What does Genesis 8:20 mean?
ESV: Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar.
NIV: Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it.
NASB: Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took some of every kind of clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar.
CSB: Then Noah built an altar to the Lord. He took some of every kind of clean animal and every kind of clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar.
NLT: Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and there he sacrificed as burnt offerings the animals and birds that had been approved for that purpose.
KJV: And Noah builded an altar unto the LORD; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.
Verse Commentary:
Noah's first recorded act after leaving the ark is one of worship. He builds an altar to the Lord and offers animal sacrifices on it. This is the first time Scripture refers to building an altar to God. In the previous chapter, God sent seven pairs each of every kind of clean bird and animal. That was the first hint that God regards some animals as clean and others as unclean. Only clean animals could be used as sacrificial offerings to God (Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14).

Noah's act here corresponds with the most common form of offering to God, which Israel would later practice while following God's Law. In that offering, the whole animal is burned and fully consumed by fire on the altar. This offering would have been a truly faith-based sacrifice, even if it was commanded directly by God. So few of each kind of animal existed in the world that to purposely kill any of them, even the more plentiful clean animals, was very costly to Noah and his family. It was clearly an act of faith in God's ability to provide.

This act of worship to God reveals that Noah continued to be faithful to God, even after the flood. Noah proves that he is motivated by allegiance to God. As far as Noah was concerned, this new world remade by the flood would be built on a foundation of obedience and submission to the Creator.
Verse Context:
Genesis 8:20–22 describes Noah's first recorded act after leaving the ark. He builds an altar to God and offers clean animals as a sacrifice. Using a common metaphor, Scripture says God smells the aroma and is pleased. God commits to never again curse the earth in the way He did with the flood, and never to strike down all life on earth. As long as the earth remains, the cycles of nature will continue as God had designed them.
Chapter Summary:
Even as all other life was being destroyed, God didn't forget Noah and the animals. He stops the deluge of water flowing from above and below and causes a great wind to blow to begin drying out the earth. The ark comes to rest on the mountains of Ararat. There, its occupants wait for the flood waters to go down. After a full year aboard, Noah and his family and the animals finally disembark. Noah builds an altar in worship to God and offers animal sacrifices. God commits to never curse the earth as He had through the flood, and to never again strike down all life on earth.
Chapter Context:
Genesis 6 and 7 explain the events leading up to the flood, and the actual catastrophe itself. After the devastation and destruction are over, God begins to dry out the earth in Genesis 8. The waters recede, Noah and the animals finally leave after a year aboard, and Noah offers animal sacrifices in worship to God. God commits to never again strike down all life on earth at once. As long as the earth remains, living things will enjoy the cycles of day, night, and seasons. The following chapters describe the re-population of earth by mankind, leading up to another instance of God's intervention, at the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11).
Book Summary:
The book of Genesis establishes fundamental truths about God. Among these are His role as the Creator, His holiness, His hatred of sin, His love for mankind, and His willingness to provide for our redemption. We learn not only where mankind has come from, but why the world is in its present form. The book also presents the establishment of Israel, God's chosen people. Many of the principles given in other parts of Scripture depend on the basic ideas presented here in the book of Genesis. Within the framework of the Bible, Genesis explains the bare-bones history of the universe leading up to the captivity of Israel in Egypt, setting the stage for the book of Exodus.
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