The Former & Latter Rains in Israel

The former rains just started to fall here in Israel, right on time. From Passover to Sukkot, the blessing of dew is recited, but from the end of Sukkot, it’s time to get praying for rain. The phrase “Mashiv Ha’Ruach u’morid Hagashem” is a praise included in the daily prayers, praising God who causes the win to blow and the rain to fall, starting on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles. And now rain is falling on the parched land. Rain is so important here in Israel that there are several different words for it in the Biblical Hebrew, the four main ones being: yoreh, matar, geshem and melkosh. What do these Hebrew words mean?

Yoreh and Malkosh

Even though it is fairly late in the year in terms of the Western calendar, the rains that begin in the Fall are known as the yoreh, or the early rains, since it is the start of the rainy season. These early rains are reason to be glad after a hot, dry summer, and the ground can be broken up ready to work the fields. Towards the springtime, around the time of Passover, Israel will have the latter rains, known as the malkosh, necessary for the ripening of the barley and grain.
The word for the former rains, yoreh, comes from the same root as to shoot or cast, or teach! Like an arrow being shot to its target, or information being directly delivered from teacher to pupil, the yoreh rains are sent down to soften up the ground, ready for the first round of planting. In fact, God’s teaching is also compared to the sending of rain in Deuteronomy 32:2,

May my teaching drop as the rain, my speech distill as the dew, like gentle rain upon the tender grass,and like showers upon the herb”.

The latter rains, malkosh, are much harder rains that would have just caused flooding and devastation if they had come earlier on the dusty, dry ground. But these latter Spring rains are essential for the agricultural cycle too; the “Gezer Calendar” (an archeological relic with inscriptions from the time of Solomon [1]) tells us that in January / February time, there was a second round of later planting in ancient Israel’s agricultural year, called the lekesh. The word for these harder, later rains, malkosh, is related to the lekesh: the latter downpours can more easily penetrate the softer ground and bring forth the second harvest in the Spring.
The Spirit of God is often connected with water in the Bible, and God’s provision of water, and some would see the “former rain” and the “latter rain” as outpourings of the Holy Spirit, as vindication of the message of the gospel. Joel 2:23 says,

“Be glad, O children of Zion, and rejoice in the LORD your God, for he has given the early rain for your vindication; he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the latter rain, as before.”

The remarkable signs and wonders that followed the first apostles validated their message so that it was widely believed, causing the gospel spread far and wide in a relatively short time. Perhaps as the days get darker and message carried by the true followers of Yeshua seems more and more preposterous, God will send another “latter day downpour” of his Spirit to accompany his servants, vindicating their message. Time will tell. One thing is for certain, rain is repeatedly equated with God’s blessing throughout the Bible:

“For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.” (Isaiah 44:3)

Matar and Geshem

Matar is the main generic word for rain used in the Bible. As we use the word rain as both a noun and a verb, the root מטר (MTR) is both the noun for rain and can be made into the verb to rain as well.
As a rabbi I knew once said, God didn’t choose Egypt with its Nile or Assyria with the Euphrates for his chosen land – no, he chose Israel without a sufficient natural water source, so that the Israelites would have to look up to the heavens to God for their life-giving water. Just as verses just before Deuteronomy 11:14 say,

“For the land that you are entering to take possession of it is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you sowed your seed and irrigated it, like a garden of vegetables. But the land that you are going over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water by the rain [matar] from heaven, a land that the Lord your God cares for. The eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year”. (11:10-12)

God himself would see to the irrigation of Israel, unlike the surrounding countries who could count on huge rivers on the ground, Israel had to look up to heaven, and relate to God for the blessing of rain.
The word we use today in Israel more often though is geshem. One of my favourite passages is in Hosea 6:

“Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
He has struck us down, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.
Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers [geshem], as the spring rains [malkosh] that water the earth.”

Geshem and lehitgashem – calling forth that which is not (yet) into being

The three letter root for the word geshem (גשם) is also the root for the word lehitgashem (להתגשם), which means to fulfill or realise something. Making something come into being that was not, the way that rain causes things to sprout up into life from shrivelled, buried and invisible seeds. This always make me think of Abraham, so sure that God’s promises to him would be realised, as the author of Romans tells us, God calls into existence things that do not currently appear to exist:

“As it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told… No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. (Romans 4:17-21)

God will fulfill all his promises to his people – to Israel and to you – as surely as the going out of the dawn.

“Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers [geshem], as the spring rains [malkosh] that water the earth.”

Our faith so pleases God, and is more valuable to him than gold, so it is important that we really do press in to know the Lord and believe his promises, just as Abraham did. God can call into existence things that only exist in seed form – the seeds of his word and his promises. And we can see them as if they already are, with eyes of faith.
James 5:7-8 also relates this to the idea of rain in this way:

“Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”

[1] eTeacher Biblical: The Gezer Calendar

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