Let’s open our Bibles to Genesis chapter 9, Genesis chapter 9, and we’re looking at verses 8 through 17. The rainbow covenant, God’s rainbow covenant. One of the most extraordinary and beautiful natural wonders is the rainbow. It intrigues everybody. And rainbows have fascinated people throughout the ages. There are many things you could consider about rainbows. If you look it up in an encyclopedia, some articles go on and on and on. Check the Internet and you’ll get far more information than you care to have, which is true of almost anything you check on the Internet.
But just giving you somewhat of a simple introduction to a rainbow, a rainbow is a – a bent or curved line in the sky composed or consisting of seven colors: red, orange, green, blue, indigo and violet. Kids are sometimes taught to remember those colors by the name Roy G Biv, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. That’s Roy G Biv. Or if you grew up in England you may have learned Richard of York gave battle in vain, which provides a little acrostic for those colors.
More scientifically, however, a rainbow is an arc of concentric colored bands that develops when sunlight interacts with raindrops. Sunlight is refracted as it enters a raindrop which causes the different wave lengths of visible light. And the different wave lengths of visible light separate and become different colors. Longer wave lengths of light, such as red, are bent the least while shorter wave lengths of violet and blue are bent the most. And it all has to do, interestingly enough, with the angle with which the sun shines through the different rain drops.
If the angle between the refracted light and – and the normal – if the drop of the surface is greater than the critical angle, about 48 degrees, then the light will reflect off the back of the raindrop. If the angle is smaller than 48 degrees, then the light will simply pass on through it. The reflected light is refracted as it exits the raindrop. So depending – just to summarize that, depending on the angle with which the sun goes through the raindrop, it refracts a certain color. Somewhere between 40 degrees and 48 degrees angle creates the span of colors.
Usually a rainbow is seen when part of the sky is dark and there is rain in one part of the sky and the sun is shining in the other. And for the rainbow to be visible, the sun has to be behind the observer who is, in effect, facing the rainbow. Since only one color of light is observed from each raindrop because the sun hits each different raindrop at a different angle, since one color of light then is observed from each raindrop, an incredible number of raindrops is required to produce the magnificent spectrum of color as big as it is that is characteristic of a rainbow.
Well, that’s kind of a little bit of a scientific explanation of it, enough anyway. Rainbows, beyond just their scientific explanation, have been the subject of myth and mystery all over the world. Most cultures understand that rainbows are simply the sun shining through rain, and that is correct. But they take on all kinds of meaning. In the Albanian culture the rainbow is believed to be the belt of the goddess of beauty who later became a Catholic saint by the name of Prende, whose name is derived from the word perendi, meaning heaven, and swallows were harnessed to her carriage and pulled her through the gates of heaven. A rainbow is her belt.
The Greek mythology attributes the rainbow to the goddess Iris who was the daughter of Thaumas and Elektra, the sister of Harpies and a messenger of the gods of Olympus. The rainbow is also said to be the belt of Iris or a footpath between heaven and earth. That too is Greek mythology. And some have said it is a stairway which descends from heaven to earth and back again so that messengers can bring messages from the gods. Throughout Australia a serpent has been used as a simile of the rainbow. This is also seen in Africa and in some cultures in Brazil. In other words, it takes on sort of a snakelike character.
In some parts of the world the rainbow is believed to be the cause of drought because the rainbow appears when there’s water. And so the superstition is that the rainbow is like a sponge and pulls up water. And it will draw up water into the sky so that it is taken from the earth and that’s what creates droughts. There are all kinds of strange and evil myths. Another evil myth that showed up in ancient Europe was that if you point at a rainbow, your finger will fall off.
I think perhaps the most familiar superstition about the rainbow is there’s a bunch of little Irish leprechauns who’ve got a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, that there’s some kind of treasure that these leprechauns will grant you that involves everything you could ever hope for or want, wish for, if you can just get to the end of the rainbow, which you can’t. In Eastern Europe the idea was that the angels put gold there and it could only be found by a man who lost all his clothes. Strange. We’ll leave it at that.
The laws of physics make it impossible to walk under a rainbow. The laws of physics make it impossible to find the end of a rainbow. But there were some in ancient Europe who believed that if you passed beneath a rainbow and you were a man, you would instantly become a woman. And if you were a woman, you would instantly become a man. Good thing it can’t be done. To Muslims in Iran, the brilliance of the colors of the rainbow all have significance. Prominent green means abundance. Red means war. Yellow brings death, and so forth.
