Albert Barnes Notes on the Bible
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Albert Barnes Notes on the Bible
Genesis 1:3-5

Genesis 1:3-5

 - III. The First Day

3. אמר  'āmar, "say, bid." After this verb comes the thing said in the words of the speaker, or an equivalent expression. In this respect it corresponds with our English "say."

אור'ôr, "light." Light is simply what makes a sensible impression on the organs of vision. It belongs to a class of things which occasionally produce the same effect.

ויאמר  vayo'mer "then said." Here we have come to the narrative or the record of a series of events. The conjunction is prefixed to the verb, to indicate the connection of the event it records with what precedes. There is here, therefore, a sequence in the order of time. In a chain of events, the narrative follows the order of occurrence. Collateral chains of events must of necessity be recorded in successive paragraphs. The first paragraph carries on one line of incidents to a fit resting-place. The next may go back to take up the record of another line. Hence, a new paragraph beginning with a conjoined verb is to be connected in time, not with the last sentence of the preceding one, but with some sentence in the preceding narrative more or less distant from its terminating point (see on Genesis 1:5, and Genesis 2:3). Even a single verse may be a paragraph in itself referring to a point of time antecedent to the preceding sentence.

A verb so conjoined in narrative is in Hebrew put in the incipient or imperfect form, as the narrator conceives the events to grow each out of that already past. He himself follows the incidents step by step down the pathway of time, and hence the initial aspect of each event is toward him, as it actually comes upon the stage of existence.

Since the event now before us belongs to past time, this verb is well enough rendered by the past tense of our English verb. This tense in English is at present indefinite, as it does not determine the state of the event as either beginning, continuing, or concluded. It is not improbable, however, that it originally designated the first of these states, and came by degrees to be indefinite. The English present also may have denoted an incipient, and then an imperfect or indefinite.

3. ראה  rā'âh, "see" ὁράω  horaō, אור  'ôr, "emit light," ראה  rā'âh, "see by light."

טיב  ṭôb, "good." Opposite is: רע  rā‛.

4. קרא  qārā', "cry, call."

ערב  ‛ereb, "evening, sunset." A space of time before and after sunset. ערבים  ‛arebayîm, "two evenings," a certain time before sunset, and the time between sunset and the end of twilight. הערביםבין  bēynhā‛arbayîm "the interval between the two evenings, from sunset to the end of twilight," according to the Karaites and Samaritans; "from sun declining to sunset," according to the Pharisees and Rabbinists. It might be the time from the beginning of the one to the beginning of the other, from the end of the one to the end of the other, or from the beginning of the one to the end of the other. The last is the most suitable for all the passages in which it occurs. These are ten in number, all in the law Exodus 12:6; Exodus 16:12; Exodus 29:31, Exodus 29:41; Exodus 30:8; Leviticus 23:5; Numbers 9:3, Numbers 9:5, Numbers 9:8; Numbers 28:4. The slaying of the evening lamb and of the Passover lamb, the eating of the latter and the lighting of the lamps, took place in the interval so designated.

At the end of this portion of the sacred text we have the first פ  (p). This is explained in the Introduction, Section VII.

The first day's work is the calling of light into being. Here the design is evidently to remove one of the defects mentioned in the preceding verse, - "and darkness was upon the face of the deep." The scene of this creative act is therefore coincident with that of the darkness it is intended to displace. The interference of supernatural power to cause the presence of light in this region, intimates that the powers of nature were inadequate to this effect. But it does not determine whether or not light had already existed elsewhere, and had even at one time penetrated into this now darkened region, and was still prevailing in the other realms of space beyond the face of the deep. Nor does it determine whether by a change of the polar axis, by the rarefaction of the gaseous medium above, or by what other means, light was made to visit this region of the globe with its agreeable and quickening influences. We only read that it did not then illuminate the deep of waters, and that by the potent word of God it was then summoned into being. This is an act of creative power, for it is a calling into existence what had previously no existence in that place, and was not owing to the mere development of nature. Hence, the act of omnipotence here recorded is not at variance with the existence of light among the elements of that universe of nature, the absolute creation of which is affirmed in the first verse.

Genesis 1:3 - "And God said, Let there be light: and there was light."

Then said God. - In Genesis 1:3, God speaks. From this we learn that He not only is, but is such that He can express His will and commune with His intelligent creatures. He is manifest not only by His creation, but by Himself. If light had come into existence without a perceptible cause, we should still have inferred a first Causer by an intuitive principle which demands an adequate cause for anything making its appearance which was not before. But when God says, "Be light," in the audience of His intelligent creatures, and light forthwith comes into view, they perceive God commanding, as well as light appearing.

Speech is the proper mode of spiritual manifestation. Thinking, willing, acting are the movements of spirit, and speech is the index of what is thought, willed, and done. Now, as the essence of God is the spirit which thinks and acts, so the form of God is that in which the spirit speaks, and otherwise meets the observations of intelligent beings. In these three verses, then, we have God, the spirit of God, and the word of God. And as the term "spirit" is transferred from an inanimate thing to signify an intelligent agent, so the term "word" is capable of receiving a similar change of application.

