Portraits of GodRelated Media
The biblical record of God’s prophet Elijah is filled with many unusual and at times miraculous events. Thus in the first encounter that the reader has with God’s prophet, he is startled by the prophet’s ominous pronouncement: “As certainly as the LORD God of Israel lives (whom I serve), there will be no dew or rain in the years ahead unless I give the command.” Anyone who lives in areas where heaven sent water is in scarce supply would instantly recognize the seriousness of such a declaration. This was especially true of the Bible lands for they are “prone to drought and aridity” and “the world of the Old Testament is an agrarian world in which people are aware of their dependence on weather.”1 Therefore, “No rain, no life. It was just that simple in OT times in the Promised Land.”2
In what follows we shall note the particular significance and emphases of dew and rain as presented in the Bible (especially the Old Testament) with a view to some of their applications to the believer’s life. We shall examine them in the order in which Elijah stated them.
As mentioned above, water, including dew, was critical to life in the biblical world. Dew, however, was normally in rather good supply. As Cogan remarks, “Dewfall is known year round; it is particularly abundant on the coastal plain and helps sustain summer planting.”3 Dew was seen as part of God’s creation. Among the dialogues with Job, where the Lord is portrayed as the creator of the earth and that the element forces of nature are under his control (Job 28:25-26; 36:37; cf. Ps. 147:16-18) God poses the question to Job, “ Who has fathered the drops of the dew?” (Job 38:28). In context the clear answer to the rhetorical question is: God Himself and Job understands it quite well (cf. Job 40: 1-5). The purpose of the dew, like the other manifestations mentioned in Job 28:28-30, is “to impress Job with God’s superb control of all such things.”4 So it is the Solomon wisely pointed out:
By wisdom the Lord laid the foundation of the earth;
he established the heavens by understanding.
By his knowledge the primordial sea was broken open,
and the clouds drip down dew (Prov. 3:19-20).
It is God, therefore, who ultimately controls the dew and provides it for his people in accordance with his blessings to them (Deut. 33:26-28). Accordingly, when fathers as leaders in ancient Israel invoked God’s blessings upon their sons or people, they would sometimes call for God’s blessings by using the imagery of the dew so necessary for good crops and a productive life. Thus when Isaac mistakenly blessed Jacob thinking that it was Esau, he prayed, “May God give you the dew of the sky and riches of the earth” (Gen. 27:28). Likewise, Moses blessed the tribe of Joseph saying, “May the Lord bless his land with a harvest produced by the sky, by the dew, and the depths crouching beneath with a harvest produced by the daylight and the moonlight” (Deut. 33:13). The dew, therefore, at times symbolized the blessing of God.
By way of contrast, God’s withholding of the dew could be a sign of his disfavor and punishment. In the case of 1 Kings 17:1 Elijah’s announcement of the withholding of the dew likewise declared God’s punishment of unfaithful Israel. Israel had gone after Baal, the Canaanite god of fertility and rain. Baal’s supposed power over rain appears in the Ugaritic story of Aqhat. There Aqhat’s father Danel laments his son’s passing by pronouncing a curse, which involved the activity of Baal:
For seven years let Baal fail,
eight, the Rider on the Clouds;
no dew, no showers,
no surging of the two seas,
no benefit of Baal’s voice.5
Understandably then, Elijah’s pronouncement provides a notice of distinct disfavor of and challenge to the authority of Baal and his state sponsorship by Ahab and Jezebel. The challenge would reach a climax in the contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, where Elijah boldly declared, “How long are you going to be paralyzed by indecision? If the LORD is the true God, then follow him, but if Baal is follow him!” (1 Kings 18:21). Soon afterwards, in accordance with Elijah’s sacrifice and prayer, the Lord sent the needed rain (1 Kings 18:41-46).6
Figurative Uses of Dew
