The book of 1 Samuel opens with a spiritually dark picture. In Chapter 3 Verse 3, we are told that the Word of the Lord was precious. The Word of the Lord should always be precious to His people, but this is not what this word means in this context. Here precious means rare or uncommon. Why would God allow His Word to become rare or uncommon?
In the Old Testament, God’s Word came to His people through the medium of faithful prophets. The Holy Spirit would also come upon certain individuals at specific times for specific needs.
In this case, the reason the Word of the Lord became precious was because there was lack of spiritual leadership. Eli was the spiritual leader in Israel but his influence seems to have been waning, and his sons (who would have been his successors) were openly promiscuous. It was in this context that God calls faithful Samuel to be a prophet. And this is not an isolated example, many times in the Old Testament when the people of Israel found themselves in a spiritual decline, God was faithful in raising up a spiritual leader to set His people free.
These periods of spiritual decline were accompanied by a corresponding turning away from truth and God’s Word. And when a people set aside truth, God’s Word becomes precious no matter what era of time they are living in.
As one studies history, it becomes obvious that there were periods in which there was a spiritual, and as a result, a cultural darkness. The thousand year period between the fall of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Protestant Reformation is called the Dark Ages. Modern scholars suggest that they were possibly not as “dark” as was once thought, nevertheless it was a time characterized by a general lack of spiritual understanding. There were many reasons for this, but chief among them was the absence of individual responsibility and freedom because of the overly powerful, corrupt, and intrusive Roman Catholic Church.
Even in our own time, conditions seem ripe for another Dark Age. When one considers how dependant society is on fluid platforms like radio waves, satellite transmission, and electric grids, the precariousness of the situation becomes self evident. And this is only the physical side of the picture-what about the spiritual? It is no better, and probably even worse. In fact, the lawlessness, debauchery, immodesty, and secularism, among other social ills all indicate a coming dark age rather than a “city on a hill.”
It is always easier to look outside ones self and identify faults and failures in others. We all know the problems facing society. We also know that Christendom in general is weak and allowing the downward spiral of our culture, but what is the picture in our homes, schools, and churches? Are they strong and vibrant, the very opposite of what we see around us? Or are they weak and consumed with inner strife, tension, and a tolerance for things that contribute to spiritual blindness?
According to God’s Word there are at least three different types of spiritual darkness that have an influence on us.
The first is what could be called a theological darkness through ignorance. This is what is talked about in 2 Corinthians 3:14 where it says, “But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ.” Also Ephesians 4:17–18 says, “This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.”
This form of spiritual darkness is characteristic of the Jew and others who are in darkness because of their false belief system or the total lack of a belief system at all.
The second is a self imposed darkness. This involves a conscious decision to turn away from the enlightenment of truth. Sometimes this can be a slow process in which the individual hardly seems to realize what is happening and the effects only are realized years or generations later. This darkness is what Peter was referring to in 2 Peter 3:17, “Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness.” Earlier in the same chapter (v.5) he refers to the willingly ignorant. Ironically, many of these apostates do not consider themselves to be in darkness; in fact, they think they are enlightened.
The third type of spiritual darkness is referenced in I John 2:9–11. “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is no occasion of stumbling in him.” We may not think that our lack of love for our brother or sister is spiritual darkness but it is rather hard to argue with the simplicity of these verses. I like the way the commentator William Burkitt puts it, “…whatever falls short of the duty of loving, cometh within the compass of hating our brother: from every departure from love is a degree of hatred.” We should ask ourselves the question, how much is the strained relationship that I am having with my brother or sister contributing to spiritual darkness in my experience and with those around me?
We find ourselves back to where we started—a lack of real spiritual leadership. You see, we are all spiritual leaders to one extent or another. Our speech, actions and attitudes tell a watching world much about our true commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ. We say the Holy Spirit speaks through the believer individually and through the brotherhood collectively. Am I an enabler of a New Dark Age or a promoter of a spiritual awakening? “The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of God” (Rom 13:12).
~ Peach Bottom, PA