The rainbow is a beautiful natural phenomenon that has captivated humankind since ancient times. Its vivid colors spanning the sky often symbolize hope, promise, and God’s covenant with His creation. But how many colors make up a rainbow exactly?
And what does the Bible tell us about the colors and meaning behind this meteorological wonder?
If you’re short on time, here’s the quick answer: According to modern science, a rainbow contains seven main colors – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. The Bible mentions only four colors of the rainbow – red, purple, blue, and green in the book of Ezekiel.
The rainbow is used predominately as a symbol of God’s mercy, promises, and glory throughout the Scripture.
The Science Behind Rainbow Colors
Visible Spectrum of Light
A rainbow is a beautiful natural phenomenon that showcases the visible spectrum of light. The visible spectrum is the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that the human eye can see. The electromagnetic spectrum includes radio waves, microwaves, infrared radiation, visible light, ultraviolet radiation, x-rays, and gamma rays.
Of all these, the visible spectrum of light is the only part we can see.
The visible spectrum encompasses all the colors of the rainbow from red to violet. The colors we see depend on the wavelength of the light. Light travels in waves, and the wavelength determines the color. Longer wavelengths appear red, while shorter wavelengths are violet.
The visible wavelengths range from around 700 nanometers for red to about 400 nanometers for violet.
When white light, which contains all the colors of the spectrum, passes through a prism or raindrops, the different wavelengths separate by refraction, causing the light to split into the visible color spectrum.
Different wavelengths bend at slightly different angles, spreading the white light out into the color pattern of a rainbow.
Refraction and Dispersion of Light
When sunlight enters raindrops, the light is refracted and dispersed, creating a rainbow. Refraction refers to the bending of light as it passes from one medium, such as air, to another, such as water. The amount of refraction depends on the color or wavelength of the light.
Violet light is refracted more than red light as it moves from air to water and back again.
As the different wavelengths of light are refracted at different angles, dispersion occurs, separating the light into the visible color spectrum. The light reflects internally off the back of the raindrop, refracting again as it exits.
The combination of refraction and dispersion splits the light into the sequence of rainbow colors.
The raindrops act like small prisms refracting and dispersing the sunlight. Not all the colors are refracted at the same angle, causing the visible color spectrum to become apparent to an observer looking towards the sun as it shines on the rain.
The sequence of rainbow colors from top to bottom and outermost to innermost is red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. This pattern arises from the fact that violet light is refracted the most while red is refracted the least.
The red light exits the raindrop at a shallower angle than the violet light.
The fascinating science behind rainbows showcases the visible light spectrum and the optical effects of refraction and dispersion. The interaction between sunlight, raindrops, and the human eye produces the beautiful colors of the rainbow.
Rainbow Colors Identified in the Bible
Ezekiel’s Vision – God’s Glory Revealed
In Ezekiel 1:28, the prophet Ezekiel describes seeing a rainbow in his vision of God’s glory: “Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.”
This rainbow encircled God’s throne and represented His glory, majesty, and covenant faithfulness. Just as the rainbow symbolized God’s promises and protection after the Flood (Genesis 9), Ezekiel’s vision reminds us of God’s mercy and grace.
Red – Christ’s Sacrifice and God’s Mercy
Red is likely the first color that comes to mind when we think of the biblical symbolism of the rainbow. In the Bible, red represents blood, sacrifice, and atonement for sins. As Hebrews 9:22 says, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”
Christ’s blood, poured out on the cross, is that source of atonement that cleanses us from sin. The vivid red color reminds us of Jesus’ sacrifice and God’s redeeming mercy and grace (Hebrews 9:14).
Blue – Heaven, Holiness, and Faithfulness
Blue is the color of the sky and a symbol of heavenly realms. Associated with God’s holiness and perfection, blue in the Bible represents things like the blue ephod worn by priests (Exodus 28:31), blue pomegranates on the hem of the high priest’s robe (Exodus 28:33), and the blue in the curtains of the tabernacle (Exodus 26:1).
As the rainbow connects heaven to earth, the blue color reminds us of God’s faithfulness in keeping His promises and covenant (Numbers 15:38-40).
Purple/Violet – Royalty and Priesthood
Often associated with wealth, royalty and nobility, purple or violet in the Bible represents Christ’s kingship as the coming Messiah. During his triumphal entry, the crowds spread their cloaks on the road before Jesus, covering his path in purple (Mark 11:8-10).
Purple also has connections to the priesthood and the Old Testament temple, seen in the purple curtain of the tabernacle (Exodus 26:1) and the purple robe placed on Jesus during his trial (Mark 15:17). This color reminds us of Jesus the great High Priest and the King of kings.
Green – Life, Resurrection, and Growth
As the color of plants, trees and vegetation on the earth, green in the Bible is associated with life, growth, fruitfulness, and resurrection. The green rainbow color reminds us of new life in Christ. Just as green plants depend on rain from the sky to grow, our spiritual growth depends on the rain of God’s grace.
Green in the rainbow symbolizes the key to that growth coming from Heaven above. After the Flood, the rainbow brought Noah hope; green vegetation sprouted up from the earth showing God’s faithfulness in preserving life (Genesis 8-9).
Symbolic Significance of Rainbows in the Bible
Sign of God’s Mercy and Promise
The rainbow is first mentioned in Genesis 9 after the Flood. God put the rainbow in the sky as a sign of His promise to never again destroy the earth with a flood. This showed God’s mercy and care for His creation.
Whenever people see a rainbow, they are reminded of God’s faithfulness and His promise to sustain the earth (Genesis 9:12-17). The rainbow represents God’s commitment to His people and all living creatures.
Throughout the Bible, the rainbow is seen as a symbol of hope and God’s covenant. After seasons of hardship and trial, the rainbow reminds believers of God’s providence and blessings to come. Just as the rainbow appears after the storms and rain, God restores and provides for His people even in difficult times.
Symbol of Majesty and Authority
In Revelation 4:3, a rainbow encircles the throne of God in heaven. This illustrates God’s glory, majesty and authority over all creation. The rainbow shows that God is superior to and sovereign over nature.
The brilliant rainbow colors surrounding God’s throne demonstrate His power and remind us that all things are under His dominion.
This rainbow imagery connects back to the Noahic covenant in Genesis 9, now fulfilled in heaven. The promise God made to Noah is complete, as people from all nations come before His throne. God’s faithfulness endures forever.
Emblem of Faithfulness and Covenant
As a sign of the covenant God made with Noah in Genesis 9, the rainbow represents God’s faithfulness and commitment to keep His promises. Though we are unfaithful, God remains faithful. The rainbow points to His trustworthiness and the sure hope we have in Him.
The rainbow also represents the new covenant believers have with Christ. As Noah and his family stepped into the new world after the Flood, we step into new life with Jesus when we put our faith in Him. This covenant is secure and unbreakable, despite our shortcomings.
In conclusion, while science tells us a complete rainbow contains seven distinct bands of color, the Bible specifically mentions only four colors – red, purple, blue and green – in association with rainbows.
Beyond the physical colors, rainbows have deep symbolic meaning in the Scripture as reminders God’s mercy, deliverance, promises, glory and covenant faithfulness towards His people.