Treasures Of Darkness
“And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the LORD, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel.”—Isaiah 45:3
In order that we might receive all that God has for us in this verse in its spiritual application to our own lives, we will spend a moment considering its literal meaning and its historical application. These are words that were actually spoken by Jehovah the living God to a heathen king, Cyrus, king of Persia. This is the only place in Scripture where a man who was an unbeliever is called “the anointed of God.” He was given that title because, even though he didn’t realize it himself, he was to be God’s chosen instrument through whom the people of Israel were to be delivered from captivity. Just as at one time God used the mighty power of Chaldea to bring chastisement, judgment and captivity upon His people, so He will use yet another heathen power as an instrument to set His people free. In all the dynamic rise and fall of kings, thrones and empires, one after another, behind the outward events which any casual observer could see, there was the unseen hand of an omnipotent God, directing all the affairs of men and nations for one supreme object, the deliverance of His people. “For Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me” (Isaiah 45:4).
Now I pause a moment to say this by way of parenthesis. This is not only a fact of history. It is the story of all history which might well be called His story, for that is history. It is the truth behind the breathtaking events of the decade in which we now live. Cyrus is preferred in order that Israel might be released. Cyrus shall have a kingdom but only in order that God’s people may have their liberty. The Lord raises up one, and He puts down another. Behind all the drama of human events today there is a God Who is planning for His church, through affliction and persecution, chastening and tribulation, to be perfected and prepared to inherit the kingdom of God. In the early days of the Christian church, when Paul and Barnabas were conserving those who were converted to the Christian faith as they went from place to place, confirming them in their faith, and exhorting them to remain steadfast, they reminded them that it was through much tribulation they would inherit the kingdom of God. He, our Lord Jesus, Who sold all that He had to purchase a pearl of great price, His church, is pressing that pearl through the fiery furnace of persecution that one day, as the book of Daniel says, it may shine as the brightness of the firmament and, having been used to turn many to righteousness, as the stars for ever and ever.
It is only as you hold that truth deep down in your heart and mind today that you will be kept sane. If you have that truth gripping your soul, then in the midst of all tribulation you will have peace.
To return to our text, at the time when it was spoken Babylon was immensely powerful. We are told that in circumference it was forty-five miles around, that it had walls that were thirty-two feet thick, so wide that six chariots could proceed side by side and drive abreast on them. Those walls were one hundred cubits high, and within that vast citadel, like an enormous concentration camp, Israel were captive for seventy years. But God would deliver them from that bondage. So these promises are given to the one whom He has chosen to use as His instrument for their salvation. The history of their subsequent deliverances is given in Daniel 5.
At the time the words of our text were spoken, nothing would seem more improbable. There were, of course, evidences that the chastisement of God was of necessity leading His people into captivity, but in a mere two hundred years all that was said here was fulfilled and accomplished because God raised up a heathen power in order to do His will. I have no doubt whatsoever, of course, that God could have done this through someone who was one of His own people, a Jew. He could have done it, for instance, through Zerubbabel the governor of Judah, who after the captivity laid the foundations of the new temple. May I suggest to you that never in all history has God trusted His people with a vast amount of material resources and material power. God does not operate in that way. Very seldom has the Christian church been blessed with wealth, as the world counts wealth. God knows the snares and temptations that are attached to such, and so He has seldom seen fit to entrust His people with it. Rather He has made good use of it in the hands of other people for the good of His own, by making friends of the mammon of unrighteousness.
So for the sake of His people He will hold the right hand of Cyrus (v. 1). He will subdue nations before Him, and He will loose the loins of kings. That strange phrase means that He will terrify them. In Daniel 5 Belshazzar at his drunken feast saw writing on the wall, and we are told that his loins were loosed and his knees smote one against the other in terror!
