Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 9:12–15

Genesis 9:12–15
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).[1] 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.



[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 151.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!