The Rainbow Covenant

Parashat Noach (Genesis 6:9-11:32)

When Noah and his family came out of the ark, God told them to be fruitful and multiply, repopulating the earth. He also entrusted them with certain moral obligations regarding the treatment of both man and animal. Last, He made a covenant with humanity to never again destroy the earth by water and created the rainbow as a testimony to this covenant:

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. (Genesis 9:12–15)

Now, whenever one sees a rainbow in the sky we are to recite a blessing: “Blessed are You, O LORD our God, King of the universe, who remembers the covenant, who is faithful to His covenant, and who stands by His word.” Whenever we see this sign of the covenant we are reminded of God’s promise to never destroy the world through water. Because of this, many people are excited when they see a rainbow, because they view it as a sign of God’s favor and blessing. However, we should examine the concept of the rainbow more fully to understand it's meaning. 

First, who is the rainbow a sign for? Is it a sign for us or for God? Genesis 9:14–15 says, “When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant …” God says, “I will remember my covenant.” In other words, God created the rainbow to be a kind of buffer between Himself and humanity, to not release His entire anger upon the earth in the same manner as in the days of Noah. Our sages understood this and said that the appearance of the rainbow is a sign of a wicked generation. The rainbow is a reminder that although the generation deserves destruction He will maintain His agreement and withhold the waters of destruction from upon us. 

According to one source, there were two generations that did not ever see the sign of the rainbow, because of their righteousness. They were the generation of Hezekiah, the king of Judah, and either the generation of the Men of the Great Assembly or the generation of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (Gen. Rabbah 35:2). 

What about our generation? The rainbow has been seen in abundance in our generation. What does this say about our generation? We are living in a generation where right has become wrong and wrong has become right. We are living in a generation where morality is governed by the consensus of a morally bankrupt culture, rather than the boundaries established by the Word of God. How, then, should we respond today when we see a rainbow? Our hearts should be filled with remorse and repentance as the Talmud tells us:

One who sees the rainbow in the clouds should fall on his face, as it says, ‘As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud, and when I saw it I fell upon my face’ [Ezekiel 1:28]. (b.Berachot 56a)

This is a reminder of the good news that Yeshua taught us. He was continually preaching, “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” His good news was that through true repentance the Kingdom could become a reality in our lifetime. What does it mean to repent? The formula for true repentance is found in a very familiar passage:

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Whether or not we see a rainbow, let us continually take up the task of true repentance in hopes that not only will our God will continue to be merciful to this generation, but also that His Kingdom would be established in our lifetime.