The First Direction

The first cardinal direction mentioned in the Bible is East. Genesis 2:8 has God in the east planting a garden, so He must have come from the west.  I know this is a simple thought, but directions come in pairs – west and east, and north and south.  This simple thought is also important – where is the east?  You can face the east, something can come from the east, go to the east, or be of the east.  

Many important things in the Bible face east – the Temple (especially the one in Ezekiel), the Tabernacle, and I believe the throne of God.  The etymology of the word east deals with where the light comes from and how we orient our position on earth.  Like many other things in the Bible “modern man” picks and chooses why something is important by current standards.  My example here is the direction north – we choose that to be the top of the map or the best/positive direction to go, and it gets the biggest letter on the compass.  A study of “east” in the Bible will include many things, with each bring a different significance to the table for discussion. Several examples are:

  • In Exodus, the children of Israel went east from Egypt to the Promised Land, and the east wind blew in locust, and the east wind parted the Red Sea. The locust became a plague while at the Red Sea the wind provided deliverance. 
  •  In Israel, east winds are a problem, they come in from the desert and dry the land out.
  • The camp around the Tabernacle was laid out with an east/west axis as its prominent feature.  The position of a tribe around the Ark showed birthrights and importance.  I started a study of that in the post – Marching Order.
  • The Christmas star and the Magi also bring east into the discussion.  The star “was in” or “it rose in” the east which joins it to Jesus in many ways.  The Magi came from the east to worship the newborn King.
  • Scripture shows several west to east movements – God to the Garden, Israel leaving Egypt going to the Promised Land, and Jesus, as a young boy, returning to Nazareth. 

An important feature of the east/west axis is the light.  Starting with Genesis 2 we see the metaphor of west (darkness) and going to the east (light).  (No, there is not a problem with the west and it is not a negative “area”.  The little cloud that Elijah’s servant saw would have come from the west – it ended the drought.  In Israel most rain showers come from west or northwest.)  God started in the west heading to the light to plant the Garden.  The two trees in the center of that Garden can carry a dark/light context.  Knowledge of good and evil led to darkness while the tree of life would have led to the light.  Like the study of numbers, the study of directions can add much to your Bible reading, but be sure you are looking EAST.  

James 1:17 

 This study of James 1:17 is because of the word shadow in the last part of the verse. 

James 1:17 (KJV) Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. (Please read 16-18 to get the most from the passage.) 

The word for a shadow in this verse is aposkiasma (Strong’s 644 G). It is used only once in the Bible, here in James. James actually used three words in this part of the verse that is used only once-parallage (variableness) and trope (turning) are the other two. It is fitting that these rare words (for the Bible) are being used to describe the Father of lights. Parallage is number 3883 and trope is number 5157 in the Greek side of the Strong’s. 

Skia is the word that is normally used for a shadow in the New Testament, it is number 4639 G. It is easy to see that Skia is the core of aposkiasma so I choose to study the parts of this word instead of just the Strong’s “usage definition”. Apo, the prefix, means away or apart, and skiasma indicates a split or separation. Yes, our word schism comes from this Greek word. A shadow can be thought of as a place that separates light and dark. If the solid object (the Father) turns the shape of the shadow changes. My God does not change. 

Give us your own translation. Use the definitions in the post and see how you would describe the “Pater ho phos” (the Father of lights). Rewrite James 1:17 😊  

Mounce Reverse Interlinear New Testament was used in studying for this post.


Shadow is a metaphor for protection in many verses of the Bible. As I have mused on these verses, it is God who is doing the protecting and His people are what is being protected. Shadow and shade are not the only ideas we need to look at for the area of protecting someone. We will add the words pillar and cloud to expand the study. 

Pillar of Cloud and Clouds 

Okay, I will touch on these as two different things, but the cloud will not just produce shade but protect you from the glory of God. Wait a minute, shadows are produced by solid objects, and clouds are not solid! This is true, the blocking ability of clouds is in the billions of waterdrops that scatter the light rays from being able to get through them in a straight line. The darker the appearance of the cloud is due to how dense the droplets are in it. “Silver-linings” are from this light-scattering property. 

Many references to clouds are part of a story where the glory of God is involved. From Exodus 13 through Deuteronomy 31 “a cloud” and the “pillar of cloud” are usually the same thing if they are talking about God interacting with people. In Samuel, just a cloud is covering things or hiding the glory. The “pillar” that led the Children is not mentioned past Deuteronomy except in Nehemiah 9 when he is used it to show the faithfulness of God. Did the pillar of cloud go past the Jordan? Isaiah 4:5-6 does describe what my paradigm of the pillar of cloud did for those forty years. In Psalm 99:7, a function of the pillar is told of how and when Moses spoke with God.  

What did the cloud by day and the fire by night look like? I recently saw a drawing where the “pillar” was a narrow thing that only stood over the Tent that housed the Ark. Many of the references in Exodus may lend weight to this idea. I always had the idea that the “cloud” provided shade for the camp during the day and light and warmth at night. I had hoped that Balaam (Numbers 23) or Rahab (Joshua 2) said something about the pillar and cloud, but they did not, so for now I will hold on to both of those ideas. 

