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Treading Upon the Bow

23 October, 2009

corcpicsmallOne of my favorite outdoor memories from Southern California is the day Phil (Chaos) and I went out with a wonderful elder from a local PCA church to be introduced by him to the ancient art of archery. We used wooden bows and arrows, the target course wound through a shaded grove of trees, and we couldn’t have had a better teacher. It was great, and we were both hooked — although neither one of us has yet to find the time and money to pick it up! Hopefully some day…

I’m still visiting my mom in Georgia, and she knows a lot of hunters and sportsmen/women. Yesterday I had the chance to go out and shoot target practice with a high-powered compound hunting bow (the PSE Venom, if you’re interested). It was really scary fun. Later today a friend of my mom’s is supposed to be coming over with a traditional recurve and maybe even an English longbow. It got me thinking, and then researching: it’s amazing how often archery comes up in the Bible, and how much a part of the biblical world and worldview archery is.

The first time a bow is mentioned in scripture is figuratively, in the picture of the post-flood rainbow which the Lord puts forward as a sign of his covenant with Noah (Gen 9:8-17). In effect, God was saying that this bow in the sky, pulled taut not toward earth but toward heaven, would be to us and him a testimony that he has sworn by himself to keep his promise never again to destroy the earth by flood, but to maintain the earth and provide for us, the wicked and the righteous (Matt 5:45), until the last day.

Many such appeals to the imagery of archery are to be found throughout the Bible, especially in the prophetic books and in poetry, picturing the piercing words and deeds of the wicked (e.g. Psalm 11:2, 57:4; Prov 25:18) — and particuarly common is the imagery of God himself as the Divine Archer. With his bow and arrows the Lord executes judgment and accomplishes righteousness, both on behalf of and among his people (Deut 32:23,42; Psalms 21:12; 38:2; 45:5; 58:7;120:4; 144:6; Lam 3:12,13; Ezek 5:16; Hos 1:5Hab 3:11). One of the most striking of such images of judgment is in Revelation:

Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer (Rev 6:1-2; this rider may or may not represent Christ himself, as in Rev 19:11-16)

Because of God’s skill and strength, his people are likewise made mighty in the art of archery, whether figuratively (cf. Gen 49:22-24; Zech 9:13) or not (2 Sam 1:18; 1 Chron 5:18; 12:2; 2 Chron 14:8; 26:14; Neh 4:13; Zech 9:13). The name of archers in scripture is often literally ‘those who tread the bow,’ because the war bows were so large that in order to string it they’d have to stand on one end while they pulled down the other end from above their heads (so Jer 50:14, 29 in Hebrew; cf. Zech 9:10, 10:14). The reality of archery at home and in war in the Ancient Near East, of course, is what underlies the frequent figurative use of bows and arrows throughout scripture. Archery was important for hunting (Gen 21:20; 27:3). Jonathan employed it to communicate news to David (1 Sam 20:20-42). Elisha instructed Joash to use the bow and arrow as a sign against Syria (2 Kings 13:14-19), and arrows were used for divination by the king of Babylon under the providence of God as part of Nebuchednezzar’s decision to attack Jerusalem (Ezek 21:21). One of my favorite passages in scripture is when a random, nameless soldier ‘by chance’ fires an arrow aimlessly into the air, which strikes Ahab just in chink in his armor, killing him in fulfillment of a prophecy of judgment from the Lord (see 1 Kings 22:34).

But I think it’s hard for most of us to move in that same thought-world (I know it’s hard for me, and I like archery). I’d like to chew on these things a lot more, especially the biblical portrait of the Lord as the Divine Archer whose bow is strong, and whose arrows strike true on behalf righteousness and justice — and on behalf of all those who look to him for that righteousness and justice.

For more on the history and background of archery to provide some of the context for the biblical statements, read ‘A Shot in Time’.

