February 24, 2003

Godward Signs

Category: Bible - OT - Genesis,Theology - Liturgical :: Permalink

I’ve been reading through Genesis for the last few days, and on Saturday I noticed something in Genesis 9 that I hadn’t spotted before.

We tend to think that God placed the rainbow in the cloud primarily to remind us that God won’t destroy the world with a flood — and, of course, that’s part of the function of the rainbow, which is why God tells Noah about the rainbow. But the rainbow has that man-comforting function because God says that He will look on the rainbow and remember the covenant (Gen. 9:16). The rainbow functions primarily, then, as a memorial for God so that when He sees it He will remember His promises and His people. In fact, that’s the purpose of many of the memorials in Scripture: they are God-appointed reminders to God of His covenant.

All of that was familiar to me already. But what I hadn’t noticed before was that, right after speaking about how He will see the rainbow and remember His covenant, God then says that the rainbow is “the sign of the covenant” (Gen. 9:17).

In our Reformed sacramental theology, we speak of baptism and the Lord’s Supper as “signs” (and “seals”), language we have learned from Scripture. But as we think about the sacraments as “signs,” we ought to take into account what Scripture means when it speaks of something as a “sign of the covenant.” And here in Genesis 9, the “sign of the covenant,” while it does have a man-ward function, serves primarily to remind God of His faithfulness to His covenant.

In this connection, we might think also of the signs God places on men’s foreheads in Ezekiel and Revelation. They are put there so that God will remember these people in grace and so that the people will not be destroyed in God’s judgment.

So too, then, with the sacraments. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, as “signs” of the covenant, identify us to God as His people so that He maintains His covenant faithfulness to us. That isn’t their only function, of course, but it does appear to be one of their primary functions.

Perhaps this is old news to you (especially if your name is Mark Horne), but I can’t recall seeing much discussion along these lines — okay, I can’t remember any — in standard Reformed treatments of the sacraments.

Posted by John Barach @ 10:43 am | Discuss (0)

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