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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Genesis 7

Verses 1-5

The Day Arrives (Genesis 7:1-5 )

Genesis 7:1

‘And Yahweh said to Noah, “Come, both you and all your household into the ark, for I have seen you as righteous before me in this generation”.’

We now see a reversion from Elohim to Yahweh because God is now dealing with Noah personally as one who is within His covenant and not primarily as Judge and Creator. The long period of activity required in Genesis 6:22 is over and the time has come for them to take refuge in the ark. Again the reason is stressed, it is because Noah is the only one of his generation to be acceptable to God through his faithfulness and his faith in God.

Now Yahweh gives more detailed instructions. In the previous verses He had stated that two of every kind of creature must enter the ark, so that their kinds might be preserved, for He was speaking as Elohim, the Creator, now He deals with the more practical element that it is necessary for more to be preserved of the ‘clean’ animals, and also of the ‘clean’ birds, which are both suitable for food and sacrificial offerings, for He is speaking as Yahweh, the covenant God, ensuring the maintenance of worship and the preservation of His people. This was clearly necessary or else the family would be unable to offer sacrifices to God until there had been time for the clean animals and birds to breed sufficiently, nor would they have sufficient milk and food. Genesis 7:3 almost certainly refers to clean birds rather than all birds, being a parallel with Genesis 7:2 in abbreviated form.

Genesis 7:2

“You shall take seven and seven of every clean animal, male and female, and two of the animals that are not clean, male and female. Of the birds of the air also, seven and seven, male and female, to keep their kind alive on the earth.”

It is not certain whether seven and seven means ‘seven pairs’ or seven of each kind, although Genesis 7:7 suggests the former, but either way provision is made for sacrificial offerings and later possibly for food. Already it is clear that there are distinct types of animals and birds considered suitable for sacrifice and for eating.

Such distinctions would in fact be necessary from the beginnings of the cult, unless it was accepted that anything could be offered, so that this is not an indication of late authorship. Views on sacrifice were complicated and widespread from the earliest times. This instruction on clean animals and birds could be given at the last moment as they would be to hand. How the numbers were originally indicated we do not know. Possibly by a hand of fingers plus two extra which may have had a name for it (as we say ‘twelve’ - ‘two eleph’ = 2 extra on top of ten - see article, " ").

Genesis 7:3

“For there are only seven more days, and then I will cause it to rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground.”

The number of days given for getting all the living creatures aboard is seven, the number of divine perfection, God’s perfect time. The world began in seven ‘days’, now preparations for its decease will also take ‘seven days’.

The ‘seven days’ may be literal, or they may indicate a God-given length of time, while not tying Noah down too strictly (compare the ‘seven-day journey’ which appears regularly in Genesis). As with Cain, so now the world are to be driven from the ‘face of the ground’, but this time with more finality, for they will be ‘blotted out’. The seven days was needed in order to get all the living things into the ark in readiness for the Flood, and it would seem to have taken up the whole time, for once they were in ‘on that very day’ the Flood came (Genesis 7:11-13).

“Forty days and forty nights” will later be significant as a period when men of God wait on God at special moments in history (Moses - Exodus 24:18; Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 9:9; Deuteronomy 9:18; Elijah - 1 Kings 19:8; and Jesus Himself - Matthew 4:2 and parallels). Perhaps that idea looks back to this time. The mention of both days and nights shows the intensity of the experience. It is unceasing. ‘Forty days’ had probably already begun to mean an unspecified period of a little over a month, as it certainly would later as a period of waiting for judgment (Ezekiel 4:6; Jonah 3:4) or as a more general period of waiting (Numbers 13:25; 1 Samuel 17:16 - both significant periods of waiting for Israel). So what God is saying here (and what He probably originally said before it was translated into numbers) is that it will rain for over a moon period of days and nights. But the mention of nights stresses the continuity of it.

“I will cause it to rain -- I will blot out”. In Genesis 2:5 when God was mentioned as ‘causing it to rain’ on the earth it was, by inference, to bring for man the means of survival. Now God will cause it to rain to bring judgment on man. Previously it had brought life. Now it will bring death.

