In all of this earthly creation there is no phenomenon as beautiful as God’s rainbow upon the background of His storm cloud. It has color like nothing else. It has such perfect symmetry. It is such a welcome sight after the thunder rumbles at a point beyond where it shook our homes just moments before, and after the brilliancy of the frightful lightning-flash has also been dimmed by the distance of the storm beyond our position of the moment.
Being a natural phenomenon it has a natural explanation. Man will tell you that it is caused by the infraction of the white light of the sun, as it passes through the falling rain of the receding storm. At such an angle does this light of the sun strike those drops and sheets of rain that the one white light of the sun is broken up into all the colors, and shades of colors, from red through violet. (We used to learn those seven colors by remembering the name of the fictitious boy, Roy G. Biv, and thus red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.) Where the rain storms come from the east and recede into the west, we had the unique experience in 1967 of seeing a rainbow caused by the brilliant light of a full moon in the sparklingly clear atmosphere of Jamaica. The perfect arc was there. The colors were not brilliant, but more on the order of different shades of gray. But it was unmistakably a rainbow caused by the light of God’s moon, reflecting the light of His sun. Four of us saw it; and it was no dream.
But, natural phenomenon that it is, and one that man can duplicate by sending up a spray of water in the bright sunlight, it nevertheless is God’s sign, and thus God’s speech to us, as well as it was to an amazed and entranced Noah and his family after the flood. They had never seen anything like this before; and we may believe that it was a most perfect and extremely brilliant rainbow at that, one that reached in a perfect arc from the earth to heaven and down again to the earth. We can only wonder at what went through the minds and souls of the family of eight when they saw this piece of beauty in God’s creation that had such tremendous significance. For let it not be forgotten that God explained that bow to them, and that before the flood they had never seen anything like it.
Being a sign it was also the speech of God. Also as a sign it was a visible manifestation of an invisible reality. It was that which man could see, and it spoke of that which the natural eye cannot see. It was (and is) a token of God’s grace in the midst of a world in which His curse is still so clearly seen and sorely felt. And let it not be overlooked that God says to Noah and his family as He explains this rainbow, “And it shall come to pass when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud,” Genesis 9:14. Plainly enough God is going to send His cloud again. The whole earth will not be covered with water. But there will be storms. Not always will it be a gentle cheering rain. There will be severe storms in which God will thunder, and wherein He will blow with winds before which man cannot stand. He will in these display His fierce wrath and speak of His curse upon the world because of sin. He is not going to bless all men. Besides His bow, which speaks of His love and mercy and grace, there will be fierce and violent demonstrations of His holy wrath. The two shall be in the world until He comes with the judgment of fire.
Two seeds are upon the earth; and God’s dealings with them is different, even as these seeds are spiritual opposites. On the seed of the serpent His wrath and the curse will continue to rest. On the seed of the woman His mercy and grace in Christ will unwaveringly rest. That you must see in every rainbow; not only the beauty of His grace to His Church, but also His abiding wrath upon the world.
Here, too, in the rainbow you have a general “preaching” of a particular promise. It is all there for those who want to see the truth. The bow is in the cloud and never appears apart from it in this life. Soon there will be the sea of glass like crystal with no ripple of discontent and perfect peace between God and His people. That new creation will have no storms to disturb it. There will be no curse there or sign of a curse. Heaven and earth will be united — as they are by the rainbow — as one realm far more beautiful than any earthly rainbow can be. All the shades, all the degrees, all the delights, the joys and wonders of God’s grace will be seen in all that creation. The reality of that of which the rainbow is only a sign will be seen and enjoyed every moment of that everlasting life. But until that day that curse most assuredly will still be here in all its power. “Smile, God loves You” is a wicked lie that is not borne out by the works of the holy God every day in this creation. He preaches no covenant with all men in the rainbow. He promises no grace and blessing to all mankind. But exactly in the midst of all the curse, which still brings suffering and death and bereavement also to the believers, God says to His church in His rainbow, “Be of good cheer. I do love you. My grace unto you is exceedingly rich and colorful. I reach down in it to bless you. Look at my dark cloud, for it speaks of my holy wrath against My and your enemies. But fail not to see my bow, for it speaks of my grace to you.”
And it does this exactly because it is the token or sign of His covenant of grace. It is in connection with telling Noah (verse 11 of Genesis 9) that He will establish his covenant with him and his seed that God gives this token in the sky. In the same sky that poured out such terrible devastation upon the first world, God now puts His bow that speaks of the covenant of grace.
