The Covenant with Noah | Genesis 8:20-9:17
Brian Hedges | February 25, 2018
Well, turn in your Bibles this morning to Genesis chapter 9. We’re actually going to begin reading at the end of chapter 8 and then end in chapter 9. While you’re turning there, let me just kind of introduce in this way.
For years now I’ve enjoyed watching movies, films, TV shows that have something to do with apocalyptic themes. Okay, so dystopian future is apocalypse or post-apocalyptic films and TV shows. There are numbers of these that have been made over the years; some are much better than others.
You might remember in 1998 there was a film called Deep Impact. Do you remember that film? I remember seeing that in the theater. The tag line was, “Oceans rise, cities fall, hope survives." It actually wasn’t that great of a movie, but it was kind of in the era of great disaster movies back in the ’90s, and it’s a story about this seven-mile wide comet that’s on a collision course with the earth, and if it hits it’s going to create these huge tidal waves and devastate human civilization.
More current is the television show The Walking Dead, which is kind of the latest version of zombie apocalypse. And so the whole infrastructure of the world goes down and zombies are everywhere and people are fighting the walking dead and one another for survival.
Or you might think of the classic science fiction movies The Planet of the Apes, which have found something of a reboot here in recent years. Russell Moore, who’s a pretty prominent theologian and cultural commentator among Christians today, wrote an article (a few years ago I came across this) that’s called “Christian Eschatology and ‘The Planet of the Apes.’” Now, how is that for an interesting combination?
He talks about how in a class he taught he showed a clip from the 1968 Planet of the Apes movie, and then he talked about the other versions of the movie. So there was a reboot sometime in the 2000s, and then most recently, I guess, Rise of the Planet of the Apes was the first in a trilogy of movies. He was explaining to his class how these different versions of the film kind of expose the current cultural fears of society.
So, in the ’60s, the fear was nuclear holocaust, right, so that becomes a prominent theme in the film. In 2001, when there’s this initial reboot, the fear was terrorism, domestic and international terrorism; of course, it was the era of 9/11. And then in 2011, with the most recent reboot, the fear is more the dangers of technological advance and how technological, scientific advances can turn on us and actually lead to devastation in our lives. All three of these films, according to Moore, present a dystopian future in which our worst apprehensions are realized, and he says, “That’s an eschatology, and a dark one.”
Now, eschatology, of course, is our doctrine of the last things. So what Moore is showing is that even in our culture we have an eschatology, we have certain expectations about the future, and oftentimes those expectations are pretty dark.
Now, I actually think that these kinds of films and TV shows are more than just examples of mere escapism. Now you may not like this particular genre, and that’s fine, but they do have something to teach us. They focus on human behaviors, on human hopes, and on human fears. They imagine for us how human beings are likely to behave in the absence of infrastructure, in the absence of government, in the absence of law, those kinds of things which the western world now depends upon.
These films also explore philosophical and religious and ethical issues. At their very best, they raise important questions about the role of natural law in human behavior, about how human beings behave in circumstances where they are not constrained by outward law.
And, most of the time, these stories take one of two routes. If they tend to be more optimistic, such as Deep Impact was, the story goes something like this: everybody faces incredible obstacles and lots of people may die, but the focus becomes on those who survive and their hope for the future and the indomitable human spirit and how we’re going to get through it. So you have this in the movie Deep Impact. The story ends, there are key characters who are climbing a mountaintop, and then you have a voiceover of Morgan Freeman, who’s the President in that movie, plays the President in that movie, and then it cuts to him and he’s talking about how “the comet came but now the waters have receded and we’re building again, we’re beginning again.” In fact, the last three words of the movie are, “Let us begin.” So it kind of ends on a hopeful note, optimistic that as human beings, you know, “we’re the master of our fate and we’re going to conquer this.”
Now, a lot of these shows or these movies take a more pessimistic note. So the tone is much more negative. So the outlook becomes very bleak. So this is true, for example, in The Walking Dead, where the real monsters in the show turn out to be not zombies, but the human beings, who just develop further and further in their depravity and in their sinfulness and in their violence, and so on.
Now, you might be asking, “What in the world does this have to do with Genesis?” Well, Genesis actually gives us something like an apocalyptic story. It gives us the story of the flood; it was a catastrophic story, the destruction of the known world at that time, and in Genesis chapter 9 we get the beginning of the new humanity. We get those who survive, Noah and his family, what God says to them, and so they’re beginning again after this terrible tragedy that they have experienced.
