Genesis 7:20
Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.
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(20) Fifteen cubits upward.—This apparently was the draught of the ark, computed after it had settled. in the region of Ararat. Fifteen cubits would be about twenty-two feet, and as the ark floated onward without interruption until it finally grounded, there must have been this depth of water even on the highest summit in its course. Continuous rains for forty days and nights would scarcely produce so vast a mass of water, unless we suppose that the adâmâh was some low-lying spot of ground whither the waters from many regions flowed together; but this is negatived by the ark having travelled into Armenia. In England the whole average mean rainfall in a year is not more than twenty-eight or thirty inches in depth. If we suppose this amount to have fallen in every twenty-four hours, the total quantity would be about 100 feet. Such a rain would denude the mountains of all soil, uproot all trees, sweep away all buildings, dig out new courses for the rivers, completely alter the whole surface of the ground, and cover the lower lands with débris. Wherever there was any obstacle in their way, the waters would deepen in volume, and quickly burst a passage through it. But as they would be seeking the lower grounds during the whole forty days, it is difficult to understand how they could cover any of the heights to the depth of twenty-two feet, unless there were some cosmic convulsion (see Note on Genesis 7:11), by which the waters from the equator were carried towards the poles, and in this way there would be no difficulty in the ark being carried against the current of the Tigris and Euphrates up to the high lands of Armenia.

7:17-20 The flood was increasing forty days. The waters rose so high, that the tops of the highest mountains were overflowed more than twenty feet. There is no place on earth so high as to set men out of the reach of God's judgments. God's hand will find out all his enemies, Ps 21:8. When the flood thus increased, Noah's ark was lifted up, and the waters which broke down every thing else, bore up the ark. That which to unbelievers betokens death unto death, to the faithful betokens life unto life.Upon the land. - The land is to be understood of the portion of the earth's surface known to man. This, with an unknown margin beyond it, was covered with the waters. But this is all that Scripture warrants us to assert. Concerning the distant parts of Europe, the continents of Africa, America, or Australia, we can say nothing. "All the high hills were covered." Not a hill was above water within the horizon of the spectator or of man. There were ten generations from Adam to Noah inclusive. We cannot tell what the rate of increase was. But, supposing each couple to have ten children, and therefore the common ratio to be five, the whole number of births would be about five million, and the population in the time of Noah less than four million. It is probable that they did not scatter further than the necessities and conveniences of life demanded. In a fertile region, an area equal to that of the British Isles would be amply sufficient for four million men, women, and children.

Let us suppose, then, a circle of five hundred miles in diameter inhabited by man. Let this occupy the central region of a concentric circle of eight hundred miles in diameter. With a center a little southwest of Mosul, this larger circle would reach fifty miles into the Mediterranean, the Euxine, and the Caspian, and would probably have touched the Persian Gulf at the time of the deluge. If this region were covered with water, it is obvious that no land or mountain would be visible to a spectator within the inner circle of five hundred miles in diameter. "Fifteen cubits upward." This was half the depth of the ark. It may have taken this draught of water to float it. If so, its grounding on a hill under water would indicate the depth of water on its summit. The gradual rise of the waters was accomplished by the depression of the land, aided, possibly, by a simultaneous elevation of the bed of the ocean. The water, by the mere necessity of finding its level, overflowed the former dry land. The extent of this oscillation of the solid crust of the earth is paralleled by the changes of level which geology indicates, the last of which took place at the time of the six days' creation. It is possible that most of the land that was then raised was now again temporarily submerged in the returning waters; while distant continents may have all along existed, which never came within the ken of antediluvian man. The sobriety and historical veracity of the narrative are strikingly exhibited in the moderate height to which the waters are said to have risen above the ancient hills.

20. Fifteen cubits upward … and the mountains were covered—twenty-two and a half feet above the summits of the highest hills. The language is not consistent with the theory of a partial deluge. Fifteen cubits were sufficient for the destruction of the highest men, or other creatures, though placed upon the highest mountains. Fifteen cubits upwards did the waters prevail,.... Either to such an height above the earth, upwards from that, or from the high hills; for though the words do not necessarily imply that, yet it may be allowed, since there was water enough to cover the highest of them; and fifteen cubits of water were enough to drown the tallest man, or largest beast that should be upon the top of any of them:

and the mountains were covered, with water, even it may be allowed fifteen cubits high; nor will this furnish out so considerable an objection to the history of the flood as may be thought at first sight, since the highest mountains are not near so high as they are by some calculated. Sir Walter Raleigh allows thirty miles for the height of the mountains, yet the highest in the world will not be found to be above six direct miles in height. Olympus, whose height is so extolled by the poets, does not exceed a mile and a half perpendicular, and about seventy paces. Mount Athos, said to cast its shade into the isle of Lemnos (according to, Pliny eighty seven miles) is not above two miles in height, nor Caucasus much more; nay, the Peak of Teneriff, reputed the highest mountain in the world, may be ascended in three days (according to the proportion of eight furlongs to a day's journey), which makes about the height of a German mile perpendicular; and the Spaniards affirm, that the Andes, those lofty mountains of Peru, in comparison of which they say the Alps are but cottages, may be ascended in four days' compass (o).

(o) See the Universal History, vol. 1. p. 218. marg. Bedford's Scripture Chronology, ch. 12. p. 152, 153.

Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.
20. Fifteen cubits] P describes a depth of water of 15 cubits (= 22 feet) above the mountains. Why should 15 cubits be mentioned? Very possibly, because the height of the ark was 30 cubits (Genesis 6:15), and the ark was considered to be submerged for half its depth. It would thus just touch the top of “the mountains of Ararat” (Genesis 8:4).

