The flood waters, which brought destruction upon the world of the ungodly, had the effect of lifting the ark "up above the earth." This may serve to remind us that the salvation of God has an elevating effect at all times. Today, very specially, we are called to set our mind "on things above, not on things on the earth" (Col. 3: 2). When "the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth," no flesh was visible, and nothing but death was to be seen. God's word as to "the end of all flesh" coming before Him, was fulfilled, for now all were either covered in the waters of judgment, or in the ark, as it rode between the waters surging from beneath and descending from above. Noah and his family were out of sight in the ark a figure of the new place which is ours "in Christ Jesus," involving the non-recognition of our old status in the flesh.
How thankful we should be that judgment fell, not upon us but upon our gracious Saviour, just as the death-waters fell, not upon Noah but upon the ark. The whole episode is likened to baptism in 1 Peter 3: 21, or rather, baptism is likened to it. The first mention of Christian baptism being administered is in Acts 2, where it is connected with the word, "Save yourselves from this untoward generation." The passing through death in a figure, and thus cutting all links with old associations is, we believe, the main thought in baptism. All Noah's links with the old world were cut by the baptism of the flood. Peter wrote to converted Jews, who had been severed by baptism from the mass of their nation, and thus saved from the governmental judgments about to fall on it. For us Gentiles baptism has the same significance, severing us—if we understand it and are practically true to it—from the world which is rushing on to judgment. Are we true to what baptism means?
As to the flood itself, the account given (Genesis 7: 11—Genesis 8: 14) is quite explicit, both as to its duration and its dimensions. The tremendous rain lasted for 40 days and 40 nights. The waters prevailed from the 17th day of the 2nd month to the 17th day of the 7th month, when the ark grounded on the mountains of Ararat. On the 1st day of the 10th month the tops of the mountains were seen. On the 1st day of the 1st month of a new year the waters had vanished from the face of the earth. On the 27th day of the 2nd month the earth was sufficiently dry for the occupants of the ark to go forth from it—one year and 10 days having elapsed from the onset.
Its dimensions were such that "all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven were covered." This seems to indicate that it was universal, and it is certain that nothing of a local nature could possibly have lasted for so long. Moreover the breaking up of "the fountains of the great deep" very possibly involved great changes on the surface of the earth: in other words, the configuration of continents, mountains, seas, etc., may have been very different in the antediluvian age from their present form.
God remembered Noah and all that were alive with him in the ark, and He stopped the waters and sent the wind, which commenced the process of drying up the waters. The window of the ark being in the roof and not in the side of it, Noah must have had an imperfect knowledge of what was transpiring without, hence his action recorded in Genesis 8: 6-12. A raven and a dove are birds of a different nature as to habits and food. The one feeding on carrion and other unclean things, the other a clean feeder. When first released there was plenty to attract the raven, but as yet nothing for the dove.
In the New Testament the dove becomes the emblem of the Spirit of God, and the expression used on the first occasion is worthy of note—"no rest for the sole of her foot." As yet the whole scene was a waste of death and corruption. On the second occasion the dove returned with, "an olive leaf pluckt off." Here was the first evidence of life appearing above the waters of death, for it was not a leaf that had been drifting among the debris but plucked off a living tree. Death entered by sin, and "so death passed upon all men" (Rom. 5: 12), as much after the flood as before it. The first evidence of real life rising up beyond the scene of death was when Christ. rose from the dead. Though the Spirit came at Pentecost as wind and fire, He came as a Witness to Christ risen and glorified.
When the dove was sent forth for the third time she returned no more, but it is not added that she did find rest for the sole of her foot. That she found somewhere to perch is obvious, but the statement is omitted, we believe, because there is a typical or allegorical significance, which comes to light when we reach Matthew 3: 16. When the Lord Jesus came forth there was at last found One, on whom the Spirit of God could permanently rest, and not before.
