The rhythm and flow of the end of chapter 7 almost feels like the ebb and swell of waves. “The waters swelled and increased…” in verse 17, and in 18, then 19, and again in 20. Can you feel the movement of the creaking boat, taking the swell aft, the water lapping and splashing, the keel groaning, the swell pushing up and up, then releasing leeward. The wave of death moves as well, through the end of this passage, for as the water swells and increases over even the highest mountain peak, all that has breath is blotted out in verse 21, again in 22, and then in 23.
This slow, rhythmic movement continued for almost half a year. Nearly six months. Of silence, swells, sorrow.
I wonder if Noah and his small clan of eight survivors felt prepared for the weight and burden of God’s gracious redemption. After the first few days of terror and trauma, there were the animals to care for, their food and stable mucking, their pregnancies and births. There was the pitch-and-wood ark itself to tend to, surely shredded in that horrendous hurricane and in great need of repair. There were their own mundane needs for food, sleep, cleaning, and comforting.
And so, they set about their work, their world telescoped into the cavernous innards of their ship, all the land plants and air-breathing creatures of the entire planet living in their unlikely terrarium. Did they begin to wonder if this was now their new reality? It was blessing to be saved, yet…did they feel blessed?
Noah had been so close to God! For one hundred years he had faithfully done everything God had asked of him. The narrator of the Epic of the Flood made sure we would know that, in chapter 6 and in chapter 7, Noah “did all that the Lord commanded him.” Yet now there was no word from the Lord, no instruction for this long, rhythmic waiting, no sign of what would come next, or if there would even be a “next” after this.
(Think how comforting this story was for the people, living in exile as they were when the redactors published what we call today the Old Testament. Their beautiful nation destroyed, their beautiful holy city razed to the ground, their beautiful temple—God’s holy house—looted and torn down. Had God abandoned them? Or was this only a period of waiting?)
Chapter 8 opens with the strengthening words, “But God remembered.”
God had been preparing the earth to receive those waiting in the ark by sending a great wind. As the wind blew, the strange forces which produced the Flood were reversed, and the waters began to subside (imagine the very first scene in the Bible, as the Spirit of God moved across the waters, and God separated them to reveal dry ground…). Isn’t it interesting we are given another date—for another five or so months had passed, and now it was the seventh month, the 17th day, when the ark ran aground on a submerged shoal.
Three more months, and the mountain peaks of Ararat appeared.
Another six weeks went by until the time was right for God to give Noah a sign through the return of the dove. This image of the dove carrying an olive branch was so moving it is used as a symbol of peace to this day. Be encouraged, the dove seemed to say, keep enduring in patient faith, know that your loving and wise God, with whom you have always found favor, is being attentive to you and is working everything together for good.
Noah and his family did persevere in faith as they watched the earth dry, the water recede, until finally, in the second month, on the 27th day of that month, after over a year of silence, God spoke. The last words God had spoken were an invitation to come into the ark. Now God invited everyone to come out onto a new world, a new beginning, a picture of new birth.
For the ancient audience of this Epic, these dates hold special significance. When their ancestors had received the Law from God through Moses, while in the wilderness, God reset their calendar. What had been counted as the seventh month was now to become their first month, marking their new covenant relationship with God. To this day, there are two Jewish calendars, the civil and the religious. The 17th day of the seventh month, when the ark came to rest on Mt. Ararat, was the same date as the 17th day of the first month (Nisan) on their religious calendar.
Several key historical events occurred on this day throughout Israel’s story.
- The first event was here, new life coming to the earth through Noah, his wife, sons and their wives, and the animals saved in the ark.
- The first Passover occurred on the 14th of Nisan. Three days later, on the 17th, the Israelites passed through the standing walls of the Red Sea’s waters, symbolizing death to their old life, and resurrection to new life with God as freed people. Significantly, as God collapsed the mighty walls of water, the ensuing torrent drowned all of Egypt’s army, along with Pharaoh.
- The Feast of Firstfruits, symbolizing new life. When God gave the Israelites the Passover, their first festival, He instructed them to celebrate it on the 14th day of Nissan. On the first Sabbath after Passover, they were to celebrate the Feast of Firstfruits. Some years, that Sabbath fell on the 17th day of Nisan.
- Israel feasted on food of their Promised Land, the day after God’s provision of manna came to an end on the 16th day of Nisan.
- Queen Esther won protection for her people. It was on this very day that God made provision for the Jewish people living in Persia to be spared annihilation.
Now think about what happened three days after Passover, about two thousand years ago. Jesus had died, and lay in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb…
Here’s how the apostle Paul described the Lord’s resurrection,
“20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. 21 For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; 22 for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.1st Corinthians 15:20-23 (NRSV)
The apostle Peter picked up on much the same theme by writing,
“…God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 21 And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God fora good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”1 Peter 3:20-21
Image by https://www.flickr.com/photos/robcam/ | Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)