Genesis 9:1-17: What does the Rainbow Signify?


What do you see when you see a rainbow in the sky?


I think however many times you see a rainbow, it is always an impressive sight.  But what does it mean to us?  Does it just remind us that when the sun shines at the same time as it is raining, you get a rainbow – does it make us thing of all those songs or acronyms we learned to remember the colours – Richard of York Gave battle in Vain – or whatever else it was you learned.  Does it remind us of science lessons and prisms and learning about infrared and ultraviolet light and stuff.


Or does it make us think of God?  Do we ever think of Genesis 9 – and of the reason why the rainbow lights us the sky in the way that it does?  Because God gave us the rainbow as a sign.


And if the rainbow makes us think of God – what kind of God do we think of? 


As we’ve been going through Genesis in the evenings, we’ve seen how God created the world, and put men and women on the earth to rule it under him – and we’ve seen how things went wrong, and how man went his own way.


We’ve seen how God send the flood to destroy all the people of the earth – except Noah – and now in Genesis 9 we rejoin the story with Noah and his family back on solid ground, and God talks to Noah and his sons.


But what kind of God is this?  As we hear God speak this evening we can see what kind of God is the God of the rainbow.


We’re in Genesis 9 – it’s on page 10 of the bibles in the chairs – please do turn to it and follow through with me.


The first thing we see about God, is that God acts.  The God of the rainbow is an active God – we see this especially in verses 1 to 7.


First we see that God acts to promote life


Look at verses 1 and 7 of Genesis 9:


Genesis 9:1 Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.


And verse 7:


Genesis 9:7 As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it."


After the flood, after God has acted to wipe all the animals and people of the face of the earth except Noah and his sons, God acts again to recreate life.


Look at what God said to Adam in Genesis 1 – verse 28:


Genesis 1:28 God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."


See the similarities between Genesis 9 and Genesis 1?  God is starting again with Noah and his family.  And God wants Noah and his family to fill the earth – and God blesses Noah and his sons.  And if we were to read on into chapter 10 of Genesis, we would see that Noah and his sons do a pretty good job of being fruitful, and multiplying, and filling the earth.


God acts to promote life – and God also gives blesses life.  We worship a life giving, blessing God.  We worship a God who created the universe – but who also sustains it, and gives life – and promotes life.  A God who nurtures and protects – just as he has protected Noah.


This is important as we think of God, and as we seek to understand more and more of the God we read about in scripture.  Because sometimes people have misunderstood God – and made a god after their own imaginings.  For example, many times Christians have seen the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testaments as being different – that somehow in the Old Testament we meet a vengeful, dark, almost cruel God – whereas in the New Testament we meet a God of love. 


But as we read Genesis 9, we see that that is not the case.  We see that the Soveriegn Lord wants to bless his creation – he cares and nurtures life.  Yes he acts in judgement – as we know that Christ will return to judge the living and the dead.  The God of the ld testament and the God of the New is the same God.  As 1 Peter 3:20 says:


1 Peter 3:20 who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water,


God waited patiently for people to repent in the time of Noah – and they did not.  For a hundred years they had the example of Noah and they did not repent – God was patient –God is patient.  God loves to bless his creation.  We need to trust in the real God of the Bible – not in some imaginary God we make for ourselves.


God starts again with Noah – but things are not going to be the way they were – look at verses 2 and 3:


Genesis 9:2 The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands.  3 Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.


God gives everything to man for food – he can now eat both plants and animals – and this will help him as he seeks to fill the earth.


But at the same time, man’s relationship with other living things has changed.  God created man to rule over the created world – but now that rule will create fear amongst all other creatures.  God has started again with Noah – but because of the fall, things are not the way they were.


And so as well as acting to Promote Life, God acts to preserve life.  Look at verses 4 to 6.


Genesis 9:4 "But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. 5 And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. 6 "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.


Noah and his son may eat anything – but they may not eat meat with the life blood in it.  Why does God say this?  So that people will understand the link between blood and life.  Out of respect for life, and out of respect for the one who gives life, God’s people were to abstain from blood.


And God warns Noah that he will act to preserve life by demanding an accounting from anyone who takes life.  Now that might sound illogical – how can you protect life by taking life – but the point of God’s warning here is that it is intended to prevent murder, and show how precious life is.


You see, if life can be taken with impunity, without consequences – then life stoops being precious.  Think of the callous murders that have happened in concentration camps or refugee camps, or in the darker recesses of our cities – because those who killed thought that nothing would happen to them.  They did not believe that there would be consequences – and so they did not value life.


