2.2 Darkness & Light: Questions vs. Answers
Volume 2: Studies in Contrast—Chapter 2
Darkness & Light: Questions vs. Answers
In a way, the scriptural contrast between darkness and light is equivalent—or at least parallel—to what we just examined, the movement from chaos toward order. Indeed, the condition that accompanied the formlessness and emptiness (tohu and bohu) of the initial creation was darkness. So the first thing Yahweh addressed in His shaping of the primeval universe for our benefit was the creation of light. “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.” The very first event in God’s process of separation—read: holiness—was that of light from darkness. “God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day.” (Genesis 1:3-5)
Since God went to all the trouble to define His terms, so should we. “Day” is the word yom—which is just as broad in Hebrew as the English word we use to render it (a fact that has gotten many a Bible expositor into trouble). It’s based on an unused Hebrew root meaning “to be hot.” In actual usage, yom can mean (1) a 24-hour day, i.e., one revolution of the earth in relation to the sun, (2) the period of light, as opposed to nighttime, (3) a generalized period of time, such as a “day of trouble,” (4) a specific division of time, such as one’s work day or a day’s journey, and (5) a point in time. Thus to insist, as some do, that the six “days” of creation in Genesis 1 encompassed only six 24-hour earth days (the first two of which happened before our solar system was even formed), or that the “Day of the LORD” (correctly rendered “the Day of Yahweh”) must be accomplished in one solar day, are indefensible positions.
“Night” is the Hebrew layil, meaning nighttime as opposed to daytime; gloom or shadow—the lack of light. As we proceed, we’re going to see that “night” is a symbol for the condition of godlessness. For pagan sun-worshipping peoples, this was taken quite literally, and it was a serious problem. Their “god,” the sun, disappeared every night, conquered, as it were, by the darkness. The ninth plague of Egypt was three days of darkness—demonstrating to them that Yahweh was more powerful than the top deity in the Egyptian pantheon, Ra, the “sun god.” And the same thing will happen during the Tribulation, when darkness will fall upon the kingdom of the Antichrist (see Revelation 16:10—the fifth bowl judgment). Putting the symbol aside for a moment, we should note that Yahweh is not “afraid of the dark.” He is master over the night as He is the day—darkness and light both are His creation. “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to You; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with You.” (Psalm 139:11-12) Yahweh, as I keep saying, is holy—He is separate, outside, beyond His own handiwork. Darkness, like chaos, is not a problem for our God, but merely a means to express where we were, so we might better understand where we can be. He teaches us through contrasts: without darkness, we wouldn’t recognize light when we saw it.
The word translated “darkness” is choshek—darkness, lack of light, obscurity, thus figuratively, terror, ignorance, sadness, confusion, or evil. A yom choshek (“day of darkness,” as in Job 15:23) is a time of distress. It is often characterized as a curse or judgment in scripture. For example: “Give glory to Yahweh your God before He brings darkness, before your feet stumble on the twilight mountains, and while you look for light He turns it into gloom and makes it deep darkness.” (Jeremiah 13:16)
The terms “evening” and “morning” both refer to times of transition. “Evening” is ‘ereb, based on the root verb (‘arab) meaning “to grow dark.” (I’m not making this stuff up, I swear.) It denotes sunset, evening, night—the time of the setting of the sun, of moving from a period of light to that of darkness.
Boqer—“morning”—is just the opposite: it means the break of day, sunrise, the end of night. It’s based on a root verb (baqar) meaning to seek, enquire, consider, or reflect. So moving from ‘ereb to boqer is a picture of the transition from chaos to order, of obscurity to enlightenment, of ignorance to answers. I think it’s a safe bet that this is the direction Yahweh wants to see us moving—out of darkness, into the light; out of ignorance, into understanding.
“Light,” by the way, is the Hebrew ‘owr. This is the generalized word for light, regardless of its source—the sun (especially the dawn—sunrise), moon, stars, lamps, even lightning. Figuratively, it is applied to the “light” of life, health, happiness, prosperity, instruction, enlightened judgment, and to Yahweh Himself as Israel’s light source. It is no accident that light in scripture, as a symbol, is to be preferred over darkness. Nor is it accidental that the great counterfeit, our adversary who disguises himself as an “angel of light,” is called helel (light bearer, translated Lucifer) in the one place in scripture that “names” him (though it’s still more of a description than a name—Isaiah 14:12). It’s based on the versatile verb halal: to shine, praise, boast, or make a fool of oneself. It’s as if Yahweh is asking us to decide for ourselves what Satan’s name really means.
