Day four of creation is packed full of symbolism and representation that lies beneath the surface of the text. At this point in creation, we have the earth, land, sea, a sky above, and plants on the land. This is the point in which God is going to start filling His earth and universe with inhabitants. Day four focuses on the celestial bodies and we are going to focus on their significance to the rest of the Bible. Let’s start to unpack the fourth day of creation.
“And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights-the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning-the fourth day.”
When many look at this passage, the obvious interpretation of what is being created is the sun, moon, and stars. Although we don’t see an exact wording of the “sun” and “moon” being created, the descriptions of “greater light” and “lesser light” and their jobs match perfectly with the sun and moon. There is no other celestial body that fits the descriptions of these two lights more perfect than the sun and moon. The light that governs the day is the sun and the light that governs the night is the moon. But when we look at their descriptions and the order they come in, it seems that these objects in the sky serve a far greater purpose than just giving out light. Let’s explore the hidden meaning behind these celestial bodies.
Our passage starts out by saying, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night”. This is crucial. God is now filling the “sky” that He created earlier with bodies that have specific functions. The first function we see is that these lights are to separate the day and the night. Now the separation of day and night should sound familiar because the separation of day and night already happened back on day one. So how can there be two separations of day and night? Let’s go back to day one. In Genesis 1:4 it says, “God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.” In the article about day one, we discussed how this light was most likely God since God is light. On day one, God separated the light from the darkness, indeed separating Himself from the darkness. God is the one doing the separation in day one. Now on day four, we have these God-made objects doing the separating. What does this mean? This means that God has now delegated some of his authority. Instead of God doing the separating of day and night, He has now made celestial objects to perform that function. God still has supreme authority, but he has given some of the roles over to other beings and His creation. This is what we see happening here. The sun and moon are now going to be separating the light and dark. This is also God filling the light and dark with His creation. The sun is now going to “fill” the day and the moon is now going to “fill” the night along with the stars. So the first function we see of these lights being created is to separate the light and darkness.
Signs, Seasons, and Sacred Times
The next function we see of these two lights is that they were meant to “serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years”. This verse is critically important when dealing with the sun and moon because even outside of biblical literature, we see this to be true. We can look at ancient cultures outside of the Bible and still see they used the sun, moon, and even the stars for different purposes. The position of the sun in the sky meant different times of year. The stars were used as an early navigation system for sailors and travelers. These celestial bodies have had significant importance throughout ancient history and we see the beginning and the establishment of their importance right here. We can also see from the verse that these lights will be used for the purpose of marking sacred times, day, and years. The idea that these lights will serve as somewhat of a calendar is a realistic interpretation of this passage. However, these lights are not just going to mark days and times and years. There is a much deeper meaning behind these words and these lights.
A Greater Reality
There are many translations of this verse as well. The NIV says, “serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years”. The ESV says, “And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years”. In one translation, we have their purpose being to mark sacred times, days, and years. In the other, we have the lights serving as signs and for seasons and for days and for years. In my personal opinion, I believe translations that have these lights serving as signs and for seasons, days, translate the verse more clearly in the sense that they bring the deeper meaning closer to light. Here’s what I mean. The word “signs” in Hebrew is used to mean the same as a what a symbol means to us today. The American flag is a symbol for the United States. The cross is a symbol of what Jesus went through and what it means for us. Symbols are used to point to a bigger reality. They are used as pointers to point to something greater that it is representing. The lights in this verse are doing the same thing. The sun and moon are pointers to a greater reality, which is God Himself. Remember, the first function of these lights were to separate day and night, something God was doing before He gave authority for these lights to do. God created these lights and plus, God is light. These lights are pointing to something greater, they are a sign or symbol of a greater reality which in this case is God.
Light For The Earth
So far, we have discovered these lights in the sky have many functions and purposes. They are to separate day and night and they are to be signs of things here on earth but also signs that point to a greater reality of God who is behind all of this. The third function we see of these lights is actually what most of us think the purpose of the sun and moon is and that is give light. God says they are to be lights in the sky and give light to the earth. As we now know, scientifically, the sun feeds plants through photosynthesis and gives us light to see electromagnetic waves in the visible light spectrum. The sun does many things, as well as the moon, and the three purposes we see of the sun and moon is to separate light and dark, serve as signs, and give light.
However, there is a fourth purpose hidden in plain sight in the passage we are studying. Let’s look at verses 17 and 18 of Genesis 1. “God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness.” Here we see a small of summary of what God has just created. God made these lights to give light to the earth, to govern the day, and separate light and dark. Oddly enough, this is the exact opposite order in which the narrative mentioned them first. Starting in verse 14 it says these lights will:
- Separate day and night
- Serve as signs, seasons, day, and years
- Give light
Then starting in verse 17, we see the opposite order:
- Give light
- Governs the day and night
- Separate light and dark
Now you may be wondering, if it’s the same order, why does verse 18 say “govern” the day and night and not “serve as signs, seasons, etc”? How are they the same thing? Well, they can mean the same thing but the word “govern” has a little bit deeper meaning than just to serve as signs in the sky. Let’s explore. Some translations may have the word “rule” here instead of “govern”. To translate it, “rule”, makes the meaning a little more clear. The Hebrew word used here is “memshalah” which can mean to rule or have dominion. So is this verse saying that the sun and moon have power and dominion over the day and night? In one sense, they do but again they are always pointing to God. If you think about it? What makes it daylight or daytime? The sun giving light. What makes it nighttime? Well, the sun is not shining on the part of the earth that you are on but the moon is out. This is what defines day and night. In the beginning, God was separating the day and night, but now He has given His creation, a celestial body the power and authority to “rule” the day and night and separate them. Are the sun and moon living beings? No, we have no evidence of Scripture that God gave these bodies life. However, God has given some of His authority over to His creation, the sun and moon, to do a specific task. In this case, the task is to rule the day and night in the sense that they are what defines day and night by their light. They are to give light to the earth, serve as signs and separate light from dark.
As you can see, the fourth day of creation means so much more than just celestial bodies being made that give light. It is all a reflection, a sign that points to the greater reality of God being the Creator.