Genesis 5:24
Great Texts of the Bible
Walking with God

Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.—Genesis 5:24.

How strange it is, if you are reading the Bible from the beginning, to come to this text! Here was a man in the very childhood of the world, who seemed distinguished from those who lived around him and from those who came after him, because he walked with God. What does it mean? The words which would explain it are so simple, and the thoughts which they contain are so sublime, that one almost hesitates to speak about it. Yet we might shape it perhaps, at any rate in outline, according to our own experience, and we might say, this primitive man, not seeing or touching God any more than we do, yet realized habitually His existence; recognized His presence—His close presence—with Him every day; as one would pass many days in the society of some dear friend, so he passed his days in the society of God, but with this beautiful difference: we cannot spend many consecutive days with our dearest friends; some of them we are obliged to leave, others we are obliged to lose; with God the companionship need not be intermitted. It was not necessary to leave Him, and the man therefore kept up a companionship unbroken. When he woke from sleep in the morning, the first thought that rushed into his mind would be:—

Still, still with Thee,

When purple morning breaketh,

When the bird waketh,

And the shadows flee.

And as he went about his business—the business of the herd, or of the ploughing, or the ordering of his household—the sweet consciousness of that companionship might be submerged beneath the surface for a little, but surely to emerge again directly the occasion was presented. The occupations of the day did not disturb the reality of the life, any more than business men, who love their wives and children, feel that their love is in the least affected because they have to go into the city in the morning, and to be plunged into the toil and the cares of the day’s business. Quite the contrary, it is that love which animates their toil and keeps them close to the task, and it is the thought of coming home in the evening, the welcome of the wife and the smiles of the children, which presents itself to them as the reward of their labour. Just so, when the pressure relaxed, Enoch would exclaim: “Return unto thy rest, O my Soul; resume thine intercourse with thy Beloved.” We may fancy also that he talked with God, talked sometimes aloud, talked also when in the presence of others it was necessary to talk in silence. Sometimes his words were uttered in the presence of God, as in the presence of a mighty Potentate, and words would come slowly, with trembling and fearfulness. But much oftener he would talk to God familiarly, and in a childlike way; would tell Him of the cares and anxieties of the day; would ask his God to come and share his deepest joys; and would not hesitate to ask whatever he wanted, keeping up an hourly conversation with Him. This “walk with God” would be the dominating fact of the man’s life: the foundation on which the palace of life would be built: the ground harmony from which the variations of his music would be developed. And such a walk with God, maintained for some years, would render it inapplicable to speak of death in connexion with the man; and, when death came, it would be necessary to use another phrase altogether, and to say, “He was not; for God took him.”

¶That we should establish ourselves in a sense of God’s Presence, by continually conversing with Him. That it was a shameful thing to quit His conversation to think of trifles and fooleries.1 [Note: Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, 6.]

That in order to form a habit of conversing with God continually, and referring all we do to Him, we must at first apply to Him with some diligence: but that after a little care we should find His love inwardly excite us to it without any difficulty.2 [Note: Ibid. 10.]

His priest am I, before Him day and night,

Within His holy place;

And death, and life, and all things dark and bright,

I spread before His Face.

Rejoicing with His joy, yet ever still,

For silence is my song;

My work to bend beneath His blessed will,

All day, and all night long—

For ever holding with Him converse sweet,

Yet speechless, for my gladness is complete.1 [Note: Gerhardt Tersteegen, trans. by Frances Bevan.]


Enoch walked with God

The phrase “walking with God” is used continually throughout the Old Testament to characterize a religious life. In the brief record of Enoch’s life in Genesis 5:22-24 it is mentioned twice that he “walked with God.” It was evidently the fact which was most noticeable in him, and it passed down to posterity as his distinguishing mark. Again in Genesis 6:9 the same statement is made about Noah, the preacher of righteousness before the Flood. In Genesis 17 a slightly different expression is used of Abraham: God said to him, “Walk before me, and be thou perfect,” and Abraham afterwards, in chapter 24, speaks of God as “The Lord before whom I walk.” This expression about Abraham is taken up again in the prayer of Hezekiah: “Remember, O Lord,” he says, “how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart.” And one of the Psalmists in the 111th Psalm declares his intention of “walking before the Lord in the land of the Irving.” In the 16th Psalm, again, the same thought is stated in a different way: “I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.” In the Prophet Micah, this “Walking with God” is mentioned as one of three things that God requires of man: “To do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.” And then, in the last book of the Old Testament, we are told about Levi that he “walked with God in peace and uprightness, and turned many away from their iniquity” (Malachi 2:6).

In the New Testament we learn that we are to “walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” We are to “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called.” We are to “walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing.” We are to “walk circumspectly.” We are to “walk in the light.” We are to “walk by faith.”

What are we to understand, then, when we are told that Enoch walked with God?

1. First of all it is implied that God is a person as Enoch is a person. This twofold conception is necessary to any adequate idea of religion. There is a theory which makes man the only active spirit in religion; all religion is but man’s reflection upon the world, and upon his own nature. Now, that theory is in truth a denial of religion. To negate God, to blot out the Divine Personality, is to undermine religion. Some reverence in face of the mysterious forces of the world, and the majesty of the universe, some sort of naturalistic piety, there might be, but it would fall short altogether of what is the very essence of religion. That essence is communion and intercourse between persons—the person man and the Person God. Communion with a universe depersonalized does not yield religion, and it leaves man in that most terrible loneliness—the embodiment of a great need for which there is no satisfaction, and his life one great agonizing cry to which there is no response.