Back in Genesis, we see light coming into play again on the fourth “day” of creation: “Then God said, ‘Let there be lights in the firmament [i.e., expanse] of the heavens to divide the day from the night.” There we go again with the division of one thing from another: God is teaching us how to be holy. “And let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth’; and it was so….” Here’s another example of how precise Yahweh is in His communication to us—telling us exactly what we need to know while avoiding the falsehood and inaccuracy that permeates the texts of manmade religions. He says He put the lights in the expanse, and He told us how we were supposed to make use of them—to keep track of time in the short term (days), mid-term (seasons), and long term (years). But He didn’t even hint that the “lights” were all there was to it. As I explained above, we’ve learned that what we can see in the night sky comprises only about four percent of what’s actually out there. The rest is either dark matter or dark energy—something we can’t see but know is there because of its effects on “light” objects we can see. (What was it Job said about Yahweh “stretching out His hidden treasure over empty space” and “hanging the earth on nothing”?)
“Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also. God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. So the evening and the morning were the fourth day." (Genesis 1:14-19) It’s a fine point to be sure, but Yahweh didn’t actually describe the sun and moon as “lights,” i.e., owr. The word here is ma’owr, which is more correctly translated “luminaries.” God didn’t want his people looking up into the sky and thinking the sun and moon were the sources of light, and thus worthy of their adoration. He is the source of light, after all. The suffix ma is an interrogative pronoun making the word it modifies a question, of sorts. It means what, who, whatever, how, why, or wherefore—it’s the all-purpose query (and the word upon which the name of the mysterious “bread from heaven,” manna, was based). It’s as if Yahweh wanted His children to question and contemplate the source of those big, bright lights every time they looked up into the sky—Who put them there? How awesome must He be?
John answered both these questions in one succinct statement: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through H im, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5) The “Word,” of course, is Yahshua the Messiah, who, though fully human, shares identity with the Creator, Yahweh—they’re the same Person. So, although it boggles the mind, the One who created light was the light; the One who separated light from darkness in the primeval universe continues that process in the lives of men. It’s the ultimate spiritual expression of the first law of thermodynamics (the conservation of matter and energy): the Light appears in different forms, but its (or should I say, His) existence is constant, unwavering, and eternal.
The prophets saw this coming. Isaiah reports, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.” (Isaiah 9:2) That’s the inspiring bottom line. But what’s stunning is that the verses leading up to this revelation pinpoint who the “Light” is, and identify the reason for the “ deep darkness” as well. After complaining that the people wanted him to “inquire of the mediums and wizards” instead of turning to the Living God and heeding His revealed instructions, Isaiah retorts, “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” In other words, the Torah and Prophets would reveal the source of light. “They will pass through it hard-pressed and hungry; and it shall happen, when they are hungry, that they will be enraged and curse their king and their God, and look upward. Then they will look to the earth, and see trouble and darkness, gloom of anguish; and they will be driven into darkness.” Any alternative to that which is revealed in God’s law will result in spiritual hunger, frustration, anguish, and darkness of soul. “Nevertheless the gloom will not be upon her who is distressed, as when at first He lightly esteemed the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward more heavily oppressed her, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, in Galilee of the Gentiles.” (Isaiah 8:20-9:1) Only now does the prophet reveal the remarkable transformation from darkness to light that we read above: these people will see a great light.
Who was associated with these places? Yahshua grew up in the town of Nazareth—that’s in the territory settled by Zebulun. He ministered primarily in the towns of Northern Galilee; that’s in—you guessed it—Naphtali. “By the way of the sea?” Not only did Yahshua’s ministry focus on the people living near the Sea of Galilee, He ministered as well to the multitude from Tyre and Sidon, the premier seaport cities of the eastern Mediterranean (see Luke 6:17). And what about “beyond the Jordan?” Yahshua was baptized there by John the Baptist (see John 1:28) and later ministered in Decapolis (remember the demoniac of Gadara? See Luke 8:26-40) and Perea (John 10:40), both on the eastern side of the Jordan River. Remember, Isaiah is identifying where the people should be looking in order to “see a great light.” You might expect the Savior to show up in Jerusalem, but these places the prophet singled out? Not likely. But what was the misinformed complaint of Christ’s detractors? “They answered…Search and look, for no prophet has arisen out of Galilee.” (John 7:52) Really? Isaiah would beg to differ.