The Arawak Indians of South America recognized the rainbow as a sign of good fortune if seen over the ocean, and a sign of bad fortune if seen on land. Tribes in northeastern Siberia see the rainbow as the tongue of the sun. And even in America, North American Indians tribes regard it as a bridge between the living and the dead, and so on and so on and so on. Rainbows have preoccupied cultures throughout the history of man.
Even Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz said, “Somewhere over the rainbow there’s a land where dreams really do come true.” Even good ole Kermit the Frog says we are all watching for the rainbow and someday we’ll find it. The rainbow connection, the lovers, the dreamers and me. On a far less trivial note, the homosexuals have adopted the rainbow as the sign of the beauty of their perversion.
Is there meaning in a rainbow? What is the meaning in a rainbow if there is any? What is its significance? Well, it does have immense meaning, it has immense significance, none of which is captured by that rather strange list of superstitions which I just gave you. 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. The constellations, as we know them, which have become the basis of horoscopes – Gemini, Aries, et cetera – the constellations have nothing to do with the Bible, they are astrological pagan inventions. They aren’t really up there, folks. Those are just stars. They are not constellations identified with Greek deities.
God would never put paganism in the sky. Connecting those dots the way they’re connected to create the constellations is a satanic system, a pagan invention contrived by man at his worst and have absolutely no biblical meaning whatsoever. And there are people all the time writing books on the constellations as if the gospel was preached there. The latest of which, Dr. James Kennedy, has a book on the gospel and the stars. I don’t know the name of it, where he has tried to attribute pagan constellations to God. He even says that the Bible is God’s little book and the heavens is God’s big book. This is terrible error.
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. Let’s look at verse 8. “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; 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. And 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.
“And 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. And 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.’”
Now this is a really important message from God. In fact, what I just read you is three speeches. The first one is in verse 8, the second one commences in verse 12, and the third one is a summary, brief speech in verse 17. Three speeches from God to the family of Noah, the eight people that constitute the entire population of the earth, humanly speaking. And so what God says in these three speeches to Noah, his wife, three sons and their wives is essentially God’s message to all humanity because all humanity is constituted in those eight people.
Now this is an important chapter. In the first seven verses, you know now the Flood is over; Noah’s come out of the ark. He’s come into the new world. All around him are the vestiges of a changed earth and death everywhere, of course, drowning all of humanity with the exception of eight people, and all the animals except those that were on the ark, devastating the earth. Noah comes out of the ark. He enters into the new world at the beginning of chapter 9. And in verses 1 to 7 of this chapter, Noah and his family are told what they were to do. They were to reproduce. They were to rule. They were to eat. And they were to execute those who took life, capital punishment.
So you have the instruction to Noah and his family about what they are to do, verses 1 to 7. Now in verses 8 to 17, God says what He’s going to do. Told you, Noah, what you’re going to do. Now I’m going to tell you what I’m going to do. Exhortation to Noah now becomes promise from God. And the main point of what I read you is that God is going to make a promise. This is what I’m going to do, God says, I’m going to make you a covenant, a berith, a covenant, a promise made by God to man. This is very important because this establishes that God is a covenant maker as part of His personal commitment to man. He is a promiser who makes covenants.
From now on, throughout the entire Bible, God is known as a covenant-making God who is faithful to keep His covenant. And here you have the first covenant that God makes. He makes it with Noah’s family which constitutes all of humanity, so, really, it is a covenant or a promise that He gives to all mankind. Beyond that, even makes the promise to the animals, all creatures on the earth. And the promise is a very simple one, I’ll never do what I just did again. I will never again drown the world in a universal flood. I will never again destroy the entire planet like this. 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. And the repetition is powerful, it strengthens the covenant. Verse 9, “I do establish.” That is imminent future, that means immediately I will establish this. Verse 11, “I establish.” That’s present. And then verse 17, “I have established,” present perfect. I will do it immediately, I do it, I have done it.
Very careful expression of language. God initiates, enacts and completes the covenant. And the sign is also stated repeatedly. The sign is stated in verse 12. It is established in verse 13. It is guaranteed for the future in verses 14 and 15. And God will notice it in verse 16. So the repetition is part of the comprehensive character of this covenant and its attendant sign. Why this covenant? Well, simply for the blessing of man, for the blessing of man from the mercy of God, for the goodness of life from the goodness of God, for man’s enjoyment, from God’s grace.
