Once, I was working by myself on a project in a classroom at a local college. The room was in the middle of the building with no exterior doors or windows. Suddenly the power went out, not just in my room, but apparently in the whole building. There were no emergency lights so the room was completely dark ……. I mean pitch black dark, no light whatsoever. Just for fun, I held up my hand to see if it was visible……. nope, I couldn’t see anything.
Fortunately, after sitting in the dark for about 20 minutes, the lights came back on. Creepy ……..
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
What Isaiah describes is deep darkness, no light, not a pleasant stroll on the beach in the moonlight or a nighttime walk downtown under the city lights. No this is not fun, it’s debilitating.
The word darkness is used twice in the NIV translation of this verse, but they are not the same words in Hebrew. Isaiah is defining darkness two different ways, both equally hazardous. In the first part of the sentence, the people are “walking in darkness.” The Hebrew word used here for darkness is what you would expect: no light, obscurity. The people have adopted a lifestyle that has been obscured from the light, a careless, fumbling in the dark lifestyle. They have no knowledge of what the world really looks like because they can’t see it.
The second part of the verse refers to those “living in darkness.” Out of their rebelliousness against God, the people have made the darkness their home. The word used for darkness here is the same word used in Psalm 23:4 where David writes, “I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” It is the picture of doom and gloom, a deathlike shadow, a spiritual darkness, a place full of evil. This is a dangerous place to live, in complete separation from God.
But then the morning comes, an awakening; a light dawns on the people. Not just any light, not just a candle or a street light. No, a great light, a light brighter than the sun, so bright you can’t look at it without hurting your eyes.
Note that the action is on the light; the people themselves have done nothing to change their condition. Some translations use the word shines or shone instead of dawn, but either way the original means to illuminate, to enlighten. The light changes what was previously a world of death and darkness into a world of life. Now there is restored sight, now there is freedom to move and live without fear of falling. No longer blinded by the darkness of their hearts, the people are able to see and know God. He has illuminated their world by his love.
Chapter 9 of Isaiah is a well-known prophecy referring to the coming of Christ. It is a reminder that all of us were living in darkness, helpless and hopeless ……….. until the light dawned ……… until Jesus came to illuminate our hearts and minds.
As we approach Christmas Eve, I raise my mug, and I hope you will raise yours with me, to give thanks to God for sending his Son to rescue us from the darkness and illuminate our lives.