Welcome to MOTIFS, where I follow cultural and literary images found in the Bible in an attempt to unearth God's meaning in His pattern of usage.


15. LIGHT          LIGHT

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, Light of Light, very God of very God . . .

Thus begins the Nicene Creed, a historical statement of Christian orthodoxy hammered out a mere three hundred years after Jesus walked the earth. Its motif of light runs through Scripture, beginning with the first words of the Creation story, where out of dark chaos God brought forth light:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light . . . (Gen. 1:1-3 ESV)

But the concept of God’s creating light is far removed from His being light. Let’s watch the Bible progressively unfold the metaphor of light in a sampling of its over two hundred appearances.

Physical light is mentioned in conjunction with God’s leading Israel out of bondage and through the desert by means of a plague and a pillar (Exod. 10:21-23; 13:21). Yahweh’s gloriously shining shekinah descended upon Mount Sinai, making Moses’ face glow before filling the Tabernacle (Exod. 24:15-18; 34:29; 40:34-38; 2 Chron. 5:13-14). Many Bible stories occurred at sunrise: Consider Abraham’s departure to sacrifice Isaac, Joshua’s march around Jericho as the walls fell, and Elisha’s miraculous protection by angelic chariots of fire (Gen. 22:3; Josh. 6:15-16ff; 2 Kings 6:15-17).

The symbolism of light develops through poetry. Job contrasted the darkness of death and wickedness with the light of God’s favor (Job 10:21-22; 18:5-6; 24:13-17; 29:2-3). The Psalmist referred to God’s joy-giving presence and His Word as light that guides into truth and brings blessing as He searches us out in our dark lostness (Ps. 4:6; 97:11; 19:8; 43:3; 139:11-12).

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
 The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Ps. 27:1 ESV)

The Prophets described God as everlasting light, bringer of prosperity (Isa. 60:19-20; Hab. 3:4; Zech. 14:7; Dan. 2:22; Isa. 58:8-10). They said His end-times judgment would produce cosmic cataclysm—with stars, constellations, the sun, and the moon ceasing to shed light, and all again becoming “formless and empty” in a sort of undoing of Creation (Isa. 13:10; Jer. 4:23; see as well Matt. 24:29). But a poignant prophecy from Isaiah about the coming Messiah rang with hope, written seven hundred years before the Nativity and repeated in Matthew (Matt. 4:16) as fulfilled in Christ:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
 on them has light shone. (Isa. 9:2 ESV)

Jesus’ angelic birth announcement was surrounded by light, and a star lit the way of the Magi (Luke 2:9-10; Matt. 2:9-10). The book of John radiates Christ’s light, which banishes sin’s darkness by exposing truth (John 3:19-21; 12:46).

 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 1:4-5 ESV)

“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 ESV)

Jesus caused the blind to see both physically and spiritually (Matt. 6:22-23; 9:27-30). He taught His followers to likewise bring His truth to the world:

 You are the light of the world . . . Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matt. 5:14-16 ESV)

His resurrection from the dead at daybreak on the third day, declared by an angel whose appearance was like lightning, proved Him to be the light He claimed to be (Matt. 28:1-3).

In the early Church, Peter was rescued from prison by an angel who shone a light into his cell, and Paul’s dramatic conversion as well centered around a blinding “light from heaven”  (Acts 12:5-7; 26:12-18). The Epistles warn us not to miss the light—we must wake up and cast off the works of darkness (Rom. 2:17-22; 13:11-13). Satan and his minions are disguised in light as servants of righteousness, Paul taught, but we have been delivered from that domain and now “share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (2 Cor. 11:14-15; Col. 1:12-13). The God who long ago said, “Let there be light!” has shone light into our darkness through Jesus, calling us to “walk as children of light” (2 Cor. 4:6; Eph. 5:8-9; 1 Thess. 5:5).

God will one day disclose the purposes of our hearts, exposing what is now hidden in darkness, for He is the Unchangeable One who “dwells in unapproachable light”  (1 Cor. 4:5; James 1:17; 1 Tim. 6:16). As we walk in His light today, we fellowship in love with one another (1 John 1:7; 2:9-10).

 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 . . . that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life . . . (I Pet. 2:9; Phil. 2:15-16 ESV)

Someday the New Jerusalem will shine with God’s glory, “its radiance like a most rare jewel,” so that the sun and moon will no longer be needed; the Lord God and the Lamb will illuminate eternity (Rev. 21:10-11; 22:3-5).

May Jesus Christ—the “Light of Light” and “very God of very God”—illumine our hearts and minds this Yuletide and New Year.

* * *

To comment on this reading, or to subscribe or unsubscribe to a monthly email reminder of new postings, please write me: deb@rolledscroll.com.

These short literary articles tied to the Bible explore what God might have been saying in His pattern of usage for each symbol. English rendition of the original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek varies with translations (e.g., “scroll” is sometimes interchangeable with “book”); however, the quality and underlying meaning of the selected emblem remain consistent across versions. Sketches are by Lorenda Harder. I recommend the website of Dr. Grant C. Richison for thorough expository Bible study: www.versebyversecommentary.com





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