|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
9:8-17 As the old world was ruined, to be a monument of justice, so this world remains to this day a monument of mercy. But sin, that drowned the old world, will burn this. Articles of agreement among men are sealed, that what is promised may be the more solemn, and the doing of what is covenanted the more sure to mutual satisfaction. The seal of this covenant was the rainbow, which, it is likely, was seen in the clouds before, but was never a seal of the covenant till now it was made so. The rainbow appears when we have most reason to fear the rain prevailing; God then shows this seal of the promise, that it shall not prevail. The thicker the cloud, the brighter the bow in the cloud. Thus, as threatening afflictions abound, encouraging consolations much more abound. The rainbow is the reflection of the beams of the sun shining upon or through the drops of rain: all the glory of the seals of the covenant are derived from Christ, the Sun of righteousness. And he will shed a glory on the tears of his saints. A bow speaks terror, but this has neither string nor arrow; and a bow alone will do little hurt. It is a bow, but it is directed upward, not toward the earth; for the seals of the covenant were intended to comfort, not to terrify. As God looks upon the bow, that he may remember the covenant, so should we, that we may be mindful of the covenant with faith and thankfulness. Without revelation this gracious assurance could not be known; and without faith it can be of no use to us; and thus it is as to the still greater dangers to which all are exposed, and as to the new covenant with its blessings.
Verse 13. - I do set. Literally, I have given, or placed, an indication that the atmospheric phenomenon referred to had already frequently appeared (Syriac, Arabic, Aben Ezra, Chrysostom, Calvin, Willet, Murphy, Wordsworth, Kalisch, Lange). The contrary opinion has been maintained that it now for the first time appeared (Bush, Keil, Delitzsch), or at least that the historian thought so (Knobel); but unless there had been no rain, or the laws of light and the atmospheric conditions of the earth had been different from what they are at present, it must have been a frequent spectacle in the primeval heavens. My bow. i.e. the rainbow, τόξον (LXX.), (cf. Ezekiel 1:28). The ordinary rainbow consists of a series of successive zones or bands of polarized light, forming little concentric circles in the sky, and having a common center almost always below the horizon, and diametrically opposite to the sun. It is produced by the refraction and reflection of the sun's light through the spherical raindrops on which the rays fall, and, accordingly, must always appear, with a greater or a lesser degree of visibility, when the two material agencies come in contact The part of the sky on which the rainbow is thrown is much more bright within than without the bow. The outer space is dark, almost black; and the inner space, on the contrary, melts into the violet almost insensibly (Nichol's 'Cyclopedia of the Sciences,' art. Rainbow). It is here styled God's bow, as being his workmanship (cf. Ecclus. 43:12), and his seal appended to his covenant (Genesis 9:17). In the cloud, עָנָן that which veils the heavens, from a root signifying to cover (Gesenius). And it shall be for a token, לְאות = εἰς σημεῖον, (LXX.). In Greek mythology the rainbow is designated by a name (Iris) which is at least connected with εἴρω, to speak, and εἰρήνη, peace; is represented as the daughter of Thaumas (wonder), and Electra (brightness) the daughter of Oceanus; is assigned the office of messenger to the king and queen of Olympus; and is depicted as set in heaven for a sign (Homer, 'I1,' 11:27; 17:547, 548; 24:144, 159; Virgil, AEn.,' 4:694; 5:606; Ovid, 'Met.,' 1:270; 11:585). The Persians seem to have associated the rainbow with similar ideas. An old picture, mentioned by Stolberg, represents a winged boy on a rainbow with an old man kneeling in a posture, of worship. The Hindoos describe the rainbow as a warlike weapon in the hands of Indras their god, "with which he hurls flashing darts upon the impious giants;" but also as a symbol of peace exhibited to man "when the combat of the heavens is silenced." By the Chinese it is regarded as the harbinger of troubles and misfortunes on earth, and by the old Scandinavians as a bridge uniting earth and heaven ('Kalisch on Genesis,' pp. 223, 224). Traditional reflections of the Biblical narrative, they do not "account for the application in the Pentateuch of the rainbow to a very remarkable purpose," or "explain why the New Testament represents the rainbow as an attribute of the Divine throne," or "why angels are sent as messengers on earth" (Kalisch); but are themselves accounted for and explained by it. The institution of the rainbow as a sign clearly negatives the idea (Aquinas, Cajetan) that it was originally and naturally a sign; which, if it was, "it was a lying sign," since the Flood came notwithstanding its prognostications (Willet). Of a covenant. "The bow in the hands of man was an instrument of battle (Genesis 48:22; Psalm 7:12; Proverbs 6:2; Zechariah 9:10); but the bow bent by the hand of God has become a symbol of peace" (Wordsworth). Between me and the earth.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
I do set my bow in the cloud,.... Or "I have given", or "have set it" (p); which seems as if it was at that instant set; this is the same we call the "rainbow": and so Horace (q) calls it "arcus pluvius": it is called a "bow", because of its form, being a semicircle, and a "rainbow", because it is seen in a day of rain, and is a sign of it, or of its being quickly over, Ezekiel 1:28 and this appears in a moist dewy cloud, neither very thick nor very thin, and is occasioned by the rays of the sun opposite to it, refracted on it: and this God calls "his bow", not only because made by him, for, notwithstanding the natural causes of it, the cloud and sun, the disposition of these to produce it, such a phenomenon is of God; but also because he appointed it to be a sign and token of his covenant with his creatures; so the Heathen poets (r) call the rainbow the messenger of Juno. It is a question whether there was a rainbow before the flood, and it is not easily answered; both Jews and Christians are divided about it; Saadiah thought there was one; but Aben Ezra disapproves of his opinion, and thinks it was first now made. The greater part of Christian interpreters are of the mind of Saadiah, that it was from the beginning, the natural causes of it, the sun and cloud, being before the flood; and that it was now after it only appointed to be a sign and token of the covenant; but though the natural causes of it did exist before, it does not follow, nor is it to be proved, that there was such a disposition of them to produce such an effect; and it might be so ordered in Providence, that there should not be any, that this might be entirely a new thing, and so a wonderful one, as the word for "token" (s) signifies; and the Greeks calls the rainbow the "daughter of Thaumas" or "Wonder" (t); and be the more fit to be a sign and token of the covenant, that God would no more destroy the earth with water; for otherwise, if this had been what Noah and his sons had been used to see, it can hardly be thought sufficient to take off their fears of a future inundation, which was the end and use it was to serve, as follows:
it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth; that is, between God and the creatures of the earth; or of a promise that God would no more destroy the earth, and cut off the creatures in it by a flood; for though it is a bow, yet without arrows, and is not turned downwards towards the earth, but upwards towards heaven, and so is a token of mercy and kindness, and not of wrath and anger.
(p) "dedi", Montanus; so Ainsworth; "posui", Pisator, Drusius, Buxtorf. (q) De Arte Poetica, ver. 18. (r) Nuntia Junonis varios induta colores Concipit Iris aquas--------- Ovid. Metamorph. l. 1. Fab. 7. (s) "signum, tam nudum, quam prodigiosum", Buxtorf. (t) Plato in Theaeeteto, Plutarch. de Placit, Philosoph. 3, 4. Apollodor. Bibliothec. l. 1. p. 5.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
13. I do set my bow in the cloud—set, that is, constitute or appoint. This common and familiar phenomenon being made the pledge of peace, its appearance when showers began to fall would be welcomed with the liveliest feelings of joy.
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