After the cataclysmic flood, withstood only by Noah’s family, God promised the survivors that “never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh” (Genesis 9:15, NASB) and the rainbow was decreed the sign of this guarantee (Genesis 9:12). This assurance represents the first Covenant, a consecrated contract between God and humanity (Genesis 9:12-17).
There are five great Biblical Covenants and with the exception of the Davidic covenant (II Samuel 7:4-17) each comes with a corresponding sign. The sign of the Abrahamic Covenant is circumcision (Genesis 17:10), that of the Mosaic Covenant is the observance of the Sabbath (Exodus 31:13), and that of the Christ covenant is the Eucharist (Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:17-20; I Corinthians 11:23-26).
Why do you think covenants are ratified with signs? What do you associate with rainbows, the sign of the first covenant?
Rainbows rarely appear in the Bible. There are only three only other references to them and all are set in the prophetic context of God’s enthroned glory (Ezekiel 1:28; Revelation 4:3, 10:1). The word “rainbow” does not actually appear in the text of the Hebrew Bible. There is no distinct Hebrew term for “rainbow” but rather the collocation qesheth `anan (קשת בענן,), literally “bow of cloud”. This phrase does not appear in the Bible.
“I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth.” (Genesis 9:13, NASB)The word that is used in Genesis 9:13 is qesheth, the standard word for “bow” (with which to shoot arrows). This is significant. Near Eastern Literature often depicts deities as warriors wielding a bow and the Old Testament is no different. The Song of Moses asserts “The LORD is a warrior “(Exodus 15:3, NASB) and the minor prophets use imagery from archery to describe God’s arsenal (Habakkuk 3:9; Zechariah 9:14). God is depicted as a warrior with a bow. In putting the bow in the clouds, the Creator is relinquishing a weapon.
The people needed this assurance after experiencing something so traumatic and the rainbow is a fitting symbol of hope. The same water which had destroyed the earth causes the rainbow, the reminder that this calamity would never happen again. Rainbows always appear opposite the sun and as such their presence signifies that light has broken through the darkness of the storm. Rainbows follow storms and attest to the fact that the wrath that caused the flood, which represented nothing less than the undoing of creation, is over. A rainbow is a picture of grace after judgment.
Have you ever been comforted by a natural phenomenon?
“And when it rains on your parade, look up rather than down. Without the rain, there would be no rainbow.” - G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)