Genesis 7: Instructions to Noah (II)

By Mary Jane Chaignot

The previous chapter mainly focused on God's instructions to Noah regarding the building of the Ark. That task has been completed. There were instructions on who and what should go aboard. So readers await the next step. Yet, as God's instructions continue, careful readers will notice many statements are simply repeated. Oftentimes, authors do this in order to emphasize what has already been stated. For example, in 6:9 the text reads, "Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time [the word is "generation"], and he walked faithfully with God." Then in 7:1 God declares to Noah, "Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation." Not only are several words repeated, but there are also different speakers. The first time a narrator makes a general statement; the second time God speaks directly to Noah. Though details about Noah's righteousness are not given, one can safely assume that he is being saved because of it. It should also be clarified that the words do not suggest that Noah was righteous because he built the Ark. God simply declared him to be the righteous person "in this generation." Through him, a remnant of humanity would be saved.

Next, God tells him to gather "seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven pairs of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth" (7:2-3). This conflicts with his earlier command in 6:19-20, "You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive."

This type of discrepancy is hard to reconcile. As translated, the accounts are simply different. As a result, scholars have argued that at least two sources were mixed together. The priestly tradition (P) probably recorded the command in chapter 6, while the Yahwistic community (J) would have been responsible for the second version in chapter 7. It is thought that the latter version already allowed for the practice of sacrificial worship. The difference in number between the clean and unclean animals, then, was based on the fact that clean animals could have been sacrificed. Hence, more were needed. No one would have ever considered offering an unclean animal to the Lord. Likewise, additional pairs of birds were needed because they would be sent out to determine the end of the flood. Once again, more were needed for this contingency. Had this not been taken into consideration, many clean animals, especially birds, would have become extinct.

Some scholars make further claims that since Noah was a righteous man, he would have known about animal sacrifice and the need for an unblemished specimen. It is harder to argue that he also knew about the distinction between clean and unclean animals because these distinctions would not have been fully determined until the time of the exile. Scholars have noted that the word typically translated "unclean" is not the usual one used later on in the Old Testament. They, then, prefer to translate it here as "not clean," allowing for some distinction but recognizing that official designations of clean/unclean had not yet been developed.

Other scholars, however, are reluctant to resort to the dual documentary theory. Instead, they have suggested a mistranslation of 6:19-20. Instead of reading the text as "two of every kind," they have submitted that the word should be translated as "pairs of every kind." In that sense, then, the instructions of chapter 7 simply provide more details on how many pairs to take. If that is the case, then the discrepancy can be resolved.

Yet, there is one more significant point to make. In this command, God provides for the survival of all animals – clean and not clean. He doesn't want any to disappear! This is quite amazing, considering that the Israelites will be prohibited throughout the Old Testament from any form of contact with unclean animals, including birds. Yet, here God has compassion on both.

Next, God provides a timeline: "Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made" (7:4). This also echoes what has been stated in 6:13, 17. The word for "rain" is the normal word. But this rain will go on for forty days and forty nights without stopping. Biblically speaking, the phrase "forty days and forty nights" is oftentimes used to express a really long duration. It might not be meant literally.

7:5 is a repetition of 6:22: "Noah did all that the Lord commanded him." And again, as readers, we would love to know how he accomplished these commands. According to God's timeline, he had a mere seven days in which to get all the animals on board. Yet, the narrator of the story has no interest in his activities, only telling us that he did everything as commanded.

To make matters even more incredible, the narrator states that Noah was 600 years old when the floodwaters came upon the earth. Since we were told in 5:32 that he was 500 when he became the father of three sons, we know that at least one of them is already 100 years old. Also, according to the genealogy of chapter 5, Noah's father, Lamech, would have died five years previously and his grandfather, Methuselah, would have died the same year as the flood. Some speculate that he might have met his demise because of the flood, but there is no evidence to substantiate that claim. Nor is there any mention of any other family members surviving the devastation, even though both of these men fathered "other sons and daughters." The text is simply silent on such matters.

As it was, "Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons' wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood." The text is decidedly silent on what they took for food for themselves or the animals. Nor is there any mention as to whether Noah and his family were able to take any possessions with them. This contrasts with other flood stories, wherein the main characters loaded up their arks with silver, gold, and plenty of other riches.

It is again stated, "…two of each animal, male and female, came to Noah and entered the ark, as God had commanded Noah." This can also be translated as "pairs of animals, male and female." There is also no distinction between clean and not clean animals. All the animals "came to Noah." He did not have to go out looking for them.

"And after the seven days the floodwaters came on the earth." God fulfilled his promise. "Every living substance" would "be destroyed from off the face of the earth." This would, no doubt, include plants, animals, and people. Everything that God had created would be destroyed. The ordering of creation was being