Sunday, July 2, 2017

THE RAVEN AND THE DOVE

Our Man Noah

What was there about Noah that caused God to look upon him with favor?

Like many saints of old, we really do not know very much about this man. We do know that the society of his day was extremely wicked, perhaps more so than any society which has ever lived. It must have been so to provoke such a severe judgement from God.

However, we do not know any of the particulars of the people of that day. We do not know for what reasons God declared the society to be so wicked. Nevertheless, as we earlier read in the account of Noah, God’s assessment of the people demonstrated the extreme depth of depravity to which they had descended.

“The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

Among the seven things listed in the book of Proverbs that are particularly detestable to God are “hearts that devises wicked schemes and feet that are quick to rush into evil.”[1]

King David wrote of this condition in the book of Psalms:

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.

The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.

All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:1-3 NIV)

Whatever form that the evil took in the lives of the people of Noah’s day, their immorality was apparently to the point that even their every thought was evil. There was no goodness at all left in them. After God had seen the deep corruption of the world, it was to Noah alone that he came with the news that he had determined to put an end to all people

Somehow, Noah managed to retain his goodness and stay strong in the midst of this evil society. Of Noah, we read, “he was a righteous man and he lived a blameless life among the people of his time.” Those words remind us of another outstanding person of the Old Testament – the man Job. God said of him, “there is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”[2] 



Three Righteous Men

In fact, in the book of Ezekiel, we read how God presents the lives of Noah and Job, along with a third man – the Old Testament prophet Daniel, as examples of living upright lives in the midst of depraved societies.

In that passage of Scripture, the Lord is speaking to Ezekiel about Ezekiel’s own people Israel, who had fallen into idolatry. As God speaks about the nation of Israel, he expands the application to other nations  as well to say, “If a country sins against me by being unfaithful, and I stretch out my hand against it to cut off its food supply and send famine upon it and kill its people and their animals, even if these three men—Noah, Daniel and Job—were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign Lord.”[3]

With this we see that the lessons of Noah were not only applicable for Noah in his day, but God means them to be applicable to any country. That makes it relevant also to any one of us in our own day. 

The Boat Ride

I myself have never been on a ship at sea during a cyclone. I have seen movies, but of course that is a pitiful substitute. Perhaps if you are or have been a Navy man or woman, or have worked on shipping vessels, you have been in an ocean-going craft during a great storm. You know something of what it is to ride the great ocean swells, experience the extreme listing of the ship from side to side and wondering at every moment if it would capsize.

I cannot imagine what it must have been like for Noah and his family on board their vessel when the fountains of the deep began to burst upon the land. The ark was not really a boat or a ship in the traditional sense. It was not designed by God to travel from one place to another over the surface of the waters. It was an ark – a box. Its only purpose was to preserve its contents and keep them safe.

Nevertheless, when those great surges of waters elevated one end of the ark on gigantic waves, and then sent it crashing down while lifting the other end, it must have been a wild ride for man and beast within. The storm surge must have been tremendous. When you consider how quickly the entire earth became flooded, the water would have had to come gushing up with incredible force.

I am quite sure that when Noah heard the creaking and straining of the timbers of the ark, he had to wonder if he had made those joints tight enough to withstand the stresses and pressures put upon them. Were there leaks that they had to repair during the storm, or a failing in the hull or the structure that Noah and his family had to deal with? We don’t know any of these details.

I think of the account of the Apostle Paul when he was on the Mediterranean during a powerful storm and when the ship’s crew, in order to try to keep the ship from breaking apart, wrapped cables around the entire vessel in an attempt to bind it together. We do not know what it was like for Noah and his family, but I am quite certain that they did not sit quietly in the galley drinking their cocktails and tea and listening to the pitter patter of the rain on the top of the ark.

After the forty days, when rains and the rising water finally ceased, they all must have been relieved. God had told them that the storm would be of that duration, but perhaps it was difficult to even keep track of days and nights. But it was obvious when the storm was over. The rain had stopped. The fact that the waters had ceased to rush onto the land may have been more difficult to determine, since the ark was still caught in the currents as the water receded and washed about. 

The Timetable

In the account of the flood, the Bible is quite specific concerning certain time markers. For instance, it states that the rains began to fall and the great deep burst forth on the seventeenth day of the second month of the six hundredth year of Noah’s life. I know it was not called the seventeenth of February, but I am going to use our own calendar so that it is less confusing.

