“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.” Isaiah 9:2 (NRSV)
I am convinced that one of the reasons why the bible has remained, and will continue to remain, an enduring book throughout history is not just because it is the word of God, but also because it always speaks to the human condition. The word of God deals with things that not only happened thousands of years ago but it continues to deal with and speak to issues that we face everyday.
A recurring theme in the bible is despair and trials, not because the bible just wants to be a book of gloom, but because the fact is, all of us encounter despair and trials. But thanks be to God, the bible isn’t just about despair, it is always ultimately about the movement from despair to deliverance. But, we can be certain that before deliverance, there will be despair.
The bible sheds light on the fact that all who come into this world will have some dark days. And, the bible helps us to understand that sometimes, we are the ones responsible for the darkness, and at other times, we are not.
Sometimes it is dark because we refused to pay the light bill; other times, there’s a breakdown at the power plant beyond our control. In either case, there is a darkness, a heavy weight of despair to be experienced by every man, woman, boy and girl. Saints and sinners alike, invariably live in a land of deep darkness, in which there is gloom and anguish.
But, the bible never denies the fact that not all of our days are dark and troubling. Consider ancient Israel, a nation blessed and loved by God. The people of Israel experienced the fullness of the human condition. They knew joy.
They knew the happiness of holding a newborn baby. They, no doubt, had many sunlit strolls on sandy beaches. Ancient Israel, being acquainted with life, had days, like you and I, which were filled with fond memories that brought smiles to their faces.
Once upon a time, life was sweet and living was easy. But, as is the case with everyone, the wheels of life turned, bringing a drastic change. Time and circumstances brought Israel into a land of deep darkness.
Why, one might ask, did God either send his beloved people into the valley of trouble and despair or, why did God allow his chosen ones to have all joy sucked out of their lives?
We would do well to see how our fore parents in the faith found themselves no longer basking in the beautiful rays of bountiful blessings and abundant joy. If we were to read the early chapters of Isaiah, we would see that the people of God had set themselves up for a setback.
In the land, there was a spirit of arrogance. Many of the people began to live like they no longer needed God, arrogance. There were many who acted as if they were the master of their destiny and the captain of their souls, disregarding the fact that it was God who made them and sustained them.
Furthermore, there were those who claimed to love God, whom they had not seen, but they didn’t have any love for their neighbors next door. Many, there were, who talked right, but walked all wrong.
Because of Israel’s actions, and inaction, there arose an enemy, Assyria, on the outside. And, having turned their backs on God and on the ways of God, the Israelites had nothing on the inside to help them survive the attacks from the outside.
Therefore, the once bright sun of safety and joy burned out, leaving nothing but a darkened land of fear, loneliness, and emptiness.
Sad, but true, when people are in the valley of the shadow of death, when people are living, day-by-day, in the midst of struggles and burdens on every hand, spiritual insanity begins to creep in, even in the souls of the children of almighty God.
In the book of Ecclesiastes, it is written that there is no new thing under the sun. And, if we were to read the bible, we would see how Israel of old, and the people of God today, handled the dark days of sadness and sorrow in much the same way.
In the eighth chapter of Isaiah, with danger on the outside and emptiness on the inside, the people of God began looking for deliverance and security in all the wrong places.
Being in great distress and despair, some of the people, who once were so strong in their faith in God, began to seek some comforting word or hopeful sign by calling on dead folk and astrologers, just looking for some positive sign that troubles may soon be passing over.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. How often today, people who are hurting, who have lost a loved one tragically, those who are going through life with an unshakeable sadness, how often they consult astrology, medians, horoscopes and tea leaves, trying to find out when the darkness covering their lives might finally leave them alone.
In so many ways, when sunlight is hidden from view and life doesn’t seem to be going our way, how often we turn our back on God. Perhaps we don’t blatantly reject God and openly abandon God. But, our actions, which speak far louder than words, often reveal that the people of God have abandoned God.
Yet, God has never and will never abandon his people. Even when we are unfaithful, God remains ever faithful.
In spite of us, the Lord remains committed to us. In spite of us, and in spite of the reason for our walking in darkness, God desires to take us from despair to deliverance.
