RAIN. The great importance to the inhabitants of Pal. of the country’s limited rainfall is made clear by the variety of Heb. words which describe it. The Heb. commonly distinguishes rain (מָטָר, H4764) from showers (גֶּ֫שֶׁם, H1773, or שָׂעִיר, H8540, the “small” rain of Deut 32:2, KJV); it also records the seasonal occurrence of the rain (see below).

The annual amounts of rainfall received in various parts of Pal. are described in Palestine, Climate (q.v.). The average figures, however, are liable to mislead, since totals vary greatly from year to year. In Jerusalem, for example, the long term average is 26.1 inches, but the maximum received in any one year was 40 inches and the minimum 12 inches. With fluctuations of this magnitude in the total, the impact upon a society dependent for its livelihood on the land can well be imagined.

Most important to the farmer is the distribution of rainfall throughout the year. This is very uneven indeed. As the accompanying diagram for Jerusalem shows, no rain falls at all during the four hottest months of the year. This hot, dry summer is a common feature of most of the lands surrounding the Mediterranean; it is balanced by a cool wet winter, but, from the farmer’s point of view, the two critical periods are the beginning and end of the wet season, when temperatures are high enough to promote growth, and the soil is moist enough to work.

The farmer’s year is therefore linked closely to the coming of the rains. In October these begin, generally with a series of thunderstorms, and plowing and sowing can then be started on the hard-baked soil. If the start of the rainy season is delayed, crop yields suffer; if the delay is a long one, crop failure may result. Hence, these “early” rains (יוֹרֶה, H3453) are of the utmost importance. At the other end of the winter, rains continuing into late April and May, when temperatures are high, are of much more value than in January or February, when they are low; they increase yields for every day that the rains are prolonged. The farmer therefore hopes for the “latter rains” (מַלְקוֹשׁ, H4919, after-crop).

This combination of early and latter rains is referred to frequently in the Bible, e.g. Deuteronomy 11:14; Jeremiah 5:24; Hosea 6:3; Joel 2:23; James 5:7. So, too, is the failure of the rains, as seen in the reference to famine, an event never far from the thoughts of the inhabitants of Pal., from the time of Abraham onward. See PALESTINE, CLIMATE OF.


N. Rosenau, “One Hundred Years of Rainfall in Jerusalem,” Israel Meteorological Service, Series A, No. 13 (1955); D. Baly, The Geography of the Bible, chs. IV-VI (1957); G. Adam Smith, The Historical Geography of the Holy Land (ed. of 1966), 62-70; D. Elbashan, “Monthly Rainfall Isomers in Israel, 1931-1960,” Israel Journal of Earth Sciences, XV (1966), 1-7.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(maTar, Arabic (?), maTar, "rain" geshem, "heavy rain" moreh, "early rain," yoreh, "former rain," malqosh, "latter rain"; brecho, huetos):

1. Water-Supply in Egypt and Palestine:

In Egypt there is little or no rainfall, the water for vegetation being supplied in great abundance by the river Nile; but in Syria and Palestine there are no large rivers, and the people have to depend entirely on the fall of rain for water for themselves, their animals and their fields. The children of Israel when in Egypt were promised by Yahweh a land which "drinketh water of the rain of heaven" (De 11:11). Springs and fountains are found in most of the valleys, but the flow of the springs depends directly on the fall of rain or snow in the mountains.

2. Importance of Rain in Season:

The cultivation of the land in Palestine is practically dry farming in most of the districts, but even then some water is necessary, so that there may be moisture in the soil. In the summer months there is no rain, so that the rains of the spring and fall seasons are absolutely essential for starting and maturing the crops. The lack of this rain in the proper time has often been the cause of complete failure of the harvest. A small difference in the amount of these seasonal rains makes a large difference in the possibility of growing various crops without irrigation. Ellsworth Huntington has insisted on this point with great care in his very important work, Palestine and Its Transformation. The promise of prosperity is given in the assurance of "rain in due season" (Le 26:4 the King James Version). The withholding of rain according to the prophecy of Elijah (1Ki 17:1) caused the mountain streams to dry up (1Ki 17:7), and certain famine ensued. A glimpse of the terrible suffering for lack of water at that time is given us. The people were uncertain of another meal (1Ki 17:12), and the animals were perishing (1Ki 18:5).

3. Amount of Rainfall:

Palestine and Syria are on the borderland between the sea and the desert, and besides are so mountainous, that they not only have a great range of rainfall in different years, but a great variation in different parts of the country.

The amount of rain on the western slopes is comparable with that in England and America, varying from 25 to 40 inches per annum, but it falls mostly in the four winter months, when the downpour is often very heavy, giving oftentimes from 12 to 16 inches in a month. On the eastern slopes it is much less, varying from 8 to 20 inches per annum. The highest amount falls in the mountains of Lebanon where it averages about 50 inches. In Beirut the yearly average is 35,87 inches. As we go South from Syria, the amount decreases (Haifa 27,75, Jaffa 22,39, Gaze 17,61), while in the Sinaitic Peninsula there is little or none. Going from West to East the change is much more sudden, owing to the mountains which stop the clouds. In Damascus the average is less than 10 inches. In Jerusalem the average for 50 years is 26,16 in., and the range is from 13,19 in 1870 to 41,62 in 1897. The yearly records as given by J. Glaisher and A. Datzi in Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly from 1861 to 1910, 50 years, are given in the accompanying table.