At the seventh month (using the Hebrew rather than Gregorian calendar in this case) the waters have receded enough that the ark comes to rest on what we know as Mount Ararat (the name Ararat translates "the curse reversed," and symbolizes a fresh start for humanity). It took about 3 more months after that, according to Genesis 8:4-5, for the tops of the mountains to emerge from the water. At this point, Noah releases a series of four birds to gauge the surroundings to determine if they could safely disembark.
The first bird Noah releases in verse 7 is a raven. The raven just kept flying until the water receded, and with good reason. In Levitical law, the raven is considered "unclean" because it was noted to eat carrion, and it is possible that this raven was feeding on dead carcasses exposed by the flood waters, and therefore it had a food source to sustain it. In verse 8, Noah releases a dove at around the same time as he released the raven, but the dove returns because she cannot land. The dove - a universal symbol of the Holy Spirit - eats a "clean" diet of grain and fruit, and due to the fact there were no trees, she probably could not find a place to go and returned to Noah. Seven days after the initial dove is released, Noah sends out a second dove, and after flying around for some time, she brings back an olive branch. The olive branch is a symbol of peace and also symbolizes grace, and it was God's way of telling Noah that peace has been restored to the earth. Also, the appearance of olive trees, which at this point may have been mere saplings, signified that the water had begun to recede significantly. However, sufficient growth of vegetation was not yet happening, which is why the dove returns. 14 days later, Noah sends out the last dove according to verse 12, and this one does not return, signifying that it would soon be time to disembark from the ark.
Noah and his family do come forth from the ark after one year, when Noah opens the large door in the side. This door on the side of the ark has some very significant symbolism in that it prefigures our own intiation into salvation through the side of Christ. The image here is the same typology we saw in Genesis 2:21-22, when Eve was created by God when He extracted a rib from Adam's side, and it prefigures again what we see in John 19:33, when as Jesus hung on the Cross the Roman soldier pierced His side with a spear, and blood and water issued forth. As we know from an earlier lesson, the blood and water symbolize the two Sacraments by which we enter the Church - baptism and Eucharist. (Stephen Beale, "Ten Ways Noah's Ark Prefigured the Church," at www.catholicexchange.com/ten-ways-noahs-ark-prefigured-church. Accessed June 15, 2016). There is a lot of baptismal imagery in the ark as well, as the very wood of the ark, according to St. Augustine in his Contra Faustum, Book XII, represents the wood of the Cross, and the waters of baptism which washed sin away (Beale, p. 1). Indeed, the Flood itself prefigures baptism in its own merit because God used water to wash away sin and corruption, and thus made the earth "born again" in a manner of speaking. Any rate, when Noah opens the great side door, he notes the ground is dry. Noah and his family, along with the animals, continue to live on this ark for another month, and in verse 14 it gives the total duration of the Flood as being 14 months. At the 27th day of the second month of the next year, God gives Noah the go-ahead to disembark the ark in verses 15-17, and in verses 18-19 all the animals, along with Noah and his family, leave.
Notice that the first thing Noah does upon disembarking is to build an altar and offer sacrifices from among those surplus "clean" animals he took on-board with him. The sacrifice pleases God, and God establishes a covenant with Noah that He would never destroy the ground for man's sake again in verses 21-22. It is at this point that the seasons, as well as times of planting and harvest are set. In the antediluvian world, there was apparently no set growing season as the firmament kept the climate ideal for growth all year long. But, with more exposure to the elements and the firmament removed, the earth changes now in that seasons happen, and agriculture will be largely determined from this point by those seasons. Now, although God vows not to destroy the earth, it does not mean that man can't destroy it, but rather that God will not. This is a big difference as we see how man often exercises poor stewardship over the natural world, and at times his own selfish ambitions overshadow the well-being of the world he lives in. We see that more so in recent times.
As we enter Genesis 9, it is a new beginning for the earth and for mankind. God gives man the command to multiply and repopulate the earth in verse 1, and again gives man dominion over the earth in verses 2-4. In verse 3, man also can now eat meat as well as vegetation, although originally God's plan for man was a vegetarian diet, as we saw in Genesis 1:29. We begin to see the first signs of a dietary code that would be greatly expounded upon in Leviticus, as God lays down some guidelines for meat consumption beginning in verse 4 - the consumption of blood is prohibited due to blood signifying life. However, what is interesting about this is that the life God is prohibiting man from consuming is mortal life, for in the Gospels God tells us to eat of His flesh and drink of His blood, symbolizing a new covenant - although this seems to be contradictory, the blood still symbolizes life in both cases, and the Cross then becomes a new "Tree of Life" in which the shed blood of Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, is to be imparted to us to give us life as well. We partake of that every time we receive the Eucharist in the Mass, and the more we partake of that sacrament, the more of Jesus's transforming life is imparted to us, transforming our own. So, in the dietary laws even in Leviticus, there is a foreshadowing of the Eucharistic mystery.