Shadow Of 

In the NIV “shadow of” followed by “His wings, His hand, and the Almighty” is found in seven verses. His hand is found in Isaiah 49:2 and 51:16. God’s hand was protecting Isaiah as part of him doing his ministry. I believe the other five have a connection to the Exodus. 

The “shadow of His wings” puzzled me. I just never thought of the Father as having or needing wings. More metaphors, possibly? In studying the Ark, the Mercy Seat or lid to the box offered a better picture. The two angels that are part of the lid were made to spread their wings over the Mercy Seat, which was sprinkled with blood and where God talked to Moses from. Being in the shadow of those wings would put you at the mercy of God. The shadow would be greater if the wings spread out horizontally and not vertically (Exodus 25:17-22). A Google search of the Mercy Seat shows the artist making the wings in both directions. I like that picture of being in the shadow protected while resting on His mercy. 

I believe Moses wrote Psalm 91 as a singing lesson to teach the Children in the wilderness. Verse one is the first visual as they lived under the cloud of the Almighty. The rest of that psalm could be connected with many of the things that happened as Israel left Egypt. 

Study work-connect the verses of Psalm 91 to events in the Exodus. 


Shadow as an idea or a real thing is used in the Bible and literature, especially poetry, as a metaphor. In Psalms, we may “hide (or rest) in the shadow of the Almighty” and know we are protected, or the Law and the earthly Ark are but shadows of better things (Hebrews). So, when you read passages and stories you have to read things in the context of what the writer is saying. 

Good or Bad 

Like knowledge or wine/grapes, a shadow may be a good thing or a bad thing. We can hide in the shadow of God’s wings, or someone can shoot arrows at us from the shadows (hiding). In the Lord of the Rings, Frodo was passing into the shadows or shadowland after he was stabbed. On a hot day, who does not like to sit in the shadow (shade) of a tree or umbrella?  

Luke 13:19 is the story of a mustard seed (Kingdom of God) growing into a tree and birds using its shade (shadow) to nest in. In this story, the shade is good because it represents the Kingdom, but those birds (usually a metaphor for bad things) are taking advantage of the Kingdom and raising things that will just use the Kingdom.  

The Ancients 

Moses, David, and Jesus (the Holy Spirit) all used shadow as a metaphor in their teachings and writings; it has been around for a very long time. (Use the sites below as a learning tool, I did. I just may not agree with everything they wrote.) I enjoy looking at the roots and early thoughts of words and ideas, it is how our “box” was formed so we can think outside of it. 

A shadow is a place of separation. It can separate light from dark and thus became a divider for good and evil. The shade also becomes a symbol of protection because of His hand, wings, or Himself. 

In the NIV shadow is used in forty-four verses, some things the KJV (60+ times) would call shadow, it uses darkness. Other translations have varying numbers of verses that use shadow. To be fair you might have to search shade or even cover to find verses that you want.  

WORD STUDY – THE SHADOW OF HIS WINGS – בצל כנפיכ | Chaim Bentorah  

Tselem: Being IMAGE bearers – Hebrew Word Lessons 


Shadow is the perfect example of a Bible study that had multiple reasons to start it. The first is the phrase “in the shadow of your wings”. The second is the from the Tolkien trilogy Lord of the Rings. Then the “science teacher” kicked in and I remembered that shadows are naturally occurring things. The metaphors then divided the writer part of me, requiring that the light and dark side of this come forth. Yes, there will be several posts from this thought. 

The science part first. Shadows occur because there is a light source strong enough to cause one. A solid object blocks the light and as the rays respond to the object a shadow is formed. The brightness of the light, the size of the object, and the distance that separates them determine the shadow.  

Earth’s shadow is the biggest one we deal with every day; you know it as night. We tend to not think of night as a shadow, but the earth is blocking the sun’s light rays from us. During the night we are in the umbra of its shadow. That is the darkest part. Loosely, we could call dawn and dusk the penumbra, or the lighter part of a shadow. The light-scattering properties of the atmosphere also come into play at these times of the day. 

You may not always see a penumbra, but it is there. It may only be a thin lighter part that rings the main shadow, but it is present. If the source is bright enough our eyes may have a hard time picking it out, and it may not be very wide. 

Unless you are Peter Pan, shadows are very obedient and follow your every movement. They will resemble the object that is blocking the light, but it may not be a perfectly clear image. The penumbra will add to the haziness of an exact match. The surface you view the shadow on will also affect its appearance. As the angle of the light changes to the solid object, so will the umbra. 

In dusk and dawn, the color of things will appear different. This is because of the amount of available light that enters our eyes and activates the cones and rods of the retina. A very simple idea needs to be said here. You will not see your shadow if you are facing the light, it is there but you have to look for it. 

Questions for you: What is the third type of shadow called? What common item has umbra as part of its name?