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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 9

Dummelow's Commentary on the BibleDummelow on the Bible

Verses 5-17

The Flood

This narrative records the judgment of God upon the sinful forefathers of mankind, and His preservation of a righteous family, in whom the divine purposes for men might be carried out. The spiritual teaching of Noah’s deliverance has always been recognised by Christians, who see in the ark a symbol of the Church into which they are admitted by baptism, God thereby graciously providing for their deliverance from the wrath and destruction due to sin. The story of the Flood was fittingly used by our Lord and the NT. writers to convey lessons of judgment (Matthew 24:37; Luke 17:26; 2 Peter 3:5-7), righteousness (2 Peter 2:5), repentance (1 Peter 3:20), and faith (Hebrews 11:7).

No section of these early chapters of Genesis has excited more interest than the account of this terrible catastrophe. Traditions of a great primeval deluge, similar to the one here recorded, exist in the annals of many nations besides the Hebrews. Of these the Babylonian Flood story is the most closely allied to the Bible narrative. Josephus and Eusebius both preserve fragments of a history of Chaldea which was written by Berosus, a priest of Babylon 250 b.c., and which he had gathered from the archives of the temple of Bel at Babylon. Among these fragments is a record of the Flood story as it occurred in his country. Two thousand years later, in 1872, Mr. G. Smith of the British Museum discovered fragments of a tablet of baked clay at Nineveh, inscribed in the cuneiform character, and of greater antiquity than the chronicle of Berosus, which strikingly confirm the latter’s account of the Flood. As is well known, the Hebrews and Babylonians belonged to the same Semitic stock, and the ancestors of the Hebrew race came from Babylonia. A comparison of the biblical and Babylonian stories shows clearly that they are two versions of the same narrative, although great differences exist in the religious standpoint. See art. ’Genesis and the Babylonian Inscriptions.’ The question has been discussed whether the Flood was limited in its extent to the early home of man and the birth-place of the tradition, viz. Central Asia, or whether it was world-wide. Various scientific objections to a universal immersion of the earth have been brought forward, such as its inconsistency with the existing distribution of animals, the impossibility of the different species of animals finding accommodation in the ark, the want of sufficient moisture in our world, either in the form of vapour or in that of water, to cover the highest mountains, and the disturbance to the solar system which would have been caused by the sudden creation of the amount required. In considering these objections, we must remember that the impression of a general divine judgment would be quite adequately produced by the submergence of the comparatively small district inhabited at the time by man; also, that the preservation of the record could only be due to the survivors, whose ideas of the extent of the catastrophe were drawn from their personal experiences, and the limited geographical knowledge of the time. In this way the statements of Genesis 6:17 and Genesis 7:4, Genesis 7:21-23 may be satisfactorily accounted for. ’The language relating to the catastrophe is that of an ancient legend, describing a prehistoric event. It must be judged as such. Allowance must be made, both for the exaggeration of poetical description and for the influence of oral traditions during generations, if not centuries, before the beginnings of Hebrew literature’ (Bishop Ryle). We need not hesitate, therefore, to accept the opinion now generally held that the Flood was only local in its extent.

The scene of the Flood is indicated by the traditions. Both mention the mountainous range on the borders of Armenia, Mesopotamia and Kurdistan as the region where the ark rested. The Babylonian account also places the building of the ’ship’ at Shurippak, a city on the Euphrates. This district was the original home of both Hebrews and Babylonians; and it is reasonable to conclude that the two accounts preserve the tradition of a calamitous occurrence in the early annals of their race, which left a lasting impression upon the two peoples, and which they both regarded as a divine visitation.

A word must be added regarding the natural phenomena which occasioned the catastrophe. The chief cause may have been, in addition to excessive rains, an earthquake which drove the waters of the Persian Gulf over the lowlying plains of Babylonia, turning them into an inland sea. Something of this kind is suggested in Genesis 7:11. The same agency may have driven the ark towards the mountains. Such upheavals of ocean beds, or subsidences of the earth, resulting in a disastrous inrush of the ocean, have occurred in modern times. In 1819, in a district known as the Runn of Cutch in India, 2,000 sq. m. of land were turned into an inland sea, owing to sudden depression of land followed by an earthquake.

