Watching for the Dove: A Meditation on Genesis 6-8

“This is the account of Noah and his family.

Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth.

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high.  Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around.  Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish.  But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.”

Noah did everything just as God commanded him.

The Lord then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate,  and also seven pairs of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth. Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.”

And Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.

Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth. And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood. Pairs of clean and unclean animals, of birds and of all creatures that move along the ground,  male and female, came to Noah and entered the ark, as God had commanded Noah. And after the seven days the floodwaters came on the earth.

In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.

On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark. They had with them every wild animal according to its kind, all livestock according to their kinds, every creature that moves along the ground according to its kind and every bird according to its kind, everything with wings. Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark. The animals going in were male and female of every living thing, as God had commanded Noah. Then the Lord shut him in.

For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than fifteen cubits. Every living thing that moved on land perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.

The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days.

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. Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky. The water receded steadily from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down, and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. 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.

After forty days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. 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. He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. 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. He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.

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. By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry.

Then God said to Noah, “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. 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.”

So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. 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.

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. The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

“As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”


As is the case with many passages from scripture, we have seen hundreds of pictures of the stories they tell. From illustrated Bibles to works of art and other masterpieces on display in museums to coloring pages in our Sunday School workbooks—our Christian history is told in images.

This story is no different, in the sense that we’ve seen countless pictures of Noah and the animals and the Ark. I want you to think about the pictures you’ve seen…I would venture to guess that most—if not all of them—-have depicted a similar scene. The Ark looming large in the background, while rows of animals enter in orderly lines. Noah is on the deck, with the dove and its olive branch settled gently nearby. Maybe you think of Sunday School nursery wallpaper—pastel colors with smiling animals and rainbows overhead. Whatever you picture, I imagine that most of the what you’ve seen of this story is happy and simple and safe. We’ve been told all our lives that this is a children’s story.

But is it?? When you READ the story in the Bible, do you get that same feeling? I don’t know about you, but when I read the story, I get an all-together different feeling. This story does end with rainbows and promises, but it begins with chaos and anger. One of the first things we read is that God surveyed a violent and corrupt land, and wanted to put an end to the world as it was. Now, unless you’re reading from Grimm’s Book of FairyTales when you tuck your children in at night, I don’t think this premise is exactly the stuff of children’s stories!

If you want to think about this story in a literal sense, let’s imagine what it would have actually been like to try to herd thousands of animals onto a boat—even one rumored to be as big as the ark. It would have been complete mayhem. As adorable as the Noah’s Ark themed baby showers of our modern times may be, I can only imagine what it would have really looked like to wrestle elephants and tigers and crocodiles and giraffes on board for their 150-day stay.

Layering the picture of what we read in the Bible over what we’ve been told the story is gives us two very different realities. On one, we have the gentle, calm, lovely picture of an old man and a big boat and happy animals, knowing that an unseen, but benevolent, God is there in the background, symbolized in the glowing rainbow over our scene. On another, we have the angry, chaotic, scary picture of an unending rainstorm and raging floodwaters. In the story, we are given a long passage about the tumult and pandemonium of that flood. We are told about the destruction it left. We can imagine the devastation it would have left in its wake. Yes, I am not convinced that Noah’s Ark is a children’s story.

Over these last weeks, as we’ve been re-visiting these old stories from the Beginning, we have gotten the chance to re-imagine them and hear their message in new ways. From the Creation story, we remember and are reassured of all the ways God loves and cares for us. From the story of The Garden, we remember and are reassured that we are seen and known by God, and still loved despite how we may fall away. What message then, does the story of the Ark hold for us?

The Creation story speaks of what it means to be made a child of God and responsible for the care of God’s creation. The Garden story speaks of what it means to be known to God and responsible for following His guidance. And perhaps the Ark story speaks symbolically of what it means to be God’s church.

The Ark of the Story of Noah was a place of refuge and safety. It was strong and fortified. Sure, there was likely bedlam within its walls from time to time, being tossed together as they were on a reckless ocean, but it was a haven from the endless downpour.

We know that the foreshadowing of the Old Testament finds its confirmation in our New Testament stories, and the story of the Ark is no different. Just as Noah put his faith in God and was safe through the storm, so, too, do we put our faith in Christ and are given the strength to get through the most difficult times of our lives.

We need an Ark. For the times in our lives when it feels like we have been stuck in a downpour for forty days and forty nights, trying to navigate the personal and professional issues we may face as though we were slogging through the dreariness with no end in sight.

We need an Ark. For the times in our lives when we are completely overwhelmed. For those times when it feels like the expectations and needs of others in our lives are encroaching on us like the swiftly rising floodwaters.

We need an Ark. For the times when we feel completely alone and unsure of what happens next.

We need an Ark. For the times when the rains subside, and we can begin to see the light in the darkness.

We need an Ark. Because we cannot escape being touched by calamity and grief. We need shelter and we need refuge. We need a place to be together where we are assured of the promise of the rainbow and the constant return of the dove. We need an Ark.

The Ark is not always going to be a wonderful place to be. There are going to be arguments and disagreements; worry and doubt. Sometimes the Ark is going to stink—full of complaints and dislikes and grudges. The Ark is not a place of perfection, but of refuge.

The Ark is just like the Church. The church is this place—for when we are overwhelmed and alone and mournful for what was. For when we need shelter and refuge. For when we need a place to dwell together waiting for the promise of the rainbow… watching for the dove. And, like that Ark of our ancient story, the church is not always an easy place to be. Disagreements and conflicts and doubt will all darken our path. But the church is not a place of perfection, but of refuge.

We are together, as the church. Hanging on with, to, and for God and each other, even as the storms rage on outside. We are strengthened and sheltered here. Even despite all the things that can and do cause us frustration in the church, like the Ark, it’s a place of promise. Even when everything feels like it can go wrong—and does go wrong!—in the world just outside our doors, we know we dwell in the promises of a faithful and loving God.

The waters of the Flood are not just waters of destruction…but of redemption, and grace, and hope, pointing us towards the waters of baptism and renewal. The Ark is not just shelter from an ancient storm….but a sign of the Cross. God doesn’t leave God’s people in grief and fear and doubt….but delivers them to a rainbow and a promise. God reaffirms the covenant.

We need this ark. For the raging, dark, scary storms as well as for the glittering promises held in the rainbow at the end. Through the fear of the unknown to the arrival of the dove. This place of refuge, not perfection; of hope, even in the darkness. We are God’s people, from covenant to covenant. Amen.