Of special interest is the fact that in blessing his healed and restored people God likens himself to refreshing dew (Hos. 14:5). Indeed, “The dew becomes symbolic here of a life-giving vitality that provides the source of renewed life and strength for Israel—God himself.”7 Similarly, Isaiah records the Lord’s assurance that in the future God’s people in Israel will live again,“ like plants drenched with the morning dew, and the earth will bring forth its dead spirits” (Isa. 26:19). Herein is found one of the key Old Testament texts suggesting the believer’s bodily resurrection. As Oswalt observes, “God’s dew will rest upon the dead as he will force earth to give them up to life in his presence forever.”8 Smith concurs, saying that much more than national Israel is involved here: “These are not promises of national restoration, but a commitment to bring someone who was considered dead back to life.”9
The psalmist reminds the Lord’s anointed that because of God’s presence, he will have willing followers who themselves will experience God-given refreshment, hence success in the day of battle (Ps. 110:1-3). As Delitzsch points out, “The host of young men is likened to the dew both on account of its vigorousness and its multitude, which are like the freshness of the mountain dew.”10 It has been suggested further that because Jesus cites Psalm 110:1 as having prophetic application to himself as David’s heir, hence the divine Messiah (Matt. 21:41-46), this verse may also contain a veiled hint of that great future triumph of Christ at his return to subdue the nations, accompanied by the heavenly hosts (Rev. 19:11-16). It is perhaps not without merit to suggest also that even in this life God’s people who willingly follow the Lord in their daily struggles can lead victorious lives, and in so doing they will prove to be a godly example to those with whom they come in contact (cf. 2 Cor. 2:14-17). Such certainly is in accordance with the well-known hymn, Lead on O King Eternal:
Lead on O King Eternal, we follow not with fears!
For gladness breaks like morning wher-e’er Thy face appears;
Thy cross is lifter o-er us, we journey in its light;
The crown awaits the conquest—lead on O God of Might.11
Dew can at times also be a picture of refreshment. Thus the author of Psalm 133 declares that true brotherhood is reflected in living in harmonious unity. Where such is the case, it is not only a pleasant experience, but testifies to a rich spiritual relationship, which is akin to both priestly service and a source of refreshment ( v.1).12 It is also a source of spiritual refreshment like unto the refreshing, vitalizing morning dew: “It is like the dew of Hermon, which flows down upon the hills of Zion” (v.3a). As Allen observes, the dew is “a simile with positive overtones of divinely sent refreshment.”13 Furthermore, the spiritual unity and harmony among believers finds such favor in God’s sight that it evokes the blessing of a conscious living enjoyment of his presence both in this life and the next: “Indeed that is where the Lord has decreed a blessing will be available—eternal life” ( v.3b).14 Dew, therefore, at times appears in the Scriptures to symbolize the benefits of a committed spiritual life in God’s presence, which provides sustenance, renewal, refreshment, vitality, and true success. It reminds believers of the high value of their life in the presence and power of God, for his glory and their good.
Unfortunately, the dew could also be used in contexts symbolizing unfaithfulness and inconsistent conduct before the Lord, which brings God’s punishment. For example, Hosea laments Israel’s inconsistent faithfulness to God: saying of his people “Your faithfulness is as fleeting as the morning mist; it disappears as quickly as dawn’s dew” (Hos. 6:5). “As these appear briefly only to vanish with the rising sun, so God’s people have shown brief flashes of spiritual progress and then have shortly afterwards resorted to their own selfish ways. Even worse now, they attempt to blend the worship of Yahweh with respect for foreign deities.”15 Indeed, Israel’s lack of faithfulness will occasion God’s certain soon coming punishment: “There is a saying about them, ‘those who sacrifice to the calf idol are café kissers! Therefore, they will disappear like the morning mist, like early morning dew that evaporates” (Hos. 13:2b-3). Like dew as well as mist, chaff, and smoke that can vanish all too quickly, Israel’s continued infidelity would not long endure. Indeed, the Northern Kingdom could soon disappear and be no more (cf. Hos. 13:9-16). The only hope for God’s people lay in a genuine repentance, which is reflected in a consistent faithful living in the presence of God (cf. Hos. 6:1-3; 14:1-3). As noted previously, if such should occur, it would bring God’s healing and Israel’s godly remnant will experience his renewed blessing: “I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like a lily” (Hos. 14:5). The lesson of Israel’s experience ought not to be lost by today’s believers as well (cf. 1 Pet. 2:4-12).