Herbert Spencer’s suggestion that God may be superpersonal, some sort of Being other and higher than personal, does not serve us at all. If God is superpersonal, He is nothing to us, for the highest being we can conceive is conceived in the terms of personality. We cannot think outside ourselves, and an absolutely inconceivable God is to us no God. The basis of religion rests on this as one of its two fundamental convictions—that there resides in this universe the eternal self-conscious Spirit who made it, who goes on making it, and who reveals Himself to man. Religious truth is not the product of the action of man’s mind upon a passive universe. Something is given to man—given by One who knows that He gives; a communication is made by the eternal self-conscious Spirit to the human spirit.1 [Note: T. R. Williams.]

2. To walk with God, in the next place, implies harmony. “The carnal man is enmity against God,” and there must first be reconciliation. “How can two walk together, except they be agreed?” Arnos asked that question, and there is logic in that little word “can.” An appeal is it to the nature of things, and “the nature of things is the law of God.” Harmony of sound is music. Harmony of word to thought is poetry. Harmony of colour is beauty. The most beautiful thing in nature is the rainbow; God blends the colours. Life, the philosophers are telling us, is correspondence with environment. In disease or death something is thrown out of correspondence. The deaf man is thrown out of correspondence with the world of sound; the blind man with the world of beauty. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Co-relation of part with part is intimate, and any interference means friction. The perfect workmanship is frictionless. Sin is disagreement, fermentation, rebellion, alienation, estrangement, mutiny, discord—the one all-pervading discord of the universe.

The great dramatist, in the Tempest, makes Ferdinand and Miranda fall in love at first meeting. A glance, he says, and they “changed eyes.” The man who “walks with God” is he who has changed eyes with God. He sees as God sees. “There is not an honest student of the Bible anywhere,” says Joseph Cook, “who is not willing to admit that salvation is harmony with God”—loving what God loves, and hating what God hates.

Culture is pained by contact with coarseness. The eye of the artist is troubled with a false blending of colour. The ear of the musician is tortured with dissonance. Handel tells us that a flatness felled him like a blow. And a high, lofty moral nature is wounded by the world’s sin and shame, and shrinks with grief at its beholding. Love and hate can never be at peace. Corruption and cleanliness must necessarily quarrel. This is a law woven into the nature of things. Until a man is washed by the blood of Jesus from the guilt of sin and the power of sin and the love of sin, he cannot be at peace in the presence of infinite holiness.1 [Note: M. J. M‘Leod.]

3. But, again, to walk with God is to keep the commandments of God. For what supremely attracts the Divine approbation is not greatness, but goodness, moral goodness. Enoch had neither worldly wealth, nor grandeur, nor power. He was not famed for any of these. His excellency in the sight of God, and what distinguished him from his contemporaries, was his personal purity. “Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God.” That is the condition of the beatific vision. Only the pure in heart can see God, and only in the degree in which they are pure. The pure in heart behold Him here. The impure could not see Him even there—the vision of God, the sight of the King in His beauty, and of the land that is very far off, is vouchsafed not to science but to sanctity, not to talent but to love. In the spiritual world a man is measured, not by his gifts but by his graces, not by his intellect but by his likeness to God. God does not reason or remember, perhaps, just as we do, but He loves. He cannot believe, for He fills immensity; He cannot hope, for He inhabits eternity; but He can love.

All the world praises the clever men; the talented originators, the ingenious inventors. They never lack crowns and rewards. But is there not something to be said for the men and women who have simply purity and elevation of character? The man who sends a current of pure air or purifying example through the world’s work-field is at least as praiseworthy as the man who supplies its machinery. Some men serve the world by what they are rather than by what they do. Economically, they are cyphers, but as sweeteners of the world’s life they are worth more than gold. I have known a few men and women who have done more to make me believe in God and goodness than all the books I ever read. Their names never get into the newspapers, but their sanctity pervades the air like a perfume from the heavenly fields. When they die, they leave no fortune or triumphant record of startling deeds; they leave only the sweet memory of what they were. We felt their healing touch as they passed by, and we are far better men for having known them. And their epitaph is fitly written in such words as these: “He walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.”1 [Note: J. G. Greenhough.]

4. Once more, to walk with God means progress. Not only does it mean that progress is being made. That is true. For in the spiritual life as in all life, there is no standing still. But it also signifies that some maturity of religious consciousness has been attained. There is a sense of Divine companionship, of harmony with the higher will; there is a conquest of the life of sense, an at-home-ness in the spiritual life.

The conquest of the spiritual over the natural life is not unlike the advancing light of the morning sun. At Grindelwald I remember watching it. At first it only just tipped the very highest of the mountain peaks; gradually the whole peak was in the brilliant light, all the valley still in shadow. But the peak in the light was guarantee that the shadow was doomed. Watch it: inch by inch the shadow is chased down the hill until the lowliest flower in the valley stands bright in the victory of day. At first the sense of God illumines only our best moments—those whitest and highest parts of our life, those mountains of transfiguration where we do not build tabernacles nor remain. Yes, God’s light is there, but life is mostly valley still in the shadow. Let us take heart. Let us keep our eye on those shining heights. All the shadows are doomed; it is in the nature of that sun to conquer. “He which began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Php 1:6).1 [Note: T. R. Williams.]

Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,

As the swift seasons roll!

Leave thy low-vaulted past!

Let each new temple, nobler than the last,

Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,

Till thou at length art free,

Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!2 [Note: Oliver Wendell Holmes.]

