Genesis 8:11 (ESV) … “And the dove came back to him in the evening, and behold, in her mouth was a freshly plucked olive leaf. So Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth.”
According to 7:24, the Flood reached its peak in 150 days. The torrential rain and the eruptions of water from beneath the earth had both ceased (8:2; see niv and nasb); and during the next five months, God caused the water to recede and leave the dry land behind.
Where did the floodwaters go? Never underestimate the power of moving water! It’s possible that the Flood greatly altered the contours of the land and created new areas for the water to fill, both on the surface of the earth and underground. Since there were eruptions from beneath the earth (7:11), whole continents and mountain ranges could have risen and fallen, creating huge areas into which the water could spill. The winds that God sent over the earth helped to evaporate the water and also move it to the places God had provided. A God powerful enough to cover the earth with water is also wise enough to know how to dispose of it when its work is done.
Centuries later, God’s wind would bring the locusts into Egypt and later drive them into the sea (Ex. 10:10–20). God’s wind would also open up the Red Sea and make a dry path for the people of Israel as they left Egypt (14:21–22; 15:10). The stormy wind fulfills God’s word (Ps. 148:8).
On the seventeenth day of the seventh month, the ark rested on a peak in the mountains of Ararat, located in modern Turkey. We don’t know which peak it was; explorers searching for the remains of the ark can’t find much biblical data to help them. In later years, the seventh month was very special to the Jews, for during that month they ushered in the new year with the Feast of Trumpets and celebrated the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:23–44).
The Hebrew text says that “the ark came to rest,” reminding us that Noah’s name means “rest” and that his father Lamech had hoped that his son would bring rest to a weary world (Gen. 5:28–29). Though the ark had rested safely, Noah was waiting for the Lord to tell him what to do. He waited forty days and then sent out the raven; and being an unclean carrion-eating bird (Lev. 11:13–15), it felt right at home among the floating carcasses.
Noah waited a week and then sent out a dove, which, being a clean bird, found no place to land; so it returned to the ark (Gen. 8:8–9). A week later Noah sent the dove out again, and when it returned with a fresh olive leaf, Noah knew that the plants were growing and fresh life had appeared on the earth (vv. 10–11). A dove bearing an olive branch is a familiar symbol of peace around the world. A week later, when Noah sent the dove out the third time, it didn’t return; so he knew the water had dried up.
Noah had built a “window” (hatch?) in the upper deck of the ark (v. 9, niv reads “covering”), and this he opened so he could survey the world around him. This was on the day the passengers had been in the ark one entire year. Noah saw that the ground indeed was dry, but he didn’t make a move out of the ark until the Lord told him to leave. Twenty-six days later, that order came and he obeyed it (v. 15).