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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Genesis 8

 

 

Verses 1-3

1-3. God remembered Noah — The ark, containing the seed of the Church and of the human race, a solitary speck in the watery wilderness, was remembered by God. The tokens of that remembrance followed. The providential means by which the land was dried and made once more a habitation for man are now related. Three causes are mentioned: a wind passing over the earth, (toward the sea,) which dispelled the clouds and laid open the earth to the sun, (a land breeze, which carried the clouds seaward;) as a consequence of this, the shutting of the windows of heaven; and, thirdly, the stopping of the fountains of the great deep, which was probably effected by the gradual re-elevation of the land which had been gradually subsiding during the increase of the deluge. As the sun broke through the clouds the waters were thus seen to follow the wind. As the result of these causes the waters subsided. And the waters turned from off the earth, continually turning, and diminished at the end of the hundred and fifty days.


Verse 4

4. The ark rested — Here is the reason of the statement made in the previous verse; at the end of five months, or one hundred and fifty days, it is known that the waters had begun to diminish, because the ark, which had hitherto floated freely, now caught ground, and finally rested. It is not likely that the year of the flood was reckoned from Abib, the beginning of the sacred year as established at the Exodus; but, as the Speaker’s Commentary observes, about the autumnal equinox. “If so, the seventeenth day of the second month (Genesis 7:11) would bring us to the middle of November, the beginning of the wintry or rainy season.… With regard to the forty days’ rain, it seems pretty certain that these were not additional to, but part of, the one hundred and fifty days of the prevalence of the flood. Supposing the above calculation to be correct, we have the very remarkable coincidences that on the seventeenth day of Abib (five months later than November) the ark rested on Ararat; on the seventeenth of Abib the Israelites passed the Red Sea, and on the seventeenth of Abib our Lord rose from the dead.”

Upon the mountains of Ararat — Not the mount or double peak now called Ararat, which from its height, steepness, ruggedness, and cold (the summit is higher than Mont Blanc) would have been totally unsuited for the ark’s resting-place, but the highlands of the country or district of Ararat, probably the central province of Armenia. Von Raumer has shown that this was the most suitable spot in the world for the cradle of the human race. “A cool, airy, well-watered mountain-island in the midst of the old continent,” whence the waters descend toward the Black, Caspian, and Mediterranean Seas and the Persian Gulf. At the center of the longest land-line of the ancient world from Behring Straits to the Cape of Good Hope, it stood in the great highways of colonization, near the seats of the greatest nations of antiquity.


Verse 5

5. Waters decreased — Hebrews, the waters were going and decreasing (steadily decreasing) until the tenth month. The waters slowly settled for two months and thirteen days after the ark rested, until, on the first day of the tenth month, (of the six hundredth year of Noah’s life,) the mountain tops were seen. The various epochs of the narrative are given in the years, months, and days of the life of Noah. It commenced (Genesis 7:11) in his six hundredth year, second month, and seventeenth day, and ended (Genesis 8:13) in his six hundred and first year, first month, and first day.


Verse 6

6. Forty days — It is a question whether these forty days are to be reckoned from the landing of the ark on Ararat, (as Calvin,) or from the time that the mountain summits became visible. If the first view be taken, then the raven and the dove were sent forth after the ark grounded and before any land was seen. This seems to be the most reasonable view, for it does not appear likely that Noah would send forth the raven and the dove “to see whether the waters had abated” after the mountain tops had become visible. We understand, then, that Genesis 8:6-12 detail events which transpired while the waters were decreasing, and before the mountain tops were seen, as described in Genesis 8:5.

The window — Not the window mentioned in Genesis 6:16, which was an aperture for light. See the note at that place.


Verse 7

7. A raven — Hebrews, the raven; the well known: historic from this event.

To and fro — Hebrews, it went going and returning; that is, going away from the ark and returning to it, settling upon but not entering into it. The raven may have found abundant sustenance from the floating caresses, so that it needed not to return to the ark for food. This black bird of death, finding a congenial home in the watery sepulchre of the antediluvian world, is a symbol of judgment and wrath.