5. And, last of all, to walk with God means rest. For harmony comes through obedience, and obedience always gives rest. There is harmony in music because in music there is no self-will. Music is built on law. Man did not make this law; he has simply discovered it. If he breaks it the music ceases. Each Haydn and Handel is as much bound by it as each amateur. The same is true of man’s relation to his every art. Find out its principles, and all the genius of that art is yours. But disobey its principles; try to excel in any other way than by conformity to its nature, and all that art contends against you, and balks you at every step. We cannot change ocean current or tide, but we can build our ship and stretch our sail, and by adapting us to wind and wave we can gain any Liverpool or Queenstown. We cannot conquer lightning. Obedience pulls the sting out of the lightning and makes it harmless. Fire is a bad master, but a good servant. So is it in the spiritual life. If we obey the law of God we have “rest and peace in the beloved.” He who is in love with his neighbour, filling the sphere in which God has placed him, has heaven in his heart already. Only through blue in the eye, scientists tell us, can blue out of the eye be seen. Only through C in the ear can C out of the ear be heard. Jerusalem which is above is recognized because that City has already descended from God.

After a hard day’s work Bengel retired to rest. Some one heard his prayer: “Blessed Lord, we are on the same good old terms to-night.” Then the good man slept. His life was keyed to the divine life. His heart kept time to the pulse of God. He had peace.1 [Note: M. J. M‘Leod.]


Enoch was not

“He was not; for God took him”; that is, as the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews has it, “he was not found.” That expression “he was not found” seems to suggest that he was missed and sought for. Such a man would be missed. No doubt the men of that age knew him well. He was a preacher of righteousness, and had often warned them of a judgment to come. With his departure there was a palpable blank. “He was not found,” because God had translated him.

1. Enoch would be missed because his life was a good life. Though a life so full of God, though so constant and so close in the most sacred of communions, yet neither monk’s life nor hermit’s life was Enoch’s. It was a life in all its outward circumstances as ours is, or may be, or should be. It was a life, not in the wilderness in a contemplative solitude, but in the thick and throng of society. Nor was it the select society of a religious community apart from worldly cares and common relationships; it was a life domestic, not monastic—we read of his son Methuselah; and it was after the birth of his son that he walked these noted three hundred years with God. Thus, as regards his own household, this distinguished piety flourished in plain, natural, domestic life. There is nothing exceptional, nothing exotic about it; not a growth within the shelter of costly walls, under fostering heat, with dainty soil and a covering of glass; it was in the open and common air of the world. Indeed, so far from favouring, circumstances were against him. Enoch’s age was a deeply corrupt age. It was a God and eternity forgetting world that the patriarch lived in. But he was no silent, unremonstrating witness of the world’s corruption and carelessness. He gave his living and lifelong example; and, moreover, he spoke out. The Spirit of that God with whom he walked inspired his speech, and gave his words a heavenly sanction, so that his warnings partook of the nature of prophecy. Like Noah, Enoch was a preacher of righteousness and herald of judgment: “Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him” (Judges 1:14-15).

If I should die to-night,

My friends would call to mind, with loving thought,

Some kindly deed the icy hand had wrought,

Some gentle word the frozen lips had said:

Errands on which the willing feet had sped—

The memory of my selfishness and pride,

My hasty words, would all be put aside,

And so I should be mourned to-night.

Oh, friends, I pray to-night,

Keep not your kisses for my dead, cold brow.

The way is lonely; let me feel them now.

Think gently of me; I am travel worn;

My faltering feet are pierced with many a thorn.

Forgive! O hearts estranged, forgive, I plead!

When dreamless rest is mine, I shall not need

The tenderness for which I long to-night.1 [Note: Robert C. V. Meyers.]

2. But this grand revelation did not disclose itself fully and clearly until they lost Enoch. The full significance of a noble life is scarcely ever, perhaps never, realized until we have lost it. “Whence hath this man these mighty works? This carpenter of Nazareth we know; his brothers and sisters live next door to us.” Ay, He was too near them. They had not yet seen the majesty and the grandeur of Him, and even to His disciples He said, “It is expedient for you that I go away.” As who should say, “I am too near to you now. I must get further away before you can understand me, and receive the mighty Spirit that shall reveal all things to you.” The prophet is only half understood as we rub shoulder to shoulder with him. He talks to us as one of ourselves, and we do not know the mighty spirit that speaks to us and inspires us until he has passed away to the glorious crown of the mighty. And so God glorifies Himself in His servants by their death as well as by their life. It is for Him to choose. It is for Him to determine by which we shall glorify His name the more. For us the one purpose, the one ambition should be, to leave the strongest, deepest impression we can upon the world, to leave it the grandest inspiration possible. If that can be done best by our life, then God grant that we may live. If it can be done best by our death, then death were glorious.


For God took him

“God took him.” In the Epistle to the Hebrews, following the translation of the Septuagint, it is said, “Before his translation he had witness borne to him that he had pleased God well.” Does not the writer here imply that God took him, because He was well pleased with him?

A little girl was once talking with another little girl about Enoch. The second little girl had never heard of him, and so the first, who was rich in Bible stories, told her by her mother, made up a version of the story of Enoch which has a very beautiful suggestion in it. Said the little girl to her friend, “God was accustomed to take walks with Enoch, and one day they went further than usual, and God said, ‘Enoch, you are a long way from home; better come in and stay with Me’; so he went, and has stayed ever since.”

Came the relief. “What, Sentry, ho!

How passed the night through thy long waking?”

“Cold, cheerless, dark,—as may befit

The hour before the dawn is breaking.”

“No sight? no sound?” “No; nothing save

The plover from the marshes calling,

And in yon western sky, about

An hour ago, a star was falling.”

“A star? There’s nothing strange in that.”

“No, nothing; but above the thicket

Somehow it seemed to me that God

Somewhere had just relieved a picket.”1 [Note: Bret Harte.]

