by Richard Mansel, assistant editor
William Wordsworth wrote, “My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky.” 1/ We love rainbows and are always cheered when we see them. They make our days brighter.
While flying from New Plymouth, New Zealand to the capital city of Wellington, we flew through a rainbow. The beauty was something to cherish for a lifetime.
The origin of the rainbow is a fascinating study. It is rich with meaning and we often fail to grasp the true import of the rainbow. In short, it stands as a memorial to the faithfulness and trustworthiness of God, a warning to those who would live contrary to God’s will and a reminder to God not to destroy the earth again with a flood.
When God looked down and saw the evil in the world, he was sorry for creating the human race. “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart” (Genesis 6:5-6, NKJV).
“Every intent” of the thoughts of man consisted of sin. In fact, it refers to a potter making pottery. Everything that goes into the making of pottery focuses on the final product. /2 Hence, man was singularly focused on the furtherance of evil and violence (Genesis 6:13). It was the sum total of his existence.
God gave a commission to Noah to construct an ark by certain specifications. He gave instructions to gather the animals into the ship (Genesis 6:9-22). A flood filled the whole earth to destroy every living thing that was not safely ensconced in the ark (Genesis 7). God remembered Noah and his family, the waters receded from the earth and they exited the ark (Genesis 8:1-19). Noah builds an altar and offers sacrifices to God (Genesis 8:20-22). Finally, God makes a covenant with man.
“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.’ 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” (Genesis 9:11-12).
God had a larger plan in mind with the rainbow. The rainbow was the affirmation of God’s promise. Water would never again be the avenue of world destruction. Instead, God had a deeper plan for saving the righteous. Clearly, the purpose for the flood and the ark was to divide the lost from the saved. Noah and his family were “righteous before [God] in this generation” (Genesis 7:1).
In time, Christ would come to earth to divide the righteous from the unrighteous by dying for the sins of the world (Romans 5:6-11). When the end comes, the righteous remnant will be saved, just as they were with the flood (2 Peter 3:10-13).
The rainbow is a reminder that God is watching and that there will always be consequences for sin by God’s standards. Undoubtedly, many who died in the flood felt they were righteous but we know they were not by God’s standards. Even with the arrival of Scripture, nothing has changed (Matthew 7:21-23), man is still using the wrong criterion to determine their own righteousness.
The rainbow is a constant reminder of the wisdom and warnings of God. Let us never forget.
2/ Francis Brown, S. R. Driver and Charles A. Briggs, The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1979), 429.