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  • Writer's pictureElpidio Pezzella

The Night Brings Advice

“Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night?”

Isaiah 21:11 NKJV

When you don't know what to do and the night comes with its darkness almost bringing down the curtain, folk wisdom reminds us instead that the night brings counsel. While in the dark we come face to face with our doubts and fears, waiting for the dawn becomes a sign of hope and this time prosperous with thoughts. Who knows what the sentinel in our passage was thinking? The prophet portrays on a silent, warm night, a lookout who is keeping watch over the walls of a city. We do not know how long he has been there. It depends on the length of the night. Maybe centuries or maybe very little. It waits for a human voice, rabid or animated by faith, to whisper the fateful question. Here they ask the sentry, vigilant and attentive in his task, repeatedly, "what of the night?" The question echoes as a desperate cry from the inhabitants of the region asking how much longer they must endure oppression and humiliation, and whether there is any hope of salvation for them.

If we turn from the biblical text to our own time, walking through the streets of many cities, entering houses and palaces until we reach the dark little rooms where we hear sobbing softly on a pillow now soaked like a kitchen cloth, we hear the same or similar questions: how much longer will the night that humanity is experiencing last? How long will this terrible time for my family end? I would like to be a sentinel heralding the dawn, seeing the sun jutting over the horizon and bitingly rising into the sky. I would like to reassure every reader that one must be patient and not give up, question God until the day dawns and the night is over. The sentinel in Isaiah's oracle responds mysteriously, "The morning comes, and the night also comes": he seems to announce a deliverance, which, however, is not final; the darkness, first thinned by the morning light, will return again in an alternation of day and night, and so on.

One night, Bernt Øksendal, a mathematics professor at the University of Oslo, was standing in the deserted lecture hall where he normally lectured. In front of the large blackboard he had just finished writing the last part of mathematical models suitable for studying the course of phenomena that instead follow random laws as they evolve over time: complex problems that are indecipherable to most of us. Exhausted, his fingers dusty with chalk, he sits and stares at the blackboard. He has worked for years on his equations, and now that he has come to a conclusion he is confused and dissatisfied. This is how he describes the moment in one of his books, "We have not been able to answer our questions. The answers we have found only serve to raise a whole series of new questions. Somehow we feel we are more confused than ever, even though we believe we are confused on a higher level and about more important things." The professor is unable to provide a scientific explanation for the mystery of man in the context of the mystery of the universe around him. His observation is that of many of us. We strive, but we do not find the answer.

Isaiah's text makes it clear that that question will remain unanswered. Indeed, that the answer lies precisely in continuing to hear that voice that incessantly asks, "At what point is the night?" until question and answer become one. The sentinel's voice seems to spread out like an endless echo: “The morning comes, and also the night. If you will inquire, inquire; Return! Come back!” (v. 12). In the distance you seem to hear God: "Night is always followed by morning, but I do not sleep and do not doze, rather I am always watching, so insist, question again, come again, whenever you wish, do not grow weary...." Perhaps you are confused today and do nothing but question the sentinel. If folk wisdom refers to waiting because the night will end sooner or later, faith can illuminate any situation and brighten the darkest night. The sentinel's answer is clear, that is, the passing of the night will be sudden and another night will come. His impassioned call to keep returning and wondering, to not stop seeking and longing for the end of the night can be read as an invitation to conversion, to "come," to return to God, the only source of light and life, a safe harbor, but also of vitality and resilience.


Weekly Bible Reading Plan # 25

June 17, Nehemiah 10-11; Acts 4:1-22

June 18, Nehemiah 12-13; Acts 4:23-37

June 19, Esther 1-2; Acts 5:1-21

June 20, Esther 3-5; Acts 5:22-42

June 21, Esther 6-8; Acts 6

June 22, Esther 9-10; Acts 7:1-21

June 23, Job 1-2; Acts 7:22-43

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