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Bible Commentaries

Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Genesis 8

Verses 1-3

The Creator Remembers His Creatures (Genesis 8:1-3 )

Genesis 8:1-3

‘And God (Elohim the Creator) remembered Noah and every living thing, and all the cattle that were with him in the ark, and God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters began to subside. The fountains also of the deep, and the openings in the heavens were stopped, and the rain from the heavens was restrained, and the waters receded continually from the earth, and after one hundred and fifty days the waters had subsided.’

God, the Creator, ‘remembered’ His creatures. This is the author’s vivid way of stating that God stepped in to act, and it was as Elohim that He acted in order to preserve His creation. He had not of course actually forgotten them, for He was in control of the whole event, and He had Himself ensured that they would be safe throughout the voyage.

It is noteworthy that the author makes the action indirect. He does not say ‘God blew’ but that He caused a wind to blow. (Incidentally this seems to confirm that Genesis 1:2 is correctly translated ‘Spirit’ of God, otherwise the author would also here have said ‘wind of God’. There is a difference between His direct action and His indirect action). But as well as the wind blowing the actions of the seas also ceased, and the torrential rains subsided, and the waters thus began noticeably to drop, and this went on for one hundred and fifty days (five moon cycles), thus paralleling the period when the waters prevailed. Note that Genesis 8:2 is a parallel reversal of Genesis 7:11-12.

Note that Genesis 8:1-3 are a summary of events, and will now be followed up with some of the detail. Now we are to learn some of the things that happened during the one hundred and fifty days of the receding of the waters, including the touching down of the ark, the first sighting of the tops of the mountains, and the further wait before Noah felt it might be time to act.

(The question arises as to whether the one hundred and fifty days mentioned here is the same as that mentioned in Genesis 7:24. It would appear to us that it is indeed a second period of one hundred and fifty days during which the floods continually abated, commencing with the touching down on the mountains of Ararat and finishing when the earth was again ‘dry land’. However the question is not of primary importance).

Verses 1-22

“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 4-14

Stages of Deliverance (Genesis 8:4-14 )

Genesis 8:4-5

‘On the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains (or hills) of Ararat, and the waters continued going down until the tenth month, and in the tenth month on the first day of the month the tops of the mountains (or hills) were seen.’

Notice the exact reverse parallel with Genesis 7:18-19. There ‘the ark went on the face of the waters, and the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth and all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered’. This demonstrates the careful construction of the whole account.

During the second one hundred and fifty days, while the waters were receding, the first noteworthy event was when they felt the ark come to rest on a mountain among the mountains or hills of Ararat (not specifically, be it noted, on Mount Ararat), and it was in the ‘seventh’ moon cycle. They must have seen this as God’s perfect timing for seven is the number of divine perfection and completeness. This would have been at the beginning of the second one hundred and fifty days.

Can you imagine the tremendous sense of relief when ‘dry land’ was again encountered even though the waters prevailed and it was still submerged under the waters? But there was still some way to go, and the subsiding of the waters continued, until the tops of the mountains were actually seen, and that was on the first day of the tenth moon cycle. One can almost see Noah marking off events as they happened. The fact that it took two and a half months for the drop in water level to reveal the tops of the mountains/hills after the first coming to rest on a mountain/hill demonstrates that the total water level could not be too extreme given the time range for its subsidence. This is not, however, to deny that at one stage it was much deeper due to the tidal wave effect.

Whether we can correctly identify these ‘mountains’ is open to doubt, and it is even more doubtful whether we could hope to find the ark, or even know that it was the ark if we found it. As we have pointed out this was not Mount Ararat but mountains or hills within ‘Ararat’. This may have been Urartu, but while the later Ararat (2 Kings 19:37; Jeremiah 51:27) is almost certainly Urartu, Urartu is not witnessed until late 2nd millennium BC and would therefore be doubtful here unless there had been a scribal updating. This is quite possibly a different ‘Ararat’.

