A total eclipse event has lost none of its power to provoke wonder, fear, and reflection. Totality can have an unusual effect that some people call life-changing. “I’ve seen people get on their knees and pray,” one man says “I’ve seen scientists cry”. Weeping and embracing, people feel overwhelmed about being brought together in the same experience. Everyone wants to find some meaning in it, not just those with a leaning to apocalyptic theory or astrology. “I’m not religious”, said another man, “but I think it’s something very like when God says, ‘let there be light’”. Should we find a meaning in it and what would that be?
A Time magazine article reckoned that the true meaning of the eclipse lay in the momentary unity of a very divided United States. Similar imagery features in Scripture of course, particularly in passages describing future judgment. Some also think it may have been involved in Hezekiah’s sign. One passage that seems to allude to a total eclipse is Amos 8:9 “it shall come to pass in that day…that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day”.
George Hutcheson applies this verse in a way that helps us to use the eclipse to reflect on spiritual priorities. The following is an updated extract from his comments. Amos chapter 8 warns of the approaching final subversion of Israel. Their songs of joy would be turned into laments (v1-3). This was because of their sin, their greed and their being weary of true religion (v4-6). God would punish their sin (v7-8). In particular it would be through a sudden change of condition, when they least expected (v9). They would be filled with bitter sorrow (v10) but particularly a famine of hearing God’s word because they had despised it (v11-12).
A Sudden Change
The Lord uses the image of an eclipse to threaten a sudden and total change in their condition. They trusted in their prosperous and comfortable condition. The Lord threatens to send a sudden change, like a sunset at noon-day, or some sudden darkening of the earth in daytime.
1. God is Long-suffering While Sinners Abuse Prosperity
Sinners may enjoy a very prosperous and comfortable outward condition by God’s permission and long-suffering. This may get time to continue and increase until it comes to a height and its prime. This is what it means when it says that they had a “noon” and “clear day”.
2. The Greatest Prosperity May Suddenly be Changed
Although sinners rest and lean on such a condition, it cannot secure them against God. He is provoked to make the very height of their prosperity the time of the sad change of their condition. He may surprise them with a stroke when they least expect it. For the Lord God “will cause the sun to go down at noon…and darken the earth in the clear day”. (See Jeremiah 15:9 “her sun is gone down while it was yet day”). As Hutcheson says regarding a similar verse (Joel 2:10), all created comforts and what men rest on beside God will fail a sinner when God pleads against him.
3. Such Calamity Will be Very Bitter for the Unrepentant
Calamity and real desertions will prove very sad to the unrepentant and wicked. It will be all the more bitter in proportion to the extent to which their condition has been better outwardly. Thus, their condition is compared to a sunset and darkned earth at noon, when the day has been clear.
We can and ought to wonder at the power and wisdom of God in spectacular events of nature such as the eclipse (Psalm 19:1). It is laughable that scientists speak of the precise cosmic geometry that makes eclipses happen as “cosmic coincidences”. (The radius of the sun is about 400 times larger than the moon yet the sun is about 400 times further away from the earth than the moon).
There is far much more to learn, however. The same God who is in control of creation is in control of providence. He is able to turn the greatest prosperity of unrepentant sinners into their greatest calamity, as individuals and as nations. One day this will happen in the experience of the impenitent. They may be like the man who was “clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day…[he] died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments” (Luke 16:19, 22-23).
We do not have to see the eclipse as an omen or apocalyptic to learn spiritual lessons from reflecting on it. As nations and individuals we place too great importance in material prosperity. In many cases we idolise it. Yet we ought to use it in order to embrace God’s offers of grace and better seek and glorify Him. Secularism gradually pushes God to or beyond the edge of our lives, it makes Him irrelevant. We cannot keep abusing God’s favour with impunity. We cannot ignore and reject God out of hand without consequences.