I think the difference between dew and rain is especially stark in northern Arizona. Dew gently settles on your sleeping bag after a night of sleeping on the trampoline, and burns off shortly after the first rays of 5 a.m. sun start to bake you awake. Dew is constant and insistent, but easy to forget about until the next time you wake up with a damp pillow after sleeping outside.
Rain in northern Arizona is sporadic and violent, especially in the late summer months. When I was a kid we called these storm clouds “thunderheads” because they rolled over your campground without warning, black and threatening, and dumped on you as if an impatient Rainmaker slit open the bottom of the cloud instead of giving it a few gentle shakes. These storms were relentless and only consistent a few weeks a year. But that smell, the smell of the earth softening and the plants and trees sighing in relief after the storm is one that makes me all at once happy and profoundly homesick.
In this hymn, the word of God is compared to both dew and rain. In Deuteronomy His doctrine is “distil[led] as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass” (32:2). To me these are the small and constant commandments He gives us, the spiritual housekeeping of daily tasks and habits that keep open the channels to Him.
In Isaiah, His word is more insistent: “the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater.
“So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).
The Lord doesn’t call back His commandments, sometimes raining them down at a rate that stings. But His word, His doctrine brings its own reward. When we obey we both accomplish His purposes, and He in turn blesses us for our obedience. Sometimes these blessings are as physical as seed to sow and bread to eat; other times we are given peace, courage, charity, patience.
Sometimes this rain bring healing from grief or anxiety or depression or addiction or the feeling that we are worthless or unloveable or totally alone.
These are the times God’s commandments, like the rain that lashes down, also cleanses us us, bringing its own healing in the aftermath.