Harry Whittaker
The Time Of The End

11) Sun, Moon And Stars

All diligent Bible readers, and especially those who give much attention to prophecy, are impressed with the frequency and importance of the allusions to the heavenly bodies. Traditionally the sun has been taken to stand for human government and dominion, the moon for ecclesiastical authority, and (somewhat vaguely, it must be admitted) the stars for lesser political lights. It is not to our credit as a community of Bible students that for a century this approach (culled in the first instance from orthodox commentators!) has been uncritically accepted.

It is agreed that some sort of case might be made for the sun as a symbol of human political government, although even this result can only be achieved by ignoring a number of inconvenient examples (e.g. Micah 3: 6, Luke 23: 45, Isaiah 30: 26, Revelation 21: 23 etc.). But for the idea that the moon represents the ecclesiastical powers of the Gentile world, no Bible evidence worthy of consideration has yet been advanced. Until it is, the notion should be viewed with mistrust.


Over against the dearth of evidence in favour of these ideas can be set a group of obviously symbolic passages[12] where a figure of the people of Israel is clearly intended. Sometimes the symbolism runs on to include the spiritual Israel also. This is only to be expected.

For example, in Joseph’s dream the sun, moon and eleven stars (or constellations? — the signs of the zodiac) offering worship to Joseph’s star were immediately perceived to be symbolic of the family of Israel. Children in the Sunday School do not need to have this meaning explained to them.

Appropriately, the seed of Abraham are compared to the stars of heaven (Genesis 15: 5 and 22: 17) not only in number, but also in glory (Daniel 12: 3). By contrast, those who forsake the Hope of Israel and follow false ideas are called “wandering stars” (Jude 13). When God “causes the sun to go down at noon” (Amos 8: 9) it is because He is bringing judgement on Israel: “I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; and I will bring up sackcloth upon all loins, and baldness upon every head.” When, “the sun goeth down over the prophets” (Micah 3: 6), they lose their power of spiritual direction of Israel, not their political authority. If, as seems likely, the Shulamite in the Song of Songs is a type of spiritual Israel, then it is understandable that she should be described as “fair as the moon, clear as the sun,” even when she flees in confusion (Song 6: 10).


It is especially in the Olivet prophecy and in the book of Revelation where an accurate understanding of this symbolism is important. What are the “signs in the sun, moon and stars ... the sea and the waves roaring,” about which Jesus spoke (Luke 21: 25, 26)? It is a matter of some surprise that the allusion here to Jeremiah 31: 35, 36 has not been either recognized or taken proper account of: “Thus saith the Lord, which giveth the sun for a light by day and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; The Lord of hosts is his name. If those ordinances depart from before me, saith the Lord, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me for ever” (Jeremiah 31: 35, 36). So far as is known, this is the only other place in Scripture where mention of sun, moon and stars is combined with allusion to the roaring of the waves of the sea; and the pointed connection here with Israel will be immediately evident to all readers. By contrast, any attempt to read the more usually received meanings in this passage looks particularly unconvincing.

It surely follows, then, that in the Olivet prophecy Jesus was saying to his disciples: Keep your eye on Israel! When there are sensational developments in Israel as a nation, learn that the time is near.

It may well be that the other familiar phrase there should be read: “and in the land (of Israel) distress of peoples.” The form of the Greek phrase allows of this, but it cannot be insisted on.


The nearest approach to Bible support for the more usual view concerning sun, moon and stars comes from a group of three passages (Isaiah 13: 10 and 34: 4; Ezekiel 32: 7), which appear to use these symbols where Israel is not in reference at all. Yet a careful re-examination of these passages suggests the possibility of harmonizing them with the others already considered.

For instance, some details in Isaiah 13 suggest that verses 6-12 (or 6-16, perhaps) are really a prophecy about Babylon’s treatment of Israel, hence the judgement pronounced in turn on Babylon in the rest of the chapter: “the day of the Lord cometh ... to lay the Land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners out of it. For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.” This structure of the prophecy is not unique. Isaiah 17, the burden of Damascus, has only two verses about Syria, and all the rest is about Israel. Also, Isaiah 18 apostrophizes Egypt in the first two verses, but the rest of that prophecy is about Israel. Similarly in Isaiah 13, the inclusion of a judgement against Israel adds point to the denunciation of destruction upon Babylon, God’s instrument that vaunts itself against the Almighty.

Again, Isaiah 34 is a sombre picture of divine wrath against “all nations” round about Israel, with special reference to the Arab enemy Edom (v. 6). All this is “the controversy of Zion” (v. 8). Appropriately, then, verse 4 gives the reason for this heavenly vengeance—the ruthless destruction of the Chosen Race: “And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll (in Hebrews 1 similar language is used with reference to the passing of the Mosaic order; see John Carter’s “Hebrews”), and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine (another symbol of Israel).”

Ezekiel 32: 7, 8 concerning Egypt is the only remaining problem, and no very great one: “And when I shall put thee out, 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 bright lights of heaven will I make dark over thee, and set darkness upon thy land, saith the Lord God” (Ezekiel 32: 7, 8).

The emphasis here is not so much on the symbolism of sun, moon and stars as on darkness. The plague of darkness with which God afflicted Egypt in the time of Moses is to have its counterpart in the experience of the Egyptian enemies of God’s people in the Last Days. Symbolically, and probably in a very literal sense also, Egypt is to be made to feel the hand of God in the days

to come; compare the allusion to the plague of the slaying of the firstborn, in Zachariah 14: 18, and to the smiting of Egypt’s waters, in Isaiah 19: 5-10.

It is believed that there are no other passages of Scripture, which even remotely appear to offer support to the use of this symbol regarding human governments and ecclesiastical powers. On the other hand, there are several that take on a fresh and much more satisfying meaning when read as symbolic of Israel.


Joel 2: 10 very plainly refer to the desolation of Israel; “The earth (the Land) shall quake before them; the heavens shall tremble; the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining.” The same is true of the other familiar verses in Joel 2: 31 and 3: 15: “The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come”; and, “The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining.” Peter used the former of these two passages at Pentecost (Acts 2: 20) with evident primary reference to God’s overthrow of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. And the latter is closely associated with the “multitudes in the valley of decision’’ who desolate Israel (sun and moon darkened) and who themselves come to destruction when “the Lord is the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel.”

The same ideas can be traced in the Sixth Seal which, whatever its past historic applications, certainly has reference to a day yet future when “the wrath of the Lamb is come”: “The sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind” (Revelation 6:12).

The language of the Fourth Trumpet is very similar (Revelation 8:12). The third part of the sun, moon and stars are smitten and darkened. Is this the third and worst of the overturnings of Israel foretold in Ezekiel 21:27 before the coming of “him whose right it is”? Many other Old Testament allusions throughout these Trumpets support this conclusion.

Similarly a very luminous exposition of Revelation 12 with reference to the Last Days becomes possible when the woman “clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars, is taken as a figure of Israel who is seen first in heaven (i.e. in covenant relationship with God) but later on the earth, in the wilderness, in fact; persecuted, and yet ultimately saved from her enemies. From this point of view many of the details are very impressive.

There remains the apparent paradox involved in Isaiah’s superb picture of the kingdom: “The sun shall no more be thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory. Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended.” The meaning here is now seen to be quite simply and appropriately this: Israel is to continue as God’s glorious nation throughout this age of blessing, yet always and in every respect this glory will be subject to, and indeed dependent on, the greater glory of God.

[12] Not all allusions to sun, moon and stars are symbolic.

Next Next Next