A sermon preached on Genesis 9:12-17, July 28, 2019 by the Rev. Justin Clemente at New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD. Week six of “Genesis: The Big Read,” a continuing sermon series through the book of Genesis, Ordinary Time 2019.
Introduction: A Sign We’ve Missed Out On?
We move now from the swiftness of God’s judgment and his preservation of Noah within the Flood to God’s promises made after the Flood, specifically as made visible to us in the rainbow. How should we understand this? How do you think about the rainbow? Oftentimes, I think this powerful sign is reduced in our thinking to being the tail end of a kids pre-school lesson. Think about it – for one, it’s got a ready-made song. You know the one I mean:
“The Lord told Noah to build him an arky arky…
So, rise and shine and give God the glory glory,
Children of the Lord.”
Besides having a catchy song handy, the rainbow is also perfect for a hit pre-school lesson because it’s got great, easy to recognize, kid-friendly colors.
But friends, we need to recognize that the rainbow is not just for kids – the truth and beauty it expresses is for all. In fact, in chapter 9, verse 10, God says that the covenant (solemn promise) the rainbow signifies is even for all of creation! Today, I want you to come with me as try to recapture its truth and beauty for all. Its meaning is profound and moving, and I think it can be summarized in three ways. Every time we see a rainbow, we are called to remember three things:
I. God’s Forbearance with Man (v. 16)
“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.”
After the Flood, God makes a covenant with Noah and gives us a sign that this age will be marked in a special way by mercy and grace. Bruce Waltke writes, “The transcendent God, who humbles himself to involve himself with people, deliberately chooses to reflect on this colorful vision rather than humanity’s evil.” (Genesis, pg. 147)
How good it is for us to remember this, not only for ourselves – those have been won by his grace in Christ – but for this who have not yet believed. How many of you know that Christians get rightly cranky about the way in which the rainbow is used and abused in our culture today? And yet, ironically, we who know its true meaning are called to remember that the rainbow is a powerful sign of God’s love, mercy, and forbearance with those very same people.
When we remember that God did not snuff our lives out, but instead had mercy upon us, drawing us to himself, giving us the hands and arms of faith to believe and receive Christ, we will then be able look upon others through that same lens.
II. The Intersection of Storm & Sun (v. 14-15)
“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.”
So the rainbow, the expression of God’s forbearance with man, of his grace and his mercy, will always occur at the intersection of a storm and sun. Why?
“[God] is still at war with evil, his rainbow as it were, holding back the threatening black clouds which could, unrestrained, unleash the waters of judgment once more.” (The Message of Genesis 1-11 by David Atkinson, pg. 165).
Do you see how this is a picture of the gospel, friends? As Tim Keller memorably put it, “Jesus gets the lightning and we get the rainbow.” There is this intersection of threat and peace, and the sign of the covenant stands at the center. That’s the cross of Christ. In fact, John Stott memorably says here that the sacraments of our faith, Baptism and Holy Communion, are God’s rainbows today.
III. A War-Bow Pointed Up (v. 13)
“I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”
Here Bruce Waltke is again helpful: “The Hebrew reads simply “bow,” a battle weapon and a hunting instrument. In ancient Near Eastern mythologies, stars in the shape of a bow were associated with the hostility of the gods. Here the warrior’s bow is hung up, pointed away from the earth.” (Genesis, pg. 146).
Not too long ago The Hunger Games series garnered an interest in archery among young people. The novels and movies featured bows being flexed, arrows being loosed this way and that to unleash death upon all in their pathway, but her wildest dreams, the author never imagined a bow or an arrow like this.
In his book Kingdom Prologue, author Meredith Kline writes this:
“The symbol of divine hostility has been transformed into a token of reconciliation between God and man. The war-bow is mentioned in God’s arsenal of wrath… . However, in the sign of the rainbow, the bow is not raised vertically and drawn taut in the face of the foe but is suspended in the relaxed horizontal position.” (Kingdom Prologue, pg. 152).
It’s so very interesting – the next time we hear of the rainbow, it’s in Ezekiel 1:28 and Revelation 4:3, in visions of God’s very throne room: “And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.”
At the heart of heaven is the rainbow of God – the warrior’s bow. Why? Because in the battle of God’s wrath against sin, God will pay the greatest cost.
Conclusion: Heart of Heaven
Here again, it’s a children’s Bible that catches the meaning here best. This from The Jesus Story Book Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones:
“[After the Flood, i]t wasn’t long before everything went wrong again but God wasn’t surprised, he knew this would happen. That’s why, before the beginning of time, he had another plan – a better plan. A plan not to destroy the world, but to rescue it – a plan to one day send his own Son, the Rescuer. God’s strong anger against hate and sadness and death would come down once more – but not on his people, or his world. No, God’s war bow was not pointed down at his people. It was pointed up, into the heart of heaven.” (The Jesus Story Book Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones, pg. 47)
And we may say that when Jesus Christ entered the world, he expressed the heart of heaven. On the cross, the arrow of God’s wrath for sin was unleashed upon him, so that we might be restored to our Father. All this we see in the sign and promise of the rainbow.
All glory to God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.