The sending of the raven didn’t appear to be helpful to Noah and the occupants of the ark. It flew away from Noah’s hand and then began to fly “to and fro” over the waters. It didn’t appear to land. It just wandered the sky and the sea.
Ravens were used by sailors to determine the location of land or the atmospheric conditions. Ravens were known for their ability to fly great distances. And we also know ravens are scavengers. They like to eat rotting flesh.
The deluge brought death. We might imagine dead bodies floating on the surface of the water. Perhaps the raven landed on some of those for meals. Or perhaps this picture of the raven flying “to and fro” is a picture for us of the search for death. Was there anything left remaining to consume?
It’s a dark picture.
Off the top of my head, the only other figure from Scripture whom I recall moving “to and fro” was Satan (Job 1:7). It gives us a picture of a restless search, seeking someone to tempt, seeking something to devour.
When we read passages like Genesis 8, we ought to stop and wonder why the story has been given to us in the way it has. Why the raven? Why the dove? Why were these things remembered and retold to us in this particular way?
The dove, of course, also went on a search. But it gives us a picture of something more tame and orderly. It went out three times, each time showing Noah something new. The first time, it revealed the time for waiting was not yet complete. The second time, it brought back evidence of life. The dove had found an olive tree – a symbol of peace.
The third time, the dove did not return. There was life to be lived out there!
Scripturally speaking, the dove is perhaps more familiar to us than the raven. The dove represents the Holy Spirit (John 1:32). We know the Holy Spirit imparts life.
Again, these are things to consider as we read Genesis 8.
Even after the flood, sin persists on earth. God knew this would be so. Satan continues his restless search. Unholiness is never far from us. We must always be aware that it lurks around us and in us.
And yet, we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us through this sin-filled world. We rely on the grace of God, who covers over even our own heinous sins by the blood of Christ. We need not fear Satan. But we have a clear-eyed understanding of who we are in Christ.