Great Texts of the Bible
The Treasuries of the Snow
Hast thou entered the treasuries of the snow?
1. The references to snow in Scripture are few, as might be expected in a land where snow seldom or never fell. But even though the writers may never have felt the cold touch of the snowflake on their cheek, they had in sight two mountains the tops of which were suggestive. Other kings sometimes take off their crowns, but Lebanon and Mount Hermon all the year round and through the ages never lift the coronets of crystal from their foreheads. The first time we find a deep fall of snow in the Bible is where Samuel describes a fight between Benaiah and a lion in a pit; and though the snow may have crimsoned under the wounds of both man and brute, the shaggy monster rolled over dead and the giant was victor. But the snow is not fully recognized in the Bible until God interrogates Job concerning its wonders, saying: “Hast thou entered the treasuries of the snow?”
In the Psalms there is an exquisite hint of a snowfall through the perfect stillness, and a magnificent storm-piece into which the snow comes with other elements. In the Proverbs, again, there is a passage, where the writer says, “As the cold of snow in the time of harvest, so a faithful servant refreshes the soul of his master.” Isaiah has a noble image of the truth falling softly on the heart, as the snow falls softly on the earth. There is not a word about the snow from the lips of the Saviour; and it is only noticed at all in the New Testament in a secondary sense,—used as a comparison, never as an experience.1 [Note: R. Collyer, Nature and Life, 46.]
2. In this great poem of Job, the snow is given a place among the wonders of the world, and ranked with the morning stars and the sea and the lightnings and leviathan and death. It is one of the things over which Job is bidden to meditate in his heart, in order to restore his shaken faith in God’s greatness and goodness and mercy. It is taken as one of the thousand revelations that are open to all men of the Divine Power that lives and moves through all the universe and finds nothing too great for its mighty guidance, nothing too small for its constant care.
Come see the north wind’s masonry.
Out of an unseen quarry evermore
Furnished with tile, the fierce artificer
Curves with white bastions with projected roof
Round every windward stake, or tree, or door.
Speeding, the myriad-handed, his wild work
So fanciful, so savage, nought cares he
For number or proportion. Mockingly,
On coop or kennel he hangs Parian wreaths;
A swan-like form invests the hidden thorn;
Fills up the farmer’s lane from wall to wall,
Maugre the farmer’s sighs; and at the gate
A tapering turret overtops the work.
And when his hours are numbered, and the world
Is all his own, retiring, as he were not,
Leaves, when the sun appears, astonished Art
To mimic in slow structures, stone by stone,
Built in an age, the mad wind’s night-work,
The frolic architecture of the snow.1 [Note: Emerson, “The Snow-Storm.”]
3. In the Authorized Version the translation is “the treasures of the snow.” The Hebrew word means treasuries or magazines. Snow and hail, says A. B. Davidson, are represented as having been created and laid up in great storehouses in the heavens or above them, from which God draws them forth for the moral ends of His government. But it will not be necessary to insist upon the difference between the two words. The treasures of the snow are in its treasuries.
We shall endeavour to enter the treasuries by considering—
I. The Formation of Snow.
II. The Qualities of Snow.
III. The Use of Snow.
The Formation of Snow
1. Snow is no more than a form of water. It is simply the vapour of water in a crystallized form. Indeed, the term “crystal” found in most of the European languages is derived from the Greek word crystallos, meaning ice or frozen water, and was subsequently transferred to pure transparent stones cut into seals, which, as was thought, were produced only in the extreme cold of lofty passes of the Alps. The atmosphere is charged with watery vapour to an immense extent, and when the temperature is sufficiently low to freeze this moisture, snow is formed. When produced in calm air, the icy particles build themselves into beautiful stellar shapes, each star possessing six rays.