Thus in addition to the natural physical benefits of dew, the Scriptures testify to the fact that dew owes its existence to earth’s Creator. Dew is in the final analysis a divine blessing, which provides a source of refreshment, renewal, and vitality to the land—a blessing, however, that can be withheld as a source of correction where sin and disregard of God’s standards are involved.
Among the many Hebrew words used to depict rain, by far the two most common are mâ?âr and gešem. The former is the more frequent and most commonly considered to be the more general term, but where a distinction is to be observed, the latter is taken to refer to heavier occasions of rain. A third frequently occurring word, zerem, is viewed as being used of violent weather such as cloudbursts or electrical storms, which at times were accompanied by hailstones.16 Futato concludes concerning these terms, however, “The modern reader can discern no difference between mâ?âr or gešem.”17 Our study will particularly feature the Old Testament teaching concerning the two most frequent terms for rain.
The underlying Hebrew roots behind these two nouns at times also appear in verbal form. In a great many cases these words for rain simply refer to literal rain. Such is obviously so in the previously mentioned declaration of Elijah (1 Kings 17:1, 7, 14; 18:1, 41).18 The Scriptures abundantly attest to the fact that it is God who created the rain (e.g., Deut. 11:11-14; Job 5:10). Thus in the original creation account it is recorded that, “no shrub of the field had yet grown on the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the earth” (Gen. 2:5). Moreover, it is God who sends the rain (Isa. 55:10; cf. Matt. 5:45) and certainly is not as a result of mankind’s idolatry (Jer. 14:22). The God sent rain was a sign of the Lord’s blessing (Ps. 147:8; Isa. 30:23; Ezek. 34:26), including the seasonal rains of fall and spring (Joel 2:23). Joel’s reference to the rains and the seasonal rains is set in a context of God’s renewal of a repentant covenant people who have come again into renewed fellowship with the Lord (cf. Hos. 6:1-3). “Not only will he give renewed fellowship (v. 23a) and renewed rain (v. 23b) but also renewed provision (vv. 24-25). Their threshing floors will be filled with grain, their collecting vats will overflow with fresh wine and oil, and God will thoroughly restore to them the years the devastating plague had caused them to lose (cf. 1:4, 10, 17; 2:19).19 Indeed, the blessing of rain was distinctly related to covenant faithfulness: “If you walk in my statutes and are sure to obey my commandments, I will give you your rains in their times so that the land will give its yield and the trees of the field will produce their fruit” (Lev. 26:3-4; cf. Deut. 11:14; 28:12; Jer. 5:23-24). Thus as noted already, God’s withholding of rain was a sign of his disfavor for covenant infidelity and/or rampant sin (cf. Deut. 11:17; 2 Chr. 6:26-27; 7:13-14; Jer. 3:3; Zech. 14:17). In an ironic twist, however, heavy rain, especially accompanied by hailstones and/or violent wind, could signify God’s punishment (e.g., Gen. 7:11-12; Exod. 9:22-23; Ps. 105:32; Ezek. 13:11-13; cf. Ezek. 38:22).20
Occasionally both māṭār and gešem are brought together in juxtaposition for special emphasis. Thus Elihu remarks concerning God, “God thunders with his voice in marvelous ways, does great things beyond our understanding. For to the snow he says, ‘Fall to the earth,’ and to the torrential rains, ‘Pour down’” (Job 37:5-6). Amos combines the noun gešem with a form of the verb māṭār to mark God’s attempt to bring his people back to covenant faithfulness: “I withheld rain from you three months before the harvest. I gave rain to one city, but not to another. One field would get rain, but the field that received no rain dried up” (Amos 4:7). In one case not only these two prominent words for rain but also another word for rain, that is, a thunderstorm (ḥāzȋz) appears with them (Zech 10:1). The three words, therefore, admonish God’s people to “pray to the Lord, realizing that all blessings come from him.”21 Thus all forms of rain are the result of God’s blessing upon this faithful people.
