Lai’lah: Overcoming the NIGHT

NIGHT: Lai’lah/La’yil.  Masculine Noun. (Strong’s 3915).

Root: ליל 

Sounds like: lie-la

We spend half of our lives in the night. It is a guarantee. As much as we think we can alter our universe and everything around us, we cannot change the inevitable darkening of the sky and the advance of the night.

In Genesis God put into order the cosmos. He created light and separated it from darkness, and to the darkness He gave a name:

Genesis 1:3-5

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness He called “night” [lai’lah]. And there was evening and there was morning, one day…

Moon and Stars: Lights for the Night

This ordering of the heavens was essential to creation. Life was reliant upon day and night, sun and moon and seasons:

Genesis 1:14-18

…And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to distinguish between the day and the night [ha-lai’lah], and let them be signs to mark the seasons and days and years. And let them serve as lights in the expanse of the sky to shine upon the earth.” And it was so.

God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night [ha-lai’lah]. And He made the stars as well.

God set these lights in the expanse of the sky to shine upon the earth, to preside over the day and the night [u-v-lai’lah], and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.

Throughout scripture YHWH was repeatedly praised for the incredible ordering of night and day:

Psalm 136:7-9

To Him who made the great lights, for His faithfulness is everlasting: the sun to rule by day, for His faithfulness is everlasting, the moon and stars to rule by night [b-lai’lah], for His faithfulness is everlasting.

Amos 5:8

He who made the Pleiades and Orion, and changes deep darkness into morning, Who also darkens day into night [lai’lah], Who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out on the surface of the earth, YHWH is His name.

This ordering was fixed and essentially unchangeable:

Jeremiah 31:35-36 (see also Jeremiah 33:19-26)

This is what YHWH says, He who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night [lai’lah], Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— YHWH of armies is His name:

“If this fixed order departs from Me,” declares YHWH, “Then the descendants of Israel also will cease to be a nation before Me forever.”

In other words, while this universe functioned as God intended it to, Israel would stand. 

The Metaphor of Night

As we experience in our world, night is very real. And because night was so universally understandable and nobody escaped its influence, it made for perfect metaphor material.

God was good. God was light. God illuminated His people. So what does that mean for the night? Night was the hiding place for evil. Ultimately the Adversary dwelt in the darkness, and God, the ultimate light, not only created the night but He had power over it.

Psalm 104:19-22, 24

He made the moon for the seasons; the sun knows the place of its setting.

You appoint darkness and it becomes night [lai’lah], in which all the animals of the forest prowl about. The young lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God. When the sun rises they withdraw, and they lie down in their dens…

…YHWH, how many are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all; the earth is full of Your possessions.

God provided light for night with the moon and the stars… like hope in the darkness. This was one of the great metaphors of the Bible. In shadow and darkness evil lies in wait, like prowling animals. YHWH would be the light that would break through the darkness… He was like a bright star over a dreary landscape. Evil could not hide in the shadows when YHWH was present.

Night, wilderness, and chaos was the abode of the Adversary (ha-Satan), but YHWH was the provider of light (not night), home (not wilderness), and order (not chaos).

In distress, humans often found themselves surrounded by the darkness of night: 

  • Samuel, in his anger and distress, cried out to YHWH all night (1 Samuel 15:10-11)
  • David, pursued by Saul, fled and escaped into the night (1 Samuel 19:10-12)
  • Zedekiah, king of Judah, tried to escape Babylonian capture by fleeing at night. But he and his men were captured and Zedekiah was tortured and blinded (living out his lightless life in perpetual night) (2 Kings 25:3-7)
  • War and destruction were often associated with night (2 Kings 6:14, 2 Chronicles 21:9, Nehemiah 6:10, Jeremiah 6:5 etc.)
  • Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus, pursued by King Herod, fled into the night to escape to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15).

Every human has experienced (or will experience) a season of night in their life. But God will be a light in dark places for those who trusted in Him. But those who stood in opposition to YHWH, found themselves alone in the dark:

Micah 3:5-7

This is what YHWH says concerning the prophets who lead my people astray:

When they have something to bite with their teeth, they cry out, “Peace!” But against him who puts nothing in their mouths they declare holy war.

Therefore it will be night [lai’lah] for you—without vision, and darkness for you—without divination.

The sun will go down on the prophets, and the day will become dark over them.

The seers will be put to shame, and the diviners will be ashamed. Indeed, they will all cover their lips because there is no answer from God.

