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Biblical Themes :
Noah and the Rainbow

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Noah and the Rainbow 

Read : Genesis 8:15-19; Genesis 8:21b-22; Genesis 9:1; Genesis 9:8-17 

Do you write lists or notes to remind yourself to do things ? Shopping lists, or perhaps a reminder to post something, or to make a phone call ? And when you make your note or your list - do you put it somewhere obvious, so that you'll see it - on the fridge, or by the telephone or the front door ? A post-it note is so useful for that isn't it - you can stick it somewhere you'll see it, so it jogs your memory. I wonder if you have ever thought of rainbows as God's post-it notes ? I'll come back to that ! 

I'm sure you are familiar with the story of Noah and the flood - remember at the very beginning of the Bible when God created everything, we are told that "he saw that it was very good". Yet just a few chapters later, in Genesis 6, we read "The wickedness of man was great in the earth, and every intent was only evil continually". And it goes on "The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart" - what a terrible turnaround. From being pleased with his good creation, when God saw people constantly doing evil, He resolved to bring a just destruction on them all. 

Except for Noah, who found favour with God. God had a detailed rescue plan for Noah. He instructed Noah to build an ark that would save him, his family, and representatives of all living things. This meant that not everything would be destroyed by the flood, and afterwards people would get a second chance. Noah did exactly what God told him - and how hard that must have been, with his neighbours laughing at him, and wondering if he had lost his mind. 

I expect that probably just got worse during the 120 years that God allowed Noah to build the ark and warn people to mend their ways. But nothing changed, so at the end of that time, when Noah was 600, God allowed the flood to happen. The ark was really just an enormous wooden box. The measurements we are given are 450 x 75 x 45 ft (150 x25x15 m). To put that into perspective, that's 3 times the length of Nelson's ship HMS Victory. The ark was designed simply to float, not to sail, but fortunately for Noah, he wouldn't have had any problem launching it !  

Noah, his family and the animals, all survived in the ark, while the flood destroyed everything else. And eventually, when the water subsided enough that land was once again visible, God told Noah it was time to leave the ark.  

In the reading we saw what happened next - God made a promise, "I will never again curse the ground for man's sake, although the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night, shall not cease."  

Some of the features of God's covenant promise to Noah, are that it is entirely instituted by God, it is unconditional - Noah doesn't have to do anything, and its scope is universal - applying to every living creature and all of their descendants too. God makes his promise that he won't destroy the earth again, saying "I will never again curse the ground for man's sake, although the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth". So, although God was giving people a second chance, it sounds as though he didn't really expect that things would be any better than they were before the flood.  

So God made his covenant with Noah, and said "The rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth". And the rainbow is the post-it note, a reminder of God's promise, but not to remind Noah, or anyone on earth. The rainbow in the sky is God's reminder to himself of his promise.  


I find that incredible - much as we may love to see rainbows, much as they may remind us of God's faithfulness and steadfastness in keeping his promise, the rainbow isn't primarily there for us, it's there to remind God of his promise not to destroy the earth again.  

You might be interested to know that there is no word in Hebrew for rainbow, the word used is the ordinary word for "war bow". The meaning was perhaps to be that, what was ordinarily an instrument of war and a symbol of vengeance, became a symbol of peace and mercy by virtue of its now being set in the clouds. God's war bow was transformed into a rainbow by the sunlight of his mercy and grace. Therefore the rainbow shows that God is at peace with his covenant people. 

Sadly, people didn't get any better after the flood, and still we ravage the earth and its peoples. People still hurt and abuse one another, it all continues, seemingly without end. We only have to watch the news or open a newspaper, to see how many nations in the world are torn apart by wars or violence. 

All of which made me wonder how often since the flood God has been "grieved in His heart" again at what was going on in the world, I wondered how many times a rainbow has been the only thing that has prevented us from being destroyed again ? I also wondered, did God need a visible reminder of his promise, because he knew that there would be times when he would be so grieved by our behaviour, or be so angry at our inhumanity to one another, that without that visible reminder which would pull him up short, he might react in anger again, as he did in Noah's day ?  

This then is our God, who created a beautiful and good world, but destroyed it once because people were constantly spending their time in wickedness. But he promised never to do it again, no matter how angry he got, no matter how wicked people were. And he has kept that promise not just for a few short months or years, but for thousands and thousands of years. The rainbow still shines, and it still reminds us of God's promise, and it is also a reminder of his faithfulness to that promise. And since he's kept that promise, does it suggest that we can trust him to keep, not just this one, but all of the other promises that he has made through the centuries ?  

Even though most people in the world don't know the scientific explanation of a rainbow, and don't know how it occurs, whenever they see a rainbow in the clouds, it whispers to them of God's mercy and love. And I suspect that anyone whose heart hears the rainbow whispering to them about God, knows much more about the meaning of the rainbow, than the scientist who knows only the coldly scientific explanation. 

Here is the end of an article that was a very scientific explanation of rainbows. It reduced them to the angles of reflection and refraction of light through water. I suspect it was trying to de-mystify rainbows, perhaps to reduce them to the mundane with cold science.At the very end an article, it said :  

Because each arc of a rainbow is the result of the interaction of sunlight on raindrops between the observer and the apparent position of the rainbow, it follows that different observers will see the rainbow because of different raindrops. Each rainbow therefore, is personal to its observer.

Isn't that amazing ? It means that no two people see the same rainbow ! Does that mean that we each have our own personal reminder of God's promise to us ? Is it a reminder that God's promises apply to each one of us personally, as individuals who are known and loved by God ? I don't know about you, but to me, this makes rainbows even more special because it is a reminder that God's promises are made to me personally ! 

Aren't we all looking for someone we can trust completely, someone who will never let us down, someone who will never break a promise to us, someone we can always rely on ? That is God, for each of us, every day, always - perhaps that's what the rainbow could help us to remember.  

Ruth Gillett, Relfective Worship


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