So Yahshua, in direct fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, announced the bottom line: “Jesus cried out and said, ‘Whoever believes in Me, believes not in Me but in Him who sent Me. And whoever sees Me sees Him who sent Me.” Remember, Isaiah had directed them to go back to “the Law and the testimony,” for these things would reveal the “great light” that was to be seen by people living in darkness. That light was Yahshua Himself: “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in Me may not remain in darkness.” (John 12:44-46) If we can grasp the fact that Yahshua was indeed Yahweh’s human manifestation (and not just another prophet, preacher, or rabbi) then this statement makes perfect sense. But if He was not God incarnate, it would brand Him as the worst sort of lunatic—one who claims for himself the honor reserved for deity alone—a blatant violation of the First Commandment. There is no middle ground.
It’s one thing to claim to have come “as light,” of course, and something else entirely to prove it. Again, it was the prophet Isaiah who provided the litmus test: providing sight to the blind. Speaking in the Messiah’s voice, he writes, “And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground.” (Isaiah 42:16) Spiritually and figuratively, all of us who follow Yahshua have experienced this transformation. But the Messiah literally cured the blind as well. One such story is related in John 9, where a man born blind was given his sight. Before He cured him, Yahshua announced, “We must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:4-5) Yahshua knew He would have only a brief window of opportunity in which to personally demonstrate God’s power among men. Healing physical blindness during His sojourn was to be a metaphor for providing spiritual light from that time onward. Bringing sight to the blind was to serve as a parable representing our deliverance out of spiritual darkness.
Bringing and being light were common themes for Yahshua: “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” (John 8:12) And amazingly, it doesn’t stop with Him. If we, through Him, have received the “light of life,” then we too have become beacons to the world, for Christ’s light shines through us. It follows that “You [believers] are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16) We’ve all heard the exclamation “Hallelujah!” It’s a compound of two Hebrew words, halal (to praise or shine) and Yah—the short form of Yahweh. In other words, it means “Praise Yahweh” or “Shine forth Yahweh’s light.” That’s precisely what we’re doing when we, through Yahshua, become the “light of the world.” The admonition here is to not conceal God’s light shining within us, but rather to let the world see it openly. We make our salvation obvious to those we meet by exhibiting love and doing good works on their behalf—the very crux of the Torah.
Our works and our walk say a lot about who we are—and whose we are. Yahshua told His disciples, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” (John 11:9-10) He said this in reference to doing the right thing—because it’s the right thing—regardless of the consequences. (The context is His determination to go and raise His friend Lazarus from the dead, even though there were people there who were seeking to kill Him.) We “stumble”—that is, we fail to achieve perfection (otherwise known as sinning)—when we walk according to our own “lights,” our own wisdom and opinion. The true light—that by which we can negotiate the path and avoid the pitfalls of the world—is Yahshua. Again, we see Him stressing the urgency of the situation: we can only see where we’re going while it is daylight. What He didn’t say (not here, anyway) is that the sun is about to set on our world.
John points out these same truths, but he takes it one step further: “This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” This much we’ve heard before: to walk with Christ is to walk in the light. But it’s all too easy to deceive ourselves into thinking that we’re “walking in the light” merely because we think our doctrinal position is unassailable, our religious credentials are impeccable, or our behavior is acceptable in polite society. John notes that there is a touchstone we must use to determine whether the light in which we walk is genuine or not: it’s fellowship—not with God this time, but with each another.“But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (I John 1:5-7) “Fellowship” is the Greek word koinonia—association, community, participation, and intimacy—in this case, with others who, like you, rely upon “the blood of Yahshua for cleansing from all sin.” Koinonia is the matrix in which one’s love can be brought to the surface. It doesn’t mean compromise—finding some spiritual lowest common denominator. But it does entail some potentially uncomfortable contact with folks.
On the one hand, you may feel unworthy—that you’ve screwed up so badly you have no right to “fellowship” with all those pious, god-fearing folk. I’ll let you in on a little secret: those folks may be better at hiding it than you are, but they’re sinners too. They’re saved by faith in the atoning power of Yahshua’s blood, if they’re saved at all. (And if they’re walking in the light, they’ll be the first to admit it.) On the other hand, you may be refusing to fellowship with other believers because they (the people who are fellowshipping together) aren’t yet perfect. They don’t all hold precisely the same doctrinal position you do (though admit it: yours is somewhat different from what it was five years ago, isn’t it?). They don’t know the scriptures backward and forward. They still fall into sin now and then. They’re hypocrites. They dress funny. They meet for worship on what you’ve determined is the wrong day of the week. You don’t like their style of music. The list of objections—even valid ones—can go on ad infinitum. Only one thing is certain: if you ever did find the “perfect” fellowship, when you joined them you’d change the dynamic—ergo, it would no longer be perfect.