Lieutenant Maury made an estimate based upon the average annual rainfall, which is sufficient to cover the earth to the depth of five feet, that this atmospheric ocean contains an amount of water equal to a lake sixteen feet deep, three thousand miles broad, and twenty-four thousand miles long. From this reservoir of moisture mist and dew are continually precipitated, and from the same storehouse issue forth also hail, snow, and rain. The challenge made to Job, “Hast thou seen the treasuries of the hail?” was perhaps unanswerable in the days of the patriarch. In a measure it is still unanswered; but modern investigations in meteorology have enabled us to draw aside the cloud-curtain, peep into Nature’s laboratory, and obtain a reasonably clear mental insight of the formation of snow.
In the range of inorganic nature, I doubt if any object can be found more perfectly beautiful than a fresh, deep snowdrift, seen under warm light. Its curves are of inconceivable perfection and changefulness; its surface and transparency alike exquisite; its light and shade of inexhaustible variety and inimitable finish, the shadows sharp, pale, and of heavenly colour, the reflected lights intense and multitudinous and mingled with the sweet occurrences of transmitted light. No mortal hand can approach the majesty or loveliness of it.1 [Note: Ruskin, Modern Painters (Works, iii. 445).]
2. There is a beauty and mathematical exactness in the structure of crystals that bespeak intelligence. The whirling snowstorm, instead of being, as it seems at the first glance, a bewildering chaos, is a most wonderfully ordered cosmos. If ever anything seems a matter of mere chance it is the fluttering down of a snowflake. And yet we know it to be a fact that no flake falls save in accordance with the same eternal laws which govern the rush of suns through the vast realms of space—that not one hastens or loiters but as the steady forces guide it—that each one is poised to its resting-place as surely as if angel hands had borne it down from heaven. And that fact helps us to realize what we are learning more surely every day, that there is no such thing as chance anywhere, not even in the riot of the storm; that chance, when you come to look into it, always resolves itself into unknown depths of law, that law is only a human phrase for the working of the Divine Wisdom and Power, and that so there is oneness everywhere.from the very centre to the outmost rim of the universe; not an atom escapes from the all-ruling hand; God is in all things, and God is one.
Descartes announced that he had discovered ninety-three various forms or patterns of snowflakes. The words had scarcely fallen from his lips before another declared that he had found nine hundred. Indeed there is no limit to their diversity; it is fair to say that no two of them are precisely alike, just as no two leaves in Vallombrosa are alike, just as no two human faces are alike on all the earth. This infinite variety is also a distinguishing feature of the work of God.1 [Note: D. J. Burrell, The Spirit of the Age, 205.]
I do not see how one can consider without a feeling of reverence and awe what Ruskin would call such “ethics of the dust”—this grand mathematical legislation of the universe carried down to and governing even invisible atoms. For we must remember that, if the atomic theory be true, the shape of each tiny crystal depends in its turn upon the obedient march and movement of millions of infinitesimal atoms. How small these are it is almost impossible to realize; but it is estimated that, if a drop of water were swollen to the size of the earth, each constituent atom would still be less than the size of a cricket-ball. You would, therefore, get into billions and trillions, in order to take the atomic census of a snowflake. Now, each one of those individual atoms acts in accordance with regular laws, and the beauty and symmetry of every snowflake depend upon the exact manipulation of these atoms by the Divine energy—their exact obedience to the Divine method of the universe. Surely men need not go to tales of ancient miracles to satisfy their craving for the wonderful. Why, here is a miracle that you can hold in your hand! You tread on a thousand miracles at every step you take.1 [Note: C. J. Perry.]
Supposing you were to go to school during the dinner-hour, when no one was about, and saw lying on the desk an exercise book. If, on opening it, you saw on one page a blot of red ink and another of black, and turning over another leaf saw the imprint of four dirty fingers and a thumb, you would say at once, “These came by accident; and the boy who made these marks did not intend to make them.” But if, turning over more leaves, you came upon a well-drawn square, and then a perfect circle, and then upon groups of figures drawn and combined, just as in your Euclid, you would say, “Ah! that did not come by chance. The boy that drew that circle meant to do it; the boy that drew that figure has passed the ‘pons asinorum,’ he can do such-and-such a proposition.” If another boy were to come in and look over your shoulder, and say, “Oh no, they all came by chance,” you would open your eyes in amazement, or see at once that he was trying to make a fool of you. We all, by the very law of our minds, at once conclude that that which is full of intelligence and appeals to intelligence comes from intelligence. And so when I enter into “the treasuries of the snow,” and see the
tiny spherule traced with lines
Of nature’s geometric signs,
I see in it a revelation of the personality, the intelligence, the wisdom of God.2 [Note: T. Hind, The Treasures of the Snow, 15.]
