Storm gods, storm imagery and Theophany (Psalm 18)

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Illustration: Ishkur – a Mesopotamian storm deity

It was common practice for peoples in the ancient world to identify their deities with observable, awe-inspiring natural phenomena. As Canaan was a land of tempest, the high-ranking deities of the Canaante pantheons were storm gods: Teshub of the Hittites, Hadad of the Arameans and Baal of the Ugarit. Storm gods were conceived of as vigorous warriors, revered for their ability to usher in the rains needed for fertility and feared for their destructive power unleashed in the storm. Religious iconography frequently portrays storm gods as riding on beasts while wielding weapons in their hands.

Israel’s God also appears in the storm. Indeed, the Old Testament fully fleshes out the concept that God controls the storms.

  • Although Yahweh is omnipresent and fills the earth (Psalm 139:7-8, Jeremiah 23:23-24), He appears in the world as a physical, divine presence at specific times and locations. This is the meaning of “theophany” – an appearance of God.
  • The creation, which is ordered by Yahweh and submits to His will (Luke 8:22-25), at times becomes the vehicle of His manifestation (Psalm 18:7-15). The raging wind is depicted as His chariot (Ezekiel 1:4-28, Habakkuk 3:8), peals of thunder His voice (Job 37:1-5, Psalm 29:3-9, John 12:28-29, Revelation 10:3-4) and lightning bolts His weapon (Psalm 18:14, Habakkuk 3:11).
  • The appearance of God in the storm may be either to save (Deuteronomy 4:33-35) or to judge (Micha 1:3-45, Habakkuk 3:3-15).
  • Theophany is only temporary because a full revelation of God’s terrifying glory cannot be endured by humans (Exodus 20:18-19, 33:18-23).
  • God appeared in the storm to make a covenant at Sinai by which Israel became His own possession (Exodus 19:16-19).
  • At the end of time God will return to the earth in the person of Jesus Christ, riding on the clouds with the sound of the trumpet to judge the living and the dead (Matthew 24:30-31, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, Revelation 1:7).


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