The First Light Genesis 1:3

Genesis 1:3

“And God said, Let there he light; and there was light.” 

Striking and magnificent as these words are in the current version, their native force is much weakened by dilution. Here are eight words to translate four of the original. The Hebrew, expressed in English characters, is Yehi aor, va-yehi aor - the letters being exactly alike in the two clauses, with the sole exception of the letter prefixed to the third word to express and. The Latin version expresses these grand words with almost the force and brevity of the original - “sit lux! et lux fuit.” The Greek version of the Septuagint is not equal in either of these qualities to the original or to the Latin: and yet it was from this version that the critic Longinus derived the impression - a heathen’s impression - of their surpassing majesty. And let us not say that our  own language is incapable of expressing the sacred text more concisely - “And God said, ‘Light! be; and light was,’” would perhaps be as good a version as any language could produce. But in truth this wonderful sublimity lies not merely, not principally, in the words, but in the grand idea - the idea of the instant succession of light upon the utterance of the Almighty word. This was more striking to a heathen than to ourselves. The Scripture itself has from infancy furnished our minds with such grand conceptions of Almightiness, and made us familiar with so many wonderful manifestations of Divine power, that even such magnificent views as these impress our minds with less force than that with which they smote the thoughts of such of the heathen as became acquainted with them, and to whom the idea which they presented was altogether new. Yet even we, though familiar with the idea, and regarding the passage as a mode of expressing a fact not strange to our minds, cannot help pausing upon it, and regarding it as the most magnificent passage to be found embodied in the language of men.

We must not here overlook Milton’s amplification of this text -

“Let there be light, said God; and forthwith light
Ethereal, first of things, quintessence pure,
Sprung from the deep; and from her native east
To journey through the airy gloom began,
Sphered in a radiant cloud, for yet the sun
Was not; she in a cloudy tabernacle
Sojourn’d the while.”

And so an elder poet, Du Bartas, as translated by Sylvester -

No sooner said He, Be there light! but, lo,
The formless lump to perfect form ’gan grow.
All hail, pure Light, bright, sacred and excelling.
Sorrow and care, darkness and dread dispelling -
God’s eldest daughter: O, how thou art full
Of grace and goodness! O, how beautiful!”

The greatest apparent difficulty in the history of the  creation, arises from the production of light on the first day; whereas, in the sequel of the narrative, the creation of the sun and moon seems to be ascribed to the fourth day. Geology, which was at first regarded as increasing the difficulties of a solution, may now claim the credit of having pointed out the true sense in which these intimations are to be received. If we admit that the earth existed, and was replenished with successions of animal and vegetable life, before the whole was reduced to that chaotic confusion in which we find it before the work of re-organization commenced, we must allow, also, that the light of the sun shone upon it in those more ancient times. It appears by the fossil remains of those creatures which then walked the earth, but whose races were extinguished before man appeared, that they were furnished with eyes as perfect and extraordinary as those of our present animals, and these eyes would, without light, have been useless; and the vegetable productions, which are always found in connection with these animals, could not without light have flourished. Besides, the changes of day and night, which are described as existing before the fourth day, could not have existed without the sun, seeing that they depend upon the earth’s relation to that luminary. Geology concurs with Scripture in declaring the existence of the watery chaos previously to the era in which man, and his contemporary animals, received their being. The earth then existed as the wreck of an anterior creation, with all its previous and interim geological arrangements and fossil remains; but strangely convulsed and fractured, submerged in water and enshrouded in darkness. Thus it lay, probably for an immense period life was extinct; but matter continued subject to the same laws with which it had been originally endowed. The same attraction, the same repulsion, the same combination of forces, which, by the will of God, have ever been inherent in it, still existed. The sun then, acting by its usual laws upon so vast a body of waters, gradually, in the continuous lapse of ages, drew up a prodigious mass of dense and dark vapors, which, held suspended in the atmosphere, threw a pall of blackest  night around the globe. All things beneath it became invisible, and no ray of light could pierce the thick canopy of darkness. Layer upon layer, in almost infinite succession of closely-packed and darkling clouds, filled the atmosphere, and absorbed every particle of light long before it could reach the surface of earth; and in the fullest extent was the language of Scripture justified, that “darkness was upon the face of the deep.”

But when God saw fit, in the fulness of time, to commence the new creation, and prepare the desolate earth for the abode of man, this dense barrier which shut out the light, began, at His high word, to disperse, precipitate, or break up, and to let in light upon the waters. It was not likely to be, nor was it necessary to be, a sudden change from the depth of utter darkness to the blaze of sunny day, but the letting in of light without sunshine - the source of this light - the body of the sun not becoming visible until the fourth day, when its full glory was disclosed, and when once more its beams shone through the purged atmosphere upon mountains and valleys, and upon seas and rivers, as of old.