If you are a stickler for these kinds of things, you can do your own calculations using the Old Testament feast-day calendar. But even with that, since the flood occurred long before that calendar was in effect, you would have to question if even this is the correct calendar to use. I doubt if Noah had this calendar hanging on the wall of the captain’s quarters.

So the rains and surges of water began on the seventeenth of February, year 600 (Noah’s age). When the rain stopped at the end of the forty days, Noah opened the window to look out on a watery horizon.[4]

The next time marker is the seventeenth of the seventh month – July seventeen. Since the text says twice that the waters “prevailed on the earth” for 150 days, and since these five months would approximate the 150, I am going to make the assumption that this is the time period that the Bible is referring to. It was at that point, at the end of the 150 days, that Noah felt a slight thud, and if he was standing up, perhaps lost his balance a little as his ark came to rest on the top of one of the mountains of Ararat.

However, it was not until the tenth month, on the first of October that the mountains became visible, and not until the very first day of the first month of the next year, New Year’s Day of the year 601 of Noah’s life, that he removed the covering from the ark. Then, it was not until February 27 that God told Noah that he and his family, along with all of the animals, could emerge from the boat that had been their home for more than a year.

That is the timetable of the flood as given to us in the verses of Genesis, chapters seven and eight.

Noah Releases the Drones

Now, I would like to quote a portion of the account. This portion follows the verse that tells of the time when the mountaintops became visible (8:5). Although it follows this verse in the narrative, I do not think it is necessarily in chronological order. I will explain in a moment, but first the verses:

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. He waited another seven days, and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark. 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. Then he waited another seven days and sent forth the dove, and she did not return to him anymore. (Genesis 6-12 ESV)

These verses directly follow the verse that tells us that there were mountaintops that were visible. Why then, does it say that when Noah sent out the dove the first time, it came back to him because it could find nowhere to perch? Did the dove not notice those mountains sticking out of the water that the verse before mentioned? After all, she was in a mountainous area. No, she did not see the mountaintops because as the text tells us, “There was water all over the surface of the earth.” 

Chronology and Culture

You can see why sometimes, trying to piece things together from such a brief account is difficult and it even sounds like someone must have made a mistake. And there is also something else – there is a difference in the way histories of various cultures are written.

In our own traditions, we tend to write our histories in a rather strict chronological order. We begin at the beginning of the event and make our way through the chronology, stating things that happened their own proper moment. The Bible, however, often does not do that. Quite often in the Bible, historical accounts are first given as a relatively broad overview, only to later retrace the steps chronologically in order to fill in some detail not given in the first account.

That is why some people say there must have been two creations of the heavens and the earth, since there is one account in Genesis 1, and a separate one in Genesis 2.[5] But these are not two accounts of different creations. The first is a broader overview of the creation. Then, in the second account, some of the important details that were left out of the first one have been added.

I think that this is what we are dealing with here in the sending out of the birds. The forty days does not mean forty days after the mountaintops became visible. That would not seem to make any sense. Noah had already opened the window to look out, and his boat was on the top of one of the many mountains in the area, so he would not have to send out a dove at that point to see if there was land. He would have been able to see for himself what it looked like.

Rather, when the text is referring to the forty days here, it is speaking of  time at the end of the forty day rainstorm and upheaval of the aquifers. It was at this time that Noah sent out the raven. It is not that I am trying to be that stickler for detail that I earlier mentioned; it is just that there is a point that I want to make. 

The Question of the Birds

Thus, when we read that after forty days, Noah sent out a raven out of the ark, I think that this is speaking not about the forty days after the appearance of the mountain tops, but immediately after the forty days of rain and flood surge. After Noah sent him out, the raven did not return.

Next, as we read in the text, Noah later then sent out a dove. I do not think that the dove was sent out immediately after the raven did not return, as if this was another attempt by Noah to see if there was land. It was not that, after the raven failed to return, Noah said, “Well that clearly did not work! Here, let me try this dove to see if I have any better luck!”

Actually, if you read the text carefully, it does not specifically state that Noah sent out the raven for the purpose of seeing if there was land at all. It just says that he sent it out. Later, when he sent out the dove, the text does say that Noah did this for the purpose of looking for land.