Figurative Uses of Rain
Even in figurative uses rain may be used in both a positive and a negative sense. In the former case, beneficial rain is compared to sound advice (Job 29:21-23) or the actions of a godly king: “He will descend like rain on the mown grass, like showers that drench the earth. During his days the godly will flourish, peace will prevail as long as the moon remains in the sky” (Ps. 72:6-7). Rain at an inappropriate time, however, is likened to giving honor to an undeserving fool: “Like snow in summer or rain in harvest, so honor is not fit for a fool” (Prov. 26:1).
The mention of snow is also of interest. Although snow is used here in a negative sense, most often it appears in a positive way. Thus David prays for the Lord’s cleansing, saying, “Sprinkle me with water and I will be pure; wash me and I will be whiter than snow” (Ps. 51:7). Such can be the situation with people and even nations that confess their sins and commit themselves to the Lord’s standards of righteousness (Isa. 1:17-19). Of special interest is Daniel’s vision in which he sees God the Father seated on his throne clothed in attire “white as snow” (Dan. 7:9), thus symbolizing “the absolute moral purity of the divine judge.”22 In like manner the risen Christ appears to John having head and hair “white as snow” (Rev. 1:14). “For John, the same functions of ruler and judge ascribed to ‘Ancient of Days’ in Daniel’s vision relate to Jesus. In Eastern countries, white hair commands respect and indicates the wisdom of years. This part of the vision may have shown John something of the deity and wisdom of Christ (cf. Col. 2:3).”23 Doubtless the snow likewise spoke of Christ’s absolute holiness and moral purity.24
Dew and Rain
It will be recalled that our opening citation of I Kings 17:1 featured both the dew and the rain, which were to be withheld because of the sins of Ahab and Israel—especially in their worship of the Canaanite storm god Baal. Elijah’s announcement that both would cease until he, as God’s messenger would give the word for their renewal, was thus a pronouncement of judgment. Of a similar negative nature is David’s curse upon the mountains of Gilboa as being the scene of the death of Saul and Jonathan: “O mountains of Gilboa, may there be no dew or rain on you, nor fields of grain offerings! For it was there that the shield of warriors was defiled, the shield of Saul lies neglected without oil” (2 Sam. 1:21).
Dew and rain also appear together figuratively.25 The prophet Micah tells of a distant future for God’s blessed people in which they will serve as channels of blessing to the other nations. Thus Barker observes, “Israel will be a blessing to the other nations and people groups of the world, as her covenant Lord intended originally. Just as dew and showers do not depend on humankind to perform their refreshing influence, so Israel will trust in her Lord. The Lord himself will make his people just such a blessing (cf. Ps. 72:6, 16-19).”26 In a more general setting Moses demonstrates that godly teaching is like the refreshing and revitalizing effects of dew and rain (Deut. 32:1-3):
Listen, O heavens, and I will speak;
hear, O earth the words of my mouth.
My teaching will drop like the rain,
as rain drops upon the grass,
and showers upon new growth.
For I will proclaim the name of the LORD;
you must acknowledge the greatness of our God. 27
In an ironic twist dew and rain appear in close proximity to one another in our previously noted case of Hosea’s admonition to his fellow countrymen, whether in Israel or Judah (Hos. 6:3-4). Having encouraged the people to “return to the LORD” (Hos. 6:1), should they do so God will prove himself faithful to his covenant people: “He will come to our rescue as certainly as the appearance of the dawn, as certainly as the winter rain comes, as certainly as the spring rain that waters the land” (Hos. 6:3). Nevertheless, despite Hosea’s urging, it was unlikely that they would heed his challenge to them. Therefore, he records God’s lament over his covenant people: “What am I going to do with you, O Ephraim? What am I going to do with you, O Judah? For your faithfulness is as fleeting as the morning mist; it disappears as quickly as dawn’s dew” (Hos. 6:4). Indeed, certain judgment laid ahead (Hos. 6:5-6). The prophet’s heart surely must have mirrored the heart of God, for although the very symbols of the people’s renewal, revitalization, and refreshment were proclaimed to them, he realized that they will fail to respond.
