1) Gen 1:14‒19: Moses wrote, “Then God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens in order to separate day from night, and let them be for signs for appointed times, and days, and years. And let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to be light on the earth.’ And it was so.”

On “a fourth day,” when God spoke he assigned functions to the lights of the heavens.[1]

Here we see the first example of what the Lord formed in the second group of three days (Days 4–6): creatures and creations to rule over the spheres he created in the initial three days.[2]

The people of the Ancient Near East (ANE) focused upon how the cosmos operated, not on its physical or chemical composition.[3]

This section of Gen 1 brilliantly employs passive argumentation, depicting what Israelites must believe, rather than attacking pagan views directly.[4]

In fact, Moses shocked his original audience far more by what he didn’t say than by what he proclaimed in this passage.

Most ANE peoples worshiped a large number of astral gods, for they viewed the sun, moon, and stars as divine. Many of these deities had their own religious cults.[5]

In contrast, Gen 1 empties the cosmos of any personal traits, just as with the primordial waters of Gen 1:2.[6] Moses avoided even terms like “sun” and “moon,” for people in the surrounding nations worshiped them.[7]

One inscription describes the duties of the Sumerian pantheon, saying, “The great [gods of heaven, the] Igigi who parade in the sky, whose brilliance, like fire, [light]s the evening and the black night.”[8]

People worshiped the sun god Shamash as supreme among the gods, for they hailed him as the one who regulated the seasons and enabled divination of omens.[9] Yet they knew that even he did not reign as sovereign.

Therefore, the author of Prayer to the Gods of the Night implored:

“The gods of the land and the goddesses of the land, [the sun god] Shamash, [the moon god] Sin, [the storm god] Adad, and [the fertility/war goddess] Ishtar, have taken themselves to sleep in heaven.

They are not pronouncing judgment; they are not deciding things. Veiled is the night; the temple and the most holy places are quiet and dark.

The traveler calls on [his] god; and the litigant is tarrying in sleep. The judge of truth, the father of the fatherless, Shamash, has taken himself to his chamber.

O great ones, gods of the night…O bow [star] and yoke [star], O Pleiades, Orion, and the dragon, O Ursa Major, goat [star], and the bison, stand by, and then, in the divination which I am making, in the lamb which I am offering, put truth for me.”[10]

Although each of these gods could respond to the prayers of the people only when visible, people of the ANE still viewed their guidance as crucial in decision-making.

In addition to separating day from night, God created these lights to act as “signs for appointed seasons,[11] and for days and years” (Ps 104:19–20). This has nothing to do with the astrology practiced by Israel’s neighbors.[12]

In the Old Testament (OT), “appointed seasons” (moedh) refer not to summer and winter but to the prescribed religious festivals and feast days on the Hebrew calendar (Lev 23:1–6, 23–26, 33–34). The same word occurs in combination with the term for “tent” to describe the tabernacle, literally the “Tent of Meeting” (ohel moedh), where Israel observed sacred rites.[13]

Furthermore, the cycle of the moon separated each month. People tracked the movement of the stars to periodically synchronize the lunar and the solar calendars, similar to the function of our Leap Day. Otherwise, the timing of the agricultural feasts would become skewed,[14] as occurs each year with the Islamic observance of Ramadan.

By saying, “Let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens in order to give light on the earth,” the Lord announced that he did not create these celestial luminaries to be worshiped but to serve.

He considered this concept so important that he repeated it in reverse order (Cf. Deut 4:19).[15]

Moses sought to strip out any reference to autonomy of the sun and the moon. Therefore, he called them, “the two great lights, the great light to rule over the day, and the smaller light to rule over the night.”

They are not gods,[16] but the handiwork of the Lord which he designed to reign by separating day from night (Ps 96:4–6; Jer 10:10–13; Isa 40:26).[17]

The Hebrew word for “sun” is shemesh,[18] which is nearly identical to Shamash, the Sumerian sun god. In fact, the Canaanite city named Beth-shemesh means “shrine of the sun,” and Jericho is derived from the word for “moon.”[19]

While Moses stood on Mount Sinai, God commanded, “The names of other gods you shall not mention [and] they shall not be heard from your mouth” (Exod 23:13).

Years later, Moses’s deputy and successor explained that the rationale for avoiding even speaking the names of foreign gods was to prevent the nation from slipping into idolatry (Josh 23:6–8). Even so, Israel failed to resist that temptation (2 Ki 23:4–5).

