“Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying, ‘Now behold, I Myself do establish My covenant with you, and with your descendants after you; and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you; of all that comes out of the ark, even every beast of the earth. I establish My covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth.’ God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations; I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth. It shall come about, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow will be seen in the cloud, and I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.’ 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.’ ” Genesis 9:8–17 NASV
In the book Education, 125, we are told that the central theme of the Bible is the redemption plan. It is the burden of every passage, every book of the Bible. Steps to Christ, 90, instructs us to study each passage of the Bible until we understand what it means and how it relates to the plan of salvation. It is with this council and goal in mind that we turn to our study of the story of Noah and the covenant and the rainbow.
Typically as we think about the story of Noah and the rainbow, the covenant spoken of was simply a promise that never again would the whole earth be destroyed by a flood. But if we study this passage as instructed—that is, in the light of the new covenant or plan of salvation—we find it has a broader significance than we realize, and such beauty unfolds to our minds as we have never imagined.
When you look at a drop of water, all that is seen is a clear liquid object, plain, small, colorless, but let a little sun shine through it and the brilliance of a rainbow splashes across the sky! When one takes a passage that appears to be just a story of God or one of His servants, and views that story or passage through the Sun of Righteousness, the center of the new covenant, truths open up and refract into brilliance like the rainbow in the sky.
As you read about Noah and his family during the time of the flood, try to imagine yourself there living through it with them. Hear the violence of the water bursting forth, the noise as trees, buildings, massive rocks hurl about in the shrieking wind. Genesis 7:11, 12 relates, “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.” This was no gentle rain, or even a torrential downpour. It was a violent outpouring of water, from earth as well as from sky. Inspiration paints the picture this way: “Water appeared to come from the clouds in mighty cataracts. Rivers broke away from their boundaries, and overflowed the valleys. Jets of water burst from the earth with indescribable force, throwing massive rocks hundreds of feet into the air, and these, in falling, buried themselves deep in the ground. …
“As the violence of the storm increased, trees, buildings, rocks, and earth were hurled in every direction. … Satan himself, who was compelled to remain in the midst of the warring elements, feared for his own existence.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 99.
“It often seemed to the family within the ark that they must perish, as for five long months their boat was tossed about, apparently at the mercy of wind and wave. It was a trying ordeal.” Ibid. 105. People who have been through a severe storm or earthquake or some severe event such as this report that just ten or fifteen minutes in that situation seems like an eternity, but imagine five months!
Continuing the story in Genesis 7, we find they were in the ark for one year and ten days. What had taken place during that time? Genesis 7:21–23 explains, “Every living thing that moved on land perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.”
Imagine the extreme trauma they experienced. The flood wiped out every single human being; relatives, dear friends, people with whom they had pled to enter the ark and be saved. As the angel swung open that massive door and they stepped across the threshold, not an animal greeted them. Not an insect buzzed. Not a bird sang as they left the ark, viewing what must have looked to them like an alien planet. Visualize if you can the extreme change—from a populated, civilized culture, the earth itself rich in verdure and beauty, to an utterly void, desolate, empty, chaotic, devastated landscape.
That lonely family must have suffered anxiety. Not only did they have the trauma of the total destruction of society and the natural world, but as time went on those faithful ones watched the unbelievable and rapid spread of the very thing that had precipitated the flood in the first place—wickedness and evil. Noah and his family clearly understood why God had sent the flood. They knew it was a direct consequence of the wickedness and evil of the world—the rejection of God’s great plan of salvation, His covenant to man to redeem him.
God understood the situation in which Noah and his family found themselves. He understood their trying ordeal—the fear for their lives through those long five months of storm that made even Satan fear. He knew that storm clouds, rolling thunder, and the flash of lightning would cause fear in their hearts that it might happen again as soon as they saw rise again the wickedness that caused the destruction in the first place. So God, in His mercy, His love, His tender care for His faithful servant, did not leave their fears unaddressed. In fact, He gave them a radiant, recurring token as a sign and a pledge to them to address their concerns:
- the promise of an escape from the consequences of wickedness and evil (in other words, His “everlasting covenant”)
- the fear of a universal flood.
In Genesis 9:8–17, seven times—that is an interesting number, is it not—God reminded them of His everlasting covenant. Seven times He reassured them that there was an escape for all who will accept it from the curse and consequences that sin has brought. He yearned for their allegiance, their acceptance of His merciful plan. Note these beautiful words of inspiration about the rainbow: “The rainbow of God’s promise … [is] a pledge of God’s mercy to every repentant, believing soul. It is an everlasting testimony that ‘God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life’ (John 3:16). It declares to the whole world that God will never forget His people in their struggles with evil.” The Home Missionary, November 1, 1893. Not only that, but in the midst of reminding them of His covenant, God reassures them that never again will a flood cover the entire face of the earth.
