Genesis Lesson Nine | Genesis 8
Prayerfully read Genesis 8 at least two times and then read the following notes.
Context: Setting the Table
After a creational prologue, the “history of the heavens and the earth” (2:4–4:26) relates God’s abundant provision for his image bearers, their initial rebellion, and increasing wickedness of the line of Cain. The second section, the “book of the generations of Adam,” (5:1–6:8) focuses on the line of Seth and its eventual corruption. Chapter 8 continues the third section, “the family history of Noah” (6:9–9:29), with an account of God’s gracious deliverance of Noah and his family from the waters of the flood.
Content: Reading the Text
(8:1–8:5) The Flood Recedes
(8:1a) Though God is said to have remembered Noah, this does not at all mean that he had ever forgotten him. God does not, like us, think first of one thing, then of another and perhaps later of something else. God’s understanding is infinite, beyond our comprehension (Psalm 147:5). Not only does God know everything, he has always known everything, and he always will know everything. The knowledge of God is not, like ours, bound by time or space. Yet when this infinitely perfect God stoops down to reveal himself to us, he accommodates himself to us by using language we can understand (Psalm 103:14)—language that reflects the way we as his creatures experience his actions. “God is said to remember his people, when after some delays or suspensions of his favor he returns and shows kindness to them.”1 Just as God “remembered” Noah by drying up the waters of the flood, so later he would “remember” Israel by delivering them from the land of Egypt after so many years of bondage (Exodus 2:24).
(8:1b) The Hebrew word that is here translated as “wind” is identical with the word used for the “Spirit” who moved upon the face of the waters on the first day of creation (1:2). “As the waters are the symbol of chaos, the undoing of Creation, so the movement of the wind…heralds the reimposition of order”2 This is only one of a great number of intentional allusions to the creation narrative of 1:1–2:3, allusions which re-occur in the Exodus account.
(8:1c) There is once again a striking contrast between the one true God and the many “gods” of the Ancient Near East. According to a pagan flood account that was current during the days of Moses, “The gods were frightened by the deluge.…The gods cowered like dogs crouched against the outer wall.”3 “Once the flood started, the gods were terror-struck at the forces they themselves had unleashed. They were appalled at the consequences of their own actions over which they no longer had control.”4 The God of Genesis, far from being frightened by the flood, remained in perfect control, unafraid and unsurprised. When the time was right, he himself began the process of reversing the destruction his just judgment had brought to his creation.
(8:2) The second day of creation relates the creation of the “heaven,” what we refer to today as the “sky.” Just as 8:1 alluded to the first day of creation, so 8:2 alludes to the second (Genesis 1:8).
(8:4a) The word translated as “rested” sounds like Noah’s name. “Though regarded by contemporary Westerners only as an appropriate form of comedy, paronomasia [the technical name for puns] is characteristically utilized in the Old Testament to arouse curiosity or to heighten the effect of a particularly solemn or important pronouncement, in this way permanently and indelibly impressing the proclamation upon the memory of an audience.”5 This technique is used extensively throughout the flood story, with a number of puns being made on Noah’s name which means “rest” (Genesis 5:29).
(8:4b) The date mentioned in 8:4 (the 17th day of the 7th month of the 600th year of Noah’s life=7.17.600) is exactly five months after the start of the flood in 7:11 (the 17th day of the 2nd month of the 600th year=2.17.600). Five months of course, comes out to about 150 days, regardless of the calendar used. “In other words, although the waters appear to triumph for 150 days, they were actually falling well before the period elapsed, or else the ark would not have grounded on [7.17.600].…God remembered Noah and blew this wind long before [7.17.600]. Yet to an ordinary observer, the waters appeared to be triumphing throughout this time. In reality, however, the stormy wind was bringing Noah’s salvation. It was driving back the waters, so that after five months afloat the ark landed on the mountains of Ararat.”6
(8:5) The Hebrew word that refers to the appearance of the mountains in 8:5 (were…seen) is used for the appearance of the dry ground on the third day of creation (1:9).
(8:6–14) The Earth Dries
(8:6) While the greater and the lesser light, created on day four, were unaffected by the flood, Noah and his family could not see them as long as they were shut up in the ark. The opening of the window thus restored the fourth day of creation.
(8:7a) After the allusions to the first four days of creation, it should be no surprise to read of birds flying above the earth, just as they began to do on the fifth day of creation (1:20).
(8:7b) While the Hebrew is somewhat ambiguous, the simplest interpretation of the raven’s flight pattern is that it flew back and forth to or over the “window” of the ark until the waters had dried up. While a specific purpose is given for the sending of the dove, this occurs after the sending of the raven. There is no good reason to assume that the sending of the two birds had the same purpose or that the mission of the raven was a failed first attempt. The circling flight of the powerful and long-enduring raven would have enabled Noah to judge when the weather conditions were right to send out the dove and this seems to be the most probable explanation as to why the raven was sent out first.7 While the raven was “unclean,” (Leviticus 11:15) so were most animals in the ark and no point is made of its uncleanness in this passage. Although ravens are sometimes used in judgment (Proverbs 30:17), even in these cases they are simply fulfilling God’s will. The only other narrative in Scripture involving ravens (1 Kings 17:1–17) is quite positive and also involves them flying back and forth (in this case bringing food to Elijah) until waters (in this case the brook) dried up.
(8:9) The word translated as “rest” is another allusion to Noah’s name.
(8:14) The rain came on the 17th day of the 2nd month of the 600th year of Noah’s life. The earth was once again dry on the 27th day of the 2nd month of the 601st year of his life. Counting both the first and last days, this comes out to one year and eleven days. As the lunar calendar in use during Old Testament times had 354 days (though the details are not known, months would have been added every few years in order to keep the calendar from getting out of sync with the seasons), the duration of the flood comes out to 365 days or one complete solar year.
(8:15–22) Noah Leaves the Ark
(8:17) With the re-appearance of land animals and man on the earth (1:24–31, the sixth day of creation) the work of re-creation after the flood is now complete. (8:20) This “records the first building of an altar in Scripture (one is evidently presupposed but not mentioned in 4:3–5) and the first offering of ‘burnt offerings’.…This is the commonest and most basic sacrifice prescribed in the law; in it the whole animal was burnt on the altar.”8
(8:21a) The Hebrew for “sweet savour” is “savour of rest,” yet another allusion to Noah’s name.
(8:21b) The word here translated as “curse” is different from the one found in 3:17. While God promised that he would not again judge the earth with a flood, the curse brought about by the sin of mankind had not yet been removed.
(8:22) The pagans of the Ancient Near East believed that the regularity of the seasons depended on the religious rituals they performed. This was what the fertility cult of Baal was all about—manipulating the gods by human action into doing what humans wanted them to do. Though we rarely worry about the regularity of the seasons, the temptation to try to guarantee the grace that God has already promised us by means of our religious rituals and rule keeping is still with us.
Credo: Believing the Truth
The ark continued to float aimlessly on the waters as Noah and his sons put in another long day of caring for their floating zoo. No one on the ark knew for sure what would happen next. No one knew when their endless meandering over the face of the waters would come to an end, if ever. Yet God knew. Long before the ark ceased to wander over the flood, God had already sent the wind that would dry the earth, re-establishing the division between the earth and the sea and renewing the work of the third day of creation. When the time was right, neither a day too soon nor a day too late, God would speak again. Noah and his collection of living things would leave the ark and once more walk on dry ground.
Conduct: Reshaping Our Walk
God sent the wind that would bring deliverance to Noah and his family long before they felt the ark scrape against the mountains of Ararat. How are we tempted to allow our ignorance of God’s plans to fool us into acting as though he has forgotten our needs?
Examples: Prolonged medical conditions, relational conflict that has no obvious solution, etc.
In what ways are we tempted to act as though God’s gracious action on our behalf is a result of the “religious rituals” that we perform?
Examples: Thinking we can guarantee particular financial or relational blessings by following a list of “rules” that we or our friends have come up with, assuming that the difficulties that others face are a result of their non-performance of these “rules.”
1. Poole 1853, 1.21
2. Sarna 1989, 56
3. Wenham 1987, 161 [Gilgamesh Epic ]
4. Sarna 1989, 56
5. Beitzel 1980, 5
6. Wenham 1987, 184
7. Marcus 2002, 71–80
8. Wenham 1987, 189