Genesis vii. 4-5.

July 14, 2010

For yet a while, and after seven days, I will rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and I will destroy every substance that I have made, from the face of the earth.  And Noe did all things which the Lord had commanded him.

4a. “After seven days I will rain upon the earth”

St. Chrysostom: “Attend, I beseech you, to the excellence of the divine goodness even from what is said here, how after such tolerance even now He warns seven days before, wishing to improve them by fear and lead them to penance.  For what He foretells in order to avoid inflicting upon them what he says, consider the Ninivites, and attend to the greatness of the difference between them and the men of Noe’s time.  For these, who had heard for so many years that disasters were at the door, nevertheless did not cease from their malice.  For we are accustomed to be more negligent, when punishment is taken away and postponed; and when afflictions press upon us closely, then we are humbled, and show greater conversion: this is what happened to the Ninivites.  For when they heard, Yet three days, and Ninive shall be destroyed,[1] not only did they not despair, but raised themselves up at this word, and made such abstinence from their vices, and showed such diligent confession, that they extended what pertained to confession even to their animals …

“Did you see the pleasing soul of the barbarians?  Did you see how the small number of days neither made them lazy nor led them to despair?  And see the men of Noe’s time, after so many years, when they heard: ‘Yet seven days, and the flood shall begin,’ they did not convert, but remained senseless and without sorrow: whence it becomes known that our will is the cause of all our evils.  For look: both they and the Ninivites were men, and of the same nature of anyone else: but not of the same will.  Accordingly the Ninivites escaped disaster, because the good God was content with their penance on account of his mercy; but the others were drowned and perished in general ruin” (xxiv. 6-7.).

St. Ambrose: “It should also be sought with zeal why it is that after Noe entered the ark and led in the animals, the flood began after seven days.  For it does not seem idle that neither more nor fewer days were interspersed, but just as many as were in the creation of the world.  For the world was made in six days, and on the seventh day God rested from His works.  By which evidence God declared that He was the author both of the world and of the flood.  He created the world because of His goodness; He sent the flood as just punishment for our crimes.  Men are therefore warned even from the number of days in which the world was created, that they ought to reconcile themselves to their Creator not only with tears and supplication, but with correction of their behavior.  So the Lord gave them an interval for repentance, wishing rather to pardon than punish; so that with the terror of the impending flood hanging over them, He might compel them to beg for pardon; and while they tremble with fear at the danger of imminent death, they might renounce their impiety and injustice … So He waited for the seventh day, the one on which He rested from His work, so that if they begged for forgiveness, all might be righted, and He might rest from His anger” (De Noe et Arca, xiii. 42.).

4b. “Forty days and forty nights”

St. Chrysostom: “Then, to increase their terror greatly, He says, For forty days and forty nights.  What?  Could He not have brought in all the rain in one day if He had wished?  What am I saying, one day?  He could have done it in one instant: but He yields them this, wishing at once to instill fear into them, and give them a chance to escape the punishment that now waits at the door” (xxiv. 7.).

St. Ambrose: “This also was not to be cast aside, that it says the flood occurred for forty days, and then added, forty nights.  For we know that a day means when the sun lights up the earth, and that night means when the surrounding darkness separates us from that brightness; and very often we do not include night when we say ‘day,’ and very often we do.  For when we say a month of thirty days, we also mean nights.  So since it would have been enough for Moses to have said the flood lasted forty days, we ask why he added, and forty nights.  Some who have come before us have taken it to show the ruin caused by the flood of both men and women: they refer day to man, who is purer, like light, and night to woman, who it is written was created while the man slept; and at the same time because the man is first, like the author, to move the virtue of the woman and cause her to give birth …

“But perhaps it may be referred to the fact that the law also was brought over forty days, and Moses watched for so many days on Mount Sinai, and remained there while he received the precepts of the law, Ex. xxiv. 18.?  Rightly therefore are the precepts for diminishing sins granted in the same number of days by which the guilt of punishment was paid, so that we might know that praise from correction ought to be secured in the same period of life as sin to be punished can be incurred.  Whence now, the forty days are not precepts of punishment, but of life: with this number we can alleviate the punishments of our sins by more frequent fasting and prayer, and, intent on the precepts of the law, we may correct our error by devotion and faith.  And so by the Lord’s resurrection, we no longer consider the period of forty days as last of all, but first: life is numbered from thence, where before the number was reckoned as the end of the world and the destruction of the human race” (De Noe et Arca, xiii. 43, 44.).

