The close of the last chapter brought us to the crisis of the flood, or to the period in which it had arrived at its greatest height: hence it began to abate. Observe the form in which it is expressed: “God remembered Noah, and those that were with him in the ark.” A common historian would only have narrated the event; but the sacred writers ascribe every thing to God, sometimes to the omission of second causes. The term is figurative; for, strictly speaking, God never forgot them: but it is one of those modes of speaking which convey a great fulness of meaning. It is expressive of tender mercy, of covenant mercy, and of mercy after a strong expression of displeasure. These are things which frequently occur in the Divine proceedings. Hence a wind passes over the earth, and the waters begin to assuage.
Ver. 2–4. The causes of the deluge being removed, the effects gradually subside; and the waters, having performed their work, return into their wonted channels. The ark, which had hitherto floated on the waters, now finds land, and rests upon the top of one of the Armenian mountains; and this just five months after the entrance into it. For a ship in the sea to have struck upon a rock or land would have been extremely dangerous; but at this stage of the flood we may suppose the heavens were clear and calm, and the waters still. Noah did not steer the ark; it was therefore God’s doing, and was in mercy to him and his companions. Their voyage was now at an end. They put in as at the first possible port. The rest which they enjoy is a prelude to a more perfect one approaching. Thus God places believers upon high ground, on which they are already safe, and may anticipate a better country, even a heavenly one.
Ver. 5–13. The first objects that greet them, after having been nearly eight months aboard, are the tops of the mountains. They had felt one of them before; but now the waters are sufficiently abated to see several of them. If we had been on a long and dangerous voyage at sea, we should be better able to conceive of the joy which this sight must have occasioned than we possibly can be without it. Often has a ship’s company been called on deck to see a distant object which promised to be land. Often too have Christians in their voyage been cheered by the signs of approaching blessedness, and the happy foretastes bestowed upon them. After the lapse of forty days more, the window of the ark was opened, and a raven sent forth for the purpose of experiment, that they might see whether it could subsist of itself or not; and the event proved that it could subsist, for it returned no more This was encouraging. Seven days after this, Noah tries a more delicate bird, the dove, which could not live unless the ground was at least in some places dry; but she from necessity returned. A proof this that the waters as yet were on the face of the whole earth. Tarrying yet other seven days, Noah sends out a second time his faithful messenger, the dove, which again returned to him in the evening; but lo, a sign is in her mouth which gladdens all their hearts! It is “an olive leaf plucked off!” An olive leaf might have floated upon the surface of the waters; but it was observable of this that the dove had plucked it off the tree; a proof that the tops of the trees, in some places, were out of water. Perhaps it is from this event that the olive branch has ever since been considered as the emblem of peace. After seven days more, Noah sends forth the dove again; which returning no more, he knew the earth must in some places be dry. The repeated mention of seven days seems to imply that from the beginning time had been divided into weeks; which can no otherwise be accounted for, that I know of, than by admitting that, from the beginning, those who feared God remembered the sabbath day to keep it holy. About a month after this the waters are dried up from off the earth, and the covering of the ark is removed. Now they have the pleasure to look around them, and to see the dry land in every direction; but still it is not habitable. And as Noah came into the ark by God’s command, so he must wait his time ere he attempts to go out, which will be nearly two months longer.
Ver. 14–19. At length the set time to favour this little company is come. On the 27th day of the second month, that is, just a year and ten days after their entrance into the ark, they are commanded to go forth of it, with all that pertained to them, and to begin, not the world, as we should say, again, but a new world. Obedient to the heavenly vision, they take leave of the friendly vessel which through many a storm had preserved them, and landed them in safety.