“The Lord has said, ‘I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth. … And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you, and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh’ (Genesis 9:13–15). In the rainbow above the throne is an everlasting testimony that ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life’ (John 3:16). Whenever the law is presented before the people, let the teacher of the truth point to the throne arched with the rainbow of promise, the righteousness of Christ.” The Review and Herald, December 13, 1892.There is another beautiful reality to the rainbow that had never occurred to me before: it shows the intimate connection between heaven and earth.
“The One who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne.” Revelation 4:3. “I saw another strong angel coming down out of heaven, clothed with a cloud; and the rainbow was upon His head, and His face was like the sun, and His feet like pillars of fire.” [Emphasis added.] Revelation 10:1 NAS.
“A rainbow is represented in Heaven round about the throne, also above the head of Christ, as a symbol of God’s mercy encompassing the earth. When man by his great wickedness provokes the wrath of God, Christ, man’s intercessor, pleads for him, and points to the rainbow in the cloud, as evidence of God’s great mercy and compassion for erring man; also the rainbow above the throne and upon his head emblematical of the glory and mercy from God resting there for the benefit of repentant man.” Spiritual Gifts, vol. 3, 75.
It is not alone on this earth where the rainbow shines forth in color and brilliance. A rainbow is in heaven; one around the throne, and another upon the head of Jesus. These are symbols of God’s mercy that encompasses the earth for the benefit of man. And now, even more, we find that mortal men are not the only ones gazing at this beautiful sight. Think of, contemplate, understand the following:
“In heaven the semblance of a rainbow encircles the throne and overarches the head of Christ. The prophet says, ‘As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about [the throne]. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Jehovah’ (Ezekiel 1:28). The revelator declares, ‘Behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne. … There was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald’ (Revelation 4:2, 3). When man by his great wickedness invites the divine judgments, the Saviour, interceding with the Father in his behalf, points to the bow in the clouds, to the rainbow around the throne and above His own head, as a token of the mercy of God toward the repentant sinner.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 107.
So we see Jesus looking upon the bow, pointing to it interceding with the Father on behalf of the repentant sinner. In fact, we read further that it was through Jesus Himself that the bow was bent in the sky.
“The world’s Redeemer looks upon it; for it was through His instrumentality that this bow was made to appear in the heavens, as a token or covenant of promise to man. God Himself looks upon the bow in the clouds, and remembers His everlasting covenant between Himself and man. … The bow represents Christ’s love which encircles the earth, and reaches unto the highest heavens, connecting men with God, and linking earth with heaven.
“As we gaze upon the beautiful sight, we may be joyful in God, assured that He Himself is looking upon this token of His covenant, and that as He looks upon it He remembers the children of earth, to whom it was given. Their afflictions, perils, and trials are not hidden from Him. We may rejoice in hope, for the bow of God’s covenant is over us. He never will forget the children of His care. How difficult for the mind of finite man to take in the peculiar love and tenderness of God, and His matchless condescension when He said, ‘I will look upon the bow in the cloud, and remember thee’ (Genesis 9:16).” Our High Calling, 314.
Does this not give a very intimate connection between heaven and earth? Not only do we see a bow in the cloud, but we are told that there is a rainbow around the throne in heaven and one around Jesus’ own head. It surely speaks of the tenderness and love with which the Father and Jesus view their children on this earth, that the former would share with the latter the beauty of the very things that are in heaven, to remind them of the new covenant made on their behalf.
In speaking of the rainbow and Noah, Inspiration says, “With the assurance given to Noah concerning the Flood, God Himself has linked one of the most precious promises of His grace: ‘As I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee. For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but My kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of My peace be removed, saith Jehovah that hath mercy on thee’ (Isaiah 54:9, 10).” [Emphasis added.] Patriarchs and Prophets, 107.
Oh, how much God loves us, to give us such beautiful reminders of His mercy and His love, that at the same time serve as solemn reminders of the consequences of rejecting that love—because along with the rainbow comes the cloud, the storm in which we see illustrations of the penalty awaiting the rejecters of His covenant.
“The rainbow spanning the heavens with its arch of light is a token of ‘the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature’ (Genesis 9:16). And the rainbow encircling the throne on high is also a token to God’s children of His covenant of peace.
“As the bow in the cloud results from the union of sunshine and shower, so the bow above God’s throne represents the union of His mercy and His justice. To the sinful but repentant soul God says, Live thou; ‘I have found a ransom’ (Job 33:24).” Education, 115.