Concerning the timing of the first time that Noah sent out the dove, this the text does not state. All that we know that it was sometime after the raven. Since in the narrative, we read of the sending of the dove immediately after the account of the raven, we make the assumption that it was very soon. However, it does not necessarily mean that, and I actually do not think that is what it does mean. I have already mentioned the difficulties of trying to piece together details out of such brief written accounts. I will tell you in a moment why I think that the dove was sent out not immediately after the raven, but rather much later.

When Noah did send out the dove the first time and after it returned, seven days later he again sent it out. This time the dove returned with a freshly picked new-growth olive leaf. Noah knew that new life had begun upon the new earth. After seven additional days, Noah again sent out the dove. This time the dove did not return. Noah took this to mean that the ground was probably becoming dry, so he removed the covering of the ark.

It was also at this point that God said to Noah, “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it” (Genesis 8:16-17 NIV).

What the Two Birds Signify

I have spent so much time dissecting this short account of the two birds because I think that there perhaps is more to them than acting as simple drones to look over the area to see if they could find land.

It seems to me that there is some allegorical meaning attached to them. However, I am not sure how far down that path I want to go. What I can tell you is that the raven was considered an unclean bird all throughout the Old Testament, since if feeds on carrion and rotten flesh. That is apparently what Noah’s raven did after it did not return. It would find plenty of rotting flesh floating on the flood waters. In some way this raven represents the viler or the corrupt qualities of man which derives its own life though the death of others. In some significant ways represents the world that had been destroyed, still living on its old life.

The dove was considered a clean bird. It does not eat carrion. It was this bird that Noah sent out to look for land. Besides whatever symbolism the dove had, it actually did fulfill the role of Noah’s drone. Noah sent it out to do reconnaissance. The first time, the dove returned. Everywhere the dove flew, it saw only water. In fact, the text states, “there was water over all the surface of the earth.” There was no place for the dove to rest. It would not accept floating pieces of the old life as a place of rest, as did the raven.

Seven days after that, Noah again sent out the dove. It returned to the ark again, but this time with the new olive leaf. Despite whatever conclusion one might draw concerning the raven and its carrion representing the old, sinful earth, certainly the olive leaf is a symbol of the new earth. New life had begun to emerge out of death. 

New Life out of Death

Certainly you can see the application here concerning our life with Christ. Our old lives centered on things that are only destined for death. Like the raven, we fed on death and on a world that is destined for judgment and will be condemned.

But we do not need to be this way. Jesus offers us a new motivation in living. He put it in this way: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24 NAS).

However, the sad part is, many who have made some indication in their lives that they want to make this change that Jesus spoke about, still continue to feed on death. Here is what the Apostle Paul said:

“Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.

Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God…for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God (Romans 8:5-8; 13-14 NAS).

Whether or not we like to admit it, left to ourselves, we all are like the people of the earth before the flood. Every intention of the thoughts of our hearts is only evil continually. This life must be put to death. Of course, it actually will eventually be put to death. But Jesus instead offers us life. Because of our ways, we all are condemned only to death, but Jesus instead has taken that penalty upon himself, so that he can offer us life.

Why then, do we continue to delight ourselves on things destined only for death? Paul even lists some of these things in a letter that he wrote to a church he helped start.[6] He calls these things the “deeds of the flesh:” They are such things as immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissentions, factions…do I need to go on? You get the picture. These things are not to be a part of the Christian life.

To live a life that is fulfilling and successful, each of us need to put these ways of thinking to death now, for that is their destiny anyway.

“Jesus died for our sins,” is the eternal truth of the Christian life, but it is a mantra that has been repeated so often that I am afraid it has lost its practical meaning for us. Do we not realize that by saying we believe this, each of us in our natural state died that day with him? We ourselves were also crucified on that day.

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” These again are the words of the Apostle Paul (Galatians 2:20).


By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith” (Hebrews 11:7).

Our old lives are condemned. Do we not realize this?

Let each one of us learn to live as heirs of righteousness.




[1] Proverbs 1:18
[2] Job 1:8
[3] Ezekiel 14:13-14 NIV
[4] Genesis 8:6
[5] More specifically, Genesis 1:1-2:3 and Genesis 2:4-25
[6] Galatians 5:19

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