A Rest-Inducing Aroma: Genesis 8:21

rest-inducing aroma (2)

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b) Gen 8:21: Noah’s first recorded act upon disembarking was to gratefully sacrifice a whole burnt offering (Gen 8:20).

Then, “the Lord smelled the soothing aroma and he said to himself, ‘I will not again add to the curse on the ground on account of humanity, even though the purpose of the heart of a person [is] evil from his youth. And I will not again exterminate all the living as I have done.’”

Moses employed imagery of the smoke from the sacrifice rising to the nostrils of God.[1] Appropriately, one of the verbs meaning “to ascend” (alah) contains the same root as the noun for a whole burnt offering (olah).[2]

The technical term “soothing aroma” (reah nihoah) conveys that God accepted both the offering and the one who made it (Lev 26:27–31; 1 Sam 26:19; Amos 5:21–24).[3]

Here Moses engaged in word play with Noah’s name and his depiction of the type of aroma which the Lord smelled rising from the fire (Cf. Gen 5:29).[4] Therefore, one commentator calls it “a rest-inducing odor.”[5]



Due to the soothing smell of this sacrifice,”[6] the Lord engaged in divine self-deliberation.[7] He made a covenant to never again disrupt his creation as he had via the deluge.[8]

However, the Lord’s gracious attitude toward Noah does not represent a new development. After all, he already regarded Noah with favor and remembered him during the flood (Gen 6:8; Gen 8:1).[9]

Nor did God promise to remove the curse of Gen 3:17–19.[10]

Instead, he vowed not to add to the scourge he placed upon the earth after Adam sinned. This indicates that the flood went beyond the desecration which the Lord put in place after the fall.[11]

Never again will God interrupt the natural order of creation by a catastrophic flood (Gen 9:9–11).[12]

Just as the Lord accepted Job’s sacrifice on behalf of his children and his friends (Job 1:1–5; Job 42:7–9), here God viewed Noah’s offering as acceptable for all humanity.[13]

The pleasing aroma soothed his justifiable indignation (Gen 6:1–9).[14]



God’s rationale seems paradoxical.[15] Gross sin caused him to send the flood to decimate virtually all people.[16]

Yet, the Lord noted, “even though (ki) the purpose of the heart of a person [is] evil from his youth,” he would act with mercy.[17]

Despite the continuation of human sin, the Lord would respond with grace toward those he created.[18]

Indeed, the condition of human hearts made the divine promise of a covenant necessary. Otherwise, the threat of extinction would continually hover over creation (Cf. Rom 8:16–22).[19]

Moses’s original audience also experienced the Lord’s willingness to overlook their sin due to the intercession of their leader (Exod 32:11–14; Exod 33:3, 12–17; Exod 34:4–10).[20]



This scene from Noah’s life contradicts other Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) accounts concerning how the gods fared during the flood.[21]

According to Enuma Elish, the gods tired of working to obtain food. So, they created humanity to feed them, mixing clay with a rebel god’s blood. Thus, they fashioned people to work as their slaves.[22] Without people making sacrifices, the gods had gone without sustenance during the deluge.[23]

The Atrahasis Epic recounted, “It was trying…of the gods. [Enki] was beside himself, [seeing that] his sons (people) were thrown down before him. Nintu (Ninhursag), the great lady, her lips were covered with feverishness. The Annunaki, the great gods, were sitting in thirst and hunger. The goddess saw it as she wept.”[24]

Similarly, in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Noah figure Utnapishtim told Gilgamesh what he did upon disembarking from his boat:

I let out (all) to the four winds and offered a sacrifice. I poured out a libation on the top of the mountain. Seven and seven cult-vessels I set up, upon their pot-stands I heaped cane, cedar wood, and myrtle. The gods smelled the savor, the gods smelled the sweet savor, the gods crowded like flies about the sacrifice.[25]

Utnapishtim’s offering provided a feast for the starving gods.[26]



