Genesis (Part 35)

Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the first 34 parts of this study, you can find the previous posts HERE.


Genesis 8:6-12

At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made and sent forth a raven. It went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth. Then he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground. But the dove found no place to set her foot, and she returned to him to the ark, for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth. So he put out his hand and took her and brought her into the ark with him. 10 He waited another seven days, and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark. 11 And the dove came back to him in the evening, and behold, in her mouth was a freshly plucked olive leaf. So Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. 12 Then he waited another seven days and sent forth the dove, and she did not return to him anymore.

From Ellicott’s Commentary:

Verse 6

(6) Noah opened the window.—Not the zohar of Genesis 6:16, but an aperture. He had waited forty days after seeing the heights around him rising clearly into the air, and then, impatient of the slow subsidence of the waters, Noah at last sent forth a raven to bring him some news of the state of the earth. This bird was chosen as one strong of flight, and also, perhaps, because anciently regarded as prophetic of the weather; besides this, it is easily tamed, and as Noah retained its mate he had security for its return. And so it seems to have done, for it is described as going “forth to and fro.” Each night it returned to the ark, and probably to its old perch near the female. The Chaldean Genesis agrees with many commentators and the ancient versions in supposing that the raven did not return, finding abundant food in the floating dead bodies (Chaldean Genesis, p. 286); but this is contrary to the Hebrew. The versions must have had a negative in their copies, and have read, “which went forth, going, and not returning.” The present Hebrew text is, however, consistent with itself; for it adds, “until the waters,” &c. This must mean that as soon as the earth was dry this going to and fro ceased.

You’ll see in the note above some speculation as to why the raven was first chosen.

The “Chaldean Genesis” relates to an account and translation of events in ancient Mesopotamia taken from Sumerian clay tablets. It covers creation, the Fall, the Flood, the tower of Babel, and other stories that will feel familiar to an audience familiar with The Bible. The idea of floating dead bodies and carcasses on the water, after the rains subsided, is something I never really considered until just now. I suppose it makes sense.

From the Pulpit Commentary:

And it came to pass at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made:Verses 6, 7. – And it came to pass, literally, it was – at the end of forty days. Delaying through combined fear and sorrow on account of the Divine judgment (Calvin); to allow sufficient space to undo the effect of the forty days’ rain (Murphy); probably just to be assured that the Deluge would not return. That Noah opened the window – chalon, a window, “so called from being perforated, from chalal, to bore or pierce” (Gesenius); used of the window of Rahab’s house (Joshua 2:18); not the window (tsohar) of Genesis 6:16, q.v. – of the ark which ha had made: and he sent forth a raven. Literally, the orev, so called from its black color’ (Gesenius; cf. Song of Solomon 5:11), Latin, corvus, a raven or crow; the article being used either

(1) because the species of bird is intended to be indicated (Kalisch), or

(2) because there was only one male raven in the ark, the raven being among the unclean birds (Leviticus 11:15Deuteronomy 14:14; Lunge); but against this is “the dove” (per. 8); or

(3) because it had come to be well known from this particular circumstance (Keil). Its peculiar fitness for the mission imposed on it lay in its being a bird of prey, and therefore able to sustain itself by feeding on carrion (Proverbs 30:17). To the incident here recorded is doubtless to be traced the prophetic character which in the ancient heathen world, and among the Arabians in particular, was supposed to attach to this ominous bird. Which went to and fro. Literally, and it went forth going and returning, i.e. flying backwards and forwards, from the ark and to the ark, perhaps resting on it, but not entering into it (Calvin, Willet, Ainsworth, Keil, Kalisch, Lunge, Bush, ‘Speaker’s Commentary’); though some have conceived that it no more returned to the ark, but kept flying to and fro throughout the earth (LXX., “καὶ ἐξελθὼν οὐκ ἀνέστρεψεν;” Vulgate, “qui egrediebatur et non revertebatur;” Alford, “it is hardly probable that it returned;” Murphy, “it did not need to return”). Until the waters were dried up from off the earth. When of course its return was unnecessary. Cf. for a similar form of expression 2 Samuel 6:23. Whether it entirely disappeared at the first, or continued hovering round the ark, Noah was unable from its movements to arrive at any certain conclusion as to the condition of the earth, and accordingly required to adopt another expedient, which he did in the mission of the dove.Genesis 8:7And he sent forth a raven, which went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth.

In verse 8, Noah sent out a dove.

From Ellicott again:

Verse 8-9

(8, 9) He sent forth a dove . . . —From the nature of its food, the raven had not brought back to Noah any special information; but as the dove feeds on vegetable products, he hopes that he shall learn by her means what is the state of “the ground,” the low-lying adâmâh. But as this species of bird does not fly far from its home, except when assembled in vast numbers, it quickly returned, finding water all around. This proves that the ark had not settled upon a lofty eminence; for as it had been already aground 120 days, and as within another fortnight the waters had “abated from off the earth,” it could only have been in some valley or plain among the mountains of Ararat that the waters were thus “on the face of the whole earth,” the larger word, yet which certainly does not mean here the whole world, but only a very small region in the immediate neighbourhood of the ark. For, supposing that the raven was sent out one week before the dove, forty-seven days (see Genesis 8:6) would have elapsed since Noah beheld the glorious panorama of mountain heights all around, and seven days afterwards the dove brought him a fresh plucked olive-leaf. Yet, literally, the words are, for waters were upon the face of the whole earth. Plainly these large terms in the language of the Bible are to be limited in their interpretation by the general tenor of its narratives. For a similar conclusive instance, comp. Exodus 9:6 with Exodus 9:19-20.

