In The Beginning

Genesis Chapter Eight

I

"But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky" (Genesis 8:1-2).

Genesis chapter eight begins with the words, "But God remembered Noah..." Now if someone has to "remember" something, it usually means that he or she has forgotten about it first, right? So does this mean that God had forgotten about Noah while Noah was in the ark and accidentally "left the water running" in the form of the Great Flood? 

Well, the phrase "God remembered..." is actually an Old Testament way of expressing God's decision to begin working again with a person or a group (see Genesis 30:22 and Exodus 2:24 for some other examples). In fact, people in our own day sometimes use a similar expression when they speak of "remembering" someone on their birthday or other special occasion. 

For instance, if you "remember" someone on their birthday, it certainly doesn't imply that you have completely forgotten that person about during the other 364 days of the year- it means that you are going to do something special like send that person a card, give them a gift, or throw them a party. In a similar way, God also "remembered" Noah in the sense that He was now planning to do something special on Noah's behalf once again.

This special action on Noah's behalf took two forms. First, verse one tells us that a wind encircled the earth and the waters began to recede or decrease. Today, we can identify this process as part of the hydrological cycle where air currents help to move water back into the atmosphere through the process of evaporation. This action helped to transfer some of the floodwaters away from the earth's surface and reduce the amount of water remaining above the ground.

Next, verse two says that, "The outlets of the water beneath the earth and the floodgates of the sky were closed" (GNB). We mentioned earlier how Genesis chapter seven indicates that large underground reservoirs of water (or the springs of the deep)  existed prior to the Great Flood. If each of these underground areas were emptied by the flood, then we can say that it's likely that they eventually collapsed over time. This would have the effect of radically changing the earth's surface elevation and providing "basin" areas to hold and contain the remaining floodwaters.

II

"The water receded steadily from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down, and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible" (Genesis 8:3-5).

So after spending months floating on the surface of a watery planet, Noah's Ark finally landed on the biggest sand bar of all time- the mountainous region of Ararat. 

Today, this area represents the central boundary that exists between the modern day countries of Russia, Turkey, and Iran. (1) While Mount Ararat itself is over 17,000 feet (5200m) tall, notice that Genesis 8:4 doesn't specifically say that Noah's Ark settled on top of Mount Ararat- it actually touched down somewhere within the mountains of Ararat. So while Noah's Ark came to rest somewhere within this mountainous region, it's impossible to say exactly where it landed or even where Noah's Ark may be today if it has survived. One source explains the problem of locating Noah's Ark in this way...

 "Some people believe that Noah's ark still rests on Mount Ararat, and occasional expeditions have been launched to find it. However, shifting glaciers, avalanches, hidden crevices, and sudden storms make the mountain so difficult to climb that it is referred to by the native inhabitants of that region as 'the Painful Mountain.'" (2)  

So Noah's Ark had finally touched down on a solid land surface and other mountain peaks were starting to become visible as well. This provided a good opportunity for Noah to do some reconnaissance and investigate the situation further- and the way that Noah proposed to do that was by sending one of the animals on a little mission...

 "After forty days Noah opened the window he had made in the ark and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth" (Genesis 8:6-7).

A raven is the type of bird that will pretty much eat anything it finds. For example, a raven is the kind of bird that you might see picking at the remains of an animal on the side of a road after it has been struck by a car. Because of this, a raven would have no problem landing on and eating anything that it found floating around after Noah released it from the Ark. This is apparently why it never came back. It seems that this raven was perfectly content to fly around and feed on anything that it found on the surface of the water while the flood was receding.

(1) See "Ararat"  Fausset's Bible Dictionary 

(2) See "Ararat" Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary 

III

So Phase I of Noah's reconnaissance mission was complete. Now it was time to initiate Phase II...

"Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. But the dove could find no place to set its feet because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark" (Genesis 8:8-9).

This was actually a pretty clever way for Noah to gather information. Remember that the first bird that Noah chose for his scouting report was a raven. The fact that this bird kept flying around told Noah that even though the Ark had touched down on dry land, things were still pretty bad outside. 

But notice that the second bird chosen was a dove. Unlike a raven, a dove generally won't eat anything that's dead and will only land on surfaces that are clean and dry. The fact that this dove came back to Noah told him that there was still not enough dry land to justify coming out of the Ark.

So Noah tried again the following week...

"He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth" (Genesis 8:10-11).

This was really good news for Noah and the others who were with him on the Ark. The olive leaf that returned with this dove told Noah a couple of important things...

  1. First, it told Noah that the earth (or at least portions of it) was now becoming dry enough to allow his family to live on the land. 
  2. It also showed that the earth's plant life had recovered to the point where it would be possible to begin growing food again once Noah and his family left the Ark.

Both of these conclusions were confirmed by what happened next... 

"He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him" (Genesis 8:12).

Why didn't this dove return to Noah after he released it for the third time? Well, this dove didn't return to Noah because the land had now recovered enough to allow it to find a new home. For Noah, this meant that he and his family would also be finding a new home soon as well.

