At one time or another every person finds themselves in a place where they long for a fresh start, a second chance, a new beginning. Fresh starts have a way of invigorating us with a resolve to do better. Fresh starts remind us that while past failures may be devastating they do not have to defeat or ultimately define us.
We always encounter fresh starts at the intersection between the actualities of the past and the possibilities of the future. When we mess up we can’t go back and start again, but we can make a fresh start from where we are that will lead us to a better ending.
Fresh starts often mean going through an interim period — one of those in-between times of life when we find ourselves between what was and what may be. These can easily be some of the most difficult yet some of the best days of our journey. In-between days offer us the opportunity to consider or reconsider what the future can look like.
Noah and his family experienced more than a year’s worth of in-between days when they lived in the ark with the animals. These were likely days of reflecting on the catastrophic events that had wiped the earth clean of sinful humanity and considering what the future would look like.
When the ark finally came to rest on dry ground, Noah and his family embraced the opportunity to make a fresh start. They left the security of the vessel that had carried them to safety and stepped across the threshold to a place of beginning again.
Noah and his family spent more than a year in the ark. After it stopped raining, the waters began to slowly recede over a period of several months and then the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. A short time later, Noah sent out a dove to search for dry land. When the dove returned from one of its reconnaissance flights with an olive leaf in its mouth, Noah knew that the waters had subsided. A week later he sent the dove out once again but it did not return. Noah remained in the ark until God instructed him to leave. When Noah again stood on dry ground, he built an altar and sacrificed some of the clean animals to the Lord.
God charged Noah and his family with the responsibility of multiplying and filling the earth. And, for the first time, God gave human beings permission to eat the flesh of animals. He also affirmed the sanctity of human life, condemned the act of murder, and warned that those who take another human life will be held accountable. God then revealed to Noah the nature of His covenant. He explained that the rainbow would become the universal symbol of His promise to never again send a universal flood.
When life returned to normal, Noah became a farmer and planted a vineyard. On one occasion he became drunk and lay naked in his tent. His son Ham found him in this embarrassing state and, rather than covering his father, reported it to his brothers. Ham’s brothers honored their father by not looking upon his nakedness but instead placing a cover on him. When Noah awoke, he blessed his two oldest sons but cursed Ham for what he had done. Noah lived another 350 years after the flood.
8:1 But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.
8:2 Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky.
8:3 The water receded steadily from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down,
8:4 and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.
8:5 The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible.
8:6 After forty days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark
8:7 and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth.
8:8 Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground.
8:9 But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark.
8:10 He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark.
8:11 When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth.
8:12 He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.
8:13 By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry.
8:14 By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry.
8:15 Then God said to Noah,
8:16 “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives.
8:17 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.”
8:18 So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives.
8:19 All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds—everything that moves on land—came out of the ark, one kind after another.
Noah’s time aboard the ark is framed by two commands from God. When the time of judgment was near, God commanded Noah and his family to “enter the ark” (Gen. 7:1). Over the next week they welcomed the animals on board. Then God shut the only door on the vessel that would preserve the lives of Noah, his family, and the animals.
A little more than a year later, after the waters had receded, God commanded Noah to come out of the ark. Although Noah had sent out a dove from the ark to search for dry land, he waited until God affirmed that it was safe for him to disembark. His life illustrates what it means to trust and to patiently wait upon the Lord.
After God had created the animals in the beginning, He commanded them to multiply and fill the earth. The Flood, however, had destroyed every living creature with the exception of the fish. The animals on the ark were God’s provision for again populating the planet with animal life. Noah patiently waited until God told him it was safe to take the animals off the ark. Too much was at stake to risk disembarking early. The loss of certain animals could have compromised the survival of a particular species.
A year earlier, the animals had entered the ark two by two (Gen. 7:9). When they exited the ark they did so after their kinds or by their groups. This phrase suggests that the animals exited in an orderly fashion.
8:20 Then [after Noah, his family, and the animals came out of the ark] Noah built [the first thing that Noah did on dry ground] an altar [no record that anyone had ever built an altar before; “altar” means “place of slaughter”] to the LORD and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed [in order to show his gratitude to God] burnt offerings [wholly consumed on the altar to symbolize the entire consecration of the sacrifices to God] on it.
The first thing that Noah did when he came out of the ark and again stood on dry land was to build an altar to the Lord. This is the first mention of the word altar, a place of sacrifice, in the Bible. Noah took some of the clean animals and birds and offered them as burnt offerings on the altar.
This is also the first mention of a burnt offering in the Bible — a type of offering that was completely consumed by fire. Like Abel before him (see Gen. 4:4), Noah offered the Lord the very best. The fact that he offered animal sacrifices indicates that the animals had reproduced while on the ark. Sacrificing any of these particular animal would not have threatened the survival of their respective species.
Noah’s sacrifice was an act of worship. As the head of his home, he demonstrated for his family members the priority of worshiping and praising God. His sacrifice was also an expression of his gratitude to God for bringing him and all on board the ark safely through the Flood.
We should always acknowledge the goodness and kindness of God when we worship Him. Additionally, Noah’s sacrifice was a sign of his devotion to God. Noah had demonstrated his commitment to God’s purposes throughout the years he had spent building the ark and witnessing to those around him. He would continue to love and serve God after the Flood as he had before the first drops of rain splashed onto the roof of the ark.
8:21 The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma [i.e., God was pleased with what Noah had done and accepted his sacrifice] and said in his heart [or “to Himself”]: “ Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though [note that the flood did not change human nature] every inclination of his heart is evil [bad, miserable] from childhood. And  never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.
The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma of Noah’s sacrifice. This is an indication that He was pleased with Noah and found his sacrifice acceptable. We too tend to lean toward smells that are pleasing and distance ourselves from those that are not. To refuse to smell something shows our displeasure with that particular thing (see Lev. 26:31). The Apostle Paul would later refer to the death of Christ on the cross as “a fragrant offering to God” (Eph. 5:2), an indication that God was pleased with Christ’s sacrifice.
The Lord said that, in spite of humanity’s inclination toward evil, He would never again curse the ground because of man. Previously God had cursed the ground because of Adam (see Gen. 3:17) and also after Cain had murdered his brother Abel (see Gen. 4:11-12). Had God chosen to curse the ground again it would have made it even more difficult for humanity to eke out a living. God’s decision to not curse the ground and add to humanity’s affliction was an expression of His kindness. The Lord also determined that He would never again send a universal flood as a form of judgment — yet another expression of His grace.
8:22 “ As long as the earth endures, [note the seasons that mark the flow of time…] seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”
The cataclysmic flood had disrupted the normal rhythm of the seasons. While the floodwaters covered the earth, there was no seedtime and harvest — both essential for the sustenance of human life. Planting and harvesting, interrupted for the duration of the Flood, are activities that are dependent on the seasons and the weather. After the Flood, God reaffirmed that the seasons would return to their normal cycles and would never again be interrupted. Humanity would be able to plant, grow, and harvest the crops needed in order to survive.