Genesis 8:1-2 Then God remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the animals that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters subsided. 2 The fountains of the deep and the windows of heaven were also stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained.
Did God really forget about Noah, his family, and the living things carried by the ark for 150 days? Sometimes, in our own experiences, it feels like God has forgotten about us. Maybe, like Noah, five months go by without deliverance from whatever the trial might be. Maybe it is five years, or even longer! The silence and the waiting can sometimes be even more excruciating than the suffering. Martin Luther said, “There is nothing that the flesh, which is inherently weak, is less able to tolerate than a God who does not remember us but has forgotten us.”
Noah and his family were hunkered down in an ark, which while very large on land, could not have seemed that big in the great Flood. For the first 40 days, torrential and continuous rains fell and the energy of the Flood would have produced gigantic waves. After those first 40 days, the stormy conditions would have continued with heavy rains and winds under heavy storm clouds. During all of these unpleasant conditions, Noah and his family would have been caring for animals, which unfortunately meant they spent a lot of time shoveling manure. They probably couldn’t bathe, so on top of everything else, they had to deal with some awful smells. After five months, it is easy to imagine that Noah might have wished that he had never heard of the ark. But, I have to think that the hardest thing for Noah to face would have been the waiting for God to deliver him from the ordeal, and while waiting, dealing with his doubts about whether God even remembered him.
So, of course God had not forgotten Noah, and the beauty of Genesis 8:1 is that God’s remembrance is a delivering remembrance. Scriptures show us that when God remembers us during a trial, we can look for His deliverance. Here are a few examples of God “remembering” and His subsequent deliverance:
- Genesis 30:22 Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb.
- Exodus 2:24-25 So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25 And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God acknowledged them.
- Numbers 10:9b you will be remembered before the Lord your God, and you will be saved from your enemies.
- Psalm 106:4 Remember me, O Lord, with the favor You have toward Your people. Oh, visit me with Your salvation
For Noah and the occupants of the ark, the easing of the torrential downpours and the stopping of the fountains of water was a reminder that God had been in the process of saving them all along. Even though there were times it didn’t feel like it and times that the ark itself felt more like a coffin than a lifeboat, God’s hand was upon them the whole time, and as hard as the waiting was, their faith was tested for their benefit. James 1:3 reminds us that the testing of [our] faith produces patience.
Genesis 8:1 tells us that God made a wind to pass over the earth. The word for “wind” (ruwach) is used throughout the Old Testament in the context of wind, breath, and Holy Spirit. While it is easy to imagine an actual system of winds beginning to blow over a global flood, there is a parallel to Genesis 1:2, which also speaks of a flooded world over which God’s Spirit moved. In both cases, God breathed over a featureless void and initiated the processes of bringing life to the Earth.
Genesis 8:3-5 And the waters receded continually from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the waters decreased. 4 Then the ark rested in the seventh month, the seventeenth day of the month, on the mountains of Ararat. 5 And the waters decreased continually until the tenth month. In the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains were seen.
Before the Flood, the geography of the Earth seems to have been a single continent surrounded by one ocean (read Genesis 1:9). Interestingly enough, secular views of the Earth’s geological past hold that there were times of “supercontinents.” There is an interesting creationist theory that the Flood was triggered by the initiation of catastrophic transformations of the Earth’s surface, and that during these transformations, the ocean basins and the single continent broke up and reformed into the surface we see today. The beginning stages of the transformation would had raised sea levels thousands of feet (thus flooding the land), and then the remainder of the transformation would have occurred under water. According to Genesis 8:3, the major sources of flooding halted after 150 days, and the geological transformations that were occurring allowed sea level to begin to drop. Two and a half months later, the ark came aground in high mountains. I really like the word play in verse 4: the ark containing Noah (whose name meant “Rest”) rested. The most difficult part of the trial – being tossed around by winds and waves on a boat with no controls – was over.
The ark landed in the mountains of Ararat. Ararat means “the curse reversed.” The curse of being at the mercy of the Flood was reversed by the ark’s landing on solid ground. But way more significant than this is how this “resting” is symbolic of being rested on the solid Rock, Jesus Christ, who is God’s embodiment of “the curse reversed.” It is interesting how this was the mountain that the ark rested on, and that it took a few more months before the tops of any other mountains could be seen. Of all the resting places, it is Christ alone who stands above all the others:
Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: 25 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.
Genesis 8:6-9 So it came to pass, at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made. 7 Then he sent out a raven, which kept going to and fro until the waters had dried up from the earth. 8 He also sent out from himself a dove, to see if the waters had receded from the face of the ground. 9 But the dove found no resting place for the sole of her foot, and she returned into the ark to him, for the waters were on the face of the whole earth. So he put out his hand and took her, and drew her into the ark to himself.
After 40 days passed, Noah did three things of note in this passage: (1) he opened a window; (2) he released a raven, which was an unclean bird; and (3) he released a dove which was a clean bird. The number 40 in scripture often represents judgment, and after this number of days passed from the arks landing, Noah opened a window on a judged world. If there was anything to see, it would have only been death and devastation. The raven is a bird that will gladly eat carrion, and at this point in the story, floating dead bodies of animals and people would have been the only source of food available to a raven. The raven stayed outside the ark, feeding on carrion, as long as it took until dry land appeared. The dove is a bird that would not only not eat dead things, but would not land on or near them. So what can we take from this passage?
