A previously hostile nation offering terms of peace. A business competitor bringing a promising deal. A chastened husband presenting a bunch of flowers. Any of these cases might be called “bearing an olive branch.”
There are different views about how the olive branch became associated with peace. But its importance in the flood story should be instructive.
“And it came to pass at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made: And he sent forth a raven, which went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth. Also he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground; 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. And he stayed yet other seven days; and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark; And the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf pluckt off: so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth.” (Genesis 8:6-11)
Both the dove and the olive (with its oil) are associated with the Holy Spirit. And bringing us to new creation is especially the work of the Spirit. So here is a double sign from the Spirit that there is life beyond judgement. The dove has gone to the new land and taken of the oil-filled tree. He has brought back this firstfruits of new life to all who are gathered to the safe place (the ark). He has taken from the life-giving tree and brought back an earnest (a guarantee) of new creation life.
When the people receive this token they know that the wrath of God is past and a new world beckons. True peace can now be experienced – not just peace between people but the ultimate peace, that between man and God.
This peace is for us today. The Spirit brings to us the new life of Christ – the Spirit-filled Man. He assures us of peace with God and life beyond sin, death and judgement.
God has given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts. (2 Corinthians 1:22)