Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And the LORD said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation.VII.
(1) Come thou.—The task of building the ark is over, and after a week, to be spent in collecting animals and birds, Noah is to take up his abode in it. Many commentators suppose that 120 years were spent in the work; but this view arises from an untenable interpretation of Genesis 6:3, which really fixes the future duration of human life.
Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female.(2) Of every clean beast—Heb., of all clean cattle—thou shalt take to thee by sevens—Heb., seven seven.—This probably does not mean seven pairs of each, though many commentators so interpret it, but seven of each kind. If, however, seven pairs be the right interpretation, but few species could have been included, as to attend properly to so large a number of animals would have been beyond the power of Noah and his sons. But which were the clean beasts? There can be no reference here to the Levitical law, which had respect to human food; nor to animals tamed and untamed, as all alike are called cattle; but probably the clean cattle were such as from the days of Adam ‘and Abel had been offered in sacrifice. Thus provision was made for Noah’s sacrifice on his egress from the ark, and also for his possession of a small herd of such animals as would be most useful to him amid the desolation which must have existed for a long time after the flood. The clean beasts would therefore be oxen, sheep, goats; the unclean, camels, horses, asses, and such other animals as stood in some relation to man. Of birds, the dove would especially be clean.
It has been pointed out that these more full and specific orders are given in the name of Jehovah, whereas most of the narrative of the flood is Elohistic, and hence it has been assumed that some Jehovist narrator added to and completed the earlier narrative. These additions would be Genesis 7:1-6. the last clause of Genesis 7:16, Noah’s sacrifice in Genesis 8:20-22, and the cursing of Canaan in Genesis 9:18-27. Now, it is remarkable that the sacrifice is as integral a portion of the Chaldean Genesis as the sending forth of the birds (Chaldean Genesis, p. 286), and is thus indubitably older than the time of Moses. Still, there is nothing improbable in Moses having two records of the flood before him, and while the division of Genesis into Elohistic and Jehovistic portions usually breaks down, there is a primâ facie appearance of the combination of two narratives in the present history, or, at least, in this one section (Genesis 7:1-6).
For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living substance that I have made will I destroy from off the face of the earth.(4) Forty days.—Henceforward forty became the sacred number of trial and patience, and, besides the obvious places in the Old Testament, it was the duration both of our Lord’s fast in the wilderness and of His sojourn on earth after the Resurrection.
Every living substance.—The word “living” is found neither in the Hebrew nor in the ancient versions, and limits the sense unnecessarily. The word is rare, being found only thrice, namely, here, in Genesis 7:23, and in Deuteronomy 11:6. It means whatever stands erect. Thus God “destroys”—Heb., blots out (see on Genesis 6:7)—not man and beast only, but the whole existent state of things—“from the face of the earth”—Heb., the adâmâh, the cultivated and inhabited ground. This section is much more limited in the extent which it gives to the flood, not including reptiles, or rather, small animals, among those saved in the ark, and confining the overflow of the waters to the inhabited region.
And Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters was upon the earth.(6) Noah was six hundred years old.—It follows that Shem was about one hundred years of age (comp. Genesis 5:32), and his two brothers younger; but all were married, though apparently without children. (Comp. Genesis 11:10.)
Of clean beasts, and of beasts that are not clean, and of fowls, and of every thing that creepeth upon the earth,(8) Beasts.—Heb., of the clean cattle and of the cattle that was not clean. In the Chaldean Genesis, Xisuthrus takes also wild animals, seeds of all kinds of plants, gold and silver, male and female slaves, the “sons of the best,” and the “sons of the people” (pp. 280-283). There it is a whole tribe, with their chief, who are saved—here one family only.
And it came to pass after seven days, that the waters of the flood were upon the earth.(10) After seven days.—Said, in Jewish tradition, to have been the seven days of mourning for Methuselah, who died in the year of the flood.
In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.(11) In the second month.—That is, of the civil year, which commenced in Tisri, at the autumnal equinox. The flood thus began towards the end of October, and lasted till the spring. The ecclesiastical year began in Abib, or April; but it was instituted in remembrance of the deliverance from Egypt (Exodus 12:2; Exodus 23:15), and can have no place here. The year was evidently the lunar year of 360 days, for the waters prevail for 150 days (Genesis 7:24), and then abate for 150 days (Genesis 8:3). Now, as the end of the first period of 150 days is described in Genesis 8:4 as the seventeenth day of the seventh month, whereas the flood began on the seventeenth of the second month, it is plain that the 150 days form five months of thirty days each. But see farther proof on Genesis 8:14.
