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A Biblical Perspective on the Solar Eclipse

The heavens declare the glory of God

6 min

When the solar eclipse of 2017 approached, I saw a Facebook posting with the headline, “What’s Your Eclipse Horoscope Personality?” I do not seek out such information but ran across it when I saw that my youngest brother had posted this comment to it: “I’m just a sinner, saved by grace.” As I skimmed through some of the other comments, I saw mainly references to “the goddess,” the zodiac, horoscopes, and other wretched topics.

At that time, I began to think, “Why doesn’t somebody post a Biblical perspective on the eclipse—or a theology of the eclipse?” I decided that I would do it, and what follows is the result of my study on the matter.  

The word eclipse is not found in Scripture, nor is there any record of an eclipse occurring anywhere in the Bible, but a Biblical commentary on anything, or a theology of anything, starts at one place: Creation.

So we begin with the account of the fourth day of Creation: Genesis 1:14–19. God created the sun, moon, and stars to give light on the earth: the sun to rule the day, and the moon to rule the night. These heavenly bodies were also created to be for signs, seasons, days, and years. Now, the seasons, days and years we understand, but what about the signs? The Hebrew word is owth, meaning “flag, beacon, evidence.” So the sun, moon, and stars are to be flags, beacons, or evidence for what? We find the answer in the Psalms:

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament [the expanse of the sky] showeth His handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge” (Psalm 19:1–2). So the sun speaks all day of the glory of God, and the moon and stars speak all night of the knowledge of God! In Psalm 148:3, the Psalmist exhorts the sun, moon, and stars to praise their Creator—Who, according to Psalm 147:4, appointed all the stars and named each one.

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth His handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge” (Psalm 19:1–2).

But let’s go back to Genesis 1:14 and the phrase about the seasons, days, and years. By implication here, God also established the precise movements of the sun and moon—their exact orbits, rotations, tilts, and revolutions—that bring about day and night, the changing seasons, the tides, the phases of the moon, the revolving years. He did this all for the benefit of His greatest creation: mankind! And with these orbits, there would be times when the sun, moon, and Earth would align in unusual ways, and one of those unusual ways is the occasional eclipse. And in the case of a solar eclipse, the knowledge of God that the moon gives us is, for a few brief moments, greater than the “speech” of the sun. Isn’t that interesting to think about? What a wonderful topic for a family discussion!

Scripture gives us many other statements about the sun and moon; among them, Nehemiah 9:6, Psalm 8:3, and Psalm 136:5–9. One of my favorites is Psalm 84:11: “For the LORD God is a sun and shield. . . .” There are also prophetic statements in Joel, Amos, and Revelation about the sun being darkened at some future time. But I want to focus on one specific instance in Scripture where the sun was darkened in the middle of the day: The Crucifixion. This might have been a solar eclipse; the Scripture does not say, but I’m thinking “probably not.” It was most likely the extreme gravity of the day that caused the darkness and other unusual events. Isaac Watts commented poetically on this event in his hymn “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed?” —

 Well might the sun in darkness hide, And shut his glories in,
        When Christ, the mighty Maker died For man the creature’s sin.

Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper as the primary way that Believers through the centuries were to remember His great sacrifice—His being our Propitiation—but a solar eclipse over the same time period is also an excellent way to remember.

So I would leave you with two primary “takeaways” from this writing. The first is that Christ was and is our Propitiation—He paid the price for our sins. Thomas Chalmers was a pastor in Scotland 200 years ago, and he wrote: “Let the laying hold of Christ as my propitiation be the unvarying initial act of every morning.”

The second takeaway is the Faithfulness of God as evidenced in His creation. The sun, moon, and stars don’t just float or flit or fly randomly through space. God created the movements of these heavenly bodies with such exacting precision that, even as He never changes, their movements never vary through years . . . centuries . . . millennia . . . and therefore can be accurately predicted years in advance. The next solar eclipse visible in the United States will be April 8, 2024, and Northeast Texas (where I live) will be in the area of totality.