4c. “And I will destroy every substance that I have made”

St. Chrysostom: “See how He foretells it again and again, and it does not affect them.  Now He did all this to teach us that He inflicted such punishment on them justly, so that no one could accuse Him of foolishness and say: ‘If He had delayed, perhaps they would have done penance, perhaps they would have abstained from their vices, and returned to virtue.’  For this reason He declared to us the number of years, and ordered the ark to be built.  And after all these things He speaks again seven days before, to check the impudent tongues of all who speak rashly” (xxiv. 7.).

St. Ambrose: “O how beautiful are the heavenly words, if one can examine them from the comely intellect of a holy mind.  God is angry with our sins, but He does not forget mercy.  He threatens punishment, but He does not allow ruin.  He moderates His vengeance, He revokes His severity.  He says He will destroy all flesh, not from the earth, but from the face of the earth.  He cuts away the flower but keeps the root; He allows a poison to abide in the depth of human substance, which therefore labors on the surface, but within perseveres impassible, and is reserved, free from harm, for the inheritance of them who are not guilty of such punishment.  Now it is beautifully said, I will destroy [Lat. Delebo, more literally erase, blot out], as of the dots of letters that can be erased without defrauding the books or diminishing the tables.  Ink is blotted out, but the wood remains.  The rudiments are erased, so that much better things can be written.  The ink is removed, the substance is not destroyed.  ‘I shall wipe out,’ He says, ‘the corruption of flesh, that I may write incorruption.  I shall wipe out the raising of flesh from the face of the earth, that I may write their arising in heaven.  I shall wipe out from the book of earth, that I may write in the book of life.’  Quickly, Lord, let these rudiments of iron be blotted out, that the elements of Christ may be written …

“It pertains to the deeper sense that the appearance of the flood is a type of the purgation of our soul.  So when our mind washes itself from the carnal allurements of this world in which it had previously delighted, it also wipes away the muck of our old desires by good thoughts, as though absorbing with purer water the bitterness of water which before had been flowing and stormy” (De Noe et Arca, xiii. 45, 46.).

5. “And Noe did all things which the Lord had commanded him”

St. Chrysostom: “See how even now Scripture proclaims the pleasing soul and obedience of the just man, teaching us that he left out nothing that was commanded him; but rather with everything fulfilled, and even by fulfilling it, he showed an example of his virtue.

“Therefore let us too imitate that just man, and strive to fulfill the commands given by God.  Let us not despise the laws brought to us by Christ; but keeping their memory present, let us hurry to good works: and let us not be lazy in drawing out what pertains to our salvation, especially since now a much greater measure of virtue is demanded of us, insofar as we have been given greater goods” (xxiv. 7-8.).

St. Ambrose: “The just man received the commands: the servant, the orders.  He is considered as a friend who undertook everything that was to be carried out: the man who wavers in compliance is sentenced to the burden of slavery.  And so the Lord Jesus says in the Gospel: You are my friends, if you do the things that I command you.  I will not now call you servants.[2] It is commanded then as to a friend, commanded as to one who can carry out what has been commanded him with strong charity and sober counsel.  And the Lord’s judgment did not fail Him: the just man fulfilled everything – not a part, but everything that was commanded him; and therefore he receives the witness of Holy Scripture” (De Noe et Arca, xiii. 47.).


[1] Jon. iii. 4, LXX.  Vulgate/DR: Yet forty days …

[2] John xv. 14-15.

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