Related to this is what we see in verses 5-6, in that the moral law of God begins to be elaborated to Noah. A cardinal part of this moral law is the prohibition of murder - if you kill, you will be killed back, in other words! Again, it goes along with the previous command in that life is in the blood, and human life is precious to Him who created it. The reason for this is the imago Dei, which affirms that we are made in God's image. Therefore, to murder another human being in cold blood is in essence to desecrate God, and that is also why the dignity of the human person is affirmed even from the beginning in Scripture, and it's the reason why murder always has been and always will be a sin of the highest order.
We now come to the details of the covenant God makes with Noah in verses 8-17. As Dr. Hahn notes in his book First Comes Love (New York: Doubleday, 2002), Adam's covenant was within the marriage, and established the marriage union as a sacramental act. At this point, God extends the covenant to include the family of Noah as well, because as Dr. Hahn explains, the family was a religious community above all, and all family members were charged with upholding the family honor - common worship united a family across generations (Hahn, pp. 19-20). This is why in verse 8 the covenant is given by God not only to Noah, but to his sons. The visible sign of this covenant was the rainbow, and it was a reminder that God would never again destroy the whole earth with water - local floods, many devastating, still happen (the November 1985 Flood I lived through in my home state of WV is a good example), but never anything of the magnitude of what Noah and his family just experienced. The rainbow is a covenantal sign, but like so many sacred things, it has been perverted by man's carnality - in recent decades, the rainbow has been corrupted by two specific groups as a symbol it was never intended to be. The LGBT community has done this in one way, and they fail to realize that the rainbow has nothing to do with "gay marriage" or anything related to the lifestyle that fosters it. The other group that has misappropriated the rainbow to suit their own agenda is the New Age movement, which uses the rainbow to symbolize their pantheistic, reincarnation-based belief in an evolving "brotherhood of god-men." One day, many people who bastardize and misappropriate sacred symbols will be in for a rude awakening when God stands as their judge.
As Genesis 9 continues, we notice that in the concluding verses some bizarre things began to happen. As the family disembarks the ark and begins to set up housekeeping, the one thing that sticks out is the identification of Noah's grandson Canaan, who is Ham's son. An incident happens at this point involving Noah imbibing too much wine and then passing out in his tent while in an embarrassing position. Somehow Ham finds out about it and shames his father, but the other two sons, Shem and Japeth, cover Noah to protect him from this embarrassment. Noah recovers from his "buzz" and is actually not very happy when he found out what happened to him, and there are several things to note about that now.
Wine made Noah vulnerable, and although this happened, Noah's consumption of wine is not evil in and of itself. It is even possible that Noah may not have consumed as much either, as a long period of abstinence on the ark would have lowered his tolerance for alcohol and perhaps made him more susceptible to the subsequent "buzz" that made the exposure incident happen. However, in Shem and Japeth's integrity, chastity covered what drunkenness exposes, and those who protected Noah by covering his shame were to be blessed. Oddly, some of the Church Fathers saw here a typology of Christ's Passion in Noah's state, in that the dishonoring of Noah by the "elder son" Ham is a prefigurement of the Cross, in that in a similar way the "elder sons," meaning the Sadducees and Pharisees, dishonored Christ by exposing His vulnerability to their enemies, the Romans. However, for Ham's transgression here, Noah curses Canaan rather than Ham, and there are questions as to why that happened? As we mentioned in the study on Nephilim and fallen angels in Genesis 6, there is a slight possibility that a recessive gene of some sort got through (perhaps via Ham's wife) and Canaan was manifesting Nephilim traits. If that is the case, why did God allow it? Although a futile effort, Satan is still trying to reverse what God pronounced on him in Genesis 3:15, and the fact that some corrupted DNA "slipped through the cracks" gave Satan the opportunity he needed; there would be no more fallen angel incursions, as Nephilim DNA was a latent and recessive part of some bloodlines and could manifest itself with the right manipulation. God may have allowed it because it would be a test for man, and through it God would be able to unfold a greater plan He had for the ultimate defeat of Satan through his own "seed." At any rate, it must be remembered that it is Canaan, and not Ham, who is cursed, and we shall spend some time on that now.
