God's Symbol of Mercy and Patience
I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 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. (Genesis 9:13–15, ESV)
June is LGBTQ “pride month,” and you are about to see a swarm of rainbow symbols on social media, television, t-shirts, signs, and special-runs of consumer products. The world has taken the symbol that God chose as a sign of his covenant with Noah (and the world) and they have hijacked it as a symbol now used to celebrate rebellion against Him and His word.
This is not surprising. Since the beginning, mankind has been trying to hijack the good things God has made, twisting them and seeking to use them for sin. We have done it with animals, the sun, moon, and stars, materials such as gold or wood, the human body, sex, gender… the list could go on and on. This is nothing new, only a new take on an old habit.
As a Christian, I now avoid buying things with rainbow symbols on them because of what that will communicate to the world, even though it is and always will be God’s symbol. After flooding the earth, God promised Noah he would never do it again. He would never again make and end to all life like he did in Genesis 6. The sign of his promise is the rainbow. Every time we see a rainbow in the sky, it is a reminder to us that God keeps his promises.
But it is also a reminder that God does not treat us as we deserve. In Genesis 6:5, God announced his plan to destroy all life on the earth because, “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.” But after the waters receded, and Noah and his family and the animals exited the ark, “The Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.’” (Genesis 8:21) Notice the little word for in the middle of that verse. The first time God destroyed the earth because of man’s wickedness. Now he promises never to do the same again because of man’s wickedness. The rainbow is a symbol of God’s mercy and patience with us in spite of our sin.
How ironically appropriate, that in the LGBTQ community’s desire to hijack a symbol of God’s, and to use it in celebration of rebellion against Him, they chose his symbol of mercy and patience with us in spite of our sin!
In his wonderful book, God of All Things, Andrew Wilson notes how the Hebrew language has no word for “rainbow.” So, Genesis 9:13 simply says, “I have set my bow in the clouds.” A bow… a weapon of death. In hanging his bow in the sky, God hung up his weapon of death, for all to see. He laid it aside, retiring it, communicating that he would never again “strike down every living creature as I have done.” (Gen. 8:21) Now is the time of his patience and his mercy. But it will not last forever.
Wilson also beautifully notes how the bow in the sky is always pointed upwards. If an arrow were to be shot, it would be shot straight up… at God himself. How fitting, considering what Christ did for us on the cross. At the cross God took the death blow himself, in our place, so that it would not strike us. For those who are willing to forsake their sin, and submit to Christ as Lord, they will be spared on the day of judgment. But for those who will not, Paul tells us they are storing up wrath for themselves on the day when God's righteous judgment will be revealed (Romans 2:5).
The rainbow will always be God’s symbol of mercy and patience. He does not want any to perish (2 Peter 3:9). His offer of forgiveness is open to all, but it will not last forever.
Remember this the next time you see a rainbow, and think of Psalm 103:10-12:
“He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”