Sheleg: Let it SNOW

SNOW: sheleg (masculine noun) (Strong’s 7950)

Root: שֶׁלֶג

Sounds like: sheh-leg

Prince Edward Island, Canada, is no stranger to snow. It comes in great white waves and the breezy Island winds love to twirl it about in seemingly choreographed gusts. Snow shimmers like diamonds on a sunny day and takes on a beautiful blue hue at twilight. Snow also reveals the great amount of nocturnal activity that occurs around our home, from our local wildlife population: bunnies, racoons, squirrels, cats and foxes. Snow is beautiful AND revealing.

Let it Snow

In the Tanakh snow show up in a surprising amount of verses. God’s creation praises YHWH. Snow is no exception:

Psalm 148:7-13

Praise YHWH from the earth, all great sea creatures and ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow [sheleg] and clouds, powerful wind fulfilling His word, mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all cattle, crawling creatures and flying birds, kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth, young men and maidens, old and young together.

Let them praise the name of YHWH, for His name alone is exalted; His splendour is above heaven and earth.

YHWH created nature and nature is under His command:

Psalms 147:12,16-18

Exalt YHWH, O Jerusalem; praise your God, O Zion!…

…He spreads the snow [sheleg] like wool; He scatters the frost like ashes; He casts forth His hail like pebbles. Who can withstand His icy blast? He sends forth His word and melts them;  He unleashes His winds, and the waters flow.

YHWH also spoke of storehouses of snow and hail, as if He’s just waiting to be the great weatherman of heaven:

Job 38:22-30

YHWH to Job:

“Have you entered the storehouses of snow [shaleg] or observed the storehouses of hailwhich I hold in reserve for times of trouble, for the day of war and battle?

In which direction is the lightning dispersed,  or the east wind scattered over the earth?

Who cuts a channel for the flood or clears a path for the thunderbolt, to bring rain on a barren land, on a desert where no man lives, o satisfy the parched wasteland and make it sprout with tender grass?

Does the rain have a father? Who has begotten the drops of dew? From whose womb does the ice emerge? Who gave birth to the frost from heaven, when the waters become hard as stone, and the surface of the deep is frozen?”

As impressive as the thought is, to have a Divine Meteorologist, YHWH is so much more than a dispenser of weather:

Isaiah 55:8-12

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares YHWH. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so My ways are higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.

For just as the rain and the snow [w’-ha-sheleg] fall from heaven and do not return without watering the earth, making it bud and sprout, and providing seed to sow and food to eat, so My word that proceeds from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I please, and it will prosper where I send it. You will indeed go out with joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”

Just as snow does God’s command and waters the earth, so does God’s Word nourish the soul.

As White as Snow

One of the most common Biblical phrases is white as snow. Jewish purification laws made the Hebrew people hyper-aware of cleanliness. Things like disease, illness, sexual discharge, and coming into contact with the dead made a person “unclean” according to the Jewish purification laws. Laws that cleansed a person allowed them to come back into the presence of God and be able to enter the Temple.

One of the most commonly mentioned diseases in the Tanakh was leprosy. English translations often described those with leprosy as “white as snow”. However, in Exodus 4:6, Numbers 12:10, and 2 Kings 5:27 the phrase white as snow is not an accurate translation. “White” is not actually in the text. It should read:

Numbers 12:10a

As the cloud lifted from above the Tent, suddenly Miriam became leprous, as snow [ka-shaleg].

Now it might not be so bad to translate the text as “white as snow”. Leviticus 13, an entire chapter on skin diseases, talks about the whiteness of skin being a sign of some diseases. But the fact that white is not included in the above passages leads to a more disturbing rendition. “As snow” could also mean flakes… or skin that falls like snow.

