Barry Newman's Blog

November 1, 2010

Science and Genesis 1: 1 – 2: 3 (part VIII)

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 1:39 am

Genesis 1: 14-19 – Day 4

On the fourth Day God said, “Let lights be in the firmament of the heavens”.  One might think it strange to refer to “the firmament of the heavens” when in Day 2, the firmament has been called “heavens” or what we might call, “sky”.  Presumably, the phrase has something of the sense of, “the firmament which is the sky”.  It is a differentiating structure but more commonly it is conceived of as “the sky”.

These lights, later in the passage, are identified as, two great lights and also the stars.  The former we would refer to as the sun and the moon. The stars are most likely to be conceived of as all the “little lights” of the night sky – probably what we would identify as distant stars, galaxies and planets.  At this point the modern reader will be tempted to remark, particularly with reference to the sun, that the “light” of Day 1 and there named, “Day”, comes from the sun.  He might argue that the writer should have first referred to the Sun, perhaps in Day 1, before referring to “light”, perhaps in Day 4.  Again we need to be reminded that the writer is not primarily interested in “cause and effect” matters.  In Days 1 to 3 he indicates how God has brought “form” into the world.  Differentiation has occurred.  Basic structure has been made.  Now beginning with Day 4, God begins to fill the “void”.  He brings into being items which can “make use of” can “take advantage of”, can “be attached to” the “form” now in existence.  As odd as it might seem to the modern reader, the lights are specific objects that now take their place as functionaries having made themselves available of that light that was brought into existence on Day 1.

But why are the sun and moon not called such?  There are Hebrew words for sun and moon but one is described as “the greater light” and the other as, “the lesser light.  Perhaps it was to avoid any suggestion that God had made “gods” – the sun god and the moon god.  Though other cultures had such gods and in their creation stories one god could make another god, this God is the one and only god.  And he is never to be confused with his creation.  He is not the sun or the moon as others thought of as some of their gods, even giving them different gender roles.  He stands outside of sun and moon and is before sun and moon, but he brings them into existence.  The reference to “and also the stars” might be of similar significance.  Over and above that phrase conveying the idea that the stars are very minor light sources, the writer may have intended the reader to realise that any belief, such as the Babylonian one, that the stars were of supreme importance, is to be given no credence whatsoever.

Of course, these lights do not simply come into existence.  The bringing of anything into existence, as though that were all that could be said, is quite foreign to this document.  The lights are created for their God given purposes – declared, to begin with, to be for the separation of the day from the night.  Though there seems to be a repetition of the purpose of “Light” created on Day 1, there may be something additional being said here.  Broadly speaking, one of the lights brings light to the day, whereas, other lights bring light to the night.  Certainly they have been set in the sky to give light on the earth and to govern – to rule over the day and the night.  In almost his final word for Day 4, the writer, proclaims afresh that their purpose is to separate light from darkness.  They begin to fill the void and to do what “Light” created on Day 1 was created to enable them to do.  Day 1 comes to a type of completion on Day 4.  That aspect of the “form”- light  finds its fulfilment in the lights of the latter Day.

However they have not been appointed solely to “rule”.  They are also there for other purposes.  They are to serve as, “signs to mark seasons and days and years”.  Walton (Genesis, pp. 122, 123) is of the view that “seasons” is not a reference to “such as summer and winter” but “more specifically the related festivals and religious feast days of the liturgical calendar”.  This relates to his understanding that in common with the surrounding cultures the cosmos was regarded as a temple (ANETOT, pp. 123-127; 196-199).  When discussing Israel’s view of cosmos in relation to the concept temple he refers to Isaiah 66: 1 – “Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool” (ANETOT, p. 127).  The signs also mark, “days and years” – a phrase which Walton argues refers to one function – the making of calendrical calculations necessary in the ancient world and for a variety of reasons (Genesis, p. 123).  In the same passage, in order to illustrate how the ancient world of the Hebrews thought about such matters, Walton cites the Sumerian belief that “the major gods, (An, Enlil and Enki) put the moon and stars in place to regulate days, months and omens” and refers to the Babylonian view that the role of the sun god Shamash was to regulate the seasons and the calendar in general as well as being the patron of divination. 

Whatever similarities exist between the Genesis document and accounts such as these, we need to remember how differently God himself is portrayed compared to how the gods are portrayed.  They are bound up in the cosmos.  They are integral to the cosmos.  How mankind relates to them is determined by their nature, the nature of the cosmos.  On the other hand, God brings the cosmos into being.  He is not part of it.  How mankind relates to him is in part determined by the world God has created but also in terms of who he is apart from his world.

On this day, as for each day, God said … .  And it came to be.  And on this day, as on most, he saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning – the fourth day.

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