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Genesis 1:14-19 – Fourth Day of Creation


Genesis 1:14–19 (ESV) — 14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.


Is there anything created on the fourth day?

This is the pressing question on day four.


If light was created on day four, how is it reconciled with day one’s light?

Is it possible to have a literal 24-hour day, as even Walton and Sailhamer agree, without having a literal sun, moon and earth orbit?



Before we get into these its Moses’ Message time.


Moses Message:

There is actually a feature of the fourth day of creation about which there is little disagreement.

  • Moses is, again, offering a polemic against ancient Near Eastern cosmology.


Wenham says, “there is probably a polemic thrust behind Genesis’ treatment” of astral bodies.

  • Victor Hamilton says, “Few commentators deny that this whole chapter has a strong antimythical thrust.”
  • Bruce Waltke says, “This expression serves as a polemic against the principal deities of a pagan pantheon”.
  • Mathew’s says, Moses’ handling of the celestial bodies “differs significantly from the superstitious belief within pagan religion that the earth’s destiny is dictated by the course of the stars”.



Israel’s neighbors viewed the sun and moon as gods.

  • And, importantly, they were some of their most important gods – Wenham.
  • For example, the “Sumerians have their Anu, Enlil, and Enki” – Mathews.
  • The “Babylonians have their trinity of stars, Sin, Shamash, and Ishtar” – Mathews.
  • “Egypt has Nut, Shu, and Geb with the preeminent astral deity, the sun god Re” – Mathews.


The important point is that the sun, moon and stars, as gods, were seen as “autonomous bodies” – Hamilton.

  • These gods had varying degrees of control over humans.


Moses, however, has a much different take.

  • Wenham says Moses’ polemic is a three pronged attack.


1) Moses’ is telling us that astral bodies are created and controlled by Yahweh – “they are creatures, not gods”.

  • The “luminaries are not eternal; they are created, not to be served but to serve. That is the mandate under which they function” – Victor Hamilton.


2) Moses doesn’t refer to the sun and the moon using the normal Hebrew words.

  • They are stripped of any pretense of power by being called simply the “greater light” and the “lesser light”.
  • Apparently, because the Hebrew words for sun and moon are names of ANE gods.
  • The Hebrew word for moon “yareah” is related to the word for an ANE moon god named “Yarih”.
  • Hebrew may have borrowed words from surrounding cultures; it doesn’t mean the words contain the same meaning.


3) The sun and moon serve Yahweh’s purpose alone – they aren’t autonomous bodies like they are in ANE cosmology.

  • Wenham says this was a “lowly function by ancient Near Eastern standards”.



Creation and Fourth Day:

Wenham takes the familiar view.

  • Day four describes the actual creation of the celestial bodies.
  • Mathews agrees, “On this day the luminaries are created and placed in the heavens”.


Remember, for them Genesis 1:1 was not creation, but an introduction to creation.

  • Day one’s light was not sunlight but “Godlight”.
  • “It must therefore be supposed that the first three days were seen as different: then light and darkness alternated at God’s behest” – Gordon Wenham.
  • The text doesn’t say this.


Again, is it possible to have a literal 24-hour day without the sun and a spinning earth?

  • Interestingly, Wenham, Mathews, Waltke and Hamilton all say no.
  • They argue that we aren’t dealing with literal 24-hour days.
  • They recognize the problems the fourth day might pose to a literal 24-hour day.


As we asked when dealing with the first day of creation…

  • If God was the source of light, how was there still darkness?
  • Did He remove His presence?
  • Did God cease shining for a number of hours?
  • Was the earth circling and spinning yet?
  • If it wasn’t, then how was time passing?
  • Why does day one separate darkness and light, but day four separates day from night?
  • If the “day from night” distinction didn’t exist until day four where is the literal day on days 1-3?
  • Were plants really created before the sun?


Interestingly, as we saw on day one, the guys who believe the universe was created in verse 1 (or the preface) have no problem accepting the six days as literal 24-hour days.

  • This is because the celestial bodies, as part of the created universe from verse 1 (or the preface), were already there.


Closer Look:

Let’s look at day four again very closely before we get into Walton and Sailhamer.

  • Does it actually say the celestial bodies were created on this day?
  • We can put it like this – is God creating something that is not there or assigning purpose and function to things that are already there for the benefit of image-bearers?


Take verse 14.

  • It doesn’t just say, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens”.


What verse 14 does say is, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night”.

  • Can’t this just as easily mean that God was assigning purpose, function and meaning to material that was already there?
  • In other words, what is the purpose of the “lights in the expanse” that are in the sky?
  • God answers on day four, “to separate the day from the night”.
  • More on verse 14 when we get to Sailhamer.


