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394. Job 38:25-27, The Rainstorm and Lightning
25 “Who has cleft a channel for the flood,
Or a way for the thunderbolt,
26 To bring rain on a land without people,
On a desert without a man in it,
27 To satisfy the waste and desolate land
And to make the seeds of grass to sprout?
We thought we were through with light, since it has been mentioned in verse 12-15, 19, 24. But it won’t die, appearing in the thunderbolt of verse 25. And, the language again causes us problems. We have another verb for “divide” in verse 25 (palag, 4x), but now what is being divided or cut are not the ways to the light but a channel for the flood of rain. The picture in verse 25 suggests the process of rain or lightning descending from heaven. Thus, we have "channels" falling from heaven and a "way" from heaven for the thunderbolt. Normally we think of rain as falling in drops or, if things are particularly bad, in sheets, but never have I heard anyone talk about “channels” for the rain. Several rare words occur. The “channel” is tealah (11x), which can mean a “conduit” or “trench.” Its meaning derives most likely from irrigation projects which cut miles-long ditches to transport water from lakes to fields. That is probably the picture behind verse 25. But it is hard to imagine channels from heaven to earth in which the rain falls. Admittedly it makes more sense to see the channels as the things hewn out on earth through which water flows, but the phrase "way of the thunderbolt," then, would take us back up to the skies and heaven. Confusing. This rain falls “in torrents” (sheteph, 6x), though the word elsewhere is usually rendered “flood” (e.g., Psalm 32:6; Proverbs 27:4).
Perhaps God is searching for words and concepts here, as He just plucks a phrase from the wisdom discourse (28:26) to ask who has made a way for the thunderbolt (chaziz, 3x). The only appearance of chaziz outside of Job is in Zechariah 10:1, where a translation of “thunderbolt” doesn’t appear right. God must truly be up to something special here, because we humans haven’t a clue as to what it means.
Well, verses 27-28 bring us back to the rain, a topic that will occupy God not simply in this section but also into the next. But rather than rain falling and watering the earth, which we might naturally expect, we have God asking about who has made it rain in inaccessible places. We have to admit that this is a question not many of us have spent time pondering. Verse 27 provides:
“To make it rain on the earth where there is no person; the wilderness where there is no man.
Literally we have, “to cause rain upon earth no man, wilderness no man in it” (using two different words for “man”—ish, adam). If we were theologically imaginative, we might say that the divine care for water even in places where humans never go shows a special wisdom or artistry. Just like Renaissance architects and painters painted the inaccessible and invisible places of cathedrals, high above the buttresses and behind the finials, where no person would ever be able to check on it, so God has taken such care in creation by making it rain where people are not.
This is wonderful, but the author/God makes no point of it. We might wonder why God causes it to rain in inaccessible places while often bringing drought where swarms of people live, but that would be a species of impertinence belonging only to Job. God isn’t finished with this. Watering of the earth where there is no human habitation will (v 28):
“satisfy the desolate and waste ground, and make spring up the growth of the tender herb/grass."
“S”-sounds predominate. “To satisfy” is saba (99x), but desolate and waste are sho/meshoah, both of which play on the sound which will become so important in twentieth century thought to describe the Holocaust (the Shoah). The combination of sho/meshoah also appear in Job 30:3; Zephaniah 1:15, though sho appears nine other times by itself. Meshoah only appears in combination with sho. When sho appears by itself it can be translated as “desolation” (Isaiah 47:11) or “storm” (Ezekiel 38:9) or “destruction” (twice in Psalm 35:8).
God’s ultimate point is to show Job’s ignorance of the source of the rains for desolate places, places that then turn into fruitful lands. A similar thought, though more eloquently expressed, is in Psalm 104:29-30,
“When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their
breath they die and return to their dust.
When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the
face of the ground.”
In Job 38:27, in summary, God sends forth torrents of rain in uninhabited regions to make grass spring up. Job certainly can’t do this.