“God took him” means Victory. This is the thought which persists in one’s mind after one looks at the picture of Enoch. Remembering the context, and how the biography of Enoch stands out in unique grandeur amongst those of the other men who died, we cannot miss the purpose of the sacred writer. We may say that the Old Testament saints met death with grim resignation, but we cannot say with hope. The desire of escaping death, or “overleaping Sheol,” is constantly re-echoed by the Psalmists. Here we have a foreshadowing of that complete victory which can only be won in Christ.

(1) Now, we know that for us death is inevitable. Christ has not taken away death, but He has passed through it.

Christ leads me through no darker rooms

Than He went through before;

He that into God’s kingdom comes

Must enter by this door.2 [Note: Richard Baxter.]

(2) But Christ has conquered the power of death by taking away its sting. St. Paul says, “The sting of death is sin … but thanks be to God which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:56-57).

(3) And we must never forget the principle which these words of St. Paul teach us—our share in the conquest. Christ has taken away the sting of death. God will give us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us learn our lesson from Enoch: he began his walk with God on earth. “By faith Enoch was translated.”

I do not know to what extent The Pilgrim’s Progress is read at the present time, but I never return to it without wonder at the genius and insight which it displays. I should be delighted to quote the whole of its wonderful closing scenes, but those who are familiar with them will be grateful to me for two paragraphs which I quote, especially for the last sentence, with its very direct bearing on the value and power of faith in the last crisis, and because of their reference to the subject of this chapter.

“Now I further saw, that betwixt them and the Gate was a River, but there was no Bridge to go over; the River was very deep; at the sight therefore of this River the Pilgrims were much stunned, but the men that went with them, said, You must go through, or you cannot come at the Gate.

“The Pilgrims then began to enquire if there was no other way to the Gate; to which they answered Yes, but there hath not any save two, to wit, Enoch and Elijah, been permitted to tread that path, since the foundation of the World, nor shall, until the last Trumpet shall sound. The Pilgrims then, especially Christian, began to despond in their mind, and looked this way and that, but no way could be found by them, by which they might escape the River. Then they asked the men if the waters were all of a depth? they said No; yet they could not help them in that case; for, said they, You shall find it deeper, or shallower, as you believe in the King of the place.”1 [Note: A. S. Peake, The Heroes and Martyrs of Faith, 45.]

Death, thou wast once an uncouth hideous thing,

Nothing but bones,

The sad effect of sadder grones:

Thy mouth was open, but thou couldst not sing.

For we consider’d thee as at some six

Or ten years hence,

After the losse of life and sense;

Flesh being turn’d to dust, and bones to sticks.

We lookt on this side of thee, shooting short,

Where we did finde

The shells of fledge-souls left behinde;

Dry dust, which sheds no tears, but may extort.

But since our Saviour’s death did put some bloud

Into thy face,

Thou art grown fair and full of grace,

Much in request, much sought for, as a good.

For we do now behold thee gay and glad,

As at doom’s-day,

When souls shall wear their new aray,

And all thy bones with beautie shall be clad.

Therefore we can go die as sleep, and trust

Half that we have

Unto an honest faithfull grave,

Making our pillows either down or dust.1 [Note: George Herbert.]


Banks (L. A.), The Great Saints of the Bible, 21.

Barton (G. A.), The Roots of Christian Teaching, 88.

Burrell (D. J.), The Religion of the Future, 137.

Davies (J.), The Kingdom without Observation, 172.

Greenhough (J. G.), Old Pictures in Modern Frames, 1.

Greer (D. H.), From Things to God, 123.

Horton (R. F.), Lyndhurst Road Pulpit, 51.

Jenkins (E. E.), Sermons, 249.

Lilley (J. P.), The Pathway of Light, 19.

Lonsdale (J.), Sermons, 135.

McLeod (M. J.), Heavenly Harmonies, 9.

Morris (A. J.), The Open Secret, 162.

Myres (W. M.), Fragments that remain, 94.

Oosterzee (J. J. van), The Year of Salvation, i. 416.

Pearce (J.), Life on the Heights, 9.

Price (A. C.), Fifty Sermons, i. 81; x. 65.

Purves (G. T.), Faith and Life, 215.

Raleigh (A.), The Way to the City, 408.

Roberts (E.), in The People’s Pulpit, ii. No. 43.

Ryle (J. C.), The Christian Race, 243.

Smellie (A.), In the Secret Place, 4.

Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xiii. No. 1307.

Thomas (J.), Myrtle Street Pulpit, iv. 35.

Christian World Pulpit, xxxix. 139 (Goadby); xl. 356 (White); lii. 328 (Stalker); lxxi. 97 (Jowett).

Expositor, 2nd Ser., vii. 321 (Cox).

The Rainbow

I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.—Genesis 9:13.

The Flood was a judgment. The record of it is “written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.” When sin reaches a certain point, it demands the interposition of God. It is so in individual life. “God is provoked every day.” He is long-suffering and of great pity. He gives a thousand chances. He calls and calls again. He reproves gently. He rebukes sternly. He chastens tenderly. He smites severely. Every sinful career is marked by such gradations of discipline. At last the cup is full. Long trifled with, “God is not mocked”; and he who would not have Him for his Father must at last know Him as his Judge. It is so with individual lives, and it is so with the life of communities, and of the world.

But the record of judgment passes into a record of mercy. Like all God’s judgments, it was tempered with mercy. Noah builded an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt-offerings on the altar, then the Lord “smelled a sweet savour, and said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done. While the earth remaineth, seed-time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.” And therefore God formed a covenant with Noah, making the rainbow the visible sign of it: “And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud, and I will remember my covenant which is between me and you and every living thing of all flesh.”

Still young and fine! but what is still in view

We slight as old and soil’d, though fresh and new.

How bright wert thou, when Shem’s admiring eye

Thy burnisht, flaming Arch did first descry!