It may be argued, as it has been argued by the Rev. Aubrey Moore, in Lux Mundi, that “the counterpart of the theological belief in the unity and omnipresence of God is the scientific belief in the unity of nature and the reign of law”; that “the evolution which was at first supposed to have destroyed teleology is found to be more saturated with teleology than the view which it superseded”; that “it is a great gain to have eliminated chance, to find science declaring that there must be a reason for everything, even when we cannot hazard a conjecture as to what the reason is”; that “it seems as if in the providence of God the mission of modern science was to bring home to our unmetaphysical ways of thinking the great truth of the Divine immanence in creation, which is not less essential to the Christian idea of God than to the philosophical view of nature.” But on the opposite side it may be represented—as, indeed, Mr. Aubrey Moore himself expressly allows—that all these deductions are valid only on the preformed supposition, or belief, “that God is, and that he is the rewarder of such as diligently seek him.”1 [Note: Life and Letters of G. J. Romanes, F.R.S., 249.]
3. The perfection of the snow crystals assures us that God cares for little things. The simplest creatures of the Divine Hand and the minutest details of their structures are not unworthy of infinite power. Who could have thought these crystals of the snowstorm worthy of such care? Only a snowflake! Is it not a waste of beauty? What unnumbered myriads of them are floating there through the skies! How they blanket the fields; drift in great banks along the fences and railway tracks; fill the ravines in the hills; pack the gorges of the mountain; and lie heaps on heaps upon the highest summits! Surely, as we think of the seeming waste of beauty, we may sing over these flowers of the snow, these crystal gems of the winter storm, as Gray sang in his Elegy:
Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear,
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.
Yes! These flowers of the snow, these gems of the winter storm, God has wrought out with as careful touch as the Victoria Regia or the twinkling lustre of Venus, the evening star.
Nothing is small or great in God’s sight; whatever He wills becomes great to us, however seemingly trifling, and if once the voice of conscience tells us that He requires anything of us, we have no right to measure its importance.2 [Note: Jean Nicolaus Grau.]
And God works in the little as the great,
A perfect work, and glorious over all,
Or in the stars that choir with joy elate,
Or in the lichen spreading on the wall.3 [Note: Walter C. Smith, Raban.]
The Qualities of Snow
1. The first thing that strikes us about snow is its purity. The snow is white because the tiny crystals of which it is made reflect so much light. So much light is reflected by the snow that it often makes people snow-blind from excess of light.
What is the blackest thing in all the world? Not jet, nor ebony; not the raven’s plume, nor the pupil of an Ethiop’s eye. The blackest thing in all the world is said to be the blight at the heart of a flower when it is just stricken with death. So the blackest thing in the moral universe is sin at the centre of a soul, spreading corruption through the whole nature of man.
What is the reddest thing in the world? Not the glow of the sunrise or of the sunset; not the heart of a ruby. The reddest thing in the world is the stream that flows from the fountain of life. Blood; “the life is in the blood.” The most vivid of all tragedies is that of Calvary. In all the moral universe there is naught that so touches the heart of the race.
What is the whitest thing in the world? The whitest thing in the world is the driven snow, for this is not superficial, but whiteness through and through. In all the moral universe there is nothing so glorious as the whiteness of holiness; the fine linen, clean and white, which is the righteousness of saints.
What is the greatest thing in the world? Love! Ay. Not our love to God, but God’s love to us, manifest in Jesus Christ. The love that holds the hyssop-branch of our frail faith and with it sprinkles the blood upon the soul defiled with the blackness of sin, until it becomes as white as the driven snow. This is the marvellous alchemy of grace. There is forgiveness with God.1 [Note: D. J. Burrell, The Spirit of the Age, 208.]
