3 Ways God's Rainbow Represents His Loving Grace

We all know that the rainbow signifies that God will never again destroy the earth in a flood. The significance of this sign, however, far exceeds this solitary point. The bow in the sky is testimony of God’s loving grace to Noah and to us all. It is a sign filled with meaning and grace. Below are three important things to remember about God’s rainbow.

Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
Updated Mar 28, 2024
3 Ways God's Rainbow Represents His Loving Grace

“Whenever the bow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” - Genesis 3:16

When I was a young boy, I was almost hit by a car. I was walking my bike across a busy intersection; one I crossed each day on my home from school. Suddenly, I heard a loud screech, and the bike went careening out of my hands. I missed being hit by the narrowest of margins. I stood motionless in the middle of the busy street until an adult scooped me up and walked me to the side. Physically, I was fine. The car hadn’t hit me and there wasn’t a scratch on me. But for close to two months afterward, whenever I heard the squealing of tires, I would freeze. I would have a visceral reaction to sounds that reminded me of that event.

Have you ever wondered how Noah felt the first time he witnessed a storm after he exited the ark? After all, he had been through something traumatic. The world as he knew it flooded in divine judgment. Only he and his family remained. If that were not all, He and his family then drifted about for 40 days and 40 nights, not knowing if they would ever find dry land again. So, how might Noah have felt the first time there was thunder and lightning, or the first time dark clouds loomed above? How might Noah have responded the first time it rained for longer than he would have liked?  Did he start fearing that the flood might be repeated? Did he fear that, maybe, he had done something wrong and unwittingly unleashed God’s wrath upon the earth once again? I imagine that the first time it rained, Noah might have stood still, viscerally reacting to the drops he was feeling. I know I would have.

We all know that the rainbow signifies that God will never again destroy the earth in a flood. The significance of this sign, however, far exceeds this solitary point. The bow in the sky is testimony of God’s loving grace to Noah and to us all. It is a sign filled with meaning and grace. Below are three important things to remember about God’s rainbow.

Displaying an Everlasting Covenant 

The rainbow is more than a pretty image that we paint on nursery walls and put on the cover of children’s Bibles. The rainbow is a dramatic sign that God’s promises are in effect. God promises to remember the everlasting covenant made with the earth.

But does this mean that God is in danger of forgetting the covenant? After all, we only use tools for remembrance if we are in danger of forgetting something. Whether we use alarms, post-it notes, or other means, we employ tools for remembrance because we are prone to forget. Even important things in our lives might be forgotten. So, when God says, “I will set my bow in the clouds, so that whenever I see it, I will remember the everlasting covenant”, does this mean that God is in danger of forgetting? If we have too many days without a rainbow, might the covenant escape God’s mind?

Of course not!   God is not an absent-minded being who needs memory aids. The rainbow isn’t a tool designed to jog God’s memory. When God says that he will “remember” the covenant, God is declaring the act of “re-membering” the covenant. God acts upon the covenant presently. Through the rainbow, God manifests the dynamics of the eternal covenant in the present sphere of life. 

Such re-membering is important in our walk with God, for while God is not in danger of forgetting the covenant, we might be. At times, the struggles of life can make it hard to rely on God’s goodness. It becomes easy to focus on the looming clouds of dark that might come a bit too close. Depending on our experiences, what we have gone through, or what we carry with us, we might find it easy to believe that God has forgotten God’s promises to us. The rainbow, therefore, is an important reminder of the divine promises that surround our lives. The rainbow points beyond the clouds, beyond the darkness, to the everlasting reality of God’s grace.

The rainbow in the sky is not for God’s benefit, but for Noah’s, and ours. In response to Noah’s fear, worry, or possible doubt over God’s goodness, God expresses the covenant visibly. With majestic beauty, we become reminded that God is present for us in love and in grace. 

A Sign of Grace

Many translations of the Genesis account use the language of “rainbow” to describe God’s visible sign of grace and love. God sets the rainbow in the clouds as an enduring testimony of the covenant with the earth. This is not wrong in any way. It is the rainbow that God sets in the sky. Yet, while a rainbow is what is being spoken of, the word used is qeset. Importantly, this word, strictly translated, is rendered “bow”, and it is the same word used to describe a weapon.

Today, we use the word “bow” in many ways. A bow can describe a decorative ribbon or a weapon with arrows. Such dual usage was less prominent in the ancient world. Many traditions equated the tragedies of life with God bestowing vengeance and wrath. The divine being would use a bow to shoot arrows of judgment upon the earth. Thus, when God declares “I have hung my bow in the clouds” (Genesis 9:13), this is akin to God saying that God puts away all future desire for vengeance or condemnation. What is more, by hanging the bow (and pointing it towards the heavens), God assumes all wrath and vengeance upon God’s self.

When we see the rainbow in this context, we see an interesting similarity between the bow and the cross. Similarly, the cross was a symbol of execution, shame, and divine abandonment. Yet this image is taken up by Jesus himself. Jesus assumes all that the cross represents, and in doing, so transforms it into a symbol of enduring love and grace. 

God sends the rainbow as a sign of God’s gracious love. The rainbow is an act of grace. It is a constant reminder that we don’t need to fear the Lord above. God has established himself in love, forgiveness, redemption, and grace.

A Call to Faith

The world uses the symbol of the rainbow to mean many things. Who amongst us didn’t long to find the pot of gold at the end of the arc? Given such mixed messages, it is important to recognize God’s call to faith that stands at the heart of this sign. The rainbow is not a message of beauty after the storms of life or the enduring call of hope. The rainbow also serves as a call to faith. God sends the rainbow to remind Noah to live in light of the covenant. 

In speaking to the everlasting covenant, the rainbow was a testimony of faith. In seeing the bow in the sky, Noah was invited to assess how he lived in a relationship with the God who saved him. 

This call to faith is still in effect for the people of God. The rainbow is not simply to remind us of an event in the past. Looking upon the rainbow and rehearsing the story of the flood is not the point. The rainbow is a present reminder that we are to be witnesses to God’s gracious covenant. Our lives are to serve as testimonies to God’s presence and the constancy of grace.

Photo Credit: ©Pixabay/Kanenori

SWN authorThe Reverend Dr. Kyle Norman is the Rector of St. Paul’s Cathedral, located in Kamloops BC, Canada.  He holds a doctorate in Spiritual formation and is a sought-after writer, speaker, and retreat leader. His writing can be found at Christianity.com, crosswalk.comibelieve.com, Renovare Canada, and many others.  He also maintains his own blog revkylenorman.ca.  He has 20 years of pastoral experience, and his ministry focuses on helping people overcome times of spiritual discouragement.

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