When Terah, Nahor, Haran, Abram, Lot,

The youthful world’s gray fathers in one knot,

Did with intentive looks watch every hour

For thy new light, and trembled at each shower!

When thou dost shine darkness looks white and fair,

Storms turn to Musick, clouds to smiles and air,

Rain gently spends his honey-drops, and pours

Balm on the cleft earth, milk on grass and flowers.

Bright pledge of peace and sun-shine! the sure tye

Of thy Lord’s hand, the object of His eye!

When I behold thee, though my light be dim,

Distant, and low, I can in thine see Him,

Who looks upon thee from His glorious throne,

And mindes the Covenant ’twixt All and One.1 [Note: Henry Vaughan.]


The Rainbow

1. What is it that makes the rainbow? You must have a cloud or rain, and you must have light. Now, every drop of rain is a little prism. The prism divides the pure ray of light into its several parts. You know that if you mix all the colours together you get what we call white. And if you were to mix together all the colours that are in the rainbow, that is to reunite them, so that they blended together perfectly, you would have the pure ray of light. All those hues are only different parts of the pure white ray. And so whenever you see one of those colours appear through the prism, you may depend upon it, it is because the prism has divided the pure ray of light, and has let you have only a portion of it.

The rainbow does in another way what the flower does in the garden. It is another way, but with a similar result. You have a beautiful rose, it may be, in your garden; how charming it is in scent and colour! Well, what does that rose do? It takes in the light of the sun. Yes, but not all of it: it takes certain hues of that light; and what it does not take in, it gives back again. Now that which makes it beautiful is not what it takes in, but what it reflects back again. So that the flower is beautiful because it is not selfish enough to take to itself all the light of the sun that descends upon it. The prism is in that respect even more self-denying than the flower, because it does not take any colour to itself, but sends all the colours forth at different angles; and of these one colour or more reaches your eye.1 [Note: D. Davies.]

I find the explanations of science very interesting, and I do not find, that they necessarily destroy the realities of faith. My rainbow is not less beautiful to me when I have learned how it is formed, nor need it tell me less of God. May it not indeed tell me more? Thomas Hood’s lines—

I remember, I remember

The fir trees dark and high;

I used to think their slender tops

Were close against the sky;

It was a childish ignorance,

But now ’tis little joy

To know I’m farther off from heaven

Than when I was a boy,

have a pathos which we all feel, and yet may we not urge that they are based on a misconception? Do not I now know heaven to be nearer, not farther off, than I thought it was when a boy? Surely it is now nearer to me than the fir-tops!

I grieve not that ripe Knowledge takes away

The charm that Nature to my childhood wore,

For, with that insight, cometh, day by day,

A greater bliss than wonder was before.2 [Note: A. J. Bamford.]

2. The business of science is to observe and to experiment, to understand and to explain, not to go into raptures; and she finds matter to observe in the clods as in the clouds, in the freckled skin of a toad as in the cheek of the fairest of Eve’s daughters. She ignores my feeling of the beauty of the rainbow. To her the purest blues and the softest rose-tints are simply examples of decomposed light, incomplete light. It is the colourless—containing all colour—that is complete, the sunlight that is ever and everywhere streaming upon and into our life. And may I not welcome this fact and gather comfort from it? So gracious has God ever been that I will not forthwith assume that He could not appoint as His token what may, in a sense, be termed imperfect. He manifests Himself in ways adapted to our receptive powers, and if our attention is more readily arrested by the more exceptional than by the more usual, He may graciously make the more exceptional His sign. But how comfortable a thought that it is the imperfect that is exceptional and the complete that is common! The decomposed light is seen under certain special conditions; the perfect light is ever being poured upon our daily tasks.

Quite recently I happened to pass through one of the most crowded parts of London, when, of a sudden, a rainbow of wondrously intense colour and of unusually perfect form became visible, and changed the whole prosaic scene. It was marvellous to see little knots of busy people, their eager movement arrested, their worldly preoccupations forgotten for the moment, standing in admiration before the gracious apparition. The rainbow lingered but for a brief space, and then slowly faded away. But it remained long enough to tinge with a Divine splendour the homely face of the city, to cheer many a heart with a vision of rare beauty, nay, to create the thought that God does not abandon any part of His world, or wholly sever the bonds of love that link Him to His human children.1 [Note: Morris Joseph.]

Poor Thomas Carlyle, dyspeptic and morose, once looked up at the stars and said, with a growl, “It is a sad sight!” But a little girl looked up at the same sight and said, “Mamma, if the wrong side of heaven is so fine, how very beautiful the right side must be!”2 [Note: L. A. Banks.]

3. The rainbow is chiefly suggestive of thoughts either (1) of mystery or (2) of joy and sorrow.

(1) Mystery.—There is no more striking illustration of the vast difference between the religion of the Bible and that of the ancient pagan world than is afforded by their respective explanations of the rainbow. A phenomenon so remarkable would naturally excite the wonder and curiosity of primeval man. Its mystic beauty, the rarity of its appearance, the fact that it had the heavens for its scene, almost inevitably invested it with a supernatural significance. The old mythology, as we know, discerned a god in every wonder of Nature; and therefore it is not surprising to find that for the ancient Greeks the rainbow was the visible representative of a golden-winged maiden who attended the Lord and Mistress of Heaven, and carried their messages to mortals. According to one account, Iris is actually changed into the beautiful rainbow as a reward for her services; according to another, the rainbow is but the glittering ladder by which she descends from the sky to do her errands on earth. Now, contrast this myth, graceful, yet lacking the true religious spirit, with the interpretation of the rainbow given in Genesis. Here the phenomenon is made to tell a story of the Divine love for all the world—a story which breathes comfort into every heart that opens to receive its message.