Whether we live in a land of darkness because we refused to pay the light bill, or there was a breakdown at that power plant, God’s grace and mercy yet proves to be sufficient for our dark despair.
Once upon a time, those who were right and those who were wrong, lived in darkness. They lived with the darkness of unemployment. They lived with the darkness of substance abuse. They lived with the darkness of spousal abuse. They lived with the heavy darkness of depression. The righteous and the unrighteous lived in darkness.
But, the Lord our God is full of mercy and tender love. Those who lived in a land of great darkness have had a light to shine upon them. Notice, if you will, the word didn’t say that somebody discovered fire or learned how to make a light to shine in the darkness.
There was a light that shined on those in darkness, but it shined on them from outside of themselves. No doubt, they had to position themselves to see the light.
No doubt, they had to have eyes open, expecting that there just might still be something worth living for and looking for. But, still, this light was shined upon them from outside of them.
The people of God who once lived life in deep darkness, and that includes you and me, the people who once sat in great darkness saw a great light breaking in on the gloom and pain that was suffocating them.
When the bible speaks of light, often it is speaking of the presence of God. So it was that the light, the presence of God was seen in the darkest of times. The presence, the reality of God, was made clear when life was at its worst.
But, there is more to the story than that. Oh, it’s a good thing to see the presence of God. It’s good to know that God is wherever we may be, whether on the mountaintop of great joy or down in the valley of sickness and distress, it’s good to know that God is there.
It’s good to see God when you’re going through a tough time. It’s good to see God when you can’t see anybody else.
But, be ever mindful, that wherever there is the presence of God, there is also the power of God. So, while God’s people of old, saw a great light and those who live in a land of deep darkness today, had a light to shine upon them that is not all that happened.
Don’t you know; the Lord our God is an ever present help in a time of trouble? With the presence of God, is always the power of God, the very power that is able to bear every burden, move every mountain and open doors we can’t even see.
Isaiah said that once, there was a heavy yoke, a great burden on the people. The people had to bear some burdens they could no longer handle. But, the power of God broke the yoke of the burden. The power of God set the captives free.
The fierce rod of the oppressor cannot long endure in the face of the power of God. Whatever form oppression takes, God is able to overcome it.
The oppression of depression is broken by the power of the God who promised to never leave us nor forsake us. The oppression of fear and doubt is broken by the power of the God who walks with us every step of the way, day-by-day.
Because of what God has done, the only proper response is to rejoice. Because of what God is doing and shall yet do, the only appropriate response is to rejoice always.
But, we dare not rejoice because of the pain of our past, but we rejoice because the Lord has brought us through the painful past. We cannot rejoice because we’ve lost some loved ones, but we rejoice because through it all, the Lord has sustained us.
The Lord our God has met us in the dark despair of difficult days, and he has taken us from despair to deliverance. Therefore, it is altogether reasonable to lift up holy hands and to make a joyful noise unto the Lord, the God of our salvation and our sanity.
Everything that hath breath ought to praise the Lord, for if it had not been for the Lord on our side, all would be lost. If it had not been for the Lord on our side when troubles came out of nowhere, we would have surely failed. If it had not been for the Lord on our side, when we stumbled and fell, we never would have gotten back up.
When we walk in the light of God’s presence, everyday is a day of thanksgiving, for the Lord our God has brought us a mighty long way. The Lord our God has brought us through many dangers, toils and snares. The Lord our God has brought us, from despair to deliverance.
All these blessings, all this joy, all this strength, all this hope and all this power is ours, not because we deserve it. It’s not ours because we are so good and holy. It’s not ours because we’ve earned it.
We have joy, we have deliverance and we have hope, because God has smiled on us. Therefore, let everything; let everyone that hath breath praise the Lord. Let the redeemed, let the blessed, let the delivered declare that yes, “God has smiled on me. He has set me free! God has smiled on me. He’s been good to me!”
Rev. Clarence W. Davis is the pastor of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. A frequent contributor to BlackandChristian.com, Davis earned a Master of Divinity and Master of Theology degrees from Harvard Divinity School.