Genesis 9:12
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:
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(12) This is the token of the covenant.—The word rendered “token” really means sign, and is a term that has met with very unfortunate treatment in our Version, especially in the New Testament, where—as, for instance, in St. John’s Gospel—it is too frequently translated miracle. Its meaning will be best seen by examining some of the places where it occurs: e.g., Genesis 17:11; Exodus 3:12; Exodus 12:13; Exodus 13:16; Numbers 17:10; Joshua 2:12; Job 21:29; Psalm 65:8; Psalm 86:17; Psalm 135:9; Isaiah 44:25. In the majority of these places the sign, or token, is some natural occurrence, but in its higher meaning it is a proof or indication of God’s immediate working. On proper occasions, therefore, it will be supernatural, because the proof of God’s direct agency will most fitly be some act such as God alone can accomplish. More frequently it is something natural. Thus the sign to the shepherds of the birth of a Saviour, who was “the anointed Jehovah” (Luke 2:11), was their finding in a manger a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, a thing of the most simple and ordinary kind. We may dismiss, then, all such curious speculations as that no rain fell before the flood, or that some condition was wanting necessary for producing this glorious symbol. What Noah needed was a guarantee and a memorial which, as often as rain occurred, would bring back to his thoughts the Divine promise; and such a memorial was best taken from the natural accompaniments of rain. We may further notice with Maimonides that the words are not, as in our version, “I do set,” but my how I have set in the cloud: that is, the bow which God set in the cloud on that day of creation in which He imposed upon air and water those laws which produce this phenomenon, is now to become the sign of a solemn compact made with man by God, whereby He gives man the assurance that neither himself nor his works shall ever again be swept away by a flood.

But a covenant is a contract between two parties; and what, we may ask, was the undertaking on man’s part? The Talmud enumerates several of the chief moral laws, which it supposes that Noah was now bound to observe. More truly it was a covenant of grace, just as that in Genesis 6:18 was one simply of mercy. What then might have been granted simply as a promise on God’s part is made into a covenant, not merely for man’s greater assurance, but also to indicate that it was irrevocable. Promises are revocable, and their fulfilment may depend upon man’s co-agency; a covenant is irrevocable, and under no circumstances will the earth again be destroyed by water.

The rainbow appears in the Chaldean Genesis, but in a heathenish manner:—

“From afar the great goddess (Istar) at her approach

Lifted up the mighty arches (i.e., the rainbow) which Anu

had created as his glory.

The crystal of those gods before me (i.e., the rainbow) never

may I forget.”—Chald. Gen., p. 287.

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.The token of the covenant is now pointed out. "For perpetual ages." This stability of sea and land is to last during the remainder of the human period. What is to happen when the race of man is completed, is not the question at present. "My bow." As God's covenant is the well-known and still remembered compact formed with man when the command was issued in the Garden of Eden, so God's bow is the primeval arch, coexistent with the rays of light and the drops of rain. It is caused by the rays of the sun reflected from the falling raindrops at a particular angle to the eye of the spectator. A beautiful arch of reflected and refracted light is in this way formed for every eye. The rainbow is thus an index that the sky is not wholly overcast, since the sun is shining through the shower, and thereby demonstrating its partial extent. There could not, therefore, be a more beautiful or fitting token that there shall be no more a flood to sweep away all flesh and destroy the land.

It comes with its mild radiance only when the cloud condenses into a shower. It consists of heavenly light, variegated in hue, and mellowed in lustre, filling the beholder with an involuntary pleasure. It forms a perfect arch, extends as far as the shower extends, connects heaven and earth, and spans the horizon. In these respects it is a beautiful emblem of mercy rejoicing against judgment, of light from heaven irradiating and beatifying the soul, of grace always sufficient for the need of the reunion of earth and heaven, and of the universality of the offer of salvation. "Have I given." The rainbow existed as long as the present laws of light and air. But it is now mentioned for the first time, because it now becomes the fitting sign of security from another universal deluge, which is the special blessing of the covenant in its present form. "In the cloud." When a shower-cloud is spread over the sky, the bow appears, if the sun, the cloud, and the spectator are in the proper relation to one another. 16. "And I will look upon it to remember." The Scripture is most unhesitating and frank in ascribing to God all the attributes and exercises of personal freedom. While man looks on the bow to recall the promise of God, God himself looks on it to remember and perform this promise. Here freedom and immutability of purpose meet.

