“He’s got the Whole World in His hands”, is a well-known and well-liked traditional spiritual song. There are many slight variations in the words, and in fact anyone can add extra verses appropriate to their situation and audience. The two verses we wanted to convey here are as follows –
He’s got the sun and the rain in His hands,
He’s got the moon and the stars in His hands,
He’s got the wind and the clouds in His hands,
He’s got the whole world in His hands.
He’s got the rivers and the mountains in His hands,
He’s got the oceans and the seas in His hands,
He’s got you and he’s got me in His hands,
He’s got the whole world in His hands.
In this number, we shall be looking at the way in which the Bible tells us about Earth’s weather, and how much of it is in God’s hands and under His control. First of all we should like to record an anecdote from our 1974 diary.
Our 747 touched down at Kai Tak Airport, Hong Kong at teatime on September 3rd, 1974. We were weary after a long flight, aggravated by the fact that we had three small daughters with us, and Rosalind four months pregnant with our son John. As we stepped out from the arrival lounge into the night air, it hit us like a wet blanket. The temperature was 30ºC and the humidity about 90% (as I was to learn from a member of staff who met us.) Our new friends transported us to the Hong Kong Hotel, a four star luxury establishment on the Kowloon waterfront. We were there shown into a comfortable suite of rooms on the 8th floor, and were glad to find air conditioning provided throughout the Hotel.
I had been selected to serve as a Government Education Officer at the King George Vth School in Kowloon for a tour of 3 years. But I wondered whether I would last out 3 days under such enervating climatic conditions, but was told I’d soon get used to it! Our stay in the Hotel, at Government expense, was splendid, and we stayed there until October 29th, when a residence became available. Well, we did gradually acclimatise to the weather, but apart from the winter months, we found the weather difficult throughout our stay in the Colony.
Whilst staying in the hotel we were told that the Colony had not received any rain throughout the summer months. No Typhoons had arrived to replenish the reservoirs. There are no rivers in Hong Kong. All the water has to come from rain. Normally there is plenty from the typhoon season, but 1974 was exceptional for its lack of rain. There were 4½ million people in the Colony, living in an area smaller than the Isle of Wight. The supply of water was most urgent. The typhoon season began in April, and lasted until September. Near the end of September there was no sign of rain, and water rationing was announced. In the hotel we were only allowed water for washing for a few hours each afternoon. After trying to run a bath the water emerged bright red from rust. The water tanks on the roof of the hotel were nearly empty.
This situation was very serious, and it looked as though rationing had come to stay until the next typhoon season, the following year. That was not a very pleasant outlook. Like many other Christians in the Colony, we prayed seriously for the Lord to intervene. The only way was by out-of-season typhoons developing near the Philippines, and head for the Colony. But the Royal Observatory in Hong Kong announced that the chances of this happening were extremely slight.
On 20th September, as I was praying again, the Lord spoke to me in the following way, “Twenty inches of rain is needed to restore a regular supply of water. Wait and see what I shall do.” That was most encouraging news. On 28th September a typhoon developed beyond the Philippines, named Wanda. However, it veered off and never reached us. A few days later Agnes developed, but this petered out before reaching us. Waiting and watching became a full-time exercise. A third one developed, named Bess, but like Wanda, it veered off.
The fourth one was named Carmen, and it travelled straight for the Colony, reaching us on October 17th, dumping 9 inches of rain during the day. But this typhoon was full of water, and by 20th it had dumped 20 inches. The Lord had answered all prayers in a miraculous way. Furthermore, two other typhoons developed, Della and Elaine, each bringing several inches of rain, so there was water in abundance and to spare for the Colony’s needs. 1974 was therefore a rather strange year for typhoons. The strangest of all occurred when Irma reached us on December 2nd. It was the latest date in the year for any recorded typhoon making landfall on the South China coast.
