Psalm 135:7 includes the statement that God “maketh lightnings for the rain” (KJV). What does that mean? In what sense is lightning “for” the rain? Does lightning facilitate the rain, somehow?
In reading various interpreters, I saw that some actually argued that lightning serves the rain by naturally facilitating it. John Gill says that lightning breaks up the clouds, allowing rain to pour. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, in his Treasury of David, quotes Edwin Sidney, who stated in 1866:
“When the electrical clouds are much agitated, the rain generally falls heavily…As the electricity is dissipated by the frequent discharges the cloud condenses and there comes a sudden and heavy rain…”
Whether or not that is scientifically-accurate, I have no idea. I know little about weather. I did, however, read an interesting New York Times article by C. Claiborne Ray, entitled “The Angry Skies“. This article explains how thunderstorms occur, as well as their benefit. The article states:
“When water vapor condenses into a cloud and rises into colder upper regions of the sky, some of it turns into ice crystals, usually with a positive charge, and some becomes water droplets, usually with a negative charge. When the charges are strong enough, the electricity is discharged as a bolt of lightning. While some lightning often precedes rain, the main event occurs as a downdraft starts and rain or other precipitation falls. Eventually, the downdraft overcomes the updraft and the storm dissipates, along with the lightning. Lightning benefits the earth, keeping its electrical charge in balance and generating protective ozone…”
I don’t see anything here about lightning facilitating rain. There are many cases in which lightning comes after rain, rather than before. Plus, what becomes the lightning and what becomes the rain seem to develop simultaneously, as opposed to the lightning somehow facilitating the rain.
Augustine had another interpretation: that God makes lightning into rain. Augustine draws from this the lesson that God frightens us, then influences us to rejoice. Did Augustine believe that God somehow physically transformed lightning into rain?
Keil-Delitzsch refer to a view, which they apparently attribute to Apollinaris, that the lightning serves the rain by announcing it. The lightning indicates that there is rain, or that rain is coming. If one wants to see Psalm 135:7 as the product of an ancient mindset, as opposed to interpreting it in light of later science, then perhaps Apollinaris’ view is the way to go.
Some say that Psalm 135:7 simply means that lightning accompanies rain. How would this view interpret the conjunction l- in Psalm 135:7, which often means “to” or “for”? Well, according to Holladay, the conjunction can also mean “at” or “in”, so perhaps that is the way that this view can account for the l-.