Thursday, February 13, 2014

Send Out Your Light

"God is light," 1 John 1:5 says. In preparation for our sermon this Lord's Day, let's think a little bit about light in the Old Testament, particularly Psalms and Isaiah.

The Psalms poetically develop many connections between God and the imagery of light. Psa 4:6 draws on the Aaronic benediction (Num 6:24-26) to ask, “Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!” Psa 18:28 speaks of the Lord lighting my lamp and lightening my darkness. Psa 27:1 says that the Lord is “my light and my salvation” (cf. Micah 7:8). Psa 36:9 has the absolutely fascinating statement, “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.” Kidner says that “Light, here, mainly suggests joy (cf. 4:6f.; Esth. 8:16; contrast Ps.38:10), though it cannot be isolated from its other connotations of purity, clarity and truth” (Psalms 1-72, 165). Gerald Wilson comments, “It is possible once again to find connections between God’s light and both creation and eschatological imagery” (pointing to both Gen 1:1-5 and Rev 21:23-24). He continues, “The light of divine illumination opens the eyes of the psalmist and those who follow his lead to the amazing abundance of Yahweh’s life-giving love, which eludes the blind and ignorant wicked” (NIV Application Commentary: Psalms Volume 1, 594).

Psa 43:3 associates light and truth, “Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling!” Psa 56:13 speaks of walking before God “in the light of life.” Psa 89:15 pronounces a blessing upon the people who walk in the light of the Lord’s face. Psa 104:2 says that the Lord covers himself with light as with a garment (cf. 1 Tim 6:16).

The Psalms make ethical connections with light, such as in Psa 37:6, “He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday.” Psa 97:11 reads, “Light is sown for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart.” Famously, 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path,” while 119:130 says, “The unfolding of your words give light; it imparts understanding to the simple.” [This brief sampling omits all related images, such as Psa 84:11, “For the Lord God is a sun and shield.”]

Light is quite prominent in the prophet Isaiah. In 2:5, in hope of the coming kingdom, Isaiah cries, “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord” (for a comparison of similar ideas, see Psa 56:13; 89:15). The implications of light are connected with good and evil in 5:20, “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!” In 9:2 [Heb 9:1], that beautiful prophecy of the Messiah and his kingdom, cited in Matt 4:16, we read, “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.” Oswalt comments, “Throughout the Bible, God’s presence is equated with light (42:16; 2 Sam 22:29; Job 29:3; Ps 139:11, 12; 1 John 1:5)” (The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1-39, 242). 30:26 describes the day of the Lord’s restoration of his people as a day of tremendous, sevenfold light. In 42:6, the Lord gives his servant as “a covenant for the people, a light for the nations.” Godly Simeon harkened back to this text when he saw the baby Jesus (Luke 2:32). In 45:7, the Lord identifies himself as the one who “forms light.” 49:6 is much like 42:6, yet I want to highlight here the connection between “light” and “salvation.” This text is cited in Acts 13:47 as Paul and Barnabas spoke in Antioch of Pisidia. 51:4 speaks of the Lord’s justice as a “light to the peoples,” paralleling “righteousness” and “salvation” in 51:5 (interestingly, the LXX adds “light” into this verse).[1] 58:8, 10 speak of light coming for those who repent and seek the Lord, while 59:9 says that Israel’s wickedness has cut her off from God’s light: “Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake us; we hope for light, and behold, darkness, and for brightness, but we walk in gloom.” Light imagery in Isaiah comes to its glorious climax in chapter 60 (cf. back to 2:5). “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (60:1). The Lord’s glory is parallel with light. In v. 2 the glory of the Lord is equated with the Lord himself arising upon you, and thus his glory “will be seen upon you” (somewhat reminiscent of the plague of darkness in Egypt when Israel had light). And because the Lord’s glory is seen upon his people, his light becomes their light. “And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” “Brightness” (Hg:nO) has many of the same connotations in the OT as “light.”

So we see that “light” occurs in a constellation of ideas with God, God’s face, God’s presence, life, good, righteousness, truth, understanding, joy, salvation, justice, and the glory of the Lord. All of these find their consummation in the eschatological context of the kingdom of God.

When John says, "God is light," it sets off explosions of truth all over the place.

[1] Speaking of the LXX, Isaiah 53:11 is an interesting text. It paraphrases the Hebrew and incorporates “light” imagery even though “light” is not in the original. Moises Silva translates it in the NETS as “And the Lord wishes to take away from the pain of his soul, to show him light and fill him with understanding, to justify a righteous one who is well subject to many, and he himself shall bear their sins.”

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