Now to start with, this was very important news for Noah. There was no rain, apparently before the Flood. Remember the earth was protected by a water-vapor canopy that made the entire planet uniform in its sort of semi-tropical climate. And they had not known rain. And that made a very benign kind of weather in a very protected kind of environment where the ultra-violet rays of the sun were filtered out and so men lived to be almost a thousand years old and animals lived to be very, very old, hence reptiles, the animals that grow all their life, became dinosaurs. There was no rain.
At the Flood, it rained for the first time. The earth exploded. Gas and material went into the sky, broke up the canopy, it came down as water and deluged the earth for 40 days and 40 nights until, literally, with that and the fountains of the deep underneath the great reservoirs of water in the belly of the earth belching forward, literally covered the entire planet. But now, in the new world rain is going to be common. In the new world it’s going to rain regularly all over the planet. As God moves the water in the hydrological cycle, it’s evaporated up out of the ocean, goes into the clouds, carried across the land, deposited on the land, falls on the land, runs into streams, runs into rivers, runs back into the sea and the hydrological cycle works like that.
Water is absolutely critical to man’s life since, I suppose, somewhere around 90-plus percent of us is water. It’s very important for us. So this rain is going to fall from God as a blessing on the just and the unjust. It’s going to make things grow. It’s necessary for life, providing beauty in the earth and food. Rain is going to be common. But Noah didn’t yet know that. If you went to somebody who lived in Seattle and said, “How do you like the rain?” They might say, “Well, I don’t mind the rain, you kind of get used to it. We have two seasons winter and August. You know, for 11 months it’s cloudy, it’s rainy.” Or if you ask somebody who lived in some north Scandinavian country they might say, “Well we’ve adjusted to living like this.”
But if you said to Noah, “Say, Noah, what do you think of rain?” That question alone would make his heart stop. He would say, “I’ve only seen it once and I did not like it. The one time it rained, I wound up in a boat over a year with my family and a bunch of smelly animals. You don’t want any rain. Plus, everybody on the planet died and all the animals. Rain is very bad.” See, his experience of rain was pretty severe. “I’m 600‑years old” he might have said, “and I’ve only seen it once and it is devastating. First thing that happens is the earth starts to crack and explode, volcanic eruptions happen everywhere, throws material into the sky. Then deluge comes down along with subterranean reservoirs gushing up totally flooding the ground. Great caverns are formed in the earth and the water rushes into them, mountains are pushed up to very high peaks. The temperatures change, everything is different. Death and destruction everywhere. Really, I don’t like rain.”
Now that would have been a personal testimony as to how he felt about rain. The thought of it was frightening, if not paralyzing. And with the first drop that hit his forehead, he might have grabbed Mrs. Noah and the gang and headed back to the ark and said, “We better get in, it’s going to rain again.” That’s only the – that’s all he knew of it. That’s the only rain he ever knew. Not to worry, Noah, not to worry. It will rain, and rain will be a part of life, but it will never be a worldwide devastation such as that first rain. 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. This is Elohim’s first speech. Verse 8, “Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying,” – This is a message then to humanity. They are humanity. The men represent the women who are their wives, they are humanity. God speaks directly to the whole human family, the whole human race. They are all the humanity there is in the new world. And He says, “Now behold, I Myself do establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you.”
“Now behold” calls for their undivided attention. Now you are out here, you’re in the new world. I’ve told you what you are to do, you are to reproduce and you are to enjoy the creation that I’ve made and you are to eat and you are to protect by instituting capital punishment. All of it is in verses 1 to 7. Now I’m going to tell you what I’m going to do. “I Myself do establish My covenant with you, and with your descendants after you.” Very precise language, folks. This is extremely precise, inspired language, and each phrase, if not each word, defines a specific feature of God’s covenant. First of all, verse 9 says, “Now behold, I Myself.” The covenant is unilateral. And I’m going to give you a number of components in the covenant.
The covenant is unilateral. That means it’s a covenant made by one. A bilateral covenant would be made by two. This is a unilateral covenant. That is the promise is singularly on the part of God. He is doing it without any consideration of man and His will, He’s doing it without any consultation with man. He’s doing it without any negotiation with man. This is not a mutual agreement. When you think of a covenant, you generally think of something that is bilateral. You think of it probably like a treaty or some kind of agreement that has mutual affirmation. That is not true of this covenant.
God is not saying if you do this and do that then I’ll do this and do that. If you don’t do this and do that, then I won’t do this and won't do that. It is not like that. It is, “I Myself.” That’s in verse 9. Look at verse 11. “I establish My covenant.” Verse 12, “This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between me and you.” Verse 17, “This is a sign of the covenant which I have established.” Never we, always I. The promise, the covenant is unilateral. God determines to make this promise on His own, without consultation with man.
