Rainbow Theology

Rainbows seem to be popping up everywhere in our area. Some have been resulted from storms that have produced record June rainfall and flooding in Midwestern communities. Others have been displayed in celebrations over the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage. The prevalence of the rainbow makes us ask afresh, “what does the rainbow mean?” God established the rainbow as the sign of his covenant with Noah after the global flood in Genesis 9. God’s promise gives us great hope in the midst of trouble. His promise to Noah and to us is posted below followed the words of four theologians who apply these truths to our hearts:

Genesis 9:11-17 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”  12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations:  13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.  14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds,  15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.  16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”  17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” (ESV)

John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis:

Let this therefore be the meaning of the words, “As often as the rain shall alarm you, look upon the bow. For although it may seem to cause the rain to overflow the earth, it shall nevertheless be to you a pledge of returning dryness, and thus it will then become you to stand with greater confidence, than under a clear and serene sky.” Hence it is not for us to contend with philosophers respecting the rainbow; for although its colors are the effect of natural causes, yet they act profanely who attempt to deprive God of the right and authority which he has over his creatures.

Matthew Henry, Commentary on Genesis:

The rainbow appears when the clouds are most disposed to wet, and returns after the rain; when we have most reason to fear the rain prevailing, then God shows this seal of the promise that it shall not prevail. Thus God obviates our fears with such encouragements as are both suitable and seasonable. The thicker the cloud the brighter the bow in the cloud. Thus, as threatening afflictions abound, encouraging consolations much more abound (2 Corinthians 1:5). The rainbow appears when one part of the sky is clear, which intimates mercy remembered in the midst of wrath; and the clouds are hemmed as it were with the rainbow, that they may not overspread the heavens, for the bow is coloured rain or the edges of a cloud gilded. The rainbow is the reflection of the beams of the sun, which intimates that all the glory and significancy of the seals of the covenant are derived from Christ the Sun of righteousness, who is also described with a rainbow about his throne (Revelation 4:3), and a rainbow upon his head (Revelation 10:1), which intimates, not only his majesty, but his mediatorship…As God looks upon the bow, that he may remember the covenant, so should we, that we also may be ever mindful of the covenant, with faith and thankfulness.

Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology:

The sign [of the covenant – the rainbow] here is connected in its character with the ominous force of nature from which it pledges protection. It is produced against the background of the very clouds and had brought destruction to the earth. But it is produced upon these by the rays of the sun which in the symbolism of Scripture represent the divine grace.

O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants:

The seal of the covenant with Noah emphasizes the gracious character of this covenant. In the context of threatening judgment symbolized by the bloated rain-clouds, God designates the overarching beauty of the rainbow to depict his grace-in-judgment. Having once destroyed the world, thereby depicting the immutability of his righteous decree, the Lord God now couples the clouds with his rainbow to manifest is free and unmerited purpose of grace. It is no accident that the throne of the righteous Judge of heaven and earth is depicted as having “a rainbow round about the throne, like an emerald to look upon” (Revelation 4:3). What a joy it should be to the true sharer of God’s covenantal grace in Christ that the sign and seal of God’s good purposes arches the place of his final disposition.