What does Genesis 8:7 mean?
ESV: and sent forth a raven. It went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth.
NIV: and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth.
NASB: and he sent out a raven, and it flew here and there until the water was dried up from the earth.
CSB: and he sent out a raven. It went back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth.
NLT: and released a raven. The bird flew back and forth until the floodwaters on the earth had dried up.
KJV: And he sent forth a raven, which went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth.
The previous verse revealed that Noah waited 40 days after the tops of the mountains became visible before opening the window of the ark and sending out a raven. As we'll see in the following verses, the point of sending out a bird was to learn if any dry land was nearby. This practice was used by sailors in ancient times. If the bird they released was not comfortable landing on water, it would fly high and look for land, then head in that direction. If the bird did just that, those aboard would know they were close to land. If the bird came back, it meant it couldn't see suitable land nearby (Genesis 8:9).
The raven flies back and forth until the waters dried up. Apparently, this bird never found land, probably returning to the ark regularly until the earth was dry enough to occupy.
Ravens were an unclean bird in God's eyes. Genesis 7:2–3 revealed that God considered some animals and birds clean and others unclean. God had sent seven pairs of all the clean animals and birds on the ark. As an unclean animal, this raven would have been part of a lone pair brought onto the ark. Unless the pair had reproduced already, it would need to survive its search missions in order for its species to survive.
Genesis 8:1–19 describes the process of God drying out the earth following the flood. Noah and his family and the animals wait for the waters to recede. Noah uses birds as a test to see if any land is nearby. When the time is finally right, a full year after they entered, God commands Noah, his family, and all the animals to leave the ark. Their mission from God is to swarm over the earth, multiply, and begin again.
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.
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).
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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