But the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned to him into the ark…
I. Let us look at the profound, far-reaching SIGNIFICANCE OF THE GREEN LEAF in the mouth of the dove, as the first production of a new and regenerated world.
1. In the first plaice, the green leaf is the great purifier of nature. This is one of the most important offices which it was created to fulfil. In the early ages of the earth, long before man came upon the scene, the atmosphere was foul with carbonic acid gases, so poisonous that a few inspirations of them would be sufficient to destroy life. These formed a dense covering which kept in the steaming warmth of the earth, and nourished a rank and luxuriant vegetation. Gigantic ferns, tree mosses, and reeds grew with extraordinary rapidity, and absorbed these noxious gases into their own structures, consolidating them into leaves, stems, and branches, which in the course of long ages grew and decayed, and by subtle chemical processes and mechanical arrangements were changed into coal beds under the earth. In this wonderful way two great results were accomplished at the same time and by the same means — the atmosphere was purified and made fit for the breathing of man, and animals useful to man, and vast stores of fuel were prepared to enable future generations to subdue the earth and spread over it the blessings of civilization. And what the green leaves of the early geological forests did for the primeval atmosphere of the world, the green leaves of our woods and fields are continually doing for our atmosphere still. They absorb the foul air caused by the processes of decay and combustion going on over the earth, and by the breathing of men and animals, and convert this noxious element into the useful and beautiful products of the vegetable kingdom. They preserve the air in a condition fit for human breathing. These considerations will show us how significant it was that the first object of the new world that was about to emerge from the flood should be a green leaf. It was a symbol, a token to Noah that the world would be purified from the pollution of those unnatural sins which had brought death and destruction upon it, and would once more be fitted to be the home of a peculiar people zealous of good works. What the green leaf is in nature the leaves of the tree of life are in the spiritual sphere. The gospel of Jesus Christ, which the Heavenly Dove carries to the homes and the hearts of men, is the great purifier of the world.
2. In the second place, the green leaf is the source of all the life of the world. It is by its agency alone that inert inorganic matter is changed into organic matter, which furnishes the starting point of all life. Nowhere else on the face of the earth does this most important process take place. Everything else consumes and destroys. The green leaf alone conserves and creates. In this light how suitable it was that an olive leaf freshly plucked should have been the first object brought to Noah in the ark! For just as the green leaf is the means in the natural world of counteracting all the destructive forces that are reducing its objects to dust and ashes, and clothing its surface with vegetable and animal life, so the olive leaf in the mouth of the dove spoke to Noah of the undoing of the work of destruction caused by the flood, and of the raising up of a new and fairer creation out of the universal wreck. And just as all this beautiful world of life and joy is the product of the work of the green leaf, so all that mankind has achieved and enjoyed since the flood — the great results of civilization and the still greater results of redemption — arose out of the work of grace whose dawning the green leaf intimated, and whose operation it typified. For sin and grace are in constant antagonism — like the force of the fire that burns everything to ashes, and the force of the green leaf that builds up life and beauty out of the ashes; and God has suffered sin to continue because He knows that grace can conquer it, strip its spoils, and convert its ruins into higher and nobler forms of life.
3. In the third place, the green leaf is the best conductor of electricity — that most powerful and destructive of all the forces of the earth. A twig covered with leaves, sharpened by nature's exquisite workmanship, is said to be three times as effectual as the metallic points of the best constructed rod. And when we reflect how many thousands of these vegetable points every large tree directs to the sky, and consider what must be the efficacy of a single forest with its innumerable leaves, or of a single meadow with its countless blades of grass, we see how abundant the protection from the storm is, and with what care Providence has guarded us from the destructive force. And was not that green leaf which came to Noah in the ark God's lightning conductor? Did it not bear down harmlessly the destructive power of heaven? Did it not assure Noah that the wrath of God was appeased, that the storm was over, and that peace and safety could once more be enjoyed upon the earth? And is not He to whose salvation that leaf pointed — who is Himself the "Branch" — God's lightning conductor to us? He bore the full force of the Father's wrath due to sin; He endured the penalty which we deserved; and having smitten the shepherd, the sheep for whom He laid down His life are deathless and unharmed. He is now our refuge from the storm; and under His shadow we are safe from all evil.
