Bible Commentaries
Genesis 8

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 9-22

1. The Flood 6:9-8:22

The chiastic (palistrophic, crossing) structure of this section shows that Moses intended to emphasize God’s grace to Noah, which occupies the central part of the story.

"One mark of the coherence of the flood narrative is to be found in its literary structure. The tale is cast in the form of an extended palistrophe, that is a structure that turns back on itself. In a palistrophe the first item matches the final item, the second item matches the penultimate item, and so on. The second half of the story is thus a mirror image of the first. This kind of literary structure has been discovered in other parts of Genesis, but nowhere else is it developed on such a large scale. This may be partly due to the fact that a flood narrative is peculiarly suited to this literary form. . . .

"Particularly striking are the references to days (lines H, I, L, O). (Only the references to days form part of the palistrophe; the 40 days and nights [vii 4, 12] and the dates do not.) The periods of time form a symmetrical pattern, 7, 7, 40, 150, 150, 40, 7, 7. The turning point of the narrative is found in viii:1 ’God remembered Noah.’

"What then is the function of the palistrophe? Firstly, it gives literary expression to the character of the flood event. The rise and fall of the waters is mirrored in the rise and fall of the key words in its description. Secondly, it draws attention to the real turning point in the saga: viii 1, ’And God remembered Noah.’ From that moment the waters start to decline and the earth to dry out. It was God’s intervention that was decisive in saving Noah, and the literary structure highlights this fact." [Note: Gordon J. Wenham, "The Coherence of the Flood Narrative," Vetus Testamentum 28:3 (1978):337, 339-40. See also idem, Genesis 1-15, pp. 155-58. There is a helpful chart of the chronology of the Flood in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, p. 39.]

The following diagram illustrates this palistrophe (chiasm) simply.

"Introduction: Noah’s righteousness and Noah’s sons (Genesis 6:9-10).

A God resolves to destroy the corrupt race (Genesis 6:11-13).

B Noah builds an ark according to God’s instructions (Genesis 6:14-22).

C The Lord commands the remnant to enter the ark (Genesis 7:1-9).

D The flood begins (Genesis 7:10-16).

E The flood prevails 150 days and the water covers the mountains (Genesis 7:17-24).

F God remembers Noah (Genesis 8:1 a).

E’ The flood recedes 150 days, and the mountains are visible (Genesis 8:1-5).

D’ The earth dries (Genesis 8:6-14).

C’ God commands the remnant to leave the ark (Genesis 8:15-19).

B’ Noah builds an altar (Genesis 8:20).

A’ The Lord resolves not to destroy humankind (Genesis 8:21-22)." [Note: Ross, Creation and . . ., p. 191. See also the charts in Mathews, p. 354; and Waltke, Genesis, p. 125.]

Conditions and events before the Flood 6:9-7:10


The aftermath of the Flood ch. 8

Verses 1-5

When Moses wrote that God remembered someone (Genesis 8:1), he meant God extended mercy to him or her by delivering that person from death (here; cf. Genesis 19:29) or from barrenness (Genesis 30:22). [Note: Hamilton, p. 299.] God’s rescue of Noah foreshadows His deliverance of Israel in the Exodus (cf. Genesis 8:13-14 and Exodus 2:24; Exodus 14:21). [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 127; idem, "Genesis," p. 89.]

"’Ararat,’ known as ancient Urartu in Assyrian records, was an extensive territory and bordered the northern Mesopotamian region. It reached its political zenith in the ninth to sixth centuries B.C. Urartu surrounded Lake Van with boundaries taking in southeast Turkey, southern Russia, and northwest Iran. Among the mountains of modern Armenia is the impressive peak known today as Mount Ararat, some seventeen thousand feet in elevation, which the Turks call Byk Ari Da. ’Mount Ararat’ as a geographical designation comes from later tradition. During the eleventh to twelfth centuries A.D., it became the traditional site known as the place of Noah’s landing. Genesis 8:4, however, does not specify a peak and refers generally to its location as the ’mountains of Ararat.’ . . . The search for the ark’s artifacts has been both a medieval and a modern occupation; but to the skeptic such evidence is not convincing, and to the believer, while not irrelevant, it is not necessary to faith." [Note: Mathews, pp. 385-86.]