The texts and imagery associated with dew and rain stand as another visible reminder that God is in control of all things, including the physical world (cf. Ps. 104:1-9). Not only is God the Creator of all things, but he is their controller and the consummator of the flow of history (cf. Job 38:1-11; Isa. 40:1-23, 28). More specifically, the New Testament records that such was accomplished through Christ Jesus (John 1:1-3; Col. 1:15-20). Thus even the common, mundane things of life, which mankind so often takes for granted, are the result of God’s goodness to man (Ps. 104:10-25; 107:9; 145:9; James 1:17).
Nevertheless, the above texts serve as a reminder that God’s goodness is not to be taken lightly. Even as Israel learned, those who are members of his earthly family are to respond in faithfulness to him and his high moral standards. Otherwise God’s favor can be turned into needed chastisement and correction (2 Kings 17:1-23; Isa. 26:1-6). Believers, therefore, should resolve to maintain a whole soul faith that is committed to the Lord (cf. Ps. 37:3-5; Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17; Gal. 2:20; 3:11). Those who so live demonstrate their true relationship to God and have the sure hope of an eternal reward (2 Tim. 4:8; Rev. 2:10).
Even before that grand future time, much as the dew and the rain can symbolize refreshment and renewal, so also consciously living in God’s presence and in accordance with his word provides an abiding sense of refreshment and spiritual vitality (see, e.g., Josh. 1:8-9; Ps. 23; 27:11-14; 63:1; 119:25-32, 49-50, 140, 144; cf. John 15:7; Eph. 5:25-26; 1 Pet. 2:1-3). Surely it is the better part of wisdom to follow the psalmist’s teaching that those who pursue Worldly acclaim and pleasures or who live a selfish or evil lifestyle are ultimately destined for a disastrous end (Ps. 73:3-22, 27). What really matters is a life lived in the conscious presence of the Lord (Ps. 73:23-26): “But as for me, God’s presence is all I need” (Ps. 73:28). Indeed, the believer can know the rich experience of a truly successful and satisfying life. It is one that exudes the abiding spiritual vitality of Christ’s preeminence and leading in his life (Col. 1:27).
To that end that apostle whom Jesus loved (John 19:26) admonished all believers: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him, because all that is in the world (the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the arrogance produced by material possessions) is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world is passing away with all its desires, but the person who does the will of God remains forever” (1 John 2:15-17). Let us, therefore, as did Paul not be satisfied with anything less than a living experience with Christ (Phil. 3:8-11) and the power of God’s word (Phil. 2:16; Col. 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 2:1-3; 3:14-18). When such is the case, it proves to be even more refreshing and revitalizing then the heaven sent dew and rain.28 For then the believer has at his disposal the full force of what Jesus promised to the Samaritan woman—a far superior water source: “Everyone who drinks some of this water will be thirsty again. But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again, but the water I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14).
The hymn writer expresses this so well. Anne Ross Cousin wrote:
O Christ he is the fountain, the deep, sweet well of love;
the streams on earth I’ve tasted more deep I’ll drink above.
There to an ocean fullness His mercy doth expand,
and glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.”29
1 “Rain,” in Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, eds., Leland Rykken, James C. Wilhoit, Tremper Longman III (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1998), 694.
2 Mark D. Futato, “gšm,” in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, ed. Willem A. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997) 1: 900.
3 Mordecai Cogan, I Kings, Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 2001), 425.
4 Francis L. Andersen, Job, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove: InterVarsity: 1978), 278.
5 Michael David Coogan, ed., Stories from Ancient Canaan (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1978), 41.