This story, as we’ve seen, is a story of salvation through judgment. It’s a story of the judgment of God on human wickedness, on human depravity, but of God’s salvation, his preservation of the human race, through this judgment. And in some ways the story of the flood is a microcosm of the story of the whole Bible. The whole Bible is a story of how the creation has been tragically ruined by sin and is under the judgment of God and how God is coming to the rescue to save his people through judgment.
To quote the Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck, “The essence of the Christian religion consists in this: that the creation of the Father, devastated by sin, is restored in the death of the Son of God and is recreated by the Holy Spirit to a kingdom of God.” That’s the story of the Bible, and really that’s the story of the flood as well, or at least the flood is something of a shadow of that greater story.
That’s important for us to understand as we begin to dig into Genesis chapter 9, which gives us what theologians call the covenant with Noah. It’s essentially God’s promise to Noah and through Noah, God’s promise to humanity, of what he’s going to do now that the flood is over.
So we’re going to read the text. We’re going to begin in Genesis 8:20, and then read down through 9:17. So if you want to follow along in your copy of Scripture, or you can read along on the screen. Genesis 8:20; this is right after the flood has ended and Noah comes out of the ark.
“Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.’ And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.‘Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.’ Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, ‘Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’ And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.’ God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.’”
This is God’s word.
So, three things I want you to see from the passage:
I. The Image of God
II. The Promise of God
III. The Bow of God
These three things will give us a lead into three important truths about this passage. The image of God shows us the basis for human ethics, so when we think about our world and we think about morality, we think about human rights, those kinds of things, we find the basis for that right here in Genesis chapter 9 in the image of God. Then the promise of God gives us an assurance of divine preservation; we’ll look at the substance of just what that promise is. And then the bow of God is a sign. It’s a sign of this covenant, and it’s a sign of what we might call light and of peace. Okay, so three things.
I. The Image of God: The Basis for Human Ethics
First of all, the image of God, and the image of God is basis for human ethics. You see this in the first seven verses of chapter 9. Now, I’m not going to read all the way through it again, but it’s there on the screen for you to reference.
One of the first things you notice when you read these verses is how there are both similarities and differences with Genesis 1 and 2. Alright, so here’s Noah and his family. They are the last and only survivors of the human race, and now God speaks to them, and there are certain similarities between what God says to Noah and what God had said and what God had done with the first human beings, Adam and Eve, on that first morning of creation. So, God blesses Noah and his sons in verse one, just as he had blessed Adam and Eve, the first human pair, in Genesis 1:28.
He gives them a similar commission or a mandate. He tells them to “be fruitful and multiply” and to “fill the earth.” This is repeating Genesis 1:28.
Then God provides food for them, in verse 3, and you have God providing food for the human beings in Genesis chapter 1 as well. And again, we also see that man is made in the image of God. Now, that’s stated explicitly in Genesis 1:26-27; here it’s stated again, but in a certain context, in verse 6, that man is made in God’s image.
Those are the similarities, but there are also differences. There are also differences. Adam and Eve were created in righteousness, they were created perfect, right, in the sight of God; they were without sin. That’s not the case here in Genesis chapter 9. God recognizes, at the end of Genesis chapter 8 he recognizes that man will continue to be sinful, and so there are certain sanctions that you find in Genesis chapter 9. God is giving these commands to Noah, he’s giving prescriptions for how Noah and human beings are to live, but certain sanctions in order to safeguard human life.
Now remember that the whole reason for the flood was because of the violence of the earth, the corruption of the earth. The inhabitants of the earth had corrupted the earth, they had corrupted themselves, because of this widespread violence. And it began all the way back, as we’ve seen, in Genesis chapter 4 when Cain murdered Abel, and then several generations later Lamech murders a young man and swears to take sevenfold vengeance, and this just explodes; it just mushrooms into a society marked by violence. Not that different from the society we live in today, also a society marked by violence.
This is the reason that God had sent the judgment of the flood, and now God makes provision for the human beings, but he does so in a way to safeguard human life. So you see this in verses 5 and 6. Well, first of all, I’ll just comment on verses 3 and 4.
