Christ Emerges Out of the Shadow Lands

J.V. Fesko has written an article on the well known hymn “O Come, Emmanuel”.  In it he writes about how the song portrays the light of Christ emerging out of the shadow lands.  Here is the beginning:

O Come, O Come Emmanuel is perhaps one of the better-known hymns that is typically sung during the Christmas holiday season. What some may not know is that it originated in the middle ages, around 800 ad as an antiphon, or anthem, that was restructured into verse form in the 1100’s, and was eventually published in Latin in 1710. The hymn was later discovered, translated, and published in 1851 by John Mason Neale, an Anglican minister. As people sing this hymn they assuredly know that they are singing about the birth of Christ. However, what is striking about this hymn is its approach to unpacking the birth of Christ. It moves from the shadow lands of the Old Testament into the light of the New Testament with the revelation of God in Christ. This hymn traces the themes of Israel’s exodus to the eschatological, or final, exodus that was to begin with the birth of the Messiah. We can see this progressive unfolding of God’s redemptive plan if we turn to the Old Testament and begin with Israel’s exile in Babylon.

Mourning in lonely exile

In Israel’s earliest days as a nation, God brought them out of Egypt, made a covenant with his people, and began to lead them to the land of promise—the land that he had sworn to give to Abraham and his descendants (Gen 15.18-21). Israel, of course, was a cantankerous nation and lacked the faith to enter the promised land, to believe in the gospel promise of God (Heb 3.18-4.2). When Israel had finished her forty-year wandering and stood at the threshold of the promised land, it was undoubtedly a time of excitement and hope. They were at last going to enter the land promised to their patriarch, Abraham, so long ago. On the eve of their entry into the land, however, Moses wrote an inspired prophetic song. This song was filled with praises for their covenant Lord, but at the same time foretold of Israel’s future disobedience and sin (Deut 32.20-24). Israel did fulfill these words and was carried off into exile because of their sin, idolatry, and rebellion. The northern kingdom was taken away by the Assyrians in the eighth-century bc and the southern kingdom of Judah was taken away into captivity by the Babylonians in the sixth-century bc.

Over the centuries there have been millions of people displaced by war—exiled from their home country. Yet, Israel’s exile in Babylon was unique. Israel was the only nation on the face of the earth with whom God had made a covenant. Like Adam, the first man and God’s son (Luke 3.38), God had given Israel, his firstborn son (Exo 4.22), a fruitful land, one flowing with milk and honey, one that was marked by God’s very own presence as in the garden-temple of Eden. In the same way that God once walked in the cool of the day with Adam in the beautiful garden-temple (Gen 3.8), so too God walked with Israel in the promised land by his presence in the tabernacle (Lev 26.11-12; 2 Sam 7.6; MT; LXX). Yet, like Adam before them, Israel sinned which caused the prophet Hosea to cry out: “Like Adam they transgressed the covenant” (Hos 6.7a).

Read the rest here.

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