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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
1. Water-Supply in Egypt and Palestine:
In Egypt there is little or no rainfall, the water for vegetation being supplied in great abundance by the river Nile; but in Syria and Palestine there are no large rivers, and the people have to depend entirely on the fall of rain for water for themselves, their animals and their fields. The children of Israel when in Egypt were promised by Yahweh a land which "drinketh water of the rain of heaven" (Deuteronomy 11:11 ). Springs and fountains are found in most of the valleys, but the flow of the springs depends directly on the fall of rain or snow in the mountains.
2. Importance of Rain in Season:
The cultivation of the land in Palestine is practically dry farming in most of the districts, but even then some water is necessary, so that there may be moisture in the soil. In the summer months there is no rain, so that the rains of the spring and fall seasons are absolutely essential for starting and maturing the crops. The lack of this rain in the proper time has often been the cause of complete failure of the harvest. A small difference in the amount of these seasonal rains makes a large difference in the possibility of growing various crops without irrigation. Ellsworth Huntington has insisted on this point with great care in his very important work, Palestine and Its Transformation . The promise of prosperity is given in the assurance of "rain in due season" ( Leviticus 26:4 the King James Version). The withholding of rain according to the prophecy of Elijah ( 1 Kings 17:1 ) caused the mountain streams to dry up (1 Kings 17:7 ), and certain famine ensued. A glimpse of the terrible suffering for lack of water at that time is given us. The people were uncertain of another meal (1 Kings 17:12 ), and the animals were perishing (1 Kings 18:5 ).
3. Amount of Rainfall:
Palestine and Syria are on the borderland between the sea and the desert, and besides are so mountainous, that they not only have a great range of rainfall in different years, but a great variation in different parts of the country.
The amount of rain on the western slopes is comparable with that in England and America, varying from 25 to 40 inches per annum, but it falls mostly in the four winter months, when the downpour is often very heavy, giving oftentimes from 12 to 16 inches in a month. On the eastern slopes it is much less, varying from 8 to 20 inches per annum. The highest amount falls in the mountains of Lebanon where it averages about 50 inches. In Beirut the yearly average Isaiah 35,87 inches. As we go South from Syria, the amount decreases (Haifa 27,75, Jaffa 22,39, Gaze 17,61), while in the Sinaitic Peninsula there is little or none. Going from West to East the change is much more sudden, owing to the mountains which stop the clouds. In Damascus the average is less than 10 inches. In Jerusalem the average for 50 years Isaiah 26,16 in., and the range is from 13,19 in 1870 to 41,62 in 1897. The yearly records as given by J. Glaisher and A. Datzi in Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly from 1861 to 1910,50 years, are given in the accompanying table.
The amount of rainfall in ancient times was probably about the same as in present times, though it may have been distributed somewhat differently through the year, as suggested by Huntington. Conder maintains that the present amount would have been sufficient to support the ancient cities ( Tent-Work in Palestine ). Trees are without doubt fewer now, but meteorologists agree that trees do not produce rain.
4. Dry and Rainy Seasons;
The rainfall is largely on the western slopes of the mountains facing the sea, while on the eastern slopes there is very little. The moisture-laden air comes up from the sea with the west and southwest wind. When these currents strike the hills they are thrown higher up into the cooler strata, and the moisture condenses to form clouds and rain which increases on the higher levels. Having passed the ridge of the hills, the currents descend on the other side to warmer levels, where the moisture is easily held in the form of vapor so that no rain falls and few clouds are seen, except in the cold mid-winter months.
The summer months are practically rainless, with very few clouds appearing in the sky. From May 1 to the middle of October one can be sure of no rain; "The winter is past; the rain is over" (Song of Solomon 2:11 ), so many sleep on the roofs of the houses or in tents of leaves and branches in the fields and vineyards throughout the summer. The continuous hot droughts make the people appreciate the springs and fountains of fresh running water and the cool shade of rock and tree.
The rainy season from October to May may be divided into three parts, the former, the winter, and the latter rains, and they are often referred to under these names in the Old Testament.
The "former rains" are the showers of October and the first part of November. They soften the parched ground so that the winter grain may be sown before the heavy continuous rains set in. The main bulk of the rain falls in the months of December, January and February. Although in these months the rains are frequent and heavy, a dark, foggy day is seldom seen. The "latter rains" of April are the most highly appreciated, because they ripen the fruit and stay the drought of summer. They were considered a special blessing: Yahweh "will come ... as the latter rain that watereth the earth" (Hosea 6:3 ); "They opened their mouth wide as for the latter rain" (Job 29:23 ); and as a reason for worshipping Yahweh who sent them, "Let us now fear Yahweh our God, that giveth rain, both the former and the latter, in its season" (Jeremiah 5:24 ).
The rain storms always come from the sea with a west or southwest wind. The east wind is a hot wind and the "north wind driveth away rain" (Proverbs 25:23 , the King James Version). "Fair weather cometh out of the north" (Job 37:22 , the King James Version).
5. Biblical Uses:
The Psalmist recognizes that the "showers that water the earth" (Psalm 72:6 ) are among the choicest blessings from the hand of Yahweh: "The early rain covereth it with blessings" (Psalm 84:6 ). The severest punishment of Yahweh was to withhold the rain, as in the time of Ahab and Elijah, when the usual rain did not fall for three years (1 Ki 17); "the anger of Yahweh be kindled against you, and he shut up the heavens, so that there shall be no rain, and the land shall not yield its fruit; and ye perish quickly" (Deuteronomy 11:17 ). Too much rain is also a punishment, as witness the flood (Genesis 7:4 ) and the plague of rain and hail (Ezra 10:9 ). Sending of rain was a reward for worship and obedience: "Yahweh will open unto thee his good treasure, the heavens, to give the rain of thy land in its season, and to bless all the work of thy hand" (Deuteronomy 28:12 ). Yahweh controls the elements and commands the rain: "He made a decree for the rain" (Job 28:26 ); "For he saith to the snow, Fall thou on the earth; likewise to the shower of rain" (Job 37:6 ).
Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly ; meteorological observations from the Dead Sea, Jerusalem, Jaffa and Tiberias; various observers; Zeitschrift des deutschen Paldstina-Vereins ; H. Hilderscheid, Die Niederschlagsverhdltnisse Paldstinas in alter and neuer Zeit ; C. R. Conder, Tent-Work in Palestine ; Edward Hull, Mount Seir, Sinai and Western Palestine ; Ellsworth Huntington, Palestine and Its Transformation ; bulletin of the Syrian Protestant College Observatory, Meteorological Observations in Beirut and Syria .
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Rain'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/r/rain.html. 1915.