The Bible records two occasions when the Sun’s light failed inexplicably, over quite large regions of the earth’s surface. The first was immediatelybefore the Exodus from Egypt, when the light failed for nearly three days. The second was during the crucifixion of our Lord, when the darkness lasted for three hours. At the time of the Exodus we also learn that the children of Israel had light, so that the line of demarcation between the two areas passed between the Israelites in Goshen, and the urban area where Pharaoh lived. At the time of the crucifixion the region of darkness extended from the land of Israel as far north as the Black Sea. Various historical records which have come down to us, enable us to have this additional information. For example, Phlegon of Tralles in his major historical work entitled “Olympiades“, had this to say.
“In the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad there was a great eclipse of the sun, greater than had ever been known before; for at the sixth hour the day was changed into night and the stars were seen in the heavens. An earthquake occurred inBythinia and overthrew a great part of the city of Nicaea.”
This chronological notice has enabled researchers to pinpoint the day and year of the crucifixion to Friday April 3rd, AD 33. Both of these periods of darkness were related to PASSOVER. Both of them occurred at, or near, the FULL MOON.
In more recent years, there has been another period of strange darkness. It occurred on May 19th 1780 over an extensive area of the United States, and the event has been documented well enough for us to obtain some idea of what it must have been like at the time. In this paper, we shall first of all gather together various news items relating to that event, and then consider whether the darkness had any spiritual significance. We are indebted to Mr A..O.Hudson, the Editor of the “Bible Study Monthly” for kindly sending us an article published in Jan/Feb 1967, from which we now quote. Other material has been obtained from encyclopaedias, newspapers, and the works of Rev. Brown Galloway.
May 19th 1780 dawned on the eastern coast of North America without incident, and the customary daily routine of the citizens of New York State, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, and New Hampshire was soon under way. But at 10 a.m. the sunlight began inexplicably to fail from the sky and by 11 o’clock an area of some 650 miles in each direction was completely dark. Work ceased and workers returned to their homes, where lights burned as at night. The Connecticut Legislature, in session at the time, adjourned its proceedings and noted the phenomenon in the Journal of the Senate. A few hours later, discovering that an impression was gaining ground to the effect that the Last Day had come and the Judgment was at hand, the members returned to the House that they might be found doing their duty should the Lord return unexpectedly. The darkness continued until about 2 a.m. the following morning, although the Moon was in full at the time; the disturbance, whatever it was, affected sunlight and moonlight equally. By 4 a.m. on the morning of 20th normal conditions were restored everywhere.
Judge Tenney, a New Hampshire eye-witness, writing on the subject five years afterwards, said, I could not help conceiving at the time, that if every luminous body in the Universe had been shrouded in impenetrable darkness, or struck out of existence, the darkness could not have been more complete. A sheet of white paper held within a few inches of the eye was equally invisible with the blackest velvet. Another eye-witness, Rev. Elam Potter, expressed himself in a sermon nine days after the event. “Specially I mention that wonderful darkness on the 19th May last. Then, as in our text, the sun was darkened; such a darkness as was probably never known since the crucifixion of our Lord. People left their work in the house and in the field; travellers stopped; schools broke up at 11 o’clock; people lighted candles at noon-day and the fire shone as at night. Some people, I am told, were in dismay, and thought whether the Day of Judgment was not drawing on. A great part of the following night also was singularly dark. The moon, though in the full, gave no light, as in our text – – -“. The minister was of course referring to passages such as Joel 3:15, and Matthew 24:29, which speak of the time of the Second Advent.
The “Boston Independent Chronicle” of June 8th 1780 had this to say. “During the whole time a sickly, melancholy gloom overcast the face of Nature. Nor was the darkness of the night less uncommon and terrifying than that of the day; notwithstanding there was almost a full moon, no object was discernible, but by the help of some artificial light, which when seen from the neighbouring houses and other places at a distance, appeared through a kind of Egyptian darkness, which seemed almost impervious to the rays. This unusual phenomenon excited the fears and apprehensions of many people. Some considered it as a portentous omen of the wrath of Heaven in vengeance denounced against the land, others as the immediate harbinger of the last day, when ‘the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light.'”
The 1869 edition of Webster’s Dictionary has the following entry. “THE DARK DAY, May 19th, 1780 so-called on account of a remarkable darkness on that day extending over all New England. In some places, persons could not see to read common print in the open air for several hours together. Birds sang their evening songs, disappeared, and became silent; fowls went to roost; cattle sought the barnyard; and candles were lighted in the houses. The obscuration began about ten o’clock in the morning, and continued until the middle of the next night, but with differences of degree and duration in different places. For several days previous, the wind had been variable, but chiefly from the south-west and the north-east. The true cause of this remarkable phenomenon is not known.”
