Questions From Readers
Why did Noah send out from the ark a raven and then a dove?
The Bible does not give a detailed explanation. However, there does seem to be logic in Noah’s course.
For 40 days and 40 nights, the earth experienced an overwhelming rainfall, causing a deluge that covered even the tops of the mountains for five months. Then “the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.” (Genesis 7:6–8:4) Months later, after “the tops of the mountains appeared,” Noah “sent out a raven, and it continued flying outdoors, going and returning.”—Genesis 8:5, 7.
Why a raven? This bird is a strong flier, and it can subsist on a wide range of food items, including dead flesh. Noah may have sent out the raven to see whether it would return or would stay away from the ark, perhaps eating from the remnants of carcasses exposed as the waters receded and land appeared. However, the raven did not stay away. The Bible says that it returned, but it does not say that it returned to Noah. Perhaps it came back to rest on the ark between flights to find food floating on the still-prevailing waters.
Later, Noah chose to send out a dove. We read: “The dove did not find any resting-place for the sole of its foot, and so it returned to him into the ark.” (Genesis 8:9) This suggests that in its own way, the dove could serve in determining whether the floodwaters had abated. Doves manifest considerable trust of humans. Noah could expect that the dove would return, not just to rest on the ark, but to Noah himself.
It is said that doves rest only on dry ground, are known to fly low in valleys, and feed on vegetation. (Ezekiel 7:16) Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia notes: “As is true of all pigeons and doves eating seeds and nuts, there is difficulty in feeding when snow [or water] cover persists more than a day, most of their potential food being on the ground surface.” So the dove might bring back to Noah some evidence that it had found dry ground or sprouting plants. The first time that Noah sent it out, the dove simply returned to him in the ark. The second time, the dove came back with an olive leaf. The third time, it did not return, giving evidence that it was possible and safe for Noah to leave the ark.—Genesis 8:8-12.
While some might consider these to be incidental details, the fact that the account is so specific, without any straining to give complete explanations, reflects the Bible’s credibility. It gives us additional reason to accept the account to be, not contrived or fabricated, but honestly accurate. The lack of exhaustive details and explanations also suggests what interesting things faithful Christians may look forward to asking Noah when he is resurrected and can explain firsthand the whys and wherefores of his actions.—Hebrews 11:7, 39.