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379. Job 37:6-8, The Snow and The Rain

6 “For to the snow He says, ‘Fall on the earth,’
And to the downpour and the rain, ‘Be strong.’
7 He seals the hand of every man,
That all men may know His work.
8 Then the beast goes into its lair
And remains in its den.

 

These verses present a charming miniature on the effects of the elements on the human and animal realms. We saw previously (36:27-30) that rain and thunder were presented as what we called pre-weather, or weather at the beginning of creation. Now snow is added to the list. But the dramatic move in these verses is what humans and animals do when facing this weather. The language of verse 7 is unclear, though we can perhaps tease out the meaning that humans and animals are kept inside in verses 7-8 when the divine meteorological pageantry is unfolding in verse 6, though the NASB takes the translation of verse 7 in a completely different direction. We have to struggle a bit to get to meaning in these verses, so let’s look at things more closely.

 

We heard the thunder and saw the lightning in verses 1-5. But in verse 6 we have the unexpected appearance of snow:

 

    “For to the snow he says, ‘Be/Fall on the earth,’ and likewise to the shower of rain and the

     shower of his powerful, mighty rains.”

 

Gone is the “mist” of 36:26; gone is the difficulty of water’s rising up or coming down that we discussed previously. Now we have the regular appearance of rain and snow.  Elihu could have made our life easier by using the simple “fall” (naphal) to capture the movement of snow, but he choses the rare verb hava’ (6x), derived probably from the common verb hayah, “to be,” to express his meaning. I have tried to capture it in my ambiguous translation ("be/fall"). Literally God tells the snow to “be,” but all translators want the snow to “fall.” A quick review of other appearances of hava’ shows that it almost always means “be” (Genesis 27:29; Nehemiah 6:6; Ecclesiastes 11:3; Isaiah 16:4), though in one instance it may be rendered “to get” (Ecclesiastes 2:22).  

 

More interesting is Elihu’s attempt to differentiate two kinds of rain that fall or are on the earth in verse 6. Rather than give them different names, such as matar (“rain”) and geshem (“downpour”), he combines the two words to create one rain, which he calls a geshem matar. But then, having used both important “rain” terms in describing one kind of rain, he is stuck when he wants to describe a second kind of rain, and so he simply puts matar in the plural and adds the noun for “power” with the third person singular male possessive, yielding the somewhat opaque, “the shower of his power/powerful. . .”    


Biblical Hebrew has special terms for the “early rain” (yoreh) and “late rain” (malqosh). It even has some additional terms for the drippings of rain/showers (zarziph) or violent storms (zerem, rebibim or even the hapax nephets), but Elihu’s vocabulary here was seemingly constrained, and so he gives us the above language.


More important, however, are the effects of the rain on humans and animals (vv 7-8).  Just as we ran into a difficulty with the verb hava’ in verse 6, so chatham (27x, 5x Job,  “to seal up/affix a seal”) will slow us down in verse 7. Even if we translate literally, we can read the first clause two ways:

 

    “He seals up the hand of every person. . .”  OR
    “By the hand of every man, God seals things up. . .

 

Our first reaction is that we have no idea what Elihu means. Job likes the verb chatham, and he previously talked about how God would “seal” (chatham, i.e., lock up) his sin in a bag (14:17). Elihu once used it to emphasize how God makes his instruction “certain” (“seals it,” chatham, 33:16). But the earlier appearance of chatham that sheds most light on it in 37:7 is in 24:16, where Job is describing the shadowy world of adulterers. They “dig through houses in the darkness” but “by day they shut themselves in (chatham) so that they don’t know/see the light.” In that passage chatham has the metaphorical meaning of immuring or sequestering people inside of structures.  

 

If we apply that to Job 37:7, we have, “He (God) shuts up in confinement/shuts in every person.”  This translation opens up the rest of verse 7 and verse 8 nicely. We then have: “So that all humans may know His (God’s) doings.” Verse 8 follows with the animals also “going inside.”

 

    “The beasts go into their holes, and settle down in their dens.”

 

Once we step away from the technicalities of language, we are awestruck at the picture. God places both humans and animals “inside” so that they can witness the striking divine display through the snow and the soft, as well as harsh, rains. To speak of experiences in our day, what God does in 37:7-8 is the opposite of the divine doings in the sunset of the Pacific Coast of the USA. Rather than driving people inside, it is as if the waning sun, the shimmering light, the refracted rays through the clouds draw people outside. God is the great symphony conductor, and humans and animals alike quietly retreat to their dwellings (or, in my illustration, head outside) to behold the striking power of God.

 

Just a few comments on the words of the rest of verses 7-8.  We have a repeat appearance of the root yada, “to know” in verse 7. God puts people inside so that they may “know,” even though Elihu has just finished saying that there are so many incomprehensible things about God that humans “don’t know” (v 5). The interplay between knowledge/ignorance gives Elihu a sophistication hitherto unappreciated. Then, in verse 8, we have the beasts heading into ereb (2x), usually translated as “coverts” or “dens.” It is derived from the rather common verb arab, “to lie in wait/ambush.” Parallel in meaning to the ereb is the meonah (10x, “dwelling”), which is the feminine form of the identical-meaning maon (17x). Finally, the second verb of verse 8 is shakan, “to settle down,” a richly-textured verb in Biblical Hebrew that can mean anything from the simple “setting up a tent” to the divine “tabernacling” among the people. All creatures, including beasts and humans, are now sequestered so they can look on and behold the wonders of the divine snow and torrential rain.