In the Gospels the Lord Jesus speaks of knowing the times and the seasons. He compares knowing the times and seasons to the day’s weather from the sunset the night before or the morning’s sunrise. The Bible itself, therefore, appears to support the adage: “Red at night, sailors delight; red in the morning, sailors take warning.” Is there a scientific basis for this saying?
The Gospels record two instances where our Lord referred to adages about the weather that were common in His day and are well known today. The first is from Matthew 16:2-3. He answered and said to them, “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather for the sky is red’; and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the time.”
The second is recorded in Luke 12:54-56:
Then He also said to the multitudes, “When you see a cloud rising out of the west, immediately you say, ‘A shower is coming’; and so it is. And when you see the south wind blow, you say, “There will be hot weather’; and there is. Hypocrites! You can discern the face of the sky and of the earth, but how is it you do not discern this time?
In both of these texts the Lord tried to teach people something they did not understand using something they did understand. The first question is, by citing these statements of weather lore, does the Lord here prove the truth of such statements?
Scripture often offers a quotation without necessarily endorsing words or actions. However, in both of these cases Jesus tells the people that they “know how to discern the face of the sky….” So He is acknowledging the accuracy of these adages.
However, He is acknowledging their accuracy as adages, not as invariable rules. In other words, they are general rules about the weather that are more often than not correct. The Lord Jesus Christ is acknowledging them as such. Neither of these folk sayings is being acknowledged as inerrant rules, since none of Jesus’ listeners understood them as inerrant rules.
The Matthew 16:2-3 adage is, as you note, similar to our modern saying “red at night, sailors delight: red in the morning, sailors take warning.” The meteorological basis for this saying is quite simple. Normally the weather in temperate regions of the northern hemisphere moves from west to east. When the sun sets red in the west it usually means that it is shining through a great deal of dry air, rather than clouds. That dry, cloudless air will more than likely be your weather the next day.
When the sun shines though the mass of clear dry air in the morning, making it red, it usually means you have been having nice weather. More than likely, your chances of rain are going to increase. You will often notice that large areas of clear weather are often followed by a front that is stormy. The period from clear to stormy is often 24-to-36 hours. A red sunrise through yesterday’s clear weather followed by rain at nightfall amounts to about 36 hours of weather.
The Luke 12:54-56 adages cited by the Lord have a solid meteorological basis too. These people lived in the temperate region of the northern hemisphere, where the weather moves from west to east. Experience had taught them that a rising cumulus cloud in the west meant it was likely to rain. This pattern was strongly reinforced in the Holy Land because the Mediterranean, to the west, is a primary source of moisture for rain.
The south wind typically brings warmer weather in the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. Again, this was especially true in the Holy Land because the desert lies to the south.
So all of these old weather adages cited by the Lord have a good scientific basis as general rules of thumb.
However, it is more important that we remember the lesson He was teaching. In both cases, He turns our attention to “the signs of the times.” In Matthew 16:2-3, Jesus identifies Jonah as the sign of the times. This is a reference to His resurrection from the dead. This reference to the signs of the times makes His resurrection the key sign of the times.
Christ is also the center of understanding the signs of the times in Luke 12:54-56. Here, Christ expands the lesson. He shows his listeners that they were unable even to understand how to conduct themselves in the mundane affairs of everyday life.
The main point of these passages for us today is not the accuracy of these weather adages. We, too, must understand the signs of our own times. Christ Himself also stands at the center of our own times. Without this understanding, we miss our Lord’s point.
Evolution has destroyed the foundation of Christianity in the modern church. Even respected teachers may fail to see how evolution destroys the Bible’s message of salvation by saying that there was death before Adam. Christ is left as nothing more than another fallible human religious leader if He was ignorant of the “truth” of claims that the Earth is ancient and death was around long before sin. The New Testament is nothing more than another fallible human writing if it errs by contradicting modern claims that death predates man. And that’s exactly how much of modern Christianity treats the Christian faith today – as one opinion among many!
Can we tell when it will rain or when it will be a nice day? It is of greater importance that we see the signs of the times. And if we understand them, we must involve ourselves in witnessing and promoting God’s truth!