As the old world was ruined, to be a monument of justice, so this world remains to this day a monument of mercy. But sin, that drowned the old world, will burn this. – Source
No message in the heavenly bodies
According to the Bible, there is really no message in the sun. There is no message in the moon. There is no message in the stars, note that. They are signs, according to Genesis 1:14, but they are signs, Genesis 1:14 says, of seasons and of days. In other words, they are calendar signs. The sun, the moon, the sky indicates to us night and day and seasons. The moon moves distance from the sun changes, the tilt of the earth changes producing the seasons. That’s…that’s as much signs as are found in the bodies of heaven, the stars, the sun, and the moon. They provide simply consistent reference points for days, weeks and months and seasons.
There’s only one thing you will see in the sky that’s a sign, only one thing that God has placed there to give a spiritual message, and that is the rainbow
Repetition in covenants
Upon reading the passage it seems repetitious. It seems wordy. But it is a covenant and as such it needs to be reiterated clearly. It needs to be recapitulated. It needs to be summarized, almost like a legal document, it demands thoroughness. It is harmonious. It is well arranged. And don’t underestimate the value of the repetition.
The word “covenant,” berith is used seven times here…seven times. This is truly a covenant. So the repetition is part of the comprehensive character of this covenant and its attendant sign.
So this is not only a covenant with all of humanity, this is just plain good news for the family, the only family that existed, the family of Noah. Let me break the text into three segments: the covenant, the sign and the summary. And those are the three speeches that God gives to Noah. Let’s look at the covenant, first of all.
The idea of a covenant is very unfamiliar today
Now let me talk about this for a minute. The idea of a covenant is very unfamiliar today, very unfamiliar today. We have only vestiges of covenant ideas. About the only place there is a vestige of the covenant idea is in marriage. And that’s because in the marriage ceremony, we tend to use old marriage language. We talk about a covenant between a husband and a wife. Most people in our society are clueless about what that means. And as people throw away their old marriage books and the language that has been used for centuries of the marriage covenant, it will be less and less used and the idea of covenant will totally disappear. A covenant was something binding. A marriage covenant was binding for life. And when you made a covenant, everything about your character hinged on whether you kept the covenant. In fact, in ancient times and even in modern times, all of society was built on people keep their word, people keeping their promise, people keeping their covenant.
Covenants were binding agreements between people, between cities, between families, between nations. There were treaty covenants. There were business covenants. There were friendship covenants. There were marriage covenants.
God made 6 covenants – God is faithful
And so, when you read in the seventh chapter of Deuteronomy, or the second chapter of Judges, or the eighth chapter of 1 Kings, or the sixth chapter of 2 Chronicles, or Nehemiah 1, or Nehemiah 9, or Psalm 89, or Psalm 111, or Daniel 9, that God is faithful, it is because He keeps His promises.
So the first Old Testament covenant from God was a binding, unilateral, unconditional, inviolable promise which God made and will keep. Actually, the Old Testament records God made six such covenants.
The Noahic Covenant, the covenant He made here with Noah. The covenant He made with Abraham, the Priestly Covenant, Numbers 25, the Davidic Covenant, 2 Samuel, the Mosaic Covenant, and the New Covenant, six covenants, six promises.
And by the way, of the six only one has been nullified, that’s the Mosaic, or Sinaitic.
The covenant God made with Noah, still in effect. The covenant He made with Abraham, still in effect, with David, still in effect, with the priests, still in effect, with the New Covenant that the one He made for the forgiveness of sins, Jeremiah 31, still in effect.
The reason the Mosaic was nullified was because the Mosaic Covenant was a conditional covenant, and no man can meet the condition of fulfilling the Law. To all the covenants that are permanent covenants, God is faithful. Numbers 23:19, “God is not a man that He should lie.” First Samuel 15:29, “The strength of Israel,” that’s a title for God, “will not lie.” Psalm 146:6, “He keeps truth forever.” And repeatedly throughout the Scripture, “The Lord is faithful…The Lord is faithful.” Isaiah 49:7, Lamentations 3:23, “Great is Thy faithfulness.” Psalm 89, several times, Psalm 119 verses 89 and 90, and so it goes. So the promise is inviolable because it comes from the eternal God who can’t lie. It is unilateral, it is unconditional.
The basis of common grace
Next, and the language is so explicit here, back in to verse 9, the promise is also universal, “I Myself do establish My covenant with you…with you,” that is with humanity. God was speaking to the entire human race when He was talking to Noah and his sons with him, and, of course, their wives as well. Listen to this, no other covenant in force applies to all humanity. The Priestly Covenant, the Abrahamic, the Davidic, the New Covenant, they don’t apply to all humanity. This is the only one that applies to everybody. This one, listen now, is the basis of common grace. This is the covenant that is the basis of God’s goodness to all of humanity. No one who will ever live on the earth from the first eight people after the Flood, no one who ever lives after that will be left out of this covenant. This promise is universal. Look at verse 10, “With every living creature.” Verse 11, “With you and all flesh.” Verse 12, “Between Me and you and every living creature that is with you for all successive generations.” Verse 15, “With you and every living creature of all flesh.” And verse 16, “Between God and every living creature of all flesh.” And verse 17, “Between Me and all flesh that is on the earth.” Nobody is going to ever be left out of this promise. It is universal.
This is the sign of the covenant – The reason for rainbows
When God gave Abraham a covenant, the sign was circumcision. When He gave Moses a covenant, the sign was Sabbath, according to Exodus 31:16 and 17. Circumcision is given as the sign in Genesis 17:11. But here’s the sign of this covenant. This is the sign of the covenant, verse 12, God said, “Which I’m making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you for all successive generations.” And there He repeats all the components of the covenant. Here’s the sign, “I set My bow in the cloud and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth.” The sign, the oath, the mark, the symbol, the evidence that God has made a promise, this is the assurance, this is the guarantee, and this is a covenant made with all humanity, all animals, and so God has to have a sign that everybody can see, so He says, “I set My bow in the cloud.” And that’s the reason for rainbows.
The Lord is a warrior
Let me take you a little further with this. The word “bow” here is not rainbow, it’s bow, qesheth in Hebrew. It’s the same word for a battle bow, a weapon of death and destruction. In Near Eastern literature there are often deities depicted with a bow, wielding destruction. And the Old Testament pictures God like that. Exodus 15:3 says, “The Lord is a warrior.”
Habakkuk 3:9, “His bow is made bare.” Zachariah 9:14, “His arrows are lightning.” God is depicted as a warrior with a bow. In the Flood, God the Warrior shot His lightning arrows, pierced the earth, the earth broke open, exploded and then the sky fell, and certainly with it arrows of lightning and destruction. He bent His bow in wrath. But from now on, follow this, God has hung up His bow and He hung it in the sky where everybody can see it. Next time you see a rainbow, that’s God’s bow. He hung it up because this is not the time of judgment, this is the time of peace. So God hung His bow as a sign of His mercy toward a world of sinners. Every sinner on the planet that sees the bow sees a sign of peace. God has hung up His bow. This is a token of His promise, never to destroy the world again as He did until the very end of human history when the whole universe will be destroyed by fire, as 2 Peter 3 describes it.
Verse 14, “It shall come about when I bring a cloud over the earth and the bow shall 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.”