Renewal of the Earth

renewal of earth

b) Gen 8:6–14: Noah wanted to ensure the safety of the ark’s inhabitants before disembarking.[1]

This section of the flood narrative concentrates upon the long wait for the waters to subside.[2] Hence, Moses employed a great deal of repetition to impart the sense of monotony which the passengers experienced while they waited for the earth to dry.[3]

Moses wrote, “Then it was at the end of forty days, Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made. And he sent forth the raven. And it went out, going back and forth while the waters were drying upon the earth.”

Noah thought waiting forty days after the mountain peaks emerged might suffice for them to leave the ark.[4] Since the window did not allow him to view the ground, he must have placed it in or near the roof (Gen 6:16).[5]

Until this point in the flood narrative, Noah received all his instructions from God. On this topic, the Lord apparently remained silent. However, since God did eventually tell him to leave (Gen 8:15–16),[6] perhaps Noah grew impatient.

In the ancient world, some sailors utilized birds to locate the nearest land.[7]

Pliny the Elder (23–79 AD) observed, “In traversing their seas, the people of Taprobane take no observations of the stars…but they carry birds out to sea, which they let go from time to time, and so follow their course as they make for the land.”[8]

Since ravens typically failed to return to their ship, sailors took special care to note the direction of the birds’ flight.[9] God classified them among unclean birds due to their habit of eating decaying flesh (Lev 11:13–15).[10]

Thus, Noah likely expected the raven’s failure to return.

Moses continued, “Then [Noah] sent forth a dove from him in order to see [if] the waters had diminished from upon the surface of the ground.”

As doves can fly only a short distance, navigators used them to locate places to land.[11] The Lord considered them clean birds, suitable for sacrifice (Lev 1:14).[12] These fowl tend to live in low-lying areas like valleys,[13] where they find seeds to eat.[14]

Moses reported, “But the dove did not find a resting place for the sole of her foot, so she turned back to him on the ark, because the waters [were] on all the surface of the ground. And [Noah] stretched out his hand, and he took her, and he brought her to himself into the ark.”

The return of the dove to Noah indicated that the land at lower elevations remained submerged.[15]

Moses employed word-play here with Noah’s name. Finding no resting place (mānoah) the dove returned to Noah.[16]

He imitated God,[17] extending compassion to the creatures which the Lord created (Exod 23:4–5; Deut 25:4; Prov 12:10).[18]

Then, “[Noah] waited yet another seven days, and he again sent out the dove from the ark. The dove came to him toward evening and, behold, a fresh-plucked olive leaf [was] in her mouth. And Noah knew that the waters were diminished from upon the land. So, he waited yet another seven days, and he sent forth the dove, but she did not return to him again.”

After what had to be a difficult week of waiting, Noah tried again.[19] This time, the bird brought a sign of hope. Leaves once again sprouted from olive trees![20]

People have cultivated olives for over 6,000 years. A single tree can live for up to 1,000 years, producing fruit even when the trunk becomes hollow. When someone cuts an olive tree down, new sprouts emerge from the stump. This makes them difficult to kill.[21]

As a result, those living in the Ancient Near East (ANE) considered olive trees a sign of fertility and new life. Recovery from the flood had begun.[22]

The Epic of Gilgamesh recounts Utnapishtim using birds in a similar way:

When the seventh day arrived, I sent forth and set free a dove. The dove went forth but came back. Since no resting-place for it was visible, she turned round.

Then I sent forth and set free a swallow. The swallow went forth but came back. Since no resting-place for it was visible, she turned round.

Then I sent forth and set free a raven. The raven went forth and, seeing that the waters had diminished, he eats, circles, caws, and turns not round.[23]

Releasing a raven before a dove represents a more logical strategy for tracking the evaporation of water.[24] This imbues the biblical account with greater credibility.[25]

Moses reported, “And it came about in the six hundred and first year, in the first month, on the first day of the month, the water began to be dried up (khārēv) from upon the earth. Then Noah removed the covering of the ark, and he looked, and behold, the surface of the ground had begun to dry. And in the second month on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the land was dry (yābēsh).”