You’ll note that I didn’t use the word “church” in there anywhere, nor did John. We believers are the ekklesia—Yahshua’s called-out assembly. But the “church” today is a very different concept than that which we ordinarily associate with the Greek word so translated. “Having fellowship with one another” needn’t necessarily manifest itself in American-style worship services, though it can and often does. John’s point, I believe, is merely that we who are walking in Yahshua’s light need to seek out and associate with others who are also indwelled with Yahweh’s Spirit—whose light is within them. The problem (for some) is that God’s scriptures are so deep, once you’ve become familiar with them you may have trouble finding anyone who agrees with you on everything. But that must not prevent you from enjoying intimate fellowship with other believers. We are all part of the same body, but that doesn’t mean we all have to be capable of doing the same things. If you get dust in your eyes, your whole body is going to have trouble seeing where it’s going. Or as Yahshua put it, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23.) If you break a bone, compromise a kidney, or infect your appendix, believe me, your whole body is going to feel it. We’re all in this together. In a healthy body, the brain isn’t too proud to fellowship with the intestines, and the kneecap isn’t ashamed of being beneath the heart. They all enjoy koinonia. We should too.
Yahshua was—and will be again—Yahweh’s Light personified among us. But our Messiah needn’t be physically present for God to illuminate our souls. In this age, we have His Word and His Holy Spirit to guide us on the path. We have but to follow this light. Solomon spoke of following God’s light when defending oneself against idolatry (characterized as an adulterous woman): “My son, keep your father’s [read: Yahweh’s] commandment, and forsake not your mother’s [read: the Spirit’s] teaching. Bind them on your heart always; tie them around your neck. When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you. For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life.” (Proverbs 6:20-23) It may seem odd, but God won’t force us to “see the light.” The choice as to whether we’ll pursue Yahweh’s truth is ours to make (though He implores us to choose wisely). Yes, God’s precepts are “commandments.” We are instructed to “do them.” But a commandment (Hebrew: mitzvah) spells out the conditions of a covenant. Consequences are implied—blessings for compliance and curses for violation. These consequences are seldom proactive punishments from the hand of God, however. Rather, they are the natural outcome of pursuing an errant course of action. When our parents commanded us, saying “Don’t touch that—it’s hot,” they weren’t doing it to impose their will upon us, curtail our freedoms, or grasp power for themselves, but merely to save us from unnecessary pain. If we chose to disregard their commandment, we burned our disobedient little fingers.
Knowledge gained through obedience (rather than through painful experience) is characterized as “light.” (Light and heat aren’t necessarily the same thing, are they, boys and girls?) Some of us learn the easy way, some the hard way, and some of us never learn at all, remaining in self-imposed darkness. While life remains, however, light is always available. Isaiah says: “Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of Yahweh and rely on his God.” Walking in Yahweh’s light is the only sure way to prevent stumbling over obstacles hidden in the darkness. But we are a rebellious race. Even though we intuitively sense that we need light in order to see, we all too often reject the source of the true light. Instead of choosing to walk in broad daylight, we prefer anemic alternatives—candles or flashlights in the dead of night. So Yahweh warns us: “Behold, all you who kindle a fire, who equip yourselves with burning torches! Walk by the light of your fire, and by the torches that you have kindled! This you have from My hand: you shall lie down in torment.” (Isaiah 50:10-11) If you choose your own path and illuminate your way with falsehood and irrelevance, you will fall down. We have His word on that.
None of us takes full advantage of the light Yahweh offers us in the world. Even we who “walk in the light” don’t see everything it reveals. But even if we did realize our full perceptive potential, the vision we would enjoy as mortals is but a dim shadow of what Yahweh has in store for us in the eternal state. Paul put it like this: “Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (I Corinthians 13:8-12) What is the key to attaining 20/20 spiritual vision? It’s love. In a world of partial comprehension, of dimly understood truth, we await that which is “perfect”—the Greek teleios—brought to an end, finished, completed, perfected, or fully mature. Once again, we are being reminded of the process of our redemption under God’s plan, the progress He has ordained: from chaos to order, from darkness to light, from mortal frailty to immortal glory. Yes, we’re still in the tunnel of our fallen state, but at least now we can see the light at the end of that tunnel.
