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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Genesis 8

 

 


Verse 1

VIII.

(1) God.—Elohim. On the Jehovistic theory, one would have expected Jehovah here. (See Excursus.)

Every living thing.—See Note on Genesis 7:14.

The waters asswaged.—Heb., became still. It is plain from this that the “strength” of the waters, described in Genesis 7:24, has reference to the violent currents, which still existed up to the end of the one hundred and fiftieth day, after which they ceased.

A wind (comp. the creative wind in Genesis 1:2) began to blow as soon as the rains ceased, or even before, as must necessarily have been the case with so vast a disturbance of the atmosphere; but its special purpose of assuaging the waters only began when the downpour was over. This wind would affect the course of the ark, but scarcely so strongly as the currents of the water.


Verse 3

(3) The waters returned from off the earth.—This backward motion of the waters also seems to indicate that a vast wave from the sea had swept over the land, in addition to the forty days of rain.

Were abated.—Heb., decreased. Those in the ark would notice the changing current, and would know, by their being aground, that the flood was diminishing. But it was not till the first day of the tenth month that the tops of the mountains were seen. This slow abatement of the waters and their stillness, described in Genesis 8:1, makes it probable that the ark had grounded on some land-locked spot.


Verse 4

(4) The seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month.—As the months had each thirty days (see Note on Genesis 8:14), this makes exactly 150 days (see Genesis 7:11). The seventh civil month would be Abib; and the Speaker’s Commentary notices the following remarkable coincidences:—“On the 17th day of Abib the ark rested on Mount Ararat; on the 17th day of Abib the Israelites passed over the Red Sea; on the 17th day of Abib, Christ, our Lord, rose again from the dead.”

Ararat.—If in Genesis 11:2 the Authorised Version is right in saying that the descendants of Noah travelled “from the east” to Shinar, this could not be the Ararat of Armenia. Moreover, we are told that the word in, Assyrian means “highland,” and thus may signify any hilly country. In the Chaldean Genesis the ark rests upon Nizir, a region to the east of Assyria, the highest peak of which, now named Elwend, is called in the cuneiform texts “the mountain of the world” ( Chaldean Genesis, p. 307). The rendering, however, “from the east,” is by no means certain, and many translate “eastward,” and even the Authorised Version renders the word east, that is, eastward, in Genesis 13:11. In 2 Kings 19:37 “Ararat” is translated Armenia; but it is more correctly described in Jeremiah 51:27 as a country near Minni, that is, near Armenia. There are in this region two mountains of great altitude, the Aghri-Dagh and the Kara-Dagh, the highest of which is 17,260 feet above the sea-level; and naturally legend chooses this as the place where the ark settled. But the inspired narrative says that it rested “upon the mountains of Ararat,” upon some chain of hills there, and seventy-three days afterwards Noah found himself surrounded by an amphitheatre of mountains, the word used in Genesis 8:5 being emphatic, and signifying “the tops of the mountains became distinctly visible,” and not that they had just begun to emerge. For, doubtless, after so vast a flood, mists and vapours would for a long time prevail, and shut out the surrounding world from Noah’s view.

The Targum of Onkelos and the Syriac translate “on the mountains of Carduchia.” This range, which separates Armenia from Kurdistan, is regarded by many authorities as the hills really meant, because, as they are nearer the place whence the ark started, the difficulty regarding the course taken by it is not so insuperable.


Verse 5

(5) Seen.—See Note on Genesis 8:4.


Verse 6

(6) Noah opened the window.—Not the zohar of Genesis 6:16, but an aperture. He had waited forty days after seeing the heights around him rising clearly into the air, and then, impatient of the slow subsidence of the waters, Noah at last sent forth a raven to bring him some news of the state of the earth. This bird was chosen as one strong of flight, and also, perhaps, because anciently regarded as prophetic of the weather; besides this, it is easily tamed, and as Noah retained its mate he had security for its return. And so it seems to have done, for it is described as going “forth to and fro.” Each night it returned to the ark, and probably to its old perch near the female. The Chaldean Genesis agrees with many commentators and the ancient versions in supposing that the raven did not return, finding abundant food in the floating dead bodies (Chaldean Genesis, p. 286); but this is contrary to the Hebrew. The versions must have had a negative in their copies, and have read, “which went forth, going, and not returning.” The present Hebrew text is, however, consistent with itself; for it adds, “until the waters,” &c. This must mean that as soon as the earth was dry this going to and fro ceased.


