STORM/TEMPEST: Sa’ar, noun (Strong’s 5591).
Sounds like: sah’ar
In the early hours of Saturday morning I sat in my living room, in the dark, and listened to the howling and terrifying winds of Hurricane Fiona on Prince Edward Island. How strange and humbling it was to sit in the middle of a raging storm. It makes you realize how tiny you are in such a wild and unpredictable weather-weary earth.
When I woke up to survey the damage it was startling. My roof singles were all over the lawn, there was debris everywhere, and there were a few trees that did not survive the storm, including an apple tree that my husband planted the year he died and a big, glorious, evergreen tree that had seen many years.
The shingles on the lawn came from the North side of my roof and it stripped it bare to the wood… which means I have a small leak in my dining room and a big leak in my garage. The generator sat in a puddle of water on my garage floor, making it unusable for the day.
According to the lovely lady I spoke to at Maritime Electric we shouldn’t expect power for days… DAYS! And to make matters worse, my data plan was inoperable for 22 hours, making me almost completely in the dark, environmentally and socially. In fact, it’s only by the grace of a kind neighbour who helped me with my generator today that I’m able to post at all.
A Stormy Divine Presence
I had planned on a different word this week, but it seems more fitting to investigate one of the Hebrew words that is commonly translated as storm: sa’ar.
Sa’ar was often described as a whirlwind, a storm, a gale, a tempest… and it was quite common to associate this word with a supernatural presence. Ezekiel used it to describe his vision of YHWH’s throne room:
As I looked, behold, a stormy wind [ruakh s’arah] was coming from the north, a great cloud with fire flashing intermittently and a bright light around it, and in its midst something like gleaming metal in the midst of the fire. And within it there were figures resembling four living beings…
Ezekiel’s vision of YHWH’s throne room was a place of storm, wind, fire, and flashing! It would have been a frightening and awe-inspiring place. YHWH’s presence was like a wind storm, wild and unpredictable.
The prophet Zechariah envisioned YHWH as a triumphant Saviour who marched amongst the people surrounded by stormy winds:
Then YHWH will appear over them, and His arrow will go forth like lightning; and the Lord YHWH will blow the trumpet; and march in the storm [b-sa’aroht] winds of the south.
YHWH of armies will protect them. And they will devour and trample on the slingstones; and they will drink and be boisterous as with wine; and they will be filled like a sacrificial basin, drenched like the corners of the altar.
And YHWH their God will save them on that day as the flock of His people; for they are like the precious stones of a crown, sparkling on His land.
Job, the great suffering servant of the Tanakh, had conversations with God. He described God as one whose words came out of a whirlwind:
Job 38:1-2 (see also Job 40:6)
Then YHWH answered Job from the whirlwind [ha-s’arah] and said,“Who is this who darkens the divine plan by words without knowledge?”
An even more spectacular vision was when Elijah was raised up to heaven in a whirlwind storm:
2 Kings 2:11
And as they (Elijah and Elisha) were walking along and talking, behold, a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and they separated the two of them. Then Elijah went up by a whirlwind [ba-s’arah] to heaven.
The Presence of YHWH was a whirlwind, and Elijah went to the presence of YHWH in a whirlwind. It was a ripe and striking image!
The Angry Storm
A storm was the perfect vehicle to represent the power of an angry God. The prophets particularly highlighted that those who had turned their backs on YHWH would be hit with the Storm of YHWH:
“Behold, the storm of YHWH [sa’arat YHWH] has gone forth in wrath, even a whirling tempest [w-sa’ar]; it will swirl down on the head of the wicked.”
Behold, the tempest of YHWH [s’arat YHWH]!
Wrath has gone forth, a sweeping tempest [sa’ar]; it will whirl upon the head of the wicked. The fierce anger of YHWH will not turn back until He has performed and accomplished the intent of His heart.
In the latter days you will understand this.
And the multitude of the ruthless ones like the chaff which blows away; and it will happen instantly, suddenly.
From YHWH of armies you will be punished with thunder and earthquake and loud noise, with whirlwind and tempest [u-s’arah] and the flame of a consuming fire.
