seen before the ark rested.


Verses 6-12

"And it came to pass at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made: and he sent forth a raven, and it went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from the earth. And he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground; but the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him to the ark; for the waters were on the face of the whole earth: and he put forth his hand and took her in unto him into the ark. And he stayed yet another seven days; and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark; and the dove came in to him at eventide; and, lo, in her mouth an olive leaf plucked off: so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth. And he stayed yet other seven days, and sent forth the dove; and she returned not again unto him anymore."

This incident of sending forth the birds is also a feature of the Babylonian myth regarding the flood, but there are also marked differences. In the myth, the raven was sent out last, to which there could have been no point whatever. This is only one of many unreasonable and illogical characteristics of the extra-Biblical stories of the Flood, the same being merely "perverted versions"[10] of the true Biblical account. We shall notice another of these under Genesis 8:21.

"And, lo, in her mouth an olive leaf ..." Here is the origin of the universally-known symbol of the dove and the olive leaf as signifying peace and good will. In the N.T., the dove is seen as a symbol of the Holy Spirit (John 1:32,33), thus marking a connection between the salvation of Noah and the salvation of mankind. Brownville presented a remarkable study on the dove as a symbol of the Holy Spirit,[11] and the subject of the fitness of the dove for the elaborate symbolism connected with it is discussed in this series of commentaries (See my commentary on Matthew 3:16).

"Yet other seven days ..." occurs in both Genesis 8:10 and Genesis 8:12; and despite the fact of no such period having been mentioned prior to the sending out of the dove the first time (Genesis 8:8), scholars usually agree that there was also similar waiting of seven days after the raven was sent out and before the dove was sent out for the first time, as seemingly implied by the recurrence of this expression. It is one of the ambiguities connected with the chronology of this event.


Verse 13

"And it came to pass in the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from off the earth: and Noah removed the covering from the ark, and looked, and, behold, the face of the ground was dried."

The exit from the ark took place one month and 27 days later than the time specified here, as revealed in Genesis 8:14; and presumably, Noah might have taken it upon himself to leave the ark during that period, but he patiently waited until God gave him the signal to disembark. After all, God had told him to enter and had closed the door, and Noah evidently decided to wait until God opened the door or commanded him to leave.


Verses 14-16

"And in the second month, on the seven and twentieth day of the month, was the earth dry. And God spake unto Noah, saying, Go forth from the ark, thou and thy wife, and thy sons, and thy sons' wives with thee."

Aalders pointed out that the word "dried," or "dried up," used in Genesis 8:13, "Means "free of water," while the word used here means, "dry and firm."[12] Thus, it would have been a mistake for Noah to have descended from the ark at an earlier date. The simple way of calculating the duration of the Flood is simply to compare this verse with Genesis 7:11. From the year 600 of Noah's life, 2month, 17th day, to year 601,2month, 27th day is exactly one year and ten days. The big problem, of course, is that men do not know whether the "Noahic year was solar or lunar."[13] The usual opinion of scholars is that, "Noah's year consisted of twelve months of thirty days each."[14]


Verses 15-19

And God spake unto Noah, saying, Go forth from the ark, thou, and thy wife, and thy sons, and thy sons' wives with thee. Bring forth with thee every living thing that is with thee of all flesh, both birds, and cattle, and every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth; that they may breed abundantly in the earth, and be fruitful, and multiply upon the earth. And Noah went forth, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons' wives with him: every beast, every creeping thing, and every bird, whatsoever moveth upon the earth, after their families, went forth out of the ark.

These state simply that, in obedience to God's command, Noah, and all the creatures on the ark, "After their families, went forth out of the ark" (Genesis 8:19).


Verses 20-22

NOAH'S BURNT OFFERING

"And Noah builded an altar unto Jehovah, and took of every clean beast, and of every clean bird, and offered burnt-offerings on the altar. And Jehovah smelled the sweet savor; and Jehovah said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake, for that the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more everything living, as I have done. While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease."

"Noah builded an altar ..." As Willis and other scholars have noted, "This is the first time that an altar is mentioned"[15] in the Bible. The fact of this having apparently been a free-will offering, not the result of a specific command from God, and the further fact of the animal sacrifices of antiquity being used universally as food for the worshipers, as later confirmed in the Mosaic regulations concerning such things, we are perhaps justified in seeing in this, strong evidence that the antediluvians were carnivorous and not vegetarians, as apparently indicated also by the fact that the food taken into the ark probably included, at least in part, a certain number of those clean beasts taken aboard.

