What comes to mind when you see a rainbow? For most people, rainbows elicit happy feelings: “warm fuzzies”, if you will, as they look upon these beautiful and colorful natural phenomena. But they should also serve as a solemn reminder about the reality of the judgments of God.
In Genesis 8:20, we saw that Noah built an altar to the Lord, an altar in recognition of God’s mercy and grace. The rainbow was God’s response to Noah’s altar. Some have misunderstood what the text is telling us in Genesis 9:13. We are not told that God created the rainbow at this time, but that God set the rainbow as a token of His covenant. Rainbows appear as tiny particles of rain in the air act as prisms, refracting rays of light from the sun. What an awesome sign of God’s mercy as the rainbow reveals that the clouds of rain are departing and the sunlight is shining back through. Rainbows are clear indicators that the rains are ceasing and clear skies are returning!
Although man, from the vantage point of Earth, is able to behold the rainbow and consider its significance, verses 14-16 tell us that God said that He would see the rainbow when He brought the clouds of rain and that it would serve as a reminder to Him of His covenant to never again destroy the whole Earth by water. Obviously, God does not need to be reminded of anything, but we should understand that the value of this sign is from God’s perspective looking upon it, not from ours. Unlike other signs given under other covenants (such as the sign of circumcision given under the Abrahamic Covenant), this sign requires no response on the part of man to validate it.
“And I will establish my covenant with you, neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth.” (Genesis 9:11)
“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” (2 Peter 3:10)
Never again will the Lord destroy all living things from the face of the Earth with the waters of a flood. At the end of this age, God will consume the Earth with fire. The Flood served as a reminder to man that sin carries with it judgment. The rainbow is a reminder to man that God’s judgment is currently being withheld. The day will come when the Lord Jesus Christ will return to judge a sinful and fallen world. As it was in the days of Noah, when people were going about their lives giving no thought to obeying God, so shall it be when the Lord returns (Matthew 24:37-39).
When we look upon a rainbow, let us not boast in our hearts that the sun will shine again that we might live in sin another day. May we look upon the sign of God’s covenant with Noah and rejoice in gratitude that God has spared us from a judgment which our own sin has earned. Let us not be as the scoffers who despise the grace and mercy of God, but let us humble ourselves before the Lord at the very sight of a rainbow and offer up praise to Him that He did not appoint us to perish in the days of the Flood and, by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, we shall not perish in the coming judgment, either.