So because we admittedly don’t have perfect spiritual vision—yet—we are admonished not to be too dogmatic in our pronouncements—and our denunciations—in this life. Yes, we are to be discerning and judicious in the light of Yahweh’s revealed truth, but we aren’t to be prideful in our use of what little knowledge we possess. “Do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.” (I Corinthians 4:5) Don’t use scripture as a club with which to beat your less-enlightened brother over the head. Don’t declare that because your interpretation is correct, everybody else must be in error. Don’t be too quick to label your brother a heretic. How many honest followers of the Messiah have been burned at the stake (whether figuratively or literally) by people who knew they were right? The light by which we walk is getting progressively stronger, but we don’t have all the answers yet. An example: I used to call the Messiah Jesus. Now I call Him Yahshua. Some call Him Yeshua. For all I know, His real name might have been Yahowshuwa. I care about being right, but I can’t be sure I am, nor am I willing to “pronounce judgment” against my brother who holds a different opinion. When I stand in the King’s presence at last, however, I’ll know what His name is. I won’t even have to ask.
You’d think everybody would be eagerly anticipating the unfettered spiritual awareness that awaits. But remember, we live in a dispensation of free will, and some—most, truth be told—have chosen to live in the darkness. The light of God’s truth hurts their eyes, so they block out as much of it as they can. Because we are all equipped with consciences, ungodly men are uncomfortable having their deeds and motivations revealed in the light of day: whether they’ll admit it or not, they know the difference between right and wrong (for the most part). The shame of having chosen to do wrong is something they’d rather not have brought to light. So they keep the spiritual curtains drawn.
As always, separation, division, and contrast is implied. Either one receives the testimony of God and nature, or he does not. Either he chooses to live in the light, or he elects to remain in darkness. So Yahshua informed Nicodemus: “This is the judgment [that is, the krisis, the basis of separation, selection, or judicial decision]: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been carried out in God.” (John 3:19-21) In context, you’ll recall, this conversation revealed the central determining factor separating light from darkness in our lives: being born from above in Yahweh’s Spirit, resulting from a trusting reliance in the atoning sacrifice of Yahshua the Messiah. Those who have the Spirit have life, but those who don’t are “already condemned” (verse 18). That is, they’re in a de facto state of separation from God.
Although it’s subtle in scripture, God draws a distinction between those who are merely “separated” from God and those who proactively war against Him, doing what they can to prevent others from following the light that beckons. Paul points out two very important facts about this second group. First, God isn’t going to allow them to suppress the truth forever, for doing so makes it harder for honest searchers to find their way: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” And second, there is no valid excuse for having rejected God’s truth, for nature itself proclaims His power, if not His love, in unmistakable terms. “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Romans 1:18-21) If you can look at the starry sky, hold a newborn baby, experience a thunderstorm, or smell a rose in bloom, and not know there’s a God, there’s something wrong with you. But if you go out of your way to publically deny that fact, if you deliberately obfuscate the truth and hide it from your fellow man in an attempt to conceal your own unrighteousness, then the anger of the God you say isn’t there will be made known to you in real—and unambiguous—terms.
It is this darkness of heart that the Great Commission was designed to overcome. We are instructed to be witnesses of the things we have seen, the things that have transformed our lives, for the power of Yahweh can and will transform the lives of others, if only we will share the good news of what has happened to us. Witnesses, by definition, present a choice: you may believe them or reject their testimony. But it is illogical in the extreme for a blind man to deny the testimony of an eyewitness. He can’t legitimately claim, “Since I didn’t see what you claim to have witnessed, it can’t be true.” Those who dwell in darkness must take their hopelessness on faith, whereas we who live “by faith” in the light are, ironically enough, walking by sight: we can honestly and accurately describe what we’ve seen with our own two eyes. (There are some things believers must “take on faith,” of course, but the reality of God’s love is not one of them.)
Those who consciously and purposely reject God’s word and our eyewitness testimony concerning it—those who claim to be walking according to their own light—are risking being stricken blind by the very God whom they’ve refused to see. Don’t believe me? “If you will not obey the voice of Yahweh your God or be careful to do all his commandments…Yahweh will strike you with madness and blindness and confusion of mind, and you shall grope at noonday, as the blind grope in darkness, and you shall not prosper in your ways.” (Deuteronomy 28:15, 28-29) “They know not, nor do they discern, for He has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment….A deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, ‘Is there not a lie in my right hand?’” (Isaiah 44:18-20) “Astonish yourselves and be astonished; blind yourselves and be blind! Be drunk, but not with wine; stagger, but not with strong drink! For Yahweh has poured out upon you a spirit of deep sleep, and has closed your eyes (the prophets), and covered your heads (the seers).” (Isaiah 29:9-10) “None of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand.” (Daniel 12:10) Ouch!
