The Darkest Of All Nights

It’s only the first of August, and the nights are drawing in already! That’s a pity! Nevertheless, even in the darkest hours of the night, in the depths of winter - when you step out outside your house, it will never be utterly and completely dark. Why so? Because of the artificial illumination in use all across this land, in this twenty-first century.

In contrast, the nights must have been pretty dark when our Lord walked this earth.

I’ve just been reading a description of an ordinary home in what we like to call “Bible Times”. Here’s an extract.

Inside, the house was divided into living and sleeping areas for animals and humans. The floor would be of beaten mud, though sometimes the family would live on a slightly raised platform area. Windows were small, high and few in number, to keep the building as cool as possible in the sun’s heat; windows were not glazed, but sometimes had a latticed covering. The dark room would be lit with little oil lamps, sometimes supported on a tripod or on an upturned pot.

If we happen to have a power cut during the winter months, I’ll be able to find out what it’s like, trying to manage in the evening by the light of a little oil lamp - because I have one. There it is, in the photograph above. It usually sits on the mantelpiece, next to a potted plant; but today I took it down and filled it with oil, and went into the cellar, to see how much light it would actually produce. The answer is: not much, to eyes that are accustomed to electric lighting. It would take some time to get used to it as the main source of illumination.

Is it really the sort of lamp that would have been used, all those centuries ago? I’m no expert in antiquities, but here is the Certificate of Authenticity that came with it, for what that’s worth.


Here’s a closer view of the lamp, sitting in a little niche in the cellar wall.


Turning to my invaluable “Biblical And Theological Dictionary” by Rev. John Farrar, published in 1889 (found upstairs in that excellent second-hand bookshop on Lord Street in Southport), I note this interesting passage.

The lamps of the East are of various kinds. Not only oil, but pitch, naphtha, and wax, are used to maintain the flame. From the remotest antiquity, the houses in the East were lighted with lamps, and in the poorest family the burning the lamp all night was considered indispensable to comfort. This practice has originated some of the figures of Scripture, and may explain the expression “outer darkness”, which frequently occurs in the New Testament. Matt. viii. 12; xxii 13. The contrast between a room brilliantly illuminated, and a dark street into which an individual might be thrust out, would also give force to the expression.

The Rev. Farrar may well be correct, and it’s a useful insight. But there’s more to it than that. It’s worth reading those passages again, in their context, and then considering the danger that all men are in, if they should come to the end of this life here on earth without ever having been born again. “Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22.13) R. C. Sproul comments: “A description of eternal punishment. There will be no middle ground between heaven and hell.”

The good news is this. You need never be thrust out into that darkest of all nights. “Jesus spoke to them saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” (John 8.12) And in the world to come, there will be no need for little oil lamps, or for artificial light of any kind: “And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 22.5)



In Retirement!