One would need to be living in a cave not to have heard about the solar eclipse of next Monday, Aug. 21. Its arrival is being covered by media of all kinds, including newspapers, regular and special TV news reports, radio commentators, and all manner of social media.
Simply stated, a total solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and the earth, causing the sun to be fully obscured by the moon. In a partial solar eclipse only part of the sun is obscured. Google “solar eclipse” for more information than you really want to know.
Wikipedia says: “An eclipse is a natural phenomenon. However, in some ancient and modern cultures, solar eclipses were attributed to supernatural causes or regarded as bad omens. A total solar eclipse can be frightening to people who are unaware of its astronomical explanation, as the sun seems to disappear during the day and the sky darkens in a matter of minutes.”
Because looking directly at the sun can lead to permanent eye damage or even blindness, special eye protection or indirect viewing techniques are to be used when viewing a solar eclipse. Although some say it’s technically safe to view only the total phase of a total solar eclipse with the unaided eye and without protection, doing so is a dangerous and discouraged practice.
In the past, eclipses have been interpreted as omens. One example is the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, who wrote that the Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus predicted an eclipse that occurred during a battle between the Medes and the Lydians dated, arguably, around 585 BC. When the eclipse occurred, both sides put down their weapons and declared peace. Even after centuries of study by ancient and modern authorities, details still remain uncertain.
Interestingly, Holy Scripture contains references to unusual behavior of the sun, including these:
- After hearing Isaiah’s prophesy that he would die, King Hezekiah prayed for his life. The Lord replied through Isaiah that Hezekiah’s life would be extended 15 years. As a sign, the Lord caused the sun’s shadow on a stairway to go back ten steps. (Isaiah 38:1-8)
- In the midst of a battle between Israel and their Amorite enemies, daylight was waning. That prompted Joshua’s command for the sun to stand still. “So the sun stood still, and the moon stayed in place until the nation of Israel had defeated its enemies.” (Joshua 10:13)
For me, the solar eclipse is quite simply a reminder of the majesty of God, who on the fourth day of creation made the two celestial bodies involved in a solar eclipse. To separate the day from the night and “to be signs and seasons and for days and years…God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also…and God saw that it was good.” (Gen. 1:14-18)
Thousands of years later, it still is good, even when one of the celestial bodies hides the other.