Last weekend I spent a day in Topsham. Whilst sheltering from a heavy shower in a bird hide and watching the waterfowl that inhabit the salt marshes there, I was fortunate to witness a particularly spectacular rainbow and was reminded how, in the biblical account of the flood, the rainbow was given as a sign of God’s covenant promise to never flood the whole earth again. Interesting to me is the fact that the Hebrew word that the Bible uses for bow in Genesis 9 is ‘qešet’. The same word is used elsewhere in the Bible for that type of bow that is used as a weapon of war suggesting that the bow we are talking about here is a ‘bow’ as in ‘bow and arrow’. More interestingly still is that the bows we see in the sky after rain are ones that always point towards heaven.
The story of Noah and the Ark, as given to us in the book of Genesis, tells how the flood was an act of judgement on God’s part, ordained by him because he ‘saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.’ Scary stuff! And all the more so perhaps given that the world isn’t fairing any better today. But we should remember that the account of Noah and the Ark is first and foremost a picture of the salvation that is available to us through faith in Christ. For just as those who were hidden inside the Ark were brought safely through the flood, so too there is hope for us who, hidden in Christ, will surely be brought safely through death.
After the flood the earth was not cleansed of all sin and God remains angry therefore at our continued wrongdoing. Judgment will follow. But the rainbow reminds us, not only of God’s promise to never flood the whole earth again, but also of God’s willingness to fire the arrow of his judgment at himself. God himself is reminding us of his promise to take the punishment that his people deserve on account of their continuing to sin.
It is a feature of covenant promises that they are always accompanied by covenant signs. The Christian practice of taking communion is another such covenant sign. And a greater one too. When at the Last Supper, Jesus inaugurated the practice, he told the disciples to take the bread and wine ‘in remembrance of him’. And of the wine in particular he said, ‘this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’ [Matthew 26:28]. Like the rainbow, drinking the wine is a sign of God’s promise to be merciful to us. When we take the cup we are reminded that the blood shed by Jesus on the cross is sufficient to allow God to lovingly forgive us our sins without him having to compromise his justice. When we take the cup we are reminded that God has indeed let loose that arrow of judgment and that he himself has been pierced by it. For it was on the cross that Jesus paid the price for all our sin, it was there that he was ‘pierced for our transgressions’ [Isaiah 53:5], it was there that, as he suffered and died, he took the punishment we deserved.
But it’s not just we who are reminded of covenant promises by covenant signs. Remarkably perhaps, it reminds God too. Consider the rainbow again. When he first gave it as a covenant sign, 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.
[Genesis 9:13 – 16]
The rainbow therefore reminds God, as well as us, of his promise. And so it is when we take Communion. It too is a covenant sign which reminds God of his covenant promise to us. When we take communion it isn’t just about us remembering what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. As we take the bread and wine “in remembrance of [Jesus]” we proclaim the Lord’s death, tangibly representing the gospel as a memorial, not only before ourselves and those who may be watching on, but also before God. And God, who sees the sign, remembers once again his promises to us.
It’s a wonderfully reassuring thing to remember God’s promises. But how much more reassuring to realise that God himself remembers them too, that his ongoing grace towards us is assured.
That is the rainbows end.
To read, ‘Water from a Rock’, click here
To read, ‘The Sacrifice of Isaac – Law or Gospel?’, click here
To read, ‘Rest assured’, click here
To read, ‘Hope Comes From Believing The Promises Of God’, click here
And for something completely different, to read ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’, a blog based on the excellent film ‘Judy’, click here
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