October 16, 2013

Meteorological Rainfall & A Meteoric Rise: Rain In The Bible

The Deluge
Francis Danby 
Oil on canvas

There are many weather phenomenon in the Bible so I guess it warrants mentioning some of them. Some of the phenomena are what we would consider normal: Rain, thunder, lightning, etc. Some are not so normal and are seen as exceptional: Earthquakes, tornadoes, etc. Then there are those that are supernatural. There are also those that are natural but clearly have divine or supernatural impetus. As God can use the normal and mundane to do supernatural things. At times differentiating them is only possible sometimes through His word. For this post I will mostly be mentioning rain phenomena that appears supernatural in origin not rains that are from the normal hydrologic cycle that we bear witness to today in our normal cyclical weather patterns. As time allows I will go into detail on other natural phenomena or not-so-natural incidents in later posts.

Like nearly everything else that occurs in the Bible, we can usually get an early example of it in the opening book of Genesis. Rain and rainstorms would be no exception. In Genesis 7 we see the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights while Noah and his family were in the ark.

Genesis 7:11-14 ~ “In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights. On the very same day Noah and his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah's wife and the three wives of his sons with them entered the ark, they and every beast, according to its kind, and all the livestock according to their kinds, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, according to its kind, and every bird, according to its kind, every winged creature.

So… the story went on to show the destruction of wicked humanity. So why did the deluge come? It is actually quite simple and the explanation comes a chapter earlier.

Genesis 6:5 ~ “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.

It turns our Noah was a righteous man and those that would soon be wiped out were not and their hearts were only on evil continually.

Genesis 6:9 ~ “…Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.

Genesis 6:11-13 ~ “Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth. 

The Flood is an excellent example of God’s hatred of sin and evil. The only greater example is the Cross of Christ and His crucifixion. It is through Noah’s obedience that the human line survives and that that linage of the coming Messiah is maintained. Without the Ark (which is a type of Christ), God’s promise in the protoevangelium (Genesis 3:15) would’ve become invalid three chapters after it was instituted by God. That is one of the beauties of the plans of God and how obedient Christians play into those plans. By obeying God, righteous believers push God’s sovereign plan forward. Noah’s builds the ark in faith for 120 years…in the middle of a desert that had never seen rain. It would e like building the Titanic in the Sahara. That is like trying to breathe air on the ocean floor. Like the ark provided a means of escape for the righteous at the time of the flood, Jesus provides a means of escape from eternal punishment for those that will have faith in His escape route from it.

It is sin that drives the need for the ark and it is ironic that those that give in to sin do so in a way similar to that of a weak swimmer. A weak or careless swimmer will eventually drift downstream and not attempt to fight the current of the world to swim back to the safety meant for him in God who is on higher ground. He will drift into the main body of water as its current grows stronger and by the time he hears the breakers and crashing waves…it is too late. He is forever lost in the enormous expanse of a sea of sin. The undercurrent will be too strong and will eventually pull him under. The ocean being the place of death or eternity lost in condemnation for his sin.

Moving from the sins that would cause the flood of the world we move on to a time when Samuel calls on the Lord; and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day. So why does Samuel call on the Lord and why does the lord send thunder and rain the same day?

1 Samuel 12:18 ~ “So Samuel called upon the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day, and all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel.”

Why call on rain? Rain in and of itself is not really a sign from God is it? It is when the rain comes at a time when rain is not expected (just like in Noah’s story). We must understand this miracle is in the context of Samuel’s farewell address. Samuel has reminded his hearers that he had gone along with them in the election of a king, and now he offered his apologia or defense. He assured of his honesty in the discharge of his judgeship, listing the errors into which he might have failed. Samuel followed up the declaration of innocence by a survey of Israel's past history and the continuous cycles of sin and judgment, repentance and mercy.

Samuel charges the people with working against God. Samuel prosecutes the people for choosing a human king to put in the place of the Lord. If they still will obey God then all may still be okay but if they don’t, there will be judgment. As a sign that his message was authentic Samuel called for what would’ve been akin to a miracle—rain during the harvest. This is a rainfall that is virtually unheard of at that time of year. It would be like snow in July in Florida.

The sign was given, a thunderstorm which was a manifestation of God's presence in judgment and in mercy. It is in this sign that we have a perfect example of how a natural occurrence could become part of the divine Presence either disclosing or veiling God's glory. The people's repentance is the proper response to this as this miraculous rain. Because of this Samuel affirms that they are truly God’s chosen people.

We learn an unequivocal lesson here. Prayer can be the most effective aspect of ministry. By praying God has given us the potential ability to open the floodgates of heaven's mercy and grace.

The last account of rain that I will mention comes to us from 1 Kings 18:45. After an absolutely devastating drought in Isreal, Elijah prays for rain and it comes.

1 Kings 18:41-45 ~ “And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink, for there is a sound of the rushing of rain.” So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Mount Carmel. And he bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees. And he said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” And he went up and looked and said, “There is nothing.” And he said, “Go again,” seven times. And at the seventh time he said, “Behold, a little cloud like a man's hand is rising from the sea.” And he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.’” And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain.

The first thing we must know about this passage is why the drought comes. It is announced by Elijah in 1 Kings 17. In the worst of times when it comes to godless leaders running godless nations, God raises up champions of the faith. Elijah is a shining example of this fact. From almost out of nowhere comes Elijah.

1 Kings 17:1 ~ : Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”

King Ahab reigns at this point in time. This specific meteorological event takes place because God intents to attack Baalism or the religion of Ahab and Jezebel at its heart. Baal worshipers believed that their storm/weather god (Baal) made rain, unless it was the dry season and he needed to be brought back from the dead. To refute this belief Elijah states that Yahweh is the one who determines when rain falls and that Yahweh lives at all times (House, 213). So first we see a complete absence of rain or precipitation. In an agrarian culture a severe drought means the death of many and is taken very seriously. We need only go back to the story of Joseph and the famine cause by and extreme drought as a case in point. God of the Bible will conclusively show that the rains and dew are a grace from Him not the false nothing-god Baal. It is Yahweh who controls the elements and can bring them forth or withhold them. The very elements in Baal worship that they had often taken for granted were now turned against them. This would not only show the power of the One True God but also show the fictitious nature of their god(s). It is also interesting to note that drought was the punishment for idolatry in the Pentateuch in Deuteronomy 11:16-17. For God to withhold rain in this parched environment was essentially an act of withholding life itself.

To surmise we see a prophet of God abruptly arrive on the scene out of obscurity with an abrupt judgment to stifle a wicked king hardened in his sin. It would take a person like Elijah to snap Ahab out of his sin-laden stupor. Ahab needed an Elijah to get though his thick sin-deadened head. We should expect the same in our sin-deadened culture also.

If we may pardon the pun, this is a meteoric and meteorological rise for one of God’s faithful in Elijah. He is the one John the Baptist will be compared to in the New Testament. He is one of the two at Jesus’ Transfiguration and he is the last prophet mentioned in the Old Testament. It seems fitting that an episode like drought which was so common to the Old Testament would herald the rise of one of the greatest prophets of God. Like Christ, he came from humble and obscure beginnings but has never been forgotten because of his importance to the story of salvation. From humble beginnings come great things. 

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