Crowds stood in wonder as a huge double rainbow appeared over Buckingham Palace. They had gathered there shortly after the news that the much-loved Queen Elizabeth II had sadly passed away, at the age of 96. Even more wondrous was that two more formed over Windsor Castle and also Balmoral at the same time. Newspapers reported it as a “sign”1, and certainly rainbows are of great significance. But what is the sign of the rainbow pointing to?
The sign of the Rainbow in the Bible
Rainbows stir a sense of something otherworldly, similar to the phenomenon a solar eclipse, causing all manner of people on earth to take a moment to look up and reflect. There’s a viral video of a man witnessing an incredible double rainbow in awe, asking over and over, “But what does it mean?” Happily, we have the manufacturer’s handbook to life and creation, so let’s take a look.
There are several mentions of rainbows in the Bible, the first and most significant being God’s covenant with Noah:
Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:20-22)
And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh”. (Genesis 9:12-15)
Importantly, it was in the context of rains, storms and judgement that God sent this big, beautiful sign of His covenant—His promise never to wipe out humanity again, no matter how much sin there was, as long as the earth remained. He promised that the cycles and seasons of nature would continue till the very end. This sheds light on the meaning of the rainbow from the Maker’s point of view in a number of ways:
The rainbow comes as a symbol of hope in the context of storm and judgement
It is an assurance of God’s mercy as He promises never to wipe out humanity again (Genesis 8:21)
It is a sign of God’s authority and sovereignty over His creation.
God created this earth and it is His, and He is merciful to all He has made.
The earth is the Lord‘s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein. (Psalm 24:1)
What do rainbows mean? They mean God hasn’t forgotten us, His covenant of mercy is sure, and that He is the glorious King of creation.
The significance of seven (שבע)
It’s worth noting that the passage from Genesis 9 is from a longer passage which repeats the words over and over.
The word covenant is repeated seven times. Which is very significant.
The word seven in Hebrew is the same as the word for oath (שבע – sheva). God is making a promise, and He says it seven times, the number of completion. It is also interesting that there are seven colors in the rainbow.
God says in Genesis 9:13 that the rainbow is “His bow” which He Himself set in the cloud. It belongs to Him, and He put it there. It is a sign for us, and also for God, as a reminder. It reminds us of God’s promise of mercy, and reminds God of His covenant with every living creature of all flesh.
Rainbows are also mentioned in a slightly different way in Ezekiel and Revelation, both in the context of surrounding God in His holy habitation:
Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. (Ezekiel 1:28)
And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. (Revelation 4:3)
Rainbows point to God, they are a visible symbol of His divine glory and sovereignty. Later in Revelation, an angel has a rainbow over his head, speaking of the heavenly authority the angel is entrusted with as he carries out the will of God:
Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire. (Revelation 10:1)
Incidentally, the book of Revelation is awash with repetitions of the number seven.
The passing of Queen Elizabeth II
The Queen’s name, Elizabeth, is from the Hebrew אלישבע (Elisheva) which means “My God has promised / sworn an oath”. You might notice it includes that word for seven / oath (שבע) again. She passed away peacefully having just celebrated her Platinum Jubilee, marking 70 years of service on the throne. My friend Rev. Roger Derbridge pointed out that the fact she had served for 70 years also seems significant. Queen Elizabeth II had a strong faith in Jesus which she would talk openly about in every Christmas message when she addressed the UK as a nation. Here is one example of her statements, from among many:
“Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed. God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general (important though they are) – but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.” (Queen Elizabeth II, 2011)2
At her coronation, she received a Bible, with the words: “Our gracious Queen: to keep your Majesty ever mindful of the law and the Gospel of God as the Rule for the whole life and government of Christian Princes, we present you with this book, the most valuable thing that this world affords. Here is wisdom, this is the royal law, these are the lively oracles of God.”3 At the time, she was surrounded with more glittering wealth and status than any of us will ever see in our lifetimes. Yet the word of God was recognized as the most valuable thing this world affords.
And not only were there multiple, full, double rainbows around the royal residences as news of the Queen’s passing rippled out to the world, but I was more than a little amazed by what I saw in my Bible reading the very next morning, as I poured over the “lively oracles of God”.
Each week Jewish people read a portion from the Torah and an accompanying passage from the Prophets known as the “Hafterah”. This week the Hafterah was from Isaiah 54:1-10, and concluded with these powerful words:
“This is like the days of Noah to me:
as I swore that the waters of Noah
should no more go over the earth,
so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you,
and will not rebuke you.
For the mountains may depart
and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,”
says the Lord, who has compassion on you.
How about that for a sign? There are no coincidences with the King of all creation. It seems like we’re in very similar days to those of Noah, as LGBTQ activists take the sign of God’s promise to withhold judgement and wield it like protection in the face of His sovereignty, although their rainbow only has six colors in it, not seven. God is still on the throne. And He is assuring us of His covenant of peace with mankind, paid for by Messiah Jesus who came to bring peace on earth. This is good news for ALL mankind.
Which brings us to the last meaning of the rainbow: the symbol of a bridge. God Himself crossed over the chasm between Himself and humanity by coming in the flesh to pay in person for the sin that divides us from Him, a fact often noted by the Queen. Now anyone—ANYONE—can be forgiven if they repent from their sin, confess their need for forgiveness, and choose to follow Him as Lord. The codename for the secretariat announcing the sad news of the Queen’s passing was “London Bridge is down”. They are now rolling out “Operation London Bridge” explaining the protocol for what happens now. A lot of people in the UK will be feeling it’s the end of an era, and a great constant has gone who embodied loving self-sacrifice and faithful service. Perhaps she is now casting her crown before God’s throne. The Queen has crossed the bridge of salvation and has gone to be with the King of kings, like so many before her, and the rainbows appeared to remind us that covenant with creation is still intact. He is still loves us, He’s still on the throne, and He will reign forever and ever.
- The Daily Mail, A Sign She Will Always Be With Us, Brooke Davies, 8th September, 2022
- Premier Christianity, 10 Brilliant Things the Queen Has Said About God, Mark Greene, 8th September 2022
- Revelation TV, God Save Our Gracious Queen, Gordon Pettie, 8th September 2022
Image by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash