"Darkness" in both the Old Testament (Heb. hasak [J;v'j]) and New Testament (Gk.skotos [skovto"]) is an evocative word. If light symbolizes God, darkness connotes everything that is anti-God: the wicked ( Prov 2:13-14 ; 1 Thess 5:4-7 ), judgment ( Exod 10:21 ; Matt 25:30 ), and death ( Psalm 88:12 ). Salvation brings light to those in darkness ( Isa 9:2 ). Although darkness is opaque to man, it is transparent to God ( Psalm 139:12 ). Indeed, God can veil himself in darkness at moments of great revelation ( Deut 4:11 ; 5:23 ; Psalm 18:11 ).
God Rules the Darkness. The biblical view of darkness and light offers a unique contrast. There is no thought that darkness is equal in power to God's light. The absolute, sovereign God rules over the darkness and the powers of evil. This is evident in several ways. First, God knows the darkness. He knows where it is ( Job 34:22 ) and what it contains ( Dan 2:22 ). Second, God rules over the darkness because he created it ( Isa 45:7 ; cf. Amos 4:13 ; 5:8 ). Third, God uses the darkness for his own purposes: to hide himself from the sight of men ( Psalm 18:11 ; 1 Kings 8:12 ) and to bring his judgment on evildoers ( Deut 28:28-29 ; Matt 8:12 ; 22:13 ), evil nations ( Eze 30:18-19 ), and false prophets ( Jer 23:12 ; Micah 3:6 ; Rev 16:10 ). Finally, God rules over the darkness eschatologically. The time of God's ultimate judgment, the day of the Lord, is portrayed in both the Old Testament and New Testament as a day of darkness ( Joel 2:2 ; Amos 5:18 Amos 5:20 ; Zeph 1:15 ; Matt 24:29 ; Rev 6:12-17 ).
Darkness and Crucifixion. It is against this background that the emphasis on darkness in the crucifixion scene may be understood. Luke records, "it was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two" ( 23:44-45 ; cf. Matt 27:45 ; Mark 15:33 ). While darkness often accompanies the conception of death in Scripture (cf. Job 10:21-22 ), darkness at the crucifixion scene displays God's displeasure on humankind for crucifying his son. It also indicates God's judgment on evil. But the torn curtain exhibits the opening of salvation to all through the death of God's Son.
Final Darkness. The Old Testament and New Testament describe the future of the ungodly in terms of eschatological darkness, symbolizing perdition ( 1 Sam 2:9 ; Matt 22:13 ; Jude 12-13 ). "Hell" and "pits of darkness" describe the fate of angels who sinned ( 2 Peter 2:4 ; Jude 6 ). But for believers darkness will be dispelled by the presence of the light of the glory of God ( Rev 21:23-24 ; 22:5 ). It is only through the light of God in Jesus Christ that darkness can be dispelled.
Michael J. Wilkins
See also Hell
Bibliography. E. R. Achtmeier, Int17 (1963): 439-49; G. L. Borchert, Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, sv. "Light and Darkness"; F. G. Carver, Wesleyan Theological Journal 23 (1986): 7-32; H. Conzelmann, TDNT, 7:423-45; D. Guthrie, New Testament Theology: H.-C. Hahn, NIDNTT, 1:420-25; G. E. Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament; G. F. Shirbroun, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, s.v. "Light"; G. Wenham, Genesis 1-15.
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The plague (the ninth) of darkness in Egypt ( Exodus 10:21 ) is described as darkness "which may be felt." It covered "all the land of Egypt," so that "they saw not one another." It did not extend to the land of Goshen (ver. 23).
On Mount Sinai, Moses ( Exodus 20:21 ) "drew near unto the thick darkness where God was." This was the "thick cloud upon the mount" in which Jehovah was when he spake unto Moses there. The Lord dwelt in the cloud upon the mercy-seat ( 1 Kings 8:12 ), the cloud of glory. When the psalmist ( Psalms 97:2 ) describes the inscrutable nature of God's workings among the sons of men, he says, "Clouds and darkness are round about him." God dwells in thick darkness.
Darkness ( Isaiah 13:9 Isaiah 13:10 ; Matthew 24:29 ) also is a symbol of the judgments that attend on the coming of the Lord. It is a symbol of misery and adversity ( Job 18:6 ; Psalms 107:10 ; Isaiah 8:22 ; Ezek. 30:18 ). The "day of darkness" in Joel 2:2 , caused by clouds of locusts, is a symbol of the obscurity which overhangs all divine proceedings. "Works of darkness" are impure actions ( Ephesians 5:11 ). "Outer darkness" refers to the darkness of the streets in the East, which are never lighted up by any public or private lamps after nightfall, in contrast with the blaze of cheerful light in the house. It is also a symbol of ignorance ( Isaiah 9:2 ; 60:2 ; Matthew 6:23 ) and of death ( Job 10:21 ; 17:13 ).
is spoken of as encompassing the actual presence of God, as that out of which he speaks, --the envelope, as it were, of divine glory. ( Exodus 20:21 ; 1 Kings 8:12 ) The plague of darkness in Egypt was miraculous. The darkness "over all the land," ( Matthew 27:45 ) attending the crucifixion has been attributed to an eclipse, but was undoubtedly miraculous, as no eclipse of the sun could have taken place at that time, the moon being at the full at the time of the passover. Darkness is also, as in the expression "land of darkness," used for the state of the dead, ( Job 10:21 Job 10:22 ) and frequently, figuratively, for ignorance and unbelief, as the privation of spiritual light. ( John 1:5 ; 3:19 )