Verse 8-9

(8, 9) He sent forth a dove . . . —From the nature of its food, the raven had not brought back to Noah any special information; but as the dove feeds on vegetable products, he hopes that he shall learn by her means what is the state of “the ground,” the low-lying adâmâh. But as this species of bird does not fly far from its home, except when assembled in vast numbers, it quickly returned, finding water all around. This proves that the ark had not settled upon a lofty eminence; for as it had been already aground 120 days, and as within another fortnight the waters had “abated from off the earth,” it could only have been in some valley or plain among the mountains of Ararat that the waters were thus “on the face of the whole earth,” the larger word, yet which certainly does not mean here the whole world, but only a very small region in the immediate neighbourhood of the ark. For, supposing that the raven was sent out one week before the dove, forty-seven days (see Genesis 8:6) would have elapsed since Noah beheld the glorious panorama of mountain heights all around, and seven days afterwards the dove brought him a freshplucked olive-leaf. Yet, literally, the words are, for waters were upon the face of the whole earth. Plainly these large terms in the language of the Bible are to be limited in their interpretation by the general tenor of its narratives. For a similar conclusive instance, comp. Exodus 9:6 with Exodus 9:19-20.


Verses 10-12

(10-12) Again he sent forth the dove . . . —When, after another week’s delay, Noah again sent forth the dove, it remained away until “the time of evening,” finding both food and ground on which it could alight near the ark. It was not till nightfall that it came home, bringing to him “an olive leaf pluckt off,” or, possibly, a fresh olive-leaf. The olive-tree, which grows abundantly in Armenia, is said to vegetate under water; but what Noah wanted to learn was, not whether the topmost boughs were emerging from the flood, but whether the soil beneath was becoming free from water. Now, after a seven days’ interval, when Noah again sent forth the dove, she did not return, “because the ground was dry.” It is thus plain that the olive-tree had had plenty of time on some of the higher lands, while the flood was subsiding, to put forth new leaves. From this event the olive-leaf, thus sent by the regenerated earth to Noah in proof that she was ready to yield herself to him, has been ever since, among all mankind, the symbol of peace.


Verse 13

(13) The first day of the month.—It will be plain to any one studying the following table that this was exactly one month after the day on which Noah, for the third time, sent out the dove (Genesis 8:12):—

The flood commenced in the second month, called

Marchesvan, on day 17.

The waters prevail during 150 days = 5 months,

unto month 7, day 17.

Mountain-tops seen on month 10, day 1,

i.e., after 73 days.

Noah sends out raven at end of 40 days.

Dove thrice sent out, at intervals of

7 days = 21 days.

134 days.

But from the seventeenth day of the seventh month to the first day of the first month of the following year, there are:—

Of the seventh month 13 days.

Five months of 30 days each = 150 days.

First day of new year 1 days.

164 days.

It was thus very slowly that the earth returned to its normal state. The intervals of seven days between the sending forth of the birds prove that the division of time into weeks was fully established, and also suggests that religious observances were connected with it.

The covering of the ark.—The word is elsewhere used of the covering of skins for the Tabernacle (Exodus 26:14; Numbers 4:25), and it has probably a similar meaning here. To have removed the solid framework of the roof would have been a very laborious task, and still more so to have broken up the roof itself. But as the asphalte employed for filling up the interstices between the beams in the hulk of the ark would have been difficult to manage for the roof, it was apparently protected from the rain by a covering, probably of skins sewn together.

No one can read the narrative without noticing that Noah is not only described as shut up within the ark, but as having very slight means of observing what was going on around. Had there been a deck, Noah would have known exactly the state of the flood, whereas, peeping only through the zohar, he seems to have been able to see but little, possibly because his sight was obstructed by the overhanging eaves of the roof. Thus the freshly-plucked olive-leaf was like a revelation to him. But when these skins were taken off, there were numerous apertures through which he could obtain an uninterrupted view, and he “looked, and, behold, the face of the adâmâh was dry.”


Verse 14

(14) In the second month, on the seven and twentieth day of the month.—That is, fifty-seven days after Noah removed the covering, and a year and eleven days after the flood began. The word rendered “dried” at the end of this verse is different from that translated “dried up” and “dry” in Genesis 8:13, and marks a further stage in the process. It should be translated, was thoroughly dry.

There is in this year and eleven days a curious fact. It is reasonably certain that thirty days were reckoned to a month. But as a matter of fact, twelve lunar months do not make 360 days, but only about 354. Probably, therefore, the day of the new moon was often twice counted, as the last of the old month and the first of the new. But if to these 354 days we add 11, that is, from the 17th to the 27th of the second month. the result is exactly a full solar year of 365 days.


