Genesis 8:6 At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made, 7 and sent forth a raven; and it went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth. 8 Then he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground; 9 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 forth his hand and took her and brought her into the ark with him. 10 He waited another seven days, and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark; 11 and the dove came back to him in the evening, and lo, in her mouth a freshly plucked olive leaf; so Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. 12 Then he waited another seven days, and sent forth the dove; and she did not return to him any more.
From the Prayer Blessing the Oil of the Catechumen at Baptism: “O Lord and Master, the God of our fathers, who sent unto them that were in the ark of Noah your dove, bearing it is beak a twig of the olive, the token of reconciliation and of salvation from the flood, the foreshadowing of the mystery of grace, and You provided the fruit of the olive for the fulfilling of Your holy mysteries… Bless also this holy oil…” In the blessing of the holy oil, we see that the church does understand the story of Noah and the ark to have symbolic value to it. It is in its conclusion a story of reconciliation between God and humans. Note also the emphasis in this prayer that the story is about salvation from the deadly, destructive powers of the flood. The prayer does not see the drowning of the wicked as the point of the flood story, but rather focuses on how God saves the righteous from destruction. The implication is clear – there may be a final judgment day, and the prospect of eternal punishment, but God saves those who love Him from this reality. Those Christians, who are quick to pronounce God’s judgment on sinners, forget the Gospel is Good News – God saves us from eternal punishment and destroys death. It is not God’s hope that any humans spend an eternity in hell; rather He rescues us from such a fate. “The Lord will rescue me from every evil and save me for his heavenly kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:18).
“At the end of 40 days…” If we accept the Source Theory, the 40 day flood belongs to the J-Source. In this story, Noah enters the ark 7 days before the flood begins, the flood lasts 40 days, and then Noah releases the raven and seemingly the dove for the first time– his 47th day in the ark. He waits 7 days and releases the dove a second time, and 7 days later he disembarks as the flood is over. In the J-Source Noah and crew are in the ark 61 days, 54 of them while the flood waters were rising and then receding. If we don’t accept the Source Theory notion of 2 distinct stories intertwined, it is a little more difficult to establish the time line of the flood. How does the 40 days of 8:6 match up with the 150 days of 8:1-5? The P-source has Noah in the ark for a total of 340 days, nearly an entire year. What part of that total the 40 days represents cannot be easily established. Harmonizing the details of the two stories, if that is what we believe must occur for the Bible to be considered “true,” is sometimes difficult. It becomes fodder for those who ridicule the literal inconsistencies of the Bible. Source Theory in this case can help unravel the problem and show the significance of the story is not in its literal details but in its prophetic message and in the moral to the story. We accept the fact that our Scriptures do in fact contain several versions of the same story – this is the result of God inspiring a community, an entire people, to remember His story. There is much that God wants us to understand through His revelation and obviously He thinks we will best grasp His purpose by giving us more than one version of a story so that we can get beyond the literal details into the depth of His intended message.
Next: God Questions His Creation: Genesis 8:13-19 (a)