God’s promise of the rainbow is a significant event in the Bible that carries deep meaning and theological implications. After the great flood in Genesis, God places a rainbow in the sky as a sign of his covenant with Noah that he will never again destroy the earth with a flood. The rainbow serves as a reminder of God’s mercy and forgiveness amidst judgement. In this article, we will explore the background behind the flood, the establishment of the covenant and rainbow, and the significance of the rainbow for believers today. Understanding the meaning behind God’s promise of the rainbow provides insight into God’s character and his relationship with humanity.
The Great Flood
The rainbow comes after the story of Noah and the great flood in Genesis 6-9. Prior to the flood, humanity had become corrupt and violent, filling the earth with wickedness (Genesis 6:5,11-12). This grieved God’s heart, so he decides to bring judgement upon the earth through a devastating flood that would destroy every living thing. However, “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:8). God chooses Noah, a righteous man, to build an ark to preserve animals and Noah’s family through the coming judgement.
For 40 days and 40 nights, the floodwaters cover the entire earth, destroying everything on dry land (Genesis 7:17-24). The flood represents God’s righteous anger and judgement against the pervasive evil and corruption of mankind. However, after this destruction, God remembers Noah and causes the floodwaters to recede (Genesis 8:1). Noah, his family, and the animals exit the ark as the only survivors. Noah then builds an altar and offers sacrifices to the Lord in worship (Genesis 8:20-21). As we will explore, God formalizes his covenant with Noah following this expression of grateful worship.
The Covenant and the Promise
After the great flood, God establishes an everlasting covenant with Noah and all living creatures (Genesis 9:8-17). A covenant in the Bible refers to a formal, binding agreement between God and humans involving promises on God’s part to bless. The Noahic Covenant contains God’s promise to never again destroy the earth and all flesh with a flood.
As a sign of this covenant, God places a rainbow in the sky, saying “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth” (Genesis 9:13). The rainbow serves as a physical reminder and symbol of God’s commitment. Whenever the rainbow appears, it reflects God’s faithfulness and the promise he made to Noah.
The rainbow covenant displays the mercy and grace of God. While sinful humanity deserved judgement, God promised to sustain the fixed orderly cycles of nature for the benefit of humanity going forward. As a unilateral covenant made by God alone, the faithfulness behind the promise depends fully on God’s own character. For this reason, believers can have complete confidence that God will never flood the entire earth again, just as he said.
The rainbow stands as a profound theological symbol carrying deeper meaning for believers.
First, it testifies to God’s sovereignty and power. Only the Almighty God has authority over the forces of nature. By restraining the waters and promising regular seasons, God demonstrates his supreme rule over creation.
Second, the rainbow symbolizes God’s mercy and lovingkindness. After just judgement against evil, God extended undeserved favor by promising to sustain creation. The rainbow reflects God’s heart of grace toward sinful humanity.
Third, the rainbow points to God’s faithfulness and covenant love. Keeping the rainbow present, God showcases his commitment to his promises. This reveals God’s unwavering reliability.
Fourth, the rainbow signifies God’s redemption. As judgment gave way to mercy through the Noahic covenant, the rainbow foreshadows God’s work of salvation from the judgment of sin through Jesus Christ. The flood pictures baptism and washing away sin (1 Peter 3:21), while the rainbow demonstrates the hope of new life and restoration after judgment.
Finally, the rainbow points toward the consummation of God’s kingdom. The rainbow appears against the backdrop of the clouds, reminding that the heavens – not the floodwaters – await the faithful. The rainbow points to the hope of resurrection and the new creation (Revelation 4:3).
Significance for Today
The rainbow holds ongoing relevance for believers today as a symbol of God’s character and his relationship with humanity.
When we see a rainbow, we can praise God for his mercy and faithfulness. It reminds us that God is a promise keeper. No matter how difficult circumstances may get, God preserves his people through storms just as he preserved Noah.
The rainbow also reminds us that God is loving and forgiving. Believers can have confidence to approach God boldly for mercy, knowing he is compassionate just as he showed mercy to Noah.
Additionally, the rainbow encourages reverent fear of God’s holiness. God hates sin and unrighteousness, just as in the flood. But God graciously protects sinners who walk faithfully with him.
Most centrally, the rainbow testifies to redemption through Jesus Christ. As God provided salvation through the ark during the flood, Jesus saves people from the coming final divine judgment against sin. The rainbow foreshadows the grace believers receive through the cross.
God’s promise of the rainbow offers assurance, hope and confidence for believers in all ages. His covenant love endures forever. This steadfast promise brings great comfort amid life’s storms. The rainbow declares that God remains sovereign, merciful and faithful through all circumstances of life.
The rainbow stands as a defining symbol of God’s faithfulness and grace throughout Scripture. When God miraculously placed a rainbow in the clouds after the great flood, this signified his divine pledge to sustain creation and restrain judgment throughout the ages. For Noah, the rainbow brought reassurance of God’s covenant blessings after experiencing his righteous anger against human wickedness in the flood. For believers today, the rainbow continues to testify to God’s enduring mercy, redemption, and faithfulness. The rainbow points to the hope of salvation and new creation that comes through Jesus Christ. Above all, the beauty of the rainbow reminds all generations that the promises of God are “yes” and “amen” in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20).