Summary: Noah sets the stage for the coming of God’s son and mercy which is unearned
It is more than 80 years old. An American Elm Tree in downtown Oklahoma City, survived one of the worst terrorist attacks on American soil as 168 people died in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995. The 101-year old tree was almost destroyed by the blast, with plans initially laid to chop it to obtain vital evidence caught in its branches. But it bloomed and survived, remaining as a beautiful representation of the undying spirit of Oklahoma City. Today, we call it the Survivor Tree.
"The Survivor Tree is a symbol of human resilience. As a tribute to renewal and rebirth, the inscription around the tree reads, ’The spirit of this city and this nation will not be defeated; our deeply rooted faith sustains us.’"
We love stories of survival. Real stories like Captain’s Sullenberger’s landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River or "Storm Stories" on The Weather Channel are much more powerful than those from Gabon, China or other TV reality shows.
Here in the first book of Scripture we have one of the greatest survivor stories ever, Noah. He is the unlikely hero. He is the all too human survivor. Not only does he carry the entire future of God’s crown of creation but also the seed of sin which infects all of us, even today.
Chapter 9 is the end of the story of Noah and his family’s survival. For over five months the zoo has been floating on the water. A year they had been sealed in that wooden hull. At the end of chapter 8 Noah and the cargo has exited and his first action was one of worship.
God says in 8:21"the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth". Yet God does something wonderful even knowing this, he says, "I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you." God recommits himself to the promise he made before this flood and he does so knowing that Noah would not be any better than those who drown. God’s binding of Himself to Noah and to all flesh is an act of God’s grace and love.
It’s not a mutual covenant or promise as with Abraham "you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you... This is my covenant with you and your descendants... male among you shall be circumcised." Or the covenant reaffirmed in Leviticus 26 which links keeping the commands with God’s continued blessing. No here it is simply and purely God’s love reaching out to us in order to allow us to find peace. One commentator points out how variant tenses for the verb “establish,” showing the divine initiative and realization of the covenant: “I now establish” imminent future, v. 9; “I establish” present, v. 11; and “I have established” present perfect, v. 17 make it clear it is God and God love alone that does this great deed.
Then God does something even more wonderful, he establishes "the sign" of this promise, the rainbow. I don’t believe this is the first time a rainbow was ever seen. However I do believe it was the first time the linking of God’s promise to the rainbow was ever made. In the same way we take common bread and cup and they become holy for the sake of the meal we will share, so too God takes the common and gives it an uncommon importance and place in our lives.