“And God made the two great lights; the greater light for the dominion of the day, and the lesser light for the dominion of the night; the stars also.” (Genesis 1:16, NASV)
In Judges 5, verse 31, the prophetess Deborah prays, “let those who love Him be like the rising of the sun in its might.” Genesis 1:14 tells us that when God made the sun, He intended it to function in part as a sign. In Genesis 1:16, we are told that the sun is to have dominion over the daylight hours. Throughout Genesis 1 we read the phrase, “there was evening, and there was morning.” Thus, we are presented with the notion that day follows night, and that the rising of the sun inaugurates the period of light and warmth which follows the period of darkness and cold.
Before man sinned, darkness did not have a moral connotation, but rather simply was the time before sunrise. In the world under the curse, however, darkness is a sign of the period of sin before the coming of the reign of the Messiah. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 uses the concepts of night and darkness to describe the lifestyle of the ungodly. The Bible also uses night and darkness to describe the Old Testament period, before the coming of the Day of the Lord. The New Testament emphasizes that the Day of the Lord has come, and so the time of worship is called the Lord’s Day (Rev. 1:10).
God revealed His covenant to Abraham during the night (Gen. 15:12), which was a promise that salvation (freedom from the “terror of great darkness”) would come through his Seed. It was precisely at midnight that God killed the firstborn of all Egypt (Ex. 12:29), so that Israel marched out as day was springing. The night visions of Zechariah 1-6 are arranged in such a way that the middle pair of visions (chapters 3 & 4), which come around midnight, show the definitive work of deliverance and salvation (analogous to the midnight Passover); while, the last vision, around the time of sunrise, shows the Messianic kingdom going forth to conquer the whole earth.((On Zechariah’s prophecies, see Joyce Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi (Intervarsity Press, 1972), and T. V. Moore, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi (Banner of Truth Trust, 1978).))
Thus, when Deborah prays that the saints be like the rising of the sun in its might, she is praying for strength and for the coming of the Kingdom of God. Just as the sun bursts over the horizon, in brightness too intense to be espied directly, so the Righteous One and all His righteous ones will burst on the scene of history and vanquish all shadows of night.
Where did Deborah get the idea for this prayer? From the life of Jacob. Just as he was about to cross over into the Promised Land, a “man” met Jacob and wrestled with him all night (Gen. 32:22-30). It was the Angel of the LORD, God Himself, Who wrestled with Jacob. Amazingly, Jacob “won” the fight, although we realize that it was a victory in grace, not in works. This passage is explained by Jesus Christ when He tells us that the Kingdom of God is open, and all men strive violently to enter it (Matt. 11:12, Luke 16:16). All his life, Jacob had desired to inherit the Covenant, and had wrestled to obtain this blessing. God approved of his actions. It had been God Who had set up the roadblocks in Jacob’s way, to test and improve his character, but it had also been God who gave Jacob the grace and the will to persevere.
Then God crippled Jacob as a reminder that when we wrestle with God for His blessing, it is not our might that prevails, but His grace. Then we read, “Now the sun rose upon him just as he crossed over Penuel.” Just as Jacob crossed the boundary into the land of promise, the sun rose. We can see him limping across the boundary, and the sun bursting up in its might behind him, a sign of the strength of God’s people. What was Deborah’s prayer? That all the sons of Jacob should be like Jacob, true Israelites who wrestle with God and prevail by His strength, scattering His enemies.
Deborah’s prayer was answered right away. The very next history in the book of Judges tells how Gideon chased the enemies of God out of the promised land, a victory won not by might but by God’s grace. In Judges 8:13 we read “Gideon the son of Joash returned from the battle at the rising of the sun.” [Some English versions say “the ascent of Heres,” but ‘heres’ is the word for ‘sun.’] Again we see God’s victor crossing into the Kingdom of God, while the sun bursts over the horizon behind him.
Later on, the Old Testament refers the rising of the sun directly to the Messianic king (2 Sam. 23:4) and to the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ (Is. 60:1-3, Mal. 4:2). Indeed, that most Messianic of psalms, Psalm 22, is said to be sung to the melody “The Hind of the Morning” (Ps. 22:title), which may also be translated “the help of the dawn.” Either way, the notion of sunrise is present, and the psalm, which begins in suffering, closes with the victory of the Kingdom of God over all the earth.
Finally, Zacharias refers to the infant Jesus as the “Sunrise from on high,” who “will shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death” (Luke 1:78). Thus, we are presented with the concept that the life of Jesus Christ, His death, resurrection, ascension, and session, constitute the definitive transition from wrath to grace in history, from darkness to light, from night to day.
This teaching, of course, implies that the Kingdom of God in the New Covenant era will grow from strength to strength and fill the world.
James Jordan is scholar-in-residence at Theopolis.
This essay originally appeared in 1988 as part of a series on Christianity and the Calendar.
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