Secondly, it is not only unilateral, it is unconditional. It is unconditional. He says, “I Myself do establish.” Verse 11, “I establish.” Then in verse 17, “I have established.” The word “establish,” qum in Hebrew, means to – to erect, to make firm, to make stand solidly. In other words, I set this in concrete. I establish. There are no conditions on the part of man to validate it or invalidate it. Nothing man does can cause Me to make it or break it.
There are no conditions in man that make him deserve the covenant, no conditions in man that make him sustain the covenant and no conditions in man that can cause the termination of the covenant. It is a covenant that is unilateral and unconditional. I’m doing it and that’s it and it has nothing to do with what you do or don’t do. That’s pretty remarkable because the fact of the matter is, man is going to be fast as wicked as he was before the Flood. But nonetheless, this is not a conditional covenant.
It is unilateral, it is unconditional, and thirdly, it is inviolable. That’s negative. The positive would be it’s secure, it’s fixed. That is it can be fully trusted because, you notice, it is My covenant, My covenant. And He repeats that. Verse 9, verse 11, verse 15, and elsewhere between Me and the earth, between Me and all flesh that is on the earth. It is inviolable because it is a covenant made by the eternal God who cannot change and cannot lie. Covenant is the word, again, berith, in Hebrew and it is used in all but verse 10. I mean, it’s all through here.
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 keeping their word, people keeping their promise, people keeping their covenant. Now marriage, we don’t have binding covenants for life that neither person would ever think of violating. Marriage now is descended to a temporary agreement with conditions for compliance sometimes written into a pre-nuptial agreement.
But in ancient times and thus in Scripture, covenants were the foundation of society. People knew what a covenant was. When you made a covenant with somebody, you bound yourself to that promise. And your character and your integrity and your life and your reputation was all bound up in your loyalty to that 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.
When a king ascended to the throne, frequently with his subjects he would enter into a covenant. And that covenant between the king and his people would become the national constitution and it spelled out the duties of the ruler and the duties of the people. And people of character who wanted to maintain their reputation would keep their covenant. So people in the Old Testament time, in Noah’s time, and throughout biblical times, understood what a covenant was. It was a binding promise. And most covenants were bilateral and most covenants were conditional. And most covenants would have some kind of an out clause in the case of some violation.
But here’s God making a unilateral, unconditional, inviolable covenant. This is the best possible kind of covenant from the standpoint of the beneficiary. God made covenants and God kept His covenants. That is why when you go through the Old Testament – and I don’t have time to go through all this tonight. But if you were to go throughout the Old Testament, one of the attributes of God that is celebrated over and over and over is that God is faithful, God is faithful. And you will find that – that attribute of faithfulness linked to the fact that God kept His covenants. And that’s how a man proved his faithfulness, he kept his covenant.
We talk about a faithful husband, that’s about the only realm in which we could even talk about this, because nobody keeps their promises in the business world; nobody keeps their promises in the legal realm. We do everything we can to break contracts, break covenants, break common – promises, violate agreements. That just goes on all the time. But the way a person proves he’s a faithful husband, in the one area where covenant language may still be used, is by never violating the vow he made to his wife. And the way a wife proves that she’s a covenant-keeping and faithful wife is by never violating the vow she made to her husband.
And what is that vow that you made at your wedding? That is it would be you and your wife for life. That was the vow. And you would never have another woman, and she would never ever have another man. She was yours for life, you were hers for life. That was your covenant. And faithful men keep the covenant, and faithful women keep the covenant. And God is faithful to His covenant. 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 that 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.
Next, and the language is so explicit here, back in – back into 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.
Next, it is perpetual. It is perpetual. Verse 12, end of the verse, “All successive generations,” all successive generations. And verse 16, “It is the everlasting covenant.” Not everlasting in the sense of eternal, but in the sense of lasting throughout all of time. And we know how long it will last. Back in chapter 8 verse 22, “As long as the earth remains – as long as the earth remains I will never again destroy every living thing as I have done while the earth remains.” That defines the everlasting, it lasts as long as the earth remains.
So you have here a covenant that is unilateral, unconditional, inviolable, universal and perpetual. One other component you need to understand, it is a covenant that is physical, physical. As clearly indicated back in verse 9, He says, “With your descendants after you,” – that’s the perpetual aspect of it, and then verse 10 – “and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, every beast of the earth with you, of all that comes out of the ark, every – even every beast of the earth.” Now here, He pulls all the animals in, so we know this is not a spiritual covenant. We know this is not a covenant that’s going to go on in the new heavens and the new earth. This is not a covenant for the next life, for heaven.