Verses 1-24

“The Histories of the Sons of Noah” - The Flood (Genesis 6:9 b - Genesis 10:1 a) - TABLET IV

It has been common practise among a large number of scholars to seek to split the flood narrative into different so-called ‘documents’. This has partly resulted from not comparing them closely enough with ancient writings as a whole and partly from over-enthusiasm for a theory. There is little real justification for it. Repetitiveness was endemic among ancient writings, and is therefore not a hint of combined narratives, and the intermixture of statistical material, such as dating, with story type is known elsewhere. The interchanging of the divine names Yahweh and Elohim has already been noted as occurring for good reasons (Genesis 4:25-26; Genesis 5:29).

The whole account is a clear unity, and is formulated on a 7 day - 40 day - 150 day - 150 day - 40 day - 7 day pattern (the numbers partly inclusive), taking us from when God commanded Noah to enter the ark to the return of the dove with the olive leaf which showed the Flood was over. The causes of, and purposes for, the Flood are consistent throughout, as are its final aims. There is certainly expansion in thought, but there is no contradiction. (Alternately we may see it as a 7 - 40 - 150 - 40 - 7 pattern depending on how we read Genesis 8:3).

The Flood

The word for flood is ‘mabbul’ which only occurs outside Genesis 6-11 in Psalms 29:10, where its meaning is disputed. In Psalms 29:0 its use follows the description of an extremely devastating storm ‘caused’ by Yahweh which strips the trees bare, and ‘Yahweh sits enthroned over the flood’ may well therefore mean that He causes, and takes responsibility for, even the subsequent cataclysmic flood. But it may alternatively mean that ‘Yahweh sits enthroned over the cataclysm’, the storm we have just read about. (The writer sees all natural phenomena as under God’s control and is using a massive storm and cataclysm as a picture of Jahweh’s great power. If the word does mean flood he may well have had Noah’s flood in mind). In the New Testament and in the Septuagint mabbul is ‘translated’ as kataklysmos (Matthew 24:38-39; Luke 17:27; 2 Peter 2:5). It therefore can be taken with some confidence as meaning in this context a ‘cataclysmic flood’ with the emphasis on the cataclysm.

The basis of the account consistently throughout is that man will be destroyed because of his extreme sinfulness (Genesis 6:5-7; Genesis 6:11-13; Genesis 7:4; Genesis 7:21-23; Genesis 8:21). This contrasts strongly with Mesopotamian flood myths where the innocent admittedly die with the guilty, and the flood is the consequence of the anger of gods over some particular thing which annoys them.

How Extensive Was the Flood?

The question must again be raised as to what the writer is describing. There is no question but that it is a huge flood of a type never known before or since, but how far did it in fact reach?

In Hebrew the word translated ‘earth’ (eretz) even more often means ‘land’. This latter fact derived from the fact that ‘the earth’ (our world) as compared with the heavens (Genesis 1:1), became ‘the earth’ (dry land) as opposed to the sea (Genesis 1:10), became ‘the earth’ (their land) on which men lived (Genesis 12:1). It is thus quite in accordance with the Hebrew that what is described in this passage occurred in just one part of what we would call the earth, occurring in ‘Noah’s earth’ where Noah was living with his family.

This is not just a matter of choosing between two alternative translations. The reason eretz could be so used was because of how the ancients saw things and applied language to them. To them there was their known ‘earth’, their land, and then their land with the surrounding peoples, and then the rather hazy world on the fringes and then beyond that who knew what? Thus to them ‘the earth’ could mean different things in different contexts.

Even in its wider meaning it meant what was indeed a reasonably large area, and yet from our point of view would be seen as a fairly localised area, and ‘the whole earth’ to them was what to us would still be limited horizons. We can compare Genesis 41:57 where ‘the whole earth’ come to Egypt to buy food and 1 Kings 10:24 where ‘the whole earth’ come to hear the wisdom of Solomon. Compare also how the Roman world and its fringes were ‘the world’ in the New Testament (Luke 2:1; Acts 24:5; Romans 1:8; Colossians 1:6).

Thus there are three possible answers to the question as to how far the flood stretched, looking at it from the writer’s point of view.

1). That all mankind was involved and that the Flood was global. However, it could not strictly mean this to the writer, or to Noah, for both were unaware of such a concept. All they could think of was ‘the world’ according to their conception of it. What the writer could have meant was ‘all that there is’. But was he not rather concerned with the world of man?