The Night of Passover & Night Light at the Red Sea

One of the most dramatic historical moments for the Hebrew people was their escape from Egyptian slavery. The final of ten plagues issued by God, not surprisingly, came at night:

Exodus 12: 12-13

On that night [ba-lai’lah] I will pass through the land of Egypt and strike down every firstborn male, both man and beast, and I will execute judgment against all the gods of Egypt. I am YHWH. The blood on the houses where you are staying will distinguish them; when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No plague will fall on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

After this final plague, Pharaoh admitted defeat and let the Hebrew people leave Egypt. In order to lead His people, YHWH came in the form of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21-22).

But Pharaoh rather quickly changed his mind and decided to pursue the Hebrew people. In response, YHWH stood between His people and the Egyptian pursuers; He was like a night light which separated good from bad:

Exodus 14:19-27

Then the angel of God, who had been going before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them. So it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel; and there was the cloud along with the darkness, yet it gave light at night [et ha-lai’lah]. Therefore the one did not approach the other all night [kal ha-lai’lah].

Then Moses reached out with his hand over the sea; and YHWH swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night [kal ha-lai’lah], and turned the sea into dry land, and the waters were divided. So the sons of Israel went through the midst of the sea on the dry land, and the waters were like a wall to them on their right and on their left. 

Then the Egyptians took up the pursuit, and all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen went in after them into the midst of the sea. But at the morning watch, YHWH looked down on the army of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and cloud, and brought the army of the Egyptians into confusion. He caused their chariot wheels to swerve, and He made them drive with difficulty; so the Egyptians each said, “Let me flee from Israel, for YHWH is fighting for them against the Egyptians.”

Then YHWH said to Moses, “Reach out with your hand over the sea so that the waters may come back over the Egyptians, over their chariots and their horsemen.” So Moses reached out with his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal state at daybreak, while the Egyptians were fleeing right into it; then YHWH overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. 

It was at night when the Red Sea was split and the Hebrew people walked through it to safety. At daybreak, the Egyptians entered into the dry sea bed, but the waters came back with a vengeance and the Egyptians perished in the sea.

God brought the Hebrew people out by night, and into daylight and freedom on the other side. But the Egyptians drowned in the daylight.

Once the Hebrew people were free from Egyptian pursuit, God continued to bless His people in the wilderness at night. In the night He sent manna to nourish His people:

Numbers 11:9

When the dew came down on the camp at night [lai’lah], the manna would come down with it.

With God, goodness could happen night or day. In the scary darkness, God was there, and in the light of day, God was there, and He provided everything His people needed.

Image by Neil Rosenstech (Unsplash.com)

Sex at Night

Although sex occurred all throughout the Bible, sexual scenes that were specifically mentioned as occurring in the night had dark connotations associated with them: 

  • In drunkenness, Lot has sex with his daughters at night (Genesis 19:30-38) bringing about the Moabite tribe and the Amonite tribe
  • In desperation to conceive a child Rachel ‘sold’ a night with Jacob to Leah, in order to obtain mandrakes (a plant associated with fertility) (Genesis 30:14-16)
  • The Gazites, who wanted to destroy Samson, waited for him all night while he had sex with a local harlot (Judges 16:1-3)
  • And, in what is arguable the most disturbing story in the Bible, the rape of the Levite’s concubine occurred all night (Judges 19:25, Judges 20:5-6).

The writers very likely highlighted these accounts as occurring in the night to symbolically set up the stage. These events were shrouded in metaphorical darkness.

With this darker connection between night and sex, it is not surprising, then, that Job cursed the night he was conceived:

Job 3:1-10

Afterward Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. And Job said,

“May the day on which I was to be born perish, as well as the night [w-ha-lai’lah] which said, ‘A boy is conceived.’ 

May that day be darkness; may God above not care for it, nor light shine on it. May darkness and black gloom claim it; may a cloud settle on it; may the blackness of the day terrify it.

As for that night [ha-lai’lah], may darkness seize it; may it not rejoice among the days of the year; may it not come into the number of the months.

Behold, may that night [ha-lai’lah] be barren; may no joyful shout enter it. May those curse it who curse the day, who are prepared to disturb Leviathan.

May the stars of its twilight be darkened; may it wait for light but have none, and may it not see the breaking dawn; because it did not shut the opening of my mother’s womb, or hide trouble from my eyes.

YHWH Spoke in the Night

All this may lead one to consider that good things don’t often happen at night, but that’s not necessarily the case. Yes, there were things that went bump in the night, but with God, good things can happen day or night. Although opponents of God claimed the darkness, YHWH was still in control of the night as well as the day:

Psalm 74:12, 16

Yet God is my King from long ago, who performs acts of salvation in the midst of the earthYours is the day, Yours also is the night [lai’lah]; You have prepared the light and the sun.

God was very present in the night. He was fully in control of every hour.