Verses 15-19

(15-19) Go forth . . . —At the end of exactly a solar year, thus curiously rectified, Noah, his family, and all the animals belonging to the Noachian world-circle are to leave the ark. The vast extent of the flood, and the total destruction of all that had existed before, is indicated by the repetition of the primæval command, in Genesis 1:22, “to be fruitful and multiply upon the earth.” Whatever the flood may have been with respect to the whole globe, it was to Noah and his race absolutely a. new beginning of things.


Verse 20

(20) Noah builded an altar unto the Lord (Jehovah).—The account of this sacrificial act is said to have been an interpolation of the Jehovist. Really it forms an integral portion of the numerous traditions of the flood. Thus in the Chaldean Genesis, after the sending forth of a dove, a swallow, and a raven, we read (p. 280):—

“I sent them forth to the four winds; I sacrificed a sacrifice;

I built an altar on the peak of the mountain.”

This extreme antiquity of sections ascribed to the Jehovist, and supposed to be an after-thought, is seriously detrimental to the whole theory.

One result of the flood was to sweep away all traces of the earthly paradise and of the subsequent abode of Adam; and it is probable also that Noah was removed far away from his previous home by the floating of the ark. Thus to him and his family it was a new earth, with no holy places, no spots hallowed by the past history of man. He therefore determines to consecrate the earth to Jehovah, who had been the object of the worship of his family since the days of Enos, and therefore builds an altar, the first mentioned in the Bible. By so doing he provided for future generations a central spot and sanctuary, round which their religious ideas would group themselves. The animals offered were probably the seventh of all clean kinds (see Note on Genesis 7:2). With Noah’s burnt offerings we must not connect any of the later Levitical ideas. Apparently it was a simple thank-offering, the dominant thought of which was the hallowing man’s future life by commencing it with worship. It thus contained within it the presage that a better state of things had now begun. Subsequently the thank-offering became a feast, at which the offerer and his family partook of the victim as Jehovah’s guests; and as God during this sacrifice gave Noah permission to eat flesh (Genesis 9:3), it is probable that such was the case now, and that the eating of flesh was inaugurated in this solemn way. We have, however, previously seen reason to believe that the flesh of animals had occasionally been eaten before, though not as an ordinary article of diet.


Verse 21

(21) A sweet savour.—Heb., a smell of satisfaction. The idea is not so much that the sacrifice gave God pleasure as that it caused Him to regard man with complacency. The anger at sin which had caused the flood was now over, and there was peace between heaven and earth.

Said in his heart.—Heb., to his heart: that is, Jehovah determined with himself, came to the settled purpose. (Comp. Genesis 17:17.)

For the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.—See Genesis 6:5. There seems at first sight to be an inconsistency between the two passages, and the Jehovist is accused of here contradicting the Elohist. For in the former place man’s inborn sinfulness is described as an aggravation of his offence, while here it is used as a reason for mercy. But it is a characteristic of the Bible that it states the two sides of every principle with abrupt simplicity, and most heresies have arisen from seizing upon one side only, and omitting the other from view. Man is one whose every imagination of the heart is only evil continually. (Comp. Matthew 15:19.) In the antediluvian world, with death indefinitely postponed, these imaginations had been unrestrained, and had therefore led to habitual and inveterate sin; and so justice at last had smitten it. But when man strives against them, and sin is the result of infirmity. then mercy heals and grace strengthens the penitent. When man, therefore, began his renewed life by hallowing it with religion, God saw therein the pledge of a struggle on his part after holiness, and the proof that the world would never again become totally corrupt. In this changed state of things human weakness was a reason only for mercy, and God gave the promise that so long as the world shall last, so total a destruction of man and his works upon it shall never again take place by the same agency.


Verse 22

(22) While the earth remaineth . . . —The traditional interpretation of this verse among the Jews represents the year as divided into six seasons. But this is untenable; for in Palestine itself there are two seed times, the winter crops being put into the ground in October and November, and the summer crops in January and February. Really the verse describes those great alternations upon which the well-being of the earth depends, whether considered absolutely, as of light and darkness, cold and heat, or with reference to man’s labours, as of sowing and harvesting; or relatively with respect to vegetation, winter being earth’s time of rest, and summer that of its activity.

As regards these promises, Delitsch considers that they probably came to Noah as strong inward convictions in answer to his prayers during the sacrifice.

 


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Genesis 8:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/genesis-8.html. 1905.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 24th, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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