IV

"By the first day of the first month of Noah's six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry" (Genesis 8:12-13).

Although it wasn't specifically mentioned as part of Noah's building materials, Noah must have also placed some sort of weather-proof cover over the Ark before the Flood came, almost like we might use a tarp as a waterproof covering today. 

"By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry" (Genesis 8:14).

So Noah pulled this protective covering off the ark and saw that the ground was dry- but it wasn't until eight weeks later that everything was dry enough to actually get off the Ark. This means that the time period from the beginning of the Flood until Noah finally left the Ark was approximately 371 days or about 53 weeks. 

Now after spending over a year on this Ark, you would think that Noah really, really wanted to get off the boat- but he patiently waited until God gave him permission... 

"Then God said to Noah, 'Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you--the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground--so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number upon it.' So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons' wives. All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds--everything that moves on the earth--came out of the ark, one kind after another" (Genesis 8:15-19).

Think about the world that greeted these eight people -it must have been like landing on another planet. For instance, there was absolutely no one else around- anywhere. The plant life was sparse and limited. There were no trees, no houses, and no civilization of any kind. The earth's surface was much different and the weather was probably now different as well. So the world that Noah stepped into was definitely not like the coloring book idea of Noah and his happy animals hopping off the ark. 

It's also possible that Noah and his family encountered something else once they left the Ark- the remains of those who had perished during the Flood. Perhaps that's what inspired Noah to do what he does next… 

V

"Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it"  (Genesis 8:20).

So what's the very first thing that Noah did after spending over a year on this Ark? Well, he didn't kiss the ground as soon as he left the boat. He didn't immediately start building a house or go exploring. The very first thing that Noah did after leaving the Ark was worship God: "Noah built an altar where he could offer sacrifices to the LORD" (Genesis 8:20 CEV).

After living for more a year on the Ark, you would think that Noah would first want to get out, stretch his legs, and look around. But that's not what he did. You see, Noah's mind was set on giving thanks to God first. It seems that Noah understood that if there was going to be any real future for Earth 2.0, it would have to begin by putting God first.

"The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: 'Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease'" (Genesis 8:21-22).

You may remember that we talked about something called an anthropomorphism ("ann-thro-po-mor-fizzem") earlier. This term is used to describe a word that takes a human ability (like eyesight or hearing) or a human emotion (like anger or jealousy) and associates it with God. If you look closely, you may be able to spot two new anthropomorphisms that show up in Genesis 8:21. 

This verse tells us that, "The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart..." While God does not have a literal heart or a nose as we understand it, Genesis 8:21 uses two human attributes to describe God's ability to interact with people and the environment in a way that's easy to grasp and understand.

It's also possible that these references to things like cold, heat, summer, and winter are indications of some changes that occurred in the Earth's environment following the Flood. And God's promise to never again destroy all living creatures was probably something that Noah really appreciated- especially the next time it rained.

Nevertheless, God says something else that's added almost as a sort of side comment: "Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. What's that all about?

VI

"...Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood" (Genesis 8:21b). 

It seems that people are often taught to believe that human beings are basically good and that bad behavior is just a result of some social or environmental cause. Of course, most people probably are "good people" in the sense that they aren't intentionally cruel, sadistic, or merciless. And it's also true that social and environmental factors may have a big effect on someone's behavior for better or worse. But as much as we might like to think of ourselves as "good people," the truth is that the Scriptures tell us that people are not "basically good."

This reality is something that anyone can see just by watching little children. Now it's certainly true that little children are cute and innocent in many ways, but let's face it: you don't have to teach a young child how to lie, do you? You don't have to teach a child how to act greedily or selfishly, do you? You don't have to teach a child how to hurt other children. In fact, the opposite is true, isn't it- parents have to teach their children not to do those things. 

If you have a younger brother or sister, then you probably already know that even a very small child can exhibit things like jealousy, hostility, or a desire to take something that another child has. The reason for this is explained by the Scripture quoted above: "...every inclination of (someone's) heart is evil from childhood."

The truth is that these things don't change as we become older- we just become better and more skilled at hiding them. If you're reading this on the Internet, then you have almost certainly seen this for yourself as well. For instance, if you participate in a forum, chat room, or Usenet newsgroup, you will often find people saying things to others that they probably wouldn't say in person at home, or at school, or on the job. This is because someone in a forum, chat room, or newsgroup can often hide their true identity behind a screen name and avatar. 

Because it can be difficult (1) to associate a real person with their online identity, people are not held back by a personal association with the things that they say- and if someone believes that they are just an anonymous person on the other side of a modem, then whatever is already inside them has the perfect opportunity to come out. Unfortunately, what often comes out can lead to "flame wars" and other comments that feature things like personal attacks, hostile criticism, racial slurs, and every kind of vicious, argumentative, and hateful speech.

So in Genesis 8:21, God basically says, "Even though I know you that you human beings are bent towards evil right from the beginning, I'm never going to handle it this way again." This is just another example of God's graciousness toward human beings who really don't deserve it.

(1) But not always impossible

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