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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature


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(prop. רִעִם, rdam, βροντή; occasionally [Exodus 9:28-29; Exodus 9:33-34; Exodus 19:16; Exodus 20:18; 1 Samuel 7:10; 1 Samuel 12:17-18; Job 28:26; Job 38:25] קוֹל, kô l, voice, as an elliptical expression for Jehovah's voice [Psalms 29:3 sq., etc.]; so also in the plur. קוֹלַים, thunders, Exodus 9:23, etc.; which is likewise elliptical for the full voices of God [exe 9:28];once [Job 39:19 (23)] erroneously in the A. V. for רִעֲמָה, raamâ h, a shuddering, i.e. probably the mane of a horse as bristling and streaming in the wind). This sublimest of all the extraordinary phenomena of nature is poetically represented as the voice of God, which the waters obeyed at the Creation (Psalms 104:7; comp. Genesis 1:9). For other instances see Job 37:4-5; Job 40:9; Psalms 18:13; and especially ch. 29 which contains a magnificent description of a thunder-storm. Agreeably to the popular speech of ancient nations, the poet ascribes the effects of lightning to the thunder, "The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars" (Psalms 18:5; comp. 1 Samuel 2:19). In Jeremiah 10:13 the production of rain by lightning is referred to: "When he uttereth his voice, there is a multitude of waters in the heavens, he maketh lightnings with (or for) rain." (See RAIN).

Thunder is also introduced into the poetical allusion to the passage of the Red Sea in Psalm 67:18. The plague of hail on the land of Egypt is very naturally represented as accompanied with "mighty thunderings," which would be literally incidental to the immense agency of the electric fluid on that occasion (Exodus 9:22-29; Exodus 9:33-34). It accompanied the lightnings at the giving of the law (Exodus 19:16; Exodus 20:18). See also Psalms 81:7, which probably refers to the same occasion, "I answered thee in the secret place of thunder," literally, "in the covering of thunder," בסתר רעם, i.e. the thunder-clouds. It was also one of the grandeurs attending the divine interposition described in 2 Samuel 22:14; comp. Psalms 18:13. The enemies of Jehovah are threatened with destruction by thunder; perhaps, however, lightning is included in the mention of the more impressive phenomenon (1 Samuel 2:10). Such means are represented as used in the destruction of Sennacherib's army (Isaiah 29:5-7; comp. Isaiah 30:30-33). Bishop Lowth would understand the description as metaphorical, and intended, under a variety of expressive and sublime images, to illustrate the greatness, the suddenness, the horror of the event, rather than the manner by which it was effected (new transl., and notes ad loc.). Violent thunder was employed by Jehovah as a means of intimidating the Philistines in their attack upon the Israelites, while Samuel was offering the burnt-offering (1 Samuel 7:10; Sirach 46:17). Homer represents Jupiter as interposing in a battle with thunder and lightning (Iliad, 8:75, etc.; 17:594; see also Spence, Polymetis, Dial. 13:211). The term thunder was transferred to the war-shout of a military leader (Job 39:25), and hence- Jehovah is described as "causing his voice to be heard" in the battle (Isaiah 30:30). Thunder was miraculously sent at the request of Samuel (1 Samuel 12:17-18). It is referred to as a natural phenomenon subject to laws originally appointed by the Creator (Job 28:26; Job 38:25; Sirach 43:17); and is introduced in visions (Revelation 4:5; Revelation 6:1; Revelation 8:5; Revelation 11:19; Revelation 14:2; Revelation 16:18; Revelation 19:6; Esther [Apoc.] 11:5). So in Revelation 10:3-4, "seven thunders." (See SEVEN).

