Albert Barnes Notes on the Bible
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Albert Barnes Notes on the Bible
Genesis 1:14-19

VI. The Fourth Day

14. מאור  mā'ôr, "a light, a luminary, a center of radiant light."

מועה  mô‛ēd, "set time, season."

Words beginning with a formative מmusually signify that in which the simple quality resides or is realized. Hence, they often denote place.

17. נתן  nāthan "give, hold out, show, stretch, hold out." Latin: tendo, teneo; τείνω  teinō.

The darkness has been removed from the face of the deep, its waters have been distributed in due proportions above and below the expanse; the lower waters have retired and given place to the emerging land, and the wasteness of the land thus exposed to view has begun to be adorned with the living forms of a new vegetation. It only remains to remove the "void" by peopling this now fair and fertile world with the animal kingdom. For this purpose the Great Designer begins a new cycle of supernatural operations.

 

Genesis 1:14,15
14 "And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:"

Lights. - The work of the fourth day has much in common with that of the first day, which, indeed it continues and completes. Both deal with light, and with dividing between light and darkness, or day and night. "Let there be." They agree also in choosing the word "be," to express the nature of the operation which is here performed. But the fourth day advances on the first day. It brings into view the luminaries, the light radiators, the source, while the first only indicated the stream. It contemplates the far expanse, while the first regards only the near.

For signs and for seasons, and for days and years. - While the first day refers only to the day and its twofold division, the fourth refers to signs, seasons, days, and years. These lights are for "signs." They are to serve as the great natural chronometer of man, having its three units, - the day, the month, and the year - and marking the divisions of time, not only for agricultural and social purposes, but also for meeting out the eras of human history and the cycles of natural science. They are signs of place as well as of time - topometers, if we may use the term. By them the mariner has learned to mark the latitude and longitude of his ship, and the astronomer to determine with any assignable degree of precision the place as well as the time of the planetary orbs of heaven. The "seasons" are the natural seasons of the year, and the set times for civil and sacred purposes which man has attached to special days and years in the revolution of time.

Since the word "day" is a key to the explanation of the first day's work, so is the word "year" to the interpretation of that of the fourth. Since the cause of the distinction of day and night is the diurnal rotation of the earth on its axis in conjunction with a fixed source of light, which streamed in on the scene of creation as soon as the natural hinderance was removed, so the vicissitudes of the year are owing, along with these two conditions, to the annual revolution of the earth in its orbit round the sun, together with the obliquity of the ecliptic. To the phenomena so occasioned are to be added incidental variations arising from the revolution of the moon round the earth, and the small modifications caused by the various other bodies of the solar system. All these celestial phenomena come out from the artless simplicity of the sacred narrative as observable facts on the fourth day of that new creation. From the beginning of the solar system the earth must, from the nature of things, have revolved around the sun. But whether the rate of velocity was ever changed, or the obliquity of the ecliptic was now commenced or altered, we do not learn from this record.

 

Genesis 1:15 - "And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so."

To shine upon the earth. - The first day spreads the shaded gleam of light over the face of the deep. The fourth day unfolds to the eye the lamps of heaven, hanging in the expanse of the skies, and assigns to them the office of "shining upon the earth." A threefold function is thus attributed to the celestial orbs - to divide day from night, to define time and place, and to shine on the earth. The word of command is here very full, running over two verses, with the exception of the little clause, "and it was so," stating the result.

 

Genesis 1:16-19

This result is fully particularized in the next three verses. This word, "made," corresponds to the word "be" in the command, and indicates the disposition and adjustment to a special purpose of things previously existing.

 

Genesis 1:16 "And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also."

The two great lights. - The well-known ones, great in relation to the stars, as seen from the earth.

The great light, - in comparison with the little light. The stars, from man's point of view, are insignificant, except in regard to number (Genesis 15:5).

 

Genesis 1:17 "And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,"

God gave them. - The absolute giving of the heavenly bodies in their places was performed at the time of their actual creation. The relative giving here spoken of is what would appear to an earthly spectator, when the intervening veil of clouds would be dissolved by the divine agency, and the celestial luminaries would stand forth in all their dazzling splendor.

 

Genesis 1:18 "And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good."

To rule. - From their lofty eminence they regulate the duration and the business of each period. The whole is inspected and approved as before.

Now let it be remembered that the heavens were created at the absolute beginning of things recorded in the first verse, and that they included all other things except the earth. Hence, according to this document, the sun, moon, and stars were in existence simultaneously with our planet. This gives simplicity and order to the whole narrative. Light comes before us on the first and on the fourth day. Now, as two distinct causes of a common effect would be unphilosophical and unnecessary, we must hold the one cause to have been in existence on these two days. But we have seen that the one cause of the day and of the year is a fixed source of radiating light in the sky, combined with the diurnal and annual motions of the earth. Thus, the recorded preexistence of the celestial orbs is consonant with the presumptions of reason. The making or reconstitution of the atmosphere admits their light so far that the alternations of day and night can be discerned. The making of the lights of heaven, or the display of them in a serene sky by the withdrawal of that opaque canopy of clouds that still enveloped the dome above, is then the work of the fourth day.