Rude and distant tribes agree in the conception of the Rainbow as a living monster. A New Zealand myth, describing the battle of the Tempest against the Forest, tells how the Rainbow arose and placed his mouth close to Tane-ma-huta, the Father of Trees, and continued to assault him till his trunk was snapt in two, and his broken branches strewed the ground. It is not only in mere nature-myth like this, but in actual awe-struck belief and terror, that the idea of the live Rainbow is worked out. The Karens of Burma say it is a spirit or demon. “The Rainbow can devour men.… When it devours a person, he dies a sudden or violent death. All persons that die badly, by falls, by drowning, or by wild beasts, die because the Rainbow has devoured their ka-la, or spirit. On devouring persons it becomes thirsty and comes down to drink, when it is seen in the sky drinking water. Therefore when people see the Rainbow, they say, “The Rainbow has come to drink water: look out, some one or other will die violently by an evil death.” If children are playing, their parents will say to them, “The Rainbow has come down to drink: play no more, lest some accident should happen to you.” And after the Rainbow has been seen, if any fatal accident happens to any one, it is said the Rainbow has devoured him. The Zulu ideas correspond in a curious way with these. The Rainbow lives with a snake, that is, where it is there is also a snake; or it is like a sheep, and dwells in a pool. When it touches the earth, it is drinking at a pool. Men are afraid to wash in a large pool; they say there is a Rainbow in it, and if a man goes in, it catches and eats him. The Rainbow, coming out of a river or pool, and resting on the ground, poisons men whom it meets, affecting them with eruptions. Men say, “The Rainbow is disease. If it rests on a man, something will happen to him.” Lastly, in Dahome, Danh the Heavenly Snake, which makes the Popo beads and confers wealth on man, is the Rainbow.1 [Note: E. B. Tylor, Primitive Culture, i. 293.]


The rain and the wind ceased, and the sky

Received at once the full fruition

Of the moon’s consummate apparition.

The black cloud-barricade was riven,

Ruined beneath her feet, and driven

Deep in the West; while, bare and breathless,

North and South and East lay ready

For a glorious thing that, dauntless, deathless,

Sprang across them and stood steady.

’Twas a moon-rainbow, vast and perfect,

From heaven to heaven extending, perfect

As the mother-moon’s self, full in face.

It rose, distinctly at the base

With its seven proper colours chorded,

Which still, in the rising, were compressed,

Until at last they coalesced,

And supreme the spectral creature lorded

In a triumph of whitest white,—

Above which intervened the night.

But above night too, like only the next,

The second of a wondrous sequence,

Reaching in rare and rarer frequence,

Till the heaven of heavens were circumflexed,

Another rainbow rose, a mightier,

Fainter, flushier and flightier,—

Rapture dying along its verge.

Oh, whose foot shall I see emerge,

Whose, from the straining topmost dark,

On to the keystone of that arc?

He was there.

He himself with his human air.2 [Note: Browning, Christmas-Eve and Easter-Day, vi.]

(2) Sorrow and Joy.—The devastating waters, concerning which God has made with men His covenant of mercy, are the waters of sorrow. These, too, have their bounds set them by the Divine hand. To them the fiat goes forth: thus far and no farther, and here shall thy proud waves be stayed. The torrent of affliction may swell and rise, and toss the heart on its heaving bosom; but God sits above the flood, enthroned for ever, and under His restraining hand it is not suffered to overflow or to deal utter ruin. This is the message of the rainbow—that smile set in the still frowning heavens. It is the message echoed by the Psalmist’s confession: “God hath chastened me very sore; but he hath not given me over unto death.”

The rainbow is a child of the storm; and it is very beautiful. It springs out of the conflict between light and darkness; it is caused by the sun of heaven shining upon the fast-dripping tears of earth. It tells, and will always tell, that nothing very beautiful ever comes to pass in human life, except there be sorrow. It tells, and will always tell, that sorrow alone, cannot give birth to this beauty of human life and character. It needs the fast-falling tears of sorrow and sadness below; but it needs also the sunshine, the light, and the glory, from heaven above. People are always wondering why there should be sorrow and suffering; why human tears should flow so freely. There really is not any answer but what the rainbow gives, or at least suggests. Say what you like; be as impatient of suffering as you will; you will yet have to acknowledge, as a fact, that in human character there is hardly anything very beautiful, very attractive, but it has suffering for a necessary condition; suffering lighted up by love.

Through gloom and shadow look we

On beyond the years;

The soul would have no rainbow

Had the eyes no tears.

We are like him of whom the poet sings—


Upbore him, and firm faith, and evermore

Prayer from a living source within the will,

And beating up thro’ all the bitter world,

Like fountains of sweet water in the sea,

Kept him a living soul.

We hear of those upon whom there has fallen some sorrow which seems calculated to destroy all the worth of life. “He will never be the same man; she will never be the same woman again”—so we exclaim. And yet, though the stricken ones reel under the blow, they do not fall, or if they fall they rise again. Some secret well-spring within is opened, and pours forth its healing stream.1 [Note: M. Joseph.]

An old couple, who greatly glorified God by their glad lives, were asked: “And have you never any clouds?” “Clouds!” said the old woman, “Clouds! Why, yes indeed, else where would all the blessed showers come from?”2 [Note: H. S. Dyer.]

A friend of mine yesterday, when he was told there was a rainbow, looked for it in the direction of the sun. He evidently did not know better. God never puts rainbows in the direction of the light. There is no need of them so long as you can see the sun shining as gloriously as it did yesterday afternoon. It is when you have to look at the cloud that you want a rainbow. Thus you will always find that if the sun is in the east the rainbow is in the west. Hence the old saying—

The rainbow in the morning

Is the shepherd’s warning;

The rainbow at night

Is the shepherd’s delight.3 [Note: D. Davies.]


