Ge 9:13-15. This beautiful phenomenon is owing to the refraction of the beams of the sun in passing the drops of falling rain; the rays are separated into the prismatic colors, and then reflected from the cloud opposite to the sun and the spectator. We need not suppose that the rainbow was unknown before the flood; but God then appointed it to be the cheering seal of his covenant with the earth, which is as steadfast as the natural laws from which the rainbow springs.
caused by the reflection and refraction of the rays of the sun shining on falling rain. It was appointed as a witness of the divine faithfulness (Ge 9:12-17). It existed indeed before, but it was then constituted as a sign of the covenant. Others, however (as Delitzsch, Commentary on Pentateuch), think that it "appeared then for the first time in the vault and clouds of heaven." It is argued by those holding this opinion that the atmosphere was differently constituted before the Flood. It is referred to three other times in Scripture (Eze 1:27-28; Re 4:1-3; 10:1).
In Ge 9:11-17 (Priestly Narrative) the rainbow appears as the token of the covenant between God and Noah. As the covenant is universal, so is its sign. The Heb. of Ge 9:13 is ambiguous as to whether the rainbow is conceived of as created for the first time (see Revised Version margin). Though from a scientific point of view this is absurd, it may well have been part of the primitive tradition. Perhaps, however, all that is meant is that the rainbow received a new significance as the symbol of mercy. Its appropriateness is obvious: the storm passes, and the sun casts its beams over the still clouded sky, marking its return by one of the most beautiful phenomena of nature. So God renews His favour after He has hidden His face for a season. But there may be a further mythological significance. The rainbow may be Jahweh's war-bow (Ps 7:12; Hab 3:9,11) which He has laid aside; the Heb. word is the same. So 'it is to the Hindu the bow of Rama, and to the Finn the bow of Tiermes the Thunderer, who slays with it the sorcerers who hunt after men's lives' (Tylor, Primitive Culture, i. p. 298). It is, indeed, prominent in all mythology. To the Greek it is a portent, or Iris, the messenger of the gods; in the Icelandic Edda it is the bridge connecting heaven and earth (cf. Wagner, Rheingold). It is uncertain whether it is alluded to in the Babylonian narrative of the Flood (see Driver, ad loc). In Sir 43:11 the rainbow is one of the wonderful works of God; in Sir 50:7 it is a type of the glory of Simon. In Eze 1:28 it surrounds the throne of God; so Re 4:3. If there is a reference to the Genesis narrative, it will be the symbol of mercy, possibly typified also by the 'emerald' to which it is compared, assuming that a green stone is meant (see Swete, ad loc.). But instead of the word for 'bow' found in the Septuagint, 'Iris' is substituted in Re 4:3, as in Re 10:1. Here evidently it is simply part of the picture, unless there is an allusion to the Greek conception of Iris as the messenger of the gods.
C. W. Emmet.
The 'bow set in the clouds' was given by God to Noah as a token that He would not again destroy the world by a flood. Ge 9:13-16. That the rainbow, as is now known, is caused by the refraction of light on drops of rain, need not cause any difficulty. The rainbow may have appeared to Noah before, but it was not appointed by God as a token until after the flood. The word translated 'set' (nathan) is sometimes translated 'appoint,' as in Jos 20:2. Others judge it to be more probable that the rainbow had not been seen prior to the flood, the state of the atmosphere being different from what it became after the deluge.
The rainbow is mentioned in Re 4:3; 10:1, as a symbol that, notwithstanding all the sin of man, God has been faithful to His promise respecting the earth. The beautiful bow in the cloud should ever call to mind His abiding faithfulness.
the token of the covenant which God made with Noah when he came forth from the ark that the waters should no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. The right interpretation of
seems to be that God took the rainbow, which had hitherto been but a beautiful object shining in the heavens when the sun's rays fell on falling rain, and consecrated it as the sign of his love and the witness of his promise. Ecclus. 43:11. The rainbow is a symbol of God's faithfulness and mercy. In the "rainbow around the throne,"
is seen the symbol of hope and the bright emblem of mercy and love, all the more true as a symbol because it is reflected from the storm itself.