August 27, 2017: Verse of the day


3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

3–5 Verse 3 is often taken to mean that God created light before he created the sun, since here he says, “Let there be light,” but only in v. 16 does the narrative speak of God as making the sun. It should be noted, however, that the sun, moon, and stars are included in the meaning of the Hebrew expression in v. 1, “heavens and the earth” (haššāmayim wehāʾāreṣ). The expression is used in the Bible in a general way for the universe as we know it today. According to this account the sun, moon, and stars were created in v. 1.

Verse 3 does not describe the creation of the sun but the appearance of the sunlight in the darkness of the night, which precedes the dawning of the first day of this momentous week (cf. the sunrise as described in 44:3; Ex 10:23; Ne 8:3). The Hebrew word for “light” (ʾôr) in each of those passages refers to the sunlight, which is the word’s most likely sense in Genesis 1:3 as well. The narrative does not explain the cause of the darkness in v. 2, just as it does not explain the cause of the darkness in the land of Egypt in Exodus 10:22. It is probably to be understood as the darkness of night. The week thus begins with the sunrise in v. 3, “and there was light.” The absence of an explicit explanation of the darkness is insufficient ground for assuming the sun had not yet been created (see further on 1:14–18).

According to Wenham, 19, “There can be little doubt that here ‘day’ has its basic sense of a 24-hour period. The mention of morning and evening, the enumeration of the days, and the divine rest on the seventh show that a week of divine activity is being described here.” Such a natural explanation of this text finds ready support in the notice of a division between “the day” and “the night” already in v. 4. This leaves little room for an interpretation of the “light” in v. 3 as anything other than sunlight.

In light of the frequent repetition of the phrase, “And God saw that it was good” (vv. 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31), we may assume that this is an element the narrative intends to emphasize. In view of such an emphasis at the beginning of the book, it is hardly accidental that throughout Genesis and the Pentateuch, the activity of “seeing” is continually put at the center of the author’s conception of God. The first name given to God within the book is that of Hagar’s: “El Roi” (ʾēl roʾî), “the seeing God” (16:13). The psalmist, in reflecting on these texts, recognizes God’s “seeing” as one of the essential attributes distinguishing him from all false idols, “which do not see” (Ps 115:5).

Also, in Genesis 22:1–19, a central chapter dealing with the identity of God in Genesis, the narrative concludes on the theme that God is the one who “sees.” Thus the place where the Lord appeared to Abraham is called, “The Lord will see” (22:14). (Though the early versions often translate the verb “to see” in this passage as “to provide,” as it should be, the Hebrew word rʾh [“to see”] only comes to mean “to provide” secondarily [cf. TWOT, 823].)

This close connection between “seeing” and “providing” likely plays an important role in the sense of the verb “to see” in ch. 1. In a tragic reversal of the portrayal of God’s “seeing” the “good” in creation, the author subsequently returns to the notion of God’s “seeing” at the opening of the account of the flood. Here too the biblical God is the God who “sees”; but at that point in the narrative, after the fall, God no longer “saw” the “good” (ṭôb), but he “saw how great man’s wickedness [rāʿâ] on the earth had become” (6:5). The verbal parallels suggest that the two narratives are to be read as a contrast of the state of humanity before and after the fall (O. Eissfeldt, “Die kleinste literarische Einheit in den Erzählungsbuchern des Alten Testaments,” in Kleine Schrîten, vol. 1 [Tübingen: Mohr, 1962], 144).

The “good” the author has in view has a specific range of meaning in ch. 1—the “good” is that which is beneficial for humanity. Notice, for example, that in the description of the work of the second day (vv. 6–8), the narrative does not say, “God saw that it was good.” The reason for the omission is that on day two there was nothing created or made that was, as yet, “good”—that is, beneficial to humanity. The heavens were made and the waters divided, but the land, where humankind was to dwell, remains hidden under the “deep.” The land is still tōhû; it is not yet a place where humankind can live. Only when, on the third day, the sea is parted and the dry land appears does the text inform us, “God saw it was good” (v. 10). Only when the land is prepared for humankind can God call it good.

Throughout this opening chapter God is depicted as the one who both knows what is “good” for humankind and is intent on providing the good for humanity. In this way the author has prepared the reader for the tragedy that awaits in ch. 3. It is in the light of an understanding of God as the one who discerns “good” (ṭôb) from “evil” (raʿ), and who is intent on providing humanity with the good, that humankind’s rebellious attempt to gain the knowledge of “good and evil” for themselves can be seen clearly for the folly that it is. The author seems intent on portraying the “fall” not merely as sin but also as the work of fools.