Beginning in Genesis 9:25, the details of the curse that Noah (not God) pronounced on Canaan are given. First, Canaan will serve his brethren, and what St. Ephrem proposes is that it may have been actually Canaan who exposed Noah, but when Ham learned of it, he turned it into a sick joke and attempted to gossip to his brothers about it. At any rate, Ham is not the cursed one though, as later we will see that many of Ham's descendants created the most ancient of civilizations (Egypt, Sumer, Mohenjo-Daro, the Minoan civilization, etc.) although many of them were later supplanted by others who were descendants of Shem or Japeth. In contrast though, for their integrity Shem and Japeth are blessed by Noah in verses 26-27, and that blessing entailed several things. First, Canaan is to be the servant of Shem, which is something we see played out later in the time after the Exodus some centuries later. Japeth is to be "greatly enlarged" and will "dwell in the tents of Shem," which could be an allusion to two things. First, being many of Japeth's descendants fathered the Indo-European nations of Europe and Asia, they would also be among the first Gentile nations to become Christian later - Rome and Greece, for instance, would occupy Palestine and "dwell in the tents of Shem" in a literal way, but also in a spiritual way as well - one of the earliest people Jesus ministered to was a Roman centurion who, Jesus said in His own words, in Matthew 8:5-13 displayed a faith that He had not seen in all of Israel. In a broader sense (and the subject of a whole other study!) Japeth literally "dwelling in the tents of Shem" would make it possible for the Gospel to be spread and the Church multiplied later. So, Japeth would participate in Shem's blessing.
A second aspect of the curse pronounced upon Canaan is the introduction of the institution of slavery. Slavery, as it was originally intended, was to be a temporary punishment in which the person accused would render restitution to his or her victim by labor. However, like so many things, in time corrupt men would find reason to profit from slavery, and turned an act of repentance into a sinful institution itself. That is why, much in the same way polygamy was initially tolerated as a sort of "lesser evil" to prevent a greater one, slavery was initially instituted for punitive purposes but was only meant as a temporary state. God's original plan was never inclusive of dehumanizing others by using slavery as a selfish means of acquiring wealth, and those who have corrupted it over the centuries are guilty of violence against their fellow man. In that context, in time Canaan may have been able to redeem himself had he followed the guidelines and done what he was supposed to have done, Again, the temporary nature of slavery is a measure of God's great mercy extended to us, and the corruption of it is what truly becomes the curse.
The typologies within the Flood narrative are myriad, and in conclusion we will discuss some of those now. For one, the duration of the rains (40 days) prefigures our own Church year, in particular Lent and the sacrament of Holy Baptism. God allowed, in His great mercy, the 40 days of rain in order to allow for the possibility of repentance and salvation even in perishing. That means that not everyone who perished in the Flood was necessarily lost for eternity. Noah and the ark are likewise symbols of Christ and the nations. God made creation by a word, and could remake it by a Word (Logos) and indeed He did. Noah and the ark can also be a prefigurement of the Church as well.
The clean and unclean animals on the Ark also prefigure many of Jesus's Kingdom parables - there are bad and good in Christ's Church, and only at the final Judgment can they be sorted out. And, despite Noah being spared, concupiscence was already a consequence of the Fall and would manifest itself time and again. There are also typologies of Mary in the imagery of the ark as well - the door on the side is seen by some scholars as a picture of Mary being Ever-Virgin, in that the "closed door" of the ark is something that can be passed through but not opened. (Fr. Stephen Manelli, "The Mystery of Mary in the Old Testament," in Miravalle, ed. Mariology. Santa Barbara, CA: Queenship, 2007. p, 38). The ark also prefigures Mary as a Mediatrix of all graces as well - Mary's participation in the salvation given by Christ prefigures the ark's role in preserving Noah. The ark had no saving grace in itself, but because God ordered it, the ark becomes a vehicle of salvation for Noah and his family.
Noah's death is recorded in verses 28-29. After the Flood happens, Noah lives another 350 years, finally reposing at age 950. The Flood and redemption of Noah by God signifies to us that God is a God of mercy who loves His creation at times in spite of creation's disobedience. The Jesus who loves sinners in the New Testament (particularly the Gospels) is the same who extends loving mercy in events like the Flood in the Old Testament. The question for us is, how will we respond? God has given us the mercy, so now it is up to us to accept it. May we be, as Noah, faithful to make the right choice.