And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female. Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind, two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive. (Genesis 6:19-20)
Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female. Of fowls also of the air by sevens, the male and the female; to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth. (Genesis 7:2-3)
Of clean beasts, and of beasts that are not clean, and of fowls, and of every thing that creepeth upon the earth, there went in two and two unto Noah into the ark, the male and the female, as God had commanded Noah. (Genesis 7:8-9)
In the selfsame day entered Noah, and Shem, and Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah’s wife, and the three wives of his sons with them, into the ark; They, and every beast after his kind, and all the cattle after their kind, and every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind, and every fowl after his kind, every bird of every sort. And they went in unto Noah into the ark, two and two of all flesh, wherein is the breath of life. And they that went in, went in male and female of all flesh, as God had commanded him: and the LORD shut him in. (Genesis 7:13-16)
There is no doubt that only eight people – four married couples – were saved in the flood, and that no unmarried persons came along with them (7:13). But the question of the number of animals of each kind that were saved in the ark has puzzled many. Though this is a question of relatively little importance, it is instructive; for nothing in the Scriptures was recorded by accident.
Were there only seven of the clean animals? If so, how do the terms, “two and two” and “male and female” apply to them? Were there extras of the clean animals provided for sacrifice, or for a temporary food supply? Or were there seven breeding pairs? If so, were there only two of each unclean kind, or two pairs? Many unsatisfactory theories have been tried; but the truth may be found by assembling the relevant texts and testing the various hypotheses against the information given in all of them. The only coherent view that is in harmony with all the statements can be summed up in four points, as follows:
1. The first statement that relates to our question, in 6:19, gives the general rule: the animals were to be brought into the ark in pairs, a male and a female of each kind “of every living thing of all flesh”. This latter expression is universal and emphatic, and shows that all the animals were thus to be paired. Verse 20 elaborates further, “of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind”. The purpose stated is, “to keep them alive with thee”. This is not merely to keep these particular individual animals alive, but to ensure the survival of each kind in perpetuity by saving breeding pairs.
2. The last two statements confirm this basic fact. The phrase, “two and two” in 7:8-9 applies to all the animal kinds, “…of clean beasts, and of beasts that are not clean, and of fowls, and of everything that creepeth upon the earth.” And in 7:16, the fact is restated that there was a male for every female of all flesh. The male and female pair is thus the basic unit.
3. When the difference of clean and unclean beasts is introduced as a qualification to the original rule, the expression, “by sevens” must be understood of seven pairs; otherwise there would be a male without a female, or a female without a male, in violation of the general rule. In 7:3, “Of fowls also of the air by sevens, the male and the female” surely can only mean seven males and seven females! Especially when it is added as a reason, “to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth”.
4. Thus the number of clean animals of each kind would be fourteen, and of unclean, just four (two pairs). God would take care of the rest, by His providence guaranteeing that the numbers would be sufficient to secure the re-population of the earth.
The question of why there were seven of the clean animals and only four of the unclean is not answered in the sacred text. But we know from Moses’ law that the “unclean” animals were generally either predators or scavengers. They had become perverted after the fall to eat flesh. The “clean animals”, on the other hand, were those that continued to eat the original vegetable diet given to them by God. This general rule is inferred from what we know of the dietary habits of the various kinds of animals today. It provides several obvious reasons why God would want to populate the “new earth” with more clean than unclean beasts:
First, in any ecosystem, there must be many more potential prey than predators, for both predator and prey to survive.
Second, the flood was intended to punish and restrain the violence that had been unleashed in the earth as men and animals both forsook the original peaceful way of life (see 6:13,16).
Third, though man had been prohibited from eating flesh before the flood, he was to receive permission after. He would need dietary augmentation in view of the wreckage of the earth’s productive capacity by the catastrophe. The greater number of clean beasts would allow for this.
Fourth, meat-eaters can be a threat to man himself, and man would be forced to keep their numbers down in self-defense.
Fifth, clean animals were used for sacrifices, as well as food.
What use can we make of this study? We can see that these details, that might be thought superfluous, support the idea that this is a true history; for it is highly unlikely that anyone making up a story would think of them. And yet it was necessary that the right numbers of each kind were on the ark to support all the kinds in a world devastated by the flood and empty of animal inhabitants.
Howard Douglas King
Revised June 17, 2020