One of the most commonly asked questions about Creation and Genesis 1 is how can there be light and dark, day and night on the 1st“day” of creation, when it was not until the 4th day that the sun was “made”?
Although it is a valid question, some feel that this demonstrates that Genesis 1 cannot be referring to real events because this could not literally happen. Although this seems logical, it is essential we let Genesis shed its ‘light’ on the answer, as there are important implications for us to consider.
First we should consider what the word “day” actually means. The Hebrew word is “yom”, and it simply refers to a period of time that is defined by the words around it. It can be used in very much the same way we use the word “day” today (this sounds like a Dr Seuss). Day can refer to:
- A 24-hour period. Like it does in Gen 1 in the repeated phrase “the evening and the morning were the (first)day”. We speak about our birth-DAYwith the same period of time.
- A 12-hour period. The warm daylight hours, as it does in Gen 1:5 where God called the light “Day”, in contrast to the dark “Night”. But this “Day” and “Night” made up that “first day”.
- A period of time when something occurred, like in Gen 2:4. We often say, “Back in my day that would not have happened”. Here we too refer to some period of our life, not just a day.
Notice that Genesis 1 clearly defines the period of time for “day”. It not only names each day, in sequential order, but it also clearly describes the length of time it is meaning when it uses the phrase “the evening and morning”.We can be left with no other conclusion that God is referring to 24 hour period (day) just as they relate to our normal experience. This is further supported when you read Exodus 20:11 and 31:16-17.
DAY 1 AND DAY 4
Now we can carefully consider what Genesis 1 records God did on each of these days. The very first creative act was God stating; “Light exist”. And then of course, “Light did exist”. All that we are told was that “God commanded the light to shine out of darkness”(2 Cor 4:6).The key to the 1st day is that there is no mention of the source of that light. This is deliberate and causes us to ask “WHY?”.
All that God does on the 1st day is begin a cycle where the light is divided from the darkness every 24-hour period. Within this, He determines that there will be a part with light called “Day” and another part of dark called “Night”, which make up this day and produce an “evening and morning”. We could assume the earth began to rotate relative to a light, but this is not explicitly revealed.
However, we should not feel that it is impossible for God to do this without the sun. We make a false assumption to think that the only source of light is the sun. God Himself, who IS light (1 John 1:5), could have used any source of light (even Himself) as He does not need the sun to light the world, as Rev 22:5 shows. Regardless, if God is the creator, He can also define and call things the way He likes.
Then on the 4th day we have an important distinction. The word “lights” in v14 is different to the word “light” in v4. Hereon the 4th day the word refers to a “light bearer”, or an object that shines light. The 4th day is all about the light bearers and the role they were made for, relative to us.
On the 4th day God made sources or bearers of light that would:
- Divide the day from night – so do the work begun on the 1st day
- Be for signs and seasons – this was a new and important development
To the Jewish people, they understood the importance of what God was doing on this 4th day. The seasons referred initially to the festivals and feasts in the Law, for which Moses was writing this creative account. The solar and lunar cycles were important and God continued to frame their lives around His creation. How amazingly this demonstrates God’s plan and foreknowledge.
Yet how do we understand the word “made” (“He made two great lights…”) in Gen 1:16? I see two possible suggestions:
- It was “made” or created that very day
- Or they were “made” to do something
When you read the entire section you can see that it is clearly the latter. The sun was made “to rule the day” and the moon was made “to rule the night”. This is supported by Psa 104:19. The very fact that the sun was appointed to rule the day meant that the day had to be formed first for the sun to rule in it. God first formed then filled, in parallel to it being “formless and empty”(Gen 1:2).
Possibly the natural cycle of an earth that began to spin on its axis relative to a light source (on the 1st day) is now on this 4th day developed into a bigger cycle that not only involves each day, but also “years”(Gen 1:14). We could suggest that the earth has been placed in a system where the sun can now be the only dominant (ruling) light source during the day, and the moon by night. This involves being made to complete a yearly pattern that would regulate the seasons and times within it. This sounds very much like our solar system and the regulated orbits of its planets and our earth.
From this consideration of Genesis it is abundantly clear that this is revealing what God literally did do and although our worldview may have made that difficult, it is still accurate and logical.
WHY IS THIS SO IMPORTANT?
When God does something it is not random, it is for a reason. So rather than asking how could that happen, we should ask WHY that happened. God had a plan with creation that was in His mind before it all (Prov 8:22-30, John 1:1-5). Like when you build a house you draw up the architectural plans first, so to God’s great designs are always for a purpose.
Genesis 1:14 says that these were “for signs”. Paul says that the spiritual lessons are based on the natural details(1 Cor 15:46). God didn’t just literally create it all; He did so in a way to teach us.
The sun was a light bearer that shone God’s light to the dark world. Jesus was called “the sun of righteousness”(Mal 4:2). He called himself “the light of the world” (John 8:12). He came as an embodiment of God’s light, the same light that had been in world since the beginning (1 John 1). But God, who is Light, is the “Father of lights”(Jam 1:17) and so it must begin with Him.
Jesus called his disciples to reflect that light (Matt 5:14) in a dark world when he left them, like a moon reflects. They were to “shine as lights”(Phil 2:15) in hope of one day being made into the stars of heaven (Dan 12:3). To do this, we must be faithful in placing a distinction between what is light and what is darkness. To have fellowship with God we must “walk in the light”(1 John 1:7).
LISTENING TO FAITHFUL EXPLANATIONS
There are other explanations for how to account for this challenging question. The purpose of the first section was to show that when reading the passage, when focusing on what it says, rather than what we think, then there will be a clear explanation without contradiction.
However, there are other logical answers. Here is one from Bro John Thomas in Elpis Israel that I think is very sound and fits the Bible’s words accurately. However this is cited as another good suggestion as a means of demonstrating that the people should not doubt the reality of Genesis 1.
“The Mosaic account is not a revelation to the inhabitants of other orbs remote from the earth, of the formation of the boundless universe; but to man as a constituent of the terrestrial system. This will explain why light is said to have been created four days before the sun, moon and stars. To an observer on the earth, this was the order of their appearance’, and in relation to him a primary creation, though absolutely pre-existent for millions of ages before the Adamic era. The duration of the earth’s revolutions round the sun previous to the work of the first day is not revealed; but the evidences produced by that strata of our globe show that the period was long continued” (Page 10)
“On the first day, light was caused to shine through the darkness, and disclose the face of the waters; on the second, the atmosphere called Heaven was formed, by which the fog was enabled to float in masses above the deep; on the third, the waters were gathered together into seas, and the dry land, called the Earth appeared. It was then clothed with verdure, and with fruit and forest trees, preparatory to the introduction of herbivorous creatures to inhabit it. On the fourth day, the expanded atmosphere became transparent, and the shining orbs of the universe could be seen from the surface of the earth. Our globe was then placed in such astronomical relation to them as to be subjected by their influences to the vicissitudes of day and night, summer and winter; and that they might serve for signs, and for years. Thus, the sun, moon, and stars which God had made, by giving the earth’s axis a certain inclination to the plane of the ecliptic, became diffusive of the most genial influences over the land and sea. It was now a fit and beautiful abode for animals of every kind. The dwelling-place was perfected, well aired, and gloriously illuminated by the lights of heaven; food was abundantly provided; and the mansional estate waited only a joyous tenantry to be complete”. (Page 12)