Paul (who, paradoxically enough, had to be struck blind in order to see the light) was given his own “personalized” version of the Great Commission’s instructions. This is how he later recounted what had happened: “And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen Me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.’” (Acts 26:15-18) Up until this moment, Paul had been “doing what seemed right in his own eyes,” that is, walking according to the light of the torch he himself had lit (as it was expressed in the Isaiah 50 passage we saw above). Now he had to make a choice. He could continue walking according to his own light; he could pull a “Jonah” and run away from his calling (which admittedly didn’t work out so well for Mr. Fish-puke); or he could change his mind and his direction and walk according to Yahweh’s light. I would submit to you that we all face the same choices, if not the same degree of specificity.
The Bible is full of advice, directions, instructions, and commandments. Moving from darkness into light is not only a well-established principle of God’s intentions for us, it is something we are told to do—we have a part to play in this. Yahweh will not force us to live in the light any more than a loving mother will keep her children locked up to prevent them from encountering things that could potentially harm them. God, like our parents, watchfully allows us to explore our world, protecting us from what we can’t control, and admonishing us about what we can. As our world expands, so do our responsibilities; as we mature as believers, the choices we face become more and more complex. Toddlers and teenagers face very different challenges, but they all have to operate according to the light that is available to them—the source of wisdom in their lives, whether instruction or experience.
So although it may seem like an obvious thing to say, we are admonished to live in light rather than in darkness. Paul put it like this: “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things [in context, fornication, uncleanness, covetousness, filthiness, foolish talk, and coarse jesting—things characterized as “darkness”] the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not associate with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” There once again is the transformation we keep talking about. Note that we are not just in darkness or light, but we are said to actually be these things. That should be a sobering thought: how we comport ourselves has a direct effect on other people. “Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord...” And how can we do that? By heeding His word, by making His scriptures a “lamp to our feet, and a light to our path.”
“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.” (Ephesians 5:6-13) “Exposing” the works of darkness is a poor translation here. The word is elegcho, meaning to refute, reprove, find fault with, convict, chide, or admonish. The idea isn’t so much to bring other peoples’ faults to light—to be a witch-hunting whistle blower exposing the sins of others—but to simply point out that the evil things they do are indeed wrong. If ever there was a bit of sound advice aimed at our tepid, politically correct society, this is it.
I’ll give you a couple of timely examples of what it is to “expose” the works of darkness. First, Yahweh has unequivocally declared homosexuality to be sin. See Leviticus 18:22, if you don’t believe me. He considers it an abomination, right up there with rape and bestiality, worthy under the Torah of the death penalty. The world, meanwhile, insists that we must not only tolerate the practice, we should support it, promote it, and call it “normal.” Paul points out that doing so is tantamount to “taking part in the unfruitful works of darkness.” We are not to ignore the reality of God’s revealed truth. To do so is as dangerous as ignoring an active tumor. Our job, however, is not to accuse people of being homosexuals; after all, the choice is theirs to make. Our job is merely to point out Yahweh’s position on the matter, for as Hosea pointed out, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” (Hosea 4:6)
A second example: people these days are falling all over themselves defending Islam as “peaceful religion,” but one that has within it some violent fringe terrorist elements. Nothing could be further from the truth. The religion itself is violent and repressive to the core. But don’t take my word for it: take theirs. The Muslim “holy scriptures” are comprised of four principle works: (1) the Qur’an (supposedly the very word of Allah), (2) the Hadith (or “Sayings of the Prophet”) collected by al-Bukhari, and (3) the biographies, or Sunnah (i.e., “example”) of Muhammad, the earliest of which was written by Ibn Ishaq (of which only the version edited many years later by Ibn Hisham survives). A later biography (4) by al-Tabari is particularly valuable—and damning—because it retains much of what Ibn Hisham edited out. The Hadith and Sunnah are essential to Islam because the Qur’an is incomprehensible without the background, commentary, and timeline they provide. In fact, Islamic law has no basis in the Qur’an without the support it derives from Muhammad’s recorded words and deeds. All of these writings uniformly present Islam as a religion based on and driven by jihad—“holy fighting in Allah’s cause” (something never defined as a mere “spiritual struggle” in the Islamic scripture. Jihad is said to be the only sure way for a Muslim to merit paradise. But what of all those “peace-loving” Muslims to which the media keeps referring? They do exist—in fact, they’re still in the majority (so far). But according to the Islamic scriptures, they’re not really Muslims. No, those “Muslims” who preferred to live peaceably and avoid bloodshed were the first to earn the scathing condemnation of “Allah and his Prophet.” They were called “hypocrites,” assigned as prime targets in this life by Muhammad’s jihad fighters, and then consigned to the hottest fires of Allah’s hell (see the Qur’an, surah 9). We need to call a spade a spade: Islam is an evil, warlike political doctrine, driven by terror and greed. The vast majority of Muslims are actually victims of their own dark religion—with neither the prospect of escape in this world, nor the hope of salvation in the next.
