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13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 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. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” (Genesis 9) [ESV]

Bow is קֶשֶׁת which means bow for shooting arrows. As there is no word for "rainbow" in Hebrew, the "bow" in the passage is understood to be a "rainbow."

Greek has separate words for bow (τόξον) and for rainbow ( ἶρις - [cf. Revelation 4:3, 10:1]). Despite having a word which means "rainbow" the LXX translator(s) used "bow:"

13 I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of covenant between me and the earth. 14 And it shall be when I gather clouds upon the earth, that my bow shall be seen in the cloud. 15 And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you, and between every living soul in all flesh, and there shall no longer be water for a deluge, so as to blot out all flesh. 16 And my bow shall be in the cloud, and I will look to remember the everlasting covenant between me and the earth, and between living soul in all flesh, which is upon the earth. (LXX-Genesis 9)

13 τὸ τόξον μου τίθημι ἐν τῇ νεφέλῃ καὶ ἔσται εἰς σημεῗον διαθήκης ἀνὰ μέσον ἐμοῦ καὶ τῆς γῆς 14 καὶ ἔσται ἐν τῷ συννεφεῗν με νεφέλας ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν ὀφθήσεται τὸ τόξον μου ἐν τῇ νεφέλῃ 15 καὶ μνησθήσομαι τῆς διαθήκης μου ἥ ἐστιν ἀνὰ μέσον ἐμοῦ καὶ ὑμῶν καὶ ἀνὰ μέσον πάσης ψυχῆς ζώσης ἐν πάσῃ σαρκί καὶ οὐκ ἔσται ἔτι τὸ ὕδωρ εἰς κατακλυσμὸν ὥστε ἐξαλεῗψαι πᾶσαν σάρκα 16 καὶ ἔσται τὸ τόξον μου ἐν τῇ νεφέλῃ καὶ ὄψομαι τοῦ μνησθῆναι διαθήκην αἰώνιον ἀνὰ μέσον ἐμοῦ καὶ ἀνὰ μέσον πάσης ψυχῆς ζώσης ἐν πάσῃ σαρκί ἥ ἐστιν ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς

Obviously "bow" is literally correct, but this suggests the sign of the "bow" was something other than a rainbow.

Was God's sign other than a rainbow? If not, what does the failure to describe the sign as a rainbow convey?

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Unlike English and Greek, Hebrew has no separate specific word for "rainbow" to differentiate it from the weapon, "bow" (as used to propel an arrow). The word that covers both meanings is קֶשֶׁת (qesheth).

That this word קֶשֶׁת (qesheth) means the weapon, "bow" is attested frequently such as: Gen 21:16, 27:3, 48:22, 24, 49:24, Josh 24:12, 1 Sam 2:4, etc.

However, the same word is used to describe a rainbow in the clouds:

  • Eze 1:28 - The appearance of the brilliant light all around Him was like that of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell facedown and heard a voice speaking.
  • Gen 9:12-14, 16 - And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between Me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set My rainbow in the clouds, and it will be a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. Whenever I form clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, ... And whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of every kind that is on the earth.”

The use of the same word for both meanings is obviously linked by their similar geometric shape. The fact that this was unambiguously chosen as the sign of covenant with Noah and all the earth after the flood is significant for two reasons:

  1. A rainbow only became possible after the flood because before the flood there was no rain (Gen 2:6)
  2. Weapons were sometimes used (exchanged) as part of a covenant (eg, between David and Jonathon, again a bow, 1 Sam 20) symbolizing the consequences of what would happen if either side did not honor the agreement. In this case, the bow is pointed toward the sky, and thus God, showing that the covenant was initiated by God and it was God's promises that make the covenant work. Thus God bears the greatest responsibility for keeping the covenant; therefore the weapon is pointed toward God. That is, it is God who promises not to destroy and keep peace.
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    In what way should the Greek text which does not use ἶρις (rainbow) be understood? – Revelation Lad Jan 11 at 1:18
  • The only two instances of the Greek "iris" (= "rainbow") are in Rev 4:3 and 10:1 which both allude to Eze 1:28. Now, whether the rainbow in Gen 9 anticipates Eze 1 is another matter that is impossible to answer. However, the LXX still uses τόξον in Eze 1:28 (!?!) – Dottard Jan 11 at 1:33
  • the LXX often (but now always) shows a slavish adherence to the Hebrew even when it does not convey the sense correctly. We could (but should not) debate whether this is one of them. – Dottard Jan 11 at 1:41
  • When someone reads the Greek text and learns the sign in the clouds is a τόξον not a ἶρις what is the difference they should understand? Is the only the "bow" shape of the rainbow which is the sign and not the multiple colors in the shape? – Revelation Lad Jan 11 at 6:51
  • @RevelationLad - the bow shape is all that קֶשֶׁת (qesheth) imparts in meaning (literally) but when signifying the rainbow presumably had another extra meaning. – Dottard Jan 11 at 8:20

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