The Rainbow as a Sign

i. Symbols

In times when contracts were not reduced to writing, it was customary, on the occasion of solemn vows, promises, and other “covenant” transactions, to appoint a sign, that the parties might at the proper time be reminded of the covenant, and a breach of its observance be averted.

It has been said that a “sign is a thing which, over and above the impression which it makes upon the senses, causes something else to come into the mind.” Anything, therefore, can be taken as a sign: e.g. a stone which has in itself no meaning or value, may be used as marking the boundary of a field. Not such is this sign. There is a principle here the same as that in those parables which take some object in nature or some fact in the physical world to symbolize the spiritual truth or fact, and which are properly called symbolic parables. It is such a principle that gives the wonderful comfort found in the 125th Psalm. This rainbow had a fitness for the purpose to which it was applied, for after the appearance of an entire rainbow, as a rule no rain of long duration follows; and the darker the background the more bright does it appear. As such a sign doubtless Noah already knew it. A harbinger of the cessation of a storm was a fitting symbol of the close of that flood which was never to be repeated. The beautiful object which already had a natural adaptation to its purpose “God consecrated as the sign of His love and witness of His promise.”

Have not I myself known five hundred living soldiers sabred into crows’-meat for a piece of glazed cotton, which they called their Flag; which, had you sold it at any market-cross, would not have brought above three groschen? Did not the whole Hungarian nation rise, like some tumultuous moon-stirred Atlantic, when Kaiser Joseph pocketed their Iron Crown; an implement, as was sagaciously observed, in size and commercial value little differing from a horse-shoe? It is in and through Symbols that man, consciously or unconsciously, lives, works, and has his being: those ages, moreover, are accounted the noblest which can the best recognize symbolical worth, and prize it the highest. For is not a Symbol ever, to him who has eyes for it, some dimmer or clearer revelation of the Godlike?1 [Note: Carlyle, Sartor Resartus, bk. iii. ch. 3.]

Nature everywhere bears the touch of God. The vast universe is a collection of tokens; the whole system of worlds is a revelation of Divine covenants which the invisible God desires to publish. There are hours when one feels this and sings—

O earth! thou hast not any wind which blows,

That is not music; every reed of thine,

Pressed rightly, flows with aromatic wine,

And every humble hedge-row flower that grows,

And every little brown bird that doth sing,

Hath something greater than itself, and bears

A living word to every living thing.

Albeit it holds its message unawares.

All shapes and sounds have something which

Is not of them; a spirit broods amidst the grass;

Vague outlines of the everlasting thought

Lie in the melting shadows as they pass;

The touch of an Eternal Presence thrills

The fringes of the sunsets and the hills.

Sometimes (we know not how, nor why, nor whence)

The twitter of the swallow ’neath the eaves,

The shimmer of the light among the leaves,

Will strike up through the thick roots of our sense

And show us things which seers and sages saw

In the green earth’s gray dawn; something doth stir

Like organ-rhymes within us and doth awe

Our pulses into listening, and confer

Burdens of being on us; and we ache

With weights of revelations; and our ears

Hear voices from the Infinite that take

The hushed soul captive.

Very beautiful is this idea of God giving us something to look at, in order to keep our faith steady. He knows that we need pictures, and rests, and voices, and signs, and these He has well supplied. We might have forgotten the word, but we cannot fail to see the bow; every child sees it, and exclaims at the sight with glad surprise. If any one would tell the child the sweet meaning of the bow, it might move his soul to a still higher ecstasy! And so with all other things God has given us as signs and tokens: the sacred Book, the water of Baptism, the bread and wine, the quiet Sabbath, the house of prayer;—all these have deeper meanings than are written in their names; search for those meanings, keep them, and you will be rich.1 [Note: Joseph Parker.]

ii. A Token of a Covenant

1. The covenant is that there shall not be any more a flood to destroy the earth, and the token of the covenant is the bow in the cloud. But was there not a rainbow before there was a flood? Of course there was. You do not suppose that the rainbow was made on purpose? There were rainbows, it may be, thousands of ages before man was created, certainly from the time that the sun and the rain first knew each other. But old forms may be put to new uses. Physical objects may be clothed with moral meanings. The stars in heaven and the sand by the seashore may come to be to Abraham as a family register. One day common bread may be turned into sacramental food, and ordinary wine may become as the blood of atonement! The rainbow which was once nothing but a thing of evanescent beauty, created by the sun and the rain, hence-forward became the token of a covenant and was sacred as a revelation from heaven. When you lived in a rich English county the song of the lark was nothing to you, it was so familiar; you had heard the dinning trill of a hundred larks in the morning air; but when you went out to the far-away colony, and for years did not hear the voice of a single home bird, you suddenly caught the note of a lark just brought to the land, and the tears of boyhood streamed down your cheeks as you listened to the little messenger from home. To hear it was like hearing a gospel. From that day the lark was to you as the token of a covenant!

In speaking to Noah God did not then create the bow; He turned it into the sign of a holy bond. The fear is that we may have the bond and not the oath. We may see physical causes producing physical effects, and yet may see no moral signification passing through the common scenery of earth and sky. Cultivate the spirit of moral interpretation if you would be wise and restful; then the rainbow will keep away the flood; the fowls of the air will save you from anxiety; and the lilies of the field will give you an assurance of tender care. Why, everything is yours! The daisy you trod upon just now was telling you that if God so clothe the grass of the field He will much more clothe the child that bears His own image.1 [Note: Joseph Parker.]