The fountains of the great deep broken up (Heb., cloven), and the windows (lattices) of heaven were opened.—This is. usually taken by commentators as a description of extraordinary torrents of rain, related in language in accordance with the popular ideas of the time and of the narrator himself. The rains poured down as though the flood-gates which usually shut in the upper waters were thrown open, while from the abysses of the earth the subterranean ocean burst its way upwards. But the words at least suggest the idea of a great cosmic catastrophe, by which some vast body of water was set loose. Without some such natural convulsion it is very difficult to understand how the ark, a vessel incapable of sailing, could have gone against the current up to the water-shed of Ararat. As the annual evaporation of the earth is also a comparatively fixed quantity, the concentrated downpour of it for forty days and nights would scarcely have produced a flood so vast as the deluge of Noah evidently was. It is thus probable that there was, besides the rains, some vast displacement of water which helped in producing these terrific effects.
We shall have occasion subsequently to notice the exactness of the dates (Genesis 8:14). Tradition might for a short time hand them down correctly, but they must soon have been committed to writing, or confusion would inevitably have crept in.
In the selfsame day entered Noah, and Shem, and Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah's wife, and the three wives of his sons with them, into the ark;(13) In the selfsame day.—Heb., in the bone of this day. (See Note on Genesis 2:23.)
They, and every beast after his kind, and all the cattle after their kind, and every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind, and every fowl after his kind, every bird of every sort.(14) Every beast.—Heb., every living thing (as in Genesis 8:1), but probably we are to supply “of the field,” and thus it would mean the wild animals.
The cattle—Behêmâh. (See Note on Genesis 1:24.)
Creeping thing.—Not specially reptiles, but alt small animals (see ibid.). The last clause literally is, every fowl after its kind, every bird, every wing; whence some understand it as meaning three kinds of winged beings: birds generally, next singing-birds, and lastly, bats, insects, and other such creatures. It more probably means “birds of all sorts.”
And they that went in, went in male and female of all flesh, as God had commanded him: and the LORD shut him in.(16) The Lord (Jehovah) shut him in.—The assigning to Jehovah of this act of personal care for Noah is very remarkable. In the Chaldean Genesis (p. 283), the Deity commands Xisuthrus to shut himself in.
And the flood was forty days upon the earth; and the waters increased, and bare up the ark, and it was lift up above the earth.(17-19) The waters increased . . . —The swelling of the flood is told with great power in these verses but every stage and detail has reference to the ark, as if the author of the narrative was one of those on board. First, the “waters increased,” and raised up the ark till it floated. Next, “they became strong and increased exceedingly”—the word rendered “prevailed” really signifying the setting in of mighty currents (see on Genesis 8:1), as the waters sought the lower ground—and at this stage the ark began to move. Finally, they “became strong exceedingly, exceedingly,” rushing along with ever-increasing force, and carrying the ark high above every hill in its course. Of these it is said—
All the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered.—Interpreting this by the English Version, many regard it as a proof of the deluge having been universal. But omitting the well-known fact that in the Bible the word “all” means much less than with us, we must also remember that the Hebrew language has a very small vocabulary, and “the whole heaven” means simply the whole shy. We with our composite language borrow a word for it from the Greek, and say “the whole horizon,” that is, the whole heaven, bounded by the line of the spectators vision. So then here. Far and wide, in every direction, to the utmost reach of the beholder’s gaze, no mountain was in sight. All was a surging waste of flood. But there is no idea here of the mountains of Auvergne, with the ashes of old-world volcanoes still reposing upon their craters, extinct from a time probably long anterior to the creation even of man. The mountains were those of the Noachian world, as limited as the Roman world of Luke 2:1, or even more so.
Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.(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.
And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark.(23) Every living substance.—Every thing that stood erect (See Note on Genesis 7:4.)
Upon the face of the ground.—The adâmâh, the portion subdued to his use by the adam, man.
And the waters prevailed upon the earth an hundred and fifty days.(24) prevailed.—Heb., were strong, as in Genesis 7:18. The rains lasted forty days; for one hundred and ten more days they still bore up the ark, and then it grounded. But though still mighty, they had by this time “abated” (see Genesis 8:3), inasmuch as, instead of covering the hills to the depth of nearly four fathoms, the ark now had touched dry land. Again, then, the narrative seems to give the personal experiences of some one in the ark.