Theology in 3D

Theology and the Eclipse

Layton Talbert | April 9, 2024

The ancient historian Herodotus describes a battle somewhere in northern Turkey between the Lydians and the Persians. During the battle an eclipse occurred, which so unnerved the armies that they stopped fighting and arranged a peace agreement, ending a six-year war between them. Though some dispute whether it was a solar or a lunar eclipse, it’s still commonly referred to as The Battle of the Eclipse.  

In theological terms, an eclipse is a dramatic declaration of general revelation. It is a unique and timeless testimony to the theology inherent in God’s stunningly complex mechanism of creation. The heavens orate the glory of God, day after day speaks the magnificence of the Creator (Ps 19:1–2), and an eclipse is an extraordinarily arresting soliloquy that ought to leave the audience dumbfounded.

Dance metaphors in theological contexts usually strike me as a bit goofy, but I can think of no better parallel in this case. What people witness in an eclipse is not merely an awesome geometrical phenomenon, but an incredibly intricate, flawlessly staged, cosmic choreography executed at velocities we can barely imagine. It isn’t just the moon moving between the Earth and the sun. It is the moon orbiting the earth at 2300 mph while the earth, tilted just so and spinning at 1000 mph, is simultaneously hurtling through space at 70,000 mph on its orbit around the sun—and all of these bodies must be of exactly the right size and at exquisitely precise distances from each other in order to create the engineering marvel witnessed by millions. It is like watching a galactic Scottish reel perfectly performed by gargantuan dancers spinning and circling around each other at high speed for them but in slow motion from our perspective. Two minutes of totality doesn’t seem like a long time, but factor in the speeds and distances involved and it’s enough to lower your mandible.

To conclude that such celestial events—persisting regularly over millennia with predictable and predicted precision—are the product of random, accidental, and impersonal forces is lunacy (pun intended). The only rational explanation for such precise cosmic choreography is a Cosmic Choreographer. God is the Maestro of this epic orchestration. An eclipse is more than a cool phenomenon of nature. It is an extra gift that God built into the structure of the universe to arrest the attention of humans amid their busy little ant-like activities long enough to listen to creation’s silent, speechless declaration of the Creator’s glory (Ps 19:3). Unfortunately, we tend to notice only when it’s way out of the ordinary; we are so accustomed to the ordinary that we forget that it, too, is extraordinary.

Sometimes such cosmic-level occurrences go beyond the awe-inspiring and impact millions of people quite directly. God once communicated—to a pagan Egyptian pharaoh (!) well over a decade ahead of time—major meteorological events and their agricultural consequences (Gen 41), prompting this most powerful world ruler at the time to take the advice of an imprisoned Jewish slave. There would be seven years of abundant harvest, followed by seven years of next to nothing—something the Egyptian Farmer’s Almanac had no way of predicting. But this isn’t about God controlling the clouds just over the fields of Egypt. Consider the semi-global scope of these events.

The fruitful years came and went, allowing the silos of Egypt to be filled in anticipation of the coming famine—a famine that, from the biblical narrative’s perspective, had one primary function: to move the chosen family into Egypt [in order to set in motion an even bigger plan that God had unfolded to Abraham some two centuries earlier (Gen 15:13–14)]. Again, however, it will be helpful to step back and get a broad picture of what God had to do to accomplish this purpose.

More than four thousand miles long, the Nile is the earth’s longest river. Egypt’s agriculture was utterly dependent on it. The river was the lifeblood for all the cropland along the Nile flood plain and especially in the large, fertile delta region where the Nile dumped all its nutrient-rich silt. But what is the Nile’s major source? Lake Victoria and mountain rivers that flow into it. And where is Lake Victoria? In eastern central Africa between Uganda and Tanzania.

We take it for granted that God controls all the weather all the time, at least in a general way (though our frequent displeasure with the weather often belies the sincerity of our belief). But consider for a moment this one specific example of the detail involved in God’s providence. In order to fulfill this specific dream-revelation to Pharaoh, God was providentially controlling the weather patterns continually for fourteen years (seven years good and seven years bad), not only over Egypt and Canaan and the surrounding nations but also over central Africa four thousand miles away.

Even more amazing is that God’s providential activity in this story ranged from controlling massive weather patterns for years and years over millions of square miles to prodding the intimate inner workings of specific human hearts. Imagine in your mind’s eye a satellite image of weather patterns spanning from the Mideast all the way down to central Africa. Now, from that satellite image, zoom in through the clouds onto the continent of Asia, onto the Mideast region, onto the land of Canaan, onto the village of Hebron, into the tents of Jacob, and finally into the very thoughts of Judah, Reuben, and the other brothers. As the story unfolds, God’s providence is doing just that—simultaneously controlling vast [continental] weather patterns and deploying surgical strikes directly to the hearts and consciences of those men, just as Genesis 42 begins to record. And we think America has surgically precise “smart bombs”! The range of God’s power and providence is a stunning thing to contemplate.

Layton Talbert, Not by Chance: Learning to Trust a Sovereign God, 80

God does great things past finding out, and wonders without number (Job 9:10). But orchestrating such events on such a massive scale doesn’t mean that God loses sight of the details and the minutiae. He not only manages nations (Ps 33:10–12) but also oversees individuals (Ps 33:13–15), and delivers every one of them who trusts in him and waits on him (Ps 33:18–22).

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