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December 13, 2022

Hail the Sun of Righteousness! Explaining a Misunderstood Lyric

How do you start reading the Bible?

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings, risen with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by, born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

Worship pastors have long endured clever congregants eager to correct an error in the lyrics of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”

“It should be Hail the Son of Righteousness, S-O-N,” they say. But there was no misprint. Jesus brought His light into this dark world – a clarifying light that is brighter than the sun.

In our times, those who walk with God in the world must endure darkness for a time, but on the horizon approaches a permanent daylight.

Prophecy Foretold – The Light Will Shine from Heaven

The prophet Isaiah spoke of the darkness of his day, and of a coming light.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (Isaiah 9:2; cf John 1:5).

A few hundred years later, the prophet Malachi said something similar.

“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings” (Malachi 4:1-2; see also Psalm 84:11).

For centuries, while these and other prophets spoke from God, people who loved and feared God lived in a world that was filled predominantly with idol worshipers, a world ruled by haughty, wicked men. The vast majority had rejected God and His knowledge. They were arrogant, thinking they could find happiness in something other than fellowship with God. They didn’t want to be exposed to the light. They loved their sin, even as it enslaved them and made them miserable.

But some righteous ones looked forward and waited for the light to dawn. Ten generations came and went, but then the fulfillment of Malachi 4:2 came when Christ was born.

Prophecy Fulfilled – The Light Dawns upon a Weary World

Zechariah prophesied at the birth of his son, John the Baptist:

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:76-69)

We can see in this prophecy several things about the light:

  • The essence of the light is divine knowledge of salvation (v77; cf. 2 Corinthians 4:6).
  • From this light comes power over death and peace with God (v79).
  • As we walk with Him, His light guides our steps (v79; cf. Psalm 119:105).

“God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). That light, that sunrise, shone on the earth for a short time, during the life of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and He has left an indelible mark.

Nevertheless, the darkness of sin remains for now and troubles the world.

“The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil,” Jesus taught in John 3:19. “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”

Prophecy Followed – The Light Shines Forever, Upon and Through the Righteous

Jesus Himself said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Luke 8:12).

The continuing ministry of Jesus, the Sun of Righteousness, is to shine His light upon His followers, even through these dark days in which we find ourselves. In fact, because He lives and abides in His chosen ones, He says to them, “You are the light of the world,” and He commands them to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

Notice that He says it is your light. By grace, through faith, you are His, and He is yours. So, you can walk in the light, because His light dwells in you.

Enjoying the Light Forever

The Sun of Righteousness has shone upon a dark world. Jesus says in Matthew 6:22-23 that the light is still shining. The problem is that our eyes are bad, because they are darkened by sin. But you can walk in the light today. Through faith in Jesus, His splendid righteousness is yours.

If you walk in that Sun-light of righteousness, you can look forward to enjoying that light forever. Because one day soon, the rebellion will be ended, and no sin will keep that light from being seen. The last book of the Bible points to that day and declares that the source of unending light is the glory of God:

“And the [New Jerusalem] has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Revelation 21:23).


Dan Wells

Dan became a Christian in 1992 and poured his life into the Church. In the spring of 2000, he began full-time ministry at the Evangelical Free Church in Orange, Calif., where he served until God called him to the Chicago area in the fall of 2007. Since then, he has served as worship pastor at The Orchard Evangelical Free Church. Trained in music at UCLA, Dan holds bachelor's and master's degrees in composition and piano performance. He has been married since 1995 to his wife, Midge, and they have three grown children.
Dan became a Christian in 1992 and poured his life into the Church. In the spring of 2000, he began full-time ministry at the Evangelical Free Church in Orange, Calif., where he served until God called him to the Chicago area in the fall of 2007. Since then, he has served as worship pastor at The Orchard Evangelical Free Church. Trained in music at UCLA, Dan holds bachelor's and master's degrees in composition and piano performance. He has been married since 1995 to his wife, Midge, and they have three grown children.