John Greenleaf Whittier, the “Quaker Poet” (1807-1892) referred to the darkness in one of his poems, entitled “Abraham Davenport.”
“‘Twas on a May day of the far old year
Seventeen hundred eighty, that there fell
Over the bloom and sweet life of the spring,
Over the fresh earth and the heaven of noon,
A horror of great darkness – – –
“Men prayed, and women wept: all ears grew sharp
To hear the doom blast of the trumpet shatter
The black sky, that the dreadful face of Christ
Might look from the rent clouds, not as He looked
A loving guest at Bethany, but stern As Justice and inexorable as Law.”
Finally, I should like to quote from a personal letter I received from Mr A.O.Hudson in May 1986, in which he discussed the available literature on the subject of this darkness.
“There is a note in “The Prophetic Faith of our Fathers” (Le Roy Froom) 1954, Washington DC, Vol 4, page 1219, citingJ.K.Loughborough in “Review and Herald” (which was a USA Adventist magazine of last century) Dec. 4th 1883, pp756-757, asserting that similar darknesses occurred in 1783 (Europe), 1785 (Canada), and 1788 (France), but I have never seen this referred to anywhere else, and since the Adventists of that period were on the lookout for visible “signs”, this may be suspect.”
I followed this up by writing to various Embassies, but obtained no sensible answers to my questions! Not only was the 1780 darkness at full moon, but it can be verified from astronomical sources that an almost-full eclipse of the moon occurred just 28 hours before the darkness fell. There was also a partial eclipse of the moon at the time of the crucifixion, but only visible in the land of Israel for the final quarter of an hour after moonrise, i.e, 6.30 to 6.45 p.m.
So much then for the historical records; what does it all mean from a spiritual point of view? To answer a question of this calibre may not be an easy task, arid therefore we must seek guidelines from the Scriptures, first of all to establish what is said in the CONTEXT of the “darkness” statements, and secondly to determine to what degree FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE may be employed. Factually, the darkening of the Sun, Moon, and Stars seems from the Old Testament to be connected with the DAY OF THE LORD. But comparing such references with those in the New Testament provides us with a more distinct time-frame. In Matt.24:29 the Lord says that the darkening will occur “immediately after the tribulation of those days.” In Mark 13:24, He says, “In those days, after that tribulation – -.” But Peter, quoting from Joel 3:15, declares that the darkening will occur “before the great and terrible Day of the Lord comes.” Hence we may fairly definitely conclude that the astronomical events are destined to separate these two periods of activity. And if “tribulation” ends (which refers to God’s people), and the “day of the Lord” begins (which refers to those who oppose God), we might ask ourselves whether the darkness has the effect of finalising the one and starting the other.(An alternative explanation must here be stated, in that some say the darkness will begin, not AFTER the tribulation, but at the START of the tribulation. The Greek apparently allows for the meaning to be “After the [beginning of the] tribulation – -.”)
The CAUSE of the darkness is given in Joel’s prophecies, 1:1-2:10. Something happens which is described in terms of a vast locust swarm, darkening the air, and ravaging the land. But even though locust swarms have been known to bring darkness, a careful reading of Joel doesn’t justify thinking in terms of REAL locusts. God calls them His “northern army” , and we are left with the realisation that the locusts are figurative rather than actual. The effect of this “army” is to destroy all vegetation, hence to render normal living impossible. The invasion literally takes away the ordinary manner of life of everyone. In a sense it is like the days of Noah, in that the flood took away all vestiges of life as it then was.
Who are these “locusts”? Why is it a “northern” army? The NORTH is often used of heavenly places, and we believe that this army is a devilish horde liberated onto the earth from the middle-heaven; where Satan has his throne. Such a conclusion is open to question, but we put it forward as a distinct possibility. Other expositors have referred to the army as being from Soviet Russia, against the Jews. But since the end of the cold war, and the collapse of the U.S.S.R., some have had to revise their thinking here. And this brings us to the subject of FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE being employed. In Micah 3:6 the darkness is equated with “no answer from the Lord for the false prophets.”
