This chapter opens with the residents of the ark (animal and human) being the only living creatures left on the earth. This is the chapter that looks forward; it focuses on what happened after the flood. Chapter eight shows us that the same God who sends a flood in judgment is the God who makes things anew and makes promises to his people which he will keep forever. Interestingly God only told Noah exactly what he needed to know in order to obey God. He needed to know when the flood would happen – he did not need to know when the flood would recede because he would be in God’s will (the ark) and therefore this information would only serve to satisfy Noah’s curiosity – it would serve no other purpose.
In the first verse of this chapter we come across the verb ‘remember’. This is a slightly different use of the verb to how we usually use it today – it does not imply that God forgot the people in the boat, but merely that after dealing with the flood he turned his attention back to them. This is not to say that he had been ignoring them while they were in the ark, but they may have wondered what was going on outside, wondering what God was doing. It may be that they felt deserted by him even though they knew they were in his will, being in his ark and being safe from the flood, as he promised. It is quite normal to go through periods like this in Christian life, but they do not last forever, and they always yield greater understanding. If we belong to God, there is no danger that we will ever be forgotten.
The flood gradually receded over months. This time must have seemed interminable for the people in the ark. The rain had stopped, the flood level was going down, but now it was clear exactly how much water there was everywhere because it was taking an absolute age to recede. Because of the amount of water and the fact that it came up from the earth as well as down from the sky, it is possible that whole continents were shifted and mountain ranges created which would have helped to redistribute much of the water.
The first bird that Noah sent out was the raven – this was after 40 days of resting on the peak of Mount Ararat. Why did Noah choose the raven? The raven was a carrion eating bird, an unclean creature. It would have found plenty to eat of the floating carcases of creatures that had drowned in the flood. Next, Noah sent out a dove. This is a clean bird. It flew around looking for somewhere to perch, but finding nowhere it returned to the ark. When he sent the bird out again, it returned with an olive sprig in its beak, this showed that the waters had receded sufficiently for trees to begin appearing above the water level. Noah later released the dove again, and this time it did not return. The choice of birds is interesting. The raven, the unclean bird is at home in the world eating dead flesh. The dove, however, returns to the ark, to the protection of God. Matthew Henry likens this to difference between the person who belongs the world and the person who belongs to God.
Noah didn’t enter the ark until told to by God, and likewise he and his family didn’t leave it until instructed to, even though Noah could see that the ground was dry around the ark. This must have been a test of obedience – they had been cooped up in the ark for over a year! Although it all looked OK outside, they had to wait for God’s word. It wouldn’t do for them to have been so obedient and to fall at the last hurdle. This shows how Noah is a man of faith worthy to be included in the hall of faith in Hebrews 11. It was absolutely fine for Noah to find out as much about the current situation as possible – looking out, monitoring the situation, sending out birds, that’s all OK, as long as you don’t depend on your own understanding of the situation instead of waiting on God. By this time the entire family knew that God could be trusted because he had ensured the survival, they knew to wait for him – they knew that obedience is as much doing as it is waiting for on God.
When Noah emerged from the ark, it was like he was a second Adam coming into a new world. His first action shows the correctness of his priorities – he built an altar to God to give thanks. He knew that the animals that had survived the flood were saved by God, and so he made a sacrifice on the altar. There was no selfishness – he did not consider not making a sacrifice in order to make a bigger sacrifice later out of a bigger herd. This shows how God prefers obedience to sacrifices. It would have cost Noah more to make the sacrifice when he did than to wait. God credited this to him as righteousness. It was not the sacrifice itself that pleases God so much as the obedience and faith that was behind it. Therefore, there is no action that can be done that can achieve God’s approval – that way lies legalism. Instead it is the condition of the heart that is behind the action that God looks at. That was why Abel’s sacrifice was accepted and Cain’s wasn’t. It has nothing to do with substance and everything to do with heart. Likewise for believers in Jesus, they know that there is nothing they can do on their own to win God’s approval, but if they put their faith in Jesus then all their actions will be credited with righteousness. It is fitting that the first action in the new world was that of sacrifice. Not only does it reflect our complete reliance on God (no matter if we accept him or not) but also it shows that the sin nature that began with Adam has continued past the flood and continues today. The world, although cleansed, was still subject to the effects of sin.
God decided several things once the humans were out of the ark. First of all he decided not to curse the land any more than it was already cursed through the sins of Adam and Cain. Secondly, he decided that he would never again flood the earth. Yes there are still some judgments to come, but none of them include a universal flood. He also said that there would always be seasons – although there have been instances of droughts and famines, we have always had seasons. It is the rhythm of the seasons, the day and the night as well that enables creatures to exist. Without this rotation, existence would not be possible. It is so easy to take for granted God’s blessings – but these ones of seasons, heat and cold, night and day, and the rotation of the months of the year are so easily ignored – and yet without them we would not be able to exist. In these promises, God shows that he is committed to our survival.
With thanks to my spiritual uncles: Uncle Warren Wiersbe, Uncle Chuck Missler, Uncle Matthew Henry, Uncle Jacob Prasch and Uncle Arnold Fruchtenbaum.