By Twos and Sevens: Genesis 7:1–4

by twos and sevens (5)

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1) Gen 7:1–4: Genesis 7 presumes the completion of the ark.[1]

One hundred years have passed since Moses first introduced Noah (Gen 5:32; Gen 7:6). However, it remains unclear whether Noah dedicated all that time to building the boat.

This third scene of the flood narrative consists of the Lord’s instructions for entering the boat Noah constructed. In the extended chiasm structure of Gen 6:9–9:19, it corresponds to Gen 8:15–17, when God commanded him to disembark.[2]



Previously, Moses declared Noah’s righteousness (Gen 6:8–9, 22). For the first time, the Lord described Noah’s integrity.[3]

“And the Lord said to Noah, ‘Enter, you and all your household, into the ark, because you I have seen [as] righteous before me in this generation.’”

Noah expressed his faith by building and equipping the ark as God commanded (Gen 6:14–22).[4]

In contrast to wickedness and corruption wherever he looked (Gen 6:5, 12), here the Lord saw an upright person on the earth.[5]

In Gen 6:19–20, God informed Noah that a pair of each kind of animal would come to the ark.[6]



Now the Lord expanded his earlier directive,[7] saying, “From all the clean animals, you shall take to yourself seven [pairs]. Seven males and their females. And from the animals which are not clean, [from] these two [pairs], males and their females. Also, from the birds of the heavens, seven [pairs]. Seven male and female, in order to preserve [their] seed on the face of the earth.”[8]

“Clean” (tahor) usually refers to ritual purity.[9]

The most comprehensive lists of unclean animals appear in Lev 11 and Deut 14:3–20.[10] Unclean birds tend to consume live prey or scavenge for dead animals.[11]

Not until after the flood receded would Noah understand the reason for the increased number of clean animals. First, Noah used a few birds to determine when everyone could leave the ark (Gen 8:6–12).[12]

After disembarking, he sacrificed clean animals, and God gave him permission to consume them. Therefore, Noah needed extra clean animals to repopulate the earth (Gen 8:17).[13]

However, the Lord saved even unclean animals from extinction.[14]

As with other aspects of Jewish ceremonial law, such as Sabbath observance and sacrificial offerings (Gen 2:1–3; Gen 4:3–4), the notion of ritual purity began long before God spoke to Moses.[15]

As a righteous man who walked with God, it appears that Noah understood this concept.[16]

In a parallel Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) text, Atrahasis brought “whatever he had…clean animals…fat animals…he caught [and brought on board]. The winged birds of the heavens, the cattle…the wild creatures…he put on board.”[17]



After decades of Noah’s preparation, at last the foretold time arrived.

The Lord said, “After seven days, I am sending rain on the earth [for] forty days and forty nights. And I shall wipe out all that subsists which I have made from the face of the ground.”

Biblical Hebrew features fifteen different words which refer to rain. The one used here (matar), is the most common. It points to regular rainfall in terms of its strength (Job 38:26–27; Isa 30:23).[18] However, in this case, it differed in duration.[19]

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Noah figure Utnapishtim explained:

[On the sev]enth [day] the ship was completed…Six days and [six] nights blows the flood wind, as the south-storm sweeps the land. When the seventh day arrived, the flood (-carrying) south-storm subsided in the battle, which it had fought like an army. The sea grew quiet, the tempest was still, the flood ceased. I looked at the weather: stillness had set in.[20]

In that ANE account, Utnapishtim’s craftsmen built the enormous boat in seven days, a period equivalent to the duration of the flood. Given the scale of these monumental events, the amounts of time denoted in Genesis appear more realistic.[21]

Image via Wikimedia Commons


a) Read Gen 7:1–4. Why did God see Noah as righteous? What made seven pairs of each kind of clean animal necessary? How was this rain different from a typical storm? What would be the result?





Go to A Reversal of Creation (Gen 7:5–16)

[Related posts include God Completes the Heavens and the Earth (Gen 2:1–2); The Lord Blesses the Seventh Day (Gen 2:3); and A Servant of the Ground and a Shepherd of a Flock (Gen 4:2‒5); Seeking Relief (Gen 5:28–32); Kings as Sons of the Gods (Gen 6:1–2 cont.); Taking Wives for Themselves (Gen 6:1–2 cont.); Limiting Human Life Spans (Gen 6:3); Nephilim in the Land (Gen 6:4); God Grieves (Gen 6:5–6); Wiping Out Everyone (Gen 6:7); Noah Found Favor (Gen 6:8); Righteous and Blameless (Gen 6:9–10); Violence Filled the Earth (Gen 6:11–12); Specifications for an Ark (Gen 6:14–16); A Deluge to Ruin All Flesh (Gen 6:17); God Establishes a Covenant (Gen 6:18); Two of Every Kind (Gen 6:19–22); Bring Them Out (Gen 8:15–19); New Creatures in Christ (2 Cor 5:17); Receiving Christ’s Righteousness (2 Cor 5:21); and Ancient Literature]

[Click here to go to Chapter 7: God Opens the Heavens and the Earth (Genesis 7:1–24)]


[1]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 287.

[2]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 176.

[3]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 286.

[4]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 137.

[5]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 286.

[6]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 176.

[7]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 137.

[8]The Hebrew text says “male and his female” for both clean and unclean animals. I have translated them as plurals for easier reading.

[9]H. Ringgren, “טָהַר” (tahor), TDNT 5:287–96, 291.

[10]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 138.

[11]Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1–16: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB; New Haven and London: Doubleday, 1991), 662.

[12]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 176.

[13]Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 7:4.

[14]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 287–8.

[15]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 138.

[16]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 177.

[17]Lambert and Millard, “Epic of Atra-Khasis,” in RANE, 29.

[18]H. J. Zobel, “םָטָר” (matar), TDOT 8:250–65, 250–1.

[19]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 288.

[20]Speiser, “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” in ANET, 11:76, 127–32, 94,

[21]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 177.