For you hunters of the Ark, this text above in bold suggests persuasively that the ark did not settle high up on a mountaintop.

In the text above, we also get an argument for why a dove was next chosen. In addition to a pragmatic reasoning, the dove is also a symbol of innocence and purity. Therefore, in context, Noah first sends out a carrion eater bird associated with death. He then sends out a bird associated with purity and innocence.

The mission of the Ark was one of death followed by a restoration of godliness.

Leviticus 12:6 ESV

“‘And when the days of her purifying are completed, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a lamb a year old for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering,

Leviticus 5:7 ESV

“But if he cannot afford a lamb, then he shall bring to the Lord as his compensation for the sin that he has committed two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering.

Matthew 3:16-17

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.

Matthew 10:16 ESV

Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

The verses in Genesis (8:6-12) conclude with pragmatism and some more symbolism.

From Ellicott:

Verses 10-12

(10-12) Again he sent forth the dove . . . —When, after another week’s delay, Noah again sent forth the dove, it remained away until “the time of evening,” finding both food and ground on which it could alight near the ark. It was not till nightfall that it came home, bringing to him “an olive leaf pluckt off,” or, possibly, a fresh olive-leaf. The olive-tree, which grows abundantly in Armenia, is said to vegetate under water; but what Noah wanted to learn was, not whether the topmost boughs were emerging from the flood, but whether the soil beneath was becoming free from water. Now, after a seven days’ interval, when Noah again sent forth the dove, she did not return, “because the ground was dry.” It is thus plain that the olive-tree had had plenty of time on some of the higher lands, while the flood was subsiding, to put forth new leaves. From this event the olive-leaf, thus sent by the regenerated earth to Noah in proof that she was ready to yield herself to him, has been ever since, among all mankind, the symbol of peace.

Most of the commentary above explains the pragmatism of sending the dove but the bold portion at the end refers to the symbolic.

An offer of “an olive branch” is symbolic of an offer of peace. The symbol is so ancient that its origins are in dispute. Perhaps the origin is this moment with Noah. We can assume that the olive branch with the dove, here, symbolizes peace between God and what is left of humanity. The period of wrath is over. The earth is ready to yield for mankind again.

From the wiki there are some interesting historical anecdotes:

In Greek tradition, a hiketeria (ἱκετηρία) was an olive branch held by supplicants to show their status as such when approaching persons of power or in temples when supplicating the gods.

In Greek mythologyAthena competed with Poseidon for possession of Athens. Poseidon claimed possession by thrusting his trident into the Acropolis, where a well of sea-water gushed out. Athena took possession by planting the first olive tree beside the well. The court of gods and goddesses ruled that Athena had the better right to the land because she had given it the better gift. Olive wreaths were worn by brides and awarded to olympic victors

^You can see here that an olive branch competed against sea water though not in the same manner as it did with Noah.

The olive branch appears with a dove in early Christian art. The dove derives from the simile of the Holy Spirit in the Gospels and the olive branch from classical symbolism. The early Christians, according to Winckelmann, often allegorized peace on their sepulchers by the figure of a dove bearing an olive branch in its beak. For example, in the Catacomb of Priscilla in Rome (2nd – 5th centuries AD) there is a depiction of three men (traditionally taken to be Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego of the Book of Daniel) over whom hovers a dove with a branch; and in another of the Roman catacombs there is a shallow relief sculpture showing a dove with a branch flying to a figure marked in Greek ΕΙΡΗΝΗ (Eirene, or Peace).

Tertullian (c.160 – c.220) compared Noah‘s dove in the Hebrew Bible, who “announced to the world the assuagement of divine wrath, when she had been sent out of the ark and returned with the olive branch”. with the Holy Spirit in baptism “bringing us the peace of God, sent out from the heavens”. In his 4th century Latin translation of the story of NoahSt Jerome rendered “leaf of olive” (Hebrew alé zayit) in Genesis 8:11 as “branch of olive” (Latin ramum olivae). In the 5th century, by which time a dove with an olive branch had become established as a Christian symbol of peace, St Augustine wrote in On Christian Doctrine that, “perpetual peace is indicated by the olive branch (oleae ramusculo) which the dove brought with it when it returned to the ark.” However, in Jewish tradition, there is no association of the olive leaf with peace in the story of the flood.

^Early Christians connected the symbols of Noah with the symbol of Christ.

In more modern usage:

On July 4, 1776, a resolution was passed that allowed the creation of the Great Seal of the United States. On the Great Seal, there is an eagle grasping an olive branch in its right talon. The olive branch traditionally has been recognized as a symbol for peace. It was added to the seal in March 1780 by the second committee appointed by Congress to design the seal. The olive branch has thirteen olives and thirteen olive leaves to represent the thirteen original colonies. Later on, the bald eagle and bundle of thirteen arrows were added. The idea of the olive branch opposing the bundle of thirteen arrows was to “denote the power of peace & war which is exclusively vested in Congress.”

The flag of Cyprus and coat of arms of Cyprus both use olive branches as symbols of peace and reflections of the country’s ancient Greek heritage; it also appears on the flag of Eritrea. Olive branches can be found in many police patches and badges across the world to signify peace.