In the rest of the OT, “light” means a celestial luminary only in Ps 74:16 and in Ezek 32:8. Where the term occurs elsewhere in the Pentateuch, it always pertains to the gold lamps in the tabernacle (e.g. Exod 35:14; Num 4:9).[20]

Here is our first hint that God fashioned the cosmos as his temple (Isa 66:1–2).[21] Indeed, the tabernacle resembled the four cosmic elements of earth, air, water, and fire.[22]

Josephus, a first century historian, attested:

When Moses distinguished the tabernacle into three parts and allowed two of them to the priests, as a place accessible and common, he denoted the land and the sea, these being of general access to all; but he set apart the third division for God, because heaven is inaccessible to men. And when he ordered twelve loaves to be set on the table, he denoted the year, as distinguished into so many months.

By branching out the candlestick into seventy parts, he secretly intimated the…seventy divisions of the planets; and as to the seven lamps upon the candlesticks, they referred to the course of the planets, of which that is the number.

The veils, too, which were composed of four things, they declared the four elements; for the fine linen was proper to signify the earth, because the flax grows out of the earth; the purple signified the sea, because that color is dyed by the blood of a sea shellfish; the blue is fit to signify the air; and the scarlet will naturally be an indication of fire.[23]

Consequently, both the tabernacle and the temple represented the universe.[24]

Since people in the ANE believed that the stars controlled their destinies, Moses deliberately mentioned the stars as almost an afterthought.[25]

For example, in Enuma Elish, Marduk gave the stars priority, first placing them into constellations to organize the calendar before turning his attention to the moon and sun:[26]

He constructed stations for the great gods, fixing their astral likenesses as the Images. He determined the year by designating the zones: he set up three constellations for each of the twelve months…defining the days of the year by means of heavenly figures…

The Moon he caused to shine, entrusting the night to him. He appointed him a creature of the night to signify the days: “Monthly, without cease, form designs with a crown”…He had appointed the days to Shamash, and had established the precincts of night and day.[27]

Moses reported that, upon the completion of his handiwork, “God saw that it was good.”

Image via Wikimedia Commons


Read Gen 1:14–19. How did Moses seek to prevent Israel from following their neighbors in worshiping the sun, moon, and stars? What function did the Lord assign to those celestial bodies? How does knowing that the universe serves as God’s temple affect the way you view the world?







Go to Inhabitants of the Sea and Sky

[Related web pages include Let There Be Light (Gen 1:3–5); Author and Date of Genesis; and Ancient Literature]


[Click here to to go Chapter 2: God Creates Inhabitants for His Cosmic Temple (Genesis 1:14–25)]


[1] Walton, Genesis, 125.

[2] Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 63.

[3] Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 1:19.

[4] Walton, Genesis, 123.

[5] Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 127.

[6] Walton, Genesis, 123.

[7] Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 1:19.

[8]S. N. Kramer, trans., “The Duties and Powers of the Gods: Inscription on the Statue of King Kurigalzu,” in ANET, line C9, 59, https://archive.org/stream/Pritchard1950ANET_20160815/Pritchard_1950_ANET#page/n83/mode/2up.

[9]Ferris J. Stephens, trans., “Hymn to the Sun-God (Great Hymn to Shamash),” in ANET, 387–9, https://archive.org/stream/Pritchard1950ANET_20160815/Pritchard_1950_ANET#page/n411/mode/2up.

[10]Ferris J. Stephens, trans., “Prayer to the Gods of the Night,” in ANET, lines 5–24, 391, https://archive.org/stream/Pritchard1950ANET_20160815/Pritchard_1950_ANET#page/n415/mode/2up.

[11] Brown, Driver, and Briggs, “מוֹעֵד” (moedh), BDB, 417, https://archive.org/stream/hebrewenglishlex00browuoft#page/416/mode/2up.

[12] Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 62.

[13] Richard E. Averbeck,  “מוֹעֵד” (moedh), NIDOTTE 2:873–8, 873.

[14] Walton, Genesis, 122–3.

[15] Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 127.

[16] Walton, Genesis, 123.

[17] Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview, 38.

[18] Holladay, “שֶׁמֶשׁ” (shemesh), CHALOT, 378, https://archive.org/stream/hebrewenglishlex00browuoft#page/1038/mode/2up.

[19] Brown, Driver, and Briggs, “יָרֵחַ” (yareakh), BDB, 437, https://archive.org/stream/hebrewenglishlex00browuoft#page/436/mode/2up.

[20] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 22.

[21] Walton, Genesis, 124.

[22] Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God, 46.

[23]Flavius Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews (trans. William Whiston; The Complete Works of Flavius Josephus; Auburn and Buffalo, NY: John E. Beardsley, 1895), 3.181–4, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0146%3Abook%3D3%3Awhiston+chapter%3D7%3Awhiston+section%3D7.

[24]Vern S. Polythress, The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 1991), 96.

[25] Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 63.

[26] Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 128.

[27] “The Creation Epic” (Enuma Elish), in ANET, 501–2, lines 5.1–6, 12–4, 6:45–6, 67–8, https://archive.org/stream/Pritchard1950ANET_20160815/Pritchard_1950_ANET#page/n91/mode/2up.