2). That all mankind was involved, but that they were still living within a certain limited area and were therefore all destroyed in a huge flood, which was not, however, global, as it would not need to involve lands which were uninhabited.

The fact of the worldwide prevalence of Flood myths might be seen as supporting one of these two views. So also might the argument that had the area been too limited Noah could have been instructed to move with his family outside the area, however large. Against this latter, however, it could be argued that God was seen as having a lesson to teach to future generations, and that He had in view the preservation of animal life as part of Noah’s environment.

3). That it was only mankind in the large area affected by the demonic activity (Noah’s ‘earth’ or ‘world’) that were to be destroyed, and that the Flood was therefore vast, but not necessarily destroying those of mankind unaffected by the situation described.

What cannot be avoided is the idea that the Flood was huge beyond anything known since. It was remembered in Mesopotamia, an area which had known great floods, as ‘the Flood’which divided all that came before it from all that followed (see, for example, the Sumerian king lists) . They too had a memory of how their king Zius-udra survived the Flood by entering a boat and living through it, although in his case others, apart from his family, were seen as surviving with him in the boat. Alternative suggestions offered have been the consequences of the ice age ceasing, raising water levels and causing huge floods, or the falling of a huge asteroid into the sea.

Verses 5-10

Noah and His Family Enter the Ark (Genesis 7:5-10 )

This section is a real problem for those who seek to split up the narrative. In order to fit the theory it has to be split up into minute bits chosen quite arbitrarily to fit the theory. Yet in reality the section sits well together as a unity, incorporating in one whole many of the features that are supposed to identify the differing documents.

Genesis 7:5

‘And Noah did all that Yahweh had commanded him’.

This comment finalises the last section and introduces this one. Once again Noah’s obedience is highlighted, contrasting him with the corruption among the remainder of mankind. In Genesis 7:1-4 Yahweh has given His instructions, now in Genesis 7:5-9 we have Noah’s obedience in the fulfilling of those instructions.

Genesis 7:6

‘And Noah was six hundred years old when the cataclysm of waters was upon the earth.’

C. H. Gordon has shown that the appearance of such genealogical details in a story narrative are a feature of ancient records. The number six (hundred) which is three plus three may suggest that God in His goodness had allowed two complete periods to pass rather than one before allowing judgment to come.

Genesis 7:7

‘And Noah went in with his sons and his wife and his son’s wives with him into the ark because of the waters of the cataclysm.’

There is as yet no rain, but in full obedience Noah and his sons carry out the task of entering the ark, a process which clearly took seven days with all the creatures to get aboard, and they take their wives with them. This links the sons in obedience with their father. It was as well they obeyed promptly. Although they were not to know it there would be more than rain in the cataclysm to come.

Notice the change of emphasis as regards the Flood. In Genesis 6:17 and Genesis 7:6 (‘cataclysm of waters’) the emphasis is on the cataclysm, God’s judgment, which is by water, which will destroy the earth. Here and in Genesis 7:10 (‘waters of the cataclysm’) the emphasis is on Noah and his sons being saved from the waters of the cataclysm. They will endure the cataclysm but will be saved from the waters.

Genesis 7:8-9

‘Of clean animals and unclean animals, of birds and of everything that creeps on the ground, there went in two and two to Noah into the ark, male and female as God (Elohim) commanded Noah.’

The emphasis here is on the fact that the creatures were in pairs, both male and female, whether pairs of two or pairs of sevens, to stress God’s determination to repopulate the earth. Previously it had been ‘two of every sort’, compared with ‘two and two’ here. Elohim is used in order to refer the reader back to God’s command in Genesis 6:19 with Genesis 7:22. (Note however that it was as Yahweh that God referred to the distinction between clean and unclean (Genesis 7:2) - thus both names are in use by the one writer).

Genesis 7:10

‘And after the seven days the waters of the cataclysmic flood were upon the earth.’

As God had declared, so it was. Once His time was fully completed, the waters of judgment came. ‘After the seven days’ refers back to Genesis 7:4.

Verses 11-16

The Flood (Genesis 7:11-16 )

Genesis 7:11-12

‘In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on the same day, were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the covered openings of heaven were opened, and the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights.’

