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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Genesis 8

Verses 1-22

Noah Saved in the Ark

Genesis 8:1-22

Traditions of the Flood linger among all branches of the human race except the black. Remember from the Greek story of Deucalion, when Zeus had resolved to destroy mankind, after the treatment he had received from Lycaon, Deucalion built an ark in which he and his wife Pyrrha floated during the nine days' flood which destroyed Greece. When the waters subsided, Deucalion's ark rested on Mount Parnassus.

Ten buildings the size of Solomon's temple could have been stowed away in Noah's Ark. In 1609 a Dutchman, Peter Jansen, built a vessel in the exact proportions of the ark, only smaller. Every one laughed at him, but he kept sturdily on. When his vessel was launched it carried more freight and sailed faster than any other ships of the same size.

Reference. VIII. 1-22. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Genesis, p. 55.

God's Remembrance of Noah

Genesis 8:1

The beautiful simplicity of this language goes home to the heart of every reader. We picture Noah in his isolation, in his apparent desolateness and hopelessness, his ark alone upon the wide-spreading waters, and no living soul to hail him and to cheer him with good news. Had he thought himself forsaken and forgotten, his ark 'alone on a wide, wide sea,' we could not have wondered. But 'God remembered Noah'. When the Scriptures speak of the remembrance of God, it is usually remembrance 'for good'. So it is here.

I. The Purpose of God's Remembrance.

( a ) To deliver him from danger. The provision of the ark, into which God had appointed that Noah and his family should enter for refuge, was a measure of safety; but it now seemed as though the very refuge was itself a source of danger. How long could such a captivity with its attendant privations be endured? Were the members of this rescued family to be left to drift upon the waters and to perish? These questions were answered by the Lord remembering Noah. Let such as are placed in circumstances of peril, hardship, and anxiety be assured that whilst they remember and call upon God He will remember and will not forsake them.

( b ) To reward him for his piety. Noah had been 'faithful among the faithless,' had maintained the true religion amidst prevailing corruptions. And God did not forget His servant's justice and devout-ness, but treated him with a discriminating favour. As Nehemiah afterwards entreated God to remember him for good, and to remember his works, so now doubtless the second father of the race called upon the Lord God. And his cry was not unheeded, for the Lord remembered him in mercy.

( c ) To establish with him an unchanging covenant. 'God remembered Noah' to such good purpose as to undertake on his behalf, and on behalf of his posterity, engagements which have proved most advantageous and beneficial to the race. The promise was given that the waters should no more submerge the earth, that the seasons should pursue their regular and uninterrupted course; and these promises were confirmed by a sign, the bow in the clouds, at the sight of which the heart is still cheered and the hope is still inspired.

II. The Character of God's Remembrance.

( a ) It is individual. 'Noah, and every living thing.' Man has the power of generalizing; but it is his imperfection that necessitates the expedient; imperfection of memory and general intellectual power; imperfection of sympathy. Every thing and every heart is present to God in its distinctiveness of individuality and condition. The very hairs of your head are numbered; He hears the young ravens when they cry.

( b ) It is universal. The ark was then the living world, and He remembered all in it. 'We are also His offspring.' The meanest thing that lived is cared for, loved, remembered by God. Be kind to dumb animals. Also, have wide sympathy and large hope. Rejoice not that you are the members of a small family, a pet few, for you are not; but that you are the child of a Father of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.

( c ) It is not lessened by the terrible judgments which He executes. The floods that drown a world do not quench His love, or obliterate His remembrance. The ark tossing helmless on the wide waste, and every living thing in it, is remembered by God. God remembers every living thing. He has the destinies of all creatures in His hand and on His heart. After the seemingly helpless, hopeless drifting of the ark, it will rest at last; and new heavens will smile upon a renovated earth; and a 'rainbow' will be 'about God's throne, in sight like unto an emerald'.

References. VIII. 1. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, God's Heroes, p. 1. VIII. 4. C. D. Bell, Hills that Bring Peace, p. 23. Bishop Browne, Sermons on the Atonement, p. 67. VII. 9. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xi, No. 637; ibid. vol. xl. No. 2373.

Noah's Sacrifice

Genesis 8:20-21

I. What was the first employment which Noah set his hand to when he came out of the ark? His soul was full of thanks and praise; as he knew the way that God had appointed, by which he and all sinful men should express their praise, he complied at once with that service of thanksgiving which God had ordained, the offering up a sacrifice.

II. But how could he afford to spare the animals which were requisite for a sacrifice? Noah had in his possession but a little stock. But Noah was a man of faith and piety: his faith led him to believe God's promise, that the fowl and the cattle should increase abundantly, and his piety led him to feel that he would sooner lose every sheep or bullock he possessed than leave his God unthanked and unacknowledged in the way that was appointed.

