In the book of Genesis, we find the first mention of darkness in Scripture. In the record of the Creation, we read in Genesis 1:2–5, “The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. So the evening and the morning were the first day.”
This mention is rather innocuous and does not attribute either good or bad to the state of darkness. However, as we look at the context of dark, darkness, and night as used throughout the Bible, we will quickly come to realize that these terms most commonly connote a state of being—physical and spiritual—that is almost never good. Indeed, even in the text quoted above, although God saw that the light was good, no such attribute was attributed to darkness.
When God was making the promise to Abraham about his inheritance, the Bible says that “an horror of great darkness fell upon him” (Genesis 15:12 KJV). The Spirit of Prophecy explains that this was the means by which God was conveying to Abraham the bondage of Israel in Egypt, and declaring that the time of their sojourning would be four hundred years. Clearly, this was not a good thing. (See Patriarchs and Prophets, 267.)
After the plague of locusts had been stayed, when Pharaoh went back on his commitment to free the Israelites, “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, darkness which may even be felt.’ So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days.” Exodus 10:21, 22. Here, darkness is used as a means of conveying God’s disciplinary action upon an uncooperative subject.
But the next verse provides an interesting detail that should give those who are seeking to do the Lord’s will great hope: “They did not see one another; nor did anyone rise from his place for three days. But all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings.” [Emphasis added.] Verse 23.
Perhaps we can thus assume that even when the judgments of God are falling, the children of Israel will find shelter and safety in obedience. Indeed, the Spirit of Prophecy tells us, “Man’s happiness must always be guarded by the law of God. In obedience only can he find true happiness. The law is the hedge which God has placed about His vineyard. By it those who obey are protected from evil.” The Signs of the Times, June 13, 1900.
Darkness continued to play a role in the exodus of the children of Israel from their Egyptian task masters.
“And the Angel of God, who went before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud went from before them and stood behind them. So it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. Thus it was a cloud and darkness to the one, and it gave light by night to the other, so that the one did not come near the other all that night.” Exodus 14:19, 20.
It could be asserted that this incident shows that the light provided by the word of God becomes darkness to those who refuse to accept it. What is the light of hope and freedom from bondage to one becomes a source of darkness to another.
In the previous examples, darkness is used to connote the displeasure of the Almighty. But later in Exodus, darkness is also used in a completely different context. In Exodus 20, after giving Moses the Decalogue, the Bible says, in Exodus 20:18–21, “Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. Then they said to Moses, ‘You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.’ And Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.’ So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was.”
The Bible also uses darkness as a representation of erroneous thinking and actions. Consider Saul, the first king of Israel. There are few stories in Scripture as tragic as his. He was anointed as the king and at one point even had the gift of prophecy. Yet, we are told in 1 Samuel 28:5–7, “When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by the prophets. Then Saul said to his servants, ‘Find me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.’ And his servants said to him, ‘In fact, there is a woman who is a medium at En Dor.’ ”
We know the disastrous results of Saul’s folly, but his actions are a perfect example of those described in Isaiah 5:20, 21: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!”
Saul had indeed “put darkness for light,” resulting not only in his tragic death but also the death of his three sons. (See I Samuel 31:1–6.)
That humans tend to equate desperate situations with darkness is made clear by Job. In Job 3:3–7, Job laments in very strong terms the fact that he had even been born: “ ‘May the day perish on which I was born, and the night in which it was said, “A male child is conceived.” May that day be darkness; may God above not seek it, nor the light shine upon it. May darkness and the shadow of death claim it; may a cloud settle on it; may the blackness of the day terrify it. As for that night, may darkness seize it; may it not rejoice among the days of the year, may it not come into the number of the months. Oh, may that night be barren! May no joyful shout come into it!’ ”
It is fairly easy to understand Job’s mind-set here. Having lost his ten children, all his livestock, and everything that he owned, then being afflicted “with painful boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head” (Job 2:7), who wouldn’t curse the day of his birth?