Verse 8

8. Also he sent forth a dove — Rather, the dove; so well known from this event. Probably seven days after the raven had been sent forth, (Aben Ezra, Kimchi, Knobel,) for Genesis 8:10 states, that he waited yet other seven days. The dove, unlike the raven, alights only where it is clean and dry, and so the fact of her not returning would give more certain information in regard to the state of the earth.


Verse 9

9. No rest for the sole of her foot — The state of the earth is thus graphically and beautifully described. The delicate dove, the bird of the plains, finding no clean dry place on which to alight, and nothing fit for her food, instinctively returned to the window from which she was sent forth. The mountain summits were bare, but the desolate scene was as yet only a fit abode for the raven. May we not find here the origin of the heathen practice of bird divination?


Verse 10

10. Yet other seven days — Here and in Genesis 8:12 is a clear allusion to the sevenfold division of time, the week, a period which was adopted by all the Shemitic races, by the Egyptians, by the Chinese and Hindus as far back as authentic history extends, and which was even found among the ancient Peruvians. Unlike the year, the month, the day, this division does not correspond with any natural phenomena, and can only be reasonably accounted for by supposing it to be a traditional remembrance of the creative week. It is probable that Noah, on the Sabbath, sent forth the raven and the dove, in earnest prayer seeking providential aid and guidance. These weekly waitings from Sabbath to Sabbath were additional trials to his faith.


Verse 11

11. Olive leaf plucked off — Not picked up. The freshly torn leaf or twig showed that the bird had plucked it from the tree. The olive tree puts out its leaves even if covered with water; and Noah saw by this freshly plucked leaf that the waters had subsided to the plains or slopes where the olive trees grew, and that their tops at least now rose above the surface. This fresh leaf was the first sign of the earth’s resurrection to life. The dove, with the olive branch in her mouth, has thus become the herald of peace and salvation.


Verse 13

13. First month — Noah waits another month before removing the covering of the ark, and nearly two months more before he went forth. The successive epochs are given with the minutest accuracy, removing the narrative entirely from the region of the poetical or mythical, as will

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be seen by the following comparison of texts which form the Noachian calendar:

The whole time that Noah remained in the ark was, then, one year (probably a lunar year is meant) and ten days, making, as nearly as is possible to be expressed in days, a solar year of three hundred and sixty-five days. What kind of a year and month is here intended is a question yet discussed among chronologists; from comparing Genesis 7:11, and Genesis 8:3-4, we find that five months were reckoned as one hundred and fifty days, and this points to months of thirty days each, and a year of twelve such months, or three hundred and sixty, or by the addition of the five intercalary days, three hundred and sixty-five days, that is, the solar year. The Hebrew year at the time of the Exodus was evidently lunar; but the Egyptians, as appears from their monuments, were before this time acquainted with the year of three hundred and sixty-five days. The Jewish lunar year consisted of three hundred and fifty-four days, and if this be intended, Noah remained in the ark just a solar year.

Noah removed the covering of the ark מכסה . This word is elsewhere used only of the badger-skin and ram-skin coverings spread upon the holy vessels in the tabernacle, the ark of the testimony, etc., and this usage would seem to imply that in the present case some such covering was spread on the top of the ark. We suppose that it was some kind of flexible, and probably semi-transparent, covering thrown over the windows which ran the whole length on both sides of the ridge, and which would shed the rain, while it could be easily removed in fair weather. See note on Genesis 6:16.


Verse 16

16. Go forth — Noah patiently waited for the divine word, and did not hasten to leave the ark, although it was now about two months since he lifted the cover and saw that the earth was dry. Although, probably, he could see no reason for delay, and the narrative does not enable us to assign any reason for it, yet walking by faith, as one does who “walks with God,” he waited for Jehovah, who “shut him in,” to lead him forth. They who dwell most closely with God are often thus mysteriously bidden to stand and wait when every thing seems to call for action.