2. The phenomenon has actually no existence unless there is an eye to see it. Not that the eye in any sense designed or can create it, for there must be the raindrops and the sun, things altogether outside of, and separate from, the beholder, before it can come within the sphere of possible existence; but when it has come into that sphere, then it must, if we may say so, remain absolutely non-existent until it is brought into contact by those wonderful processes, which it needs a scientific pen to describe, with the organs which convey the perception to the brain. Now, this is a very close and a very complete type of what we may understand to have taken place immediately after the deluge in the case of the same phenomenon. It may be said to have then come into existence for the first time; but how? In its higher character of a token, of a covenant between God and man. It was then made, and it then became capable of being seen in that view by the eye of faith, and it would need the eye of faith so to see it—that is, in the same sense; it would need the eye of faith to bring it into being as the token of a covenant between God and man. The eye of faith had not to create it in that character. To suppose that would be to confound between faith and imagination. Its creation was altogether God’s, entirely outside of, and separate from, any action, faculties, or powers that man could bring to bear upon it. Neither the rain nor the sunshine, nor the background of cloud whereon to paint the image, was in any way directly or indirectly produced by hand of man or controllable by the will of man; but still, until man looked upon it, not only with a seeing eye but also with a believing spirit, its existence as the token of the covenant was no more capable of proof than is the presence of Christ in any church at any moment.

It is a quaint idea of the Rabbins that in an age conspicuous for righteousness the rainbow is not visible; the virtuous, they say, are a sufficient sign that God remembers His covenant. And truly it is man’s mercy to man that is the most eloquent witness of the Divine love. Every pang assuaged by human agency, every soothing, encouraging word that is spoken to still the complaining, to strengthen the despairing, spirit, every deed of true charity, every grasp of a friend’s hand, every ray of light that falls upon our life from the soul of our beloved, is a manifestation of God’s mercy. Those virtues of men and women, by the exercise of which they bless one another, are as truly God’s angels as are the tranquillity and the strength that will sometimes mysteriously find their way into our disquieted hearts, coming we know not whence.1 [Note: Morris Joseph.]

3. What God did for Noah and his sons was just to take the old familiar rainbow, which was and is merely one of the occasional effects of the unchanging laws of nature—and to make it His bow: to make it a visible symbol, a painted sacrament, of His personal faithfulness and love. That is the great law which runs through all sacraments. No sacramental thing is ever new as far as its outward form and material are concerned. Our Saviour made His own two great sacraments of grace out of the very simplest and commonest and most familiar of all actions—the pouring of clean water over the body; the partaking together of bread and wine, themselves the most ordinary and universal articles of diet in His country. And He made them effectual signs and symbols of a grace which is stronger than sin, of a love which is stronger than death. Or look again at marriage, which is a sacrament of nature common to the whole human race, coming down to us from the Garden of Eden. On its natural side, its historical side, it is nothing but that instinct of “pairing” which human animals share with all other animals. On its supernatural side, God has chosen it from the first to be a “great mystery.” It is a sacrament of love and grace, so effectual that out of it all the progress of mankind in refinement and in civilization has sprung; so profound, that in it has been fore-shadowed and represented all along that mystical union between Christ and His Church, by which we also live.

4. For what purpose then was the bow set in the cloud? The great purpose was to be a witness to God’s Faithfulness. The God which the Book of Genesis goes on revealing and unveiling to us more and more is a God in whom men may trust. The heathen could not trust their gods. The Bible tells men of a God whom they can trust. That is just the difference between the Bible and all other books in the world. But what a difference! Difference enough to make us say, “Sooner that every other book in the world were lost, and the Bible preserved, than that we should lose the Bible, and with the Bible lose faith in God.”

In Calvary’s awful scene, we behold the Divine Faithfulness. Clouds of sin have risen from the earth; a shoreless ocean of despair has covered the life of man; but God—the Faithful God, the Covenant-keeping God, the God who remembers that man is His child, and that in his very constitution and life He has left pledges and intimations that help him to look heavenward from some ark of hope—He has not forgotten, He is keeping His word of grace, and the clouds are shot through and through with the power of Christ, the Sun of Righteousness. Sin is retreating like the flood, and peace, “My peace,” as Christ says, hangs like a rainbow above the cross of Jesus and the life of man.

Not seldom, clad in radiant vest,

Deceitfully goes forth the Morn;

Not seldom Evening in the west

Sinks smilingly forsworn.

The smoothest seas will sometimes prove,

To the confiding Bark, untrue;

And, if she trust the stars above,

They can be treacherous too.

But thou art true, incarnate Lord,

Who didst vouchsafe for man to die;

Thy smile is sure, thy plighted word

No change can falsify!

I bent before thy gracious throne,

And asked for peace on suppliant knee;

And peace was given,—nor peace alone,

But faith sublimed to ecstasy!1 [Note: Wordsworth.]


Bamford (A. J.), Things that are Made, 105.

Banks (L. A.), The Great Promises of the Bible, 268.

Davies (D.), Talks with Men, Women, and Children, 301

Gunsaulus (F. W.), Paths to the City of God, 112.

Howatt (J. R.), The Children’s Pew, 31.

Joseph (M.), The Ideal in Judaism, 142.

Kingsley (C.), Gospel of the Pentateuch, 51.

Kingsley (C.), National Sermons, 423.

Morrison (G. H.), Flood-tide, 170.

Parker (J.), People’s Bible, i. 168.

Smellie (A.), In the Secret Place, 272.

Vaughan (C. J.), Christ the Light of the World, 133.

Winterbotham (R.), Sermons in Holy Trinity Church, 76.

Wiseman (N.), Children’s Sermons, 158.

Christian World pulpit, xxvii. 97 (Kempe); xlviii. 91 (Abbott).

Old and New Testament Student, x. 274 (Denio).

The Great Texts of the Bible - James Hastings

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

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