Revisiting SHEMESH: The Timeless & Enduring SUN

I live on an Island. Sun, sand and surf make up a good chunk of Prince Edward Island’s identity. The land (sand), the water (surf) and the sky (sun) usually work nicely together, but whereas the sand and surf are always visible, the sun sometimes hides behind the clouds. The sun (or lack of it) can make or break a good Island beach day.

We have people who identify themselves as “sun-worshippers”. They can’t get enough of the beach life and soaking up the rays. It’s not that they actually worship the sun, but they they do seem to have more love for the sun than they have for the Creator of it.

Most of the cultures that surrounded ancient Israel had a sun-god equivalent. Egypt had a sun-god, Ra, and the Greeks had a sun-god, Helios. The Akkadian sun-god was Shamash which sounds vaguely familiar to the Hebrew word for sun, shemesh. And the Canaanites had a sun goddess named Shapash, who was a royal messenger of the high god El, and often referred to as the luminary of the gods. 

But the Hebrew people believed in only one God, YHWH, the Creator of all things, and so there were strong warnings all over the Bible to not worship the sun, moon, or stars, like their neighbours did:

Deuteronomy 4:19 (see also 2 Kings 23:5, 11)

And be careful not to raise your eyes to heaven and look at the sun [ha-shemesh], the moon, and the stars, all the heavenly lights, and allow yourself to be drawn away and worship them and serve them, things which YHWH your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven. 

YHWH created the sun to benefit the earth, so it was rather absurd for humans to worship the sun and not the One who created it.  

The Sun: Time Marker

For the Israelites, the sun was not a god, but rather it was created by God to be a marker of time. When the sun rose up, it was morning:

2 Samuel 23:3-4

“The God of Israel said it; the Rock of Israel spoke to me:

‘He who rules over mankind righteously, who rules in the fear of God, is like the light of the morning when the sun [shamesh] rises, a morning without clouds, when the fresh grass springs out of the earth from sunshine [radiance] after rain.’

When the sun was at its hottest, in “the heat of the day”, it was noon:

1 Samuel 11:9a, 11

They said to the messengers who had come, “This is what you shall say to the men of Jabesh-gilead: ‘Tomorrow, by the time the sun [ha-shamesh] is hot, you will be saved.’”

The next morning Saul put the people in three companies; and they came into the midst of the camp at the morning watch, and struck and killed the Ammonites until the heat of the day. And those who survived scattered, so that no two of them were left together.

The battle was from morning until noon (the heat of the day, when the sun was hot).

When the sun went down, it was evening:

Deuteronomy 16:5-7 (see also 2 Samuel 3:35)

You are not allowed to sacrifice the Passover in any of your towns which YHWH your God is giving you; but only at the place where YHWH your God chooses to establish His name, you shall sacrifice the Passover in the evening at sunset [at the going down of the sun: k-voh ha-shemesh], at the time that you came out of Egypt. You shall cook and eat it in the place which YHWH your God chooses. In the morning you are to return to your tents.

To describe something that was to occur all day, they also used the sun. For example, God was to be praised all day (from the sun’s rising to its setting) and forever:

Psalm 113:1-3

Praise YHWH! Praise Him, you servants of YHWH, praise the name of YHWH.

Blessed be the name of YHWH from this time on and forever. From the rising of the sun [shemes] to its setting, the name of YHWH is to be praised.

God summoned the people and shone on the earth all day:

Psalm 50:1-3a

The Mighty One, God, YHWH, has spoken and summoned the earth, from the rising of the sun [shemesh] to its setting.

Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God has shone. May our God come and not keep silent.

God’s name would be great all day and into perpetuity:

Malachi 1:11

For from the rising of the sun [shemesh] even to its setting, My name shall be great among the nations, and in every place frankincense is going to be offered to My name, and a grain offering that is pure; for My name shall be great among the nations,” says YHWH of armies. 

The Sun: Geography Marker

The sun was a time marker, but it was also a geographical marker. It indicated a location towards  the east:

Deuteronomy 4:45-47

These are the testimonies and the statutes, and the ordinances which Moses spoke to the sons of Israel, when they came out of Egypt, across the Jordan, in the valley opposite Beth-peor, in the land of Sihon king of the Amorites who lived in Heshbon, whom Moses and the sons of Israel defeated when they came out of Egypt. And they took possession of his land and the land of Og king of Bashan, the two kings of the Amorites, who were across the Jordan to the east [towards the rising sun: mitz’rakh shamesh].