Cities would surrender to Cyrus, gates would open up before him, the long distance marches apparently would be made easy as God made the crooked places straight in front of him. No opposition would be able to stand in his way, and even gates of brass with bars of iron (of which there were no less than one hundred in Babylon) would all be severed and broken in pieces before his triumphant march. Not only so, but treasures of gold and silver buried underground—the wealth of many nations, collected and stored in this vast wealthy community of Babylon would all come to Cyrus. God seems to pay good wages for doing His work, and Cyrus was going to be much wealthier because he did the work of God, and when it was all accomplished Cyrus honestly acknowledged that God had done it: “The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and He hath charged me to build a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah” (Ezra 1:2).
What Cyrus aimed at in his victories we may well guess, but we are not left in any doubt of God’s purpose, for it is given in the second part of Isaiah 45:3, Cyrus might come to know that the Lord is God, “that I the Lord which call thee by thy name am the God of Israel.” Furthermore in verse 4, He says that Israel would be released and that in the day of great victory Cyrus might know that all he had been doing was fulfilling the purpose of God. Here was God’s objective therefore in using this man.
Here then is just a very brief glimpse at the moving of the hand of God that moves the world, of the things that were going on behind the scenes and the purpose of them in the mind of our sovereign Lord to Whom the nations of Earth are only a drop in the bucket, Who will set His King upon His holy hill of Zion and give Him the heathen for His inheritance and the uttermost parts of Earth for His possessions. Read again the amazing words in Matthew 25:31–34. Ask that you may have a Spirit-anointed mind to see the maze and confusion of all current events from the standpoint of the throne in heaven. Our God is on the throne. Not even Khrushchev can lift a little finger without permission from our risen, victorious, coming Saviour. He will raise up one, He will put down another, that His purposes of redemption for His people may be brought to a wonderful triumphant conclusion.
The words of this text, however, have a much more intimate and personal application than this which will be more meaningful as you consider them against the background of what I have just been saying. “I will give thee the treasures of darkness.” I don’t want you to listen to these words spoken to a heathen monarch. I want you to listen to them as spoken by the Spirit of God to your own heart this morning. “I will give thee the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the LORD, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel.”
Do you think that darkness has any treasures? Isn’t darkness something of which we are all afraid? You remember the words of the Lord Jesus: “Men prefer darkness to light because their deeds are evil.” Darkness: physical darkness, suffering; mental darkness, mental agony; spiritual darkness, a cloud between ourselves and God. Don’t you think that these are things to be avoided at any cost? Surely, and yet our text says, “I will give thee the treasures of darkness.”
I want to speak about some of the treasures I have found, as a Christian, in the days of darkness, and first I would say that it takes darkness to put a man in his right perspective. You know how much the darkness reveals. Maybe you hadn’t thought about that. It only reveals a little bit less than the light. Have you ever asked yourself what a strange world it would be if it consisted of twenty-four hours of daylight, and if the sun shone all the time? If it was like that we would assume that this little Earth is all that there is, and above it there is a great fiery glow which gives us heat and light. How ignorant we would be of the rest of God’s creation, and of our real position in the universe!
But how much more fully do I understand the glory and power of the mind of God when darkness falls! It is then I know how small I am. When the Lord dropped the mantle of darkness in David’s time he said: When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which Thou has ordained; what is man, that Thou art mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:3). It was the glory of something which he had been unable to see until darkness fell that taught him most about God and about himself: “How great Thou art, how insignificant I am!” It took darkness to reveal that truth to him. It is darkness that puts man in his right perspective.
It is darkness that pierces the mystery of suffering and pain. Darkness has great healing power. I’m not a botanist as some of you may be, but I believe I’m right in saying that there are some kinds of trees which, when they are planted on streets which are lit all through the night, don’t grow. They suffer from a kind of insomnia that trees can have! When the sun goes down the lights go up, and they are never in the dark. They languish and become exhausted, being constantly in a blaze of light from which there is no relief or rest, so they have to stay awake. Darkness is not merely negative—the absence of light—but a source of growth and personal enrichment. “Before I was afflicted, I went astray; but now have I kept Thy statutes” (Psalm 119:67, 71). What a tremendous amount of light is shed by the treasures of darkness upon some baffling, mysterious experience, against which I have fought and said, “I must avoid this at any cost and it must stop!”
