And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you…
I. Let us contemplate the INTERESTING BEAUTY OF THE RAINBOW. The rainbow is an object with which all are familiar. This beautiful rainbow could not be overlooked by the ancient heathens. They saw it, and were rapt in admiration. They thought it must be something Divine. They consecrated it — they fell prostrate and adored it — they called it Iris, whom they imagined to be the messenger of the gods. It is worthy of remembrance that, in this undoubted fact, we have another convincing evidence of the strength of ancient tradition; and of the importance of revelation being considered as the basis of a great portion of the heathen mythology. But how beautifully consonant with Divine truth is the idea embodied in this pagan mystery! The rainbow is, truly, a "messenger" of God — a messenger of peace and joy — a herald of truth, security, and love.
II. It may be desirable, in furtherance of our design, to examine the NATURE OF THIS PHENOMENON; and to explain its formation and physical properties. The rainbow is produced by rays of light falling upon drops of water.
1. There must be rain descending the whole breadth of the rainbow.
2. The sun must shine exactly opposite to the falling shower.
3. The spectator must stand with his back to the sun, placing himself thus opposite the rainbow. Then the following phenomenon will be observed: — If the sun shines upon the drops of rain as they are falling, the rays which come from those drops to the eye of the spectator will cause the appearance of the primary or strongly-coloured rainbow. And the reason of the colours being exhibited is, that every drop of rain, being globular and transparent, receives the pencil of light, which, as soon as it touches the outside of the higher part of the drop, is refracted or bent; it then passes on through the drop to the inside of the globule at the opposite or back part of it, where the inner surface acts like a concave mirror, and reflects or throws back the incident pencil of light to the outer or lower surface, through which it passes, and so is refracted a second time; and then it comes down to the eye of the spectator. But, as the rays emerge from the drop, they proceed each in a divergent line; therefore, one ray only of that pencil can reach the eye, giving the perception of one of the seven prismatic colours. Those rays which are contiguous and parallel produce the same colour; and its strength or vividness will depend upon the number of rays which, being contiguous and parallel, reach the eye. But, in the rainbow we observe the seven prismatic colours — red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet; and always in the same order of arrangement. And this appearance of seven colours, in order, one above another, is caused by the drops being disposed in the same manner; and, as each drop makes a different angle with the eye, the different colours will be perceived in succession; and thus the whole bow will be presented to view.
III. Our subject especially requires that we should advance from this general view of the nature of this phenomenon, to the NOVELTY OF THE SPECTACLE AT THE ERA OF THE DELUGE.
IV. Our serious reflections are now demanded for the consideration of THE DESIGN AND UTILITY OF THIS PHENOMENON. This is expressed by the sacred historian: it is "set" as a sign — the token of a covenant between God and the earth. All the works of God praise Him — they show His eternal power and Godhead. In some of His works, Jehovah utters a more significant voice. The bush burns unconsumed; the pillar of fire goes before the people; the sea makes a pathway through its disparted waves; the rock send forth its stream in the desert; the manna descends from the skies; the star guides the magi to Bethlehem; the sun refuses to shine upon the hour of the Saviour's crucifixion. So, in the present instance, we behold a sublime and beautiful phenomenon — a lecture printed in golden letters, on the tablet of the skies.
1. The rainbow is the memento of a dispensation of mercy and judgment. To creatures of sense, simple revelation seems insufficient for the purposes of faith. Feeble and faltering man "seeks after a sign." He requires something to impress his organs of perception as well as to convince his judgment. And He who made man, and considers his frame and constitution — his wants and fears — gives him sign upon sign, as well as precept upon precept. Hence, the great value of sacramental symbols. The bow of earth is the emblem of hostility; and is joined, in martial regalia, with the shield and the sword and the battle: but the celestial bow has no array of vengeance — no shaft of perdition. It reminds, most powerfully, of the storm retiring, and the deluge past to return no more.
2. It is an illustration of the meeting of mercy and judgment. Behold the glorious arch! it rises heavenward; it descends to earth; it spans the concave of the skies; it thus brings heaven and earth together. It beams, like a bond of glory, between the accursed soil and the propitious heaven.
3. It is a demonstration of the triumph of mercy over judgment. To the spectator, the prismatic bow presents its brightest aspect — its dark side leans upon the storm — it tells the shelter-seeking husbandman that the sun hath pierced the clouds, and the winds are driving off the tempest. Its beaming is the radiance of love.
4. The rainbow is a striking symbol of our glorious Mediator. Come and behold how heaven and earth are made one in Christ Jesus: yea, believe, for yourselves, that God is in Christ reconciling you unto Himself, and not imputing your trespasses unto you!
(C. Burton, LL. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: