What is the light that God created on the first day in Genesis 1 verses 3-5? Was it God's Shekinah glory? Was it spiritual light?
Genesis 1:3-5 says that God created light on the first day of the week of creation.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. Genesis 1:3-5 (NASB)
In these verses we are told that God commanded and light appeared. This was God’s first creative act. That is, the light came into existence when God commanded that it start to exist. The root Hebrew word for “light” in verse 3 is or and it means ” to be or become light, shine, to be bright or to illumine.” A survey of how this Hebrew word is used in different passages of the Old Testament reveals that the word is used sometimes to refer to God’s Shekinah glory. Sometimes it is used in a symbolic way. It is also used in contrast to darkness and other times refers to the first creative act described in Genesis 1:3.
In Psalm 89:15 we are told that God’s face is light or His Shekinah glory. The Hebrew word for light is or. The word is used a number of other locations in the Old Testament to refer to God’s Shekinah glory.
Blessed are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O Lord, in the light of your face . . . Psalm 89:15 (NASB)
Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty, covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent. Psalm 104:2 (NASB)
Sometimes the Hebrew word, or, is symbolic of spiritual insight. Spiritual insight or understanding is not something that we can see. But spiritual truth is like light in that it helps us “see” or understand.
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1 (NASB)
But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. Proverbs 4:18 (NASB)
Opposite of Darkness
The Hebrew word for light, or, is also used in other passages to refer to the opposite of darkness. For example, in Job 26:10 we are told,
He has inscribed a circle on the face of the waters at the boundary between light and darkness. Job 26:10 (NASB)
In Psalm 148:3 the Hebrew word is clearly used to refer to the sun, moon and stars. The word “shining” in this verse is the Hebrew or.
Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars! Psalm 148:3 (NASB)
There are many other passages that use the Hebrew word or to refer to the light radiated by the sun, moon or stars (Jeremiah 31:35; Ezekiel 32:7-8; Amos 8:9).
The Light Was Created
Isaiah 45:7 and Habakkuk 3:4 helps us understand that this Hebrew word, or, does not refer to God’s Shekinah glory but to something that God created. Since the Shekinah glory is a description of God or how He appears, it is obvious that God did not create Himself. God did not create His own Shekinah glory. The light of Genesis 1:3 was created rays or waves that we call sunshine.
I form light and create darkness . . Isaiah 45:7 (NASB)
God claims that He is the one who created light and darkness. We usually do not think about God creating darkness. But, yet, He created darkness so that darkness would exist. Anything that God creates is not Himself. Habakkuk 3:5 adds that God’s brightness is like the light, or. This is an important statement.
His brightness was like the light . . . Habakkuk 3:4 (NASB)
Notice that God’s brightness or brilliance was not and is not the or. His light is the Shekinah glory. It already existed when He created Light. Created things are inferior to God.
Lights In Genesis 1:14-17
Verses 3-5 describe light in general and verses 14-17 tell us that one form the light took was as the sun, moon and stars. It is important to note that Genesis 1:16 is careful to state that there is a difference between the light of the sun and the moon. In verse 16 the Bible is speaking from the perspective of what a person would see when looking at the sun or the moon.
But notice that God tells us that there is a difference between them. The sun is the greater light and the moon is described as the “lesser light.” The reason that the sun is greater because it generates light and the moon reflects the sun’s radiated light. The Hebrew word for “lesser” is qaton. The word means “small” or “trifling.” That is, it is not like the sun.
Further, it is important to note that the Bible does not always describe the moon in the same way. In Isaiah 60:19 we are given a different description of the moon. It is the radiance or brightness of the sun.
No longer will you have the sun for light by day,
Nor for brightness will the moon give you light . . . Isaiah 60:19 (NASB)
The Hebrew word for radiance or brightness is nogat. The word was used to refer to “the brilliance of a jewel” or “radiated light.” Clearly a jewel does not generate light. It reflects light. God is telling us that the sun and moon are not the same and the moon reflects the light emanating from the sun.
Since God has not provided us the details of the physics of how He did this, we must accept the general statements that are made in Genesis 1. Later we read this incredible statement about the celestial bodies.
Thus says the Lord,
Who gives the sun for light by day
And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night . . . Jeremiah 31:35 (NASB)
In Isaiah 13:10 God says that when the Day of the Lord occurs in the future, He will turn off the celestial bodies; but yet there will be light generated by electric lights. That is, God has created light in general and He can put it into different forms.
For the stars of heaven and their constellations
Will not flash forth their light;
The sun will be dark when it rises
And the moon will not shed its light. Isaiah 13:10 (NASB)
He allows us to have light in light bulbs, but He formed the sun and stars as light generators.
In the eternal heaven there will not be any sun, moon or stars. Instead, God will be the light of heaven.
The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light; but the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Isaiah 60: 19 (NASB)
And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. Revelation 21:22-23 (NASB)
God’s light will be greater than the thing He created in Genesis 1:3. The light that God created is probably similar to Himself in order to give us a clue of His existence (Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:20).
God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 1 John 1:5 (NASB)
1. Wolf, H. (1999). 52 אוֹר. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 25). Chicago: Moody Press.
2. Willem A VanGemeren. Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis. Zondervan Publishing. 1997. vol. 3., p. 18.
3. Ibid. vol. 3., p. 910.
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