Further, darkness prepares me for my home in heaven. It was out of that strange, awful darkness from midday until three in the afternoon on the cross of Calvary that our Lord was made sin for us, when God, even God, turned His face away from His Son as He identified Himself with the sin of mankind. It was out of that darkness that heaven opened its gates wide to every believing heart. Oh, how could you or I ever begin to value the treasure that comes out of that darkness? Every gift of God, every blessing of His Spirit, everything we have in Jesus Christ, find their source in that blackness of Calvary. “God, Who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
Is God taking you today through dark experiences of some deep sorrow of heart? Is it the absence of any sense of His presence in your life at all, even though you have been a Christian for years, that makes it seem so dark today? Is it personal bereavement, even though perhaps that bereavement was years ago, but it has left you so utterly alone? Is it discouragement? Is it perhaps misunderstanding and misrepresentation by other people, and especially by Christian people? Is it that your service for the Master seems so fruitless, and you haven’t seen much blessing—if any—lately? Is it a problem in your life to which there seems no answer? Is it pain from which there seems no release at all? Is it circumstances from which there seems no escape? Is there temptation which is so relentless that there is no relief from the pressure of it? Whatever it is, you feel so much in the dark today. Why does God do that to us?
I would make this suggestion because there are things that are precious to me that I have not read in a textbook, but what I have proved in the years of my life. I think God puts us into the darkness in order that we might possess the hidden riches of the secret places. I think He has been obliged to do it that we might, as it were, see the stars, and see His greatness and our smallness. As Moses said on behalf of the Lord before the people entered into the land: “Thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no” (Deuteronomy 8:2). This is repeated in the words of Job when he says, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5, 6).
I wonder if it needed darkness (and I can bear humble testimony to this) to humble us. Do you ever get resentful with people scandal-mongering with their tongues about you, and you know all the time it isn’t true? I used to get mad! I don’t now, by the grace of God. He put me into a dark place to teach men how small and insignificant I am, and how great He is.
It is lovely to leave your cause with Jesus, and let Him work it out. But when you react and become resentful, God has to put you in the dark to show you that you are not really important at all. He has to teach you that the very circumstances and people whom you resent and from whom you try to run away are the very nails which God is using to crucify the flesh. Darkness humbles us.
Now let me share something else. If you have been going through the darkness lately, has it been to stop your wandering and going astray, and to make you say with a full heart and with tears in your eyes, “I’ve wandered far away from God, now I’m coming home. The paths of sin too long I’ve trod, now I’m coming home.” Did it take the darkness to make you afraid? I wonder if it took the darkness to make you so afraid that you began nestling instead of wrestling? The light has been fierce, the glare of publicity has been unbearable, and many times how gladly you would have withdrawn from it all, but God put you in the dark. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him.”
Did it take the darkness to stop you wandering and sinning? Did it take the darkness to press you into the heart of Jesus? I wonder.
Perhaps He has sent the darkness, as our text says, “that thou mayest know that I am the Lord which call thee by thy name.” Oh, the treasures of the secret place of communion with Jesus Christ! What a thrill it is if you happen to travel in another country, a strange land, and maybe you are in a crowd with people you don’t know all around you, and suddenly from somewhere in the crowd someone calls you by your name, and you find you’ve met an old friend in an unexpected place! That person who was only a casual acquaintance (if you’re not too careful about the boundary of propriety) you might hug him! You felt so far away from home, and then you met someone whom you knew.