One reason for including our story is the obvious parallel with a certain part of Elijah’s experience. “Elijah went up to the top of Carmel and bowed himself to the earth, and put his face between his knees. And he said to his servant, ‘Go up now, and look towards the sea.’ And went up and looked, and said, ‘I see nothing.’ And he said, ‘Go again,’ seven times. And at the seventh time he said, ‘Behold a little cloud like a man’s hand rising out of the sea.’ And he said, ‘Go up, and say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.” And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain.” (1 Kings18:42-47)
We waited and looked at our televisions in Hong Kong to see the weather reports. They showed us the tracks of Wanda, Agnes, and Bess, before the deluge arrived with Carmen. This was followed by Della, Elaine, and finally Irma. Seven typhoons, with the greatest blessing from the fourth. Only in this respect was our experience somewhat parallel with Elijah’s. Remember that he, as the Lord’s prophet, had ordered the drought in the first place. “Elijah said to Ahab, ‘As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.'” (1 Kings 17:1) James made reference to this, when he said, “The prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man of like nature with ourselves, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for 3½ years it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth its fruit.” (James 5:16-18)
And so we learn that righteous men can influence the weather, once they have learned to walk wholeheartedly in the way of the Lord. In our case in Hong Kong it was the combined prayer of God’s people that the miracle happened, but to this day I treasure the fact that the Lord spoke to me beforehand. In Elijah’s case, he was a singular prophet, called out during the time of Israel’s defection, and was used by God to bring the nation back to Himself. But let us remember another occasion when the weather was miraculously changed – on the Sea of Galilee, when our Lord stood up in the boat and simply said, “Peace, be still! and the wind ceased and there was a great calm.” (Mark4:39) There was no waiting around, there was no protracted prayer, just a simple command, and it was done. So great was our Lord’s faith. He said to His disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” And they were filled with awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey Him?'” (4:40-41)
We must now turn our thoughts towards another man, Jonah, the disobedient prophet. Jonah had been ordered to go to Nineveh, but Jonah didn’t like the idea at all, and went in the opposite direction, a Mediterranean cruise to Tarshish. God was angry. “The Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest, so that the ship threatened to break up. . . . The Captain came to Jonah, asleep in the bowels of the ship, and said, ‘What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise and call upon you God. Perhaps he will give thought to us that we do not perish.’ ” Jonah realised that he was to blame for the tempest, and instead of praying he insisted they should throw him overboard. It was another way of saying to God, “Under no circumstances will I go to Nineveh.” “So they took Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. And the men feared the Lord exceedingly.” (Jonah 1:4-6, 15) The sudden calm was similar to that on the Sea of Galilee, showing the power of God over the elements, both to cause tempests, and to stop them suddenly.
The examples we have adduced show that to some extent man can, through prayer, cause a change in the weather, but God Himself is always in final control. We now need to listen to what the young man Elihu said to Job, after the three friends had completed their accusations. Remember that the Lord didn’t have anything contrary to say about Elihu, as He did about the other three. “God thunders wondrously with His voice; He does great things we cannot comprehend. To the snow He says, ‘Fall on the earth,’ and to the showers of rain, ‘Be strong.’ . . . . From its chamber comes the whirlwind, and cold from the scattering winds. By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen fast. He loads the thick cloud with moisture; the clouds scatter His lightning. They turn round and round by His guidance, to accomplish all that He commands them on the face of the habitable world. Whether for correction, or for His land, or for love, He causes it to happen.” (Job 37:5-13)
That last verse is most instructive. The motives behind the God-given weather are threefold. First of all, Correctionwas clearly in God’s mind in the days of Elijah and wicked King Ahab, and in the story of Jonah, quoted above. After the days of the Babylonian captivity, when a remnant returned to Jerusalem, the Lord said to Haggai, “I smote you with blight and mildew and hail, yet you did not return to me, says the Lord.” (Haggai 2:17) That did the trick. The men began building the Lord’s house. But it was also part of Asaph’s prayer after hearing Israel’s enemies vow,“Come let us wipe them out as a nation, let the name of Israel be remembered no more.” (Psalm 83:4) He prayed, saying, “O my God, make them as a whirling dust, like chaff before the wind. As fire consumes the forest, and as flames set the mountains ablaze, so pursue them with Your tempest, and terrify them with Your hurricane.” (Ps.83:13-15)
Secondly, for His land, is something the Lord promised to His people on entering Canaan. “The land you are entering is not like the land of Egypt where you sowed your seed and watered it with your feet [using shadoofs,] like a garden of vegetables. But the land which you are about to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drink water by the rain from heaven, a land which the Lord your God cares for, where the eyes of the Lord are always upon it from the beginning to the end of the year.” (Deut.11:10-12) If the nation was obedient, then “the Lord will open to you His good treasury the heavens, to give the rain of your land in its season, and to bless all the work of your hands.” (Deut.28:12)
Thirdly, for love, was exemplified by what happened during our stay in Hong Kong, and during the crossing of theSea of Galilee in Jesus’ day.
What are we to learn from all these examples? That although God is in overall charge of the weather, He also allows man to enter into the meteorological cycle to some extent. Are we prepared to accept that God is in charge of the world’s weather? Do we look at strange behaviour, unusual weather patterns, and ask ourselves if God is trying to teach us a lesson? If hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, lengthy drought, searing winds, forest fires, are occurring, are they just a result of chance, or is the Upper Hand at work to teach us a lesson? In today’s climate of opinion, everything is a result of chance, the outcome of an evolutionary way of thinking. But as in Jonah’s day, when the mariners believed that some god had been responsible for the tempest, so also in our modern world of just 150 yearsago, most people were looking to God for their weather, and praying accordingly. That has all gone by the board now. But it doesn’t mean that we, as individuals, as believers in the Lord Jesus, should follow the trends of the day. Even if the majority laugh at the type of faith that enables man to pray to God for rain, or for protection from floods, should we not turn back to the faith of our fathers, and believe that God is in charge? “He’s got the whole world in His hands.”