4. In the fourth place, the green leaf is the source of all the streams and rivers in the world. It is by the agency of the leaf that water circulates as the life blood of the globe. And how appropriately in this light did the green leaf come to Noah as the earnest and the instrument of the rearrangement of a world which had been reduced to a desert by the punishment of man's sin! That leaf assured him that the old rivers would flow again; that the former fields would smile anew; that the forests would, as in previous times, cover the earth with their shadow; and that all the conditions of seed time and harvest, and of a pleasant and useful home for man, would be present as of yore. And is not the Heavenly Dove bringing to us in the ark of our salvation a leaf of the tree of life, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations, as a token that beyond the destructive floods of earth, beyond the final conflagration in which all things shall be burned up, the river of life will flow again; and amid the green fields of the paradise restored the Lamb shall lead us to living fountains of waters, and God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes?
5. In the fifth place, the green leaf is the type upon which the forms of all life are moulded, All organisms, whether animal or vegetable, are similar in their elementary structure and form; and the most complicated results are attained by the simplest conceivable means, and that without the slightest violation of the original plan of nature. Thoreau has said that the whole earth is but a gigantic leaf, in which the rivers and streams resemble the veins, and the mountains and plains the green parts: And did not He who sent the dove with the olive leaf to Noah thereby assure him that out of that leaf would be evolved the whole fair world of vegetable and animal life, which for a while had perished beneath the waters of the flood; that it would be reconstructed upon the old type and developed according to the old pattern? And did not He who developed this great world of life out of the single leaf develop all the great scheme of grace, all the wondrous history of redemption, out of the first simple promise to our first parents after their fall? Amid all the varying dispensations of His providence He has been without variableness or shadow of turning, unfolding more and more the germinating fulness of the same glorious plan of grace.
II. Of all the green leaves of the earth it was MOST FITTING THAT THE OLIVE LEAF SHOULD HAVE BEEN SELECTED as the first product of the new restored world. The olive tree spreads over a large area of the earth; it combines in itself the flora of the hills and the plains. It clothes with shade and beauty and slopes where no other vegetation would grow. It extracts by a vegetable miracle nourishment and fatness from the driest air and the barest rock; on it may be seen at the same time opening and full-blown blossoms, and green and perfectly ripe fruit. Each bough is laden with a wealth of promise and fulfilment; beauty for the eye and bounty for the palate. No tree displays such a rich profusion and succession of flowers and fruits. It is the very picture of prosperity and abundance. Its very gleanings are more plentiful than the whole harvest of other trees. It strikingly illustrates, therefore, the overflowing goodness of the Lord, to whom belong the earth and the fulness thereof. What the olive leaf began in Noah's case was consummated under the olive trees of Gethsemane. He who destroyed the antediluvian sinners by the flood endured the contradiction of greater and more aggravated sinners against Himself. He who sent the flood as a punishment for sin, now suffered it Himself in a more terrible form as an atonement for sin. The olive leaf of Noah's dove showed that God's strange work was done, and that He had returned to the essential element of His nature, and love shone forth again. The olive leaves of Gethsemane, that thrilled with the fear of the great agony that took place beneath them, tell us that "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." What sweeter message, what dearer hope, could come to us in our sins and sorrows than this!
(H. Macmillan, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him into the ark, for the waters were on the face of the whole earth: then he put forth his hand, and took her, and pulled her in unto him into the ark.
WEB: but the dove found no place to rest her foot, and she returned to him into the ship; for the waters were on the surface of the whole earth. He put forth his hand, and took her, and brought her to him into the ship.