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Read: Genesis 9-10

I am not an anthropologist, though I do appreciate and respect that field of study. Anthropologists look at ancient cultures objectively and attempt to understand them. Anthropologists have noted that it is a common role of religion in culture to explain how and why things are the way they are. That insight is easy for me to see as they analyze other ancient, pagan religions and their stories; it is more difficult for me to consider when they examine the ancient roots of my faith.

I once tripped on a question asked during a Bible study. I’d just recounted the flood story, with God’s promise to never repeat that destruction, and the gift of the rainbow sign. It was solid Biblical ground. Then someone asked, “But weren’t there rainbows before the flood?” My knowledge of science says, “Yes, of course, rainbows are the natural result of light being refracted through water and that principle of physics has always been true”, but my knowledge of scripture had just affirmed it as “new”, beginning post flood. I bit the bullet: because all truth is of God. Yes, there have always been rainbows; the meaning of rainbows was given a new meaning, a symbolic one. That is the spiritual truth revealed in God’s word.

In antiquity the bow was a deadly weapon. Warriors and hunters could kill even from a considerable distance. But the bow in the sky is not threatening; it is beautiful, and it is pointed away from the Earth, not the direction of a deadly arrow. Rainbows occur after a threatening storm has passed. The rainbow became a terrific symbol for peace and goodwill from the Heavens. Paired with the Noah/Flood story the rainbow is the perfect symbol of the promise of God not to respond with wrath, but with love and grace in the future. The rainbow is a sign of God’s promise of grace, and not of condemnation. That theological truth is very significant, and some inspired ancient storyteller made the connection.

The flood story would be a perfect, “and they lived happily ever after” ending, but that’s not life, nor is it human nature. Soon sinful behavior returned among the descendants of Noah. So did the human tendency to curse things and bless things. These blessings and curses were used to explain why the descendants of Noah, and the nations they created, were the way they were in the world (that’s unfortunate). But the rainbow symbol also lives on, representing God’s promise to respond to us with love and grace, instead of judgement and condemnation.

Shalom,
Pastor Rob Nystrom