The Psalmist, Asaph, hoped that YHWH would be like a raging storm against his enemies:
[Asaph:] My God, make them like the whirling dust, like chaff before the wind. Like fire that burns the forest, and like a flame that sets the mountains on fire, so pursue them with Your storm [b-sa’areka] and terrify them with Your whirlwind. Fill their faces with dishonour, so that they will seek Your name, YHWH.
May they be ashamed and dismayed forever, and may they be humiliated and perish, so that they will know that You alone, whose name is YHWH, are the Most High over all the earth.
Raising and Taming a Storm
YHWH could raise a storm, but He could also tame the storm and bring back the calming sea:
Those who go down to the sea in ships, who do business on great waters; they have seen the works of YHWH, and His wonders in the deep. For He spoke and raised a stormy [s’arah] wind, which lifted the waves of the sea.
They rose up to the heavens, they went down to the depths; their soul melted away in their misery. They reeled and staggered like a drunken person, and were at their wits’ end.
Then they cried out to YHWH in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distresses. He caused the storm [s’arah] to be still, so that the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad because they were quiet, so He guided them to their desired harbour.
They shall give thanks to YHWH for His mercy, and for His wonders to the sons of mankind! They shall also exalt Him in the congregation of the people, and praise Him at the seat of the elders.
Most examples of sa’ar, found in the Hebrew Bible, were metaphorical, but there was a literal storm that was described in the scroll of Jonah:
Jonah 1:4-6, 10-12
However, YHWH hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm [sa’ar gadowl] on the sea, so that the ship was about to break up. Then the sailors became afraid and every man cried out to his god, and they hurled the cargo which was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them.
But Jonah had gone below into the stern of the ship, had lain down, and fallen sound asleep. So the captain approached him and said, “How is it that you are sleeping? Get up, call on your god! Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish.”
…Then the men became extremely afraid, and they said to him, “How could you do this?” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of YHWH, because he had told them. So they said to him, “What should we do to you so that the sea will become calm for us?”—for the sea was becoming increasingly stormy [w-so’er].
And he said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea. Then the sea will become calm for you, because I know that on account of me this great storm [ha-sa’ar ha-gadowl] has come upon you.”
Jonah was willing to be swallowed up in the storm, in order to save his shipmates. It was a sacrifice he was willing to make. Yeshua (Jesus) also was willing to be swallowed up in a storm of death in order to save all the people. It’s interesting that Jonah and Yeshua have similar “storm-on-a-sea” stories:
On that day, when evening came, He (Jesus) said to them, “Let’s go over to the other side.”
After dismissing the crowd, they took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him. And a fierce gale of wind developed, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling with water. And yet Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”
And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm.
And He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
They became very much afraid and said to one another, “Who, then, is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”
Both Jonah and Yeshua were asleep on a boat that was being tossed about by the stormy sea. Both had their shipmates come to them and question how they could sleep during such a stormy time. Both offered solutions to the problem: Jonah would willingly be thrown overboard to calm the seas, but Yeshua would tell the seas to “hush” and they immediately became quiet and calm.
We know that Yeshua felt a connection to the story of Jonah. When the people asked for a sign, Yeshua said:
“An evil and adulterous generation craves a sign; and so no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as Jonah was in the stomach of the sea monster for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.”
Jonah’s time in the pit of the whale mirrored Yeshua’s time in the pit of the grave. Both would rise up out of their dire predicaments. One would go on and carry out YHWH’s plans to save the Assyrian Ninevites, and the other would go on to save the world. Both lived through the storm, but only Yeshua controlled the storm.
Weathering the Storm
The power of the strongest storm holds no candle to the power of YHWH! He is the Great Creator, in charge of every storm, every grasshopper, every star:
Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
It is He who reduces rulers to nothing, who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.
Scarcely have they been planted, scarcely have they been sown, scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth, but He merely blows on them, and they wither, and the storm [u-s’arah] carries them away like stubble.
“To whom then will you compare Me that I would be his equal?” says the Holy One.
Raise your eyes on high and see who has created these stars, the One who brings out their multitude by number, He calls them all by name; because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, not one of them is missing.
Hold tight and weather the storm. YHWH oversees it all and He wants to protect you. Whether you’re going through a literal storm or a metaphorical life-storm, let YHWH be your refuge and your strength. Peace be to you!
Next week: Revisiting The Way