Genesis 8: The End of the Flood

By Mary Jane Chaignot

This chapter describes the end of the flood. It begins with "And God remembered Noah." This doesn't suggest that God had forgotten Noah, and only now remembered his predicament because God, of course, has always been caring for Noah and the animals. It is a way of saying that the time has come to act. God is ready to reverse the chaos that has enveloped the earth. Moreover, God didn't just remember Noah; he remembered all the wild animals and livestock that were with him in the ark.

So it was that he sent a wind over the earth and the waters receded. This echoes the moment of creation in Genesis 1:2, when the Spirit of God hovered over the waters. Here, God used the wind to push back the waters, back to their assigned place. Notice there is no mention of the sun drying things out. This, however, would become a slow process. The waters did not dissipate all at once. Indeed, it would take 150 days for the water to go down enough that the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. The phrase "came to rest" is a word play on Noah's name, which means, "to rest." One might say that the ark "noah-ed" on the mountain! Needless to say, scholars have tried to identify this region. According to ancient Assyrian documents, it was known as Urartu, a kingdom north of Assyria. Later on, the area would be known as Armenia. It encompasses parts of eastern Turkey, southern Russia, and northwestern Iran. The mountains rise 17,000 feet above sea level. The tallest one is known as Mount Ararat today, but that is a recent identification. And it would be sheer speculation to suggest that the ark rested on its top.

As an aside, as recently as 2007-10, a group of evangelical explorers were convinced they had found remains of the ark on Mount Ararat. They found pieces of a wooden structure that had compartments, ostensibly used to separate the different animal species, embedded in a glacier. These wooden remnants were higher than any known human settlements. The explorers claim that carbon dating had shown the wood to be roughly 4,800 years old, which would correspond with the biblical account. Despite their claim of being 99.9 percent certain that the pieces are from Noah's Ark, other scholars are more than skeptical. Since the earth is roughly 4 ½ billion years old, carbon dating has to be recalibrated if one is using a biblical timeline of 6,000 years. In this case, the wood is way too young. Also, would not the ark itself have been torn apart to provide firewood and building materials for a world devoid of mature trees? Nor is there any evidence that this part of Turkey ever sustained a devastating flood. So the discussions continue.

Forty days after the ark "came to rest," Noah opened a window and sent out two birds – a raven and a dove. One was black and unclean; the other was white and clean. Scholars assume he sent the raven to determine if land was visible. But because the raven is able to feed on floating carrion, it merely flew back and forth with ease, essentially leaving the question unanswered. The dove, on the other hand, which was more discriminating, found nothing upon which to land. It came back to Noah, who "put out his hand and brought it back into the ark." This tender act suggests the proper relationship that should exist between the human and animal world. Seven days later, Noah sent it out again, and it returned with a freshly plucked olive leaf in its mouth. That was a hopeful sign, showing that foliage was being rejuvenated, and animals would soon be able to live upon the earth. The olive leaf is also a powerful symbol of strength, peace, and reconciliation. Seven days later, Noah sent it out again and this time it did not return, which indicated that it had found a place to build a nest.

Roughly one year after the start of the rain, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah removed the covering from the ark and looked at the dry ground. It still took another 57 days before the earth was "completely dry." Scholars point out that the original Hebrew does not include the word "completely." Yet, it is certainly inferred from the context. Nor do scholars know what is meant by, "the covering." Some think it referred to the roof, but how would he have been able to remove the roof is unknown. Still, Noah did not rush out of the ark; he waited for God's command.

Only after the earth was "completely dry" did God speak to Noah, saying, "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 on it." This command corresponds to God's demand to enter the ark. It also repeats the commands of creation, wherein God tells them to "multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it."

Noah obediently followed God's command. He and his sons and all their wives left the ark. Then "the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds – everything that moves on land – came out of the ark, one kind after another." There is nothing to indicate that any of the animals had died during this year. All were presumed healthy and ready to replenish their kind.

Noah's first order of business was to build an altar to the Lord. He took some of the clean animals and clean birds and sacrificed them as burnt offerings on it. A "burnt offering" means that it was completely consumed by fire; nothing was left over. God accepted this sacrifice. This was a sacrifice of praise. Unlike the Mesopotamian gods who were dependent upon sacrifices for sustenance, God merely smelled the aroma. The smell was so pleasing to him that He said in his heart: "Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood." Not only does this echo Genesis 6:5, but it also suggests that the flood hadn't really changed anything about the human heart. Perhaps it is a sign of God's compassion. He knows humans will continue to be wicked; suffering will still occur. But never again would God try to wipe out the entire earth. From this time forward, mercy and compassion would define God's relationship with humans.

God promised, "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." This is akin to a formal oath, one that God makes to Himself, not to Noah. The seasons of the world would be predictable and stable. Humans would not need to live in fear of further reprisals.

God's soliloquy at this point is much like the one at the beginning of the flood (see 6:5-8). Scholars argue whether the change in God's view is related to the "sweet-smelling" aroma. Some suggest that God liked it so much that he changed his mind; he was soothed and pacified by the smell. Noah's sacrifice, then, becomes a sacrifice of atonement, not just gratitude. Others, however, think the destruction caused by the flood would have resulted in enough suffering; no further atonement would have been needed. Still, others think that the choice between atonement and gratitude is an artificial one. It is more likely to have been a bit of both.

They do agree that God's attitude toward Noah was merciful from the start (see 6:8). He declared Noah to be righteous long before Noah had done anything to merit it. At best, the only thing that changed was God's attitude toward the evil of the world. In 6:5, He declared that the heart of humanity was "evil all the time." Now, in 8:21, He declared that he would not curse the ground again. Perhaps the sacrifice was a prototype for the future—one that would require ongoing reconciliation between God and humanity. Here, God accepted the sacrifice and promised to do so again in the future.