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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
Heb. מָטָר, matar, and also גֶּשֶׁם, geshem, which, however, rather signifies a shower of more violent rain; it is also used as a generic term, including the early and Litter rain (Jeremiah 5:24; Joel 2:23). Another word, of a more poetical character, is רְבַיבַים, rebibmn (a plural form, connected with rab, "many," from the multitude of the drops), translated in our version "showers" (Deuteronomy 32:2; Jeremiah 3:3; Jeremiah 14:22; Micah 5:7 [Hebrews 6]; Psalms 45:10 [Hebrews 11]; 72:6). The Hebrews have also the word a זַרם, zelem, expressing violent rain, storm, tempest, accompanied with hail — in Job 24:8, the heavv rain which comes down on mountains; and the word סִגְרַיר, sagrisr, which occurs only in Proverbs 27:15, continuous and heavy rain (Sept. ἐν ἡμέρᾷ χειμερινῇ Early Rain means the rains of the autumn, יוֹרֶה, yoreh, part. subst. from יָרָה "he scattered" (Deuteronomy 11:14; Jeremiah 5:24); also the Hiphil part. מוֹרֶה, mor/h (Joel 2:23); Sept. ὑετὸς πρώιμος. Latter Rain is the rain of spring, מִלְקוֹש, malkdcsh, (Proverbs 16:15; Job 29:23; Jeremiah 3:3; Hosea 6:3; Joel 2:23; Zechariah 10:1); Sept. ὑετὸς ὄψιμος. The early and latter rains are mentioned together (Deuteronomy 11:14; Jeremiah 5:24; Joel 2:23; Hosea 6:3; James 5:7).
In a country comprising so many varieties of elevation as Palestine, there must of necessity occur corresponding varieties of climate. An account that might correctly describe the peculiarities of the district of Lebanon would be in many respects inaccurate when applied to the deep depression and almost tropical climate of Jericho. In any general statement, therefore, allowance must be made for not inconsiderable local variations. Contrasted with the districts most familiar to the children of Israel before their settlement in the land of promise — Egypt and the Desert — rain might be spoken of as one of its distinguishing characteristics (Deuteronomy 11:10-11; Herodotus, 3:10). For six months in the year no rain falls, and the harvests are gathered in without any of the anxiety with which we are so familiar lest the work be interrupted by unseasonable storms. In this respect, at least, the climate has remained unchanged since the time when Boaz slept by his heap of corn; and the sending of thunder and rain in wheat harvest was a miracle which filled the people with fear and wonder (1 Samuel 12:16-18); so that Solomon could speak of "rain in harvest" as the most forcible expression for conveying the idea of something utterly out of place and unnatural (Proverbs 26:1). There are, however, very considerable. and perhaps more than compensating. disadvantages occasioned by this long absence of rain: the whole land becomes dry, parched, and brown; the cisterns are empty; the springs and fountains fail; and the autumnal rains are eagerly looked for, to prepare the earth for the reception of the seed. These, the early rains, commence about the end of October or beginninlg of November, in Lebanon a month earliernot suddenly, but by degrees: the husbandman has thus the opportunity of sowing his fields of wheat and barley. The rains come mostly from the west or south-west (Luke 12:54), continuing for two or three days at a time, and falling chiefly during the night. The wind then shifts round to the north or east, and several days of fine weather succeed (Proverbs 25:23). During the months of November and December the rains continue to fall heavily, but at intervals; afterwards they return, only at longer intervals, and are less heavy; but at no period dutring the winter do they entirely cease. January and February are the coldest months, and snow falls, sometimes to the depth of a foot or more, at Jerusalem, but it does not lie long: it is very seldom seen along the coast and in the low plains. Thin ice occa. sionally covers the pools for a few days, and while Porter was writing his Handbook, the snow was eight inches deep at Damascus, and the ice a quarter of an inch thick, Rain continues to fall more or less during the month of March; it is very rare in April, and even in Lebanon the showers that occur are generally light. In the valley of the Jordan the barley harvest begins as early as the middle of April, and the wheat a fortnight later; in Lebanon the grain is seldom ripe before the middle of June. See Robinson (Biblical Researches, i, 429) and Porter (Handlbook, ch. 48). (See PALESTINE).
With respect to the distinction between the early and the latter rains, Robinson observes that there, are not at the present day "any particular periods of rain or succession of showers which might be regarded as distinct rainy seasons. The whole period from October to March now constitutes only one continued season of rain, without any regularly intervening term of prolonged fine weather. Unless, therefore, there hlave been some change in the climate, the early and the latter rains for which the husbandman waited with longing seem rather to have implied the first showers of autumn which revived the parched and thirsty soil and prepared it for the seed; and the later showers of spring, which continued to refresh and forward both the ripening crops and the vernal products of the fields (James 5:7; Proverbs 16:15). In April and May the sky is usually serene; showers occur occasionally, but they are mild and refreshing. On May 1 Robinson experienced showers at Jerusalem, and "at evening there were thunder and lightning (which are frequent in wminter), with pleasant and reviving rain. May 6 was also remarkable for thunder and for several showers, some of which were quite heavy. The rains of both these days extended far to the north,... but the occurrence of rain so late in the season was regarded as a very unusual circumstance" (Biblical Researches, i, 430; he is speaking of the year 1838]). In 1856, however, there was very heavy rain accompanied with thunder all over the region of Lebanon, extending to Beirut and Damascus, on May 28 and 29; but the oldest inhabitant had never seen the like before, and it created," says Porter (Handbook, ch. xlviii), "almost as much astonishment as the thunder and rain which Samuel brought upon the Israelites during the time of wheat harvest."