Ver. 20–22. The first object of attention with a worldly man might have been a day of rejoicing, or the beginning to build a house; but Noah begins by building an altar to Jehovah, on which he offered “burnt-offerings of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl.” I think this is the first time we read of a burnt-offering. It was so called, as Moses says, “because of the burning upon the altar all night unto the morning.” It was a substitutional sacrifice, for the purpose of atonement. The process is described in Lev. 1:2–9. The sinner confessed his sin upon its head; the animal was killed, or treated as if it were the transgressor, and as if the sin had been actually transferred to it; the blood of the creature being shed, was sprinkled round about upon the altar; and to show the Divine acceptance of it on behalf of the offerer to make atonement for him, it was consumed by fire, either descending immediately from heaven, as was the case on some occasions, or kindled by the priest from the sacred fire kept for the purpose (Lev. 9:24; Psal. 20:3, mar.); finally, the sacrifice being sprinkled with salt, and perhaps with odours, ascended up in a sweet savour, and God was propitious to the offerer.
The burnt-offerings of Noah, according to this, must have been designed for an atonement in behalf of the remnant that was left; and, as Hezekiah said after the carrying away of the ten tribes, “for the making of a covenant with the Lord.” This his offering was graciously accepted: “The Lord smelled a sweet savour,” and bestowed upon him, and those who were with him, a covenant promise, not to curse the ground any more for man’s sake. The reason given for this is singular: “for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” If God had dealt with man according to law and justice, this should have been a reason for destroying rather than sparing him; and was the reason why the flood was brought upon the earth. But here he is represented as dealing with him through a substitute (for the promise follows the acceptance of the burnt-offering); and in this view the wickedness of man, however offensive, should not determine his conduct. He would, as it were, look off from him, and rest his future conduct towards him on another ground. He would, in short, knowing what he was, deal with him on a footing of mercy and forbearance.
Surely I need not say that this sacrifice of Noah was one of those which bore a peculiar aspect to the offering of the body of Jesus once for all. It is not improbable that the apostle has a direct allusion to it when he says, “Christ hath loved us, and given himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour.”
In reviewing the destruction of the world by a flood, and the preservation of Noah and his family, we are furnished with three important reflections:—
1. It is a solid proof of the truth of Divine revelation. “We are acquainted,” says a late perspicuous and forcible writer, “with no ancient people who were without traditions of this great event. From Josephus we learn that Berosus, a Chaldean historian whose works are now lost, related the same things as Moses of the deluge, and the preservation of Noah in an ark. Eusebius informs us that the history of the flood was contained in the works of Abydenus, and Assyrian writer. Lucian, the Greek writer, says that the present is not the original race of men; but is descended from Deucalion, who was preserved in an ark from the universal deluge which destroyed men for their wickedness. Varro, the Roman writer, divided time into three periods, the first from the origin of men to the deluge. The Hindoo puranas contain the history of the deluge, and of Noah under the name of Satyavrata. They relate that Satyavrata was miraculously preserved in an ark from a deluge which destroyed all mankind.”* The same writer adds, “That the whole of our globe has been submerged by the ocean is proved, not by tradition only, but by its mineralogical and fossil history. On the summits of high mountains, and in the centres of continents, vast beds of shells and other marine productions are to be found. Petrified fishes and sea weed exist in the heart of quarries. The vegetable and animal productions of the torrid zone have been dug up in the coldest regions, as Siberia; and, vice versa, the productions of the polar regions have been found in warm climates. These facts are unanswerable proofs of a deluge.”
2. It is intimated by the apostle Peter that the salvation of Noah and his family in the ark was a figure of our salvation by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It was for a time buried, as it were, in the floods of Divine wrath from above and beneath. It rose however, and weathered the storm, safely landing those on dry ground who had been committed to its care. I need not make the application. A “like figure” of the same thing is Christian baptism, in which believers are said to be baptized into the death of Christ: “Buried with him into death, that like as he was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, so they also should walk in newness of life.”
3. We are directed to consider the destruction of the world by water as a presage and premonition of its being destroyed in the end by fire. “The heavens and the earth, which now are, are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment, and perdition of ungodly men.”
Excerpt from: “The Flood (Continued)” from Expository Discourses on the Books of Genesis, Discourse XIII.
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Expositions—Miscellaneous. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 3, pp. 35–37). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.