It seems here that God gives permission, explicitly for the first time, for human beings to actually eat animals. That seems to have not been the case; at least, it’s not explicit that that’s the case before this point. You remember in Genesis chapter 1 God had provided plants and fruit yielding seeds; he had provided that for human beings. Now he explicitly provides that they can eat animals, but it means that the creation itself is marked by a kind of conflict rather than harmony. So in verse 2 you see that “the fear and the dread of you,” that is, of human beings, “shall be upon every beast of the earth.” There’s not the kind of harmony that you have in Genesis chapter 2 in paradise; instead, you have conflict, you have fear and dread.
But the real focus here is on the sanctity of blood. So human beings are not to eat the blood of animals, that’s clear in verse 4; but then in verses 5 and 6, human beings are not to shed one another’s blood through murder, and if they do, there is a penalty, there’s a sanction against it.
So look at verses 5 and 6: “And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.”
Okay, so right there you see the basis of this most basic of all human rights. The most basic of all human rights is the right to life. It’s the sanctity of human life. Human blood is not to be shed, and the basis for that is that God made man in his own image, and in order to safeguard human life God prescribes this sanction, that if someone sheds blood they are to lose their life.
Now, we think about application of this, and I know that in our own culture the system is broken in many ways. So we practice, at least some states in our country practice, capital punishment, and sometimes it has been wrongfully practiced. There is no doubt, if you read the cases of this, where innocent people have been condemned and have been executed, when there have been unjust trials. There are cases where people have been charged and convicted and executed simply because of the color of their skin. There’s no doubt that there is injustice in the system, so we recognize that. Any case of such injustice is a gross evil in the sight of God.
Nevertheless, there is a biblical principle here, and the biblical principle is that God has instituted the state, he has instituted government, in order to safeguard human life by prescribing and by enforcing law. And the most basic function of that law is to limit violence and to limit infringements upon the rights of people and to execute the justice of God.
So, as Paul says in Romans chapter 13, “Rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”
Alright, now Paul writes this in the New Testament; he writes this under the reign of an emperor in the Roman Empire, and he says, “Submit to the authority.” God has instituted human government, and human government bears the sword in order to safeguard basic human rights. So that’s the first application, is just to understand that.
But then, I think, by extension it’s true, and I think we can argue this from Scripture, from James chapter 3 and Proverbs chapter 31 and other places, that there are basic human rights, and the very basis of all these rights is the fact that human beings are made in the image of God. So the reason why we should care about issues of justice, and not least of all things like abortion or euthanasia or human trafficking or racial conflict and harmony. The reason we should care about those things is because human beings are precious in the sight of God, and every single human being is made in God’s image.
That has tremendous implications for how we treat one another and how we treat others as believers, and also treat those who are not believers. I don’t think it’s stretching the implications of Scripture at all to say that as human beings and as people who are made in the image of God we should recognize the image of God in every other human being we encounter, even if they are of a different religion, even if they are of a different ethnicity, a different nation, even if they are our enemies we are to treat them with respect. We are to recognize that these are human beings.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that crime should go unpunished. So you have two principles here: the state of course should punish criminal activity, but we as human beings must treat other human beings with respect and with goodwill because they are fellow creatures made in the image of God. And ultimately, it’s our respect and reverence for God himself that leads us to safeguard the rights of fellow human beings. It’s all found right here, the origin of this is found right here in Genesis chapter 9, the image of God as the basis for human ethics.
II. The Promise of God: The Assurance of Divine Preservation
Here’s the second thing to see from this passage: the promise of God and the assurance of divine preservation. So, we have in this passage the first detailed covenant in Scripture. Now, a covenant is essentially a solemn promise that is sealed by an oath. That’s essentially what a covenant is.
If you want a more formal definition, this is Paul Williamson’s definition from this book Sealed with an Oath. He says, “A covenant is a solemn commitment guaranteeing promises or obligations undertaken by one or both parties, sealed with an oath.”
Alright, so you think of a serious, solemn promise sealed with an oath; that’s a covenant. There are lots of covenants in Scripture, and this, in fact, is one of the organizing concepts in the Bible. You have here the covenant with Noah, you also have a covenant with Abraham, Genesis chapter 17; you have a covenant with Israel, the nation of Israel, what we sometimes think of as the Mosaic covenant or the Sinai covenant. You have God’s covenant with David in 2 Samuel chapter 7. You have the prophecy of a new covenant in the prophet Jeremiah, and then the inauguration of that covenant in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And then many theologians also see evidence for a covenant with Adam and Eve, and therefore a covenant with all humanity, what is sometimes called the covenant of works.
