[On the total solar eclipse of 21 Aug 2017.]

I remember well my tremendous enthusiasm for the last total solar eclipse in the U.S. (1970). It's been a long wait. No wonder, then, that this week many of us Americans stopped what we were doing to take in the 2017 total solar eclipse. Although I didn't purchase eclipse glasses, I did poke a tiny hole in a piece of cardboard, focusing the light streaming from the sun through this hole onto my arm. The moon blocked all but the edge of the solar disc; the image was a clearly visible crescent of light. Inspiring.

So what do eclipses have to do with the Bible? Consider the following:

  • Eclipses are images of judgment. For example, on the day of Pentecost, 33 AD, Peter quoted the prophet Joel: The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Acts 2:20-21). Peter proclaimed that this great day of the Lord had arrived; Joel's prophecy was fulfilled starting at Pentecost. Which means that the sun, figuratively speaking, had gone dark.
  • Just as eclipses are an apt image of judgment, an extra-bright sun and moon are images of blessing. Consider, for example, Isaiah 30:26: The moon will shine like the sun, and the sunlight will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven full days, when the Lord binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds he inflicted. Clearly it would be no blessing if the sun burned seven times as bright: we would be scorched -- no, incinerated!
  • Eclipses have no necessary relationship to the end of the world. Here are all the "eclipse" passages in the Bible I could find: Isaiah 13:10; Ezekiel 32:7; Joel 2:10,31 (ref. in Acts 2:20); 3:15; Micah 3:6; Mark 13:24 (Matthew 24:29). (Amos 8:9 makes a similar point, though there is no "eclipse." Please let me know if you find another eclipse passage.)
  • Note: The sun went dark while Jesus was on the cross, but this was no eclipse (as is often claimed). At the time of the Passover (John 13:1; 19:13), the moon was full -- which means it was on the opposite side of the earth, not between earth and sun.
  • For a broader theological reflection on this week's eclipse, see the article at Desiring God.