Genesis 1:14 Commentary - Expository Notes of Dr. Constable (Old and New Testaments)
The fourth day 1:14-19
The luminaries served four purposes.
1. They distinguished day from night.
2. They provided signs.
3. They distinguished the seasons.
4. They illuminated the earth.
"The narrative stresses their function as servants, subordinate to the interests of the earth. . . . This differs significantly from the superstitious belief within pagan religion that the earth’s destiny is dictated by the course of the stars." [Note: Mathews, p. 154.]
"Here is a stern warning for our times for any who would seek the stars in charting their lives." [Note: Ibid., p. 155.]
"The term ’signs’ has been given special attention by the author elsewhere in the Pentateuch. For example, the so-called ’plagues’ of Egypt are, in fact, called ’signs’ by the author of the Pentateuch (e.g., Deu 29:2-3). The meaning given this term in the Exod account . . . is that the acts of God in the bringing of disorder upon the Egyptians were ’signs’ that God was more powerful and majestic than the Egyptians’ gods. This sense of the term ’signs’ fits well in Gen 1:14. The author says that not only are the sun and moon to give light upon the land but they are to be visual reminders of the power and majesty of God. They are ’signs’ of who the God of the covenant is. The [sic] are ’telling of the glory of God,’ as the psalmist puts it (Psa 19:1). Not only does the term ’signs’ serve as a reminder of the greatness and glory of God for the author of the Pentateuch, ’signs’ are also a frequent reminder in the Pentateuch of his grace and mercy (Genesis 4, 9, 17)." [Note: Sailhamer, "Exegetical Notes . . .," p. 79.]
Moses did not mean that they were the signs of the zodiac or astrological signs. Why did Moses use the terms greater and lesser lights to describe the sun and moon (Gen 1:16)? He probably did so because these Hebrew words, which are very similar in other Semitic languages, are also the names of pagan gods. [Note: Hamilton, p.127. See G. Hasel, "The Polemical Nature of the Genesis Cosmology," Evangelical Quarterly 46 (1974):81-102.] He wanted the Israelites to appreciate the fact that their God had created the entities their pagan neighbors worshipped as gods.
"This, the fourth day, is the only day on which no divine word subsequent to the fulfillment is added. On days 1-3 this divine word names the created objects (Gen 1:5; Gen 1:8; Gen 1:10); on days 5-6 the creatures are blessed (Gen 1:22; Gen 1:28). The omission may be just elegant stylistic variation, or it may be a deliberate attempt to avoid naming ’sun’ and ’moon’ with their connotations of deity." [Note: Wenham, p. 23.]
The Hebrew word translated "seasons" appears elsewhere in the Pentateuch. It means "appointments," but the translators have also rendered it "feasts" in Leviticus.
"They [the sun and moon] were not mere lights or reminders of God’s glory, they were, as well, calendars for the celebration of the covenant. The world is made for the [Mosaic] covenant. Already at creation, the land was being prepared for the covenant." [Note: Sailhamer, "Exegetical Notes . . .," p. 80.]
The writer’s perspective throughout is geocentric rather than heliocentric. He used phenomenological language (of appearance) that is very common in the Old Testament. Even modern scientific textbooks use such language without fear of being criticized as unscientific when they refer to sunrise, sunset, etc. Perhaps God created light on the first day (Gen 1:3), but then on the fourth day the sun, moon, and stars appeared distinctly for the first time. [Note: Idem, The Pentateuch as Narrative, p. 93.]
Creationists have proposed several solutions to the problem of how light from stars that are millions of light years away could get to Adam if the universe was only days old. These explanations are too involved to discuss here, but I have included some sources for further study in the following footnote. [Note: D. Russell Humphreys, Starlight and Time, discussed five creationist models. See also Ham, et al., pp. 18, 187-95; "’Distant Starlight’ Not a Problem for a Young Universe" DVD featuring Dr. Jason Lisle.] I think the best explanation is the appearance of age. As God created humans, plants, and animals fully formed, so He created the light from distant stars already visible on the earth.
Consult other comments:
Expository Notes of Dr. Constable (Old and New Testaments)
Copyright 2012, Dr. Thomas Constable. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.
Dr. Thomas Constable graduated from Moody Bible Institute in 1960 and later graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary.
Dr. Constable is the founder of Dallas Seminary’s Field Education department (1970) and the Center for Biblical Studies (1973), both of which he directed for many years before assuming other responsibilities. Today Dr. Constable maintains an active academic, pulpit supply, and conference-speaking ministry around the world. He has ministered in nearly three dozen countries and written commentaries on every book of the Bible. Dr. Constable also founded Plano Bible Chapel, pastored it for twelve years, and has served as one of its elders for over thirty years.