Previously we explored the well-known Parable of the Hidden Treasure (Matthew 13) and discovered a fortune of wisdom from the early church. The hidden treasure is the mysteries of God’s Word, found beneath the surface of its literal interpretation. Following this, we delved into God’s hidden love and uncovered the reason why, at times, we feel separated from God and the purpose of this. To round out this trilogy, we will look at a curious statement from King David, who in the 18th Psalm wrote, “He made darkness His hiding place; His canopy around Him was dark waters and thick clouds of the skies.” (Psalm 18:11). Is not darkness negative and has nothing to do with God? (See 2 Corinthians 6:14). Without careful attention to God’s Word, we could miss the purpose of these types of dichotomies. According to the Hebraic way of thinking and corresponding to the understanding of the earliest church (following Jesus, prior to 325 AD), there is a dual meaning for darkness in Scripture. For this text, we will be exploring how darkness in this context is in fact good, and the purpose it serves.
In Psalm 18 we see King David use darkness synonymously with where God hides Himself (Psalm 18:11). This is not the only place in scripture where we see this parallel, for example in Isaiah we read “I will give you the treasure of darkness and hidden riches of secret places, that you may know that I, the LORD, Who call you by your name, Am the God of Israel.” (Isaiah 45:3). Isaiah is stating that knowing the LORD comes after receiving something that is hidden in darkness. In Exodus we read “so the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was.” (Exodus 20:21), and Daniel states “He reveals deep and secret things; He knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with Him.” (Daniel 2:22). These are just a few examples to illustrate how darkness can be a place of God’s hiding or concealment (1), and according to the Hebraic way of thinking, something concealed must not remain so, but should be revealed through knowledge (2) (see also Deuteronomy 29:29; Proverbs 25:2; Ephesians 1:17; Revelations 1:1).
Let’s delve deeper into an excerpt from Origen, a second-third century church father who had profound revelation of Scripture and dissected such topics as these. In his Commentary on the Gospel of John he writes:
…it is necessary for us to point out that darkness is not to be understood, every time it is mentioned, in a bad sense; Scripture speaks of it sometimes in a good sense. The heterodox [heretics] have failed to observe this distinction, and have accordingly adopted most shameful doctrines about the Maker of the world, and have indeed revolted from Him, and addicted themselves to fictions and myths. We must, therefore, show how and when the name of darkness is taken in a good sense. Darkness and clouds and tempest are said in Exodus (Exo_19:9, Exo_19:16) to be round about God, and in the eighteenth Psalm, (Psa_18:11) “He made darkness His secret place, His tent round about Him, dark water in clouds of the air.” Indeed, if one considers the multitude of speculation and knowledge about God, beyond the power of human nature to take in, beyond the power, perhaps, of all originated beings except Christ and the Holy Spirit, then one may know how God is surrounded with darkness, because the discourse is hid in ignorance which would be required to tell in what darkness He has made His hiding-place when He arranged that the things concerning Him should be unknown and beyond the grasp of knowledge.
Origen points out, as aforementioned, that darkness in scripture can be referred to in a good sense and those who disregard this understanding twist the Word of God, adopting shameful doctrines. This is why we see such a strong emphasis throughout the New Testament on adhering to the teachings passed down by the Apostles. For example, to the church of Thessalonica, the Apostle Paul writes: “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions [doctrines] which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” (2 Thessalonians 2:15), and to his disciple Timothy, “Hold fast the pattern of sound words [doctrine] which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 1:13). Origen goes on to explain that the knowledge of God is beyond human power to understand; hence, He is hidden in darkness. But does this mean the knowledge of God is to remain hidden from us?