No. The fact – look at verse 10, the fact that all the animals share in this covenant indicates that it is a physical temporal covenant. Okay? The Abrahamic Covenant is a spiritual one. The Priestly Covenant is a spiritual one. The Davidic Covenant is a spiritual one. The Mosaic Covenant was, of course, a spiritual covenant, demonstrating the sinfulness of man. The New Covenant is a spiritual covenant. This is a temporal, physical covenant. And we know that because the animals are included. And He mentions them, as you can see, in verse 10, and they’re mentioned in verse 12 under “every living creature,” and in verse 15, under “every living creature of all flesh,” – that is all kinds of flesh, and verse 16, “every living creature of all flesh,” verse 17, “all flesh that is on the earth.” This is so far-reaching that it physically covers all living beings, all living beings.
Now look at verse 10 again for just a moment. So many fascinating things here, I have to restrain myself. “With every living creature that is with you,” the birds, the cattle and every beast. The birds, that’s pretty clear. Every beast, that – that’s the wild animals. But then He refers to cattle. And cattle, as we’ve seen all the way through, sort of represent domestic animals. And they are the prototypical domestic creature. You know, it is pretty hard when I wanted to know – putting together the material on the book that’s coming out, The Battle for the Beginning, on the creation story from Genesis that we went through long ago, Genesis 1 talks about the cattle. And so it’s helpful when you get the book you’ll be able to read about the cow. Let me give you a little preview.
Of all the things that God ever made, the cow may be the most amazing, amazing. Their digestive system is a great wonder of creative design. Cows have four stomachs. Actually it’s probably more accurate to say their stomach is a complex organ divided into four chambers. When a cow eats grass or hay, the partially chewed fiber passes into the cow’s first stomach chamber called the rumen. There it ferments for one to two days. The presence of helpful bacteria in the rumen causes the fermentation, beginning the process of breaking down cellulose and converting it into simple sugars.
The first chamber of the cow’s stomach is huge. It holds the equivalent of 50 gallons. When a cow drinks water – the typical cow drinks from 25 to 50 gallons a day – most of that fluid bypasses the rumen and flows directly into the second chamber, the reticulum, where it’s mixed with digestive enzymes and more fermentation bacteria. Meanwhile, peristaltic action, muscular movement of the stomach chamber, rolls the fodder in chamber one into little balls, and partially fermented balls are then passed into the second chamber where they infuse with the enzyme-saturated liquid. This goes on and back and forth the little balls go and they disintegrate and they move and they go back and forth and back and forth.
For six hours a day the cow eats, for eight hours a day it chews the cud. And all this moving around in the stomach – and I won’t go into more of it, you can read it when the book comes out – goes into the third chamber, finally goes into the fourth chamber. It’s then broken down by these amazing enzymes. It passes into the blood system, sustains the cow, provides vital nutrients to end up in mild production.
So what you have is a cow eating hay. Nobody wants to eat hay, but boy do we love milk, cream, butter, cheese, every other kind of dairy product, gelatin that is made from cows’ hoofs and a good steak. They take collagen out of the bones and the hoofs and they make gelatin. And after you’ve had a good steak, somebody gets the hide and makes your leather jacket. You know, a cow is amazing, amazing. And cows are cursed and they’re still that good. What was an unfallen cow like? Wow! No wonder Jabal, back in chapter 4 verse 20, developed animal husbandry. Tremendous gift to humanity is the cow. No animal like it. And so it’s the prototypical representative of the domesticated animals that God has given to man to enrich his life. Just think of all the wonderful things that come from a cow. Incredible.
So the covenant is unilateral, unconditional, inviolable, universal, perpetual and has to be physical because it includes animals. Now here’s the covenant, verse 11, “I’ll 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.” That’s the covenant. God says I’m never going to drown the world. This was pledged all the way back in chapter 6 verse 18. “I will establish My covenant with you, you shall enter the ark, you and your wives,” and so forth. I’m going to protect you. That was kind of the first inkling that God was going to do something remarkable in saving them and sparing them.
The covenant again is referred to in verse 21 of chapter 8, “I will never again destroy every living thing.” And now it is explained in verses 9 and 10 and now it is set in verse 11. Here it is, “I establish it.” Never again will I wipe out the world like I’ve just done, never again. As long as the earth remains I will not send such a flood. There will be local floods, storms, volcanic eruptions, all of the bits and pieces of that first cataclysmic flood will come but they’ll be localized. Never again a worldwide disaster such as I sent. I won’t do that again. That is My promise.