When we read the portrayal of God in ch. 1 as the Provider of all that is good and beneficial (wayyarʾ ʾelōhîm kî-ṭôb, “And God saw that it was good”), we cannot help but see in this an anticipation of the author’s depiction of the hollowness of that first rebellious thought: “The woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good [ṭôb] … and also desirable for gaining wisdom” (3:6). Here again the verbal parallels between God’s “seeing [of] the good” in ch. 1 and the woman’s “seeing [of] the good” in ch. 3 can hardly be unintended in the text. In drawing a parallel between the woman’s “seeing” and God’s “seeing,” the author submits a graphic picture of the limits of human wisdom and, by doing so, highlights the tragic irony of the fall.[1]

1:3–5 / The words God said mark off the stages of creation, conveying that God created by the word. God’s words were not empty, for the Spirit, who was present over the waters, empowered God’s words, bringing into being what God had spoken (A. Kapelrud, “Die Theologie der Schöpfung im Alten Testament,” ZAW 91 [1979], pp. 165–66). The wording of Psalm 33:6, 9 supports this claim: “By the word of Yahweh were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth … For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.” The parallel in this psalm between “word” and “breath” (v. 6) communicates that God’s Spirit was the energy empowering God’s word.

God began the process of creation with the command, Let there be light, and light came into being, pushing back the primordial darkness. From the context we can discern two reasons God created light first: to limit the primordial darkness, and to begin the flow of time as measured in days. From our knowledge of the world another reason can be added; light was the energy necessary to support the life forms that God was going to create.

God saw that the light was good, thereby making a qualitative judgment about what he had created (also vv. 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). While usually a word carries only one nuance in any given occurrence, “good” in this account is a loaded term. It carries four implications: (a) What came into being functioned precisely as God had purposed. (b) That which had just been created contributed to the well-being of the created order. (c) The new creation had aesthetic qualities—that is, it was pleasing and beautiful—and (d) it had moral force, advancing righteousness on earth (Job 38:12–13).

God went on and separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day” and the darkness he called “night.” By naming these elements God defined their function in respect to their essence. God did not eliminate the darkness that was already present; rather he established his authority over it, assigning it a specific role and restricting its influence.[2]

1:3–5 On the first day God commanded light to shine out of darkness and established the Day and Night cycle. This act is not to be confused with the establishment of the sun, moon, and stars on the fourth day. In 2 Corinthians 4:6 the Apostle Paul draws a parallel between the original separation of light from darkness and the conversion of a sinner.[3]

1:3–5 And God said. In ch. 1 the absolute power of God is conveyed by the fact that he merely speaks and things are created. Each new section of the chapter is introduced by God’s speaking. This is the first of the 10 words of creation in ch. 1. Let there be light. Light is the first of God’s creative works, which God speaks into existence. the light was good (v. 4). Everything that God brings into being is good. This becomes an important refrain throughout the chapter (see vv. 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). God called the light Day (v. 5). The focus in v. 5 is on how God has ordered time on a weekly cycle; thus, “let there be light” may indicate the dawning of a new day. God is pictured working for six days and resting on the Sabbath, which is a model for human activity. Day 4 develops this idea further: the lights are placed in the heavens for signs and seasons, for the purpose of marking days and years and the seasons of the great festivals such as Passover. This sense of time being structured is further emphasized throughout the chapter as each stage of God’s ordering and filling is separated by evening and morning into specific days. there was evening and there was morning, the first day. The order—evening, then morning—helps the reader to follow the flow of the passage: after the workday (vv. 3–5a) there is an evening, and then a morning, implying that there is a nighttime (the worker’s daily rest) in between. Thus the reader is prepared for the next workday to dawn. Similar phrases divide ch. 1 into six distinctive workdays, while 2:1–3 make a seventh day, God’s Sabbath. On the first three days God creates the environment that the creatures of days 4–6 will inhabit; thus, sea and sky (day 2) are occupied by fish and birds created on day 5 (see chart). By a simple reading of Genesis, these days must be described as days in the life of God, but how his days relate to human days is more difficult to determine (cf. Ps. 90:4; 2 Pet. 3:8). See further Introduction: Genesis and Science.[4]

1:4 good God calls His handiwork good seven times in ch. 1 (vv. 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). The Hebrew word used here, tov, has a broad range of meaning but generally describes what is desirable, beautiful, or right. In essence, God affirms creation as right and in right relationship with Him immediately after He creates it. The material world is good as created by God.

caused there to be a separation between the light and between the darkness The division of time into day and night represents one of God’s first acts in the ordering of creation.[5]

1:4 light. God is the ultimate source of the daylight that alternates with darkness; the sun is later introduced as the immediate cause (vv. 14–18; v. 5 and note). Light symbolizes life and blessing (Ps. 4:7; 56:13; Is. 9:2; John 1:4, 5).

good. Brought within God’s constraints, even the darkness and watery deep (vv. 2, 10) are now “good,” serving God’s benevolent purposes (Ps. 104:19–26). The creation bears witness to God’s handiwork (Ps. 19:1–6).

separated. The Hebrew here is also translated “set apart.” Separation is fundamental both to creation and to Israel’s existence (3:15; 4:1–17; 12:1; Lev. 20:24, 25; Num. 8:14).[6]

[1] Sailhamer, J. H. (2008). Genesis. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis–Leviticus (Revised Edition) (Vol. 1, pp. 56–57). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Hartley, J. E. (2012). Genesis. (W. W. Gasque, R. L. Hubbard Jr., & R. K. Johnston, Eds.) (p. 44). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 32–33). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 50). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Ge 1:4). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[6] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 7). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.

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