Well, this passage gives us the first detailed covenant in Scripture. Apart from Genesis chapter 6, this is the first time this term is used. In Genesis chapter 6 God says to Noah, “But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, your son’s wives with you.” So that’s the first occurence of the word “covenant.” That’s probably proleptic, looking forward to the covenant God actually establishes here in Genesis chapter 9.
This covenant is marked by its breadth. It embraces every living creature. You see this, these are the recipients of the covenant, the recipients of the promise. You can see this in verses 9 and 10. God says, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you,” and then he begins to detail these creatures, again in terms of Genesis chapters 1 and 2.
So, here’s the thing to note here, that God makes a promise, it’s not just to human beings; this is a promise to creation. It’s a promise to the created order. It’s a universal, all-embracing covenant and it embraces all his creatures. So sometimes this is called the universal covenant or the creation covenant.
And then you have the substance of this covenant, the substance of God’s promise, in verse 11: “I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” That’s the substance of it. It’s a promise that God will never again do what he has just done. He will never again destroy the world with a flood.
You have a similar promise in chapter 8:21-22, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intentions of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done,” and then there’s this assurance that while the earth remains the seasons are going to remain as well.
Now, a couple of applications of this.
First of all, right here we have the basis (or at least part of the basis) of what we often call the doctrine of common grace. Okay, so we distinguish between God’s saving grace, which he gives to believers, and God’s common grace, which he gives to all his creatures and to all human beings. So you remember how Jesus said that the sun shines, the rain falls, on the just and on the unjust. God shows goodness to all of his creatures; that’s common grace. And you see the basis of it right here. God makes a promise; he’s going to preserve life, he’s going to not wipe out humanity again, as he has done in the flood. This is part of God’s promise to human beings and to the created order.
And this also, then, shows us God’s commitment to creation. Now, this is important for us to understand, because sometimes we can get the idea that salvation, Christian salvation, is essentially God’s plan to deliver us from "the late, great planet earth," to take us off of this planet, and that when all’s said and done we’ll have nothing to do with earth, we’ll have nothing to do with the world, we’ll have nothing to do with our created humanity; we’ll be more like angels who are bodiless spirits. There are a lot of people that have basically that idea, that salvation is about getting out of the prison-house of the flesh and getting into the presence of God.
That’s not the biblical idea at all. God’s plan, rather, is a plan to restore creation. It’s a plan to renew creation. It’s a plan to redeem creation. And that includes our physical bodies, but more than that it includes the created order itself. God preserves the creation, and when you get to the very end of the Bible, the book of Revelation, which is the apocalyptic book of the Bible, right; that’s where we get the word “apocalypse”; it comes from the Greek word for revelation. The revelation to John, that last book of the Bible, it’s not a revelation mainly of destruction, although there’s judgment on the earth, but it’s essentially a revelation of salvation as God brings heaven to earth. The New Jerusalem descends from heaven, God makes his dwelling once and for all with man, the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of God and of Christ.
That’s the end game. God is redeeming, he is renewing creation; he’s doing that through his resurrected Son, Jesus Christ, and you and I will be participants in that. If we believe in Christ, we will inhabit a new heavens and a new earth. That’s our hope. That’s part of the promise of God.
III. The Bow of God: The Sign of the Covenant
So, we’ve seen the image of God, we see the promise of God, and then finally, this is where I want to focus the rest of our time, I want us to think about the bow of God, which is the sign of the covenant, the sign of the covenant with Noah.
Now, this word “sign” is used many times in Scripture, and it’s often attached to covenantal language. So when God makes a covenant with Abraham he gives him a sign, the sign of circumcision. When God makes a covenant with Israel he gives them a sign, the sign of the Sabbath. When Jesus institutes the new, or he inaugurates, the new covenant he gives his disciples a meal, right, the Lord’s Supper, and we often use this Old Testament language, “sign,” to describe what the Lord’s Supper is; it is a sign of the gospel. Well, you have the first occurrence of that word in that kind of context right here in Genesis chapter 9.
I want you to see two things about this covenant sign. I want you to see that it’s a sign of light and it’s a sign of peace, okay?
(1) So, first of all, just think about light. Think about a rainbow, first of all. This is a rainbow. The bow in the clouds, it’s a rainbow, right? We know that; if you’re reading the NIV it actually says “rainbow.”
