What were among the first bible stories you ever learned? Some of my first stories were
- God’s creation (Genesis 1-3)
- Joshua and the battle of Jericho (Joshua 5-6)
- David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17)
- The fiery furnace (Daniel 3)
- Daniel and the Lion’s Den (Daniel 6)
- Jonah and the Whale (Jonah 1-4)
- The birth of Jesus (Matthew 1; Luke 1-2)
- Jesus feeds the 5000 (Matthew 14:13-21)
- The death and resurrection of Jesus (Matthew 27-28; Mark 15-16; Luke 23-24; John 19-20)
And finally, Noah and the Ark (Genesis 6-8).
You remember the story, right? There is a population explosion on the earth. And virtually everyone everywhere had forgotten about God. Everyone was doing their own thing, turning away from what they knew to be right and true. In fact, Scripture diagnosis the problem this way:
“The LORD 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” (6:5).
When God looked upon the earth, he saw disease and death and destruction. God’s holy heart was grieved by what He saw. The world was filled with hate instead of love, and God determined that He must do something about it. He would bring an end to this corrupted world with a great flood. The arrow of His wrath would rightly be pointed at a wicked people.
But there was one man who found favor with God. His name was Noah. God instructed Noah to build an ark – a place of rescue and safety from the coming storm – for Noah and his family. Noah obeyed despite the mockery of public opinion. And one day it started to rain…and rain and rain and rain some more. Until the earth was flooded, and every living creature not on the ark perished.
When the rain stopped falling and the flood waters receded, God promises never to judge the world in the same way for its sins. The sign of God saying He would not flood the earth ever again in judgment was a rainbow in the sky.
I was reminded of this story this week while listening to a sermon on knowing God by Tim Keller. You can walk away from this story with a foreboding sense that, perhaps, God is really, really disappointed in humanity, so disappointed that He is eager to pour out His righteous fury on our sins. When we think about our own sinfulness and failures, sometimes we may be tempted to believe that God’s heart for us is filled with deep discouragement and displeasure. Even Noah, who found favor with God (6:8-9), would eventually demonstrate some disconcerting failures.
And there certainly is a reality that God’s heart is broken over sin and the impact of sin upon creation and people and even His very Son Jesus Christ. We must not overlook or forget that God is holy and just, and in His holiness and justice, He stands opposed to sin.
But the story of God taking action against the disappointing wickedness of His people does not end there.
God gives a sign – a symbol representing a promise – that God would never again judge the earth with a flood. What is that sign? You guessed it. A rainbow.
Except, the text actually doesn’t say “rainbow”. In the Hebrew (original language), the word used is “bow”, not “rainbow”. Bow. As in bow and arrow. A war bow, the main weapon in warfare in ancient times.
Why was the rainbow a sign of God saying, “I will not judge you”? It wasn’t because of the pretty colors. It was because of the direction of the rainbow. Have you ever noticed that the bow is not pointing towards us?
The bow of God’s wrath is not just pointing away from us. It is pointing to heaven. The bow of God’s wrath and judgment is pointing away from sinners. It points heavenward. So, every time a rainbow appears, what God is saying is, “I’ve promised a way for you to escape judgment for your sins. Don’t you see? The bow is pointed towards Me. I’m willing to take the judgment myself.”
Sinclair Ferguson reminds us that the war bow, the bow of battle now flung into the sky, “…is a picture of God, after hostility has ended, and He has established His new creation, flinging His bow of war, His bow of judgment, into the skies as reassurance to Noah, ‘Now that there is reconciliation, you can enjoy the peace that you have with Me; you can be sure that there will never again be this kind of judgment on the earth, until of course, the final cosmic judgment of all time.”
The bow points heavenward, of course, because God Himself takes the judgment of our sin to Himself, into His Son Jesus Christ, that we might enjoy full and final reconciliation with Him.
Dear friends, be encouraged today. The rainbow is a sign of God’s promise, that He has hung up His bow of wrath for those who have taken refuge in Jesus Christ. It is, as Jared Wilson writes, “a reminder to Himself of His grace towards the earth.” Similarly, the cross is a symbol and reminder of the infinite cost required for a just God to shower our sinful lives with grace and forgiveness. The cross is a reminder that when God pointed the bow heavenward, He redirected the arrow of wrath rightly aimed at us and aimed the arrow of His wrath at His sinless Son instead.
You are loved in Christ. The bow proves that. Rest in that love today.