The Dew of Heaven

The Hebrew word for dew (tal) refers both to morning dew and nighttime mist. Dew was important to Ancient Near Eastern agriculture. The climate was so hot and dry that often only the dew kept vegetation alive during drought and heat. According to the New Bible Dictionary, “Dew is beneficial to summer crops. This has been proved conclusively by agronomical field-studies since 1937.”

It is thus not surprising that the Bible uses dew as a symbol of God’s blessings in general. It is among the blessings that Jacob received as the firstborn; Isaac promised Jacob that as the earth would produce its fatness of grain and new wine, so also the heavens would produce dew (Gen. 27:27-29). Hence, when Jacob’s faithful remnant is restored to God’s favor after the exile, they receive again the blessings of Jacob, including the promise of dew (Zech. 12:8). As a symbol of blessing in general, it is fitting that dew is depicted as coming out of heaven, since all blessings come down from the Father of lights.

Just as dew is a symbol of blessing, its absence is a symbol of cursing. Esau was to be “away from” (Heb., min) the dew of heaven (Gen. 27:39). Dew was withheld along with rain from Israel during the ministry of Elijah (1 Ki. 17:1). Because the restoration community left the temple in disrepair, God withheld the dew from them (Hag. 1:10).

This symbolism adds an additional dimension to the insanity of Nebuchadnezzar. Throughout Daniel 4-5, it is emphasized that the beastly king was “drenched with the dew of heaven” (Dan. 4:15, 23, 25, 33, 5:21). Nebuchadnezzar thus represents all rebellious men, who defy God like wild beasts, all the while literally drenched with blessings from heaven. As with Nebuchadnezzar, God continues to send down dew upon the just and unjust, so as to drive them to repentance and thanksgiving.

What specific kinds of blessings are associated with dew? First, as we have already noted, dew comes from above. It comes, according to the biblical worldview, out of heaven, from the clouds. This reminds us of the glory-cloud from which God sends His blessings. More generally, dew is a gift from a superior to his subjects. It is thus not only associated with God’s favor and love, but with the favor of a king (Pr. 19:12; cf. Ps. 72:6). Because it is a symbol of the favor of our King and Judge, dew is a reminder of the sovereignty of God’s grace.

Second, dew is a symbol of the resurrection in Is. 26:19. Just as the earth brings forth its dew, so also it shall bring forth the dead to new life. Dew thus is a symbol of the redeemed and resurrected people of God. God’s saints are those that are raised with Christ in baptism (Rom. 6:4), and thus become partakers of the first resurrection. Dew is a fitting reminder of our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, since it pictures by its renewal of the earth the “washing of regeneration.”

The connection of dew with baptism is strengthened when we note that dew is associated with the anointing of the priest. In Psalm 133:2-3, a parallel is drawn between the oil that is poured over Aaron’s head and the dew that falls on Mount Zion. This passage links dew with baptism in two ways. First, the priest is like the mountain, and the dew that falls is parallel to the oil of ordination. Oil is a symbol of the Holy Spirit throughout Scripture. Thus, dew is connected with the outpouring of the Spirit, which in turn is symbolized by the pouring of water in baptism.

Moreover, the anointing of the head is the rite of induction into the priesthood — in the New Covenant, baptism. Baptism is also our induction into the Body of Christ. Psalm 133 stresses the unity of God’s people as they are ingrafted into the priesthood of the Greater Aaron, and share in the “one baptism” — the baptism of Christ. The fact that the Mountain can symbolize God’s people as a whole (Heb. 12:22-23) adds a collective dimension to the imagery of Psalm 133. The baptism of the Mountain-priest is by extension the baptism of the Mountain-people.

Third, dew is associated with manna, and thus with food (Ex. 16:13-21). It is also noteworthy that Moses prays that his inspired words would be like dew (Dt. 32:2). Manna too is compared to the Word of God (Dt. 8:3), and Jesus compares manna to His own Body that is offered for the life of the world (John 6:49-51). Dew daily refreshes the plants and the earth, and recalls the refreshment of God’s Word and Sacrament. Fittingly, dew is also associated with the strength of youth (cf. Ps. 110:3). It is through communication in Word and Sacrament that our strength is renewed like the eagles’, and we are equipped for our struggle with sin and Satan.

Fourth, dew is a symbol of the ministry of the people of God in the world. Micah compares the remnant of Israel to dew among the nations (Mic. 5:7). The heavenly people of God goes into the world to bring refreshment and new life to a sinful world. Throughout the Proverbs, a wise man is compared to a fountain and tree of life, whose words and deeds refresh and encourage. It is worth noting that the Micah 5 begins with a prophecy of a ruler coming from Bethlehem, who will deliver and shepherd Israel. We are therefore entirely warranted in seeing Micah 5:7 as a prophecy (at least secondarily) of the New Covenant Church.

This also takes us back to the blessing of Jacob: Jacob was not only promised the dew of heaven, but also that he would rule over nations. In this context, Micah 5:7 is associated with Proverbs 19:12, which compares the favor of the king with the dropping of dew. The parallel between these passages is strengthened by the fact that both also speak of the wrath of the lion (Mic. 5:8). Like the king of Proverbs 19:12, the remnant of Israel is like dew, but also like a lion: a blessing to those who bless, and a curse to those who curse. To say that Israel (and the Church) will be like dew, therefore, is also to say that the saints will reign on the earth (Rev. 5:10), through their kindness and service.

Hosea uses the symbolism of dew in a different manner. He compares the fair-weather loyalty of Ephraim and Judah to the dew that evaporates in the heat of affliction (Hos. 6:4). In 13:3, dew, chaff, smoke blowing away, and a morning cloud are all used as symbols of Israel’s unfaithfulness. The book ends, however, with a promise that God Himself will become the dew of Israel, causing Israel to blossom like a lily and take root (14:5-7).

Dew is a window on the whole of the Christian life. It symbolizes the unmerited favor of our heavenly King; our induction into the covenant through baptism; our continuing refreshment in Word and Sacrament; and our task of ruling the earth through works and words of mercy. Finally, the evanescence of dew is a sobering reminder of our sin, our faithlessness, and encourages us to perseverance.

Peter Leithart is President of Theopolis Institute. This post was originally found on Biblical Horizons.

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