Word of the Day: Umbraphile

The study I did back in 2017 continues to be relevant today. Now, here we are, back to this present day in April of 2024, and the “next solar eclipse” is upon us! And to continue our study on this topic of eclipses, let us consider a few key terms you may want to add to your vocabulary:

—Umbraphile comes from its Latin roots: umbra“shadow,” and phile “lover of,” so literally, “lover of shadows.” But its larger meaning is “lover of eclipses.” That would include those of us who will be outside, watching on Monday, with our solar eclipse glasses on! The definition also includes those who travel long distances, establish campsites or get hotel rooms, to experience an eclipse. There are thousands of such people!

And because I love etymological rabbit trails . . .

—Umbra is the name of the darkest shadow in any eclipse, also called the totality.

—Penumbra is the name of the next-darkest shadow in any eclipse. (Pen means “next to” or “second highest or best.”) The penumbra is the “secondary shadow” of an eclipse, which will be the area encompassing most of the United States apart from the totality.

Other intriguing words using the root “umbra” include: adumbrate (to foreshadow, as in a novel), to take umbrage (to be “under the shadow” of resentment), and umbratile (a person whose actions are shady or surreptitious).

Finally, and because I love the words of hymns even more, I want to share with you from two hymns that communicate how nature “sings” of God’s power and faithfulness. (Other beautiful hymns that speak of God’s glorious creation in the skies include “The Spacious Firmament,” “All Creatures of Our God and King,” “For the Beauty of the Earth,” and “This Is My Father’s World.” If you don’t have a hymnal, visit the website hymntime.com.)

Here is the first verse of Isaac Watts’ “I Sing the Mighty Power of God”:

I sing the mighty power of God that made the mountains rise;
That spread the flowing seas abroad and built the lofty skies.
I sing the wisdom that ordained the sun to rule the day;
The moon shines full at His command, and all the stars obey.

“Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” in its second verse, gives the best summary of much of what I have written here, but maybe you have it memorized, since it is one of the greatest hymns of all time. It’s based on Lamentations 3:22–23. Any hymnal will have it.

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness,
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

Loving the Shadow

Writing about umbraphiles—shadow lovers—got me thinking about shadows in the Bible. At least four places in the Psalms, the writer affirms that he is in or under the “shadow of Thy/His wings”: Psalms 17:8, 36:7, 57:1, and 63:7. In Psalm 91:1, we read, “He who dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” Similar phrases occur in Lamentations and Isaiah. In each case, the Hebrew word is Strong’s Concordance #6738, tsel, “shade, whether literal or figurative, defense, shade/shadow.” (The phrase “shadow of death,” as found in Psalm 23, is a different Hebrew word.) Abiding “under the wings” of God is to rest safely with Him as my protector and defender. The Hebrew word is translated as “defense” in two places: Numbers 14:9 and Ecclesiastes 7:12.

Abiding “under the wings” of God is to rest safely with Him as my protector and defender.

This concept is found in the New Testament as well. In Matthew 23:37, Jesus lamented over Jerusalem that He would have gathered her children as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but they would not. What a sad verse!  

I think, too, of the hymn “Under His Wings” (Words by William O. Cushing; music by Ira Sankey.):

Under His wings I am safely abiding,
Though the night deepens and tempests are wild,
Still I can trust Him; I know He will keep me,
He has redeemed me, and I am His child.

Under His wings, under His wings,
Who from His love can sever?
Under His wings my soul shall abide,
Safely abide, forever. 

Under His wings, what a refuge in sorrow!
How the heart yearningly turns to His rest!
Often when earth has no balm for my healing,
There I find comfort, and there I am blessed.

Under His wings, oh, what precious enjoyment!
There will I hide till life’s trials are o’er;
Sheltered, protected, no evil can harm me,
Resting in Jesus, I’m safe evermore.

(While looking up this hymn online (cyberhymnal), I discovered that there are four hymns entitled “Under His Wings”—the other three I have never heard of but enjoyed reading the words. I also found two hymns, also unknown to me, entitled “Under the Shadow of His Wings.” So several hymn writers have thought about this concept as well. Umbraphiles all!)

So as we umbraphiles experience the shadow—the umbra—of the moon coming between us and the sun on Monday, may we be reminded to rest in and take joy in the shadow of His wings, His presence, and His defense. And not only on Monday, but forevermore.

Written by Carol Blair

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