The whole story emphasises the righteousness of God, who is ’of purer eyes than to behold iniquity,’ His stern punishment of sin, and His abundant mercy towards them that fear Him.

The narrative of the Flood affords an illustration of the composite character of Genesis. Many difficulties in the story are removed if we assume that the narrator made use of two distinct traditions. To the Priestly document may be assigned Genesis 6:9-22; Genesis 7:6, Genesis 7:11, Genesis 7:13-16, Genesis 7:18-21, Genesis 7:24; Genesis 8:12, Genesis 8:3, Genesis 8:13, Genesis 8:14-19; Genesis 9:1-17. This furnishes the groundwork of the story; the vv. assigned to the Primitive document are Genesis 7:1-5, Genesis 7:7-10, Genesis 7:12, Genesis 7:16-17, Genesis 7:22-23; Genesis 8:2, Genesis 8:3, Genesis 8:6-12, Genesis 8:13, Genesis 8:20-22. In Genesis 7:7-10 the Primitive account has, been modified by the introduction of some expressions from the Priestly narrative. The following are the chief points in which the two versions of the Flood story differ from each other. According to the Priestly narrative only one pair of every kind of creature is preserved in the ark; the cause of the deluge is the opening of the fountains of the great deep as well as of the windows of heaven; the waters prevail for an hundred and fifty days; it is five months after the beginning of the Flood when the ark rests on the mountains of Ararat; more than two months still pass before the mountain tops are visible; other two months elapse before the waters disappear; and almost two months more before the ground is perfectly dry; God’s promise is, that He will not again destroy the earth with a Flood. According to the Primitive document, seven pairs of all clean beasts and fowls, and one pair of all unclean animals, are taken into the ark; the Flood is caused simply by a prolonged rain which lasts for forty days and nights; forty days after the rain ceases, Noah sends forth a raven and a dove; seven days later, the dove is sent out a second time, and again after other seven days; the ground is then dry; God promises to curse the ground no more, and to maintain the fixed order of all natural seasons. God’s covenant with Noah is peculiar to the former, and Noah’s sacrifice to the latter account.

6. It repented the Lord] The writer, as in Genesis 3, interprets God’s acts from man’s point of view, and explains them on the analogy of human motives. See on Genesis 11:5.

9. Perfect] i.e. ’upright,’ a man of integrity.

13. With the earth] rather, ’from the earth.’

14-16. The Hebrew word for ark means a ’vessel,’ that which contains anything. It was shaped like a chest, with a flat bottom and a roof. If the cubit measured 18 in., the ark was 450 ft. long, 75 ft. broad, and 45 ft. in depth; and therefore smaller than many modern steamships. It had three decks, and was divided into compartments. It was built of gopher wood, which was probably the cypress; and was coated with pitch. The window of Genesis 6:16 (RV ’light,’ RM ’roof’) was probably an open space for light and air left all round the ark, just under the roof, which was supported at intervals by posts.

16. In a cubit, etc.] RV ’to a cubit shalt thou finish it upward,’ i.e. a space of 18 in. was to be left.

18. My covenant] see on Genesis 9:9.

19. Every living thing of all flesh] This comprehensive command is limited in the Primitive narrative (Genesis 7:2) to clean animals (such as sheep, oxen, and goats), and to beasts that are not clean (which by analogy means domestic animals, such as camels, asses, horses, etc.), and fowls. The inclusion of all living animals in the ark is the explanation which the tradition had to give, to account for a fact, otherwise inexplicable on its theory of a universal flood; namely, the presence in the world of so many different species of animals after such a destructive event.