Inadvertent critics of the Bible object to God being described as "speaking," or performing any other act that is proper only to the human frame or spirit. They say it is anthropomorphic or anthropopathic, implies a gross, material, or human idea of God, and is therefore unworthy of Him and of His Word. But they forget that great law of thought and speech by which we apprehend analogies, and with a wise economy call the analogues by the same name. Almost all the words we apply to mental things were originally borrowed from our vocabulary for the material world, and therefore really figurative, until by long habit the metaphor was forgotten, and they became to all intents and purposes literal. And philosophers never have and never will have devised a more excellent way of husbanding words, marking analogies, and fitly expressing spiritual things. Our phraseology for mental ideas, though lifted up from a lower sphere, has not landed us in spiritualism, but enabled us to converse about the metaphysical with the utmost purity and propriety.

And, since this holds true of human thoughts and actions, so does it apply with equal truth to the divine ways and works. Let there be in our minds proper notions of God, and the tropical language we must and ought to employ in speaking of divine things will derive no taint of error from its original application to their human analogues. Scripture communicates those adequate notions of the most High God which are the fit corrective of its necessarily metaphorical language concerning the things of God. Accordingly, the intelligent perusal of the Bible has never produced idolatry; but, on the other hand, has communicated even to its critics the just conceptions they have acquired of the spiritual nature of the one true God.

It ought to be remembered, also, that the very principle of all language is the use of signs for things, that the trope is only a special application of this principle according to the law of parsimony, and that the East is especially addicted to the use of tropical language. Let not western metaphysics misjudge, lest it be found to misunderstand eastern aesthetics.

It is interesting to observe in the self-manifesting God, the great archetypes of which the semblances are found in man. Here we have the sign-making or signifying faculty in exercise. Whether there were created witnesses present at the issue of this divine command, we are not here informed. Their presence, however, was not necessary to give significance to the act of speech, any more than to that of self-manifestation. God may manifest Himself and speak, though there be none to see and hear.

We see, too, here the name in existence before the thing, because it primarily refers to the thing as contemplated in thought.

The self-manifesting God and the self-manifesting act of speaking are here antecedent to the act of creation, or the coming of the thing into existence. This teaches us that creation is a different thing from self-manifestation or emanation. God is; He manifests Himself; He speaks; and lastly He puts forth the power, and the thing is done.

Let there be light. - The word "be" simply denotes the "existence" of the light, by whatever means or from whatever quarter it comes into the given locality. It might have been by an absolute act of pure creation or making out of nothing. But it may equally well be effected by any supernatural operation which removes an otherwise insurmountable hinderance, and opens the way for the already existing light to penetrate into the hitherto darkened region. This phrase is therefore in perfect harmony with preexistence of light among the other elementary parts of the universe from the very beginning of things. And it is no less consonant with the fact that heat, of which light is a species or form, is, and has from the beginning been, present in all those chemical changes by which the process of universal nature is carried on through all its innumerable cycles.

Genesis 1:4 - "And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness."

Then saw God the light that it was good. - God contemplates his work, and derives the feeling of complacence from the perception of its excellence. Here we have two other archetypal faculties displayed in God, which subsequently make their appearance in the nature of man, the understanding, and the judgment.

The perception of things external to Himself is an important fact in the relation between the Creator and the creature. It implies that the created thing is distinct from the creating Being, and external to Him. It therefore contradicts pantheism in all its forms.

The judgment is merely another branch of the apprehensive or cognitive faculty, by which we note physical and ethical relations and distinctions of things. It comes immediately into view on observing the object now called into existence. God saw "that it was good." That is good in general which fulfills the end of its being. The relation of good and evil has a place and an application in the physical world, but it ascends through all the grades of the intellectual and the moral. That form of the judgement which takes cognizance of moral distinctions is of so much importance as to have received a distinct name, - the conscience, or moral sense.

Here the moral rectitude of God is vindicated, inasmuch as the work of His power is manifestly good. This refutes the doctrine of the two principles, the one good and the other evil, which the Persian sages have devised in order to account for the presence of moral and physical evil along with the good in the present condition of our world.

Divided between the light and between the darkness. - God then separates light and darkness, by assigning to each its relative position in time and space. This no doubt refers to the vicissitudes of day and night, as we learn from the following verse:

Genesis 1:5 - "And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day."

Called to the light, day, ... - After separating the light and the darkness, he gives them the new names of day and night, according to the limitations under which they were now placed. Before this epoch in the history of the earth there was no rational inhabitant, and therefore no use of naming. The assigning of names, therefore, is an indication that we have arrived at that stage in which names for things will be necessary, because a rational creature is about to appear on the scene.

Naming seems to be designating according to the specific mode in which the general notion is realized in the thing named. This is illustrated by several instances which occur in the following part of the chapter. It is the right of the maker, owner, or other superior to give a name; and hence, the receiving of a name indicates the subordination of the thing named to the namer. Name and thing correspond: the former is the sign of the latter; hence, in the concrete matter-of-fact style of Scripture the name is often put for the thing, quality, person, or authority it represents.