The obsession of Job and his three “miserable comforters” with darkness continues throughout the story of his experience. References to the gloom of darkness and night occur over fifty times in his story.
In Psalm 18, David uses darkness in two opposing contexts. In verse 11, he uses it to describe the atmosphere that surrounds God Himself: “He made darkness His secret place; His canopy around Him was dark waters and thick clouds of the skies.” But then, in verse 28, he uses darkness to describe his condition from which God provides enlightenment: “For You will light my lamp; the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness.”
The only positive mentions of darkness in Scripture—texts that speak of darkness in a way that is not negative—are in reference to the atmosphere that surrounds God Himself. Yet there are instances, such as that just cited, in which God, even though He is enshrouded in darkness, dispels the darkness that enshrouds man.
Similar juxtapositions continue throughout the book of Psalms. In 97:2, we read in reference to God, “Clouds and darkness surround Him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.” Then in Psalm 112:4, God is represented as dispelling darkness: “Unto the upright there arises light in the darkness; He is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous.”
In Psalm 143:3, David uses darkness as a representation of the state of the dead, a precursor to his son’s later statement that the dead know nothing; “For the enemy has persecuted my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me dwell in darkness, like those who have long been dead.”
In the second chapter of Proverbs, Scripture equates disobedience with darkness:
“When wisdom enters your heart,
And knowledge is pleasant to your soul,
Discretion will preserve you;
Understanding will keep you,
To deliver you from the way of evil,
From the man who speaks perverse things,
From those who leave the paths of uprightness
To walk in the ways of darkness;
Who rejoice in doing evil,
And delight in the perversity of the wicked;
Whose ways are crooked,
And who are devious in their paths;
To deliver you from the immoral woman,
From the seductress who flatters with her words,
Who forsakes the companion of her youth,
And forgets the covenant of her God.”
This passage takes on a much deeper meaning when we remember that a woman in Scripture is a symbol for the church. Here Scripture clearly speaks of a church that has forgotten “the covenant of her God.” Determining which church that is makes for an interesting and controversial study.
That the path of disobedience is a path devoid of light is confirmed in Proverbs 4:19: “The way of the wicked is like darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.”
There are many other references in Scripture to darkness that make it abundantly clear that the path of disobedience is a path of darkness—far too many to cover completely in the limited space of this treatment. Although we have these warnings as examples that “were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (I Corinthians 10:11), we also have great hope from these same examples.
Quite early in Jesus’ ministry, He worked to dispel the darkness that had spread throughout the kingdom of Israel.
Matthew 4 provides a sequence of Jesus’ activities immediately following his forty-day wilderness experience and of Satan’s subsequent efforts to tempt Him. There we are told that after the angels ministered to Him, having heard of John’s imprisonment, “He departed to Galilee. And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: ‘The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.’ From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ ” Verses 12–17.
Scripture makes it clear that “if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29), that “the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Galatians 3:22). Therefore the children of modern Israel have every right to expect that they will recognize the nearness of the time. In fact, we are told in I Thessalonians 5:4–6, “But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober.”
It is essential to note that there is a significant degree of personal responsibility in this promise. We cannot sleep. We are to “watch and be sober.”
There is a wonderful promise provided in Isaiah that gives the children of Israel great hope. “I will bring the blind by a way they did not know; I will lead them in paths they have not known. I will make darkness light before them, and crooked places straight. These things I will do for them, and not forsake them” (Isaiah 42:16).
With this promise in mind, there is no need for children of the King to be afraid of the dark. So long as those children embrace the light that streams so radiantly from God’s word, they can be assured that God will “make darkness light before them,” and that the path “shines ever brighter unto the perfect day” (Proverbs 4:18).
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)
John Pearson is the office manager and a board member of Steps to Life. After retiring as chief financial officer for the Grand Canyon Association, Grand Canyon, Arizona, he moved to Wichita, Kansas, to join the Steps team. He may be contacted by email at: email@example.com.