“The Sun Will Be Darkened”
Certain Bible prophecies speak of the darkening of the sun. How are these to be understood, literally or as figures of speech?
THE earth is man’s home. However, without the benefit of the sun man could not live upon it. The sun gives us light, heat and energy. The coal and oil in the ground, the winds that move the windmills and the rivers that furnish water power are all the product of the sun. Our food also depends upon the sun. Its energy plus water and carbon dioxide are utilized by plants, which plants give us not only food but also building material, fuel and—not to be esteemed lightly—beauty. The sun is truly a marvelous gift of the Creator to man. It is not surprising, therefore, that when man fell away from pure worship he worshiped the sun; the sun god, in fact, being a prominent deity in many ancient nations.
For the sake of making known his supremacy Jehovah God has in times past interfered with the light of the sun. Thus the ninth plague upon ancient Egypt was a darkness that could be felt. The Egyptians “did not see one another and none of them got up from his own place three days.” Proof that this was no mere freak of nature was the fact that at the very same time “for all the sons of Israel there proved to be light in their dwellings.” Likewise when Jesus died, beginning with the sixth hour, or noon, midday, “a darkness fell over all the earth until the ninth hour, because the sunlight ceased entirely.” In each of these instances the literal sunlight was involved.—Ex. 10:21, 23; Luke 23:44, 45.
God’s Word not only recorded God’s causing the light of the sun to fail but also foretold that he would do so again. Thus Ezekiel prophesied that Jehovah would “cover the sun with a cloud.” Joel wrote of the time when “the sun will be turned into darkness.” And Jesus, in his great prophecy regarding the end of this system of things, said that “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light.”—Ezek. 32:7, AS; Acts 2:20; Matt. 24:29.
Do these prophecies refer to the literal sun’s being darkened, as was the case in the time of Moses and Jesus Christ? Yes, say many devout religionists. Thus a Seventh-day Adventist publication, Bible Readings for the Home Circle, states that such texts were fulfilled in the dark day of May 19, 1780. In support of its position it quotes, among other authorities, Webster’s Dictionary, Unabridged, edition 1833, which on page 1604 has the following to say regarding “The Dark Day”: “In some places persons could not see to read common print in the open air for several hours together. Birds sang their evening song, disappeared, and became silent; fowls went to roost, cattle sought the barnyard; and candles were lighted in the houses. The obscuration began about ten o’clock in the morning, and continued until the middle of the next night, but with differences of degrees and duration in different places. . . . The true causes of this remarkable phenomenon are not known.” Nor can this darkness, it is pointed out, be explained as an eclipse, as the moon had been full the night before and therefore was on the opposite side of the earth at the time the sun became obscured.
SYMBOLIC USE OF SUN
But does it necessarily follow that when God’s Word states that “the sun will be darkened” the literal sun is referred to? Not at all. And especially not when we note the many ways in which the sun is used as a symbol. Thus Jehovah God is referred to as the sun, and that most fittingly so, as he is the primal source of all light, life and energy: “Jehovah God is a sun and a shield.” In keeping with this expression is his being termed “the Father of the celestial lights.”—Ps. 84:11; Jas. 1:17.
Jesus Christ is likewise most fittingly spoken of as a sun: “But unto you that fear my name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in its wings.” As the sun is the light of the earth, so Jesus is the spiritual “light of the world.”—Mal. 4:2, AS; John 8:12.
The Scriptures further tell that God has a host of heavenly spirit creatures or angels, the organization of which is spoken of as a woman. This womanlike organization is spoken of as being “arrayed with the sun.” Then again, God’s kingdom rule, we are assured, will be so bright that by comparison the sun and moon will feel embarrassed: “Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed; for Jehovah of hosts will reign in mount Zion.”—Rev. 12:1; Isa. 24:23, AS.
And, finally, we also read of God’s servants while still on earth being described as luminaries or suns and as shining as the sun: “Be blameless and innocent, children of God without a blemish in among a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you are shining as illuminators in the world.” “At that time [of the harvest] the righteous ones will shine as brightly as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” The facts show that God’s faithful servants today are indeed shining forth as the sun by publishing far and wide the good news of God’s kingdom.—Phil. 2:15, 16; Matt. 13:43.
The sun not only is used as a symbol of spiritual light, but, by reason of its great heat, is also used to picture persecution. Thus Jesus, in his illustration of the sower, told of seeds being sown on rocky soil, where they sprang up at once, “but when the sun rose they were scorched, and because of not having root they withered.” In explanation Jesus said: “This is the one hearing the word and at once accepting it with joy. Yet he has no root in himself but continues for a time, and after tribulation or persecution has arisen on account of the word he is at once stumbled.”—Matt. 13:6, 20, 21.