2. Snow too has a wonderful power. One flake is weak enough, but what can the avalanche and glacier not do? Here is God’s dynamite. In this apparent weakness is the hiding of His strength. The flake that falls into the cleft of the rock, with a few more of its feeble kinsfolk, shall take hold of the roots of the everlasting mountain and tear them asunder. This is God’s way of working. He builds His temple without the sound of hammer or of axe. The sunshine, the atmosphere, the fallen rain—these are His calm potencies. You trample the snowflakes under foot, the children play with them; yet they have within them the possibility of great convulsion. Here are magazines of power. Men work amid demonstration, the shouting of ten thousand voices, the booming of heavy artillery. God’s power is quiet, constant, persistent, infinite, everywhere. So ubiquitous is His omnipotence that men have sometimes taken Force to be their god. When it was desired to blow a ledge of rocks out of New York harbour there were years of preparation—digging of mines, placing of charges, laying of fuses; then the city stood listening; the explosion, the waterspout, and it was done. God rides through the universe in His chariot of Almightiness and its ponderous wheels move as silently as the waving of a butterfly’s wings.
A learned physicist has declared that to produce from the vapour of water a quantity of snowflakes which a child could carry would demand energy competent to gather up the shattered blocks of the largest stone avalanche of the Alps, and pitch them twice the height from which they fell. If a single baby handful require such force for its creation, what power must have been put forth to produce the thick blanketing of snow that lies upon the northland, from mountain-top to valley, during the winter season?1 [Note: H. C. McCook, The Gospel in Nature, 94.]
Writing to his sister in England from Fort Vermilion, Bishop Bompas said: “In your letter I am amused at your regret that you cannot promise me snow and ice in heaven. All I can say is, let us be thankful for it here while we have it, and say, ‘Praise Him, snow and vapours.’ Depend on it there would be a gap in the display in the wonders of God in Nature if this country were left out. Nowhere in Nature is God’s power more forcibly shown, as you will find explained in Job 37 and Psalms 147.”2 [Note: An Apostle of the North: Memoirs of Bishop Bompas, 77.]
Hark! the rushing snow!
The sun-awakened avalanche! whose mass,
Thrice sifted by the storm, had gathered there
Flake after flake, in heaven-defying minds
As thought by thought is piled, till some great truth
Is loosened, and the nations echo round,
Shaken to their roots, as do the mountains now.3 [Note: Shelley, Prometheus Unbound.]
3. Another thing that is worth observing in the snow is the silence of its falling. What should you think of a lace mill in which more than a thousand different patterns of lace were being made? Would you not say that this was a very “treasury of lace”? But if you could find such a mill you would see whirring wheels, grinding gears, humming spindles, great leathern belts, and many men and deft-fingered women at work. You would also expect to see a big, tall chimney to furnish the draught to burn large quantities of coal under the boilers to make the steam, to furnish the power, to drive the gears, belts, spindles, and wheels to make the lace. And then if you should look closely at the lace under a microscope the threads would look as rough as a clothesline. What shall we say of the treasuries of the snow—the silent treasure-house out of which falls, without chimney or belt or wheel or spindle or noise or fuss, most beautiful crystals, which, examined under a microscope, only grow more beautiful—so many kinds that we cannot remember even the names of them all, much less their shape, and so many in number as to cover a vast tract of country a foot deep with them in twelve hours?
The snow had begun in the gloaming,
And busily all the night
Had been heaping field and highway
With a silence deep and white.
Every pine and fir and hemlock
Wore ermine too dear for an earl,
And the poorest twig on the elm-tree
Was ridged inch deep with pearl.
From sheds new-roofed with Carrara
Came Chanticleer’s muffled crow,
The stiff rails softened to swan’s-down,
And still fluttered down the snow.
I stood and watched by the window
The noiseless work of the sky,
And the sudden flurries of snow-birds,
Like brown leaves whirling by.
I thought of a mound in sweet Auburn
Where a little headstone stood;
How the flakes were folding it gently,
As did robins the babes in the wood.