So what is related here is intended to cast our minds on to the Gospels, which begin with the Lord Jesus entering a scene of death as the only One on whom the Spirit of God could rest, and they end with His coming forth in risen life—a life on the other side of death and beyond its reach—the necessary preparation to the coming of the Spirit When we read of the Apostles that, "they were all filled with the Holy Ghost . . . and with great power gave the Apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 4: 31-33), we see what is indicated—though faintly perhaps—by the olive leaf in the mouth of the dove.
Let us remember also that fallen human nature feeds on what is unclean, as does the raven. Only that which is born of the Spirit is spirit, and therefore like the dove feeds on what is clean. If we recognize this we shall be very careful as to that on which we feed our minds. It has been well said that for spiritual growth we must "starve the raven and feed the dove."
Noah did not go forth from the ark until God told him to do so. He went out as he came in, under direct instruction from God. And now we discover why the clean animals were taken into the ark in sevens and the unclean only in twos. True, it is an unclean world still, alas! and hence unclean animals easily thrive, and one pair would suffice for such, as against three pairs of the clean. But why the odd one in the seven? Because they were to be offered in sacrifice as a burnt offering at the very start of the renewed earth. The Lord knew that the flood had effected no change in human nature. Even in Noah and his family it was the same after the flood as before it. Verse 21 emphasizes this; and hence from the outset the new world could only continue on the basis of sacrifice.
In Noah's sacrifice we have the third type of the death of Christ. The first type, in Genesis 3, set it forth as providing a covering for the guilty sinner. The second, Abel's offering in Genesis 4, as the basis of approach to God. Now we have it as presenting a "sweet savour," or, "a savour of rest," to God—that in which He finds His rest and delight, in the excellence of which the offerer finds the ground of his acceptance. The term, burnt offering, occurs here for the first time, the particular significance of which we discover when we come to the book of Leviticus.
It is not difficult to discern an orderly progression in these three types. When awakened to our sinful state, the first thing we were conscious of needing was a covering— the root meaning of atonement—before the eye of a holy God. That was good, but we could not endure to be permanently at a distance. We must have a basis of approach to God. And even more than this; we must be in full acceptance to be thoroughly at rest there. If God finds a savour of rest in the death of Christ, we find there our rest too.
The promise, which closes Genesis 8, was based upon the sacrifice, as also was the blessing which opens Genesis 9. God knew what man would again prove himself to be, but He guaranteed that there should be no further judgment of the sort just executed. The flood had been of such magnitude that for just over a year seed-time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, and even day and night, had been obliterated. This was never to occur again. Indeed Genesis 9: 8-17 show that God established a definite covenant to this effect, the token of which is the rainbow.
This covenant made with Noah and all creation was unconditional. It was a covenant of promise, not depending on any faithfulness of the creature. It was something new. The words, "I do set My bow in the cloud," clearly infer that the phenomenon of a rainbow had never before been seen by mankind. This would appear strongly to support the thought we mentioned when considering Genesis 2: 5, 6 that until the time of the flood no rain had fallen on the earth but it had been watered by mist.
Noah and his sons were blessed and made specially fruitful, so that mankind should multiply rapidly on the renewed earth, and their dominion over the beasts of the earth was emphasized. Moreover man was now given animal food for his sustenance as well as vegetable. And yet further, in the new regime established the sanctity of human life was clearly stated in connection with a primitive form of government. Murder had filled the earth before the flood, and from the time of Cain any human vengeance had been forbidden. But now God would require the blood of man's life at the hand of the slayer, and He would authorize mankind—Noah in particular, no doubt—to be the executor of His judgment. The penalty of death for murder was thus instituted by God Himself, and that from the very start of the post-diluvian age, and not merely as enacted in the law of Moses centuries later. It is of universal validity. Efforts recently made to overturn the Divine enactment are significant,especially if taken in connection with efforts to overturn other basic enactments as to marriage, parental responsibility, etc. The end of the age is marching upon us. It will arrive not with a flood of waters, but in the revelation of the King of kings and Lord of lords, when "He treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God."
