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B'resheet/Genesis 7:12 And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights.
Biblical Hebrew has three words for moisture from the heavens. The lightest is , from the unused root , in Arabic "to moisten", so usually translated 'dew'. Yitz'khak blesses Ya'akov (thinking he is Esav) with " dew from heaven" (B'resheet 27:28) as part of agricultural richness and abundance. In the middle comes , from the root only used in the Hif'il stem meaning "to cause to rain" (Davidson), as in the verse "Can the idols of the nations make it rain?" (Jeremiah 14:22); Davidson suggests "rain, heavy shower" is the appropriate translation. The third option is , from the root again only used in the Hif'il stem to mean "to rain, cause of give rain" (Davidson), as applied to the sending of hail, lightning, fire and brimstone and even manna! Each day in the Amidah, between the first week of December and Pesach, we include the phrase - "And give dew and rain for a blessing" in the stanza asking for produce and prosperity.
Pointing to the narrative in the post-exilic book of Ezra, "Then all the men of Judah and Benjamin assembled at Jerusalem within the three days. It was the ninth month [November/December], on the twentieth day of the month. And all the people sat in the open square before the house of God, trembling because of this matter and because of the heavy rain" (Ezra 10:9, ESV), Gordon Wenham says that is "commonly used of the heavy winter rain; abnormal rainfall."1 This idea seems to be supported by Solomon, who writes, "For now the winter is past, the rains are over and gone" (Song of Solomon 2:11, NJPS). is also used to refer to the normal seasonal rains. Jeremiah rebukes the people of Judah who have turned away fromHaShem - the giver of the rain - because they "have not said to themselves, 'Let us revere the L-RD our G-d, who gives the rain, the early and late rain in season, who keeps for our benefit the weeks appointed for harvest" (Jeremiah 5:24, NJPS). This is echoed by Joel, who speaks words of comfort and encouragement to Israel: "O children of Zion, be glad, rejoice in the L-RD your G-d. For He has given you the early rain in His kindness, now He makes the rain fall as formerly -- the early rain and the late" (Joel 2:23, NJPS).
Rashi notices that almost the same phrase as our text is repeated a few verses later: "And the flood was upon the earth forty days" (B'resheet 7:17). Although the word order is slightly different and the forty nights are not mentioned, the only substantive change is to replace (the rain) with (the flood). "Why the switch in vocabulary?" Rashi wants to know; "Why does the Torah change its wording?" What else is the text trying to tell us? Rashi's answer is that, "when He brought the rains down, He brought them with mercy, so that if people would repent the rains would be rains of blessing, but when they did not repent, the rains became a flood." He suggests that when the rain started - as there is no record of rain ever having been seen on earth before - the people would be amazed, would think about Noah's testimony and warnings while the ark was being built, would realise what was going on and repent of their wickedness. The rain would then just fall for a while as a blessing and the flood need not happen at all. It was only when the people refused to repent, even when given an unmistakable sign, that the rain became a flood.
After a dispute about exorcism - how it was done and who had the authority to do it - "Some of the Torah-teachers said, 'Rabbi, we want to see a miraculous sign from you'" (Matthew 12:38, CJB), Yeshua responded quite sharply, "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign? No! None will be given to it but the sign of the prophet Yonah" (v. 39, CJB). This seems rather strong in reply to what sounds like a relatively reasonable request: if You are making such claims about unforgivable sin and the Day of Judgement, please show us that You have the authority to do that. A few chapters later, when Matthew records that "Some P'rushim and Tz'dukim came to trap Yeshua by asking him to show them a miraculous sign from Heaven" (16:1, CJB), Yeshua rebukes them for being unable to read the signs of the times and gives an almost identical response: "A wicked and adulterous generation is asking for a sign? It will certainly not be given a sign - except the sign of Yonah!" (v. 4, CJB). Creation is going on all around you, He says; you have already had lots of signs - implying that they either can't or refuse to see the signs that are there. In the Sermon on the Mount, Yeshua told the crowd that "your Father who is in heaven ... makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (5:45, ESV), and Rav Sha'ul will later tell the crowds in Lystra, "In past generations [G-d] allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet He did not leave Himself without witness, for He did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness" (Acts 14:16-17, ESV). Where do you think all this goodness came from - did it just happen this way? G-d has been giving signs of His existence and His involvement in the affairs of men to the whole world ever since the creation.
So let the clock run on for nearly two millennia until today. Where do we find ourselves in these days? How would we describe the generation in which we live? Are we once again in a place where "a perverse and wicked generation asks for a sign"? Families in Peru do not have enough water for adequate sanitation and healthcare because the water is taken to the orchards to grow avocado pears for export, so that the modern western world can eat avocados out of season all year round. The Roman Catholic church in North America is currently being rocked by sexual scandal at the highest levels, purportedly with the connivance of the Vatican. The measures of perversity and wickedness may not yet have reached their nadir, but they seem quite marked by the standards laid out in the Bible. Many secular commentators liken the trends and behaviour in society to the swings of a pendulum and anticipate that things will soon start to moderate in a self-regulating way as the unsustainable fringe (at what they hope is the end of the stroke) gives way to a longer period of more reasoned and rational behaviour by individuals and the wider society as the pendulum's direction of travel reverses back towards its centre.
What signs can we see around us? What is happening today that is unusual or has never been seen before? Although G-d promised that "so long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease" (B'resheet 8:22, NJPS)), then adding "I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit" (Vayikra 26:4, ESV), as we look around the world and see droughts and famines, harvests failing and flooding on a massive scale, perhaps we should be seeing signs that the earth - at least in its current form - may not endure too much longer. We need to ask the question: how much bigger do the signs need to be before people will start taking notice? The time of , the dew and light rain is long past; we are perhaps heading out of , the steady rain, towards the time of , the hail, lightning, fire and brimstone. The flood (or deluge) is almost upon us as society gets ever more out of control. Mercy is giving way to judgement as the "forty days and nights" draw to a close.
Yet there remains still a promise of hope. In the years following the rebuilding of the Temple (the second temple), the prophet voiced G-d saying, "there shall be a sowing of peace. The vine shall give its fruit, and the ground shall give its produce, and the heavens shall give their dew. And I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things" (Zechariah 8:12, ESV). Although there have been periods of peace, years when those words seem to be coming to pass, all too soon warfare has returned and people have been displaced or oppressed. There will not be peace until Yeshua returns and establishes His kingdom in Jerusalem; G-d's remnant shall be revealed and everything will be set in order. We look for the days of Messiah and pray that they may come soon and in our days. Pray that the season of mercy may be extended and that the days of judgement may be shortened.
1. - Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15 Word Biblical Commentary I, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1987), page 181.
Further Study: Mark 13:14-20; Revelation 6:12-17
Application: Is your umbrella big enough? How many people can you help to find shelter from the rain? Pray for the umbrellas of the kingdom to be unfurled and for many to find shelter in these days, resting in the shadow of the Almighty.
07:09 7Oct18 TP: Extremely timely as it rains here after a long and dry summer and start of fall. I have rarely seen such dry weather in this area while living here for nearly twenty years. We do indeed thank God for sending it.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2018
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