Darkness in the Old Testament

In Genesis, the first book of the Bible (Genesis 1:2-5), it is explained that, when God created the earth, ‘darkness was over the surface of the deep'. God then created light (see also Big ideas: Light) which he saw was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God then named the light ‘day,' and he named the darkness ‘night.'

Perhaps because of the natural fear people experience when they cannot see what is around them, and also because humans cannot operate effectively in the dark, light has become associated, both literally and symbolically, with goodness and darkness with evil, misery and ignorance.

God is identified throughout the Bible with light, ‘in God is light; in him there is no darkness at all' (1 John 1:5). Consequently evil, and the Devil, or Satan, are associated with darkness (see Big ideas: Serpent, Devil, Satan, Beast), while those who reject evil are urged to ‘put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light' (Romans 13:12).

This association of darkness with evil is clearly exemplified throughout The plague of darknessthe Bible. For example, when Moses was trying to rescue his people, the Israelites, from slavery in Egypt, the Egyptian ruler, Pharaoh, refused to let them go. Consequently, God sent various plagues on the Egyptians, one of which was three days of complete darkness, which effectively blinded the Egyptians, although the Israelites had light (Exodus 10:21-23).

The idea of moving out of darkness into light is frequently used in the Bible to demonstrate people coming to a relational experience of God. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 60:2) describes the light of God which comes to the people of Israel, in contrast to the darkness of ignorance and misery which covers other nations. Those who cry to God in their trouble are saved from their distress and brought out of darkness and the deepest gloom (Psalms 107:1-43).

Jesus offers light in the darkness

In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is seen as the light of the world who will rescue people from darkness. Quoting Isaiah, the gospel writer, Matthew describes how Jesus came to fulfil the prophecy that ‘the people living in darkness have seen a great light' (Matthew 4:16). Those who are evil and those who reject the message of Christ are said to cling to darkness, ‘light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil' (John 3:19). In John 8:12, Jesus is shown claiming: ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'

Darkness in Literature

Milton's Paradise Lost

In Milton's poem Paradise Lost, Satan is cast out of heaven to dwell in ‘no light, but rather darkness visible'.

Shakespeare's Macbeth

The biblical identification of evil with darkness has been reflected throughout Western literature, perhaps most famously in Shakespeare's Macbeth, where almost all the evil deeds in the play are committed during the hours of darkness. Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth call upon the powers of darkness to make them strong in evil: ‘Stars, hide your fires. Let not light see my black and deep desires … Come, thick night.' The Weird Sisters, or witches, in Macbeth are described as ‘secret, black and midnight hags'.

Miller's The Crucible

Similarly in Arthur Miller's play The Crucible, the fear of witchcraft is also associated with darkness, as exemplified by Abigail's threat to the terrified Betty that ‘I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring a pointy reckoning.'

Related topics

Big ideas: Serpent, Devil, Satan, Beast; Light

Other cultural references

Miller's The Crucible

Shakespeare's Macbeth

Milton's Paradise Lost

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