HOW AND WHEN SUN DARKENED
In view of all the foregoing, is it necessary to hold that the prophecies regarding the darkening of the sun refer to the literal sun not giving its light? No, it is not; nor does it seem reasonable to hold that this darkening of the sun was limited to but a few hours in just a small section of the earth. Further, the contexts of some of these texts very definitely locate the darkening of the sun in our day rather than two centuries ago. For example, Jesus associates the darkening of the sun with his return, when the nations were angry, nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom, when there would be famine, plagues and earthquakes. The facts show that 1914 marked the beginning of the fulfillment of these prophecies. Thus also Joel’s prophecy shows that this darkening of the sun would precede the terrible day of Jehovah, as an indication of its nearness. It is not reasonable to conclude that this sign would come some 170 years or more before Jehovah’s terrible day.—Matt. 24:7-12.
It follows, therefore, that we should expect this darkening of the sun to take place now. And in just what manner is this prophecy being fulfilled? In the great spiritual darkness now covering the earth. As Isaiah foretold: “Behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the peoples.” This spiritual darkness is due to the fact that men are ignoring Jehovah, the Great Light, and Jesus Christ, “the light of the world,” as well as God’s Word, which to the Christian is as a lamp to his feet and a light to his roadway.—Isa. 60:2, AS; John 8:12; Ps. 119:105.
But has not such spiritual darkness prevailed in the many centuries past? someone may ask. True, but today the darkness is deeper and more widespread in many respects. Today we are living in the foretold “critical times hard to deal with,” when more than ever men are lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; when there is a widespread form of godly devotion but very little manifestation of its power. Concerning this very time Jesus asked: “When the Son of man arrives, will he really find this faith on the earth?”—2 Tim. 3:1-5; Luke 18:8.
Indicative of this spiritual darkness is the way professedly Christian clergymen place the Bible on the level of writings by imperfect men and put Jesus Christ in the category of weak, fallible teachers such as Socrates, Buddha and Mohammed. Thus Jesus said: “No one comes to the Father except through me,” and Peter said of him: “There is no salvation in anyone else, for there is not another name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must get saved.” But not so, says Niebuhr, one of the leading clergymen of the United States. According to him the Jew can “find God more easily in the terms of his own heritage” or religion than by a conversion to Christ.—John 14:6; Acts 4:12.
How deep this spiritual darkness is can be seen from such reports as the following that appeared in Time magazine, January 27, 1958: “Glenview Community Church . . . is a believe-as-you-like, worship-as-you-please fellowship of searchers.” It has “dozens of beaver-busy organizations in a daily boil of dances, pageants, picnics,” etc. There are hunting and fishing groups, a women’s association, a boys’”hot-rod” group and camps for all ages. “In a recent sermon one minister ruefully quoted a newcomer as saying to another: ‘I guess I’ll have to join that damned church to get acquainted!’” That this church is a social club rather than a religious institution is apparent from the further report that “Glenview’s communion is as free as its theology (i.e., God, Christ, the Bible, each understood as the individual sees fit). Communion tables are set in the chancel, and parishioners come forward and serve themselves.” Truly all such is in striking contrast to the way religion was practiced, say, some fifty years ago. Although the various religions did teach much error in the name of Christianity, still they had at least a measure of respect for the Bible as God’s Word and a certain amount of the fear of God.
Then, too, there is the matter of contrast. The light on God’s Word, true to his promise, is shining ever more brightly: “The path of the righteous ones is like the bright light that is getting lighter and lighter until the day is firmly established.” But “the way of the wicked ones is like the darkness; they have not known at what they keep stumbling.” Thus also the prophet Isaiah, after telling of the darkness upon the world, goes on to say: “But Jehovah will arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And nations shall come to thy light.” And Jesus foretold that at the very time of the sun’s being darkened “this good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for the purpose of a witness to all the nations,” indicating a time of enlightenment for some in spite of the spiritual darkness. In fact, this was foreshadowed when the darkness enveloped the Egyptians for three days just before the Exodus. At that time, as we have already noted, there was light in all the dwellings of the Israelites.—Prov. 4:18, 19; Isa. 60:2, 3, AS; Matt. 24:14.
Proof of the spiritually darkened condition of the world and especially of Christendom is to be seen on every hand. It is clearly evident in its increasing immorality, delinquency and crime and in the greedy worship of materialism. As a result thereof we see the fulfillment of Jesus’ words: “On the earth anguish of nations, not knowing the way out because of the roaring of the sea and its agitation, while men become faint out of fear and expectation of the things coming upon the inhabited earth.”—Luke 21:25, 26.
Since in practically every reference to the sun’s being darkened the moon also is mentioned, the question might well be asked: Is there any particular significance to be attached to the moon’s also being darkened or ‘turned to blood,’ as one prophecy describes it? In times past Bible students have endeavored to distinguish between the symbolic darkening of the sun and of the moon; however, it seems both more reasonable and in keeping with the facts to conclude that they both refer to the same thing. Without the sun the moon could not shine, for the moon merely reflects the light of the sun. And as the sun lights up the day, so the moon lights up the night.
Therefore the darkening of both the sun and the moon would emphasize the complete and continuous spiritual darkness prevailing at the present time. And even so we find it to be.