6 As a sidelight, the Lord’s victory over the Canaanite god Baal vindicated his prophet Elijah, for, “Elijah was shown to be the true prophet, while Baal’s prophets were put to death.” See further, Richard D. Patterson in “1 Samuel-2 Kings,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, eds. Tremper Longman III, and David E. Garland, Rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 3:769. James points out that God’s answer to Elijah’s prayer stands as an example of the power of the pure prayer of faith (James 5:17-18).
7 Richard D. Patterson, Hosea (Richardson, TX: Biblical Studies Press, 2009), 139.
8 John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah: Chapter 1-39, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 488.
9 Gary B. Smith, Isaiah 1-39, The New American Commentary, ed. E. Ray Clendenen (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2007), 454.
10 Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955), 3:191.
11 E. W. Shurtleff, “Lead On, O King Eternal.”
12 See the helpful comments on Psalm 133 by Konrad Schaefer, Psalms, Berit Olam, ed. David W. Cotter (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2001), 315-16.
13 Leslie C. Allen, Psalms 101-150, Word Biblical Commentary, ed. John D. W. Watts (Waco: Word, 1983), 215.
14 See further the helpful comments of Willem A. VanGemren, Psalms, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, eds.
Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, Rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 5:937. On a human level a king’s favor is also likened to “dew on the grass” (Prov. 19:12).
15 Patterson, Hosea, 65.
16 See, for example, H-J Zobel, “mâ?âr; geðem; zerem,” in Theological Dictionary of The Old Testament, eds G Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringren, and Heinz Jose Fabry (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 8:250-52. Such a conclusion for zerem is warranted by the fact that both noun and verbal forms of the underlying Hebrew root are uniformly accompanied by other terms expressing the seriousness of the situation.
17 Futato , “gešem,” 901.
18 Except where a particular emphasis is to be noted, the distinctive nature of the Hebrew words will not be discussed. It should be noted that the two more commonly occurring Hebrew roots both occur in the Elijah account.
19 Richard D. Patterson, “Joel,” in Daniel-Malachi, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, eds. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, Rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 8:334.
20 God could also cast hailstones against the enemies of God’s people as part of his arsenal as the Divine Warrior (e.g., Josh. 10:10-11; Ps. 18:12). For the motif of the Divine Warrior, see Tremper Longman III and Daniel G. Reid, God Is a Warrior (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995).
21 George L. Klein, Zechariah, The New American Commentary, ed. E. Ray Clendenen (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2008), 287.
22 Stephen R. Miller, Daniel, The New American Commentary, ed. E. Ray Clendenen (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 204.
23 Alan F. Johnson, “ Revelation,” in Hebrews-Revelation, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, eds. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, Rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 13:605.
24 It is interesting to note that the angel of the Lord, which appeared at the tomb of the risen Christ, is described as having clothes that were “white as snow” (Matt. 28:2).
25 Dew or rain often is attested in literary works. One striking example of both being used together occurs in the English devotional poet George Herbert’s classic work entitled “The Temple” in the portion called The Church,
in the section designated The Flower:
And now in age I bud again,
After so many deaths I live and write;
I once more smell the dew and rain,
And relish versing: O my only light,
It cannot be
That I am he
On whom thy tempests fell all night.
These are thy wonders, Lord of love,
To make us see we are but flowers that glide’
Which when we once can finde and prove,
Thou hast a garden for us, where to bide,
Who would be more,
Swelling through store,
Forfeit their Paradise by their pride.
26 Barker, “Micah,” 103-04.
27 For added emphasis Moses includes two additional words for rain to underscore the positive and beneficial effects of godly instruction.
28 For further scriptural teaching with regard to various forms of water, see Richard D. Patterson, “The Scriptural Use of an Archetype: Water,” Biblical Studies Press, 2009.
29 Anne Ross Cousin, “The Sands of Time Are Sinking.”
Related Topics: Character of God