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
Job 7:2). In the afternoon shadows lengthen (Jeremiah 6:4; compare
Nehemiah 13:19 NIV). In the evening cool, shadows disappear (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 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
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 (Psalms 36:7;
Human life itself is only a brief shadow (Job 8:9;
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 10:1). James used a related Greek word to say that God is not a fleeting, changing shadow (James 1:17).
Trent C. Butler