On August 21st, the first Solar Eclipse in 99 years will cross from coast to coast. Beginning on the West Coast near Salem, Oregon around 10:16 am the path of totality will cross the United States in a matter of mere hours before exiting off the east coast around Charleston, South Carolina. Hundreds of thousands of scientists, tourists, and, thrill-seekers will get themselves into the path in order to watch day turn into night for a few awe-inspiring minutes across the center of our nation.
From a pure scientific, western, humanistic viewpoint, the answer is simply a beautiful, natural, and rare event: The moon’s shadow completely covers the sun’s face on the earth. However, what makes a total solar eclipse so rare and awe-inspiring is the size of the moon and the sun and the distance of between the sun and the earth and the earth from the moon. The moon is 1/400th of the distance from the earth to the Sun. The sun “just happens to be” 400 times larger (in diameter) than the moon. As the result, sun and the moon appear to be the same size in the sky- simply coincidence or something more? The majesty and beauty of a rare total solar eclipse makes many wonder- is there any meaning behind it?
God made us with the longing to behold beauty and make discovery.
The potential for a celestial show has already caused traffic jams in parts of the United States with multitudes of people attempting to get into the path of totality across the center of our nation. Within humanity is the desire to behold beauty and make discovery. David wrote:
One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple (Psalm 27:4)
King Solomon then wrote:
It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings. (Proverbs 25:2)
One of the pleasures we will have forever is to behold the beauty of God and make new discoveries to us within the context of relationship with God. A close look at the narratives in scripture reveal the intriguing, beautiful leadership of God over all of human history-while the full glory of God remains concealed.
Is God trying to say something?
The Bible says that when God spoke, he created the sun, the moon and the stars. He gives the reasons why In Genesis 1:14-15:
And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so.
What appears to be simply “scientific coincidence” is not coincidence at all- but more evidence of the beauty, majesty and wisdom of our God. God also spoke through the prophets promising signs in the heavens above and wonders on the earth below before the day of the Lord comes (Acts 2:17-21; Joel 2:28-32). The book of Revelation is full of prophetic events that involve the sun, the moon, and the stars (along with other passages scattered throughout scripture). Let’s investigate about this coming solar eclipse a little bit more:
The total eclipse begins around 10:16am PDT on the West Coast. This is approximately the same time as sunset nightfall in Jerusalem. (The next day begins at sunset or nightfall according to the Jewish calendar.) In addition, it is a “New Moon” (Eclipses only occur during some New Moon phases) on August 21st, 2017. The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar- so the August 21st eclipse occurs on the beginning of a new month. On the Jewish calendar, it is the month of Elul which is synonymous with harvest, and a time of preparation (through repentance) for the high holy days next month (Yom Teruah, and Yom Kippur).
More precisely, it is the beginning of 40 days of preparation for the Day of Atonement, the most holy day of the year on the Jewish calendar. The total solar eclipse is on August 21st, 2017 in the United States which would be Elul 1 5777 on the Jewish calendar. The year 5777 means “the year of completion” for many. Meanwhile, we are only one lunar month away from the year 5778 means the year of New Beginnings according to Jewish tradition. The Sun’s surface temperature is held by scientists to be about 5,778 degrees Kelvin (an absolute measure of temperature). Meanwhile, the letter “Tav” (the last letter of the Hebrew Alphabet) has a numerical value of 400.
The sign of Jonah-and the relationship with an eclipse
Meanwhile, in Matthew 16:4, Jesus warned a wicked a perverse generation that the only one sign would be given to it- the sign of Jonah. What in the world does this mean? As Christians, we assume this means that since Jonah spent 3 days and nights in the belly of the fish, it means that it was a sign that Jesus would spend 3 days and nights dead before his resurrection. This is certainly part of it, but something else happened involving a famous total solar eclipse:
Using modern technology, we can determine that in the year 763 BC there was a dramatic solar eclipse over the Middle East. Out of an animistic worldview (that the gods sent signs in the heavens or trouble on the earth if they were displeased)-imagine the freak out that the Nineveh experienced when the sun went dark in the middle of the day. This occurred in the midst of a time when the Assyrian empire experienced a few other problems as well. In this context, the prophet Jonah appears in Nineveh, warning that God’s judgment is about to destroy the entire empire-and the whole city responded with radical repentance in sackcloth and ashes. The fall-out of this event was well-known in Jesus’ time as it helped shape near-eastern history.
As we now know, when Jesus went to the cross, it was simply not an ordinary, agonizing crucifixion. The scriptures record that darkness covered the land from noon to 3pm in the afternoon (Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33). These scripture passages indicate that there was either a total solar eclipse during that period of time, or God supernaturally darkened the sun. Either way, this was another fulfillment of the sign of Jonah to that generation.
So, what is God saying?
So what is God saying? We need to turn to the Bible for the answers- God uses the signs in the heavens wonders on the earth, and other supernatural activity to highlight truth already directly found (or implied) within the Bible. Using this paradigm- God appears to be highlighting the following truth to the Church (through this total solar eclipse)
While it is important to know what God may be saying- it is also very important to understand what God is not saying. For example, God is not saying that the second coming or the rapture is coming this fall. Jesus himself said that we would not know the day or the hour- and that the Gospel must go to every ethnic group before the end can come (Matthew 24:14; Revelation 5:9-11). Second, it doesn’t necessarily mean some great calamity will immediately happen to the United States (that some are declaring) on August 21st or September 23rd and people should panic. God delights in showing mercy through the cross of Jesus. However, we must repent and embrace the cross of Jesus before it is too late!