And God said, “This is the guarantee of the covenant I am making with you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all subsequent generations: 13 I will place my rainbow in the clouds, and it will become a guarantee of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 then I will remember my covenant with you and with all living creatures of all kinds. Never again will the waters become a flood and destroy all living things.”(NET Bible)
A commitment to calm fears
On one level it is astonishing that the all-powerful Creator makes a binding agreement with the living things he has made. But he did so in unmistakable terms.
What is the significance of God making a covenant with humankind? What was the idea behind making known what he expected of us and what he would do in return?
The language of Genesis 9:12 seems formal in its careful enumeration of the covenant parties. The Hebrew text makes very clear that God is establishing a covenant “between me [God] and you [Noah, his sons and their wives] and every living being that was with you for farthest generations” (Gordon Wenham). We should be equally careful in considering the covenant parties, but ordinarily we ignore the animals, whom God always includes! Perhaps this blind spot is a demonstration of how we have lost sight of our stewardship for God over the earth and its life forms.
The first words of Genesis 9:13 are “my rainbow” to emphasize it. But the time-sense of the verse, is an issue between translations:
NET Genesis 9:13 “I will place my rainbow in the clouds, and it will become a guarantee of the covenant between me and the earth.” (emphasis added)
ESV Genesis 9:13 “I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” (emphasis added)
NET is alone among major translations in saying “will . . . will,” placing all action in the future. ESV joins NIV 2011, The Jewish Bible, and the Holman Christian Standard Bible in some variant of “have . . . shall/will,” placing the initial action in the past and the subsequent action in the future.
I consider the ESV and other translations better than NET here, because rainbows would have already existed as a matter of physics (sunlight falling on water droplets at a certain angle); the newly introduced element was the significance God was giving the rainbow as a sign.
For God to bless Noah and his sons, rain would have to fall on the earth to nurture crops. But imagine the potential for panic when a storm rolled in. To provide peace of mind during his new start with Noah, God re-brands the meaning of a storm (Gen. 9:14). Instead of being a reminder of judgment, a rainbow would serve as a reminder of God’s covenant promise (Gen. 9:15). It is God who brings the necessary rains, and in doing so he provides rain for both the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:45).
Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.
 Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 151.