The sun shall be no more
your light by day,
nor for brightness shall the moon
give you light;
but the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your God will be your glory. Isaiah 60:19 [1]

Exiled into Babylon, Assyria and the nations, the people of God groped in darkness. In Torah, darkness is often a sign of walking outside the way of Torah. In Proverbs 4:18-19, we read that

[T]he path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,
which shines brighter and brighter until full day.
The way of the wicked is like deep darkness;
they do not know over what they stumble.

In the land of darkness, humanity is turned away from the light of the Lord. Humanity descends further and further into dark words and dark acts. And yet, all humanity lives by the light of the sun and the brightness of the moon. In the land of darkness, the sun still shines. In fact, the sun and moon and the stars govern the earth.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. (Ge 1:14–18)

These great lights mark our days, our months, our seasons. They tell us when to sleep, when to rise, when to plant, when to harvest. For many cultures, these great lights are the only true rulers. The land of darkness lives under the rule of heavenly movements. From astrology to Baalism to Egypt’s cult of the nile (and the heavenly lights), humanity lived and died by the rule of these lights.

Power for survival comes from seeking to manipulate or control the heavens, the gods, or the nations. For some cultures, this took the shape of human sacrifice. For others, it took the form of slavery. For Assyria and Babylon it took the form of endless war. To live only by the light of the sun and moon and starts is live under the spell of idolatry. Idol worship is not about whether humans believe or rejects the supernatural, the gods or the divine. Rather, it is ultimately about wielding power for survival.

When the people of God were sent into exile, it was a sign that they were already wandering in darkness like the surrounding nations. To walk in the light of Torah is to be able to say “No” to the slavery of Egypt, to human sacrifice of Baalism, to the oppressive wars of Assyria and Babylon. This “No” was a divine reigning down from the heavens (above the sun and moon and stars). It was a “No” to the creatures acting like the Creator.

In the cult of Israel, we hear a “No” against all cults living under the sun and moon and stars. In his essay on “Hitler and Israel,” Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy explains,

Israel built a temple, it is true, but they added that God did not dwell in it, as the gods of all other temples did: Israel voided the Temple. Israel circumcised her young men, it is true; but they did it to the child in the cradle, not to the initiate novice of the fertility orgies: Israel voided the rites. Israel wrote “poems,” but she denied that she “wrote” them lest man-made “poems” became idols. She insisted that she was told and that she replied: Israel voided the arts. In these three acts she emptied the three great “speeches” of the heathen, the tribal, the templar, and the artistic, of their lure and spell and charm. [2]

Israel becomes the “No” to all man’s creaturely religions (including atheism).

In listening to God’s “No,” Israel recognized herself as God’s servant, merely a man in the face of God’s majesty. In this “No” all merely human desires are burned out, and our notion of God’s will is cleansed. “Revelation” is a knowledge of God’s will, after his “No” to our will has become known. Only then is God pure future, pure act – only when all his former creations stand exposed as non-gods, as mere artifacts. To have revealed what is not God is the condition for all our understanding of God. On this basis the Jews became prayer. Israel is neither a nation nor a state nor a race, but it is prayer.

This “No” frees humanity from the spellbinders who live under the sun and wield power under the sun. Israel’s “No” frees humanity from the Pharoahs and Herods and Hitlers. The world always lives under the threat of humans who stumble in darkness and leads others to stumble in that darkness. By equating their will and God’s will or by denying God and establishing their will, their insights, their wisdom as supreme, they control and destroy and threaten the future. Rosenstock-Huessy’s words continue to echo,

And immediately, we see the rise of world-wide spellbinders and race-worshipers, of dictatorships, and super states that un-repentingly identify their will and God’s will, their world and the real world. No separation of Caesar and Christ is recognized. Hence mankind stays forever in need of both testaments – in need of both the “No” of the Old Testament and the “Yes” of the New.

In Isaiah’s song, we hear the hope that the people of God sitting in exile were not forsaken by God. They passed through the death of man’s darkness and were restored to the land. From them, a conquering king would come, the Messiah. His rule was not “under the heavens” and rooted in wielding power like the kings of the earth (Psalm 2). His rule reveals the light that is brighter than the noonday sun. This light is greater than the sun or moon. This light says “No” to the exaltation of the creature over the Creator. This light reveals and restores humanity into the shape of living, loving relations with God, one another and all creation. This light fulfills Torah, embodies Torah. Jesus Christ the True Light of the World leads his people us to become truly human images of the Creator.

Even now, we are learning to walk in the light of the Son.

Image used by permission. Some rights reserved by MyDigitalSLR

[1] All Bible references from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[2] All quotes from Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy comes from his essay, “Hitler and Israel, or on Prayer.” From Judaism Despite Christianity. Reprinted by University of Chicago Press, 2011.