Modern Mt. Ararat lies on the border between Turkey and Armenia near the center of the ancient world. From this general region Noah’s descendants spread out over the earth. [Note: For a history of the evidence that Noah’s ark is still on Mt. Ararat, see Boice, 1:263-65. See also Tim LaHaye and John Morris, The Ark on Mt. Ararat, or Violet Cummings, Has Anybody Really Seen Noah’s Ark?]

Verses 6-14

"The raven in seeking food settles upon every carcass it sees, whereas the dove will only settle on what is dry and clean." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 1:149.]

Doves (Genesis 8:8), light, clean animals (Leviticus 1:14; Leviticus 12:6; et al.) in contrast to dark, unclean animals (Leviticus 11:15; Deuteronomy 14:14), return to their home when they find no place to land.

"The olive tree will put out leaves even under water." [Note: Ibid.]

Verses 15-19

There are many interesting thematic parallels between God calling Noah out of the ark and God calling Abraham out of Ur (cf. Genesis 8:15 and Genesis 12:1; Genesis 8:16 and Genesis 12:1; Genesis 8:18 and Genesis 12:4; Genesis 8:20 and Genesis 12:7; Genesis 9:1 and Genesis 12:2; Genesis 9:9 and Genesis 12:7).

"Both Noah and Abraham represent new beginnings in the course of events recorded in Genesis. Both are marked by God’s promise of blessing and his gift of the covenant." [Note: Sailhamer, "Genesis," p. 91.]

Genesis 8:15 introduces the third dispensation, the dispensation of human government. When Noah and his family stepped out of the ark to begin life on earth anew, God laid down new rules for humanity, including a new test. Previously no one had the right to take another human life (cf. Genesis 4:10-11; Genesis 4:14-15; Genesis 4:23-24). Now, though man’s direct moral responsibility to God continued, God delegated to man certain areas of His authority. Man was now to express his obedience to God not only by obeying God directly but also by obeying the human authorities God would set over him, namely, human governors (cf. Matthew 22:21; Romans 13:1-2).

The highest function of human government is the protection of human life. God now specified that human beings were not to avenge murder individually but to do so as a corporate group, to practice capital punishment, to safeguard the sanctity of human life. Human life is a gift from God that people should not dispose of except as God permits. Restraint on man in the preceding dispensation was internal (Genesis 6:3), God’s Spirit working through moral responsibility. But now a new external restraint was added: the influence and power of civil government.

Unfortunately, man failed to rule his fellowman righteously. Civil leaders have abused their function as God’s vice-regents by ruling for themselves rather than for God. Examples are the failures at Babel (Genesis 11:9), in Israel’s theocracy (2 Chronicles 36:15-21), and in "the times of the Gentiles" (Daniel 2:31-45). The glorious reign of Jesus Christ over the earth will supersede man’s rule eventually. The dispensation of human government ended as a specific test of human obedience when God called Abraham to be His instrument of blessing to the whole world (Genesis 12:2). Nevertheless man’s responsibility for government did not end then but will continue until Christ sets up His kingdom on the earth.

Genesis 8:18-19 may seem like needless repetition to the modern reader, but they underline Noah’s obedience to God’s words, which Moses stressed in the entire Flood narrative.

Verses 20-22

Noah’s "altar" is the first altar mentioned in the Bible. His "burnt offerings" were for worship. Some of the burnt offerings in the Mosaic cultus (system of worship) were for the same purpose. Specifically, a burnt offering made atonement and expressed the offerer’s complete personal devotion to God (cf. Leviticus 1; Romans 12:1-2). As the head of the new humanity, Noah’s sacrifice represented all humankind.

God may judge the wicked catastrophically and begin a new era of existence with faithful believers.

The non-biblical stories of the Flood are undoubtedly perversions of the true account that God preserved in Scripture. God may have revealed the true account directly to Moses, or He may have preserved a true oral or written account that Moses used as his source of this information. Moses may have written Genesis under divine inspiration to correct the Mesopotamian versions (the maximalist view), or both the biblical and Mesopotamian accounts may go back to a common tradition (the minimalist view). [Note: For a chart that compares the biblical account of the Flood with four other ancient Near Eastern accounts of it, see Appendix 2 at the end of these notes.]

"Biblical religion explained that the seasonal cycle was the consequence of Yahweh’s pronouncement and, moreover, evidence of a divine dominion that transcends the elements of the earth. There is no place for Mother-earth in biblical ideology. Earth owes its powers (not her powers!) to the divine command." [Note: Mathews, p. 397.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Genesis 8". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.