Whirlwind in the wilderness

Sand auger. Willy-Willy. Dust devil. Many modern names are used to describe these fair-weather twisters. Hot air rises through cooler air and if conditions are right, begins to spin. More hot air on the ground rushes into the void and is flung skyward. In this way, the dust devil begins to writhe and dance. It lacks the size and velocity of its cousin -- the storm-birthed tornado -- but is not entirely feckless (compare maximum wind speeds of 40 mph for the dust devil vs 100 - 300 mph for a tornado!).

One wonders which, if any of the storm-vocabulary of the Hebrew Bible refers to the dust devil. Chariot-wheels spin like a sufah (Isa 5:28). The nations flee and disappear like sufah-driven dust (Isa 17:13). On the other hand, a sa'arah lifted Elijah into the sky (2 Kgs 2:11) and was featured as God's power-point when he spoke at the end of the book of Job (38:1). Finally, we shouldn't forget that the People of God were led through the wilderness by a "pillar of cloud" ('amud 'anan) that had the ability to start, stop, and hover.

This dust devil crossed the road in front of our van. We didn't follow it. We were driving in the southern desert of Israel near the site of Arad.