“Nevertheless the gloom will not be upon her who is distressed, as when at first He lightly esteemed the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward more heavily oppressed her, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, in Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.” – Isaiah 9:1-2
A couple of years ago, I wrote a devotion entitled, Fearless in the Valleys, where I talked about our walk in the dark valleys, our walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Though such walking is difficult to navigate and endure, we are greatly comforted by the fact that though it be a fearful place and path for many, though it be full of evil and challenges, we have no need to fear, and are called to be free of fear because of the presence, guidance, and comfort of our Shepherd who is with us there.
As we think more about God’s light in dark places, we are encouraged and uplifted by Isaiah’s words as he paints the picture of the gloom God’s people walked in, as things looked dark, black, and dim. Though this be true, light would shine! This picture was clear as the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali in Galilee were the first to suffer from the Assyrian invasion in 732 BC (2 Kings 15:29). Isaiah here compares their captivity in Babylon to darkness and death; for those who were kept there were miserable, and like dead men. We also learn more of what was going on with the people in the preceding context of Isaiah 8:19-22 “And when they say to you, “Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter,” should not a people seek their God? Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. They will pass through it hard-pressed and hungry; and it shall happen, when they are hungry, that they will be enraged and curse their king and their God, and look upward. Then they will look to the earth, and see trouble and darkness, gloom of anguish; and they will be driven into darkness.” Seeing this, we better understand Isaiah’s words in Chapter 9:2. The people were ignorant to the law and light of God. They dwelt, they lived in the land of the shadow.
Yet, there is hope for the upright. By the grace and work of God, that ignorance and darkness wouldn’t prevail. Though the people walked in darkness, and dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, there were many prophets in Judah and Israel whose prophecies were a great light to guide and comfort to God’s people, as they foretold of Israel’s deliverance. John Calvin rightly comments, “The deliverance from Babylon was but a prelude to the restoration of the Church, and was intended to last, not for a few years only, but till Christ should come and bring true salvation, not only to their bodies, but likewise to their souls.” We see that Isaiah speaks to this as he goes on to shine more light as he prophesies the coming of the Light, Jesus Christ – the Child who would be born, the Son who would be given, the one whom the government would be on His shoulders, the one who would save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21), calling us out of darkness and into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).
Beloved, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the great and shining light that comes to the souls of men and women and shines more and more in us in our great time of need. It’s a sweet and welcome light, as light is to those that sit in darkness and have been delivered out of the gloom of our bondage by the Messiah who has come. For it is He who was slain for us to dispel our darkness. It’s Jesus who freed us from treading in darkness, to walk in His light forevermore. May our gracious God lift up your heads and hearts, encourage you, comfort you, and guide you with these truths and by His grace this week!