International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
lit'-ning (baraq, chaziz; astrape): Lightning is caused by the discharge of electricity between clouds or between clouds and the earth. In a thunder-storm there is a rapid gathering of particles of moisture into clouds and forming of large drops of rain. This gathers with it electric potential until the surface of the cloud (or the enlarged water particles) is insufficient to carry the charge, and a discharge takes place, producing a brilliant flash of light and the resulting thunder-clap. Thunder-storms are common in Syria and Palestine during the periods of heavy rain in the spring and fall and are often severe. Lightning is usually accompanied by heavy rainfall or by hail, as at the time of the plague of hail (Exodus 9:24).
In the Scriptures it is used:
(a) indicating the power of God: The power of God is shown in His command of the forces of Nature, and He is the only one who knows the secrets of Nature: "He made.... a way for the lightning" (Job 28:26); "He directeth.... his lightning" (Job 37:3 the King James Version); "Canst thou send forth lightnings, that they may go?" (Job 38:35); "Ask ye of Yahweh.... that maketh lightnings" (Zechariah 10:1). See also Psalm 18:14; Psalm 97:4; Psalm 135:7 Job 36:32 Jeremiah 10:13;
(b) figuratively and poetically: David sings of Yahweh, "He sent.... lightnings manifold, and discomfited them" (Psalm 18:14); used for speed: "The chariots.... run like the lightnings" (Nahum 2:4): "His arrow shall go forth as the lightning" (Zechariah 9:14); "The living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning" (Ezekiel 1:14). The coming of the kingdom is described by Jesus as the shining of the lightning from one part of heaven to another, even "from the east unto the west" (Matthew 24:27 Luke 17:24);
(c) meaning bright or shining: Daniel in his vision saw a man and "his face (was) as the appearance of lightning" (Daniel 10:6). See also Revelation 4:5; Revelation 8:5; Revelation 16:18.
Alfred H. Joy