The point of all that was that we can’t shine the light of God’s truth on a dark world if we don’t have His light within us ourselves. We can’t differentiate “the unfruitful works of darkness” from “the fruit of light, found in all that is good and right and true” if we haven’t first left the darkness behind. Peter contrasts the “before” and “after” of our redemption: “They [those who are disobedient to Yahweh’s calling] stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.” Note that nobody is destined (or predestined) to disobey the word. But having disobeyed, they are destined to stumble because of their defiance. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (I Peter 2:8-10) The transformation, he says, is defined by leaving the darkness (being “called out” of it, which is what ekklesia—translated “church”—means) and entering the light. And that’s not the only paradigm that’s shifting: we were once estranged; now we are chosen. We were once unable to communicate with God; now we are His priests, enjoying unfettered access into His presence. We were once lost, scattered, and isolated; now we are a unified nation, set apart from the world for His honor. We were once under the condemnation of our separation from God; now we have been acquitted, justified, and restored to fellowship with Him.
This transformation is a completed fact, but it is also an ongoing process. We’re still mortal. We’re still living in bodies that are, for all their marvelous engineering, still vulnerable—physically and spiritually. If walking in the light means keeping our eyes open so we can proceed according to God’s will, then we need to be aware of our own limitations. It’s like driving a car. We blink, momentarily taking our eyes off the goal. We daydream, allowing things we can’t even see to impede our vision and distract us from the task at hand. And sometimes we even fall asleep at the wheel, crashing and burning in spectacular confirmation of our own fallen humanity. That’s why the Word of God is full of commandments: they’re the lights and gauges on our dashboard, the signs and signals along the roadway, the onboard GPS system (or in my case, the map in the glove box). They’re there to keep us alert, guide us toward our destination, warn us of danger, and inform us as to our progress, or at least tell us where we’ve gone wrong. If we don’t use the eyes God gave us, we will never complete the journey.
John too speaks of our transition from darkness to light: “The darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” (I John 2:8-11) Where Peter defined “darkness” as “disobedience to the Word,” and Paul spoke of its “unfruitful works,” John is a bit more specific: darkness is hatred, a failure to love. (Remember, Yahshua Himself defined the greatest commandments of the Torah as loving Yahweh and loving one’s neighbor.) If we hate people (not what they do, mind you, but they themselves) then we are, by definition, not walking in God’s light, for God is love.
This is where it gets tricky, however, for as a practical matter, we often don’t have a very good handle on what love is, or how best to express it. A few pages back, we drew a distinction between liberty and license, and I used the illustration of how parents try to keep their children from hurting themselves. In this context, liberty (love) is instructing them not to touch hot things or run around with pointy scissors, whereas license (hate) would be to let them find out the hard way how injurious these hazards can be. (Brute force, on either end of the spectrum, is also indicative of hatred: love is neither chaining up your child in a closet to keep him from encountering danger, nor purposely burning or cutting him just so he’ll know to avoid those hazards in the future—thank you, Captain Obvious). No, the only loving course of action open to a parent is to provide liberty with guidance.
So how does this principle work in practice with people in our sphere of influence? As we saw above, part of it is recognizing sin for what it is: sin. Of course, lots of things that go on in our society—murder, rape, illicit drug abuse, theft—are universally recognized (even by those who do them) as being evil. But there is a whole cross current of behaviors condemned in scripture that are “winked at” or even approved of today: cultivating covetousness, sex between consenting unmarried adults, cheating on one’s responsibilities and obligations, abortion as retroactive birth control, legal drug or alcohol abuse—the list could go on forever. We have built our entire civilization around such things as greed, lust, and pride. We have made it the height of political incorrectness to honor and revere the One True God, Yahweh, in our public institutions, for fear of offending people who serve false gods.
