Lights to Rule the Day and Night

Genesis 1:14-19 describes the creation of the sun, moon, and stars on the 4th day.

Think about that sentence a moment.

What sort of days happen without the sun, moon, or stars? Can we really be discussing 24-hour days,  whether or not Genesis says there was an evening and a morning, when there’s no sun?

Some 1800 years ago, a respected Christian teacher, an elder in the church in Caesarea, wrote:

Now who is there, pray, possessed of understanding, that will regard the statement as appropriate, that the first day, and the second, and the third, in which also both evening and morning are mentioned, existed without sun, and moon, and stars—the first day even without a sky? (Origen, De Principiis, V:1:16)

Did Origen simply reject the authority of Scriptures because he thought that no one with any sense could fathom days without a sun? No, he adds:

In [the Scriptures] were intermingled not a few things by which, the historical order of the narrative being interrupted and broken up, the attention of the reader might be recalled, by the impossibility of the case, to an examination of the inner meaning. (ibid.)

In other words, because the historical order is impossible, we’re supposed to look for the hidden meaning.

That’s what we’ve been doing for the first three days of creation.

A Greater and Lesser Light

Have you ever noticed that the sun is not called the sun in Genesis one? It’s called the greater light that rules the day. And the moon is not called the moon; it is called the lesser light that rules the night.

It doesn’t take great insight to see the “hidden” meaning of night, darkness, day, and light in the Scriptures. We Christians are “children of the light and of the day” (1 Thess. 5:5). Jesus once said that “night is coming, in which no man can work.” In the same Scripture he says, “I must work while it is still day” (Jn. 9:4).

Despite the fact that Jesus said it was day while he was here, and that night was coming when he left. However, though he refers to himself as the light of the world, Paul also refers to the church as the light of the world. Why is it night if Jesus left us as the light of the world in his place?

Genesis one answers that for us. Jesus is the greater light. He rules the day. The church, however, is the lesser light that rules the night.

Like the moon, the church has no light of its own. Its light is the light of Jesus Christ. It’s job is not to produce its own light. Its job is to behold the light of the sun by rising above the earth, then reflecting that light to those who dwell in darkness.

Like the moon, the church has waxed and waned throughout its history, varying the amount of light there has been on the earth.

The Stars

Stars are said to represent all sorts of things in Scripture.

When we enter our glory, Paul says that we will vary in glory as the stars do. Jesus Christ himself is represented by the morning star, which is actually a planet: Venus. (Depending on where Venus is at in relation to the earth, it can also be the evening star.) Angels are also represented by stars in Rev. 12 (possibly), where satan is said to throw down 1/3 of the stars from heaven.

In fact, in that same chapter, twelve stars represent the tribes of Israel in a figure pulled from Joseph’s dream in Genesis 37.

Signs and Seasons

In Genesis 1, though, stars are particularly said to be in the sky for signs and seasons.

A star led the magi to Israel when Christ was born. Stars are also the only indicators, besides the weather, of what season we are in. Today we have calculated the orbit of the earth so precisely that we can simply count the days of the year on a calendar. That calendar, and the number of the days of the year, are based on the stars. Humans can tell that we’ve made one circumnavigation of the sun by stars returning to the same position that they were in the year before.

Today we recognize from the calendar that the beautiful constellation of Orion begins to rise in the east at dusk around this time of year with Sirius, the dogstar and the brightest star there is, following behind it. In the past, however, it worked the opposite way. Humans knew that winter was coming on because Orion and Sirius began to rise in the east in the evening. No matter the temperature, they knew that winter was about to come on hard and full (assuming they lived in the northern hemisphere).

The early church taught that these cycles are a sign of resurrection. God has set nature in continual cycle. The earth goes to sleep over winter, but it rises anew each spring. The days shrink to minimal length, but they climb again to warmth and long hours of light.

Early Christians marveled at the orderliness of nature. Today we can explain all of this. Orbits, gravity, and other natural laws can cause us to lose our sense of wonder. No matter how much we appreciate the incredible knowledge science has garnered, may we never lose our sense of wonder. It has been set deep inside us by God.

David wrote:

Day to day utters speech, and night after night gives knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. (Ps. 19:2-3)

It is good to stand in awe. Whether the orbit and spin of the earth happened by gravity compressing clouds of molecules into a spherical planet over a billion years or by divine fiat in an instant, it is the hand of God that put us where we are, spinning as we do at nearly 1,000 mph and circling the sun at 66,000 mph, this earth and its cycles are technological marvels that should move us to “be still and know that he is God” (Ps. 46:10).

It is in us to do, that awe placed deep in our hearts by the very breath of God.

The Testimony of God

To me, more than anything, day 4 of creation represents the testimony of God to who he is. The more we learn of the heavens, the more majestic God appears. As we’ve grown, our God has grown as well–or at least our understanding of him has.

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork.

Truly, we can say with God that we see that it is good.

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