Many have commented on the proportion of Noah's sacrifice. In regard to the relation of the number of the total supply of clean creatures available, assuming that some had been consumed for food, and that therefore the total must have been far less than seven each. And in view of the fact of Noah's presenting to God a burnt offering of "every clean beast, and of every clean bird," it must be concluded that this was indeed an appropriate and tremendous sacrifice, offered by Noah from the gratitude of a faithful heart for the marvelous deliverance that God had provided for him and his.

"Burnt-offering ..." We find agreement with Unger that such sacrifices were not first initiated by Moses, but "that they were instituted from the Fall of man."[16]

"And Jehovah smelled the sweet savor ..." The Hebrew word for God here is not [~'Elohiym] but [~Yahweh], as frequently used in connection with God's covenant actions and in exhibitions of His grace.[17] Such name changes in the references to God have absolutely nothing to do with various alleged documents which some think were combined to form the Book of Genesis. Here is another example of the impassable gulf that exists between mythical and Biblical accounts. God's smelling the "sweet savor" of Noah's magnificent sacrifice is merely an anthropomorphism to describe God's acceptance and approval of it. On the other hand, the vulgar Babylonian myth represents "the gods" as being "gathered like flies above the offerer of sacrifice,"[18] as if they were hungry and even starving because they had not been fed by sacrifice in such a long time! Even the most casual glance at the various mythical stories with accounts of a great flood reveals them as distorted and perverted accounts of the event accurately recorded in Genesis.

"I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake ..." Some believe that this is the nullification of Genesis 3:17-19; but that is an error. This merely means that, "The curse will not be applied again in the same way as it was in the Deluge."[19] Whitelaw pointed out that:

"This is not a revocation of the curse of Genesis 3:17-19, nor pledge that such curse would not be duplicated. The language refers solely to the Deluge, and promises not that God may not sometimes visit particular localities with a flood, but that another such world-wide catastrophe should never overtake the human race."[20]

"As I have done ..." This clause is a qualifier of the whole passage. The simple meaning of it is that the Great Deluge will never be duplicated in the subsequent history of the world. The beneficent curse upon the ground for the sake of man will not be removed, but just such a thing as the Flood will never be repeated.

"For that the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth ..." Although this is sometimes mistakenly assigned as the reason for the ensuing promise, such a view is erroneous. What is really meant by it is that Noah and his descendants will not be any better than were the posterity of Adam. Despite such a fact, God would nevertheless go forward with his Operation Mankind. It was exactly the same situation that Hosea, one of God's great prophets, confronted in the instance of sinful Gomer. Despite her wickedness, he took her back home, not as a wife, but as one who would "sit still" for him many days. Rather than destroy the whole race again, God would find other means of reaping the intended harvest from the populations of earth. Those other means would include at a later time, the introduction of the device of the "Chosen People," and still later, the visitation of our world by the Glorious One, even Jesus Christ our Lord (Luke 1:71f).

Elliott's comment on this unmistakable prophecy of the continuing wickedness of humanity was to the effect that Noah's behavior soon provided "a striking example"[21] of mankind's depravity.

"While the earth remaineth ..." This is not a promise that the established order will continue eternally, but that "as long as the earth itself exists," that order will continue. The Scriptures make it explicit that there is still another event that shall annihilate the whole world in the fires of the eternal judgment (2 Peter 3). The same world that was destroyed in the Flood has yet another appointment on the "day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men." This great promise that God would preserve the orderly constitution and course of nature "till the end of the world," is sometimes called God's covenant of the day and night. (See Jeremiah 33:20,25).

This whole passage is invaluable in the proper understanding of the phenomena prophesied in Revelation 16, because the validity of these promises forces an understanding of the disasters prophesied there as symbols of the corruption of man's spiritual, religious, and cultural environment. Many of the wild postulations about what will happen in the "end times" are possible only by a gross misunderstanding of what is written here, or by a failure to accept the truth and validity of these assurances.

"Seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night..." Josephus described the necessity for the promises in these verses as follows:

"But as for Noah, he was afraid, since God had determined to destroy mankind, lest he should drown the earth every year. So he offered God burnt offerings and besought God that nature might hereafter go its further orderly course. He also prayed God to accept his sacrifice, and to grant that the earth might never again undergo the like effects of his wrath."

If this reasonable opinion should be accepted, then the event of the rainbow covenant mentioned in the next chapter would appear to be, at least partially, the result of Noah's fearful petitions.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Genesis 8:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/genesis-8.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020
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