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THE FOURTH CREATIVE DAY
Genesis 1:14–19 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
14 And God went on to say, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 And God had made the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night, and the stars. 17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.
14. מָאוֹר a light, luminary, center of radiant light.
מוֹעֵה set time, season.
Words beginning with a formative מ usually signify that in which the simple quality resides or is realized. Hence, they often denote place.
16. The Hebrew Qal verb (וַיַּעַשַּׂ) wayyaʿaśin v.16 is a wayyiqtōl (waw-consecutive + imperfect). This construction generally conveys past tense/time. It is commonly referred to by grammarians as the “waw-consecutive” form. The traditional rendering is the simple past tense, “God made.” The preferable rendering should be “God had madethe two great lights.” The Hebrew grammarian Gleason L. Archer writes, “The Hebrew has no special form for the pluperfect tense but uses the perfect tense, or the conversive imperfect as here, to express either the English past or the English pluperfect, depending on the context.” (Archer, 1982, pp. 61-62) The pluperfect tense denotes an action completed before some past point of time specified or implied, formed in English by had, as in “God had made” (past perfect).
17. נָתַן give, hold out, show. תן stretch, hold out. Tendo, teneo, τείνω.
The darkness has been removed from the face of the deep, its waters have been distributed in due proportions above and below the expanse; the lower waters have retired and given place to the emerging land, and the wasteness of the land thus exposed to view has begun to be adorned with the living forms of a new vegetation. It only remains to remove the “void” by peopling this now fair and fertile world with the animal kingdom. If man had been on earth on this creative day, the sun and moon would have now become discernible from the earth’s surface. For this purpose, the Great Designer begins a new cycle of supernatural operations.
14, 15. Lights. light source, lights, luminary, i.e., that which gives out light (Gen. 1:14, 15, 16) The work of the fourth day has much in common with that of the first, which, indeed, it continues and completes. Both deal with light, and with dividing between light and darkness, or day and night. Let there be. They agree also in choosing the word be, to express the nature of the operation which is here performed. But the fourth day advances on the first. It brings into view the luminaries, the light radiators, and the source, while the first only indicated the stream. It contemplates the far expanse, while the first regards only the near.
Let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years. While the first day refers only to the day and its twofold division, the fourth refers to signs, seasons, days, and years. These lights are for “signs.” They are to serve as the great natural chronometer of man, having its three units,—the day, the month, and the year,—and marking the divisions of time, not only for agricultural and social purposes, but also for meeting out the eras of human history and the cycles of natural science. They are signs of place as well as of time,—topometers, if we may use the term. By them, the mariner has learned to mark the latitude and longitude of his ship, and the astronomer to determine with any assignable degree of precision the place as well as the time of the planetary orbs of heaven. The “seasons” are the natural seasons of the year and the set times for civil and sacred purposes that man has attached to special days and years in the revolution of time.
As the word “day” is a key to the explanation of the first day’s work, so is the word “year” to the interpretation of that of the fourth. As the cause of the distinction of day and night is the diurnal rotation of the earth on its axis in conjunction with a fixed source of light, which streamed in on the scene of creation as soon as the natural hindrance was removed, so the vicissitudes of the year are owing, along with these two conditions, to the annual revolution of the earth in its orbit around the sun, together with the obliquity of the ecliptic. To the phenomena so occasioned are to be added incidental variations arising from the revolution of the moon around the earth, and the small modifications caused by the various other bodies of the solar system. All these celestial phenomena come out from the artless simplicity of the sacred narrative as observable facts on the fourth day of that new creation. From the beginning of the solar system, the earth must, from the nature of things, have revolved around the sun. But whether the rate of velocity was ever changed, or the obliquity of the ecliptic was now commenced or altered, we do not learn from this record.
15. And let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth. The first day spreads the shaded gleam of light over the face of the deep. The fourth day unfolds to the eye the lamps of heaven, hanging in the expanse of the skies, and assigns to them the office of “shining upon the earth.” A threefold function is thus attributed to the celestial orbs,—to divide day from night, to define time and place, and to shine on the earth. The word of command is here very full, running over two verses, with the exception of the little clause, “and it was so,” stating the result.
16–19. This result is fully particularized in the next three verses. Made. This word corresponds to the word “be” in the command and indicates the disposition and adjustment to a special purpose of things previously existing. The two great lights. The well-known ones, great in relation to the stars, as seen from the earth. The great light, in comparison with the little light. The stars, from man’s point of view, are insignificant, except in regard to number (Gen. 15:5).