There were special instructions to pronounce someone clean who had suffered from a skin disease. It included 2 birds, one to be sacrificed and one to be set free. The ceremony also required cedar word, scarlet yarn and the plant hyssop:

Leviticus 14:2-7

YHWH said to Moses, “These are the regulations for any diseased person at the time of their ceremonial cleansing, when they are brought to the priest: The priest is to go outside the camp and examine them. If they have been healed of their defiling skin disease, the priest shall order that two live clean birds and some cedar wood, scarlet yarn and hyssop be brought for the person to be cleansed. Then the priest shall order that one of the birds be killed over fresh water in a clay pot. He is then to take the live bird and dip it, together with the cedar wood, the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, into the blood of the bird that was killed over the fresh water. Seven times he shall sprinkle the one to be cleansed of the defiling disease, and then pronounce them clean. After that, he is to release the live bird in the open fields.

King David may have had this particular cleaning ritual in mind when he composed Psalm 51. In this instance the colour white IS in the text:

Psalm 51:6

Surely You desire truth in the inmost being;  You teach me wisdom in the inmost place.

Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean;  wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

David called on YHWH to cleans him with hyssop and as a result he’d be so clean that he would be whiter than snow.

Hyssop shows up in the most profound story of the Torah: the Passover. In Exodus 12 Moses was instructed by God and told the people to take a cluster of hyssop, dip it into the basin of blood from the sacrificial lamb and to paint the top and side-posts of their door frames. This would be the sign for God to pass over their houses and save their first borns from death.

In Jesus’ final Passover on earth he became the sacrificial lamb, the first born that would die to atone for our transgressions. It is not surprising that hyssop has a place in the story of the crucifixion of Yeshua (Jesus):

John 19:28-30

After this, knowing that everything had now been accomplished, and to fulfill the Scripture, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of sour wine was sitting there. So they soaked a sponge in the wine, put it on a stalk of hyssop, and lifted it to His mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished.” And bowing His head, He yielded up His spirit.

Jesus’ blood was shed so we could be washed clean. The book of Isaiah probably holds the most quoted verse about snow, and in it YHWH makes a promise:

Isaiah 1:16-20

“Wash and cleanse yourselves. Remove your evil deeds from My sight. Stop doing evil! Learn to do right, seek justice, correct the oppressor, defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.”

“Come now, let us reason together,” says YHWH. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow [ka-sheleg]though they are as red as crimson, they will become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best of the land. But if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword. For the mouth of YHWH has spoken.”


Snow and Scarlet

The juxtaposition of white snow and scarlet is a theme that comes up more than once in the Bible. One of the more peculiar passages comes from Proverbs:

Proverbs 31:20-21

She [the valiant woman] opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of snow [me-sheleg] for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet.

It’s almost like scarlet is a heat-inducing colour. It is vibrant and warm and melts the cold away. The valiant woman does not worry about the snow because the household is clothed in warmth. Scarlet brings protection… just as the blood of Jesus brought us protection from death, and a redemption that truly heals us.

More often, however, scarlet is seen like a stain… like sin that needs to be blotted out.

Psalm 51:9-12

Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from Your presence; take not Your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of Your Salvation, and sustain me with a willing spirit.

Ultimately the whiteness of snow is a symbol of purity. Only twice in the New Testament does the word snow appear. It is used once to (Matthew 28) describe the clothing of the angel of the Lord who appeared to the women at the empty tomb of Jesus. The second instance of snow is found in John’s Revelation:

Revelation 1:12-18a

Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned, I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was One like the Son of Man, dressed in a long robe, with a golden sash around His chest. The hair of His head was white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes were like a blazing fire. His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and His voice was like the roar of many waters. He held in His right hand seven stars, and a sharp double-edged sword came from His mouth. His face was like the sun shining at its brightest.

When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. But He placed His right hand on me and said, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last, the Living One. I was dead, and behold, now I am alive forever and ever!”

Snow reveals the kind of purity that can only come by loving and trusting in the God who Saves us… the God who sent a Messiah to shed his blood for our transgressions, who bled like scarlet so we could be white as snow.

Next week: lift/carry

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