WORD STUDY – FORMER RAINS – ירה
Jeremiah 5:24: “Neither say they in their heart, Let us now fear the LORD our God, that giveth rain, both the former and the latter, in his season: he reserveth unto us the appointed weeks of the harvest.”
Few students who have graduated or even attended Moody Bible Institute in Chicago could escape their years at this school without hearing this classic story which I have heard many times and continue to hear and tell myself.
Back in 1853 there was an extended drought in Ohio. Farmers were in danger of losing their entire livelihood of crops and livestock. In desperation they sent a message to the famous evangelist, Charles Finney, asking him to come and pray for rain. The whole community gathered in the town square to celebrate the arrival of this man of God who would pray for rain that would save their town.
Amid the cheers of the crowd, Charles Finney walked into town, up to the podium in the town square carrying an umbrella. His first words reportedly were: “I see I am the only one who brought an umbrella.” He then preached a short sermon on faith, then setting his umbrella down by his chair; he began to pray, “Lord, we do not presume to tell you what is best for us. You invite us to come to you as children to a father and tell you all of our wants. We need rain. Unless you give us rain our cattle will die and our harvest will come to naught. It is an easy thing for you to do, O Lord, send us rain.” Of course the rest is history as God immediately answered the prayer of this man of faith who reminded a people of something called little faith. Rain was nothing more than an instructor and teacher in one’s exploration of the heart of God.
In Jeremiah 5:24 we have a very common occurrence in the Hebrew which is often rarely translated into English and thus is overlooked. The word for former rain is repeated twice, but is only rendered once and rendered as both the former rain. We automatically consider the word both to mean the inclusion of the former with the latter rain. That could be, but more to the nature of the Hebrew language it would suggest two former rains. Let’s consider the reason the Hebrew will often repeat a word two times. In English, as in most our modern languages, language teachers discourage redundancies as inappropriate. We would not say former rain, former rain but we would say both the former rains. Yet, Hebrew will embrace these redundancies as the language is, by its very nature, poetic. The doubling of words will be done to show an emphasis, clarity or simply to create a sense of euphonious (melody, something pleasing to the ear). Sometimes a word may mean the same thing but in its context have a different or double meaning. When we use the word trunk we need a context to really understand the word. If we are talking elephants we are referring to his nose, if we are at a customs office we are referring to a large piece of luggage and if we are in a forest we may be referring to the large middle section of a tree. So too in Hebrew, one word can have a double meaning. The repetition would be to express a double meaning, a hidden meaning or second meaning except there must be a relationship between the two words. For instance the relationship between the trunk of the elephant, luggage and tree mid section might be that they are all cylindrical (many years ago people carried belongings in a rolled up blanket) and therefore the root meaning of trunk means a cylinder. That really won’t work in English but it will in Hebrew.
I believe that is the case of Jeremiah 5:24 when the word former rain is repeated twice. The word for former rain is yarah. Yarah has a double meaning. It could mean rain or it could mean instruct. To the Hebrews as to the people who called Charles Finney rain became an instruction on the faithfulness of God. When we see rain which provides nourishment for our crops which provide food which we need for our survival as well as water which need for our survival, the fact that it continues to rain to provide the water is an instruction on God’s faithfulness.
When the word is first used in our study verse it is spelled Yod Resh Hei. However, when it is repeated it is spelled Yod Vav Resh Hei which puts it in a Hiphal form. The insertion of the Vav according to the ancient sages indicate a connection between man and God. Hence, with the double use of the word yarah we can assume a double meaning and with the Hiphal form I would render this as: “Let us now fear the Lord God who gives former and latter rain as an instruction in our relationship with Him.”
Now some of my Hebrew students might notice the word fear used in the context of the Lord and wonder, “Is this not this the word yara’ (fear) and could there be a relationship between yarah (rain, instruction) and yara’ (fear) as they are both so closely related? The answer is – you betcha! More so it is a play on words. When used in the context of fearing God the word yarah means to fear that we may wound the heart of God or disappoint Him. I have done many studies on this word and will not repeat myself except to say that the word yarah used in this context is not a fear for your own gizzard but that of another that you love and care about. This former rain is meant to instruct us to explore God’s heart and to see how we may wound God’s heart. You see the verse starts of by saying: “Neither say they in their hearts, let us now fear the Lord God…” The word used for heart has two Beths indicating a heart joined with another heart, in this case the heart of God. Here we have God giving a miracle of rain and all we do is shout yippee and all that. Praise God He has provided, He has given to us. Yet, we never once stop to consider the other Beth, the instruction in our relationship with God.
I remember the words of an old farmer who had lost two consecutive crops due to a drought. He merely said: “The rains will come, they always do.” The lack of rain can be just as much of an instruction from God’s heart as the abundance of rain. Yarah means both rain and instruction. I have heard it said that if it rains on Good Friday it is a message from God showing God crying over our sins that His Son died for. That is a good use of yarah.