What, then, can a believer do in light of our societal predicament to foster godly liberty in love? Refuse to participate. When confronted with the opportunity to cheat, don’t. Think long and hard before borrowing—for anything. Dress modestly. Keep your word, even if it’s only implied. Don’t use wealth as a pedestal for pride. Don’t use poverty as an excuse to steal. Forgive sinners, but don’t excuse sin. Lead by godly example, whether or not anyone follows. You may not be able to change the world, but you don’t have to agree with it, either. You may have to live in Babylon; you don’t have to join the country club.
The other side of loving your brother is, of course, contained in Christ’s parable on the “Good Samaritan.” Not only are we to refrain from committing proactive acts of evil ourselves, we are to personally do what we can to aid those we meet who have fallen afoul of the world’s malevolence. It would be easy to twist this into an argument for “social justice,” a government-imposed system of raids and rewards designed to level the playing field, but that would have been like “the priest and the Levite” in the parable (the ones who selfishly refused to help the stricken man themselves) coming back, holding the Samaritan at gunpoint, and forcing him to do what his conscience was telling him to do anyway. The point of Yahshua’s story was that we are to do what’s right because it’s the right thing to do. If it’s not voluntary, it’s not really love.
In what may at first sound like a challenge to this, Paul advises us, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols?” (II Corinthians 6:14-16) To be “yoked” together is to work toward the same goal, to share the same agenda—it’s walking in the same direction, pulling the same plow. Believers and unbelievers are by definition oriented toward different goals. But does showing love toward someone (as we are commanded to do) constitute being “yoked” together with them? No, it doesn’t. Quite the opposite, in fact. We are instructed in scripture, “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and Yahweh will reward you.” (Proverbs 25:21-22) To rewrite the bumper sticker, “Love them all, and let God sort it out.”
This may all sound a bit counterintuitive. After all, the world’s largest religions (most notably, Islam) uniformly insist that their adherents are supposed to do their gods’ “wet work” for them. Yahweh takes exception to that idea, stating quite clearly that He intends to “tread the winepress of His wrath alone.” He doesn’t need, or want, our help in that regard. (There was but one historical exception, introduced for its symbolic significance. Israel under Joshua was instructed wage total, genocidal war against seven idolatrous Canaanite tribes, nations that represented the darkness that cannot coexist with the light in our lives. But unless you’re a Ba’al-worshipping Canaanite, Hittite, Amorite, Perizzite, Hivite, Jebusite, or Girgashite, you have nothing to fear from Yahweh’s people. Our God is perfectly capable of dispensing His own wrath.
Why doesn’t “loving your enemy” violate the admonition against being unequally yoked? It’s because rendering aid does not constitute a partnership between the helper and the one in need. Love is a unilateral act. It may be (and should be) reciprocated, but it cannot be conditional. If there are strings attached, it’s not love at all. The best example of this principle, of course, is Yahshua’s sacrifice to atone for our sins—a unilateral act of love on the part of God. It is our positive response to that act that forges the bond; it is our reciprocation of God’s love that completes the circle of fellowship. But it is important to understand that light and darkness are fundamentally incompatible: they cannot coexist. Returning to the imagery of the parable, it is conceivable (though we aren’t told) that the Samaritan and the Jewish robbery victim he helped became fast friends in the wake of the incident—despite their former cultural enmity. It is not conceivable, however, that the bandits shared in that fellowship. They represent those among us who not only dwell in darkness, but proactively attack the light so that others may not see. In short, they are the children of Satan (see John 8:42-44). They’re beyond help and beyond hope.
We live in a time of transition. If we have responded to Yahweh’s love, we are on a journey out of darkness into the light. Where we were once blind, our eyes are being opened. Where once we had only questions, we are beginning to see answers. Where once we saw “through a glass, darkly,” we are now, as the coming of our Savior approaches, being given more insight, more clarity of vision. Where once we saw things in murky shades of gray, our Father is adjusting the contrast control on our world, and we are beginning to perceive denser blacks, purer whites, and colors more brilliant than we ever thought possible. But even this is only the beginning. In describing the New Jerusalem—the eternal heavenly city of the redeemed—John reports, “And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 22:5)
(First published 2013)