Up spoke our own little Mabel,
Saying, “Father, who makes it snow?”
And I told of the good All-father
Who cares for us here below.
Again I looked at the snow-fall,
And thought of the leaden sky
That arched o’er our first great sorrow,
When that mound was heaped so high.
I remembered the gradual patience
That fell from that cloud like snow,
Flake by flake, healing and hiding
The scar that renewed our woe.
And again to the child I whispered,
“The snow that husheth all,
Darling, the merciful Father
Alone can make it fall!”
Then, with eyes that saw not, I kissed her;
And she, kissing back, could not know
That my kiss was given to her sister,
Folded close under deepening snow.1 [Note: J. R. Lowell, The First Snow Fall.]
The Use of Snow
1. Snow is a warm sheath for the earth. Its very colour is unfavourable to the radiation of heat. It follows that when heavy beds are laid upon the earth they act precisely as do bed-coverings or clothes to the human body. The warmth of the covered soil is kept within itself. Moreover, to some extent the rays of the sun penetrate the snow even when it is of considerable thickness. From these two facts results a third fact; viz. that the upper or surface stratum of the ground, even though it be frozen at the first fall of the snow, is soon thawed out, and does not again fall below the freezing-point during the winter, at least while the snow lasts.
From its loose texture, and from the fact that it contains several times its bulk of air, snow is a very bad conductor of heat. It is ranked with wool among the poorest of conductors, and thus it forms an admirable covering for the ground from the effects of radiation. It is relatively as warm to the earth in its thick enswathement of white packed crystals as is the softest wool to the human body. It has happened not infrequently in times of great cold that the soil is forty degrees warmer than the surface of the overlying snow. These facts will suffice to show the value of the snowy mantle which God sends to the earth during the severe frosts of winter.
In Vermont, for four successive days of one winter, the temperature immediately above the snow was thirteen degrees below zero. Beneath the snow, which was four inches deep, the temperature was nineteen degrees above zero, a difference of thirty-two degrees within four or five inches. Under a drift of snow two feet deep the temperature was twenty-seven degrees above zero, thus making a difference of forty degrees, showing that the soil beneath the snow-beds was from thirty-two to forty degrees higher than the temperature of the air. The value of this fact in preserving the life and vigour of plants is at once apparent. It is for this reason that in the borders and glades of woods and forests violets and other small plants begin to vegetate as soon as the snow has thawed the soil around their roots; and they are not infrequently found in full flower under two or three feet of snow.1 [Note: H. C. McCook, The Gospel in Nature, 100.]
In the Lake Superior region, much colder than our own,—where the snow falls with the first frosts, and stays to the edge of summer,—many of the plants we dig up, and put into our cellars, are left in the ground with perfect safety, because “He giveth snow like wool” to preserve them under its warm fleece. In my readings, I have found many curious records of persons buried under the snow, surviving through long spans of time; but, if a hand or a foot was exposed, that was lost.2 [Note: R. Collyer, Nature and Life, 52.]
Fill soft and deep, O winter snow,
The sweet azalea’s oaken dells,
And hide the bank where roses blow,
And swing the azure bells!
O’erlay the amber violet’s leaves,
The purple aster’s brookside home,
Guard all the flowers her pencil gives
A life beyond their bloom.
And she, when spring comes round again,
By greening slope and singing flood
Shall wander, seeking, not in vain,
Her darlings of the wood.1 [Note: J. G. Whittier, Flowers in Winter.]
2. Snow is a useful fertilizer. It prepares the soil for the uses of man. Every agriculturist recognizes this. Many a sheaf of wheat is a sheaf of reaped snowstorm. Many bushels of golden grain are but snowflakes turned to life in rye and barley. The great wheat-fields must have snow or the substitute for it. It is better than the manure which seizes hold of stubborn clods and dried fields, for it wraps them with its white cloak and makes them warm for spring sowing. It refuses to conduct their heat away. It hides it in radiant silence while it wakes the earth up to its coming possibility. Nothing so relieves a field of the care of a crop, or helps it to forget the scratching of the plough or harrow, or makes it independent of the sun which exhorted it to work, as a heavy snowstorm which hides it from December until April.