The cataclysmic Flood had continued to its highest point in five moon cycles, and now through a further five moon cycles (one hundred and fifty days) it decreases to a point where the ark is on ‘dry land’ and the tops of the mountains are visible, and during which Noah waits patiently for ‘forty days’ (just over a moon cycle), and then sends out birds to scout the land. It must have seemed significant that it was in the seventh moon cycle that the ark struck dry land. Here was an indication of the divine perfection of the work of God. But we note that the author does not try to twist the facts to meet his criteria. His dating shows that the periods of ‘one hundred and fifty days’ were not of the same exact length (see Excursus after Genesis 7:16). This smacks of genuineness.

Genesis 8:6-9

‘And after forty days Noah opened up the opening he had made in the ark and sent out a raven, and it went about to and fro until the waters had dried up from the earth. And he sent out a dove to see if the waters had abated from the face of the ground, but the dove found nowhere to land and returned to the ark, for the waters were covering the face of the whole earth (land). And he put out his hand and took her and brought her in to him into the ark.’

Only the tops of the mountains were visible at the end of Genesis 8:5 so Noah waits just over one more moon cycle (‘forty days’ - see on Genesis 7:3), and then decides to act.

And how descriptive the next words are. It is clear that Noah still sees waters all around so that he has to open up the opening at the top to release first a raven and then a dove so that he can find out what is happening in the wider world outside, on ‘the face of the ground’, the cultivated areas. This sounds like a memory of those moments passed down through history, and similar events respecting the sending out of birds are mentioned in Mesopotamian mythology. This was something never to be forgotten. The raven does not return, but the dove returns, and this satisfies Noah that the waters still prevail.

We note that no timing is given for these particular events. The author has his pattern of 7 - 40 - 150 - 150 - 40 - 7 to adhere to. The symmetry is not perfect as the last seven days is part of the second ‘150 days’ whereas the first was apparently not part of the first, but this would not really concern the author, and indeed he may have considered the first ‘150 days’ commenced at the start of the seven days. Thus he sees these flights as taking place over an unidentified period. The ancients had no problem with ‘manipulating’ numbers in order to get over their message. Numbers were adjectives with which to illustrate, not important in themselves, and not used with our modern penchant for mathematical exactness, and it is almost certain that to his readers and listeners these numbers had great significance. Now with seven days to go to the great event he again introduces numbers.

Genesis 8:10-11

‘And he waited another seven days and again sent the dove from the ark, and the dove came back in the evening and lo, in its mouth was a plucked off olive leaf. So Noah knew that the waters had abated from the earth.’

This seven day period parallels the opening seven day period and introduces the moment when Noah knows again that all is well. Again seven indicates the divinely perfect time.

The fresh olive leaf was a sign that the earth was once again fruitful. However he is too wise to try to leave the ark immediately. The earth may be ‘dry’ but it is still very wet and would not be suitable to be trodden on for some time. (‘Another seven days’ does not necessarily mean there had been a previous ‘seven day’ period. It simply refers to a fixed time period after a previous period whether fixed or not. Thus I could say ‘I worked for a number of days, then I did this, then I worked for another seven days. This would not necessarily mean that the first period was one of seven days).

Genesis 8:12

‘And he waited a further seven days and sent out the dove, and she did not return to him again any more.’

This was final confirmation that all was well and they now simply had to wait for God to instruct them that they could safely leave the ark. The mention of a further seven days, which spoils the balanced cycle, may well have been deliberate. The two sevens together emphasise the divine completeness of the new world, the added seven giving additional stress.

Genesis 8:13

‘And in the six hundred and first year, in the first month, on the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from the earth and Noah removed the covering of the ark and looked, and behold the face of the ground was dried (chareb).’

Now Noah permanently removes the covering over ‘the opening’ for the last time and looks out (we know of no other ‘covering’ in the ark), and he sees for himself that the waters have gone and the cultivated areas must be dry. But he can also see how boggy the ground is and how impossible it will be to release on to it all the animals in the ark, so he patiently waits for God’s further command.

Genesis 8:14

‘And in the second month, on the twenty seventh day of the month the earth was (fully) dry (yabesh).’

Far from being a contradiction to the previous verse, this is just common sense. The first dryness was because the waters had gone (compare in Genesis 1:9 how ‘dry’ land appeared out of water), this further dryness is because the ground is now fit to walk on. At last their refuge is no longer needed. (Compare Job 14:11 and Jeremiah 50:38 where chareb results in yabesh).

