As a child, I was afraid of the dark. When I would go to bed, I would dread the dark. The problem with the darkness was not that I couldn’t see anything, it is that I could, or at least I thought I could. In the relative darkness of my bedroom – when nothing could be seen clearly – every indistinct shape, ever faint movement would become in my mind the evil monsters of my imagination coming to overwhelm me. In the darkness I saw evil; in the darkness I saw fear; in the darkness I saw death. But my parents could drive the evil monsters of my imagination away by simply turning on the light. The instant that light came on, all of my fear was driven away. My imagined death was driven away simply by turning on the light. So that’s what my parents did, they just gave me a night light and the darkness was kept at bay. And that worked, sort of. You see, the problem with a night light, is that it only works so long as you keep your eyes open. The moment you close your eyes the darkness re-emerges. For a while there, as a child, I didn’t get much sleep, and what sleep I got was by no means peaceful. So,
in desperation, I spoke to my pastor. And when I explained my problem to him, he leaned over and looked down at me and said, David, do you know how your parents put a light in your bedroom to keep the dark away?
I answered yes.
Then he said, And do you know how I told you that God comes and lives in your heart?
Again, I answered yes.
Then he said, Well then, why don’t you ask God to just turn on a night light in there for you so you can go to sleep?
So that night, afraid like before, I closed my eyes and began to pray. Over and over I said. God please turn on the light, God please turn on the light, God please turn on the light. I squeezed my eyes as tight as I could and I prayed, God please turn on the light. And do you know what happened? God turned on the light. I saw this tiny pinprick of light, and I focused on it and continued to pray and slowly it began to grow, until in my mind I saw the small glowing night light just like the one in my bedroom and with that small glowing light within, I could at last rest and sleep in peace. I needed God to turn on that light inside to drive away the
evil monsters I feared would drag me away to death. That little light of God inside drove away my death.
Now how I felt about the darkness in my room was much like how the Jewish people felt about Zebulon and Naphtali. I didn’t have a problem with my room itself – I liked my room – what I feared was what would come for me when the darkness came. And this is what the Jewish people thought about Zebulon and Naphtali. You see, the Via Maris passed through the land of Zebulon and Naphtali. The Via Maris is the ancient trade route known as the Way of the Sea. And in the Jewish people’s darkest moment came, it came through the Way of the Sea. When the Assyrians came and destroyed the northern Kingdom of Israel, they came through the Way of the Sea. When they drove the ten tribes of the northern kingdom off and dispersed them – never to be restored – that drove them off through Zebulon and Naphtali, through the Way of the Sea. When the Babylonian Empire came and destroy the first temple, they came through the Way of the Sea. And when they carried off the Jewish people into exile in Babylon, they drove them out of the promised land through the the Way of the Sea. And through Zebulon and Naphtali, God’s chosen people were destroyed and the survivors dwelt in “the region and shadow of death.”
But the Jewish people also saw Zebulon and Naphtali as a place of great joy. Remember, this prophecy of Isaiah had not only darkness, but light. “But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulon and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 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.” Isaiah was telling the people that though they were taken into darkness – into the region and shadow of death – through the Way of the Sea; through Zebulon and Naphtali, they would likewise return to the promised land through Zebulon and Naphtali; through the Way of the Sea the light on them will shine again. And this is what happened. When the Babylonian Empire was destroyed by the Persian Emperor, Cyrus – the one the Jews called God’s anointed deliverer; His Messiah, the Jewish people were returned to their promised land, and they returned through the Way of the Sea; through Zebulon and Naphtali. So just as Zebulon and Naphtali brought the Jewish people into darkness, so Isaiah’s prophecy here is fulfilled when the Jewish people are delivered by Cyrus and returned to the promised land and the light through Zebulon and Naphtali; through the way of the Sea.
But that was not enough. While the nation of Judea was brought back into the light of the promised land, that was not enough. For the Jewish people were still destined for darkness. The Jews like the rest of the world were still destined to dwell in the region and shadow of death. As with my childhood fears, lighting my room was not enough, for when I closed my eyes the darkness was there waiting for me. The light brought by Cyrus the Messiah was likewise not enough; returning the Jewish people to the promised land was not enough. For when they closed their eyes, the darkness was there waiting for them. The Jewish people knew as we all know that the region and shadow of death awaits us all.
What we needed to truly fulfill the prophecy once and for all was not the deliverance of an earthly ruler; not the light from outside. What we truly needed was divine deliverance; what we needed was the light to shine from within our hearts, for that is where the true darkness dwells. So God Himself came and fulfilled the prophecy once and for all. Jesus began His ministry from Zebulon and Naphtali; from the Way of the Sea. From the Way of the Sea Jesus proclaimed the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven; from the Way of the Sea He called His disciples; from the Way of the Sea He drew the people to Him to heal them and teach them; and from the Way of the Sea He began His journey to Jerusalem and to the cross.
The darkness of sin is not to be found in Zebulon and Naphtali; the region and shadow of death is not to be found on the Way of the Sea. So Jesus traveled the true Way of the Sea, on the cross. Jesus journeyed to the region and shadow of death on the cross for us, to deliver us from the region and shadow of death to life everlasting; to shine the light of God’s love and forgiveness into the darkness of our sin. So don’t be afraid of the dark, for through the free gift of faith in Jesus Christ, the light of God’s love and forgiveness; the light that brings everlasting life with Him, that light shines.