That God will establish that covenant that Noah does not mean that God will begin a new covenant with Him. It means that He will continue His covenant with him and with his seed after him. Referring to Galatians 3:16, which speaks of Abraham rather than of Noah, we find that the Seed with Whom God establishes that covenant is Christ. For here, too, with Abraham it is the same covenant of grace that God made known to Adam immediately after his fall into sin. And the word establish does have the meaning of confirm. Thus the word is translated in Esther 9:29 and Ezekiel 13:6 among other passages of Holy Writ. It is one covenant of grace from paradise to the fulfillment in the day of Christ.
But, as we began to say, the rainbow was a particular promise that is preached to all mankind. It was not with Noah and all his seed. There is Canaan, the son of Ham, who is cursed. And this clearly indicates, since it is the work of an unchangeable God, that God did not have in mind all men when he said to those out of whom the whole human race would be born, “I will establish (confirm) my covenant with you, and with your seed after you,” Genesis 9:9. There is that dark cloud, remember, which forms the background of the rainbow that speaks of wrath and judgment (condemnation) at the same time that the bow speaks of grace and mercy.
And referring back again to Galatians 3:16, that Seed with Whom God establishes that covenant in both Noah and Abraham, is not Shem and Isaac but Christ. As the arc of the rainbow begins on the earth and reaches to the heavens and then returns to the earth, Christ, who was born on this earth of the virgin Mary, crucified and buried, rises to the heavenly heights where He now is, and returns at the end of time to confirm that covenant in its glorious fulfillment. And here, too, you have that dark cloud of God’s terrible and holy wrath against sin for He comes in judgment. You and I can see and appreciate the beauty of the bow of the arch of Christ’s descension into hell, ascension into heaven and return in glory at the end of time, only on the background of the awful judgment of God upon our sins. That is why Christ had to go down to hell for us, being one of us by a virgin birth, having the beginning of His human nature here on this earth, lifting it to heavenly glory through his resurrection and ascension and insuring a beautiful and glorious return with all the degrees of the glory of our salvation.
There is no pot of gold where the rainbow touches the earth, but there is a glorious salvation when Christ returns to this earth. Think about that return of Christ when you see that rainbow reach with its beauty to a point of this earth. Look at that dark background, those clouds that symbolize God’s judgment upon sin; but do so appreciating the smile of His love that causes this life of His Son on our earth and descension into hell, His resurrection, ascension and return with glory for us.
A rainbow will not be seen except upon the background of clouds of a rainstorm. But a rainbow likewise will not be seen except there be the bright shining light of the sun. And God is that Light. It is His smile of love and approval upon us in Christ that brightens the dark night of sin for us and confirms His covenant friendship with us and with our seed.
And you and I must not simply stand in awe when we see such a rainbow — how often do we? — but we must also stand amazed at the faith of the Old Testament saints who lived in the day of the shadows. They saw so little in comparison with what has been revealed to us, and yet they enjoyed so much! They had no cross yet. For they had no Bethlehem yet. But in spite of all this they walked by faith and took God at His word. They trusted Him and never questioned His faithfulness nor His love. They with so little saw so much. We with so much, often see so little. They, living under the shadows, and in the shadows, saw richly what we in the day after the Light is come often see so weakly and meagerly.
Surely it was that grace of God that opened their eyes so that they could believe in a coming Christ. And it is that same grace of God that enables us to see the Christ Who is come. We ought never to forget that. The faith of the Old Testament saints who lived in the days of the shadows, and the New Testament saints who live in the year of our Lord have the same faith. The only difference is that the Old Testament believer looked for Christ to come and was sure that He would, while the New Testament saint looks at a Christ Who is come and is sure that He came and has ascended to God’s right hand after making atonement for our sins.
Since that day when Noah and his family saw that first rainbow, countless thousands have seen God’s bow in His cloud. It has always been and still is today a general “preaching” of God concerning His covenant. Before the gospel shall have been preached to all nations, that sign will have been seen by all peoples, tongues and tribes. That they do not understand it as a sign of His covenant does not alter this fact. They have seen the sign. But the promise is only for some who see the sign of that covenant promise. That was true even of the eight who saw the first one. Only a comparatively short while after they saw this sign in the heavens the curse was pronounced upon Canaan, the son of Ham. And thus that promise, given by an unchangeable God, could not mean and did not meanall of his seed. The sign, indeed, is general, being displayed to all the peoples of the world in a most literal sense. The covenant is continued and confirmed only with those chosen in Christ, the Seed of Noah and of the Woman.