Verses 1-29

The Divine Blessing and Covenant. Noah and the Vine. The Curse of Canaan

1-7. The primeval benediction of man (Genesis 1:28) is now repeated and enlarged. Animal food is allowed (cp. Genesis 1:29), but blood is forbidden. The blood makes the life manifest, as it were, to our senses, and the life belongs to God, and must, therefore, be offered to Him.

5, 6. The ground of the sacredness of human life here is the existence of the divine image in man. It is not conceived as being wholly destroyed by sin.

9. My covenant] This word occurs some two hundred times in the OT., and the idea lies at the root of the whole conception of law among the Jews. Covenants, as made between men, form the beginnings of civilised government: cp. Genesis 26:26; Genesis 31:44, etc. The word is also used of the relation of God to man; of His justice, His unchangeable nature, and His protecting power, on the one side, and the corresponding duties devolving upon man, especially as embodied in the law of Moses, on the other. A series of covenants (with Abraham and his successors, with Israel in the wilderness, with David) runs through OT history. The particular idea in the covenant with Noah is that of the uniform working of God in Nature (cp. Genesis 8:22), and of His loving care for His creation. On these two ideas are based all physical science, which could not exist if there were no laws of nature, and all religion, which otherwise would become mere superstitious dread of unseen powers. Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31-34) speaks of a new covenant which is to take the place of the covenant of the exodus. The New Testament claims that this new covenant has been introduced by Christ (Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Hebrews 8). Hence the two divisions of the Scriptures are properly not ’Testaments’ but ’Covenants.’

13-17. We are not to understand that the bow was now first created. From the beginning a rainbow would be formed, whenever the sunshine and the rain met together. But it was now designated to be the token of God’s gracious promise, and its use for this purpose is in harmony with the feelings which it naturally excites. The rain-storm is on us, but the sun is in the skies: the dark background brings out the glorious arc of colour. Man need not yield wholly to depression, for he knows that the clouds will pass. Hindoo mythology calls the rainbow Indra’s war-bow, laid aside by him after he had vanquished the demons. Scandinavian legend speaks of it as a bridge built by the gods to join heaven and earth. It is also alluded to in the Babylonian narrative of the Flood.

18-27. Noah and the Vine. The curse of Canaan.

The purpose of the passage is (1) to explain by a story the origin of the cultivation of the vine, and (2) to set forth the moral and religious position of Israel among the other nations of the world. On the ground of the mention of Canaan instead of Ham in Genesis 9:25, Genesis 9:27, it has been suggested, with some probability, that in the Primitive document the sons of Noah were originally Shem, Japheth and Canaan, and that the explanations in Genesis 9:18, Genesis 9:22 (Ham the father of Canaan) were introduced to harmonise the story with the Priestly document, which speaks of Shem, Ham and Japheth.

18, 19. These vv. are a link, inserted to connect the incident with the account of the Flood.

20. Noah is represented as the first cultivator of the vine.

21. Noah’s intoxication was not due to deliberate excess, but was his practical discovery of the properties of wine. The story therefore contains nothing inconsistent with the character already ascribed to him.

25. Canaan represents the nations of Palestine subdued by Israel. The justification of the conquest lay in the impure character of their worship, which was foreshadowed in the immodest conduct of their ancestor.

26. The Lord God of Shem] RV ’the Lord (Jehovah), the God of Shem.’ Shem was the ancestor of Israel, and these words assert Israel’s unique position and calling, as the chosen people of the true God. Canaan shall be] RV ’let Canaan be’: so in Genesis 9:27.

27. God shall enlarge] RV ’God enlarge Japheth.’ Japheth represents the remaining peoples of the world. They have a share in God’s favour, even though they do not know Him in His true character as Jehovah. He shall dwell] RV ’let him dwell,’ in friendly alliance. We may see in the words a forecast of the days when the descendants of Japheth should come to worship the Lord God of Shem: cp. Isaiah 60:3, Isaiah 60:5.

Bibliographical Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Genesis 9". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcb/genesis-9.html. 1909.
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