The rainbow has been used in many different ways throughout history, such as an acronym, Roy G. Biv, for the sequence of hues commonly described as making up a rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet, or as a trademark in the advertisement of a popular cereal, and the infamous path to a pot of gold. However, it’s first use as a symbol precedes each of these by centuries and carries much more importance.
We find it mentioned for the first time as a sign of a covenant between Noah and all generations that followed. God said it was to signify that He would never again destroy the earth with a flood. He called it a guarantee, and to this day He has held true to His promise.
Then God said, “I am giving you a sign of my covenant with you and with all living creatures, for all generations to come. 13 I have placed my rainbow in the clouds. It is the sign of my covenant with you and with all the earth.Genesis 9:12-13
Since childhood, when I see a rainbow I’ve been intrigued. First of all – where’s it’s end and is there really a pot of gold there? (Ok, be honest, you’ve wondered the same thing.) However, having been raised in a Christian home and taken to church from birth – I learned very early on through Bible story books and flannel graph lessons (yes, I am that old) – that what I was seeing meant God had made a promise. Somewhere along the way, as I grew and matured in my understanding of that promise I moved from simple intrigue and being mesmerized by it’s beauty to giving thanks to God for His promise, and then to being humbled by His faithful grace and mercies to His people.
As I reread the passage today, I noticed three things –
He gave a sign for Noah and all generations to come. God could have simply said, “I promise.”, but He’s a relational God and He chose to give His people a visible sign. He called it a guarantee, a term meant to imply or encourage trust in the one making the promise.
Then there’s the placement of the sign. “I will place My rainbow in the clouds.” When I think about clouds, I think of “looking up”, an act I immediately associate with “looking to God”. I think of Scriptures like Psalm 121: 1-2, where the Psalmist said he looked up to the hills because he knew his help came from the Lord, and of Luke 21:25-28 where Jesus, Himself, said that the people were to look up because their redemption was coming.
25 “And there will be strange signs in the sun, moon, and stars. And here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides. 26 People will be terrified at what they see coming upon the earth, for the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with power and great glory. 28 So when all these things begin to happen, stand and look up, for your salvation is near!”Luke 21:25-28
However, the thing I found most interesting is that Scripture doesn’t say that the rainbow is to be a reminder for Noah and the generations to come, I guess that’s a given since a sign is meant to be noticed. It does, however, say that He will notice it and remember it as the guarantee He made to His children. God is God – He is the omniscient – all knowing – God. Forgetfulness is not one of His characteristics, but just as He can declare that He will not remember our sins against us* – He can “claim the right” to remember a promise made. His statement, as the symbol itself, is an indication of the how serious He is about the promise.
*31 “The day is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. 32 This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the Lord. But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the Lord. “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.”Jeremiah 31:31-34
God is serious about His promise so He gives His people a visible sign to confirm it, a sign that is a reminder still today. A symbol of trust that has not worn out with the passing of time. A symbol that awakens a fresh remembrance of a faithful and loving God. A symbol of hope, of grace, of mercy, and of love.