Listen to Isaiah 54:9, “For this is like the days of Noah to Me, when I swore that the waters of Noah should not flood the earth again.” God says I won’t do it again. Not that you don’t deserve it, I just won’t do it. This is His promise. God promises here to be merciful to all humanity, to let man go on in his sin. This is the patience and forbearance of God. This is the age of mercy; this is the age of grace. This covenant is related to the other covenants. This is common grace. But God will be especially gracious to the world through Abraham’s people Israel because through them the Scripture will come and through them the Savior will come.
And He will be especially gracious to those who accept the Word and accept the Savior through the Davidic Covenant because through the Davidic Covenant the Messiah will come and establish the glory of His kingdom. And through His covenant with – with Moses, He will establish the holy standard by which people will see their sin and by which people will know how God wants them to live. And He will send the New Covenant which will provide the forgiveness of sin to all who believe and be ratified through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Those covenants relate to a more specific grace. This is the common grace covenant.
So much for the covenant. Let’s look quickly at the sign, verses 12 to 16. That’s a lot of verses but the language is repetitious and it’ll go by quickly. 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 was 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.” 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. 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 ancient 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. There will come a day when the universe will be destroyed and replaced by a new heaven and a new earth where there will be only the righteous and eternal peace and holiness.
In the future, God will pick up His bow again. But for now, the bow is the sign of mercy, it’s the sign of grace, it’s the sign of peace. The great God who is a warrior has hung up His bow. When you look at the earth’s surface and you see rugged, deep sea basins, rugged high mountain ranges, and strata and canyons, and polar caps and fossil-bearing rocks, and the general atmosphere, that’s a reminder of the destruction of the Flood. But when you see the rainbow, that’s a reminder that it will never happen again though man deserves it.
Back in chapter 8 verse 21, “I’ll never again curse the ground on account of man even though the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth, I’ll never again destroy every living thing.” Man isn’t going to be any different. Man will be fallen. Sin will abound. The problem will be the same. But I won’t do this. So the rainbow then, beloved, is a symbol of grace, it’s a symbol of mercy. The only time you see a rainbow is after a what? Storm. It’s when the storm is passed and the sun shines through. A rainbow is a picture then of grace after judgment. And when you see the rainbow, it’s God who hung His bow after the judgment.
This is the age of grace. 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.” Not only will you see that and remember, but I’ll see that and remember. You say, “Does God need visual reminders?” No. But this is His way to tell us that He doesn’t forget, He doesn’t forget. Remember, the word remember is familiar Old Testament covenant language. God never forgets His promise, God remembers His covenant and God is faithful.
And so in verse 16, “I will remember My covenant which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh, never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh.” Every time you see a rainbow – listen to me – it represents the victory of grace over judgment. What does this world deserve? Judgment. What does it get? Grace. Because this is the age when God has hung up His bow. The triumph of mercy over wrath, this is the age for us to go to the ends of the earth and tell them of God and His mercy, God and His grace.
Finally the summary. The covenant, the sign and the summary, verse 17. A final recapitulation, one last speech. God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant, this bow, which I’ve established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth.” The whole Flood story is a revelation of God’s holy wrath. God is a God of vengeance, a God of judgment, a God of wrath. But the rainbow is a sign that God is also a God of mercy and a God of grace and a God of patience and a God of peace.
There will be a final wrath to come in which the universe will be destroyed by fire and all sinners will perish, between the Flood and that final time is the period of grace and the bow of God, the bow of a warrior hangs in all its beauty over the earth against the clouds of judgment as the beauty of grace touching heaven at its arc and touching earth at its ends, to tell all humanity that God is gracious to sinners.
Father, we thank You for the covenant, the rainbow covenant. May we never see a rainbow the same again. Thank You for being patient with sinners, thank You for not destroying the world, for not destroying us. Thank You for hanging up Your bow for these 4500 plus years when the world deserves the same kind of destruction it received in the Flood but You haven’t brought it. You’ve hung up the bow and the colors magnificently radiate the manifold glories of Your grace, mercy after judgment.
When the storm passes and the clouds go by, we see the rainbow, may we realize that we live under that arc of grace which touches heaven and earth. In Your mercy and Your forbearance and Your loving kindness You have held back Your judgment in order that sinners might repent and be saved. Thank You for that grace which touches us all. May that common grace become saving grace. For Your glory we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.
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