(Based on Genesis 9 and Ephesians 1:1-10)
I’ve called today’s post, “The Mighty Warrior Makes a Truce.” But God cannot make a truce with evil, we’ve seen that. However, if He can find a way to separate people from their evil, then He can make a truce with people. (At least, all those who want to enter into a truce with Him. Remember that He’s a Gentleman.)
“Truce” is not a very good word when we start talking about God and how He makes peace. It implies concessions and compromises and both sides bringing something to the table. But it does carry the idea of making peace, and that’s the sense in which I’m using it. Instead of using the word “truce” which is a little weak for our purposes, let’s start using the word the Bible uses: “covenant.” That word might not mean a blessed thing to you at this point in time. (I hope, at some point in time, that it will come to mean a blessed thing to you. A very blessed thing.) Don’t worry! I think as we go along, its meaning will start to become clearer. For now, just latch onto the idea that God wants to make peace and He does it through a covenant.
I have a Hebrew-English Tanakh (or Old Testament) that you’ll probably hear me referring to from time to time. I don’t read or speak Hebrew, but I’m trying to learn a word here and there, and I enjoy reading the English translation because its translation often sheds new light on things I’ve never noticed in the Bible or things I’ve stopped noticing.
One night, quite late, I was looking something up in my Tanakh (I don’t remember what), but I was in Genesis, looking at the story of Noah and the flood. I noticed something I never had before. It was the word “bow” in Genesis 9:13. God set His bow in the sky as a sign of His covenant with Noah to never again destroy the earth with a flood.
In the version I normally read and in which I’ve read this story a million and a half times (give or take a few), it uses the word “rainbow” instead of “bow.”
You may think I’m exceptionally dense, and probably everyone else in the world has always known why we call a “rainbow” a “rain” “bow,” but the reason had never occurred to me until I read Genesis 9:13 in my Hebrew-English Tanakh. Up until that moment, I had always thought of rainbows as pretty, happy things, belonging to the world of butterflies and puppies and kittens and ice cream. I had long ago realized that the story of Noah’s ark was not a pretty, happy thing belonging to that pretty, happy world, although, it is interesting how the story is prettied up for young children. Often, in nursery decorations, we’ll see pictures of a smiling, happy, cartoon Noah and smiling, happy, cartoon animals all off joy-riding together on a cute, little, cartoon ark. And the cute, little, cartoon ark is always surrounded by a what? By a smiling, happy, cute, little, cartoon rainbow.
And that was the light in which I had always seen the rainbow from the story of Noah and his cute, little ark. It was the part of the story one focuses on when one tells the story to children. It was a pretty, happy thing God had put in the sky to promise that He would never again use water to destroy the world and destroy sin. I had never, ever put any more thought into it than that. It didn’t necessarily make a whole lot of sense to me, but then a lot of things from the Bible don’t. I guess I had always thought of the “bow” in the word “rainbow” as the kind of bow you tie on pretty, happy packages. After all, ribbons are pretty, happy, shiny things, and rainbows are pretty, happy, shiny things.
But when I saw the word “bow” in my Hebrew-English Bible, it started me thinking. I realized then that the “bow” we were dealing with from Genesis 9 was the bow which is a weapon. And that makes sense, looking at a rainbow. Although it is a pretty, happy, shiny thing, I realize now that it must have taken its name from the shape of a bow. I mean, a bow-and-arrow kind of a bow. (No doubt, you discovered that fact in infancy, but like I say, I’m a little slow.) I did a little more research and discovered that the Hebrew word translated “bow” in Genesis 9 is, in fact, the bow-and-arrow kind of bow.
And what kinds of things would bows and arrows have been used for back in Bible times?
I can only think of two: hunting and warfare.
This realization started me down the train of thought that has turned into this series of posts: God as a Mighty Warrior. After I realized what God was telling Noah when He hung His “bow” in the sky, the part of the story of the rainbow from Genesis 9 began to make a whole lot more sense to me. What was God saying to Noah by hanging His bow in the sky? Quite simply, the Mighty Warrior had hung up His weapon.
At least, one particular weapon.
He had destroyed sin, and the earth along with it, by water. It was His weapon of water that He hung in the sky as a sign of His covenant of peace with Noah and with the new world, an act that I suspect Noah may have already been familiar with from his own culture.
I did a little more research and was interested to learn how many tribal groups have had or still have peace ceremonies involving breaking bows and arrows. It’s still common as a sign of a peace treaty in some parts of the world.
(As a side note, I couldn’t help but think about how the more I get to know God, everything about Him ends up looking so thoroughly beautiful. Even His weapon is a beautiful one.)
All this was very interesting to me as I was realizing it late that night when I first began realizing it. However, I didn’t think much about it just then. But right after I’d been reading in Genesis in my Tanakh, I flipped over to Isaiah to look up something else (again, I can’t remember what), and my eyes were caught by the words in Isaiah 54:9-10, ” ‘For this is like the waters of Noah to me; For as I have sworn that the waters of Noah would no longer cover the earth, so have I sworn that I would not be angry with you, nor rebuke you. For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but my kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the LORD who has mercy on you.”
There it was again: the covenant of peace made with Noah. Could it possibly be coincidence that this idea was popping up again miles away from Genesis, right after I’d been making some realizations about that covenant of peace from Genesis? I had the sneaking suspicion it wasn’t coincidence at all. In fact, I had the distinct feeling that God had taken out His big, yellow highlighter (hey! If he has a big, pretty, shiny bow and arrow, why not a big, yellow highlighter?) and was marking passages in my Bible for me to notice. But I had no idea what He was trying to say to me just then. It was late; I was tired. I’d have to think it out the next day.
And the next day, I couldn’t keep from thinking about it. I was intrigued. What was the point God was trying to get through to me? After I began to see what His point may have been, I began to have another sneaking suspicion.
I had just taken on the task or duty (or privilege, however you’d like to look at it) of leading a Bible study for young women, and I already knew that we were going to be studying Ephesians, but I didn’t know at all what I was going to say about Ephesians. However, when God got out His big, yellow highlighter, I had the feeling that He wasn’t showing me things just for the sake of showing me things. I had the sneaking suspicion He was showing me things so that I would be able to show them to the young ladies who were part of our new Bible study.
But what on earth did God as a Mighty Warrior and a covenant of peace made with Noah have to do with Ephesians? I read back over the first chapter of Ephesians several times, looking for a reference to Noah that I may have missed the first million and a half times (Hey! Could happen! I’d never noticed that a rainbow was really a “bow” before!) But no, there were no references to Noah and God’s covenant of peace with him.
Or were there? After about one time after the first million and a half times, I began to see where Noah and the covenant of peace fit into Ephesians chapter one.
Verse two of Ephesians 1 was a verse I’d never really noticed before. After all, Paul (the writer of Ephesians) always seemed to use this standard opening greeting for the letters he wrote (Ephesians being one of them). But what a standard greeting! What a meaning-packed statement!
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Suddenly, it was as though God had out His big, yellow highlighter again. There was a reason Paul used this greeting as his standard opening line. It was because it meant so much to him. Then, as I read through the first ten verses of Ephesians again, I began to see that Paul’s standard opening line was really the theme for those first ten verses. In fact, for the whole book of Ephesians. Maybe even for the whole Bible! What an enormously exciting concept it is that the Mighty Warrior has made a covenant of peace!