Verse 20

20. Noah builded an altar — This is the first altar mentioned in history, although it is generally supposed that Abel built one for his acceptable offering. It is possible that the antediluvian saints brought their gifts to the gate of Eden, where God had “tabernacled the cherubim.” Chap. 3:24. Whether this were so or not, all traces of that paradise were obliterated by the deluge, so that even the geographical marks of the antediluvian record cannot now be identified. מזבח, the Hebrew for altar, is from זבח, to slay, a place where victims were slain in confession of the desert of sin. Noah, the priest of the human race, type of the Great High Priest who offered himself without spot unto God, comes forth upon the baptized earth, and his first act is to make this solemn confession of sin in behalf of the rescued remnant of humanity. This man, who alone was perfect in his generations, and who walked with God, built the first altar, and sprinkled it with the blood of every clean bird and beast as a confession of sin. Sacrifice is symbolic in its very essence. The slain victim represents the worshipper, its death being typical of the desert of sin; the consumed offering going up from the earth in smoke typifies the prayer in which the man sends his inmost being up to God; while at the same time all these sacrifices, divinely appointed, prepared man to understand God’s great Sacrifice, wherein Christ offered himself up unto God, that He might be just and the justifier of all that come unto him by faith. Noah did not see Calvary, but God saw it; and we now see the smoke from this first historic altar, together with that from the tabernacle and the temple, blending in the cloud on the gospel mercy-seat.


Verse 21

21. A sweet savour — Or, an odour of rest. Septuagint, οσμην ευωδιας, the Levitical phrase often used of acceptable sacrifices, (comp. Leviticus 1:9; Leviticus 13:17; Leviticus 2:9, etc.,) and is quoted by Paul (Ephesians 5:2) in reference to the great Antitype, who was at once Priest and Victim: “as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God, for a sweet-smelling savour.” Noah, as the priest of the new humanity, offers every clean bird and beast on his solitary altar, and consecrates the renewed earth to God. The whole earth is the altar on which the Infinite Victim is offered up as a spotless offering in behalf of all mankind; and in his dying cry are gathered the prayers of universal humanity, which some up before God as a savour of sweet smell. No other figure of speech could so perfectly and beautifully express God’s delight in genuine prayer — that offering in which the soul’s very essence ascends to him.

The Lord said in his heart — A divine soliloquy inspired by infinite tenderness and mercy. God smells the sweet savour of prayer that rises, and is to rise, from earth, especially that of the Great High Priest, and covenants with man not to smite the earth again.

Imagination of man’s heart — The things imaged in his heart.

Evil from his youth — From the very dawn of his consciousness. The reason here given for the divine promise seems strange at first, as if the magnitude and hopelessness of man’s sins were grounds of mercy, yet this is in perfect harmony with the whole plan of salvation. Man’s innate sinfulness is to the merciful God a reason why he is not to be treated as a being under law, and hence in fatherly mercy he makes with him a covenant of grace. This is the rich and tender purpose of the divine heart in regard to the child that is lost, and because he is so hopelessly lost. Interpretation should not strive to soften away the bold, strong language of texts like this. Let it be noted, that it is while Jehovah smells the sweet odour of sacrifice — it is while man’s confession, consecration, and prayer rise before him — that this soliloquy of mercy is spoken to his heart.


Verse 22

22. While the earth remaineth — Some (as Delitzsch) understand this promise to teach that the present alternation of the seasons did not take place in the antediluvian world; but the language does not warrant such an inference. A great convulsion had interrupted the regular order of nature, so that there had been no seedtime nor harvest through the whole inhabited world. Here it is promised that the great natural changes shall be orderly and uniform all the days of the earth. (Hebrews) The six agricultural seasons, as known among the Hebrews and the Arabs, are here mentioned. Yet we are not to think of them as dividing up the year among themselves after the manner of our four seasons. The words rendered seedtime and harvest have reference to the sowing and the reaping of grains, while the words rendered summer and winter have reference primarily to the cutting and gathering of fruits, and more exactly correspond to our summer and autumn. Of course the times of sowing, reaping, and gathering vary according to latitude and zone. The year is also divided, with regard to temperature, into cold and heat. The promise, then, is universal for mankind, and declares that the earth’s annual changes, with regard both to productions and temperature, shall be regular and perpetual. There are included, also, in this promise, the regular alternations of light and darkness, although these were not interrupted by the flood. Man craves these changes in his present state, for they are essential to his happiness and development, but will not be so with man renewed and restored, who “needs no candle, neither light of the sun,” and John says of the New Jerusalem, “there shall be no night there.” Revelation 21:25.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Genesis 8:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/genesis-8.html. 1874-1909.

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