In Genesis 9:13, God tells Noah, “I set my bow (קשׁתי; qashti) in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and between the earth.” The Hebrew term for “bow” (קשת; qeshet) can refer to either a rainbow or an archer’s bow used in hunting or warfare. We often learn as children that God set, or hung, His bow in the sky as a sign that He would never again destroy the earth with a flood. The term is often used of the rainbow in the sky, but it should also be equally considered as an instrument of God’s judgment. Israel’s Scriptures use militaristic terminology often, and this word is no different. God’s sign of a bow in the clouds could have signified the end of war between Himself and humanity.

If we interpret God’s “bow” as a weapon rather than a rainbow, then Scripture suggests that God sets aside the divine implements of war that had just ravaged the earth with a flood. God sets His hunting bow in the sky to show Noah that never again will global diluvian destruction come to humanity from heaven. However, while this bow rests in the clouds at present, it will make another appearance at the final judgment. According to Psalm 7, for instance, God “bends His bow (קשׁתו; qashto) and makes it ready. He also prepares for Himself instruments of death; He makes His arrows into fiery shafts” (Ps 7:12-13). Another description of God as an archer appears in Moses’ song about the Lord’s ultimate judgment: “I will heap disasters upon them; I will spend my arrows against them” (32:23).

God judged the earth with a flood in the days of Noah, but hung up His bow as a sign that there would be lasting peace between heaven and earth. Yet that implement of judgment will make an appearance again, in a different time and place. When the divine bow is set aside, however, God reminds humanity of his covenant faithfulness and the promise never to destroy the whole earth again with floodwaters. As the Lord says through Isaiah, “As I swore that the waters of Noah (מי-נח; mey Noach) should no more go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you, and will not rebuke you” (Isa 54:9).

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81 COMMENTS

  1. Yes! And the bow is positioned so that an arrow would go towards God. I see Yeshua/Jesus as the select arrow. His death pierces God’s own heart on behalf of mankind.so that when the throne room scene mentions a rainbow around the throne in Revelation, it reminds me of Gods mercy. That is how I think of it, anyway:)
  2. Thank you much Dr. Ashley. It’s always a joy to learn the original meaning of Scripture, again highlighting the importance of knowing and understanding original language, thought and context. As you mentioned, since my childhood never ever had it been thought or taught the “rainbow” as an archer’s bow.
  3. Thank you for the insight. I had actually thought of the bow in Genesis as a weapon, like Thor's hammer, but it is nice to have some support from the Hebrew language and other references in the Bible. It is a much more powerful image for God to lay down his weapon than to simply add come color to the sky. I also think of the JHWH's bow as shooting arrows into the roof of the ancient vault holding back the waters above, which causes a leak, which caused the flood in the first place. Anyway it just helps me imagine how our ancient ancestors made sense of their world.
  4. Wonderful indeed,iam happy the way you have articulated the story concerned the execution of God's judgement at Noah's time
  5. Some people believe that this was not a worldwide flood, but rather a local flood. On your understanding of the Hebrew, is there clear evidence of which view is correct?
    • David, the Hebrew word for flood means global! Also, the geology reveals a global flood...just go to the Grand Canyon and look around. There is evidence everywhere.

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    • No matter how one views the extent of the flood the narrative focus of the Biblical text is focused on a very tight window of geography. The Biblical authors are not concerned about describing or relating what happened in Antarctica or New Zealand. The Biblical text is focused on the land of Canaan/Israel. I believe we should stay focused on the theology of the text and not on issues that didn't matter to the Biblical authors.
    • There are a couple main Hebrew words for "world": תֵּבֵל and אֶרֶץ, with the former being considered the more poetic form of the latter. Still, both imply "dry, firm land", and therefore cannot imply the entire globe - about which the Hebrew people were completely unaware. As evidence of this, we see the following from HALOT concerning תֵּבֵל :

      c) the derivation of the sbst. is not altogether certain;
      * the most probable is the connection with the root ʾbl, see especially Akk. abālu(m) to dry up, dry out (AHw. 3a; cf. CAD A/1 29b, abālu B);
      * sbst. tābalu dry land, as in Knudtzon El Amarna Letter 10:33 (AHw. 1298a) umāmu lū ša tābali lū ša nāri let there be creatures of the land and also of the river;

      It’s very etymological roots indicate to what it refers. We also see, from the numerous verse, referring to "inhabitants of" תֵּבֵל or "cities of" תֵּבֵל, or "all the kingdoms of the world", as we see in

      כָּל־הַמַּמְלְכוֹת הָאָרֶץ
      Je 25:26.

      From all this and more, we see that it implies dry land. Now, which dry land were the ancient writers referring? Surely, not a dry land of which they were completely unaware. In fact, as late as the 1st century CE, the "world" was thought to only consist of the territory from Northern Africa up to Northern Eurasia or, as the Greeks referred to them, Scythians. And, it went from as far west as Spain over to India. This is per the 1st century Strabo map, which is readily available by simply searching online.

      Let’s consider the New Testament in this regard.

      And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.

      Ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις ἐκείναις ἐξῆλθε δόγμα παρὰ Καίσαρος Αὐγούστου ἀπογράφεσθαι πᾶσαν τὴν οἰκουμένην.

      Luke 2:1

Here, we see οἰκουμένην is translated as "the world". We know, from examining numerous LXX passages that the Hebrew equivalent was תֵּבֵל and אֶרֶץ . Do we think the decree went out to the whole planet? Or was it just to "the world" of the Roman Empire. You see, the world usually doesn’t mean the whole planet.

      Isn't it also interesting that Jesus sent his apostles out "into all the world" and the world outline by the Strabo map is exactly the area they covered. Thomas went to India, Mark established he See of Alexandria, others to Turkey, Greece, Italy, Spain. Simon the Zealot went to Egypt and then through Mauretania and all Libya.

      Finally, it would be physically impossible for the waters of the flood, at Noah’s time, cover the entire planet so that it was high enough to cover even Mount Everest. The idea that there is enough subterranean space to absorb that much water back below the surface so there could again be dry land seems, to me, in the realm of the impossible, in terms of mathematics, physics, geography, etc. Just because people cite sea fossils in now higher regions is not proof that all that happened during the Noah flood. Lands were pushed up, mountain ranges were formed from what used to be much lower land. There are many ways this "evidence of a flood" can be explained outside of a planetary wide flood that covered every peak.

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  6. Thank you dr Ashley …your interpretation solves a question I posed myself: if it was a rainbow for the first time…water droplet light refraction natural laws …should have been different before the Flood…!
  7. Maybe they were colour blind before the flood or size of water droplets ie rain May have change remember a mist used to come up can only see rainbows if all the conditions are right I go with the rainbow not the war bow as rainbow is beautiful magical
    • Awesome! I have read the account of Noah's live, the flood and the rainbow. This is a fresh insight for me and i can now make a deeper sense of the rainbow in the covenant pact. Thanks a bunch
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