It is adopted as a comparison. Thus" as lightning is seen before the thunder is heard, so modesty in a person before he speaks recommends him to the favor of the auditors" (Sirach 32:10; Revelation 19:6,etc.). The sudden ruin of the unjust man is compared to the transitory noise of thunder (Sirach 40:13); but see Arnald, ad loc. One of the sublimest metaphors in the Scriptures occurs in Job 26:14," Lo, these are parts of his ways; but how little a portion is heard of him [שמוֹ, a mere whisper]; but the thunder of his power, who can understand?" Here the whisper and the thunder are admirably opposed to each other. If the former be so wonderful and overwhelming, how immeasurably more so the latter? In the sublime description of the war-horse (Job 39), he is said to perceive the battle afar off "by the thunder of the captains, and the shouting" (Job 39:25). That part of the description, however (Job 39:19), "hast thou clothed his neck with thunder?" appears to be a mistranslation. To the class of mistranslations must be referred every instance of the word "thunderbolts" in our version, a word which corresponds to no reality in nature. (See THUNDERBOLT).

It is related (John 12:28) that Jesus said, "Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I haves both glorified it, and will glorify it again." Some of the people that stood by, but had not heard the words distinctly, said it had "thundered," for the voice came from heaven; others who had caught the words supposed that God had spoken to Jesus by an angel, conformably to the Jewish opinion that God had never spoken but by the ministry of angels. Perhaps, however, thunder attended the voice, either a little before or after; comp. Exodus 19:16; Exodus 19:19; Revelation 4:5; Revelation 6:1. (See BATH-KOL).

Thunder enters into the appellative or surname given by our Lord to James and John-Boanerges, ἐστιν, υἱοὶ βροντῆς, says Mark, "sons of thunder" (Mark 3:17). Schleusner here understands the thunder of eloquence as in Aristoph. (Achar. 530). Virgil applies a like figure to the two Scipios," Duo fulmina belli" (En. 6:842). Others understand the allusion to be to the energy and courage, etc., of the two apostles (Lardner, Hist. of theApostles and Evangelists, 9:1; Suicer, Thesaurus, s.v. Βροντή ). Theophylact says they were so called because they were great preachers and divines, ὡς μεγαλοκήρυκας καὶ θεολογικοτάτους. Others suppose the allusion to be to the proposal of these apostles to call fire from heaven on the inhospitable Samaritans (Luke 9:53-54). It is not certain when our Lord so surnamed them. (See BOANERGES).

In a physical point of view, the most noticeable feature in connection with thunder is the extreme rarity of its occurrence during the summer months in Palestine and the adjacent countries. From the middle of April to the middle of September it is hardly ever heard. Robinson, indeed, mentions an instance of thunder in the early part of May (Researches, 1, 430), and Russell in July (Aleppo, 2, 289); but in each case it is stated to be a most unusual event. Hence it was selected by Samuel as a striking expression of the Divine displeasure towards the Israelites: "Is it not wheat harvest to- day? I will call upon the Lord, and he shall send thunder and rain" (1 Samuel 12:17). Rain in harvest was deemed as extraordinary as snow in summer (Proverbs 26:1), and Jerome asserts that he had never witnessed it in the latter part of June, or in July (Comment. on Amos 4:7); the same observations apply equally to thunder, which is rarely unaccompanied with rain (Russell, 1, 72; 2, 285). Lieutenant Lynch, in the month of May, witnessed a thunder storm in the mountains of Moab, near the Dead Sea. He, says, "Before we had half ascended the pass, however, there came a shout of thunder from the dense cloud which had gathered at the summit of the gorge, followed by a rain, compared to which the gentle showers. of oar more favored clime are as dew-drops to the overflowing cistern. The black and threatening cloud soon enveloped the mountain- tops, the lightning playing across it in incessant flashes, while the loud thunder reverberated from side to side of the appalling chasm. Between the peals we soon heard a roaring: and continuous sound. It was the torrent from the rain-cloud, sweeping in a long line of foam down the steep declivity, bearing along huge fragments of rock, which, striking against each other, sounded like mimic thunder" (Expedition, p. 353). (See LIGHTNING).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Thunder'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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