But God makes it clear that there will be consequences – because human life is precious – man is made in God’s image.  The penalty for murder is death – God will demand an accounting.  He will act.


We saw in Genesis 4 that Lamech killed a man for wounding him.  In life he may have been too powerful for anybody else to act – but in death he had to answer to God.   God does not ignore the things that happen in his world – and there will be an accounting.  God acts to preserve life – he cares what happens to his creation.


The God of the Rainbow is an active God.  He acts to bless and nurture – and he acts to preserve and promote life.  He sees all that happens in his world – and he will require an accounting.


The God of the Rainbow is not distant, or inactive.  He is close, and watchful, and nurtures and sustains his creation, despite the activity of fallen human beings.  He watches – and he wants us to regard life as valuable – as he regards life as valuable. 


God is an active God.  He is also a God of promises.


God makes a Covenant with Noah


Look at verses 8 to 11:


8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him:  9 "I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you  10 and with every living creature that was with you-- the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you-- every living creature on earth.  11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth."


God establishes a covenant not just with Noah and his descendants, but with all living things – and the covenant is that never again will a flood destroy the earth.


God makes a covenant – this means that God promises that he will not destroy the earth again.  A covenant is a promise – and a strong promise.  To indicate the strength of the promise here, God also gives a sign – a sign that will appear again and again.  Look at verses 12 to 17:


Genesis 9:12 And God said, "This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth." 17 So God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth."


God says that the rainbow will appear – and will remind God of the promises he has made.  The promise not to destroy the earth with a flood.  An everlasting promise – and everlasting covenant.


So when we see a rainbow, we too can remember God’s promise to the whole of creation  - including us – that he will not flood the world again.  God is committed to sustaining the world until the end. 


But that is not all that the rainbow signifies.  Because the Covenant God makes with Noah here is not just about sustaining the earth.


The Covenant with Noah and his family is for all of Noah’s descendants – look at verse 9:


9 "I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you


God promises to maintain the earth and sustain the earth – but he also makes specific promises to Noah’s descendants.  As we go on in Genesis we will read of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob – father, son and grandson, men whom God called and blessed and made promises to – men who God made a covenant with.


And throughout the Old Testament, God again and again graciously made promises to his chosen people – to Moses and Joshua, to David and Solomon, to the prophets – that he was watching over his people and nurturing them.  Look at Isaiah 54:7-10:


Isaiah 54:7 "For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. 8 In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you," says the LORD your Redeemer. 9 "To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again. 10 Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed," says the LORD, who has compassion on you.


In Isaiah 54, God is talking to the exiles who have been taken to Babylon because of the sins of God’s people.  God talks of the time of exile as a brief moment, and looks forward to a time of everlasting compassion.  The flood was devastating to the whole earth – but also brief – a brief time of judgement from the God whose love is unfailing.  Through the flood God rescued Noah – and God returned his people from exile.  Throughout the Old Testament, God showed himself to be faithful to his people – even when they keep turning away from him.


Again and again God acted to save his people – from the flood, from Sodom and Gomorrah, from Egypt, from enemies in the promised land.  God has kept his covenant – God keeps his promises.  And as we read in 1 Peter, God supremely acted to save in Christ Jesus.  Look at 1 Peter 3:18


1 Peter 3:18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit,


God saved us from our sins – so that we will not face the reckoning we deserve.  And Peter goes on to show how the flood was an example of God at work saving his people – look at verses 19 to 21:


1 Peter 3:19 through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison 20 who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also-- not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,


We’ve seen already how God was patient in the time of Noah – but here we also see that the waters of the flood symbolise the waters of baptism – and baptism symbolises the washing away of sins by what Christ did for us by his death and resurrection.


God is a God of promises and he keeps his promises.  He kept his promise to save in Jesus Christ – and he will save all those who trust in him as Lord and saviour.


We have a God who is active and cares for his world – and a God who keeps his promises.


So next time you see a rainbow in the sky – thing of God’ promises that he made to Noah.  And don’t just think of the promise to keep the world going – because the rainbow also signifies God’s promise to us in Jesus Christ – the promise of salvation.  And then, having seen the rainbow, resolve to act as God would have us act – as Peter exhorts us in 1 Peter 3:


1 Peter 3:15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.


God has saved us, and we should resolve to live lives worthy of our calling.  Ready to tell others about Christ – and ready to back that up with how we behave.


James Hughes

7th November 2004