As I write this, I am reveling in awe of the 90% solar eclipse that was visible here in western Montana. What an event right! In a time of crazy political news cycles, it seems that the moon blotting out the sun is the only thing that had the power to change the stories we read about or hear from our local broadcasters. And for good reason. A solar eclipse happening where you live is a rare occurrence that is only likely to happen a few times in your life. I was impressed to hear of one man who was so moved by the last solar eclipse in the 70’s that he has spent forty years building the perfect, eclipse-viewing home in Wyoming in preparation for today! Can you imagine? Forty years of working, spending, building and planning, devoted to a mere two minutes of total daytime darkness? For some people, the solar eclipse is very significant.
In the Bible, we find that events like today’s are ascribed to have cosmic, divine meaning. Scriptural writers believed they were not only natural events, but signs from God for a particular purpose. In some instances, natural signs and wonders were believed to be omens given by God to get people to change their ways and shape up. You might recall that one of the ten plagues that God set upon Egypt was total darkness over the land. Unlike an eclipse, this darkness is recorded as covering parts of Egypt for three days (Exodus 10:21-29), much longer than the two minutes or so that places like Wyoming experienced, but the story seems to resemble a regular old eclipse in many ways. The purpose of this eclipse was to get Pharaoh to repent and change his hardened heart and let the Hebrew people go. In other instances, the sun’s darkness was prophesied as being part of God’s punishment of the world for its sinfulness. Isaiah spoke of the sun’s darkness as a sign of Babylon’s destruction of the kingdom of Judah for their sinfulness (Isaiah 13:10). Similarly, Ezekiel prophesied that the Egyptians would also be conquered by the Babylonians, a fate which would be accompanied by the darkening of the sun during daylight hours (Ezekiel 32:7). The prophet Joel seemed to be enamored with eclipses! Even though his short book in our scriptures only spans three chapters, he prophesied three times, “The sun and moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining” (Joel 2:10, 2:31, 3:15, NRSV). Joel speaks of these signs for the people’s repentance, expecting the people to turn from their evil ways and be saved. Curiously, he also seems to think apocalyptic terms, hinting that when the sun and moon are darkened, that some will be doomed forever while others saved eternally.
Rev. Seth Nelson, author of The Church Unknown: Reflections of a Millennial Pastor, writes this blog. The blog focuses on the future of the church as well as how God loves and cares for us in the present. He is a pastor in Ronan, Montana.