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You are my sunshine

A journey into the Genesis creation account: part seven

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This article is the sixth part of a series on the Genesis creation account. Here are parts one, two, three, four, five and six.

And God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light” (Gen 1:3).1

In and of itself, there is nothing particularly outlandish about this verse. If God created the entire universe, surely turning the light on, as would a carpenter entering his shop, should not be cause for concern.

But some readers get bent out of shape when they realize that light appears before the creation of the sun on the fourth day (vv. 14-19).

For some, that is even reason enough to dismiss the entire account as a whole lot of nonsense, surmising that if the author was so smart, he would certainly have caught this glaring inconsistency.

As with many other things in Scripture, there is more here than meets the eye.

That the light emerges before the creation of the sun may initially seem a little strange, but there is a good reason for this.

Ancient Near Eastern men and women believed in what today we might call the gods of the gaps, deities that were responsible for specific tasks and who would express themselves through nature.

The Israelites’ neighbours believed the sun and the moon were deities to be worshipped and honoured, and that the stars embodied the will of the gods.

As followers of the one true God, the Israelites were not permitted to nurture such beliefs. Moses’ mandate was to ensure they would embrace the truth about the creator and his creation, and that they would be immunized against Canaanite disinformation.

By uncoupling the light from the sun, Torah underlines the fact that the creator of the whole “machine” is the source of light. No need for a fiery star. This shocking idea is reintroduced near the end of the book of Revelation where light is also dissociated from the sun:

There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever” (Rev 22:5; see also Is 60:19).

But Moses goes further. In verses 14-16, he trivializes the sun, the moon, and the stars. Not only doesn’t he bother using the proper names for the celestial objects, but like a good standup comic, he subtly ridicules those who worship the sun and the moon as gods:

And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. God made the two great lights — the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the nightand the stars.

He is saying: “Those things in the sky the Canaanites worship. Do you know what they really are? The sun is no god to be feared or worshipped. It’s just a giant lightbulb. The moon, a smaller lightbulb. And the stars? Christmas lights. That’s it, that’s all. You’ve been a great audience.”

With these words, Moses exterminates the most prominent deities of the ancient Near East. As surely as herbicide neutralizes the pesky dandelions that plague our lawns, on the day this text was proclaimed, the fake gods began to shrivel and die.

The far-reaching impact of Moses’ deconstruction of the Canaanites’ worldview can be felt throughout the entire Old Testament. The prophet Jeremiah picks up Moses’ comic routine in his biting parody of those who worship pieces of wood they themselves made:

They are all senseless and foolish; they are taught by worthless wooden idols. Hammered silver is brought from Tarshish and gold from Uphaz. What the craftsman and goldsmith have made is then dressed in blue and purple — all made by skilled workers. But the LORD is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King. When he is angry, the earth trembles; the nations cannot endure his wrath. 11 “Tell them this: ‘These gods, who did not make the heavens and the earth, will perish from the earth and from under the heavens.'” But God made the earth by his power; he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding (Jer 10:8-12).

The dissociation of the light from the sun in Genesis 1 adds extraordinary significance to what Jesus meant when he said: “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).

By claiming to be the light of the world, he disclosed the unbearable truth that the one who created the heavens and the earth was in fact Him (cf. Col 1:16).

No wonder they killed him.

 


For a more detailed discussion of the creation narrative and its theological implications, see Pierre Gilbert, Demons, Lies & Shadows: A Plea for a Return to Text and Reason (Winnipeg, MB: Kindred, 2008). 

1 Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture references are from the New International Version (2011).

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