Once again, Moses cited specific dates to emphasize the importance of these events (Cf. Gen 7:11).[26]

Furthermore, he used two different Hebrew verbs to convey what happened to the land.[27] The first (khārēv) describes the process of drying, while the second (yābēsh) depicts the result.[28]

Initially, Noah saw that the waters began to disappear from the earth. By the end, a new world emerged from its watery grave, heralding the onset of another era in human history.[29]

Moses provided a hint to his original audience that the ark was a sacred space by his choice of words to identify what Noah removed from it.[30]

The term “covering” (mikseh) elsewhere refers to the roof of the tabernacle and to the leather which the priests placed over the sacred furnishings of the tabernacle for transport to a new location (Exod 26:14; Num 4:5–15).[31]

According to the Eridu Genesis, a Sumerian flood account:

After the flood had swept over the country, after the evil wind had tossed the big boat about on the great waters, the sun came out spreading light over heaven and earth.

Ziusudra then drilled an opening in the big boat. And the gallant [sun god] Utu sent his light into the interior of the big boat.”[32]

Noah waited for almost two more months before the ground completely dried.[33]

Based upon the Hebrew lunar calendar, Noah and his passengers spent one year and eleven days on the ark. Intriguingly, that is the amount of time the earth requires to orbit the sun. By our reckoning, they remained on the boat for exactly one year.[34]

No other ANE account provides a length of time for the flood.[35] This fact counters arguments that newer texts, such as the Epic of Gilgamesh, depend upon Genesis.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

 

Read Gen 8:6–14. Why would Noah release a raven to test the water level before repeating the experiment with a dove? How did he know that the waters abated? What indications did Moses give that the ark represented a sacred sanctuary?

 

 

 

 

Go to Bring Them Out

 

[Related posts include Specifications for an Ark (Gen 6:14–16); A Reversal of Creation (Gen 7:5–16); God Remembered Noah (Gen 8:1); God Reverses the Flood (Gen 8:2–5); Ancient Literature; and Author and Date of Genesis]

[Click here to go to Chapter 8: Safely Through (Gen 8:1–19)]

 

[1]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 302.

[2]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 185.

[3]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 185.

[4]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 303.

[5]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 186.

[6]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 303.

[7]Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 8:12.

[8]Pliny the Elder, Natural History (trans. John Bostock and H. T. Riley; London: Taylor & Francis, 1855), 6.24.7–8, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0137:book=6:chapter=24&highlight=birds.

[9]Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 8:12.

[10]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 186.

[11]Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 8:12.

[12]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 186.

[13]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 304–5.

[14]Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 8:12.

[15]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 304–5.

[16]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 186.

[17]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 186–7.

[18]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 141.

[19]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 187.

[20]Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 8:12.

[21]Irene Jacob and Walter Jacob, “Flora,” ABD 2:803–17, 807–8.

[22]Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 8:12.

[23]Speiser, “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” in ANET, 11:145–54, 94–5, https://archive.org/stream/Pritchard1950ANET_20160815/Pritchard_1950_ANET#page/n119/mode/2up.

[24]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 304–5.

[25]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 141.

[26]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 187.

[27]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 305.

[28]O. Kaiser, “חָרַב” (kharav), TDOT 5:150–1, 151.

[29]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 187.

[30] Brown, Driver, and Briggs, “חָרַב” (kharav), BDB, 492.

[31]Helmer Ringgren, “כָּסָה” (kasah), TDOT 7:259–64, 264.

[32]Thorkild Jacobsen, trans., “Eridu Genesis,” in RANE, 13–15, http://www.piney.com/EriduGen.html.

[33]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 141.

[34]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 305.

[35]Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, 425.