YHWH spoke to people through dreams, and dreams and visions were natives of the night:

  • YHWH warned Abimelech, king of Gerar, in a night dream (Genesis 20:1-7)
  • YHWH spoke to Laban in a dream and warned him to be careful how he treated Jacob (Genesis 31:24, 29)
  • The pharaoh of Egypt’s cupbearer and baker each had a dream in the night, which Joseph interpreted (Genesis 40:5,  Genesis 41:11)
  • God spoke to Israel/Jacob in a night dream, instructing him to go to Egypt (Genesis 46:2)
  • At night, in Gibeon, YHWH appeared to Solomon in a dream (1 Kings 3:5)
  • Eliphaz recalled a disturbing night dream (Job 4:12-17)
  • Zophar noted that the wicked and godless were like dreams and night visions that fleeted way (Job 20:4-8)
  • Elihu noted that God opened the ears of the people in night dreams and gave them warnings (Job 33:13-18)
  • Isaiah reported that those who waged war against God’s people would be like an unsatisfying dream in the night (Isaiah 29:7-8)
  • In a dream Joseph was visited by an angel telling him to take the pregnant Mary to be his wife, for the son she carried would save the people (Matthew 1:19-21)
  • Paul received a calling to go to Macedonia from a night vision (Acts 16:9)
  • God told Paul, in a dream, that he would be protected in Corinth, and so Paul stayed and preached there for 1.5 years (Acts 18:9-11)

Knowing that YHWH spoke through dreams, Isaiah prayed:

Isaiah 26:9a

At night [ba-lai’lah] my soul longs for You, indeed, my spirit within me seeks You diligently.

However, sometimes YHWH spoke directly to people at night (without the mention of a dream, although it could be implied):

  • YHWH spoke to Isaac at night, saying, Do not fear, for I am with you. I will bless you and multiply your descendants (Genesis 26:23-25).
  • YHWH spoke to Balaam at night, and told him to rise and follow God’s command (Numbers 22:20)
  • YHWH spoke to Samuel at night, and announced that He regretted and rejected the kingship of Saul (1 Samuel 15:10-16)
  • YHWH spoke to Nathan at night and announced that David’s throne and Kingdom would be established forever (2 Samuel 7:4-17)
  • David poetically recalled being visited by YHWH in the night (Psalm 17:3)
  • YHWH spoke to Solomon at night and asked Solomon what he wanted. Solomon asked for wisdom (2 Chronicles 1:7)
  •  YHWH spoke to Solomon, again, at night, after the dedication of the Temple. YHWH promised to always be part of the Temple and to reward Solomon if he stayed faithful to Him (2 Chronicles 7:12)

YHWH, speaking in the night, would have been a well known Biblical pattern, clear to 1st century Jews. So when Yeshua (Jesus) spoke to Nicodemus in the night, it gave credence to Yeshua’s connection to YHWH, and it may have been a reminder of the times when YHWH spoke to the likes of Samuel, Nathan, David, and Solomon:

John 3:1-8 (see also John 19:39)

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus at night [Greek: nyktos] and said, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs You are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Truly, truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

“How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Can he enter his mother’s womb a second time to be born?”

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh is born of flesh, but spirit is born of the Spirit. Do not be amazed that I said, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes. You hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Yeshua’s life was mixed with images of night.

  • The angels announced Yeshua’s arrival to the shepherds at night (Luke 2:8-13)
  • Nicodemus met Yeshua at night (John 3:1-3, John 19:39)
  • Yeshua walked on water in the night (Mark 6:47-52)
  • Yeshua spent His days speaking in the Temple and His nights on the Mount of Olivet (Luke 21:37-38)
  • Judas betrayed Yeshua and slipped away in the night (John 13:21-30, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
  • Yeshua was arrested at night (Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, John 18)
  • Peter denied knowing Yeshua at night (Matthew 26:31-35)
  • After Yeshua’s resurrection, the disciples fished at night and caught nothing; but at daybreak Yeshua appeared to them and recreated the miracle of the great catch (John 21:1-13)

After Yeshua’s arrest and trial, He was nailed to wooden planks and crucified. Although the crucifixion occurred during daylight hours, darkness fell unexpectedly onto the cross… 

Mark 15:33-34 (see also Matthew 27:45, Luke 23:44-45)

From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. At the ninth hour, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

This was not ramblings of a dying man, Yeshua was quoting scripture:

Psalm 22:1-5

My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?

Far from my help are the words of my groaning. My God, I cry out by day, but You do not answer; and by night [w-lai’lah], but I have no rest.

Yet You are holy, You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel. In You our fathers trusted; they trusted and You rescued them. To You they cried out and they fled to safety; in You they trusted and were not disappointed.

Yeshua’s agony on the cross was reflected in numerous pasages in the Tanakh, such as Psalm 22 (above), Psalm 31, and even in the Book of Job.

