Summary: The LORD God hangs His bow in the sky, like a warrior setting aside His weapons of destruction. It bodes well for us, even when we have been under His fatherly chastisement.
A BOW IN THE SKY: STARTING OVER
1. The Rainbow
In the great Age of Exploration, travellers and missionaries were often amazed to find that differing cultures and civilisations - separated from one another since the scattering of mankind after the fall of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:8-9) - knew of a past flood which destroyed all of mankind apart from one family from which ‘we’ (whoever ‘we’ may be) are all descended. This, and accounts of a man, a woman, a garden, a ‘god’ and a ‘serpent’ (or in some places a ‘sea-serpent’) - are indications of a common consciousness which reaches not only from Babylon to Israel, but also throughout the world to natives of places as far away as Borneo and Australia. This is one argument for our common descent from Noah and his sons (Genesis 9:18-19).
We are told the reason for the flood, from God’s perspective, is that man is ‘only evil continually’ (Genesis 6:5). Tragically - although at the same time mercifully - He gives the same reason for never again sending a flood ‘in like manner’ (Genesis 8:21). Nothing has changed as far as the fallen human heart is concerned: we are still born ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ (Ephesians 2:1), and it is only the quickening grace of God in Christ that can save us (Ephesians 2:5).
After the flood, Noah and his family - and the animals that were with them - all came ashore (Genesis 8:18-19). God made a covenant with Noah and his descendants, and “all the earth” (Genesis 9:13). As a token of this unilateral pledge on the part of God, He set a bow in the sky as a reminder (not for us, but) for Himself (Genesis 9:16)!
Whatever scientific explanations we may have for the rainbow, it also stands as an indication of God’s love for us. It shows us that if we have any part in the mercy of God it is not an account of our goodness, but His grace. It indicates new beginnings.
2. Why does God ‘allow’ suffering to continue in the world?
God ‘allows’ suffering in the world because, if He gets involved on account of our sin and what our sin is doing to this world, He would have to send another destructive flood, and start again. The suffering comes as a consequence of sin, and is man’s responsibility. However, the bow testifies to God’s covenants:- God’s involvement culminating in the Cross, a new ‘Ark’ for a new humanity.
Eight souls were saved from the water of the Flood by the bearing up of the ark on the water: thus the medium of judgement, water, also became the medium of salvation. This becomes a symbol of baptism, which in turn becomes a symbol of our inner cleansing. It is not the water of baptism that saves us, but what it represents: the putting away of the works of the flesh, and the answer of a good conscience towards God (1 Peter 3:20-21).
4. Walking with God
The bow in the sky tells us of an on-going relationship with the God of the covenants, and covenant blessing. It was by His arm that the Israelites of old crossed the Red Sea (Isaiah 51:9-10). They were ‘all baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea’ (1 Corinthians 10:2).