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WHIRLWIND (Heb. sûphâh, se‘ārâh, sa‘ar). In biblical usage this does not exactly conform to our modern idea of a violent whirling as at the vortex of a tornado, but rather emphasizes the idea of being tossed about. These Hebrew words are often translated “storm” or “tempest,” which is a more accurate translation; and they are used figuratively of swift and terrible destruction (Prov.1.27; Isa.5.28; Jer.4.13; Hos.8.7). Elijah was carried to heaven by a whirlwind (2Kgs.2.1, 2Kgs.2.11).

WHIRLWIND. Four Heb. words are so rendered by the Eng. VSS. Although true tornados or whirlwinds are rare in Pal. several types of violent storms do occur because of the proximity of mountains and lakes to the hot deserts. The N portion of the Jordan Valley and the area of Tiberias is noted in both OT and NT, for such storm conditions.

1. סוּפָה, H6070, “storm wind” is the most frequently used term for violent storms (Job 37:9 et al.).

2. סְעָרָה, H6194, “storm,” “tempest” cognate to Akkad. šāru “wind” which is the extended meaning of the word in the OT (Job 38:1 et al.) and fig. of evil or judgment (Jer 25:32, et al.).

3. שְׂעָרָה, H8554, a variant of 2, it appears in only four passages (Job 27:21; Pss 50:3; 58:9 [KJV]; Dan 11:40). There appears to be no difference in meaning, but the existence of the two forms marks it as a loanword from Akkad. in which it was very common.

4. תִּימָרָה, H9406, “column of smoke,” “dust devil” a miniature whirlwind occurring only in Song of Solomon and Joel 2:30, (KJV) “pillar” (RSV) “columns,” a common sight in the drier portions of Pal. A number of adjectives are applied to the words for whirlwind, “great,” “whirling” and “severe” among others. It is a favorite picture of the wrath of God.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

Storms usually come from the Southwest. "Out of the .... south cometh the storm" (Job 37:9); yet in Ezekiel’s vision he saw a whirlwind coming out of the north (Eze 1:4). Elijah "went up by a whirlwind into heaven" (2Ki 2:11). The whirlwind indicates the power and might of Yahweh: "Yahweh hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm" (Na 1:3); He "answered Job out of the whirlwind" (Job 38:1).

Alfred H. Joy