The snow is falling softly o’er the plain,
And slowly hiding ’neath a veil of white
The fields that once with flowers were bedight
In days of summer sun and summer rain.
’Tis thus forgetfulness has healed my pain—
By slowly hiding from my inward sight
The dear dead joys that made the past so bright;
And therefore I am happy once again.
Yet e’en this painless peace must have an end;
The sun will melt the snow in happy tears,
And gild the earth with glory as of yore:
So if I meet thee once again, dear Friend,
Thy smile will straightway melt the mists of years,
And all the happy past be ours once more.2 [Note: Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler, Love’s Argument and other Poems, 123.]
3. Snow acts as a stimulus to mind and character. It has been noticed that as in the Tropics, land is fruitful, in snowy countries man is fruitful; as a rule the colder the climate, the more vigorous do we find intellect and character. The strong young races that from time to time have freshened the earth with men have always had a home in some winter land; and nearly all the most precious fruits in the higher departments of life and learning have ripened within the snowline. This just means—does it not?—that it is not a good thing for men that life should be made too easy for them. A certain amount of hardship to be contended with, a certain amount of opposition to be overcome, brings a man out, puts him upon his mettle and develops all his higher faculties. We see this in the matter of climate, in the actual winters and snows that the seasons bring.
It is remarkable that in the thin edge of land between Cincinnati or St. Louis and Chicago there is this difference, that, in the gravest times the nation has ever known, the great ballads, whose influence for good was incalculable,—ballads like the “Battle-cry of Freedom,”—came from the city that is set farthest in the snow. I mention these instances as hints of what I mean by that better blessing in the snow than the contemplation of its starry order and noble uses as it lies on the land. What every healthy man and woman feels, when, after the disheartening rains of the last weeks in the autumn, the first powder of the white blessing falls; and then, as winter deepens, the snow comes in good earnest, and
The whited air
Hides hills and woods, the river and the heaven,
that is the intimation of the difference between the snow present in, and absent from, our life.1 [Note: R. Collyer, Nature and Life, 56.]
The eighteenth year of my ministry in Myrtle Street commences to-day. Through all these seventeen years I have not had one day’s illness. Oh! my God, what a responsibility! I have had trials, severe and awful, especially the irreparable loss of my dear wife. But I think that I can say that these afflictions have been of inestimable service, this last in particular; what self-knowledge, what experience, what a power of sympathy it has produced! I now look upon an untried man as an uneducated man. Of all schools, the school of affliction is that which teaches most effectually.2 [Note: Hugh Stowell Brown, in Life by W. S. Caine, 140.]
Surely it is not true blessedness to be free from sorrow, while there is sorrow and sin in the world; sorrow is then a part of love, and love does not seek to throw it off.1 [Note: George Eliot.]
A cold wind stirs the blackthorn
To burgeon and to blow,
Besprinkling half-green hedges
With flakes and sprays of snow.
Thro’ coldness and thro’ keenness,
Dear hearts, take comfort so:
Somewhere or other doubtless
These make the blackthorn blow.2 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti.]
Bompas (W. C.), Northern Lights on the Bible, 99.
Burrell (D. J.), The Spirit of the Age, 203.
Collyer (R.), Nature and Life, 43.
Gunsaulus (F. W.), Paths to the City of God, 136.
Hind (T.), The Treasures of the Snow, 11.
Jordan (D. A.), Sunday Talks on Nature Topics, 103.
Lambert (J. C.), Three Fishing Boats, 117.
Leader (G. C.), Wanted a Boy, 60.
McCook (H. C.), The Gospel in Nature, 82.
Talmage (T. De Witt), Sermons, v. 311.
Church of England Magazine, lxx. (1871) 285 (Thursfield).
Churchman’s Pulpit: Septuagesima Sunday, lxii. 287 (Perry).
Homiletic Review, lix. 66 (Fry)