The ark and its passengers have been floating in the flood for 150 days. All life on earth outside the ark is destroyed. The waters have just started to recede but still no dry land is visible. For Noah and his family it is likely they have no way of knowing how much longer they will be on the ark or what kind of world will greet them when this is all over. They do know, however, that everything God said would come to pass has in fact occurred and that they are safe. It is a time of great faith in God’s providential protection and sovereign will. They are alone in a water-filled wasteland and nothing is or ever will be the same.
The flood has lasted 150 days so far and its intent to destroy all life has been realized. Everything is gone. Creation has effectively been reversed. Just as the earth was formless and void and the Spirit of God hovered over the deep at the start of creation (1:2), so now the earth (although perhaps not the whole planet) is covered by the deep and the wind of God begins to blow. It is nearing time to begin again with a new Adam and a new world.
Verse 1 says that God remembered Noah and all the beasts on the ark. Remembered is a covenantal word throughout the Old Testament. It does not mean that it suddenly occurs to God that He needs to take care of Noah and his family. It means He turns His attention to now carrying out the covenant He made with them. It is a word often associated with deliverance and will be used again when God delivers Israel from Egypt (Ex 2:24, 6:5). It is also the word God will use to describe His keeping the covenant He will make with man and the earth after the flood is over (9:15-16).
Verse 2 says that the fountains of the deep and the floodgates of the sky are closed and it sounds as if this does not happen until the end of the 150 days. However, since it earlier said that rain fell for 40 days and nights this seems to refer to a past event that explains why the waters begin to recede.
On the 150th day of the flood – seventh month, the seventeenth day of the month (the flood started on the seventeenth day of the second month with 30 days per month) – the ark comes to rest upon the mountains of Ararat. It is difficult to know what exactly this means. If, as traditionally thought, this is the top of what is currently known as Mt Ararat, it would mean that after the flood Noah and all the animals have to make their way down a 17,000 foot mountain. This does not seem plausible (not to mention trying to breath at that elevation as the flood waters recede). Some say the flood changes the topography of the earth such that high mountains only appear at the end of the flood, but that would still seem to mean that Mt Ararat reaches something like its current height before the passengers leave the ark. It probably makes more sense to assume this is something lower than the current Mt Ararat and somewhere easily traversed by the animals and people leaving the ark.
Three months later – the first day of the tenth month – the tops of the mountains become visible (this apparently means that the ark came to rest when the water over the mountains was no longer deeper than the draught of the ark, but before the mountains themselves became visible). If, again, this refers to the top of mountains as currently known, it means the water decreases roughly fifteen to twenty feet (the draught of the ark) in three months but then recedes thousands of feet in the next four months (vs 14).
Noah waits 40 days after the tops of the mountains become visible and sends out a raven, presumably to see if it can survive. The raven flies here and there (or back and forth) and either finds a way to survive without returning to the ark or comes back and then flies out again repeatedly (the text is not clear). The raven is a scavenger so it may feed on the dead carcasses floating on the water.
Noah then sends out a dove which comes back because it cannot find a resting place. After seven more days (unclear if this is 14 days after first sending out the raven) he sends out a dove again but this time it comes back with a freshly picked olive leaf in her beak. This means the waters have begun to recede and the earth is sprouting vegetation. After seven more days he sends out a dove again and this time it does not return. The earth is obviously ready for habitation again and the dove has no need for the ark (since doves are clean and are going to be sacrificed after everyone leaves the ark she makes a wise decision to stay out – although it is a little tough for the male dove she callously leaves behind).
On the first day of the first month of Noah’s 601st year (or roughly 11 months after he entered the ark), Noah removes the covering of the ark (hard to know what this means – is this some kind of hatch or window or does he literally tear off the roof?) and looks at the surface of the land around him and sees that it is dry. This implies that he has not been able to see this until now.
Interestingly, he still does not leave the ark. He is content to wait on God. Though God has not spoken – at least nothing is recorded – throughout the whole flood Noah still does not make a move until God tells him to. It is hard to know how much of an act of faith this is. From one standpoint it is not hard to imagine that he and the family are desperate to get off the ark and back to some semblance of normal life away from thousands of animals and close quarters. However, it also could be that they are apprehensive to leave what has been their safe place through an incomprehensible disaster and reenter a world they have not seen for almost a year – and enter it completely alone. There is no way to know their mental and emotional state.
Either way, however, for some reason God waits another month before speaking (if it is true that God does not speak to Noah throughout the flood it is another lesson in how God oftentimes communicates in ways that are mysterious, and that times of His silence in our lives are not to be confused with times of absence – He may be silent according to His unknowable timing but He is never absent – that the ark comes through such a cataclysm intact proves that His hand was upon it even during His silence). On the 27th day of the second month – one year and ten days after the flood began – God commands Noah to come out of the ark along with his family and all the animals.
After Noah and all the passengers of the ark disembark, Noah builds an altar to God and offers sacrifices taken from every clean animal and every clean bird. This explains the reason for taking seven pairs of the clean animals on the ark. It also means that this is quite a sacrifice and probably goes on for some time.