In Amos 8:11 a similar setting is given, using the expression “a famine of the word of God” In Jer.15:9 we read that “she who has borne seven languishes; she has breathed out her soul; her sun is gone down while it is yet day; she has been ashamed and confounded.” In other words, all that was once strength (as a woman with seven children) suddenly becomes weak. The context is that of punishment on evil-doers. Another allusion is in Ezek.32:7-9, where we read (concerning Pharaoh and the Egyptians of that day), “And when I extinguish you I will cover the heaven, and make the stars thereof dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light. All the light-bearers of heaven will I make dark over you, and set darkness upon your land, saith the Lord God. I will also vex the hearts of many people when I shall bring your destruction among the nations, into the countries which you have not known” The fulfilment of this prophecy occurred when Nebuchadnezzar subdued Egypt. But there was no record of any LITERAL darkness.
By the consideration of all these passages, we are forced to conclude that for the most part the darkness is a FIGURE OF SPEECH (of which the Scriptures abound), by which times of judgment occur against those who oppose God. We now have to turn our attention to Peter’s proclamation (Acts 2:16-21) on the Day of Pentecost, quoting from Joel 3:15. “It shall come to pass in the last days [which had therefore, by definition, just begun] says God, that I will pour out from My Spirit upon all flesh – -[and then follows a list of the special blessings resulting from the outpouring] and I will give wonders in the heaven [or sky?] above, and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and vapour of smoke. [Recognised figurative symbols of judgment] The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and manifest Day of the Lord come. And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved [or preserved?]”
Friday 19th May 1780 was just after the Full Moon preceding Pentecost (1st June) and its significance could well be connected with Pentecost. Furthermore, it happens to be 1747 years after A.D. 33, and 1747 years is the period which I have called the GRAND SAROS, the number of years required for the sequence of Lunar Eclipses to repeat itself in the fullest sense. The precise period is 638126 days, which is the exact time between A.D.33, April 3rd, and 1780 May 18th, the time of the Full Moon. [More complete information on this can be obtained by referring to theauthors s treatise, “Seven Steps to Bethlehem.”] Now, just as Pentecost was “attached” to Passover by the period of 50 days, so it seems that May 19th 1780 was attached to the Crucifixion by the Grand Saros of Lunar Eclipses. Undoubtedly there is meaning to this, perhaps a secret, or hidden meaning, insofar as the Grand Saros is not a feature well-known outside astronomical circles.
But we have been warned that the coming of the Lord will be preceded by signs in the sun, moon, and the stars, and it could be that the “dark day” of 1780 is one such Sign. We have already explained that the FIGURATIVE meaning of the darkness is of greater significance than the VISIBLE event. But even so, the actual event must be the precursor of that which it spiritually signified, and therefore during the last 200 years one is able to log the spiritual developments within the church, and observe great and significant changes, some for the good, and some for the worse. But isn’t that the point? In the early stages of the Judgment Scene, there has to be a gradual sorting out process. Maybe it is significant that Mount St. Helens exploded exactly 200 years after the Dark Day, or to be precise, 200 years to the day after the Lunar Eclipse of 18th May 1780.
But another sign in the heavens was to be witnessed in the same region of the United States. In November 1799 a meteor shower was observed in the night sky, of greater extent than is normal. At almost any time of the year the odd occasional shooting star may be seen, but on this occasion the numbers were manifoldly greater, and gave rise to further apocalyptic forecasts amongst the population. But in November 1833, when the meteor stream came round once again, the sky was so thick with shooting stars, that it appeared to be more like a snow storm. From the Gulf of Mexico to Halifax, until daylight put an end to the display, the sky was scored in every direction with shining tracks and illuminated with majestic fireballs.
A London Scientist, writing on the subject some years later, described the spectacle in the following words –
“In many districts, the mass of the population were terror-struck, and the more enlightened were awed at contemplating so vivid a picture of the apocalyptic image – that of the stars of heaven falling to the earth, even as a fig tree casting her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind.”
In 1866 the spectacle occurred yet again, and this time it was witnessed by those in the old world of Europe. Millions of people awaited another such event in 1899, but it didn’t occur. Could it be that the event thrice presented, was sufficient to warn the world? And so we bring to a close this fascinating study. We are aware that we have made only a few tentative suggest ions, because no matter which way the subject is observed, it presents problems of interpretation. Maybe some of our readers have further information or ideas to offer. If this is so, then may we ask you to write to us. In due course, if need should arise, we can then issue an updated version of this paper, to include other contributions One final point. Whether or not these signs are meaningful, the present world is replete with other, more human, signs of the near return of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. How necessary it is therefore that we should make ourselves ready for the Master’s coming, in those ways which are clearly laid down in the New Testament. May God grant us the inner desire to “purify ourselves, even as He is pure,” and so be ready for that Great Day of His appearing.Whata privilege to be living at “the crossroads of history” What a glorious future has been granted in vision and prophecy, throughout history, to God’s prophets! Even so come, Lord Jesus! Amen.