The Hebrew phrase “b-ohr ha-khayim” (light of the living/light of life) only shows up twice in the Hebrew Bible (in Psalm 56 and Job 33), but the concept of light and life is steeped in the Biblical text, throughout the Old Testament and New.
In fact, it’s such a rich theme that it has enveloped almost every aspect of human history and culture. The Egyptians had a sun-god, Ra; the Babylonians had a sun-god, Shamash; the Canaanites had a sun-goddess, Shapash… and in their respective cultures they all brought light to overcome the darkness, which was associated with danger and death.
This theme is also very evident today, in the books and movies our own time. In Star Wars, Luke, with his sabre of light, fought against the Dark Side. In Lord of the Rings, to face Sauron the Dark Lord of Mordor, Galadriel gave Frodo the light of Eärendil’s star, saying:
It will shine still brighter when night is about you. May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.
Light versus Dark was, and is, the perfect metaphor for Good versus Evil, and humanity has adopted it from the earliest of ages.
This theme of light overcoming darkness was also at the heart of the Bible’s message… the Creator God is a God of Light and we are called to follow the Light:
Come, house of Jacob, and let’s walk in the light of YHWH [b-ohr YHWH]!
The Light of Life
God was the quintessential Light of Life. John, Yeshua’s (Jesus’) disciple, spelled it out plainly:
1 John 1:5-7
This is the message we have heard from Him [Jesus] and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
John announced that God was the Light, because that was the message that they heard from Yeshua. Yeshua was the Light because God was the Light, and He and the Father were united as one (John 10:30):
Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; the one who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life [Greek: to phos tes zoes].”
David really got this concept, that God was Light and Life. David’s early years were tumultuous. He was surrounded by enemies; even his own people, the Israelites under King Saul, were against him. But he held firmly to the belief that He was right to follow YHWH. Psalm 56 was a miktam of David which reflected the dark days when he was seized by the Philistines in Gath:
[David to YHWH:] You have taken account of my miseries; put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your book?
Then my enemies will turn back on the day when I call; this I know, that God is for me.
In God, whose word I praise, in YHWH, whose word I praise, in God I have put my trust, I shall not be afraid. What can mankind do to me?
Your vows are binding upon me, God; I will render thanksgiving offerings to You. For You have saved my soul from death, indeed my feet from stumbling, so that I may walk before God in the light of the living [b-ohr ha-khayim].
Life and Death and Light and Darkness were intertwined. To overcome death, you needed to be in the light. Those whose life was defeated, would fall into darkness. To walk before God in the Light of the Living was the ultimate prize at the end of life on earth. Eternal life in the presence of YHWH’s light was the hope of every follower of YHWH.
Job, perhaps the most suffering servant of God in the Hebrew Bible, was introduced to the redemptive love of YHWH, bringing him from the depths of darkness and into the light of life:
[Elihu:] “If there is an interceding angel for him, one out of a thousand, to remind a person of what is right for him, and he is gracious to him, and says,
‘Free him from going down to the pit, I have found a ransom’; let his flesh become fresher than in youth, let him return to the days of his youthful vigour; then he will pray to God, and He will accept him, so that he may see His face with joy, and He will restore His righteousness to that person.’
He will sing to people and say,
‘I have sinned and perverted what is right, and it is not proper for me. He has redeemed my soul from going to the pit, and my life will see the light [w-khayati b’ohr tireh].’
Behold, God does all these things for a man two or three times, to bring back his soul from the pit, so that he may be enlightened with the light of life [b-ohr ha-khayim].
God has been working hard to bring our lives back from the pit of darkness. But we have to want it.
They Will Never See the Light
Death, and the extinguished light, was the final resolve for those who garnered treasures on earth, but cared not for their Creator:
[Sons of Korah:] Do not be afraid when a person becomes rich, when the splendour of his house is increased; for when he dies, he will take nothing with him; his wealth will not descend after him.
Though while he lives he congratulates himself— and though people praise you when you do well for yourself— he will go to the generation of his fathers; they will never see the light.
Simply, there were two options to face at the end of your life: eternal life and light, or eternal death and darkness.
Yeshua is the Light
There was a great hope that YHWH would save His people from death. And that’s exactly what He promised… an enlightened Saviour to bring peace and rescue them from the darkness of death:
Isaiah 9:2, 6
The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them…
…For a Child will be born to us, a Son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
This was the Old Testament passage that Yeshua read in the Synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. When He read this, He was ultimately announcing His arrival as the Messiah and the bringer of Light and Life.
This theme was a prominent fixture in His ministry:
As Jesus passed by, He saw a man who had been blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must carry out the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.”
When He had said this, He spit on the ground, and made mud from the saliva, and applied the mud to his eyes, and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated, Sent). So he left and washed, and came back seeing.
This blind man had lived in darkness his entire life, until he met the Light of the World, and then his eyes were opened and he could see. He was a child of light and he could see it for the first time!
Children of Light
And the Bible promotes that Children of Light is exactly what we are. Yeshua said that “while He was in the world” He was the light. But after He left the world, we would become the light bearers!
Do all things without complaining or arguments; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.
This is a very serious torch to carry. It’s a big responsibility to be the light of God in this rather dark world. It would be easy to just despair:
Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us; we hope for light, but there is darkness, for brightness, but we walk in gloom.
We grope for the wall like people who are blind, we grope like those who have no eyes. We stumble at midday as in the twilight; among those who are healthy we are like the dead.
But Isaiah’s lament, in chapter 59, turned to hope:
“A Redeemer will come to Zion, and to those in Jacob who turn from wrongdoing,” declares YHWH.
“As for Me, this is My covenant with them,” says YHWH: “My Spirit who is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring,” says YHWH, “from now and forever.”
Yeshua came as the Redeemer and after He left earth to return to the Father, He sent His Spirit to live within us. YHWH’s Spirit dwells like a light in our soul, so we can shine out God’s love, and mercy, and compassion to all.
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), as you try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Do not participate in the useless deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. For this reason it says,
“Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and the Messiah will shine on you.”
We are not the living dead… we are not just waiting to die and slip into shadow. We are the living lights of God’s mercy and love on this planet… and when our day is done here we will face YHWH and walk in the light of YHWH, the great Living One. Until that day, our mandate for living should be to reflect God’s light and love in the here and now. Stand up, and be the Light!
“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of YHWH has risen upon you.”
Next week: Book of Life