So, what is a rainbow? Well, first of all, it is light, right? It’s light refracted through rain or through water droplets that are still in the air, and so you get the whole spectrum of colors. But a rainbow is light. And it’s light shining out of the cloud. It’s light shining out of darkness.
I mean, have you ever noticed that you never walk out on a bright, sunny, clear, cloudless day and see a rainbow? You never do. You never will. You’re only going to see a rainbow after a storm. You’re only going to see a rainbow when there’s been clouds, when there’s been rain. You don’t get the light refracting through the water unless there’s been the storm, or there’s been the cloud.
I think that alone has something to teach us. There is a truth in Scripture, that God’s grace is only deeply understood and grasped against the backdrop of God’s judgment, that God’s mercy is only deeply understood and grasped against the backdrop of our misery. It’s only when we see ourselves in our misery, in our sin, when we see God’s wrath and judgment against us, that we can then really grasp how great and how deep God’s grace is. It’s only in the midst of deep suffering and out of deep suffering that we truly begin to appreciate the comfort of the gospel. Before that, we don’t really appreciate it, but only when we go through the darkness. Only when we’ve been through the storm do we begin to really deeply understand how great the grace and the comfort of God is.
There’s a great illustration of this in one of my favorite poets, a man named William Cowper. William Cowper lived during the same time period as John Newton, and Cowper is a great hymn writer. He wrote wonderful hymns, including the hymn “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood.” He and John Newton together wrote the Olney hymnal, many of those hymns surviving down to this day, including the most famous of all hymns, “Amazing Grace,” written by John Newton.
Now, what many people don’t know about William Cowper is that he struggled all of his life with mental illness. This probably reached all the way back into his childhood, which was traumatic in many ways. He lost parents at a very early age. He was in and out of insane asylums for all of his adult life. He attempted suicide multiple times, even after he became a Christian. God mercifully spared him so that he never actually took his life. And John Newton was the guy who was just holding Cowper’s hand to help him get through these times of deep, deep depression and discouragement. He was a man who lived on the brink of insanity, with just ongoing mental torment and anguish.
And yet, out of that darkness, he left behind some of the greatest hymns in the English language, including this one, which is called “Light Shining out of Darkness.” And listen to the words of this hymn.
God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform,
He plants his footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill
He treasures his bright designs
And works his sovereign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
You see, that’s what the bow in the clouds signified for Noah. I mean, can you imagine what they went through? I mean, this is a traumatic experience for Noah and his family. Everybody else died, and they’re the ones that are left. They are spared the judgment of God, they are saved, they are rescued, but it’s a traumatic experience. And can’t you think that every time it began to rain again Noah would have feared, “Is it going to happen again?” I mean, he probably had PTSD, right? It was a traumatic experience.
What was his assurance? His assurance was the light in the clouds, it was the bow in the clouds. And God said, “This is a sign I’ll never destroy the earth in this way again.” It was an assurance that God was giving him a new beginning, he was giving the human race a new beginning, he was giving creation itself a fresh start. So it was sign of light, it was a sign of hope, light shining out of darkness.
(2) But it’s more than that. It’s also a sign of peace secured through sacrifice.
Now, follow the logic here. I want to argue this by showing you several texts and how they connect together. The whole beginning of this part of the narrative, Genesis 8 into chapter 9, begins with a sacrifice. You see that, in chapter 8:20? “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.” Remember that God had told Noah to take seven of every clean animal. Well, presumably the reasons for that were to give them food to eat and to give them animals for sacrifice.
And so Noah builds the altar, he makes his sacrifice, and then verse 21, “And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground,’” and he makes this covenant with Noah.
So the occasion upon which God makes the covenant is when God smells the pleasing sacrifice, he smells the aroma. So this is an essential part of this whole covenant ceremony. To quote Williamson again, “The sacrifices here are to be understood as an intrinsic element in the establishment of the Noahic covenant.”
Then you have a reference to this covenant in Isaiah 54, where it’s called a covenant of peace. God is saying to Israel he’s going to make a covenant of peace with them, and he recalls the covenant with Noah, or the story of Noah. Let’s read the passage, Isaiah 54:9-10.
“‘This is like the days of Noah to me: as I swore that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you, and will not rebuke you. For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”
So right there you see the Noahic covenant is something like the backdrop for this covenant that God makes with Israel, a covenant of peace. So you have sacrifice and you have peace. But what does the bow have to do with it?
