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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary

Shadow

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A dark image of an object created when the object interrupts rays of light. The Bible uses the term in both literal and figurative senses.

Old Testament The Hebrew tsel speaks of shadow as protection and as transitory, short-lived, and changing. The intensive heat, particularly in the summer, made shade and shadows important in Palestine. Travelers sought rest under a tree (Genesis 18:4 ; compare Job 40:22 ) or in a house (Genesis 19:8 ). Especially at midday when shade virtually vanished, people looked for a shadow (Isaiah 16:3 ; compare Genesis 21:15 ; Jonah 4 ; Job 7:2 ). In the afternoon shadows lengthen (Jeremiah 6:4 ; compare Nehemiah 13:19 NIV). In the evening cool, shadows disappear (Song of Song of Solomon 2:17 ). In the desert wilderness the traveler found little hope for shade but looked for shade or shadow from hills (Judges 9:36 ), large rocks (Isaiah 32:2 ), a cave (Exodus 33:1 : 22 ; 1 Kings 19:9 ), or a cloud (Isaiah 25:5 ).

Powerful people offer the shadow of protection and security (Song of Song of Solomon 2:3 ). So does a king (Lamentations 4:20 ; Ezekiel 31:6 ). Still, Israel knew the false claims of kings to provide such protection (Judges 9:15 ; compare Isaiah 30:2 ; Ezekiel 31:1 ). Biblical writers looked to the Messiah for needed shade or shadow (Isaiah 32:2 ; Ezekiel 17:23 ). God was the ultimate shadow of protection for His people (Psalm 36:7 ; Psalm 91:1 ; Psalm 121:5 ; Isaiah 25:4 ; Isaiah 49:2 ; Isaiah 51:16 ).

Human life itself is only a brief shadow (Job 8:9 ; Job 14:2 ; Psalm 102:11 ; Psalm 144:4 ; Ecclesiastes 6:12 ; Ecclesiastes 8:13 ).

New Testament The Greek skia can refer to a literal shadow ( Mark 4:32 ; Acts 5:15 ). More often it refers to death or to an indication of something to come, a foreshadowing. References to death come from Old Testament prophecy—Matthew 4:16 and Luke 1:79 picking up Isaiah 9:2 . Dietary laws and religious festivals were only a shadow preparing Israel for the reality made known in Christ (Colossians 2:17 ; Hebrews 8:5 ; Hebrews 10:1 ). James used a related Greek word to say that God is not a fleeting, changing shadow (James 1:17 ).

Trent C. Butler


Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Shadow'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hbd/s/shadow.html. 1991.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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