Now Let’s Turn Our Attention to the Bible Difficulty
How is it that there could be light before the sun was made, or so it would seem? The problem arises because the creation account comes across as though the sun was not created until the fourth day (1:14-16), yet there was light on the first day (1:3).
In the above there appears to be a difficulty, in that Genesis 1:3, 5 informs the reader that God brought about light during the first creation day when he said: “’Let there be light,’ and there was light.” Then, Genesis 1:16, 19 informs the reader that “God had made the two great lights” during the fourth creation day. Hence, did God create or make light on the first or fourth creation day? Before we begin to answer this difficulty, we must bear in mind that Genesis was written from a human perspective, as an earthly observer, as if he were there; not from a heavenly observation.
In looking at the fourth creation day first, we see that the “greater light” for ruling the day is our sun, and the “lesser light” for ruling the night is our moon. A further explanation of this is found at Psalm 136:7-9 (ASV): “To him that made great lights; for his loving-kindness endures forever: The sun to rule by day; for his loving-kindness endures forever; the moon and stars to rule by night; for his loving-kindness endures forever.”
Returning to the first creation day, we find the expression: “let there be light.” Ohr is the Hebrew word for light, which conveys the idea of light in a broad sense. However, for the fourth creation day, a different word is chosen, maohr, which refers to a source of light. Rotherham, in a footnote on “Luminaries” in the Emphasised Bible, says: “In ver. 3, ’ôr [’ohr], light diffused.” Then he goes on to show that the Hebrew word maohr in verse 14 has the sense of something “affording light.” In other words, on the first creation day ohr (light) was spread throughout the earth’s atmosphere (being diffused). To an earthly observer, had he been there: he would not have been able to discern the source of light. However, by the fourth creation day, the observer would have been able to see the maohr (source) of that light, as the atmosphere would have changed.
It should also be noted that Genesis 1:16 does not use the Hebrew verb bara, meaning, “create.” Instead, the Hebrew verb asah is used, meaning, “make.” The reason being, Genesis 1:1 informs us “God created the heavens (which would include sun, moon and stars) and the earth.” In other words, the “greater light” (sun) and the “lesser light” (moon) were created long before the fourth creation day. What we have on the fourth creation day is Jehovah God “making” the “greater light” and the “lesser light” to exist in a new way with the surface of the earth and the expanse that had now dissipated even further, allowing the source of light to be seen from earth. God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens . . .” (Gen 1:14) This being a further indication of their discernibleness. In addition, they were “to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years.” These were to evidence the existence of God and draw attention to His great power, as well as lead man in numerous ways.
17. God gave them. The absolute giving of the heavenly bodies in their places was performed at the time of their actual creation. The relative giving here spoken of is that which would appear to an earthly spectator when the intervening veil of clouds would be dissolved by the divine agency, and the celestial luminaries would stand forth in all their dazzling splendor.
18 To rule. From their lofty eminence, they regulate the duration and the business of each period. The whole is inspected and approved as before.
Now let it be remembered that the heavens were created at the absolute beginning of things recorded in the first verse, and that they included all other things except the earth. Hence, according to this document, the sun, moon, and stars were in existence simultaneously with our planet. This gives simplicity and order to the whole narrative. Light comes before us on the first and on the fourth day. Now, as two distinct causes of a common effect would be unphilosophical and unnecessary, we must hold the one cause to have been in existence on these two days. But we have seen that the one cause of the day and of the year is a fixed source of radiating light in the sky, combined with the diurnal and annual motions of the earth. Thus, the recorded preexistence of the celestial orbs is consonant with the presumptions of reason. The “making” or reconstitution of the atmosphere admits their light so far that the alternations of day and night can be discerned. The making of the lights of heaven, or the display of them in a serene sky by the withdrawal of that opaque canopy of clouds that still enveloped the dome above, is then the work of the fourth day.
All is now plain and intelligible. The heavenly bodies become the lights of the earth, and the distinguishers not only of day and night, but of seasons and years, of times and places. They shed forth their unveiled glories and salutary potencies on the budding, waiting land. How the higher grade of transparency in the aerial region was affected, we cannot tell; and, therefore, we are not prepared to explain why it is accomplished on the fourth day, and not sooner. But from its very position in time, we are led to conclude that the constitution of the expanse, the elevation of a portion of the waters of the deep in the form of vapor, the collection of the subaerial water into seas, and the creation of plants out of the reeking soil, must all have had an essential part, both in retarding till the fourth day, and in then bringing about the dispersion of the clouds and the clearing of the atmosphere. Whatever remained of hinderance to the outshining of the sun, moon, and stars on the land in all their native splendor, was on this day removed by the word of divine power.