21 (P). And all flesh died] Cf. Genesis 6:17. P here describes the death by drowning of all living creatures.

creeping thing] Literally, as marg., swarming thing that swarmeth. See note on Genesis 1:20. The word used is characteristic of P.

22 (J). all] The account in this and the following verse gives J’s description of the destruction of all life. The repetition is obvious.

in whose nostrils, &c.] The expression is evidently based upon the words in Genesis 2:7, “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” But “the breath of life” of that passage is combined here with “the spirit of life” which we find in Genesis 6:17, Genesis 7:15 (P). The one is a phrase characteristic of J, the other of P. The combination is not found elsewhere. Possibly the word “spirit” has been introduced by the compiler or by a copyist.

in the dry land] as if to emphasize the thought that the marine animals survived. The word in the Heb. rendered “the dry land” is different from that so rendered in Genesis 1:9 (P).

23 (J). was destroyed … were destroyed] The better reading is that rendered in the R.V. marg., and he destroyed every living thing. For the word “destroyed,” Heb. blotted out, see Genesis 6:7, Genesis 7:4.

24 (P). an hundred and fifty days] The duration of the Flood, corresponding to the 40 days of J in Genesis 7:12. According to P, the rising of the waters, described in Genesis 7:18-20, continued or “prevailed” for 150 days, after which the waters began to fall: see Genesis 8:3 b, 4a.Verse 20. - Fifteen cubits upward - half the height of the ark - did the waters prevail. Literally, become strong; above the highest mountains obviously, and not above the ground simply; as, on the latter alternative, it could scarcely have been added, and the mountains were covered. Genesis 7:17-24 contain a description of the flood: how the water increased more and more, till it was 15 cubits above all the lofty mountains of the earth, and how, on the one hand, it raised the ark above the earth and above the mountains, and, on the other, destroyed every living being upon the dry land, from man to cattle, creeping things, and birds. "The description is simple and majestic; the almighty judgment of God, and the love manifest in the midst of the wrath, hold the historian fast. The tautologies depict the fearful monotony of the immeasurable expanse of water: omnia pontus erant et deerant litera ponto." The words of Genesis 7:17, "and the flood was (came) upon the earth for forty days," relate to the 40 days' rain combined with the bursting forth of the foundations beneath the earth. By these the water was eventually raised to the height given, at which it remained 150 days (Genesis 7:24). But if the water covered "all the high hills under the whole heaven," this clearly indicates the universality of the flood. The statement, indeed, that it rose 15 cubits above the mountains, is probably founded upon the fact, that the ark drew 15 feet of water, and that when the waters subsided, it rested upon the top of Ararat, from which the conclusion would very naturally be drawn as to the greatest height attained. Now as Ararat, according to the measurement of Perrot, is only 16,254 feet high, whereas the loftiest peaks of the Himalaya and Cordilleras are as much as 26,843, the submersion of these mountains has been thought impossible, and the statement in Genesis 7:19 has been regarded as a rhetorical expression, like Deuteronomy 2:25 and Deuteronomy 4:19, which is not of universal application. But even if those peaks, which are higher than Ararat, were not covered by water, we cannot therefore pronounce the flood merely partial in its extent, but must regard it as universal, as extending over every part of the world, since the few peaks uncovered would not only sink into vanishing points in comparison with the surface covered, but would form an exception not worth mentioning, for the simple reason that no living beings could exist upon these mountains, covered with perpetual snow and ice; so that everything that lived upon the dry land, in whose nostrils there was a breath of life, would inevitably die, and, with the exception of those shut up in the ark, neither man nor beast would be able to rescue itself, and escape destruction. A flood which rose 15 cubits above the top of Ararat could not remain partial, if it only continued a few days, to say nothing of the fact that the water was rising for 40 days, and remained at the highest elevation for 150 days. To speak of such a flood as partial is absurd, even if it broke out at only one spot, it would spread over the earth from one end to the other, and reach everywhere to the same elevation. However impossible, therefore, scientific men may declare it to be for them to conceive of a universal flood of such a height and duration in accordance with the known laws of nature, this inability on their part does not justify any one in questioning the possibility of such an event being produced by the omnipotence of God. It has been justly remarked, too, that the proportion of such a quantity of water to the entire mass of the earth, in relation to which the mountains are but like the scratches of a needle on a globe, is no greater than that of a profuse perspiration to the body of a man. And to this must be added, that, apart from the legend of a flood, which is found in nearly every nation, the earth presents unquestionable traces of submersion in the fossil remains of animals and plants, which are found upon the Cordilleras and Himalaya even beyond the limit of perpetual snow.

(Note: The geological facts which testify to the submersion of the entire globe are collected in Buckland's reliquiae diluv., Schubert's Gesch. der Natur, and C. v. Raumer's Geography, and are of such importance that even Cuvier acknowledged "Je pense donc, avec MM. Deluc et Dolomieu, que s'il y a quelque chose de constat en gologie; c'est que la surface de notre globe a t victime d'une grande et subite rvolution, dont la date ne peut remonter beaucoup au del de cinq ou six mille ans" (Discours sur les rvol. de la surface du globe, p. 190, ed. 6). The latest phase of geology, however, denies that these facts furnish any testimony to the historical character of the flood, and substitutes the hypothesis of a submersion of the entire globe before the creation of man: 1. because the animals found are very different from those at present in existence; and 2. because no certain traces have hitherto been found of fossil human bones. We have already shown that there is no force in these arguments. Vid., Keerl, pp. 489ff.)

In Genesis 7:23, instead of ויּמּח (imperf. Niphal) read ויּמח (imperf. Kal): "and He (Jehovah) destroyed every existing thing," as He had said in Genesis 7:4.

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