The soldier of Naphtali shifted uneasily in the darkness. Since the storm clouds had rolled in the night air was growing colder by the minute. And still no call had come. From the impenetrable gloom he heard the quiet sniffle of the man next to him. He was a fellow Israelite from the tribe of Zebulun. The army could use more like him the man thought. Many, many, more. This waiting in the dark of night was the height of folly. What exactly did this rag-tag group of only 300 hope to do against an army that couldn’t even be counted? Yet the call had gone out, and so here they sat in the black of night.
And as the soldier crouched there, his soul was as dark as the sky overhead. It was a gloom that had taken years to settle over him … as it had settled over all of God’s people. The tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun had always been on the frontier. The first to be attacked and marauded by the nations around Israel. This time was different. His people had turned from God and were given over into the hands of the brutal Midianites. It was hard to believe it had only been 7 years ago they first came like a locust swarm on their camels, destroying all crops, plundering every head of livestock, leaving nothing behind for those who had done all the hard work. Nor had the people been safe, for the last 5 years he and all his family had been living in a cave in the mountains. Nearly everyone had. Some had tried to win back their land, none had returned. Women and children went hungry, men hid in fear. Life had grown so bad that he had seen people waste away … simply give up and die.
But then just when they had thought it couldn’t get any darker the call went out. Gideon a man of Manasseh, a man chosen by God, was told that the Lord God would deliver them. 32 000 men from Naphtali, Zebulun and Manasseh had gathered round him. Over time that number had dwindled down to only 300 chosen by God himself. The victory would be HIS, and His alone. Despite their lack of faith, and faithfulness, God had not deserted them. He would prevail, and they would be delivered. (3) Thou hast multiplied the nation, thou hast increased its joy; … as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
And He would do it with the most unlikely means. So this little army sat there in the darkness, with no weapons in hand. Trumpets, clay jars and torches would be all they brought to bear against a countless army. The call went forth, and the army leaped up. Jars were smashed, Trumpets flared, torches shone forth with God’s Holy light, and in an instant the dark years of oppression are dispelled. (4) For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, thou hast broken as on the day of Midian.
God’s people were redeemed, the enemy vanquished and the spoils divided among all who remained faithful. Finally there was light at the end of the long dark night. (2) The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.
The prophet Isaiah, sits before the scroll and ponders once again the words the Lord has led him to inscribe there. Surely no words so sweet could ever have been written by man alone. For they are words written for a people who don’t deserve them.
The people of Israel had again turned from God. The northern tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun, along with their brothers had mixed with many of their pagan neighbours. Years of inter-marriage, cultural exchanges and a blending of religious ideas had led them to turn to other gods. And when they had turned from the one true God, He was no longer there to protect them. These once people of God, became the first to see invaders like Ben-Hadad of Syria … the first to be forced to pay tribute to Tiglath-pilesar of Assyria … the first to be conquered, over-run, and deported. Their once proud tribal lands now become the Galilee of the nations – the land belonging to Gentiles.
But then, just when many thought it couldn’t get any darker, comes this prophesy of Isaiah. And the words break through the blackness of their future with a glorious light. God would take those who were the first to suffer and grant them to be first to see the fulfillment in the Messiah (1) But there will be no gloom for her that was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. Despite their lack of faith, and faithfulness, God had not deserted them. He would prevail, and they would be delivered.
And He would do it by the most unlikely means – a wandering preacher, a displaced Rabbi, and his rag-tag group of followers. Jesus’ Ministry would be carried out as our Gospel proclaimed, first and foremost in this region of the Galilee. Among those who had turned from God, Jesus would bring forgiveness. Among those who were bruised and broken, Jesus would give healing. Among those who had been abandoned to their fate and the whims of the world, Jesus would again bring hope. Among those who deserved nothing but wrath and punishment, this Jesus would come with life and salvation. This planting of the Lord, once scattered to the winds, would be gathered back in to become a rich harvest of their God. (3) Thou hast multiplied the nation, thou hast increased its joy; they rejoice before thee as with joy at the harvest …
One day in the future, this conquered people would be brought out of their gloom and restored to their rightful place. Their captors would themselves be captured, their oppressors oppressed, their inheritance returned (4) For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, thou hast broken.
It might take many hundreds of years to come, but there is light at the end of their long night of captivity. (2) The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.
Good Christian men and women sit in the pew on a Sunday morning and wonder what will come next. Like the people of Naphtali and Zebulun of old, you are on the front lines of good and evil. You are in the trenches every day – squarely faced off against the powers of the devil, and the enticements of our fallen world. And if that is not enough, there is the continual pressures of that old nature that saboteur, trying to undermine all that has been slowly building.
And just like those men and women of old, we too have turned from God, from time to time. Looking to ourselves, our careers, our wealth, family, or friends to be our safety net. And where we have turned from God, He is no longer there to protect us from all that might befall us. And so, we too have at times been given over to doubts and fears, to worldly oppression. Everyone gathered here has seen their own dark night of the soul. Each one of us here will see one again! A job is lost and then comes the uncertainty of being able to make ends meet, pay the bills, have enough food to eat. Declining health brings the fears of being left helpless and dependent upon the mercy of others. A loved one dies, and the gloom is palpable, the whole world seems to come crashing down.
There are thousands of ways the darkness can descend. Some take many years and many shades of gray – a rut that cannot be escaped. Others can bring the staggering blackness in a single overwhelming moment. Yet it all comes to the same end – the joy and goodness of life are stolen away, and we are captives to the gloom. What is left to the man with no means of support? What is left for the woman with a terminal disease? What is left for the senior with no family? Or the youth with no friends? One by one, the things we look to for support will fail us.
But, dear friends, just when you think it can’t get any darker … Our Lord and Light comes with forgiveness, hope and healing. The very same Jesus prefigured in Gideon … the very same Christ, promised by Isaiah to the Galilee of the Gentiles. Through His preaching and Teaching, through His suffering and dying, through his resurrection and ascension He has come in power and might and has defeated the foes that beset us. He has led us to everlasting victory. (1,3) But there will be no gloom for her that was in anguish. Thou hast multiplied the nation, thou hast increased its joy; they rejoice before thee as with joy at the harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
In Jesus patience and faith reap a rich harvest. In Jesus that which seeks to destroy us is turned to our good. And it all continues to happen by the most unlikely means: God’s Word and Sacraments! The waters of Baptism are an ever-flowing stream of the forgiveness of sins and life eternal. The Holy Scriptures are a soothing balm of relief as they bring the constant assurance and hope that can only be found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Lord’s Supper grants healing and new life to sin wearied souls. (4) For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, thou hast broken.
No matter how dark life gets there has always been a light at the end of the tunnel. The light of God’s love; the light of God’s care; the light of God’s mighty acts of deliverance in Jesus Christ our Lord. To be sure, it is a light that we don’t deserve, but a light graciously waiting for us none-the-less. A glorious and Holy light to end the long night sin’s reign in our lives. (2) The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.