Have you ever stumbled around in the dark-either at night or during a power outage? It’s not a very pleasant experience, is it?
Darkness is associated with a number of unpleasant things. When we are in the dark, we tend to move slowly or wander aimlessly. We tend to be scared in the dark, mainly because we can’t see the dangers that would be apparent if it were light. There is something about darkness that makes us scared.
We can also wander around in spiritual darkness. That darkness is caused by our lack of knowledge in or faith in Jesus. When we receive the Light of Christ, we don’t have to be afraid of darkness or evil. Christ will be with us. When we are faithful, we will be rewarded.
The prophet Isaiah wrote this passage during a time of spiritual darkness. Israel was at war with Assyria and was on the verge of being conquered because of their disobedience to God. Throw in a crop failure, no welfare system, an economy that relied solely on agriculture, no technology to preserve food and no system to distribute the food and the result is a very bleak situation.
For Isaiah, the answer to this crisis was God’s ability to intervene at a moment in history and accomplish his purpose for his people. Isaiah emphasized peace and the end of war-a plan that was appealing to a nation that had been eroded by warfare and strife. Isaiah’s vision for the people was to live in a world where God’s light would penetrate the darkness of sin.
Isaiah’s vision happened because of his faithfulness. God showed him the revelation of the future and the Messiah who was to be born. The Messiah would conquer death and would be the great light of hope that would shine on all of humanity. He will make His people more abundant, increase their joy and break the rods of their oppressors.
In the Bible, darkness points to both known ignorance and willful blindness. People are either lacking knowledge about God or they reject him or both. The seasons of Christmas and Epiphany point to the glory of God as revealed in Jesus’ birth in that humble Bethlehem manger. His birth was the dividing line between the age of darkness and the age of light.
Our world is full of darkness and sin. Our leaders sometimes make decisions that don’t make sense to us as Christians. They don’t trust God. We must not allow despair to overwhelm us. We are to live in the light of God’s presence. He is the deliverer, the ultimate agent at work in the world.
Isaiah speaks of the area of Galilee in the northern kingdom of Israel experiencing humiliation at the hands of the Assyrians. However, a time would come when a great light of salvation through the messianic King would dispel the dark gloom of judgment. When Jesus began his ministry in Galilee, the fulfillment of this prophecy was set in motion. Isaiah compares this King’s victory over Israel’s enemies to the day of Midian, when Gideon and his outnumbered Israelite army defeated the Midianites through God’s powerful intervention.
God’s light brings life, clarity and safety. It drives away gloom and brings hope. The deeper the darkness, the brighter the light. If you light a match in a deep cave, it is a torch. Those who live in darkness receive the shining light of Christ. When sin closes in on us, God sends His light into the world. Those who prefer flickers to flame won’t see the light. People who live in the dark yearn for bright light, and God will give it to them.
There will be no gloom or sorrow for those who are suffering or in bondage to sin. Those who suffer will be saved from the yoke of their oppression. Not even the darkest gloom of sin and despair can keep the light of God’s presence from shining, even on those who live in the darkness known as the shadow of death. That’s why we have “deathbed conversions.” That’s why the thief who hung on the cross beside Jesus repented. The light of God’s presence spreads to every corner of the earth. That light conquers death and sin. It provides comfort for those who suffer for their faith at the hands of those who prefer to live in the darkness of sin and evil.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, pp. 890-891)
- McKenna, D.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 17: Isaiah 1-39 (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1993; pp. 135-138)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
- Calvin Aardsma, “Light in Our Darkness.” Retrieved from thisistoday.net
- Exegesis for Isaiah 9:1-4. Retrieved from lectionary.org
- Amy Oder, “Commentary on Isaiah 9:1-4.” Retrieved from workingpreacher.org