Now is the proximate cause of day and night made palpable to the observation. Now are the heavenly bodies made to be signs of time and place to the intelligent spectator on the earth, to regulate seasons, days, months, and years, and to be the luminaries of the world. Now, manifestly, the greater light rules the day, as the lesser does the night. The Creator has withdrawn the curtain and set forth the hitherto undistinguishable brilliants of space for the illumination of the land and the regulation of the changes which diversify its surface. This bright display, even if it could have been affected on the first day with due regard to the forces of nature already in operation, was unnecessary to the unseeing and unmoving world of vegetation, while it was plainly requisite for the seeing, choosing, and moving world of animated nature which was about to be called into existence on the following days.
The terms employed for the objects here brought forward,—“lights, the great light, the little light, the stars;” for the mode of their manifestation, “be, make, give;” and for the offices they discharge, “divide, rule, shine, be for signs, seasons, days, years,”—exemplify the admirable simplicity of Scripture, and the exact adaptation of its style to the unsophisticated mind of primeval man. We have no longer, indeed, the naming of the various objects, as on the former days; probably because it would no longer be an important source of information for the elucidation of the narrative. But we have more than an equivalent for this in variety of phrase. The several words have been already noticed: it only remains to make some general remarks.
(1.) The sacred writer notes only obvious results, such as come before the eye of the observer, and leaves the secondary causes, their modes of operation, and their less obtrusive effects, to scientific inquiry. The progress of observation is from the foreground to the background of nature, from the physical to the metaphysical, and from the objective to the subjective. Among the senses, too, the eye is the most prominent observer in the scenes of the six days. Hence, the “lights,” they “shine,” they are for “signs” and “days,” which are in the first instance objects of vision. They are “given,” held or shown forth in the heavens. Even “rule” has probably the primitive meaning to be over. Starting thus with the visible and the tangible, the Scripture in its successive communications advance with us to the inferential, the intuitive, the moral, the spiritual, the divine.
(2.) The sacred writer also touches merely the heads of things in these scenes of creation, without condescending to minute particulars or intending to be exhaustive. Hence, many actual incidents and intricacies of these days are left to the well-regulated imagination and sober judgment of the reader. To instance such omissions, the moon is as much of her time above the horizon during the day as during the night. But she is not then the conspicuous object in the scene, or the full-orbed reflector of the solar beams, as she is during the night. Here the better part is used to mark the whole. The tidal influence of the great lights, in which the moon plays the chief part, is also unnoticed. Hence, we are to expect very many phenomena to be altogether omitted, though interesting and important in themselves because they do not come within the present scope of the narrative.
(3.) The point from which the writer views the scene is never to be forgotten if we would understand these ancient records. He stands on earth. He uses his eyes as the organ of observation. He knows nothing of the visual angle, of visible as distinguishable from tangible magnitude, of relative in comparison with absolute motion on the grand scale: he speaks the simple language of the eye. Hence, his earth is the meet counterpart of the heavens. His sun and moon are great, and all the stars are a very little thing. Light comes to be, to him, when it reaches the eye. The luminaries are held forth in the heavens when the mist between them and the eye is dissolved.
(4.) Yet, though not trained in scientific thought or speech, this author has the eye of reason open as well as that of sense. It is not with him the science of the tangible, but the philosophy of the intuitive, that reduces things to their proper dimensions. He traces not the secondary cause, but ascends at one glance to the great first cause, the manifest act and audible behest of the Eternal Spirit. This imparts a sacred dignity to his style and a transcendent grandeur to his conceptions. In the presence of the high and lofty One that inhabits eternity, all things terrestrial and celestial are reduced to a common level. Man in intelligent relation with God comes forth as the chief figure on the scene of terrestrial creation. The narrative takes its commanding position as the history of the ways of God with man. The commonest primary facts of ordinary observation, when recorded in this book, assume a supreme interest as the monuments of eternal wisdom and the heralds of the finest and broadest generalizations of a consecrated science. The very words are instinct with a germinate philosophy and prove themselves adequate to the expression of the loftiest speculations of the eloquent mind.
By James G. Murphy and Edward D. Andrews
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- John Joseph Owens, Analytical Key to the Old Testament, vol. 1-4 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989).
- John F. MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary. Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
- Robert L. Thomas, New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries : Updated Edition (Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998).
- Thomas Howe; Norman L. Geisler. Big Book of Bible Difficulties, The: Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation. Kindle Edition.
- Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Chronology, Old Testament,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988).
- W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1996).