The designations of day and night explain to us what is the meaning of dividing the light from the darkness. It is the separation of the one from the other, and the orderly distribution of each over the different parts of the earth's surface in the course of a night and a day. This could only be effected in the space of a diurnal revolution of the earth on its axis. Accordingly, if light were radiated from a particular region in the sky, and thus separated from darkness at a certain meridian, while the earth performed its daily round, the successive changes of evening, night, morning, day, would naturally present themselves in slow and stately progress during that first great act of creation.

Thus, we have evidence that the diurnal revolution of the earth took place on the first day of the last creation. We are not told whether it occurred before that time. If there ever was a time when the earth did not revolve, or revolved on a different axis or according to a different law from the present, the first revolution or change of revolution must have produced a vast change in the face of things, the marks of which would remain to this day, whether the impulse was communicated to the solid mass alone, or simultaneously to all the loose matter resting on its surface. But the text gives no intimation of such a change.

At present, however, let us recollect we have only to do with the land known to antediluvian man, and the coming of light into existence over that region, according to the existing arrangement of day and night. How far the breaking forth of the light may have extended beyond the land known to the writer, the present narrative does not enable us to determine.

We are now prepared to conclude that the entrance of light into this darkened region was effected by such a change in its position or in its superincumbent atmosphere as allowed the interchange of night and day to become discernible, while at the same time so much obscurity still remained as to exclude the heavenly bodies from view. We have learned from the first verse that these heavenly orbs were already created. The luminous element that plays so conspicuous and essential a part in the process of nature, must have formed a part of that original creation. The removal of darkness, therefore, from the locality mentioned, is merely owing to a new adjustment by which the pre-existent light was made to visit the surface of the abyss with its cheering and enlivening beams.

In this case, indeed, the real change is effected, not in the light itself, but in the intervening medium which was impervious to its rays. But it is to be remembered, on the other hand, that the actual result of the divine interposition is still the diffusion of light over the face of the watery deep, and that the actual phenomena of the change, as they would strike an onlooker, and not the invisible springs of the six days' creation, are described in the chapter before us.

Then was evening, then was morning, day one. - The last clause of the verse is a resumption of the whole process of time during this first work of creation. This is accordingly a simple and striking example of two lines of narrative parallel to each other and exactly coinciding in respect of time. In general we find the one line overlapping only a part of the other.

The day is described, according to the Hebrew mode of narrative, by its starting-point, "the evening." The first half of its course is run out during the night. The next half in like manner commences with "the morning," and goes through its round in the proper day. Then the whole period is described as "one day." The point of termination for the day is thus the evening again, which agrees with the Hebrew division of time (Leviticus 23:32).

To make "the evening" here the end of the first day, and so "the morning" the end of the first night, as is done by some interpreters, is therefore equally inconsistent with the grammar of the Hebrews and with their mode of reckoning time. It also defines the diurnal period, by noting first its middle point and then its termination, which does not seem to be natural. It further defines the period of sunshine, or the day proper, by "the evening," and the night by the morning; a proceeding equally unnatural. It has not even the advantage of making the event of the latter clause subsequent to that of the former. For the day of twenty-four hours is wholly spent in dividing the light from the darkness; and the self-same day is described again in this clause, take it how we will. This interpretation of the clause is therefore to be rejected.

The days of this creation are natural days of twenty-four hours each. We may not depart from the ordinary meaning of the word without a sufficient warrant either in the text of Scripture or in the law of nature. But we have not yet found any such warrant. Only necessity can force us to such an expedient. Scripture, on the other hand, warrants us in retaining the common meaning by yielding no hint of another, and by introducing "evening, night, morning, day," as its ordinary divisions. Nature favors the same interpretation. All geological changes are of course subsequent to the great event recorded in the first verse, which is the beginning of things. All such changes, except the one recorded in the six days' creation, are with equal certainty antecedent to the state of things described in the second verse. Hence, no lengthened period is required for this last creative interposition.

Day one - is used here for the first day, the cardinal one being not usually employed for the ordinal in Hebrew (Genesis 8:13; Exodus 10:1-2). It cannot indicate any emphasis or singularity in the day, as it is in no respect different from the other days of creation. It implies that the two parts before mentioned make up one day. But this is equally implied by all the ordinals on the other days.

This day is in many ways interesting to us. It is the first day of the last creation; it is the first day of the week; it is the day of the resurrection of the Messiah; and it has become the Christian Sabbath.

The first five verses form the first parashah (פרשׁ  pārāsh) or "section" of the Hebrew text. If this division come from the author, it indicates that he regarded the first day's work as the body of the narrative, and the creation of the universe, in the first verse, and the condition of the earth, in the second, as mere preliminaries to introduce and elucidate his main statement. If, on the contrary, it proceeds from some transcriber of a subsequent period, it may indicate that he considered the creative work of the first day to consist of two parts, - first, an absolute creation; and, second, a supplementary act, by which the primary universe was first enlightened.

Albert Barnes Notes on the Bible
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