Sunday, July 23, 2017

LIVING IN THE TORRID ZONE

And there will be a shelter to give shade from the heat by day,
And refuge and protection from the storm and the rain. Isaiah 4:6

The sun over my head seared down merciless upon me, blindingly intense and draining me of all energy. I was at the time living in a town in western Venezuela and I was walking across and open soccer field on my way home from an errand that I had to make that day on foot.

The errand began early that morning out in the hills surrounding the village. My journey into the hills had begun in the coolness of the day, and I had not prepared adequately for the heat that I should have known would come later. Actually, my task had taken me further than I first intended to walk, and I was returning home later than I thought that I would.

Our village was in the Andes Mountains. While it was not in the highest of mountain areas, it was still at quite a high altitude. In places such as these, with the thin air and dryer atmosphere, the nights may be refreshingly cool, but the day can warm up quite fast. By noon it can become pretty unbearable to be out in the sun without protection. That is where I was in this last part of my walk, under the full sun with no protection. As I entered the village, there seemed to be no shade anywhere. Now, I was cutting across a soccer field to get back to our home. The heat and the sun had exhausted me of any energy reserve.

I thought that it must be about noon as I walked across the open field. At this point at the end of my journey, the heat and intensity of the sun was more than I could endure. As I made my way across the turf, I noticed that the town had recently erected huge light poles around the field, the bases of which were nearly two feet in diameter. There were no lights on the poles yet, but the poles were in place, ready for the workers to later place them to illuminate the field at night.

I had been hiking under the cloudless sky all morning long. In the hills there had often been a little shade, but not in this last leg of my walk. It had been all intense sun. After enduring the heat of the sun for some hours, I decided that when I reached the other end of the field, I would sit with my back resting on the shady side of one the poles for a few minutes before making the very last of this bit of my return trip to our home.

Much to my dismay, however, as I approached my intended resting spot, I could see no shadow. I walked completely around the pole and was disheartened to find that every side of the light post was being heated by the sun. Squinting my eyes, I looked up at my tormenter above my head and realized that it was indeed noon, and I was in the Torrid Zone at the equinox. 
 


The Torrid Zone

The equinox is that time of year in the tropics when at noon, the sun is directly overhead. The light pole on the soccer field, which was at least fifty or sixty feet high, cast not a single shadow. The sun shone down directly on the smaller tip of the pole and sent its burning rays flowing down every side of the post’s growing diameter all the way to the base. It offered no respite for a weary traveler.

I looked down at my own feet. I saw that I also cast almost no shadow. Indeed, if my shape had been that of the light pole, there would have been absolutely none.

At any point between the Tropic of Cancer, which runs parallel to the Equator a bit more than 23 degrees to the north, and the Tropic of Capricorn, which runs correspondingly south of the Equator, there are two dates during the year when the sun is directly overhead at noon. We know these time as the spring and autumn equinoxes.

The area in between these northern and southern limits is known as the “Torrid Zone.” “Torrid” describes well how I felt at that moment. The word means, “Parched with the heat of the sun.” 

Enchanted Creatures


The English language has another interesting word regarding this phenomenon. It is the noun “ascian.” This word is a derivative two Greek words that mean “without” and “shadow.” Ascian is used as a descriptive noun that means, “One that has no shadow. An inhabitant of the Torrid Zone where the sun is vertical at noon twice a year.”

17th-century British philosopher and author Nathanael Carpenter wrote of the inhabitants of Torrid Zone. “They are mysterious to me, these Ascians,” he said, speaking of the people of the tropics, “for twice each year, at the very instant of noon on the equinoxes, their shadows vanish, and they appear to me to be enchanted.”

I was one of those inhabitants of the tropics who cast no shadow, but I did not feel enchanted. I felt depleted and wretched and driven to continue my journey without refreshment. 

Weariness of the Torrid Zone

As any farmer who works in the open field can tell you, one does not need to live in the Torrid Zone to feel this way. I remember one specific day as a boy when I was loading hay bales onto a wagon with my brother Paul. My throat was so dry and parched that try as I might, I could not work up any moisture in my mouth. I remember trying to moisten my tongue enough to see if I could whistle a tune of any kind, but I had no reserve within me to make any sound at all – just the blowing of the dry air between my scorched lips.

Neither did the prophet Isaiah live in the Torrid Zone. Nevertheless, when he wrote of the kingdom of the coming Messiah as “the shadow of a great rock in a weary land,”[1] he painted a picture for us that we all can understand, even if we are not the mysterious inhabitants of the Torrid Zone. In our lives, we all come upon times of extreme weariness and a fatigue that may go even beyond any level of exhaustion that the sun could put on us.