“In the gospel of Christ Jesus, proclaimed by the angels as glad tidings of great joy, the terms of salvation were fully revealed. The law stands in all its original force and purity; not one jot or tittle was to be set aside or altered; for the law is the transcript of the character of God. But the Lord made a covenant of grace whereby his mercy is extended to fallen man, and provision is made so ample and powerful that souls ruined by the fall may be uplifted to glory, honor, and immortality. ‘For God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life’ (John 3:16). Encircling the throne of God is the rainbow of the covenant, a symbol of the pledged word of God that He will receive every sinner who gives up all hope of eternal life on the ground of his own righteousness, and accepts the righteousness of the world’s Redeemer, believing that Christ is his personal Saviour, able to save him from his sin, and to keep him from falling. Unless Christ is the ground of our hope, we shall not inherit eternal life.” The Signs of the Times, September 5, 1892.
“A covenant has been entered into by the Father and by the Son to save the world through Christ. ‘For God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life’ (John 3:16). No power save that of Omnipotence could make such a covenant. The rainbow above the throne is a token that God through Christ binds Himself to save all who believe in Him. The covenant is as sure as the throne, and His throne is established in righteousness. Then why are we so unbelieving, so distrustful? Why doubt so frequently, and trust God so fitfully? Whenever we come to the throne of God to ask His mercy, we may look up, and behold the rainbow of promise, and find in it assurance that our prayers shall be answered.” Ibid., October 10, 1892.
What marvelous promises we have. Why indeed “doubt so frequently, and trust God so fitfully” when we are told that “whenever we come to the throne of God to ask His mercy, we may look up, and behold the rainbow of promise, and find in it assurance that our prayers shall be answered.”
Friends, over and over again we read of the rainbow, a sign of God’s great plan of redemption, the new covenant, a sign of His mercy and His justice. This new covenant is such an integral part of the Bible, in fact, the very foundation. Inspiration tells us that this covenant, the redemption plan, is the central theme, the burden of every book and every passage of the Bible. It also tells us that if we understand that the new covenant is the central theme we have (not a key, but) “the key that will unlock to him the whole treasure house of God’s word.” Education, 126. And the rainbow is a sign of this covenant, sent by God to give us hope, courage, strength, a reminder of His love.
The compassion God exhibited to Noah in giving the rainbow in the cloud as a promise, a covenant, when Noah was in such need of reassurance, of comfort, of confidence in His God, is really the new covenant in shadow or example. My friends, are we storm tossed and traumatized by sin and its consequences, whether it be our own sin, or the results of 6,000 years of sin? Absolutely! Does our God understand our situation? Absolutely! “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15 NASV.
Are the promises given to Noah also given to us? Is that rainbow of promise arched across the sky meant for you, for me? “The rainbow above the throne is a token that God through Christ binds Himself to save all [not just Noah and his family, not just your neighbor, or your friend at church] who believe in Him. The covenant is as sure as the throne, and His throne is established in righteousness. Then why are we so unbelieving, so distrustful? Why doubt so frequently and trust God so fitfully? Whenever we come to the throne of God to ask His mercy, we may look up, and behold the rainbow of promise, and find in it assurance that our prayers shall be answered.” The Signs of the Times, October 10, 1892.
But my friends, just as the antediluvians had no hope whatsoever in themselves, they had to enter the ark (God’s way for their salvation) or be lost, so we must give up all thought that anything we might do may save us. We must trust only to the mighty power of our Saviour and Redeemer, for He tells us, “ ‘Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool’ (Isaiah 1:18). The gift of life has been freely, graciously, joyously offered to fallen man. Encircling the throne of God is the rainbow of promise, that God will receive every sinner who gives up all hope of eternal life on the ground of his own righteousness, and accepts the righteousness of the world’s Redeemer, believing in Christ as his personal Saviour. It is when the sinner realises [sic] that he is without hope, lost, condemned to eternal death, incapable of doing anything to redeem himself, but accepting of Christ as his complete Saviour, that the word of God is fulfilled, when He says, ‘I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more’ (Hebrews 8:12).” Messenger, May 10, 1893. So look on the rainbow. Remember God’s everlasting covenant; accept of His mercy and love; enter the ark of His salvation, the new covenant … and live.
Oh, my friends, when you look at the beautiful bow in the cloud, will it ever seem the same to you again? I certainly hope not. There are so many illustrations and applications in this story that we have just scratched the surface. Take the time to study them on your own until you know what illustrations mean, more and more fully, and what they have to do with the great new covenant God and Jesus made and carried out on our behalf. When we gaze in awe upon the beauty of the rainbow arched across the heavens, remember, let us tell our children, our friends, and let us recount the meaning of that bow—a sign of God’s everlasting covenant to recreate in us His image if we but yield to His Lordship in our lives. Let us remember that our Redeemer Himself looks at and points to the very rainbow we are gazing on in wonder and admiration. And let us commit ourselves totally to His loving, tender care, soul, body and mind. Let us consecrate ourselves completely to Him and He will keep us through the storms of life as surely as He kept the faithful Noah and his family through the flood.
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New International Version.)
Brenda Douay is a staff member at Steps to Life. She may be contacted by email at: email@example.com.