The covenant here ostensibly refers to the one point of the absence, for all time to come, of any danger to the human race from a deluge. But it presupposes and supplements the covenant with man subsisting from the very beginning. It is clearly of grace; for the Lord in the very terms affirms the fact that the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth, while at the same time the original transgression belonged to the whole race. The condition by which any man becomes interested in it is not expressed, but easily understood from the nature of a covenant, a promise, and a sign, all of which require of us consenting faith in the party who covenants, promises, and gives the sign. The meritorious condition of the covenant of grace is dimly shadowed forth in the burnt-offerings which Noah presented on coming out of the ark. One thing, however, was surely and clearly revealed to the early saints; namely, the mercy of God. Assured of this, they were prepared humbly to believe that all would rebound to the glory of his holiness, justice, and truth, as well as of his mercy, grace, and love, though they might not yet fully understand how this would be accomplished.

Ge 9:8-29. Rainbow. This is the token, i.e. the bow mentioned in Genesis 9:13, I appoint to you for a sensible sign and evidence, to assure you that I shall perform this covenant or promise.

And God said, this is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you,.... Meaning the bow in the cloud, and which might be formed in the cloud at this time, that Noah might see it, and know it when he saw it again, and seems to be pointed unto: "this is the token"; or sign of the covenant made between God and Noah, and his sons:

and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations; which more clearly shows and proves, that this covenant reaches to all creatures that then were, or should be in all ages, to the end of the world.

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:
12. The Token of the Covenant

The word “token,” Heb. ’ôth is the same as that rendered “sign” in Genesis 4:15, “and the Lord appointed a sign for Cain.” The “token” is the outward and visible sign of the covenant relation. Its outwardness serves to remind man, whose spiritual adherence will become weak without something visible as the pledge of the inner and spiritual bond.

Verse 12. - And God said, This is the token - אות (vide Genesis 1:14; 4:15) - of the covenant which I make - literally, am giving (cf. Genesis 17:2) - between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations. Le'doroth (vide Genesis 6:9); olam (from alam, to hide, to conceal), pr. that which is hidden; hence, specially, time of which either the beginning or the end is uncertain or undefined, the duration being usually determined by the nature of the case (vide Gesenius, 'Hebrews Lex.,' sub voce). Here the meaning is, that so long as there were circuits or generations of men upon the earth, so long would this covenant endure. Genesis 9:12To give Noah and his sons a firm assurance of the prosperous continuance of the human race, God condescended to establish a covenant with them and their descendants, and to confirm this covenant by a visible sign for all generations. בּרית הקים is not equivalent to בּרית כּרת; it does not denote the formal conclusion of an actual covenant, but the "setting up of a covenant," or the giving of a promise possessing the nature of a covenant. In summing up the animals in Genesis 9:10, the prepositions are accumulated: first בּ embracing the whole, then the partitive מן restricting the enumeration to those which went out of the ark, and lastly ל yl, "with regard to," extending it again to every individual. There was a correspondence between the covenant (Genesis 9:11) and the sign which was to keep it before the sight of men (Genesis 9:12): "I give (set) My bow in the cloud" (Genesis 9:13). When God gathers (ענן Genesis 9:14, lit., clouds) clouds over the earth, "the bow shall be seen in the cloud," and that not for man only, but for God also, who will look at the bow, "to remember His everlasting covenant." An "everlasting covenant" is a covenant "for perpetual generations," i.e., one which shall extend to all ages, even to the end of the world. The fact that God Himself would look at the bow and remember His covenant, was "a glorious and living expression of the great truth, that God's covenant signs, in which He has put His promises, are real vehicles of His grace, that they have power and essential worth not only with men, but also before God" (O. v. Gerlach). The establishment of the rainbow as a covenant sign of the promise that there should be no flood again, presupposes that it appeared then for the first time in the vault and clouds of heaven. From this it may be inferred, not that it did not rain before the flood, which could hardly be reconciled with Genesis 2:5, but that the atmosphere was differently constituted; a supposition in perfect harmony with the facts of natural history, which point to differences in the climate of the earth's surface before and after the flood. The fact that the rainbow, that "coloured splendour thrown by the bursting forth of the sun upon the departing clouds," is the result of the reciprocal action of light, and air, and water, is no disproof of the origin and design recorded here. For the laws of nature are ordained by God, and have their ultimate ground and purpose in the divine plan of the universe which links together both nature and grace. "Springing as it does from the effect of the sun upon the dark mass of clouds, it typifies the readiness of the heavenly to pervade the earthly; spread out as it is between heaven and earth, it proclaims peace between God and man; and whilst spanning the whole horizon, it teaches the all-embracing universality of the covenant of grace" (Delitzsch).
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