“Whereby the dayspring from on high Ruth visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
“Behold the morning Star arise,
Ye that in darkness sit!
He marks the path that leads to peace,
And guides our doubtful feet.”
Beautiful, comforting verse!
Taken from the Song of Zacharias!
For Zacharias, you see, could now sing!
Once through unbelief he was both deaf and dumb.
For when the angel of the Lord had announced to him the coming birth of a son, when the aged priest was told that his barren wife Elizabeth would bring forth, Zacharias would not believe. He had asked for a sign. And a sign had been given to him, the sign of dumbness, until the day that the promise would be fulfilled.
But now the word of promise: was fulfilled!
He who was to go before the face of the Lord had been born!
And when the day had come when this son was to be circumcised according to the law of Moses, and his name was required, the aged father could not speak. The neighbors and relatives who were present at the scene urged that he should be named after his father. But the mother objected, and said that his name should be John. And the aged father, being pressed to affirm or deny, motioned for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, “His name is John.”
Then was his mouth opened and his tongue loosed!
And with praise to God, he uttered this song:
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel!
For He hath visited and redeemed His people!
To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant!
That is the theme of this beautiful and inspired song!
Zacharias’ son would be the prophet of the Most High. Greater, indeed, he would be than all that prophesied before him. For, while all the prophets of old could only see the promise afar off, John would be able to touch Him, and point with his finger to the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world!
With clear, spiritual, insight Zacharias, beholding the son of his old age, understands that the Lord had visited His people; that it is now the fullness of time; and that God, Who would raise up the horn of salvation out of the house of David, had through His mercy caused the Dayspring from on high to appear!
The Dayspring from on high!
To give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death!
The picture is horribly complete!
Sitting in darkness!
Like the miner caught in an explosion miles below the earth’s surface, trapped in utter darkness, with all avenues of escape cut off. Or, perhaps still closer to the meaning of the text, like the victim on skid-row, caught in the darkness of moral depravity. It is a darkness that offers him an awful dilemma. If he moves, he may stumble and fall to his death. If he sits, he will also perish with suffering and death. Sitting in darkness, the sinner knows no way out; remaining in darkness, death’s cold chills are his only companions.
Sitting in the shadow of death!
That is, the darkness that is caused by death!
Death, that grim reaper, does not walk in the light. Rather, he blots out the light and brings on the shades of darkness. And to sit in the darkness of death is indicative of hopelessness and despair. Who is the artist that can paint it? It defies description! But such is the awful figure presented in our text!
But whence is this darkness and this shadow that is caused by death?
How did those enveloped in this awful state and condition become prey to this dilemma?
We know the answer!
Not always was there darkness!
Once the sun shown brightly in Eden’s garden! It was then the daytime of all creation! When with scintillating grandeur the raying sun played upon the glorious works of God, bringing out of each creature the sparkling wisdom and glory of the Creator. Then all creation breathed with life and joy and peace!
But, alas, when sin came, darkness and death intercepted the light and swooped down upon the whole creation of God. Ever since the fall of man it has been dark with the spiritual darkness of death. In that darkness, all men by nature sit. In that darkness there is no place to go, and no passage that will lead them out. O, there are the wise of the world who would offer a way, a plan to get out. They have devised a plan of salvation in social reform, and education. They have called for peace parleys, and conferences to solve the problems. They have made many scientific inventions which are calculated to bring about the freedom men desire.
But it is all for nought!
There is a guilt that cannot be blotted out! There is a power of corruption from which man cannot deliver himself! There are shackles of death which man cannot break! Night it is, hopeless night! In the darkness men sit. In the shadow of death they grope, with nothing but hopelessness and despair!
All humanity, apart from Jesus Christ, is covered by this awful darkness! Every soul that is born out of Adam, — and that includes you and me, as we are by nature, — is enveloped in this shadow of death. Into that sphere, the Dayspring from on high has come to visit us!
It is that of the sun in its rising! The sun as it appears in golden luster on the horizon, and prophesying of a day that will be presently bathed in light! The reference here is undoubtedly to Malachi 4:2, “But unto you that fear my name, shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings . . .” Here the sun is looked at not merely as the light bearer, but as the healer. Its wings are its beams of light spread out over the earth. And those beams of radiant light literally carry in them the cure of our diseases, etc. There is also no doubt a reference to Isaiah 9:2, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.”
It is to these prophecies that Zacharias refers and which he evidently had in mind as he uttered the prophetic words of our text.
O, you knew it all the time, even when you read the text which appears above this Meditation, that the figure pointed to Jesus Christ our Lord!
When you were a little child, and could not even pronounce the name of the Saviour, you heard about Him. It was the theme of the whole life of your forbears, your parents, and your grand-parents before them, your pastors and teachers. They all spoke of Him, and you heard it o’er and o’er. The Dayspring from on high is the blessed Son of God Who comes to us with healing in His wings!
And indeed, He is from on high!
He is not of us! We did not plan on Him! We did in the generations of our race, and became like unto us in all respects except sin, He was nevertheless not of us at all!
He is of God!
He came to us from out of this world. He is planned, prepared, and sent of God, the God of our salvation! He is come to us in the darkness and shadow of death through the sovereign and tender mercy of our God!
Through the tender mercy of our God!
He hath visited us!
Into the midst of our suffering and death He came! That He visited us, means that He came to behold our plight, to look after us in our misery, to bring help and deliverance to the captives, to care for and to heal our sickness and pain. He came to bring light into our darkness, life into our death. In one word, to bring us His salvation!
Dispelling our hopelessness!
As the Sun of righteousness, purging away our sins!
And to guide our feet into the way of peace!
Peace! That beautiful state of harmony where confusion and warfare are dispelled! Here it refers to the harmony between your heart and the very heart of God! In the darkness in which we by nature grope, we were enemies of God and of one another. In the darkness and shadow of death is the dispensation of the holy wrath of God, a wrath that shall be felt to the full in outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. But when the Dayspring, the Light from on high appears, the darkness is removed, and with it the awful dispensation of wrath. God then looks down on those who were children of wrath, but blissful harmony is our experience.
In the way of peace to guide our feet!
He straightens out our feet which have been entangled in the quagmires of sin and the sloughs of despondency. And He sets them on the path of light that leads to perfect peace!
Beginning at Bethlehem!
He is acclaimed by the angels of glory as the Peace Bringer when they sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace in men of his good pleasure.”
He Himself declares when He stood in the presence of men, “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness.” “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
And on His cross He makes peace!
So the apostle could say of Him, “And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth; or things in heaven.” And again, “For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, . . . for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: and came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.”
But He doesn’t stop there!
He continues to lead us on!
Until we shall arrive in the haven of peace, where there will be forever no night!
Blessed God of our salvation!