The Great Lights Genesis 1:16-18

Genesis 1:16-18

What now is wanting to complete the scene of inanimate nature? The mountains lift their heads to heaven. The valleys lie in soft repose, traversed by rivers and by streams, which seem, in the various motions of their course, to give the only idea of life the earth is yet able to afford. The waters have retired to their ocean beds. The scene is  invested with all the glories and all the beauties of vegetable life. What more is wanting? More light - by the full manifestation of those bright luminaries, which had, optically speaking, been hitherto veiled in mist, which their rays had not yet been able to dissipate and rarify into a pure azure sky. The light which had previously appeared is probably more intelligible to ourselves than even to the inhabitants of the east, who have but little, if any, twilight, and whose sun is seldom obscured from view. But we, with our long twilights, and with mists which sometimes constrain us to kindle lights at noon-day, can easily apprehend the kind of light which prevailed before the misty pall was, at the Divine word, drawn aside, and disclosed the moon, “walking in brightness” through the high heaven among the starry host; and when morning came, the sun, shedding a full blaze of light and glory, from the beautiful blue sky, upon all the work which God’s hand had wrought.

The sun and moon were not, of course, simultaneously, but successively, disclosed; and we place the moon first, because the fourth day, in which both appeared, was like the other days, composed of the night with the following day. If the sun had first appeared, the day would have closed when the sun set, and then the appearance of the moon on the following night would have belonged to another day. But seeing that they appeared both on the fourth day, and that the days are reckoned from evening to evening, and not from morning to morning, we may be sure that it was the moon whose rays first shone on the new earth. If man had then existed upon the earth, the appearance of “the pale regent of the night,” would have prepared his mind and his eye for the glory of that “greater light” which the day was to disclose.

But although man was not, it is ever to be borne in mind, that all these changes are throughout described as they would have presented themselves to his eye had he then existed So now to him these luminaries would appear as if then first called into being - then first created. Indeed they may,  according to Scripture usage, be said to be “made,” because they then first began to be visible in the exercise of their natural office with respect to the earth. It may be observed, that the word “made” is not the same in the Hebrew as that translated “created.” It is a term frequently employed in Scripture to signify “constituted, appointed, set for a particular purpose or use.” Thus it is said, “that God made Joseph a father to Pharaoh;” “made him lord of Egypt;” “made the Jordan a border between the tribes;” “made David the head of the heathen;” and so in numerous other examples. A critic, whose learning claims the respect which cannot be always allowed to his opinions, says, with regard to the clause “Let there be lights in the firmament,” etc., “The words ‘Let there be,’ are in my conception equivalent to ‘Let there appear;’ and if I had allowed myself the freedom which some modern translators have taken, I should thus have rendered the verse - ‘Let the luminaries which are in the expanse of the heavens, be for the purpose of illuminating the earth,’” etc. Let it be borne in mind that this author (Dr. Geddes) wrote before science had established a necessity for the pre-existence of the heavenly bodies. Thus, therefore, as it has been well remarked, “As the rainbow was made or constituted a sign, though it might have existed before, so the sun, moon, and stars may be said to have been made or set as lights in the firmament on the fourth day, though actually called into existence on the first, or previously. The same result had indeed been really effected by the same means during the previous three days and nights; but these luminaries were henceforth, by their rising and setting, to be the visible means of producing this separation or succession.” Note: Bush on Genesis - This has become nearly the general sentiment of theologians with reference to the subject.]

It may be, and has been, objected to this view, that it really assigns no specific work of creation to the fourth day - the operation of which is reduced to the clearing away of the mist, clouds, and vapors, and thereby rendering the  atmosphere clear and serene; while the same terms are employed which are admitted to apply, in other instances in the same chapter, to the higher acts of creative power. But it is to be considered that the principle of life and action which was at first infused into the mass, would still be exerting its energies. The perfection of creation would be ever advancing on the fourth day, as on former days, until the hosts of heaven broke into view from behind the vanishing veil of cloud and mistiness. Appearing for the first time, and of course as new creations, they would be described as such in the same phraseology that has before been used. Besides, as already hinted, the principal point, in the mind of the sacred writer, is the purpose which they were destined to serve in this world, as organized for the habitation and use of man. It is not so much, therefore, their creation on the fourth day, as the use to which they were to be put, on which he insists. It is by no means, then, necessary to understand the sacred writer as asserting the creation of the heavenly bodies on that day, but only their development on that day as adapted to the purposes intended, the creation of them having previously taken place.