Should any one be staggered by these expositions, he may be reconciled to them both by the “dark sayings” and by the “treasures of darkness,” hidden, invisible, which are given to Christ by God. In nowise different, I consider, are the treasures of darkness which are hid in Christ, from what is spoken of in the text, “God made darkness His secret place,” and the saint “shall understand parable and dark saying.” (Pro_1:6) And consider if we have here the reason of the Saviour’s saying to His disciples, “What ye have heard in darkness, speak ye in the light.” The mysteries committed to them in secret and where few could hear, hard to be known and obscure, He bids them, when enlightened and therefore said to be in the light, to make known to every one who is made light. I might add a still stranger feature of this darkness which is praised, namely, that it hastens to the light and overtakes it, and so at last, after having been unknown as darkness, undergoes for him who does not see its power such a change that he comes to know it and to declare that what was formerly known to him as darkness has now become light. (3)
Here, Origen explains how God hides Himself in the dark sayings of His Word, which is a symbolic expression of His parables and proverbs. In alignment with this, Clement of Alexandria (second century) wrote: “Wherefore the holy mysteries of the prophecies are veiled in the parables – preserved for chosen men, selected to knowledge in consequence of their faith; for the style of the Scriptures is parabolic.” (4) (cf. Matthew 13:10-11; Mark 4:11; Luke 8:10). Origen highlights that few heard the mysteries of the Word, and we see in Scripture that Jesus had a remnant of faithful followers. But it was these men, the disciples, turned Apostles who were given the hidden word of God (Mark 4:34) and were bidden to share it with the world, once enlightened in their understanding (cf. Matthew 28:19-20 and Mark 16:15). Finally, and very importantly, Origen remarks that once one comes to understand the dark sayings of God’s Word, he is now enlightened, having found God (the Word) hidden in darkness. This is referred to in Scripture as revelation: something that was once hidden, but now revealed through knowledge (5).
In another place, Origen explains why God conceals Himself from certain people, as we have briefly touched on already. In his discourse against Celsus (a heretic of his time) Origen states:
Now, according to a Hebrew figure of speech, it is said of God in the eighteenth Psalm, that “He made darkness His secret place,” (cf. Psa_18:11) to signify that those notions which should be worthily entertained of God are invisible and unknowable, because God conceals Himself in darkness, as it were, from those who cannot endure the splendours of His knowledge, or are incapable of looking at them, partly owing to the pollution of their understanding, which is clothed with the body of mortal lowliness, and partly owing to its feebler power of comprehending God. And in order that it may appear that the knowledge of God has rarely been vouch-safed to men, and has been found in very few individuals, Moses is related to have entered into the darkness where God was. (cf. Exo_20:21) And again, with regard to Moses it is said: “Moses alone shall come near the Lord, but the rest shall not come nigh.” (cf. Exo_24:2) And again, that the prophet may show the depth of the doctrines which relate to God, and which is unattainable by those who do not possess the “Spirit which searcheth all things, even the deep things of God,” he added: “The abyss like a garment is His covering.” (cf. Psa_104:6) (6)
Origen explains that the knowledge of God is purposefully kept hidden from those who are incapable of understanding its depth, and cannot endure the trials that come for the Word’s sake (Mark 4:17). This eradicates a lot of common “easy gospel” theologies we see roaming the Church today, in which a simple verbal confession or just attending church gets us into the Kingdom. There is much depth to the Word of God (that we must understand to know Him, cf. Matthew 7:21-23), which requires close attention in order that we do not pollute it with our own interpretations, just as Peter warned in his second epistle regarding the Apostle Paul’s writings: “… some things [are] hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.” (2 Peter 3:16). Origen highlights the lowliness of corporeal understanding, which cannot comprehend God (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:6, 11), which is why He has given us His Holy Spirit, the teacher and comforter (John 14:26), to aid us in seeking out the depth of God, “for the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10).
Furthermore, Origen writes:
Nay, our Lord and Saviour, the Logos of God, manifesting that the greatness of the knowledge of the Father is appropriately comprehended and known pre-eminently by Him alone, and in the second place by those whose minds are enlightened by the Logos Himself and God, declares: “No man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father but the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him.” (cf. Mat_11:27) (6).
It is through the Son of God, the Word (Logos) who was concealed in the flesh (John 1:14) that we are enlightened to know the Father. Just as Christ Himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.” (John 14:6-7). This confirms what we read earlier from Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel of John, that the knowledge of God is “beyond the power, perhaps, of all originated beings except Christ and the Holy Spirit.” (3)
It is time for the Body of Christ to be rejoined to the Father by entering the hiding place, for “it is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.” (Proverbs 25:2). God hides Himself in darkness, not to remain hidden, but rather for His sons to seek His discovery (Matthew 7:7-8), but “narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are a few who find it.” (Matthew 7:14). Let this be a call to dwell in the hiding place, abiding under the shadow of the Almighty (Psalm 91:1), because it is in the darkness that we will find the light.
- Brown Driver Briggs Hebrew definitions: ‘Darkness’ (H2821)
- The Complete Word Study dictionary: ‘Mystery’ (G3566)
- Origen, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Bk. II, Sect. 23
- Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, Bk. VI, Chap. XV
- The Complete Word Study dictionary: ‘Revelation’ (G602)
- Origen, Against Celsus, Bk. VI, Chap. XVII
All scripture references from The Holy Bible: New King James Version: NKJV. Thomas Nelson, 2010 (bold emphasis added throughout).