The Old Testament does speak anthropomorphically about God eating sacrifices (Num 28:1–3; Judg 6:19–21; Ezek 44:7). Yet, the texts do not say that the Lord really consumes them (Ps 50:7–15; Judg 13:15–23; Isa 40:15–17).[27]

God craves grateful hearts, not fat and blood (Exod 25:1–2; Deut 6:4–5; Deut 10:12–20).[28]

Unlike the biblical flood account, in other ANE flood stories the chief god did not expect anyone to survive the flood.[29]

For example, the Epic of Gilgamesh says, “‘Let not Enlil come to the offering, for he, unreasoning, brought on the deluge and my people consigned to destruction.’ When at length Enlil arrived and saw the ship, Enlil… was filled with wrath over the Igigi gods, ‘Has some living soul escaped? No man was to survive the destruction!’”[30]

In contrast to our Lord, those gods were neither omniscient nor omnipotent.[31]

Image via Wikimedia Commons


Read Gen 8:21. What soothed God’s wrath? Why was Noah the appropriate person to do this? What made this covenant necessary? How does the biblical account differ from others in the ANE?





Go to A Promise of Stability (Gen 8:22)

[Related posts include An Israelite View of Genesis 1; Thorns and Thistles (Gen 3:17–18); A Return to the Ground (Gen 3:19); 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); Noah’s Grateful Response (Gen 8:20); A Promise of Stability (Gen 8:22); A Covenant with All Living Things (Gen 9:8–11); A Bow Set in a Cloud (Gen 9:12–17); Co-Heirs with Christ (Rom 8:16–18); Creation’s Eager Expectation (Rom 8:19); Subjected to Futility (Rom 8:20); Set Free from the Slavery of Corruption (Rom 8:21–22); Ancient Literature; and Author and Date of Genesis]

[Click here to go to Chapter 9: A Covenant with Noah (Genesis 8:20–9:17)]


[1]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 308.

[2]Kellermann, “עֹלָה/עוֹלָה” (olah), TDOT 11:108.

[3]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 142.

[4]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 142.

[5]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 308.

[6]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 189.

[7]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 309.

[8]Williamson, Sealed with an Oath: Covenant in God’s Unfolding Purpose, 62.

[9]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 189–90.

[10]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 142.

[11]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 190.

[12]Williamson, Sealed with an Oath: Covenant in God’s Unfolding Purpose, 62.

[13]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 190.

[14]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 143.

[15]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 309.

[16]Williamson, Sealed with an Oath: Covenant in God’s Unfolding Purpose, 61.

[17]Per Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, this nuance of the conjunction ki also occurs in Isa 1:15; Jer 4:30; and Neh 6:1, in addition to in other verses (p.498), https://archive.org/stream/geseniushebrewgr00geseuoft#page/498/mode/2up.

[18]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 142.

[19]Williamson, Sealed with an Oath: Covenant in God’s Unfolding Purpose, 61.

[20]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 191.

[21]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 165.

[22] “The Creation Epic” (Enuma Elish), ANET, lines 5.156–6.36, 68, https://archive.org/stream/Pritchard1950ANET_20160815/Pritchard_1950_ANET#page/n93/mode/2up.

[23]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 165.

[24]Lambert and Millard, “Epic of Atra-Khasis,” in RANE, 30.

[25]Speiser, “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” in ANET, 11:155–61, 95, https://archive.org/stream/Pritchard1950ANET_20160815/Pritchard_1950_ANET#page/n119/mode/2up.

[26]Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 8:22.

[27]D. Kellermann, “עֹלָה/עוֹלָה” (olah), TDOT 11:110.

[28]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 308–9.

[29]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 165.

[30]Speiser, “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” in ANET, 11:166–9, 95, https://archive.org/stream/Pritchard1950ANET_20160815/Pritchard_1950_ANET#page/n119/mode/2up.

[31]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 165.