III. And how did God regard it? To him Noah's motives, faith, thankfulness, and obedience were as a secret refreshing scent to ourselves. Noah's faith looked above the lamb or bullock which he offered to Him whose death upon the cross they represented, and God therefore was well pleased with the faith and the obedience.

IV. What did it lead Him to promise and engage for? Such a promise that we may consider ourselves indebted to it, for God's forbearance even now, for the regularity with which our spring succeeds to winter, and our harvest to the seedtime, and our day to night. It is not because man has become a better object of God's bounty now than in the old days before the Flood. It is because God had respect to Noah's sacrifice, because in it he regarded that better sacrifice which it represented and set forth.

E. J. Brewster, Scripture Characters, p. 11.

The Figurative Element in Bible Language

Genesis 8:21

There is a saying of the rabbis, which, if its full significance be understood, and wisely applied, is worth the whole folios of their formal exegesis. It is that 'The law speaks in the tongue of the sons of men'. If the rabbis had taken to heart this saying of their own famous Rabbi Ishmael, the greater part of their exegetic system would at once have been shown to be nugatory. For that system, as it gained vogue in spite of some strong protests, is founded on the principle that Scripture language is so mysterious, so unearthly, so little accordant with the ordinary tongue of men, that it may be distorted into the most monstrous meanings, and pressed into the most exorbitant inferences. It has been a terrible disaster to the Christian Church that she accepted without challenge the vicious principles of Talmudic interpretation. Out of many dangers which have resulted from the error of literalism let me choose two.

I. Language and thought can no more exactly coincide than two particles of matter can absolutely touch each other. No single virtue, no single faculty, no single spiritual truth, no single metaphysical conception, can be expressed without the aid of analogy and metaphor. Now if this be true in general, how much more true is it of any language in which we speak of God. The untrained imagination of the world's childhood could not conceive of a bodiless and omnipresent Spirit. It was necessary, therefore, for the sacred writer to speak of God as if he bad a human body; and this is what is called anthropomorphism.

II. But if harm was done by the crude errors of the heresy which insisted on exact literalism, and declared that the Trinity wore a human form, perhaps even deadlier evil arose from the imperfection of language which is technically called anthropopathy; namely, the attribution to God of human passions. When we speak of God's wrath, and fury, and fierce jealousy, and implacable rage, and describe His awful majesty, the 'Tartarean drench' of many modern sermons, or in the tempestuously incongruous language of many modern hymns, we ought to beware lest we are talking with too gross a familiarity of Him 'whose tender mercies are over all His works'. It is then most necessary to carry with us into the study of the Scriptures the perpetual sense of the shadows, the imperfection, the uncertainties of human languages. There are hundreds of passages of the Bible which have been misunderstood by millions, misunderstood for ages, misunderstood at times by perhaps nearly every living representative of the Church of God. All that we can now do is to gather up the significance of these considerations in a few general rules. ( a ) There is no basis whatever for the allegorical system of interpretation, in plain passages or ordinary narratives. To admit such a style of exegesis is to forget the very meaning and purpose of ordinary language. ( b ) Even where we have to deal with professed metaphor, or with allegories and parables, theological conclusions may never be based on isolated expressions or collateral inferences.

F. W. Farrar, British Weekly Pulpit, vol. iii. p. 892.

References. VIII. 21. J. Burnet, Penny Pulpit, No. 1485, p. 17. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xi. No. 615. C. S. Robinson, Sermons on Neglected Texts, p. 258.

Harvest Thanksgiving

Genesis 8:22

Why is it that we are grateful? Why is it that we like to express this when we realize benefits that we have received? I think we shall find that the fact of this quality of gratitude and this expression of thankfulness is implanted in us by our instincts, and that it is also a definite revelation of God, that He requires it at our hands, that a grateful, thankful disposition Is that which goes to make up the character of man as God would have it.

We like when we have done a kindness to know that it has touched the heart of him to whom it has been done. We like ourselves to recognize gratitude in others. So then it is the same with our heavenly Father. That which I have read as our text is perhaps one of the first examples of it. God is accepting there the offering of thanksgiving after the Flood which overwhelmed the earth, or that portion at least which was inhabited by man. We look to the New Testament. We find that our blessed Lord especially emphasized His acceptance of gratitude and the expression of it, as in the case of the ten lepers. We might multiply instances, but we realize that God Himself has distinctly made us know that the spirit of gratitude is a spirit that He desires to see as a part of human character.