The presence of function assigning is never more obvious than on this fourth day.

  • Even Wenham acknowledges this fact.


Wenham illustrates it as follows – functions galore:

  • A. to divide the day from the night (14a)
  • B. for signs, for fixed times, for days and years (14b)
  • C. to give light on the earth (15)
  • D. to rule the day (16a) } God made the
  • D. to rule the night (16b) } two lights
  • C. to give light on the earth (17)
  • B. to rule the day and the night (18a)
  • A. to divide the light from the darkness (18b)


Let’s take a look at Walton and Sailhamer and get into the weeds some more.

  • Both argue that there is no creation here, but the assigning of purpose.



Walton’s View:

We have just seen it.

  • God was assigning purpose, order and function to celestial bodies for the benefit of image-bearers.
  • He does address the use of “asa” in verse 16 – “And God made the two great lights…”.
  • Walton says, “some may insist that this verb…expresses a material perspective”.
  • It can, but not inherently.


Definition of “asa”:

  • The DBL says it can mean, “to fashion or create an object, usually implying the use of existing materials” OR “to do” or “bring about a state or event”.
  • And often this fashioning/bringing about is more concerned with function.


Some Scriptural examples:

  • Exodus 38:3 (ESV) — 3 And he made all the utensils of the altar, the pots, the shovels, the basins, the forks, and the fire pans. He made all its utensils of bronze.
  • 1 Chronicles 18:8 (ESV) — 8 And from Tibhath and from Cun, cities of Hadadezer, David took a large amount of bronze. With it Solomon made the bronze sea and the pillars and the vessels of bronze.


In the above, items were made out of preexisting material.

  • And their significance was in their purpose within the tabernacle.
  • In other words, a pot is a pot.
  • But a pot to be used in service of the tabernacle is a functioned pot – it exists in its purpose.


Walton also takes us to Genesis 2:2 to demonstrate this.

  • Genesis 2:2 (ESV) — 2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.
  • ANE Creation as “doing” is a work of “establishing functions”, a creation that is “function oriented” – Walton.
  • God is fashioning function for the material he previously made and the He rested.



Sailhamer’s View:

Sailhamer understands, like Walton, that most see day four as creation of celestial bodies.

  • But, like Walton, he believes everything was created beforehand.
  • So how does he handle the fourth day?


He takes a similar approach to Walton.

  • Yet instead of grounding it in function – which he does acknowledge – he grounds it in the Hebrew.
  • Just like he did in Genesis 1:1 with “reshit” and the merism of “heavens and earth”.


Sailhamer says that because of the Hebrew syntax (definite/locative/infinitive) in verse 14 it doesn’t actually translate as:

  • “Let there be lights in the expanse to separate the day and the night”
  • But, “Let the lights in the expanse be for separating the day and night…” – Sailhamer.


The DBL agrees that the word separate means “to set apart for a function”.

  • But what about the “be lights” vs. “lights…be for”?


Hebrew scholar H. Ross Cole says that Sailhamer “may thus be correct” and “has raised some interesting possibilities”.

  • And interestingly, Cole says Sailhamer’s interpretation is certainly correct for two textual/syntax reasons Sailhamer didn’t even consider.
    • Too complicated for me to understand or explain.
  • Cole, then, in agreement with Sailhamer says the text conveys that the lights “became signs” not “came into existence”.


So because of the Hebrew syntax in verse 14:

  • “The narrative suggests that the author did not understand his account of the fourth day to be an account of the creation of the lights but merely a statement of their purpose” – John Sailhamer.
  • Thus, Sailhamer’s “Preparation of the Promised Land” view can overlap nicely with Walton’s “Functional Creation” view.
  • And for Sailhamer, the day four purposing is for the Promised Land and its coming image-bearers of day six/Genesis 2.


BTW – Sailhamer wants us to lay aside the notion that on each day of creation God “made” something.

“What the writer wants most to show in this narrative is not that on each day God ‘made’ something, but that on each day God ‘said’ something. The predominant view of God in this chapter is that He is a God who speaks. His word is powerful. As the psalmist who had read this chapter said, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made” – John Sailhamer.

  • Walton would also acknowledge the priority of God speaking.


Sailhamer’s Summary of Day Four:

“God did not make the sun, moon, and stars on the fourth day. He created them ‘in the beginning.’ On the fourth day God proclaimed His purpose in making those celestial bodies. They were to serve mankind in the land as signs of God’s power and as reminders of the seasons, days, and years, when His creatures were to worship Him” – John Sailhamer.


So for textual reasons (both Gen. 1:1 and 1:14), and for ANE function-giving/purposing reasons, Walton and Sailhamer make the case that there was no physical creation on day four.