Verses 18 and 19 again emphasize the fact that the only males now left alive were Noah and his three sons. From the three sons all mankind on the earth have sprung Nations have become a good deal intermingled but the three strains—Semitic, Japhetic and Hamitic—can still be discerned.
We may say then, that after the flood mankind was given under Noah a fresh start; But, as under Adam so again, failure and sin rapidly supervened. We have had abundant testimony to the fact that Noah was a godly man who found grace in the sight of the Lord, and he lived for no less than 350 years after the flood, as we are told at the end of our chapter, yet the one and only thing on record concerning him in all those years is that he planted a vineyard made wine, was trapped into self-indulgence, and became unconscious in drunkenness. The man most responsible now to control others lost control of himself. The age of patriarchal government broke down at the outset, even in the hands of a godly man.
This sad episode became the occasion of revealing the character of Ham, and apparently also of Canaan the son of Ham. Shem and Japheth acted with due respect to Noah, both as their father and as the ruler in the new conditions, whereas it was absent with Ham. Disrespect of authority, whether parental or governmental, since both were originally instituted of God, is a very grave sin. It leads ultimately to the setting aside of the authority of God, who instituted it. It is only as we give these considerations due weight in our minds, that we see how justified was the solemn curse pronounced by Noah, when he knew what had happened.
In verse 22 Ham is mentioned, and Canaan only appears as his son. When we come, in verses 25-27, to the curse that came from Noah's lips, we find it fell upon Canaan without any mention of Ham. This, we think, indicates two things. First, that Noah's sad lapse occurred some time after the flood; sufficient years having elapsed for Canaan to have been born and come into activity. Second, that he was associated with his father in the matter, and on him rather than his father the weight of the curse fell.
We must also bear in mind that in uttering it Noah spoke as a prophet, and the subsequent history of Canaan and his descendants fully justified his solemn words The next chapter gives us the sons of Canaan, and from them came the nations that inhabited lands to the east of the Mediterranean and just north of Egypt, so that it became known as the land of Canaan. Centuries later these nations had become so abominable in their gross sinfulness that God issued an edict of extermination against them, and sent Israel in to inhabit their land. Only Israel's failure saved them from being completely wiped out.
But Noah's prophetic utterance contained a blessing as well as a curse. The blessing was to be specially the portion of Shem, and in a secondary way to come upon Japheth. The blessing, as ever, is connected with the name of the Lord, who was to be known as the God of Shem. Japheth was to be enlarged and "dwell in the tents of Shem." This, we gather, would signify that by reason of close identification with Shem, Japheth would also come into the knowledge of God. If the prophecy of Enoch was concerned with the coming of the Lord in His glory to judgment, that of Noah summarized in most concise fashion the future of the human family in its three branches until the Lord comes.
We can now see how it has been fulfilled. Out of Shem sprang Israel and Moses, and then in due time the Christ, "who is over all, God blessed for ever." Out of Japheth have come the nations who have been enlarged and assumed leadership in the earth, and amongst whom the light of the Gospel has mostly shone. Ham, whose name means "Black," or "Swarthy," produced the races that most have been degraded and reduced to servitude.
But on the other hand, as is so often the way, the Hamitic peoples on whom the curse rested, at first seemed to be the ones to prosper and assume leadership. Chapter 10 supplies us with evidence of this, filled as it is with lists of names and peoples who sprang from the three sons of Noah, lists which are important in connection with the early history of mankind. There is just one point where a short parenthesis occurs by reason of the great prominence of a grandson of Ham.
The forceful Nimrod, as a mighty hunter, acquired ascendancy and founded a "kingdom," the beginning of which was Babel This happened, we judge, before Noah's long life ended; and if any kingdom existed, it should have been his. The power that should have been vested in Noah was taken by Nimrod, and prostituted to the ends of serving himself and his own renown. With this there began the founding of cities to serve as centres of human influence Babel, Erech, Accad and Calneh are amongst the first of which there is any record.
Nimrod's action, in short, represented the setting aside of the primitive patriarchal government instituted of God, by brute-like, human force in self-aggrandisement. The results of this abide in the earth to this day.