God smells the aroma of the sacrifice and says something very interesting. He makes a vow and says to Himself, “I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done.” Notice that He does not say that man will be good from here on and therefore He will not judge him again. He actually says the opposite. Man will continue to be evil just as he was (God actually uses very similar language to what was used to describe mankind before the flood – 6:5) but God will not curse the earth and destroy him via flood again. Man will be evil but God will be merciful.
That He says this after smelling the sacrifice is likely no coincidence. All sacrifice that sheds blood points toward the ultimate sacrifice that will bring about man’s redemption. God knows what He plans to do and so effectively speaks the gospel here. Man is evil and will continue to be evil and that will never change as long as the world exists. But God can practice mercy toward man because the perfect sacrifice is coming.
Notice, however, that there is a caveat. While the earth remains there will be no interruption in seedtime and harvest and summer and winter, etc. There will come a day when the earth will no longer exist and man will be ultimately judged (II Pet 3:3-7). But until that time God will not interrupt the seasons or destroy His creation and start over as He has with Noah.
God blesses Noah and his sons and commands them to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. He gives them the same command He gave to Adam and Eve (1:28). It truly is a new start and Noah is effectively the new Adam.
There is a significant change, however. God tells them that their relationships with other living things in creation are now altered. Animals and beasts and birds will now fear man and man will exercise dominion over them in a different way. The animals will be food – though they are not to be eaten raw (with its blood) – for mankind along with the plants (1:29-30). It is not entirely clear why this happens now but perhaps it is simply part of the new created order that – unlike the first creation – is altered by sin. God is starting over but He starts over with a sin-filled creation that cannot operate the same as the first perfect one. [It is interesting to note the similarities between God’s commands in vss 3-4 and His commands in the garden regarding trees – 2:16-17.]
Along with the blessing and the instruction about animals comes a warning. Man’s life is still sacred. Though man’s every intention is evil he still bears God’s image, and that sets him apart from every other living thing in creation. Therefore any man or animal (note that He includes the beasts) that kills a man will give his own life in return. This is 2000 years before Moses, yet God establishes clearly that murder is fundamentally opposed to His created order and is a capital crime.
God speaks to Noah and his sons and makes a covenant with them. He does this in light of the flood being over and His having honored His original covenant to bring them through it unharmed. He tells them the covenant is with them and every living thing on the earth. The covenant is this – He will never again cut off all flesh by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth.
He goes on to say that He will establish a sign of the covenant – the rainbow. When he brings storm clouds He will also bring a rainbow that will be the sign that He remembers this covenant. An earth-destroying flood will never occur again. [This does not necessarily mean that a rainbow has never been seen before (or that the flood was the first occurrence of rain) – it could be that God simply co-ops the rainbow and says that from now on it will be the sign of His covenant.]
These verses speak to God’s compassion and mercy. It is not hard to imagine that the survivors of the flood and their early descendants will never look at rain or the decay of society the same again. God acts to countermand this. By telling them He will never put the world through another flood, He makes it so they can live without fear. What they have been through and its effect on them is hard to comprehend, but God comes and assures them they have no reason to be afraid going forward. He not only vows it will never happen again, He puts a sign in the heavens they will witness throughout their lives and know they can live without worry.
Notice that though this is a covenant it requires action on only one side. Noah and his family and their descendants have no responsibilities. God makes this covenant unilaterally. It rests entirely on Him and sets responsibility on Him alone.
Notice also that no one comes to God and asks Him to act. God comes to Noah and his sons without prompting. He knows what they need and goes to great lengths – notice how many times He repeats the covenant – to reassure them. He loves them and wants to be merciful to them.
Ultimately God does this to glorify Himself. His rainbow points to His mercy toward and patience with man (II Pet 3:8-9). God does not take joy in judgment (6:6) and so binds Himself to putting off judgment as long as the earth exists – even though man deserves it. The rainbow, then, becomes a sign of the glory of God realized through His great mercy. God initiates a covenant that rests entirely on Himself and asks nothing of man so that He can glorify Himself. God acts, God initiates, God promises, God is glorified. And, as always, man benefits.
Finally, think about the rainbow in light of God’s words both here and in the vow He makes to Himself in 8:21. It is not likely that anyone alive today who believes the Bible sees a rainbow and thinks, “It’s so good to see that rainbow because I was starting to worry about the earth being destroyed by a flood again.” The rainbow does not hold that kind of significance for us. The significance it does have, however, is that it shows both that God keeps His covenants AND that God is a God of grace. What is the covenant with Noah but a covenant of grace? Man will continue to be inherently sinful yet God will not destroy him. That is undeserved favor – grace.
And what does grace ultimately point to? The gospel. The rainbow says to us that God’s grace covers the world – instead of water – and the only reason grace exists is the gospel. So the rainbow actually points to the gospel. That means every time we see a rainbow we should think of the grace that we live under as a result of our redemption. Rainbow = gospel.