I have heard so many Christians say that there was no rainbow before God placed one in the sky after the Flood when He promised Noah to never destroy the earth with another Flood. Many of the same Christians also believe that there was no rain on the earth before the Flood.
Were there rainbows or rain before the Genesis Flood?
As I have often stated, let’s be like the Bereans and turn to the Scriptures to see what is true and what is not true. First we will look at the topic of rain before the Flood and then the rainbow.
When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground. Genesis 2:5-6.
The first reference to rain is in Genesis 2 where we read that there had been no rain upon the land before God made man. All this verse tells us about rain is that it did not occur on the land before man was created. Interestingly, this verse does not say that there was no rain on the earth, but just none on the land. That does leave open the possibility that there was rain over the seas and oceans. It also does not say that there was no rain after man was created.
For in seven days I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground. Genesis 7:4
Just because this is the first mention of rain, does not mean or say that it had not rained on the earth prior to this time. If it had never rained, would Noah have understood what God was talking about? Rain? Lord, what’s rain? No, Noah fully comprehended God’s instructions, indicating that he knew what rain was.
The Flood occurred about 1656 years after Creation. In that time the water cycle would have had to be functioning. The water cycle starts when sunlight heats up the surface of lakes, seas and oceans causing water vapor to rise into the atmosphere upon air currents also created by the sunlight. Eventually the water vapors begin to condense into water droplets in the cooler upper atmosphere forming clouds. The clouds are carried over the land by the air currents in the upper atmosphere. When the clouds reach a saturation point where they cannot hold anymore water vapor and droplets, it begins to fall as rain or snow, depending on the atmospheric conditions.
How do we know that the water cycle was in place prior to the Flood? The prophet Jeremiah tells us so.
Thus says the LORD: If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed order of heaven and earth, Jeremiah 33:25.
The fixed order of heaven and earth is also translated as the fixed laws of heaven and earth. The covenant with day and night was made on Day 1 of Creation and the fixed laws of heaven and earth were established at each phase of the Creation Week as God created and set things into motion. (For more information on the covenant with day and night, see God’s Covenant with Day and Night.) The water cycle is one of the fixed laws of nature that all scientists today recognize. Once God created the Sun on Day 4, the water cycle would have been initiated.
Therefore, from Scripture we would have to say that it had rained upon the earth for many years before the Genesis Flood.
Incidentally, this is additional proof from Scripture that the days of Creation were ordinary 24 hour days. Had there been millions and billions of years before man was created there would also have been millions and billions of years of rain on the land prior to the creation of man. Yet with the days of Creation being six literal 24 hour days, the water cycle fit in quite well. The Sun was created on Day 4 which would have initiated the water cycle. It would have taken a few days for evaporation to generate enough water vapor in the upper atmosphere in order for it to generate any rain. Adam was created on Day 6, only two after the water cycle began, which is probably too soon for it to have rained before he was created.
Secondly, what about the rainbow? What does Scripture tell us?
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. 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.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”
This may have been the first reference to the rainbow in the Scriptures, but it does not tell us that this was the first time it was seen by man. Therefore, we need to ask two questions: 1) Does God always use something new to be the symbol of a covenant He establishes? 2) Would the fixed laws of heaven and earth have allowed a rainbow to be seen prior to the Flood?
There are several examples of God using a symbol or practice already known to man as a sign of a covenant. The first was the covenant of circumcision made with Abraham (Genesis 17:1-14). It was not a common practice at the time of Abraham but not unknown to him. Secondly, Baptism was a known practice when it was used in Matthew 3 as a covenant with a believer.
When Jesus gathered with his disciples in the upper room for the Passover feast, He took the cup of wine and said: This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Mark 14:24. Jesus was referring to the blood of the Passover Lamb that was sacrificed in Exodus 12 and was about to be sacrificed upon the Cross. The entire Passover feast of the lamb, bitter herbs and unleavened bread, was symbolic of the years of Hebrew captivity and the blood sacrifice that was made to set them free of their bondage. Christ used this example when He took the bread and wine and said: Do this in remembrance of me, Luke 22:19.
Have you ever seen a small rainbow appear in a lawn sprinkler or in the mist of a waterfall? Water droplets act like a prism and divide the natural white sunlight into its various color spectrums. In order to see a rainbow in the sky, you need sunlight, rain or mist and you have to have your back to the sun. Since we have already ascertained that there had been rain before the Flood and that God established the fixed laws of heaven and earth (which would have included the laws of physics that pertain to light waves), people had to have observed rainbows since shortly after the creation of Adam and Eve.
God used the rainbow as a sign of His covenant to never again destroy the entire world with water because He knew that rainbows are always associated with rain and is something that can be seen by people the world over at various times. He knew there would be local floods that would have people wondering if He was going to destroy the earth again. Being able to see the rainbow would remind them of His covenant.
The Bible may not be a science textbook, but when we do like the Bereans and start with Scripture, we often can find answers to questions that deal with science as in this case. Starting with God’s Word and the science He has given us, including the fixed laws of heaven and earth, we conclude that it did rain upon the earth before the Flood and associated with those rains were rainbows, which God wisely used as the symbol of His covenant with Noah.