When Noah opened a window on a judged world, the first bird to go out, a raven willing to feed on carcasses, represented the work of Man without God. Man is at home in a decaying world, and is comfortable feeding on unclean food rather than returning to the safety of God’s resting place. If this is where Noah’s story ended, then the result would be mankind’s return to the place of judgment. The dove in Scripture often represents the Holy Spirit. Noah’s dove flew for a while over the flooded earth, but having nowhere to land, had to return to the ark. Likewise the Holy Spirit is present in our judged world, but cannot land on those who are under God’s judgment. Notice that Noah put out his hand and took her, and drew her into the ark to himself. Noah ultimately responded to the moving of the Holy Spirit, not the work of the flesh, knowing it was not yet time to leave the ark.
Genesis 8:10-11 And he waited yet another seven days, and again he sent the dove out from the ark. 11 Then the dove came to him in the evening, and behold, a freshly plucked olive leaf was in her mouth; and Noah knew that the waters had receded from the earth.
Seven is the number of completion. This time that the dove went out, the flood waters had completely receded, signifying that the time of judgment was over. A freshly plucked olive leaf is one that is alive and has been growing on a tree, not a leaf that was picked off of a dead, floating branch. So Noah knew that land had dried up enough that olive trees were growing. But there is also something spiritually significant about an olive leaf. Paul, in Romans 11:16-24, used the analogy of an olive tree to represent the inclusion of gentiles into God’s plan for salvation, with the meaning that the Church was like an olive tree. The dove, representing the Holy Spirit, brought Noah an olive leaf, representing evidence of God’s Church beginning with Noah and his family. After the global judgment, God established His work on the earth through His Holy Spirit. While the Church and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is often thought of as a New Testament work, God began the work with the Old Testament patriarchs, and Noah became the one with whom God established His covenant.
Genesis 8:12 So he waited yet another seven days and sent out the dove, which did not return again to him anymore.
Literally, the dove managed to find the food and shelter it needed to survive, and had no need to return to the ark. This let Noah know for certain that the land was dry enough to support life again. Can there also be a spiritual significance to this picture? A dove can also be a symbol of peace in Scripture. This third release of the dove did not result in a bird that had to return to the ark. Instead, it represented that peace with God had come to the earth again.
Genesis 8:13-17 And it came to pass in the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, that the waters were dried up from the earth; and Noah removed the covering of the ark and looked, and indeed the surface of the ground was dry. 14 And in the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dried. 15 Then God spoke to Noah, saying, 16 “Go out of the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. 17 Bring out with you every living thing of all flesh that is with you: birds and cattle and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, so that they may abound on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.”
Noah and his family stayed in the ark for one year and ten days. The flood had mostly receded a few months earlier, but by this time, even the ground had dried. They waited until God directed them to leave the ark and to release the animals.
Genesis 8:18-20 So Noah went out, and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him. 19 Every animal, every creeping thing, every bird, and whatever creeps on the earth, according to their families, went out of the ark. 20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.
I’ll bet it felt good to be finally out of that ark! Noah and his family must have been truly thankful to be alive and well. This passage is the first mention in the Bible about burnt offerings. Actual sacrifice was, of course, mentioned in Genesis 3:21 and in the account of Cain and Abel. But it is from this point on in Scripture that burnt offerings on alters are described, until they are codified in the Mosaic Law. Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob each built altars and sacrificed burnt offerings. Their altars indicated their approach to God and communion with Him. These altars were often built after some experience of spiritual significance, and the death of an animal pointed forward to the one great sacrifice of Christ. Noah had received grace and escaped judgment, and his first act upon leaving the ark was to worship God. But like all Old Testament saints, his approach to God was preceded by sacrifice. Later in the Old Testament, each sacrifice was mediated by a high priest, but was still required in order to approach Holy God. But because of the completed work of Jesus, we have access to God’s throne room any time!
Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Genesis 8:21-22 And the Lord smelled a soothing aroma. Then the Lord said in His heart, “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done.22 While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease.”
It wasn’t the smoke of barbeque that God found soothing. In fact, other Scriptures clearly indicate that killing and burning up animals was not really what got God excited:
- 1 Samuel 15:22 Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.
- Hosea 6:6 For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.
- Proverbs 21:3 To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.
- Psalm 51:16-17 For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering.17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart—these, O God, You will not despise.
The soothing aroma God smelled was Noah’s obedient heart, his desire to live a righteous life before God, and his thankfulness towards God’s mercy. Noah knew he didn’t deserve to be alive while the entire world had been judged, so his worship was from a thankful heart. He had been obedient every step of the way to God’s direction, and the result was that eight souls were saved from judgment and ultimately found “rest” in the midst of the absolute worst disaster the world has ever seen. When I think of Noah offering sacrifices after the Flood, it reminds me of Job, who would offer burnt offerings on behalf of his children every time they had a party. [He] would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did regularly (Job 1:5b). Noah’s and Job’s quest for righteousness was so deep that they were compelled to intercede before God on behalf of their families. This is, of course, a picture of Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us (Romans 8:34b).
When God announced in Genesis 8:21 that He would never again have to destroy creation in response to Man’s sin, it was because Jesus would pay the penalty for sin: the “curse was reversed” and all of creation would benefit. I guess you could say that God gave us an advance on this promise right after the Flood, even though it would be 2,000 more years before Jesus came to the Earth. We have no idea what the environment was like prior to the Flood, but God changed some of the conditions after the Flood. Among these changes were the seasons (winter, spring, summer, and fall), variations in climate (tropical/hot to arctic/cold), and growing seasons. Maybe prior to the Flood, the entire Earth was a lot like Hawaii or some other tropical place. But after the Flood, God added some diversity to the Earth’s climate zones, and most would agree that this makes His creation a lot more interesting and beautiful. Whatever the changes that were made by God, we should view them as blessings for our benefit, even though we don’t deserve them. They were given to us on account of Christ’s work, and given to Noah in advance!