Job’s suffering sounded remarkably like how Yeshua must have felt as His body suffered in darkness on the cross:

Job 30:16-23

“And now my soul is poured out within me; days of misery have seized me. At night [Lai’lah] it pierces my bones within me, and my gnawing pains do not rest.

By a great force my garment is distorted; it ties me up like the collar of my coat. He has thrown me into the mire, and I have become like dust and ashes.

I cry out to You for help, but You do not answer me; I stand up, and You turn Your attention against me. You have become cruel to me; with the strength of Your hand You persecute me.

You lift me up to the wind and make me ride it; and You dissolve me in a storm. For I know that You will bring me to death, and to the house of meeting for all living.”

Grief in the Night

Those of us who have experienced great grief understand the metaphor of the darkened night. Light seems to have betrayed us and night hides our pain well, from others:

Psalm 6:6-7

[David:] I am weary with my sighing; every night [v-kal lai’lah] I make my bed swim, I flood my couch with my tears.

My eye has wasted away with grief; it has grown old because of all my enemies.

When Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians, and her people carried off into exile, Jeremiah likened the experience to a widow weeping in the night:

Lamentations 1:1-2

How lonely sits the city that once had many people!

She has become like a widow who was once great among the nations! She who was a princess among the provinces has become a forced labourer!

She weeps bitterly in the night [ba-lai’lah], and her tears are on her cheeks; she has no one to comfort her among all her lovers.

All her friends have dealt treacherously with her; they have become her enemies.

A Psalm, by the sons of Korah, recognized the grief that came with the night, but they also announced hope, because the melodic voice of YHWH would be with them in the darkness:

Psalm 42:1-3, 7-8 (see also Psalm 77:1-15)

As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; when shall I come and appear before God?

My tears have been my food day and night [yohmam wa-lai’lah], while they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”…

…Deep calls to deep at the sound of Your waterfalls; all Your breakers and Your waves have passed over me.

YHWH will send His goodness in the daytime; and His song will be with me in the night [u-v-lai’lah], a prayer to the God of my life.

In all of our suffering, in the darkness of our lives, YHWH is with us. He is the light in the darkness guiding us home.

Day of the LORD: A Bright Night

There is a conclusion to this epic adventure that is the Bible. The Bible speaks often of the Day of the LORD (Day of YHWH)… when judgment happens and the saved are brought back home, into the Presence of YHWH: 

Zechariah 14:6-9

[Regarding the Day of YHWH:] On that day there will be no light; the luminaries will die out. For it will be a unique day which is known to YHWH, neither day nor night [w-lo lai’lah], but it will come about that at the time of evening there will be light.

And on that day living waters will flow out of Jerusalem, half of them toward the eastern sea and the other half toward the western sea; it will be in summer as well as in winter.

And YHWH will be King over all the earth; on that day YHWH will be the only one, and His name the only one.

YHWH will defeat the darkness. He will find us in the deepest depths and bring us home:

Psalm 139:7-12

Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take up the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will take hold of me.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night [w-lai’lah],” even darkness is not dark to You, and the night [w-lai’lah] is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You.

At the end of the Biblical story John revealed the vision he was given of God’s final plan. In the end, death would be defeated and there would be a New Heaven and a New Earth. And in this new paradise there would be no night:

Revelation 22:1-5 (see also Revelation 21:22-27)

And he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And there will no longer be any night [Greek: nyx]; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illuminate them; and they will reign forever and ever.

Yeshua, the Messiah, kick-started the great Day of YHWH. His sacrifice was the first step to our return to God’s holy Kingdom. 

John 9:4-5

[Jesus:] “We must carry out the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night [nyx] is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.”

After Yeshua’s death and resurrection Paul continued to speak of the Day of the LORD:

1 Thessalonians 5:1-5

Now as to the periods and times, brothers and sisters, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the LORD is coming just like a thief in the night [Greek: nykti]. While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction will come upon them like labour pains upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness, so that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night [nyktos] nor of darkness.

To the Romans Paul offered hope:

Romans 13:11b-12

Salvation is nearer to us than when we first believed. The night [**] is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let’s rid ourselves of the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light.

As YHWH’s image bearers, we are to be the light bringers, serving day and night to bring God’s Kingdom closer to each and everyone on the planet. Our armour of light is reflective and shows God’s glory to those who seek it.

In other words, we serve by night to bring the light:

Psalm 134

Behold, bless YHWH, all you servants of YHWH, who serve by night [ba-lei’loht] in the house of YHWH!

Lift up your hands to the sanctuary and bless YHWH.

May YHWH bless you from Zion, He who made heaven and earth.

Next week: Revisiting TEARS

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