I. Why is this Harvest especially a Cause of Thanksgiving?

( a ) It is the fulfilment of a Divine promise. We remind ourselves of the goodness of God in the fulfilment of that promise that these things that go to make our lives bright and happy, the morning and the evening, the day for labour and the night for rest, the summer and the winter, and the seedtime and the harvest, they shall never cease while the earth remaineth, as they once ceased in the days of the Flood of Noah.

( b ) We regard it also as a fulfilment of a desire on our part as the granting of prayer. It is a very curious thing that our blessed Lord, Who came on earth, as we have said, to reveal God's mind with regard to men's life, when asked how to pray, taught those pattern supplications which are contained in what is called The Lord's Prayer, and if we offer these supplications day by day, and very thoughtfully, we shall quite understand how all through the year we have been crying to God for a certain thing, 'Give us day by day our daily bread,' or, 'our bread today for tomorrow,' as some translators would have it. We have been crying to God so to bless the earth that it may produce its fruits for our use. How far this Divine miracle would cease, were the human cry to cease, we do not know. But we know that, in answer to that Divine command, daily, a great stream of intercession goes forth to God. And so, at the end of the year we gather together, in order to return our thanks for the giving of the gift for which we have prayed; for, after all, it is by Divine arrangement that the want of one part of the earth is supplied by the plenty of the other, that means of locomotion increase as men's needs increase, so that we are fed not only by the produce of the land on which we live, but by the whole great world of which we are a part.

II. How are we to Return Thanks?

( a ) By the service we offer. It is a very striking thing, is it not, that in the Old Testament, when God prescribed great festivals for the Jews, He prescribed three of them, as distinctly in connexion with the ingathering of the fruits of the earth the sowing, the first fruits, and the ingathering. So it was in the mind of God especially then, that thanksgiving should be offered by people united in the act of worship and praise, as it were, making beautiful the thankoffering that they sent up to heaven.

( b ) And then there is that further act of worship by which we most specially and signally mark our festivals of thanksgiving, the great thankoffering in the holy communion which our blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ gave us, the great thankoffering, as it used to be called in the early Church, the Eucharist, as we call it, which signifies the great service of thanksgiving.

( c ) We should offer ourselves, our souls and bodies, to the service of our God. That which God would have at our hands in the time of our thanksgiving is that which we can give an offering of ourselves.

Harvest Festival

Genesis 8:22

I. This passage is one of what are usually called the 'Jehovistic' sections of the book of Genesis. Specific portions of the narrative are characterized by the constant recurrence of the name 'Lord,' which is the translation in our Revised Version for 'Jehovah,' whilst other and more lengthy parts are usually distinguished by the exclusive use of the appellation 'Elohim' which is invariably rendered 'God'. This word is generic, and is in Scripture applied to the heathen divinities as well as to the true God, whilst the title 'Jehovah' or 'Lord' is specific, or rather essentially personal, and denotes the national or covenant God of Israel.

II. It is an important fact that the God of the seasons, the God of Nature, is the 'I am,' the self-existent one of Jewish worship, and that fact gets explicit statement in the earlier pages of the Revelation. An intelligent personal will is thus perceived to be the guiding force or principle in all changes and development, whether of nature or of providence. Nothing comes to pass by chance or an inexorable necessity, as some of the more thoughtful heathen supposed; the more destructive forces of the universe, storms and floods and earthquakes, are not diabolic, the sad and malignant work of evil supernatural spirits as others thought, but, however, inexplicable, are the issue of the Almighty fiat of Him who ruleth all things according to the counsel of His own will, 'the Lord'.

III. The unchangeable faithfulness of the Lord under all His successive dispensations is one main truth and lesson of the passage now before us, the rainbow in the domain of nature being no less a visible and sure sign or token of it, than the water or the bread or wine of the Sacraments in the sphere of grace. Salvation is all of grace from beginning to end; but our special business usually is to trace the Hand which wrought it out in the bounties of nature, in the joyousness of the harvest home and the vintage.

J. Miller, Sermons Literary and Scientific, p. 179.

References. VIII. 22. D. J. Waller, Preachers' Magazine, vol. xix. p. 415. R. S. Candlish, The Book of Genesis, vol. i. p. 140. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxii. No. 1891. IX. 1-7. R. S. Candlish, The Book of Genesis, vol. i. p. 140. IX. 4. A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons, vol. ii. p. 1. IX. 8-17. A. Maclaren, Expositions Genesis, p. 60. R. S. Candlish, The Book of Genesis, vol. i. p. 151.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Genesis 8". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/genesis-8.html. 1910.