Up there, in the clouds, it’s…a bow | Genesis 9.8-17
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 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. 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.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” Genesis 9:8-17 | ESV
Covenant. Promise. Guarantee. Pledge. In the world before the Flood, that world with no boundaries, “covenant” would have been a joke – or non-existent. There, promises were made, if made at all, to be broken. God inaugurates life in this new world with quite a foreign sounding word. “Covenant.” Cuh-veh-nant. I can hear God saying repeating it very slowly. A relationship based on trust, on mutual respect. What a concept. Most ancient covenants were effected through the parties eating together (good thing Noah had already lit up the BBQ). A shared meal signifying shared life, shared responsibilities, shared commitments. And when God was the one making the covenant, he typically provided a sign, much like the wedding band we exchange. With Abraham it was circumcision (ouch); with Israel it was Sabbath (rest day – still against the grain, but less painful); with Christ and all of us, the cup of communion. With Noah – really, with the entire newly rebooted creation – it was a bow. The bow is a weapon of war or a lethal hunting implement. In Near Eastern stories, stars in the shape of a bow were associated with the hostility of the gods towards humanity and earth. Significantly this bow in the clouds is hung up, pointed away from earth rather than targeted on a human bull’s-eye – or, as some have observed, pointed by God back at himself. It’s the equivalent of a celestial disarming – of God putting his gun down after ejecting the clip and clearing the chamber, and then raising his hands in good faith. One scholar states, “The divine bellicosity (gotta love scholars!) and hostility has been transformed into a token of reconciliation between God and man.” The rainbow is more than just a signal for God to turn the water off. The relaxed bow “stretches from earth to heaven and extends from horizon to horizon, reminding God of his universal commitment.” “Stretched between heaven and earth, it is a bond of peace between both, and spanning the horizon, it points to the all-embracing universality of the Divine mercy.” Not a bad way to begin life in a rebooted world. Now if only we could remember it too and hang up our bows and bellicosity and allow human kindness to span the horizon of our existence. If only.
What bellicosity and hostility needs to be transformed into a sign of reconciliation in your life? With whom do you need to make peace? What’s the first move you need to make?
Lord, give me the grace to follow your example and to hang up the bow of my anger. More than that, give me the grace to unstring it and to use that string to decorate offerings of peace. Through Christ.
For all of this week’s resources for this new series on Spiritual Disciplines including this week’s DG video, check out the Vineyard website.