According to the National Weather Service, “Thunder is created when lightning passes through the air. The lightning discharge heats the air rapidly and causes it to expand. The temperature of the air in the lightning channel may reach as high as 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, 5 times hotter than the surface of the sun. Immediately after the flash, the air cools and contracts quickly. This rapid expansion and contraction creates the sound wave that we hear as thunder.”
I recently sat outside in my porch during an extremely intense thunderstorm. As I listened to the deafening thunder and saw the continuous flashes of lightning, I thought of the passages that describe God in terms of thunder.
God’s power in the creation and control of thunder is amazing. Job 28:26 tells us that God decrees the thunder and lightning. In Exodus 9:23 and 9:33, God sent thunder, hail, and fire on Egypt and then caused each to cease. Thunder and lightning also marked God’s presence on Mount Sinai, causing the Israelites to tremble (Exodus 19:16, 19).
Several passages also compare God’s majestic voice and power to thunder (Job 37:4-5; 40:9; Psalm 29:3). Sometimes his thunderous voice is a means of judgment (1 Samuel 7:10). Job also states that one cannot understand the “thunder of his power” (Job 26:14). In heaven, flashes of lightning and peals of thunder surround God’s throne (Revelation 4:5).
As I sat in that thunderstorm and heard peal after peal of ear-shattering thunder, I was awe-struck to think that this was but a taste of God’s glory, majesty, and power. Amazing.
But what amazed me even more was the reminder that God’s response to prayer is also compared to this powerful and awe-inspiring thunder.
2 Samuel 22 records a song that David likely wrote early in his kingship. David described God, initially using several names that have to do with protection and help. David took refuge in and sought protection from his Rock, Fortress, Stronghold, Shield, and Deliverer.
Next, David described his distress with metaphors that portrayed him in a weak, needy, and helpless condition. Cords and snares of death bound him while waves of death and torrents of destruction encompassed him. David certainly didn’t sugarcoat his situation. He was helpless, and he knew it. So what did David do?
In his distress, he called on the Lord—from his entangled snare low in the water’s deeps (cf. 2 Samuel 22:17). And God, from His temple high in the heavens heard that cry.
What David records next is God’s response to his cry, again described in metaphorical language. But in contrast to the language that described David as being weak and helpless, David describes God as being amazingly powerful and passionate in his response to David’s prayer.
David illustrated God’s strength and power in meteorological terms. With darkness and clouds surrounding him, God bent the heavens to come down. He sent forth coals of fire and arrows of lightning. His rebuke was like a strong blast of wind. When the Most High spoke, he thundered.
“The Lord thundered from heaven, and the Most High uttered his voice. And he sent out arrows and scattered them; lightning, and routed them. Then the channels of the sea were seen; the foundations of the world were laid bare, at the rebuke of the Lord, at the blast of the breath of his nostrils” (2 Samuel 22:14-16).
David saw himself in his weakness. He humbled himself and cried to the God of thunder who thunderously responded and delivered him.
“He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters” (2 Samuel 22:17).
In verse 28 David says, “You save a humble people.” One cannot see God for who he is and not be humbled. One cannot even sit in a thunderstorm and not be humbled at one’s own insignificance and lack of power. David humbled himself by recognizing the great chasm that separated him from his great God. He meditated on the magnificence and power of God, called on God for help, and saw that power work on his behalf as God came down to help him.
The National Weather Service warns us: “Remember, if you can hear thunder, chances are that you’re within striking distance of the storm.”
But remember, too, that if you can hear thunder, you are in the presence of the One who sends the storm. He is powerful to save and to deliver you.
While intended as a song of personal worship, David apparently also gave it to “the choirmaster,” as the superscript above Psalm 18 indicates. This psalm is nearly identical and was intended to be used for public worship.