Today we continue with Chapter 4, “The Distinguishing Light of God.”
With each succeeding plague, God made clear to Pharaoh that He was fighting for His people, and that He knew exactly who each one of them was. While it isn’t necessary to expound upon each of the nine plagues—although the word pictures are wonderful—there is one plague that stands out, particularly in light of (pun intended) the lamp of God.
For the eighth plague, God sent thick darkness over the land of Egypt. This was not any kind of darkness. It was “thick” darkness, which could actually be felt. They could not see each other nor anything at all, not even the faintest outline. And within this darkness was a gloominess, distress and wretchedness so heavy that no one moved from where they sat for three days. In fact, the word “thick” is translated from the Hebrew word “aphelah,” which is also used in the following scripture:
Then they will look to the earth, and behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish; and they will be driven away into darkness. (Isaiah 8:22)
Note that the word “darkness” is used twice in the verse above. However, the two words come from different Hebrew words and have completely different meanings. The first “darkness” means “darkness, obscurity, night, dusk.”[i] The second “darkness” is the same word used for the kind of darkness the Egyptians experienced. Therefore, the people referred to in the verse above would go from distress, darkness and anguish—something akin to a dungeon at midnight—to an even greater darkness, the kind that cloaked the Egyptians like a menacing shroud.
In stark contrast, the Hebrews were experiencing a completely different reality during those same three days:
…but all the sons of Israel had light in their dwellings. (Exodus 10:23b)
These two vastly different realities—thick, frightening darkness and soft, peaceful light—were the two sides of God. They were God Himself: the darkness is the side of God who is to be feared and reverenced; the light is the lamp of God.
This same God of darkness showed up on Mount Sinai later on when the nation of Israel was tramping through the wilderness. The Hebrews (then known as the Israelites) had spent the better part of their time complaining and revising history, bemoaning the fact that they were no longer in Egypt where water was plentiful and food was abundant. God expected them to turn away from their former life, and look to Him, so He appeared on Mount Sinai cloaked in the same darkness that the Egyptians had experienced:
And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.”
So the people stood at a distance, while Moses approached the thick cloud where God was. (Exodus 20:20-21)
Look again at a similar passage describing the thick darkness of God:
“These words the LORD spoke to all your assembly at the mountain from the midst of the fire, of the cloud and of the thick gloom, with a great voice, and He added no more. And He wrote them on two tablets of stone and He gave them to me.” (Deuteronomy 5:22)
God showed up in thick gloom to the Egyptians to do exactly as He intended for the Israelites: that the fear of God would remain with them. The Egyptians had no fear of God, primarily because they didn’t even know Him. They were too busy cosseting their own manmade gods. Yet God appeared in a completely different form to the Hebrews—as light and warmth. The direct Hebrew translation shows that God, indeed, was both the thick darkness and the light:
“and he-is-saying Yahweh to Moses stretch-out-you hand-of you on the heavens and he-shall-become darkness on land-of and he-shall-cause-to-grope darkness and he-is-stretching-out Moses hand-of him on the heavens and he-is-becoming darkness gloomy in all-of land-of Egypt three-of days not they-saw man brother-of-him and not they-rose from place-beneath him three-of days and to all-of sons-of Israel he-was light in dwellings-of them…”[ii] (Exodus 10:21-23)
This kind of darkness was not an impersonal darkness; it was God in a very close, frightening, gloomy, blanketing darkness. It was a darkness that caused them to grope. It was their worst nightmare. No one moved, and every Egyptian was suddenly plunged into a three-day fast, and forced to sit in their own excrement.
Yet in the dwellings of the sons of Israel, God was their light. They had no need of candles or lanterns. There was simply an everlasting glow. This is the same light that is described in the book of Revelation about how the New Jerusalem will be illumined:
And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb.
As in all other references to the lamp of God, the light is from God. And, in this verse, the lamp is the Lamb, Jesus Christ.
Can you imagine what the Hebrews must have experienced during those three days? Just as the darkness was not just any kind of darkness; this was not just any kind of light. It was the light of God, and therefore it had the qualities of illumination, enlightenment, happiness, cheerfulness.[iii] Everyone in the homes of the Hebrews was laughing, loving, and experiencing an amazing peace. They were probably telling stories or playing games. Because God was permeating their environment those precious three days, their food may even have seemed more delicious and savory than ever before. Perhaps they lost a sense of time, since God is not subject to time. So what probably felt like weeks to the Egyptians as they waited out the incapacitating darkness, may have felt like only a few hours to the blessed Hebrews. So it will be in heaven. Thank God we will be there forever.
[i] Key Word Study Bible, Lexical Aids to the Old Testament, p. 1728.
[ii] Online Hebrew Interlinear Bible, Exodus 10, http://www.scripture4all.org/OnlineInterlinear/OTpdf/exo10.pdf, copyright
[iii] Key Word Study Bible, Lexical Aids to the Old Testament, p. 1709.
We’ll finish Chapter 4 in the next installment.