RAINBOW (Heb. qesheth, bow). The biblical interpretation of the rainbow is found in the record of Noah’s life. God’s covenant with Noah declared that he would never again send a universal flood to destroy the whole inhabited earth (Gen.9.8-Gen.9.17). This feature of the flood account is unique in that none of the accounts from Babylon, as the well-known Gilgamesh Epic, makes mention of the rainbow as the covenantal sign. In the Bible the rainbow is the first of the covenant signs and provides the key to understanding all of them, including the signs of baptism and the Lord's Supper|Lord’s Supper in the new covenant. The rainbow in the clouds speaks to man from God. God allowed Noah to understand what the bow means to him: a visible declaration that the Lord will never again destroy the earth by flood. The rainbow is the Lord’s promise made visible. Thus covenant signs express covenant promises to covenant people. Ezekiel compares the glory of God to that of a rainbow (Ezek.1.28). John, as a prisoner on Patmos, beheld the throne of God encircled by the rainbow (Rev.4.3).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

As most of the rainfall in Palestine is in the form of short heavy showers it is often accompanied by the rainbow. Most beautiful double bows are often seen, and occasionally the moon is bright enough to produce the bow. It is rather remarkable that there are so few references to the rainbow in the Bible. The Hebrew qesheth is the ordinary word for a bow, there being no special word for rainbow.

The interpretation of the significance of the bow in the sky is given at the close of the story of the flood, where it is called "the token of the covenant" of Yahweh with Noah that there should be no more flood: "I do set my bow in the cloud, .... and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh" (Ge 9:13,15). This addition to the story of the flood is not found in other mythical accounts. The foundation for the interpretation of the bow in this way seems to be that while His bow is hung in the sky God must be at peace with His people. The glory of God is likened to "the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain" (Eze 1:28). The rainbow forms a striking part of the vision in Re 4:3: "And there was a rainbow round about the throne."

Alfred H. Joy