Did you catch all the geographical markers? They came out of Egypt and eventually crossed the Jordan heading towards the east, in the direction of the rising sun. 

The Permanency of the Sun

The phrase “as long as the sun shines” was used to indicate something that was permanent and forever… involving time and space. King Solomon used this phrase in Psalm 72:  

Psalm 72:5-7, 17-19

[Solomon:] May they fear You while the sun [shamesh] shines, and as long as the moon shines, throughout all generations.

May he come down like rain upon the mown grass, like showers that water the earth. May the righteous flourish in his days, as well as an abundance of peace, until the moon is no more…

…May his [the righteous king’s] name endure forever; may his name produce descendants as long as the sun [shemesh] shines; and may people wish blessings on themselves by him; may all nations call him blessed.

Blessed be YHWH God, the God of Israel, who alone works wonders. And blessed be His glorious name forever; and may the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen and Amen.

But what would happen when the sun no longer shined? What would happen when the day sky went dark?

Image by Timothy Eberly (Unsplash.com)

Dark Sun: Day of YHWH

When YHWH created the sun, they were to give light to the earth, but they were also for signs:

Genesis 1:14-15

Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and they shall serve as signs and for seasons, and for days and years; and they shall serve as lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so.

Could there be any more of a dramatic sign than the sun going dark in the daytime?

The Day of the LORD was a set apart day of reckoning… a day where YHWH would change the course of history and make things right. On that day the consistency of the sun would suddenly change and go dark:

Isaiah 13:9-10

Behold, the day of YHWH is coming, cruel, with fury and burning anger, to make the land a desolation; and He will exterminate its sinners from it.

For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not flash their light; the sun [ha-shemesh] will be dark when it rises and the moon will not shed its light.

This was a dramatic change of events. The sun would not be the consistent light it once was, but instead it acted as a sign. 

The prophet Amos also spoke of the day:

Amos 8:9-10 (see also Joel 2:10, 31)

“And it will come about on that day,” declares the Lord YHWH, “That I will make the sun [ha-shemesh] go down at noon, and make the earth dark in broad daylight.

Then I will turn your festivals into mourning, and all your songs into songs of mourning; and I will put sackcloth around everyone’s waist, and baldness on every head.

And I will make it like a time of mourning for an only son, and the end of it will be like a bitter day.”

Although the Day of YHWH was not one single day, (there were a few days of reckoning, and a few to come) the death and resurrection of Yeshua (Jesus) certainly fit into the category. On the day of Yeshua’s death, the sky went dark. It was a shocking sign that the day of YHWH had arrived:

Luke 23:44-46

It was now about the sixth hour [noon], and darkness came over the entire land until the ninth hour [3pm], because the sun [Greek: heliou] stopped shining; and the veil of the temple was torn in two. And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into Your hands I entrust My Spirit.” And having said this, He died. 

Before Yeshua’s death, He spoke about His return. It must have been confusing for His followers. He was with them, what would He, the Son of Man, be returning from? 

Luke 21:25-29, 34-36

There will be signs in the sun [Greek: helio] and moon and stars, and on the earth distress among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting from fear and the expectation of the things that are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near

…But be on your guard, so that your hearts will not be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that this day will not come on you suddenly, like a trap; for it will come upon all those who live on the face of all the earth. But stay alert at all times, praying that you will have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

That was always meant to be the end game… to stand in the presence of YHWH and His Son, Yeshua, the Son of Man. At one point Eve and Adam walked alongside God in the Garden of Eden. By their own actions they had to leave the Garden, but YHWH found a way to bring them back. He would send His own Son to die, defeat death, and remove the curse of the grave that had been placed on humans. 

It was tragic and beautiful… and the sun, as a sign, had a part to play in the redemption of the human spirit. Like the sun, YHWH made us timeless and enduring by bringing us home to Him.

The great Judge Deborah and the commander of the army, Barak, sang a song of victory when they defeated the Canaanites. The last line of the song was this:

Judges 5:32b 

May those who love Him [YHWH] be like the rising of the sun in its might.”

May all who love YHWH be as mighty, timeless, and enduring as the sun… and as loving and compassionate as the One who made those great lights in the sky!

For more on the word SUN, click below:

SHEMESH

Next week: JAWBONE/CHEEK

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