Ever wondered why a rainbow? What is its significance? Today on the blog we explore the Noahic covenant, unpacking the promises God made in it and the sign He gave to confirm it as we find encouragement in the truth that every word God speaks can be trusted because He can be trusted.
My husband used to joke that I had the memory of an elephant. My ability to recall the smallest of details from years back drove him mad (and meant he seldom won an argument). However, these days my memory feels a little frayed around the edges, and my son has taken to saying to me, "Remember?!" whenever he's concerned I'm going to forget a promise I've made to him.
God, on the other hand, has no such problem. One of the very first things He reveals about Himself in Scripture is that He is not a God who forgets, but a God who keeps His promises—a God who remembers.
In Genesis 9, God formally establishes the covenant He had promised Noah prior to the Flood (Genesis 6:18). Known as the Noahic Covenant, it is the first explicit covenant made by God with man, and like the Abrahamic Covenant, it is unconditional. In other words, its fulfilment is not dependent upon our performance but upon God’s grace and mercy; He assumes full responsibility for its execution.
Within this covenant, we see echoes of the Creation story and the redemptive heart of God as He works to ensure that His original purposes for humanity are realised. Like He did for Adam, God blesses Noah and his sons, commanding them to be fruitful and replenish the earth, assuring them that they need not fear extinction again. As God’s image-bearers, human life is sacred and must be protected. And so not only does God put a dread of mankind into the animal kingdom, vowing to hold to account every animal and man responsible for the shedding of human blood (vv.2-5), He also makes a commitment that “never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth” (v.11).
As a sign of this promise, God says He will “set His rainbow (qesheth) in the clouds” (v.13). A qesheth is a warrior's bow. God has hung His weapon in the sky as a symbol of His grace toward mankind; though the world might deserve destruction, He is instead allowing time for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). But the rainbow is also a symbol of His glory. Outside of Genesis, it is associated with the Shekinah Glory of God—His manifest presence (Ezekiel 1:28; Revelation 4:3), and as a refraction of pure white light, it speaks to His holiness and absolute perfection.
After establishing this covenant, twice within three verses, God says, "I will remember my covenant" (vv.14 & 16)—and we know that when God repeats Himself, it's time to pay attention! He's telling us, “Not only am I a promise-making God, but I am also a promise-keeping one.” It's important to understand that when God says He will remember, He's not saying that He needs to be reminded lest He forget—the way we do. The language He uses is covenantal and conveys the idea of movement toward an object. It is an active word. God is making a statement about His commitment to be faithful to what He has promised. He cannot and will not forget what He has said. He can be trusted to see it through to completion and all of Scripture testifies to this truth.
God is not flawed like we are. As He says through the prophet Balaam, “God is not a man that he should lie, or a son of man that he should change his mind” (Numbers 23:19 ESV). Every word that God has spoken can be trusted because He can be trusted. The rainbow is our reminder of this. A perpetual symbol of the riches of His grace and the infallibility of His Word, it testifies of God’s faithfulness to uphold His covenant. May we see it and remember—just as He does.
Where do you need to remember that God can be trusted? Take a moment to be still and invite the Holy Spirit to give you a verse—a promise—to hold on to. Place it somewhere you can regularly be reminded of it, and each time you read it, thank God that He is a promise-keeping God.