Well, the bow, of course, is the sign, it’s the sign of the covenant; but it’s more than that. The Hebrew word for bow is the word qeset, and it’s used 80 times in the Old Testament, 80 times. Only in this context and in one other passage, Ezekiel chapter 1, does it refer to a rainbow, okay? One time it’s part of a title of a song. Do you know what it refers to the other 75 times? It refers to an archer’s bow. It’s the same word. It’s an archer’s bow. Like a bow and arrow? So it’s a weapon. The bow is a weapon; it’s a weapon of war, it’s the weapon of a mighty man.
So, for example, in Genesis chapter 27, when Isaac tells Esau, this mighty hunter, to go out and hunt for him game, he tells him, “Take your bow.” It’s the same word, the same word that’s used here. It’s a bow.
Sometimes these weapons, in something of an anthropomorphism, are described to be God’s weapons of judgment. So, for example, in Psalm 7:11-13 we read, “God is a righteous judge and a God who feels indignation every day. If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and readied his bow; he has prepared for him his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts.” So God is pictured here as this mighty warrior who has weapons poised for judgment against the wicked.
And yet right here, in Genesis chapter 9, you have a bow in the clouds. Here it seems to be the idea that God has hung up his bow, and the bow is there in the clouds and it’s not pointing down to earth, it’s pointing up to heaven.
This was the insight of Charles Haddon Spurgeon in one of his wonderful sermons. Spurgeon said, “Years rolled on, and God destroyed the world with a flood. You know the story; God said he would, and he did it. He told Noah to go into the ark and he would save him. He went in, and he saved him. But when he came out, perhaps Noah was half afraid the world would be destroyed again, and when a shower began to fall he did not know but what the sluices of heaven had been pulled up again and that once more the floods might come. Presently, he saw in the skies that wonderful sight which I think none of us can look upon without delight, a rainbow, a bow of many colors. Not a bloodstained bow, but a bow of joy, many-colored, like streamers of delight, a bow not turned downwards to shoot at us, but upwards, as if we might shoot our prayers up to God upon it, a bow without an arrow, to show that God has not come out to war with men.”
You see, the bow in the clouds was a sign that God was promising peace. It was a sign of peace to the created order. And of course, the way this peace is secured is by a sacrifice. So the covenant of peace that Isaiah talks about in Isaiah 54, where do we get that covenant of peace? Well, you get the answer if you go one chapter back to Isaiah 53, where we read about a servant, a suffering servant, who is “pierced for our transgressions,” is “crushed for our iniquities, upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”
You see, the story of Noah, like every story in the Bible, ultimately points to a greater story. It points to the story of redemption. It points us to Jesus Christ. There was a day when Jesus Christ hung on the cross, and when he did, God pointed his bow at him. He unleashed his arrows of judgment at him, and he took those arrows! He took the judgment! And he took the judgment so that you and I could be spared the judgment. He took the wrath so that we could get the peace, he took the judgment so that we could get salvation, he took the flood and the storm of the anger and the wrath of God so that we can have the everlasting peace that comes through sacrifice.
Now, as we close this morning, here’s the pressing question for every one of us. Not only are we to ask ourselves if we are living as image-bearers of God, treating one another and treating human beings with dignity and love and respect because they are also the image-bearers of God, but are you trusting in the promise of God, and have you found peace through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ? If you haven’t found that peace, I invite you this morning, place your trust in Christ, turn from your sins, look to the Savior. He bore your judgment so that you could be saved. Let’s pray.
Gracious Father, we thank you for your love and your grace. Thank you for the gift of your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and that through the chastisement that he endured, through his pierced body we can have peace with God. So right now we express with all of our hearts that we trust the promise, that we trust your grace, that we believe the gospel, that we rely upon Jesus Christ. We do not look to our own works, we don’t look to our own efforts, our own doing; we look to the doing and the dying of Jesus Christ, his death on the cross, and his resurrection into new creation. That’s the basis of our hope this morning.
We pray that you would seal these promises to our hearts, and that as we come to the table, the Lord’s table, the new covenant sign, that just as Noah looked on the bow in the clouds and was assured that your promise was true, so we today would both taste and see that you are good, that you are gracious, that you are true; that we would believe your promises, that in taking the bread, in taking the juice, we would be assured that, just as truly as our bodies are nourished by this food, so surely are we saved through Jesus Christ, the living bread.
So draw near to us in these moments, we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.