We invite you to return every day during Advent for this devotional series
Listen to today’s accompanying audio track:
The People That Walked In Darkness
“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light;
and they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death,
upon them hath the light shined.”
“Let there be light” is God’s first recorded word (Genesis 1:3). And with the Creator’s commanding word light did arise in the darkness. All the pages of the Bible are the story of God bringing light into the darkness of our world. Wherever there is darkness, it is God’s purpose is to bring forth light. Light is a sign of God’s presence.
We observe that it is the nature of light to dispel and overcome darkness. Open the door to a dark room and watch how the light rushes in and overwhelms the darkness. The darkness of the room does not rush out and overcome the light, but is overcome by it. There is inherent power in God’s moral light that evil cannot ultimately extinguish.
It was a dark time for God’s wayward people as today’s Scripture text opens. Isaiah describes them as people who “have walked in darkness” as their existence is marked by despair and sin. They have“dwelled in the shadow of death”. It is the year 734 B.C., and the nation of Israel is under siege to the world’s great superpower, Assyria. Tiglath-Piliser’s armies have cut off any aid from Egypt, and have circled back to finish off Israel. There is literally no hope for God’s people. But into this darkness God’s prophet speaks light.
There is a curious feature in today’s text that is often used by the Hebrew prophets. This is seen in how Isaiah foretells a yet future event as though it has already occurred. He uses the past tense of the verb to tell of something yet future. The past tense marks the certainty of what God promises: “The people who live in darkness have seen a great light…upon them hath light shined”. God has said it, and His promise is sure.
The ultimate fulfillment of this promise is God’s light shining on us through Messiah Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew looks at Jesus’ miracles and teachings, declaring Him the fulfillment of that “which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet” (Matthew 4:14). But this promise of God’s light is good, not only for those who saw Jesus in His first coming, but for any who trust in Him now.
God calls all who live in a world that prefers darkness (John 3:19), to come to Messiah’s light. His light is not just for some far off future, but for us now. The Apostle Paul compares the light which God spoke at creation, to the light He commands to shine on any who will believe: “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (II Corinthians 4:6).
There is a tragic darkness in this world we cannot deny. But neither can we deny the light that shines. As Messiah Jesus declared that He was “the light of the world” (John 8:12), so He commissions us to live as His light:
“Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house”(Matthew 5:14-16).
Behold your God, and shine!
This music can be difficult to hear. It is dark and dissonant as it echoes the life of those who walk in darkness. The solo and pulsating accompaniment move together in unison to convey a pervasive sense of futility and doom. Calvin Stapert describes the effect of the solo and accompaniment moving together:
“They have no independent parts; they create no harmony. The music sounds empty, like the dark, barren wilderness in which the people are wandering.”
The alternating step-wise pitches create the sense of people plodding step by step, trudging heavily. Each step is hard, heavy and lead-footed. Roger Bullard observes how the solo “moves hesitantly, like one reaching about in the dark for something solid”.
Yet the light does shine, and the solo ends in the major, brighter key as “upon them the light shines”.
- What do you sense that God might be saying to you in today’s Scripture text and music from Messiah?
- What do you want to say to God?
- Now take a few moments to be still in God’s presence.