“I will give thee the hidden riches of secret places.” It has taken darkness in my soul many times to take me into an intimate fellowship with the Lord Who calleth His own sheep by name and leadeth them out. I hope I do not surprise or shock you, but I never would seek to preach above my own experience, and I would tell you no more than the truth when I say that if I only prayed when I felt like praying, I wouldn’t do much praying. But it’s darkness that has driven me into a deep fellowship with the Lord Jesus to discover some of the riches of secret places.
The wisest of all men (apart, of course, from the Lord Who is unique and in a class all by Himself) Solomon, once said “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter” (Proverbs 25:2). The glory of a king is not his little power, not his little palace, not his automobiles, but his ability to search out something. That is the glory of every king and priest unto God, the glory of your life and mine. Do you remember a day when your little children couldn’t look above the level of the table, and had to stand on tiptoe to see what was going on? They got to a time, in another month or two, when you couldn’t leave them doing that. If you did, the ice cream would go, other things would disappear when they began to be able to see over the top and learned to reach out! Did you notice when your little child began to grow like that, he or she was always searching out, different levels, different experiences? That is life. We are all doing that, now, for “it is the honour of a king to search out a matter.”
I once had a faith in the Lord Jesus which was little more than a lighthearted statement of doctrine which was perfectly sound; but my faith is not that now. It took darkness to make my faith real, to bring all that I believe in doctrine to be part of my very life and my very being. Do you see what I mean? I wonder if it has taken darkness to make your faith your very own.
A Christian home is a great blessing, but I am sure that the children of Christian parents are in great peril of a secondhand faith. Very often God has to put such dear folks—and how we’d love to spare them from it—in darkness until their faith becomes real. Don’t despair, dear mother and father, of that boy or that girl who at this time may seem to be at the other end of the Earth, miles away from God, don’t despair of them. You cannot talk to them about Jesus, but you can talk to Jesus about them. You cannot argue with them about Christ, you would waste your time, for the moment you talk with them they answer back and you feel so helpless and bereft, and you cannot but grieve that the boy or the girl for whom you spent so much and cared so much could be in that position today. It takes darkness to make their faith their own. A superficial creedal statement isn’t enough, and there comes a day when, in brokenness of heart and brokenness of spirit, they discover that you are right and they were wrong. God grant that that may be true of any dear child of yours today who seems far away from God. It took darkness to do that for me.
In the early church, the believers built their doctrines on their experience. Their doctrine was required to explain their experience. Now we have our doctrine, but we haven’t much experience. We try to build an experience on doctrine. There was a day, you remember, when our Lord spoke about the man who had treasure hidden in a field, and what joy and wealth were his when it was discovered! I often wish that the Lord had told us how he found it. I think it was probably when his hand was on the plough in the heat of the day on some lonely furrow as he was digging up the ground, ploughing and working, and he found the treasure in the time of stress and darkness.
The Lord says in Psalm 18:11, “He makes the darkness his pavilion.” There are still times in my life when God puts me through experiences like this. I used to be afraid of them. There are times when He seems to take me into the dark and I begin to say, “Now Lord, what are You going to show me in this experience?” I discovered that when you look at the dark clouds from the outside, they are so dark and the experience is so dreadful; but when you get right in the middle, it is as bright as noonday sun. “He makes the darkness His pavilion.” He is right there in it to reveal something more of Himself.
You never can have a “Safety First” campaign in the life of faith, never. In the adventure of a soul with God there is no such thing as safety first. You discover God in Jesus Christ, He takes you on by one step of faith after another, in the dark, and yet He promises that “he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). If God has been putting you through days and months and years of darkness, I do pray that you may be discovering secret riches in secret and laying hold of the treasures of darkness that come to you, and only come to you in communion with God.
In heavenly love abiding,
No change my heart shall fear
And safe is such confiding
For nothing changes here
The storm may roar without me
My heart may low be laid
But God is round about me
And can I be dismayed?
Green pastures are before me
Which yet I have not seen
Bright skies will soon be o’er me
Where the dark clouds have been
My hope I cannot measure
My path to life is free
My Saviour has my treasure
And He will walk with me.