All is now plain and intelligible. The heavenly bodies become the lights of the earth, and the distinguishers not only of day and night, but of seasons and years, of times and places. They shed forth their unveiled glories and salutary potencies on the budding, waiting land. How the higher grade of transparency in the aerial region was effected, we cannot tell; and, therefore, we are not prepared to explain why it is accomplished on the fourth day, and not sooner. But from its very position in time, we are led to conclude that the constitution of the expanse, the elevation of a portion of the waters of the deep in the form of vapor, the collection of the sub-aerial water into seas, and the creation of plants out of the reeking soil, must all have had an essential part, both in retarding until the fourth day, and in then bringing about the dispersion of the clouds and the clearing of the atmosphere. Whatever remained of hinderance to the outshining of the sun, moon, and stars on the land in all their native splendor, was on this day removed by the word of divine power.

Now is the approximate cause of day and night made palpable to the observation. Now are the heavenly bodies made to be signs of time and place to the intelligent spectator on the earth, to regulate seasons, days, months, and years, and to be the luminaries of the world. Now, manifestly, the greater light rules the day, as the lesser does the night. The Creator has withdrawn the curtain, and set forth the hitherto undistinguishable brilliants of space for the illumination of the land and the regulation of the changes which diversify its surface. This bright display, even if it could have been effected on the first day with due regard to the forces of nature already in operation, was unnecessary to the unseeing and unmoving world of vegetation, while it was plainly requisite for the seeing, choosing, and moving world of animated nature which was about to be called into existence on the following days.

The terms employed for the objects here brought forward - "lights, the great light, the little light, the stars;" for the mode of their manifestation, "be, make, give;" and for the offices they discharge, "divide, rule, shine, be for signs, seasons, days, years" - exemplify the admirable simplicity of Scripture, and the exact adaptation of its style to the unsophisticated mind of primeval man. We have no longer, indeed, the naming of the various objects, as on the former days; probably because it would no longer be an important source of information for the elucidation of the narrative. But we have more than an equivalent for this in variety of phrase. The several words have been already noticed: it only remains to make some general remarks.

(1) The sacred writer notes only obvious results, such as come before the eye of the observer, and leaves the secondary causes, their modes of operation, and their less obtrusive effects, to scientific inquiry. The progress of observation is from the foreground to the background of nature, from the physical to the metaphysical, and from the objective to the subjective. Among the senses, too, the eye is the most prominent observer in the scenes of the six days. Hence, the "lights," they "shine," they are for "signs" and "days," which are in the first instance objects of vision. They are "given," held or shown forth in the heavens. Even "rule" has probably the primitive meaning to be over. Starting thus with the visible and the tangible, the Scripture in its successive communications advance with us to the inferential, the intuitive, the moral, the spiritual, the divine.

(2) The sacred writer also touches merely the heads of things in these scenes of creation, without condescending to minute particulars or intending to be exhaustive. Hence, many actual incidents and intricacies of these days are left to the well-regulated imagination and sober judgment of the reader. To instance such omissions, the moon is as much of her time above the horizon during the day as during the night. But she is not then the conspicuous object in the scene, or the full-orbed reflector of the solar beams, as she is during the night. Here the better part is used to mark the whole. The tidal influence of the great lights, in which the moon plays the chief part, is also unnoticed. Hence, we are to expect very many phenomena to be altogether omitted, though interesting and important in themselves, because they do not come within the present scope of the narrative.

(3) The point from which the writer views the scene is never to be forgotten, if we would understand these ancient records. He stands on earth. He uses his eyes as the organ of observation. He knows nothing of the visual angle, of visible as distinguishable from tangible magnitude, of relative in comparison with absolute motion on the grand scale: he speaks the simple language of the eye. Hence, his earth is the meet counterpart of the heavens. His sun and moon are great, and all the stars are a very little thing. Light comes to be, to him, when it reaches the eye. The luminaries are held forth in the heavens, when the mist between them and the eye is dissolved.

(4) Yet, though not trained to scientific thought or speech, this author has the eye of reason open as well as that of sense. It is not with him the science of the tangible, but the philosophy of the intuitive, that reduces things to their proper dimensions. He traces not the secondary cause, but ascends at one glance to the great first cause, the manifest act and audible behest of the Eternal Spirit. This imparts a sacred dignity to his style, and a transcendent grandeur to his conceptions. In the presence of the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, all things terrestrial and celestial are reduced to a common level. Man in intelligent relation with God comes forth as the chief figure on the scene of terrestrial creation. The narrative takes its commanding position as the history of the ways of God with man. The commonest primary facts of ordinary observation, when recorded in this book, assume a supreme interest as the monuments of eternal wisdom and the heralds of the finest and broadest generalizations of a consecrated science. The very words are instinct with a germinant philosophy, and prove themselves adequate to the expression of the loftiest speculations of the eloquent mind.


Albert Barnes Notes on the Bible
Previous Part: Genesis 1:9-13/ Next Part: Genesis 1:20-23

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