Hebrew is a rich language that often uses symbolism. As such, each Hebrew word means much more than what we often translate it. One of the most incredible words in the Bible is light. It is an important word because it is used as a symbol of God but also as a symbol of righteousness and God’s kingdom (among many other symbols). That said, what is the Hebrew word for light?
The Hebrew word for light is “or” (אוֹר). It refers to the electromagnetic radiation that comes from the sun, stars, and other celestial bodies. In addition to its literal meaning, the word is also used to denote hope, truth, knowledge, and divinity. Light, therefore has a lot of significance in both ancient and contemporary Jewish culture.
Meanings of the Hebrew Word for Light
In Jewish culture, light plays a vital role in religious rituals and traditions. The menorah, the seven-branched candelabrum, symbolizes God’s presence and the covenant with the Jewish people. Shabbat, the day of rest, is ushered in by lighting candles, and the festival of Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of oil lasting eight days, a testament to the enduring power of light.
Here are some important symbolisms of light that we can find in the Bible (especially from the Old Testament)
The Literal Meaning of Light
The first meaning of ‘or’ is the literal meaning. This is first seen in the Genesis account of creation. In Genesis 1:1-3, the Bible says that God created the heavens but the earth was covered in gross darkness. However, God commanded the light to be revealed and then separated it from the darkness. Later on, God created the sun and moon and commanded them to rule over the day and night respectively. Light can therefore be seen as an absence of darkness.
Light as a Metaphor for Knowledge and Understanding
The Bible uses light as a metaphor for knowledge. Metaphorically speaking, the darkness of ignorance vanishes when the illumination of knowledge steps in. Proverbs 4:18 draws a parallel between the righteous path and the light of dawn, gradually illuminating life’s journey with increasing clarity. Another interesting example is in the following scripture:
The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple (Psalm 119:130)
The association between light and understanding emphasizes the transformative power of knowledge. Staying ignorant means staying in darkness. However, when knowledge comes, you become “enlightened” and are no longer in darkness. And as the Psalmist records in the scripture above, the word of God has that effect on the simple.
Light as a Metaphor for Truth and Justice
The Bible also uses light as a metaphor for truth and justice. Here is one of the scriptures that shows this:
“For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” Ps. 36:9
In the scripture above, light is used to symbolize a revelation of truth that results in the eradication of injustice. When the light comes, it exposes hidden truths and realities, guiding individuals into righteousness. As Jesus put it, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32).
Light as a Metaphor for Hope and Salvation
Light is also a metaphor for hope and salvation especially in moments of despair. Prophet Isaiah helps to paint this picture in the following verse:
Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake us; we hope for light, and behold, darkness, and for brightness, but we walk in gloom (Isaiah 59:9).
In the scripture above, it is clear that darkness shows a hopeless situation while light represents hope for deliverance from the darkness. A chapter earlier (Isaiah 58:5), the prophet also used the symbol of “light breaking forth” as a sign that those who spend time fasting will benefit from the healing power of God. In other words, the light is used as a sign of deliverance from the darkness of infirmity.
Light as a Symbol of God’s Presence
The most potent metaphorical use of “or” is its association with God’s presence. Psalm 27:1 boldly states, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?”
In this Psalm, light is used to denote God’s radiant presence. The Psalmist concludes that he cannot fear because of the light of God. This is based on the notion that darkness is associated with all kinds of evil things – including the kingdom of satan which is also called the kingdom of darkness. The divine light becomes a source of comfort and assurance in times of uncertainty.
But light is not just merely a symbol of God – it is God. Jesus, who is a member of the Godhead refers to himself as the light of the world (John 8:12, 14:6). Apostle John also describes God the Father as light when he says;
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 1 John 1:5
Another illustration of this is when John the Revelator describes God as Light in the book of Revelation. He notes that “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.” (Rev. 21:23)
Understanding the Hebrew word for light, “or,” goes beyond a mere linguistic definition. By looking at the contexts in which the word was used, we can infer a deeper spiritual meaning of the word. Whether used to describe the creation of the world, the Exodus from Egypt, or the teachings of the prophets, “or” stands as a powerful symbol of enlightenment, offering a beacon of guidance in times of darkness and a promise of salvation for those who seek it.