Verses 15-19

God the Creator Tells Those Who are in the Ark That All Is Now Well (Genesis 8:15-19 )

Genesis 8:15-17

‘And God spoke to Noah saying, “Go out from the ark, you, and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. Bring out with you every living thing of all flesh that is with you, both bird and domesticated animal, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, so that they may breed abundantly on the earth, and be fruitful, and multiply on the earth”.’

At last the cataclysm is over and they can leave their refuge. Here God gives Noah His preliminary confirmation, which will be more solemnly enacted later, of His purpose for the world. This word of encouragement is nicely timed. The feelings of those who are in the ark are impossible to gauge. They have just experienced the destruction of their world and now they must face what appears to be an uncertain future. So God immediately confirms that there is a future. The earth is to begin again in the same way as before.

Genesis 8:18-19

‘So Noah went out, and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him, every animal, every creeping thing and every bird, whatever moves on the earth (land), after their families, went out of the ark.’

Notice the repetitiveness even within two sentences. Repetitiveness is a feature of the whole narrative to encourage audience participation and memory. As always Noah obeys God and does exactly what He says.

Verses 20-22

Noah Offers a Sacrifice to Yahweh and Receives His Personal Covenant (Genesis 8:20-22 )

Now we are approaching the covenants around which the whole account is based and was the reason why it was preserved so assiduously. The first is a personal covenant made in response to Noah’s act of worship. And yet because he encapsulates the whole human race, the covenant is also with them. But it is represented as a personal thought of Yahweh, not as a fiat from God as Creator. It is something that will primarily benefit man not the whole of creation, and is linked with man’s response in worship.

Genesis 8:20

‘And Noah built an altar to Yahweh and took of every clean animal and every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.’

Now we see clearly why it was necessary for there to be more than two of every clean animal and bird. It gives Noah the opportunity to present to God his immediate gratitude and worship. It is quite possible that the family partook of at least some of the offerings. We must not read into these sacrifices the Mosaic restrictions. It was probably seen as including an element of sin offering as well as of dedication and thanksgiving.

Genesis 8:21

‘And Yahweh smelt the sweet savour, and Yahweh said in his heart, “I will not again curse the ground any more because of what man does, because the thoughts in man’s heart are evil from his youth, nor will I again smite any more every living thing as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter and day and night shall not cease”.’

“Yahweh smelt the sweet savour”. This is an anthropomorphism indicating God’s acceptance of the worship. It is acceptable to Him and pleases Him as a beautiful perfume would be acceptable to man, for it signifies to Him an obedient and responsive faith.

“Yahweh said in his heart”. This is not suggesting its secrecy but rather expressing the personal nature of the covenant, and distinguishing it from the major covenant to follow. This is Yahweh’s personal response to Noah’s faith and trust. It was clearly communicated to Noah as we have it in the account.

What God is promising is that He will no more take direct action against man because of sin. He is not reversing the curse, for the ground will still produce thorns and thistles. But He will not take this any further. Nor will He ever again wreak such devastation as He has done. He accepts that man is sinful from his youth, and that it is now a natural part of man.

Notice that He speaks of ‘the thoughts in man’s heart’. It is not just man’s actions that are important to God, but primarily how he thinks. Many a good action disguises an evil thought. It is man who looks at the outward appearance, but Gods looks at the heart. There is also a contrast here between God’s heart and man’s heart. God’s heart is merciful in spite of man’s evil heart, for He recognises man’s weakness.

“While the earth remains -----” In some ways this was the most important covenant as far as the listeners were concerned in their day to day lives, (although not as far as man was concerned in the first light of what had happened). The promise of the perpetuating of the seasons was the guarantee of man’s food supply and of the certainties of life, and it is seen as a direct response to man’s submission and act of worship. So the relating of the account at sacred feasts was not only the celebration of the fact that no calamity would again destroy the world, it was also a celebration of the fact of God’s covenant that the sources of production would be maintained and continue, and that life would go on, on a steady course.

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Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Genesis 8". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/genesis-8.html. 2013.