Throughout the Bible are verses tucked away in larger pericopes which we frequently pass by without noticing. One such is in Isaiah, the forty-fifth chapter, verse three. It says: “I will give you the treasure of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, Who summons you by name.”
What a fascinating word. It was written during the time of Babylonian exile to a people who were held captive. Many had given up all hope of ever seeing their beloved homeland again. Israel was a cherished dream for them, but in reality they assumed the dream would never come true. And here, God speaks to them through the prophet Isaiah... not to say, “I am coming to your rescue like a knight in shining armor,” but rather, “I will give you the treasure of darkness.” Whoa! That’s something few of them would have considered a treasure, and I can understand that. We treasure success, happiness, having all our hungers fed, fame, power, wealth, living in the sunlight, etc. But to live in shadows, what is to treasure about that?
The words of the lesson are deep and powerful. “I will give you the treasure of darkness, riches stored in secret places....” That is a statement about seeing beneath the thin veneer of popular thinking. It is about recognizing that there are Spirit whispers which are drowned out by laughter and applause but can only be heard in the sound of soulful silence. There are lessons to be learned that only hardship can teach. Think of the beautiful books by Henri Nouwen, Harold Kushner, and Frederick Beuchner. Each reminds us of the wisdom that is discovered and the faith that is enhanced along route in “the valley of the shadow.”
Part of that wisdom is the grace of reliance – the acknowledgement that we really can make it through life’s tough times only when we lean (rely) on the God who walks beside us. Isn’t that what Jesus meant in The Beatitudes when he taught, “Blessed are the meek,” “Blessed are the poor,” “Blessed are those who mourn,” “Blessed are you when others revile and persecute you”? He clearly stated that in the worst of times, we find the best of care and compassion, and it is not something we can provide to ourselves. God comes to comfort, strengthen, and encourage us. In tough times, we remember how much we need the One whom we too often forget or ignore when the sun is shining and all seems well with the world.
I think that is what “riches stored in secret places” means. I think it means that even in our Babylon moments, in our times of stress or suffering, we are never alone. “Thy rod and they staff, they comfort me.” God is close, loving us, holding us, helping us, guiding us, and restoring our souls. And sometimes we only pause long enough to grasp that Good News when times are not so good. Lessons learned “in the valley of the shadow.” “I will give you the treasure of darkness....”
My pastoral advice is to examine the hard parts of your journey throughout the past and see what lessons you can learn from them. And, should you be going through a rough patch at the moment, “be still and know” that you do not face it alone. Pray and wait – and God will draw close to bring treasure even out of your moment of darkness.