Genesis 9:8-11 Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying: 9 “And as for Me, behold, I establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you: the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, of all that go out of the ark, every beast of the earth. 11 Thus I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
A covenant is a formal, binding agreement. The covenant established here is the first instance in the Bible of a covenant between God and man. It contained a promise, which was made to both people and all other life on Earth, that God would never again flood the entire Earth. God had already made promises prior to this, such as when He promised Eve that she would be the mother of the Redeemer that would come. He had also already made promises to Noah that he and his family would be saved by obeying God’s instructions to build an ark. These earlier promises, however, had to be taken on faith that God would do what He said that He would do. Adam, Eve, and line of Seth through Noah lived in faith of God’s promise, in which faith and obedience were necessary to by counted righteous before God. If Noah hadn’t believed God’s promise, he would have died in the Flood. Because he believed, he was saved from judgment.
God’s first covenant with Noah and his sons (and through them, all of humanity) does not require faith, or anything else to be done on our part. It is binding upon God’s own word and His own name, and remains true whether we believe it or not. Animals, in fact, are incapable of believing (or disbelieving) God’s words and remain safe from a global flood under this covenant. So do atheists. There is not a greater power or authority by which God can bind His word than His own name: Hebrews 6:13 says For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself. Another example is Genesis 22:16: “By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing…” Every person born after the Flood has benefited from this covenant, whether they are godly, ungodly, atheist, or anything else: it was a free gift and a blessing to humanity to be at peace from fearing that if a Flood happened once, it could happen again. It can’t, and it won’t because God swore by His own name that it would not.
Genesis 9:12-17 And God said: “This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: 13 I set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. 14 It shall be, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow shall be seen in the cloud; 15 and I will remember My covenant which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 The rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 And God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth.”
The sign of the covenant was a rainbow. Some commentators teach that this could have been the first time that a rainbow had been seen on the Earth, and usually this reasoning goes along with the notion that a water canopy was suspended over the Earth which replaced rain showers and also restricted direct sunshine. The most common argument for this belief comes from reading Genesis 2:4-6 (NLT): This is the account of the creation of the heavens and the earth.When the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, 5 neither wild plants nor grains were growing on the earth. For the Lord God had not yet sent rain to water the earth, and there were no people to cultivate the soil. 6 Instead, springs [or a mist] came up from the ground and watered all the land. It is important to remember that Genesis 2 is a summary account of the first six days of creation, and so this statement must be taken in the context of that first week. The very next verse describes how God formed man. There really is no valid reason to project the statement “God had not yet sent rain” beyond that first week. On a planet with oceans, continents, and sunshine there is going to be a hydrological cycle in which water moves underground, on the surface, and through the atmosphere. Water evaporating into the atmosphere will collect, move, condense, and precipitate. It most definitely rained prior to the Flood and rainbows had been seen before. A rainbow occurs when light from the sun is broken into its spectrum as it passes through tiny water drops in the air acting as tiny prisms. You can see rainbows near waterfalls, and also near crashing waves creating fine, misting spray. They are seen all the time when part of the sky is clear during rain showers.
Noah and his family had seen rainbows before, and I have to believe they were smart enough to know what a prism was. So while the notion of a rainbow in the sky might not have been new to Noah, it would obviously make enough of an impact on him that God chose to use it as the reminder of His covenant. The reason why a rainbow would be significant is because it would indicate – through a physical manifestation that Noah and you and I easily could understand – that a storm was ending and the sun was returning to the sky. To Noah, the implication was clear: the rainbow represented God’s grace after judgment. The world was judged, the punishment came, and then the skies began to clear with the evidence of rainbows drawing attention to the Sun. Once the storm was over, peace would return. God referenced His covenant again in a reminder of His covenant with His people Israel:
With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment; but with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you,” says the Lord, your Redeemer. 9 “For this is like the waters of Noah to Me; for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah would no longer cover the earth, so have I sworn that I would not be angry with you, nor rebuke you. 10 For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but My kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall My covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has mercy on you.
The rainbow is a symbol of mercy and grace
In Revelation 4:3 we are given a glimpse of what God’s throne looks like: And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald. God’s sovereign throne, to the believer, is a seat of mercy and grace:
- Hebrews 4:16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
- Psalm 89:14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne;
Mercy and truth go before Your face.
The rainbow is a symbol of peace
Surrounding God’s throne is His emerald rainbow. Because of God’s mercy towards us, and the grace we can receive through Jesus, we are surrounded by His peace. Every one of Paul’s epistles begin with a gift from God: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians 1:2, Colossians 1:2, 1 Thessalonians 1:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:2, 1 Timothy 1:2, 2 Timothy 1:2, Titus 1:4, Philemon 1:3. Peter does this as well: 1 Peter 1:1 and 2 Peter 1:2. Paul and Peter weren’t just wearing out an old familiar salutation and wishing peace on us. These are powerful statements of truth that we can depend on, especially during “storms” in our lives: Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 If we need a reminder of this, we only have to go to God’s throne and we will be surrounded by His peace. It will be unexplainable and impossible to describe, and maybe even too much to believe, but according to God’s covenant with us, we can receive it anyway.
What is holding back God’s judgement on this world?
God’s sovereign throne, to all mankind, is a seat of justice. Justice demands that the wickedness and injustice of the world be judged and that the wicked be destroyed. What is it that holds back God’s hand from just wiping the slate clean and giving the world what it deserves? 2 Peter 3:9 reminds us that the Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. The rainbow reminds us that God’s covenant keeps Him from destroying the earth, and that mercy surrounds His throne while His offer of salvation is extended to everyone. God has bound Himself to His covenant of mercy, and will not break his word. It is often hard to watch what is happening in our fallen world, filled with acts of injustice and unrighteousness, and it seems God does not act. But if He were to remove the rainbow from around His throne, we would see a holy, righteous, and just God who had no choice but to judge and destroy sinners (and that would be all of us). His rainbow is our reminder that God is also a merciful God, and is surrounded by grace. God said He looks at the rainbow and remembers His mercy. He asks us to do the same.
“I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins. 26 Put Me in remembrance; let us contend together; state your case, that you may be acquitted.”
My case is that my sins have been washed in the blood of Jesus, who represents me before the Father: Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Romans 8:34