Signs of the Covenant
“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” (Gen. 9:16).- Genesis 9:12–17
Florida is the lightning capital of the world, and its residents know well the awesome power of hurricanes that visit the state frequently. The accompanying booms, gale-force winds, and torrential rains can make it seem as if the world is ending.
However, believers know that hurricanes and monsoons inflict carnage but will not be the means the Lord uses to destroy the earth. He has promised not to flood the whole world again (Gen. 9:11).
In today’s passage, God confirms His promise in the clouds. Though the waters rage, the rainbow shows our Father will keep His promise (vv. 12–17). It is a visual sign of His covenant fidelity.
A rainbow is more than just white light revealing its component colors. “Bow” in verses 13–16 translates the term for bows wielded in battle. The Lord is a warrior (Jer. 20:11a), but He hung up His weapon after the flood. He may send lightning as arrows (Ps. 18:13–14), but He has made a “truce” with creation. Sin will continue, but never again will He send a universal flood. For now, God points His tool of destruction away from us so that His people can find repentance.
The rainbow is not a sacrament, but it prefigures the Lord’s Supper and baptism as signs and seals of the covenant. These holy ordinances are also visible tokens of God’s faithfulness. When we take communion by faith, we commune with Christ in a way that confirms our reliance on His whole person (John 6; 1 Cor. 11:17–32). When we witness a baptism in faith, we see a picture of the cleansing the Spirit gives those who trust in Jesus alone (John 3:5; Eph. 5:25–26). When rightly administered, both sacraments should fortify our hope in God.
We conclude today with John Calvin’s comments on today’s passage and the sacraments. “It appears to some absurd, that faith should be sustained by such helps. But they who speak thus do not, in the first place, reflect on the great ignorance and imbecility of our minds; nor do they, secondly, ascribe to the working of the secret power of the Spirit that praise which is due. It is the work of God alone to begin and to perfect faith; but he does it by such instruments as he sees good; the free choice of which is in his own power.”
The joining of sign and promise in the rainbow demonstrates how the sacraments must not be divorced from the Word. By themselves, the sacraments offer no aid, but with the Word and faith, they are powerful means of grace. As Dr. R.C. Sproul says in Essential Truths of the Christian Faith, the sacraments “are a vital part of the worship of God and nurture of the Christian life” (p. 224). Whichever of the two sacraments you celebrate this Sunday, trust in the promise it depicts.
Passages for Further Study
1 Peter 3:18–22