Notice how precise is the statement which confirms that we have here a memory of an eventful day. Indeed, who, who was there, could forget that day? For on that day it all happened, and its date was remembered precisely.

The description confirms that there was more to it than rain. Waters flooded up as well as down. The seas rose as well as the rains falling. A huge tidal wave swept over the land to combine with the continual torrential rain from the heavens.

But there really is no justification for talking about fountains and windows as though they were intended to be taken literally. These people well knew that the rain came from the clouds, and that the seas had been there from the beginning. But huge amounts of water came flowing up as from giant springs, and water came down in torrents of which they had never seen the like, released they knew not how, for forty days and forty nights (see on Genesis 7:4), yet in a way that they knew it was controlled by God. Language failed in the attempt to describe the situation, so they had to turn to metaphor. But it was not intended to be ‘a scientific description’ or to be taken literally (we still say ‘the rain came down in bucketfuls’!). They were not trying to describe the cosmos. Apart from a few learned men at a later time, no one even gave a thought to the mechanics of the world. They described what they saw, as best they could, in terms of everyday things in their everyday lives.

We do not know how the date was originally passed down, but the ancients worked on phases of the moon and the seasons of the year, and would certainly have had names for them, and possibly had names for each day in the moon cycle. When the account was written down the writer interpreted this as above.

Genesis 7:13-16

‘On that very day Noah, and Shem, Ham, and Japheth, the three sons of Noah, and Noah’s wife, and the three wives of his sons, entered the ark. They, and every animal after its kind, and all the cattle after their kind, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth after its kind, and every bird after its kind, every bird of every sort, went into the ark to Noah, two and two of all flesh in which is the breath of life. And they that went in, went in male and female of all flesh, as Elohim commanded him, and Yahweh shut him in.’

The reason for this repetition, which as we have seen is characteristic of ancient narratives and was especially appreciated by the listeners (compare nursery stories today), is to stress the exact obedience of Noah to the command of Elohim in Genesis 6:19-20, and to indicate the perfect timing of God.

Noah had been told to commence entry into the ark seven days previously (Genesis 7:1) but it is clear that the task took the whole seven days allotted so that it was finally completed on the very day the Flood came, and on that day the final creature entered the ark, and Noah and his family went in for the last time.

So in Genesis 6:19-20 we have the Creator’s command to take creatures of all kinds into the ark, in Genesis 7:2-3 we have the command from God as the covenant God to take in seven and seven of clean creatures, in Genesis 7:7-9 we have the obedience to this command but shown as included in the fulfilment of the total command which is brief in summary form, and in Genesis 7:14-16 we have the final declaration of the fulfilment of the Creator’s plan in detail which ties in with the original command. This continual repetition stresses that these, and only these, survive the catastrophe and that the plan is to replenish the earth. The danger with such a cataclysm was that attention might be on the dreadful flood, but the continual repetition ensures that the listener is kept very much aware of the survivors. As every good teacher knows, repetition of what is important aids the memory of his hearers.

Then ‘Yahweh shut him in’. Note the change from Elohim to Yahweh. He has entered with all living things at the command of God the Creator (the wording re the living creatures ‘after their kinds’ also echoes Genesis 1:0) but now it is Yahweh who shuts him in. Thus God, the covenant God, tenderly ensures the safety of His servant. The thought is not that Noah left the blocking of the gap to God, but that God Himself ensured that what Noah had done was strong enough and safe enough for the ordeal ahead. In the end their security depended not on what Noah had done, but on the faithfulness of God, Who would watch over them in what was to come. They were safe because they were safe in His hands.


The Flood has been thought of in terms of the ending of the ice age when sea levels would rise dramatically and the skies would be filled with dense vapour, and all kinds of catastrophic events could have arisen depending on the land levels of the world at the time, but it could equally have been caused by an asteroid striking the seas and causing an unprecedented calamity, including vast clouds and huge tidal waves. However, in the end we have to accept the fact that we can have no final and specific explanation, for we do not know when it occurred, nor can we know what conditions were like at the time.