During Dr. Robinson's stay at Beiriut on his second visit to Palestine, in 1852, there were heavy rains in March, once for five days continuously, and the weather continued variable, with occasional heavy rain, till the close of the first week in April. The "latter rains" thus continued this season for nearly a month later than usual, and the result was afterwards seen in the very abundant crops of winter grain (Robinson, Biblical Researches, iii, 9). These details will, it is thought, better than any generalized statement, enable the reader to form his jmudgment on the "former" and "latter" rains of Scripture, and may serve to introduce a remark or two on the question, about which some interest has been felt, whether there have been any change in the frequency and abundance of the rain in Palestine, or in the periods of its supply. It is asked whether "these stony hills, these deserted valleys," can be the land flowing with milk and honey; the land which God cared for; the land upon which were always the eyes of the Lord, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year (Deuteronomy 11:12). So far as relates to the other considerations which may account for diminished fertility, such as the decrease of population and industry, the neglect of terrace-culture and irrigation, and husbanding the supply of water, it may suffice to refer to the article on AGRICULTURE (See AGRICULTURE), and to Stanley (Sinai and Palestine, p. 120-123). With respect to our more immediate subject, it is urged that the very expression "flowing with milk and honey" implies abundant rains to keep alive the grass for the pasture of the numerous herds supplying the milk, and to nourish the flowers clothing the now bare hill-sides, from whence the bees might gather their stores of honey. It is urged that the supply of rain in its due season seems to be promised as contingent upon the fidelity of the people (Deuteronomy 11:13-15; Leviticus 26:3-5), and that as from time to time, to punish the people for their transgressions, "the showers have been withholden, and there hath been no latter rain" (Jeremiah 3:3; 1 Kings 17, 18), so now, in the great and long-continued apostasy of the children of Israel, there has come upon even the land of their forfeited inheritance a like long-continued withdrawal of the favor of God, who claims the sending of rain as one of his special prerogatives (Jeremiah 14:22). (See CALENDAR, JEWISH).
The early rains, it is urged, are by comparison scanty and interrupted, the latter rains have altogether ceased, and hence, it is maintained, the curse has been fulfilled, "Thy heaven that is over thy head shall be brass, and the earth that is under thee shall be iron. The Lord shall make the rain of thy land powder and dust" (Deuteronomy 28:23-24; Leviticus 26:19). Without entering here into the consideration of the justness of the interpretation which would assume these predictions of the withholding of rain to be altogether different in the manner of their infliction from the other calamities denounced in these chapters of threatening, it would appear that, so far as the question of fact is concerned. there is scarcely sufficient reason to imagine that any great and marked changes with respect to the rains have taken place in Palestine. In early days, as now, rain was unkinowni fior half the year; and if we may judge from the allusions in Proverbs 16:15; Job 29:23, the latter rain was even then. while greatly desired and longed for, that which was somewhat precarious, by no means to be absolutely counted on as a matter of course. If we are to take as correct our translation of Joel 2:23, "The latter rain in the first (month)," i.e. Nisan or Abib, answering to the latter part of March and the early part of April, the times of the latter rain in the days of the prophets would coincide with those in which it falls now. The same conclusion would be arrived at from Amos 4:7, "I have withholden the rain from you when there were yet three months to the harvest." The rain here spoken of is the latter rain, and an interval of three months between the ending of the rain and the beginning of harvest would seem to be in an average year as exceptional now as it was when Amos noted it as a judgment of God. We may infer also from the Song of Solomon 2:11-13, where is given a poetical description of the bursting-forth of vegetation in the spring, that ‘ when the "winter" was past, the rain also was over and gone. We can hardly, by any extension of the term "winter," bring it down to a later period than that during which the rains still fall.
It may be added that travellers have, perhaps unconsciously, exaggerated the barrenness of the land, from confining themselves too closely to the southern portion of Palestine; the northern portion, Galilee, of such peculiar interest to the readers of the Gospels, is fertile and beautiful (see Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, ch. 10, and Van de Velde, there quoted), and in his description of the valley of Nablus, the ancient Shechem, Robinson (Biblical Researches, ii, 275) becomes almost enthusiastic: "Here a scene of luxuriant and almost unparalleled verdure bursts upon our view. The whole valley was filled with gardens of vegetables and orchards of all kinds of fruits, watered by several fountains, which burst forth in various parts and flow westward in refreshing streams. It came upon us suddenly, like a scene of fairy enchantment. We saw nothing like it in all Palestine." The account given by a recent lady traveller (Egyptian Sepulchres and Syrian Shrines, by Miss Beautort) of the luxuriant fruit-trees and vegetables which she saw at Meshullan's farm in the valley of Urtas, a little south of Bethlehem (possibly the site of Solomon's gardens, Ecclesiastes 2:4-6), may serve to prove how much now, as ever, may be effected by irrigation (q.v.). Rain frequently furnishes the writers of the Old Test with forcible and appropriate metaphors, varying in theil character according as they regard it as the beneficent and fertilizing shower, or the destructive storm pouring down the mountain-side and sweeping away the labor of years. Thus Proverbs 28:3, of the poor man that oppresseth the poor; Ezekiel 38:22, of the just punishments and righteous vengeance of God (comp. Psalms 11:6; Job 20:23). On the other hand, we have it used of speech wise and fitting, refreshing the souls of mnen; of words earnestly waited for and heedfully listened to (Deuteronomy 32:2; Job 29:23); of the cheering favor of the Lord coming down once more upon the penitent soul; of the gracious presence and influence for good of the righteous king among his people; of the blessings, gifts, and graces of the reign of the Messiah (Hosea 6:3; 2 Samuel 23:4; Psalms 72:6).
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Rain'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/r/rain.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
the Fourth Week after Epiphany