Perhaps weariness comes because of a serious medical or physical condition that we have had to long endure. Perhaps it is something entirely different, like a person in whom we have invested much love and effort, suddenly turning his or her back on us and rejecting us. Or, we see that the righteousness in which we believe has become a mockery to the world, and evil seems to have become victorious. This is the type of weariness that seems often to come to me. Sometimes in the midst of our weariness, it becomes very difficult to find refreshment. Our lives are dry and parched and we have no reserve for song.

Indeed, these are exactly the circumstances for weariness that the prophet Isaiah felt, along with the people to whom he was writing. The people of the nations of Israel and Judah had placed their hope in kings who would lead them in righteousness, but the kings had failed them. Instead of righteousness, the kings had mostly been influences to lead the people away from what was honorable. The leaders should have promoted what was good, but in its place they led the people into wickedness and into idolatry.

“Alas sinful nation,” Isaiah laments, “People weighed down with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, sons who act corruptly! They have abandoned the Lord. They have despised the Holy One of Israel. They have turned away from Him!”[2] 

Refreshment in the Torrid Zone

The people like Isaiah, who also sought righteousness, felt as if they were on a wearisome journey. They were seeking shade but could find none. They did not know where to turn to find relief from the wickedness around them.

In times like these, it is helpful to know that the present troublesome circumstances will not persist forever.

It was to these wearisome travelers that Isaiah continued to write, “When he Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and purged the bloodshed of Jerusalem from her midst…there will be a shelter to give shade from the heat of the day and a refuge and protection from the storm and the rain.”[3]

Isaiah actually has quite a lot to say on this subject. He must have often felt weary and must often have passed through times of weariness. As for the need for upright leaders, he tells his people in the absence of a king that would lead them in righteousness, God himself would be their leader.

Recognizing this, Isaiah says to God, “For you have been a defense for the helpless, a defense for the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm and a shade from the heat.”[4] 

Good News in the Torrid Zone

Any journey, no matter how difficult and toilsome, becomes bearable when we know where we can go to find moments of respite and relief.

When we are weary of the journey and need refreshment, Jesus tells us this: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.”[5]

 There are times that weariness comes to the laborer. It is a simple fact that toil produces fatigue. It is especially in these times that it is important to remember the words of the writer of Psalm 91: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust!’”[6]

It is the joy of the Lord that is our strength.[7] 

Reward at Journey’s End

There is one more thing that I must say. Another strength for us when we are weighed down with weariness in living is to know that there will be renewal and refreshment at the end of the journey. Our journey is one that has a destiny of total revitalization. Our bodies, our minds and our souls will be rejuvenated, and it will be a renewal that will last into eternity.

Isaiah spoke also of this. To give hope to the people who have become weary – hope that there will be refreshment at the end of their journey, Isaiah says, “The Lord of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; a banquet of the wine of the sheltered place, choice pieces with marrow, and (he repeats this to stress the point) refined wine, aged in the sheltered place.”

 “Behold, a king will reign righteously and princes will rule justly. Each will be like a refuge from the wind and a shelter from the storm, like streams of water in a dry country, like the shade of a huge rock in a parched land.” [8]

It is also for this reason that the Bible speaks so frequently of the coming kingdom of God. God wants us to know that whatever present difficulties we encounter, at the completion of our journey we will see that it was all worth it. This will not come for those who are simply on their own journey, but is the destiny for all who are on the journey set before them by God.

Jesus had his people in mind when he said, “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places… for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”[9]

In the closing chapters of the Bible are some words that I find myself reading often. They go like this: 

“Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”
“Behold, I am making all things new…Then He said to me, ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be my son.’”
“Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me” (Revelation 19:9; 21:5-7; 22:12 NAS).

[1] Isaiah 32:2
[2] Isaiah 1:4 NAS
[3] Isaiah 4:4a,6 NAS
[4] Isaiah 25: 4
[5] Matthew 11:28-30 NAS
[6] Psalm 91 1-2 NAS
[7] Nehemiah 8:10
[8] Isaiah 25:6; 32:1-2 NAS
[9] John 14:1-3 NAS

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for all of these excellent promises from Scripture!

    Time here on earth is short; yet, we can rejoice because heaven awaits us. Life is found in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

    ReplyDelete
  2. He alone is our Savior.

    ReplyDelete