The Flood in fact lasts what was probably twelve moon cycles (a year) and ten days (Genesis 8:14), roughly 354 days. Its exact length would depend on the number of days to the each moon cycle over that period. The sequence in the narrative is as follows:

1). Flood commences - 17th day of the second month

2). Ark rests on Mount Ararat - 17th day of seventh month. There are 5 moon cycles from second to seventh month which times thirty using a recognised ‘standard 30 day method’ of indicating days of a ‘month’, would equal 150 days, the period not to be taken literally (‘150 days’ is thus really a technical way of translating ‘five moon cycles’ which is what the original possibly said. Moon cycles would actually be for 28/29 days thus the period in our terminology would be about 140 - 145 days). As has been previously suggested five may be the number of covenant (later the ‘commandments’ will be given in two sets of five), or if not it is a number representing completeness.

3). Waters have abated and tops of mountains seen - 1st day of tenth month

4). Waters have receded from land which can now be seen as ‘dry’ because no longer covered by water - 1st day of first month. This is five and a half moon cycles after the seventh month. This is possibly the second ‘150 days’ (Genesis 8:3), meaning five moon cycles (thus ignoring the part cycle). The whole period in our terminology would be about 155 - 160 days (140 - 145 + the extra fifteen days). With 2). this makes about 300 real days. This last 150 days includes the forty days of waiting (8:6) as the first 150 days had included the forty days of rain, and also includes the sending out of the birds.

5). The land, being ‘dry land’ again because it has come out of the sea (compare Genesis 1:9), now dries out thoroughly until on 27th day of second month it is again fit for use.


Verse 17

Description of the Flood at Its Height (Genesis 7:17 )

Genesis 7:17

‘And the cataclysmic flood was forty days on the earth (land).’

We notice that it does not just say rain as in verse 10. While there was torrential rain there were also the huge tidal waves sweeping over the land.

Verses 18-20

‘And the waters grew deeper and bore up the ark and it was lifted up above the earth. And the waters prevailed and increased with great abundance on the earth, and the ark went up on the face of the waters, and the waters prevailed in great abundance, and all the high mountains (or hills) that were under the whole heavens were covered. Fifteen cubits upwards did the waters prevail and the mountains were covered.’

This is a masterpiece of build up about the Flood. ‘The waters grew deeper --- the waters prevailed and increased with great abundance --- the waters prevailed in great abundance and all the high mountains (or hills) under the whole heavens were covered’. This is repetition with a purpose. Each step is an increase on the previous one as the listeners and readers are gripped by the expanding cataclysm. Furthermore we even see the gradual movement of the ark, as it is first lifted from the ground, then borne up on ‘the face of the waters’ which have replaced the ‘face of the ground’. Then finally we have the fact that all the high mountains (or hills) are under water. The listeners and readers are carried along step by step with growing involvement. (One problem with the verse divisions is that we read them one by one rather than as a whole narrative).

The ‘high mountains’ (or hills) that are covered are of course specifically those in Noah’s vicinity. (For the meaning of ‘under the whole heavens’ compare Deuteronomy 2:25). As far as the eye can see there is nothing but water, and when he makes his checks the ark clears whatever mountains they pass by over 15 cubits (7 metres). Alternately it could be that the ark required 15 cubits clearance. (Being thirty cubits deep it would require fifteen cubit clearance if it were rectangular).

Verses 21-23

‘And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, cattle, wild animals and every creeping thing that crept on the earth, and every man, all in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, all that was on the dry land, died. And every living thing that was on the face of the ground was blotted out both man and cattle and creeping thing and bird of the heavens, they were blotted out from the earth, and only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark.’

Thus the writer stresses in detail in terms of what he has previously said - ‘all flesh died’ (Genesis 6:13; Genesis 6:17), ‘all in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life’ (Genesis 6:17), ‘every living thing that was on the face of the ground was blotted out’ (Genesis 6:7; Genesis 7:4). His repetition demonstrates the fulfilment of God’s every threat. Noah’s world would have to begin anew.

Verse 24

‘And the waters prevailed on the earth (land) one hundred and fifty days.’

For five moon cycles there was no let up. The rain may now not be quite so severe and continuous, the tidal waves may now sweep in in lesser measure, but the waters did not begin to decrease. The new moon came and went, and came again, but the Flood continued in its intensity. How carefully they must have watched the moon through its cycle again and again, until it must have seemed that the cataclysm would never end, for there was no lowering of the level of the water. And then God’s time came.

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Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Genesis 7". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.