  1. 24 October, 2009 1:50 am

    Why do you get all the luck? I’m trying to talk Bruce Settergren into making me a long bow (or recurve). It’s his new hobby besides serving the church.
    I live by Bass Sporting Goods. This is bow hunter land. All of the construction workers here in Missouri talk about shooting deer as much as all of the construction workers in Hawaii talk about surfing waves.
    I hear our bro Josh is hooked on (the other) sport of kings too.
    It’s deer season. Hurry Bruce! Please.

  2. 24 October, 2009 5:27 pm

    I’m sure you celebrate with me that the sacramental rainbow in Genesis 9 being pointed upward is pointing at God and therefore indicating that He he will be the one to take the death curse ‘pro nobis’ just as he is the one, and not Abraham, who walks between the death cursed pieces in Genesis 15. The new thing that God will do in the person and work of Jesus Christ the Son of God to save his people is hinted at in the very beginning the story.

    • benjamen dorris permalink
      17 January, 2010 4:45 am

      I stumbled upon this article while searching for information on the upward pointing bow in Gen 9. I agree with you thoughts and have become curious about the covenant God made with Noah. Does man have any responsibility in the covenant or is it only a promise God gave to man?

      • 20 January, 2010 11:25 am


        Check out my longer comment below about the Noahic covenant being unilateral, and see if that answers your question well enough.


  3. 24 October, 2009 6:33 pm

    Yep, that’s what I meant by ‘pulled taut not toward earth but toward heaven.’ But you said it much better.


  4. 27 October, 2009 7:22 pm

    I’m gonna guess that the PCA elder is Rip, since I heard that he is into bows and his student days at WSCAL overlap yours.

    Anyhoo, I make them and shoot them. There’s nothing quite like the wild exhilaration of shooting a bow you’ve made. As for Chaos, he’s going to have to work on his patience since there’s several in the queue ahead of him. The deer in Missou are safe this year.

    As for Josh, he is now getting into humility in ways like never before, having been repeatedly schooled in the art of shooting.

    BTW, great article, though I’m not sold on the rainbow thingy. It has its usual Klinean appeal but seems to me more speculative than exegetical.

  5. 29 October, 2009 2:11 am


    Rip it was indeed. He’s such a great guy.


  6. 29 October, 2009 9:04 pm

    That’s alright Bruce,
    Looks like our friend is taking Alisia and I hunting on 300 private acres this week and next. A rifle will have to do.

  7. Jamie Duguid permalink
    30 October, 2009 11:51 pm

    I’m a little skeptical about the idea that where the bow is pointing in Genesis 9 is actually relevant to the point the text is making. It seems like that is stretching it a little. How would we support that?

    • 31 October, 2009 3:00 pm

      Jamie (and bs),

      I’m sure there are other arguments out there, but I’d say the following two considerations, taken together, suggest this interpretation:

      1. The rainbow is a sign of the covenant with Noah, and as such, there’s good reason to take it as being symbolic. The rainbow isn’t the sign of covenant remembrance at random. So we’re supposed to keep our eyes open for the symbolic or metaphorical nature of the sign. (The word for rainbow is the same for an archer’s bow, by the way.)

      2. The Lord’s covenant with Noah is unilateral — it’s a promise of something the Lord himself will do (or in this case, not do), swearing by himself and upholding all conditions himself, not a bilateral agreement between two parties. That means the parallels to this type of covenant are Gen 3:15, Abraham, David, the New Covenant which fulfils all these in Christ — promisory oaths taken and established and upheld by God alone. So there’s good reason that this bow in the sky for the purpose of calling God’s own covenant promises to remembrance, is similar to his own walking between the pieces of the animals in his covenant with Abraham: God and God alone upholds all that is necessary to accomplish his covenant-making and covenant-keeping purposes.

      I’m not saying the covenant with Noah is identical with these other covenants, especially in that the others are explicitly redemptive in character (although Noah and his family were part of that promise, too!). I’m saying that when God swears by himself, in the context of making a covenant no longer to exercise deserved judgment, and he mentions a bow in the heavens, I think Gen 9 is strongly suggesting this interpretation. I’m not willing to be dogmatic or inflexible about it, but I do think it’s a rich — and textually and contextually warranted — understanding of the (rain)bow.

      Hope this at least explains my take on this,

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