Genesis 1:3-5 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
In Genesis 1:1 we find God’s initial act of creation. In v.2 we find the initial condition of creation: good, but formless, empty, and dark. What follows in Genesis 1:3-2:3 is a description of God’s ordering, filling, and, as we will see this morning, illuminating. There is so much to see, so much to understand, so much to do, and so much to praise God for in this short, relatively simple passage. Let’s pray that God would help us to see, savor, and apply all that we find in this most remarkable text.
AND GOD SAID
Grace, I’ve asked you this before, but how many times have you sounded forth your word only to be ignored, contradicted, misinterpreted, corrupted, or interrupted? How many times have you told your favorite team to score, stop the other team, or win without effect? How many times have you declared perpetual cleanliness upon your home and yet it was not so? Commuters, how many times have you spoken to your lane to open up and yet it remained at a standstill? Minnesotans, how many times have you commanded the winter, “you shall not pass!”, and yet it still comes? How many times have your words gone forth without accomplishing their purpose and how many times that they have, has their effect remained?
The word of our God, the God of Genesis, alone always goes forth in perfect power and effect. We see this explicitly for the first time in Genesis 1:3. What I’ve alluded to more than once already becomes plain here: God created the heavens and the earth, not by the strength of his hands or the sweat of his bow, but by simply speaking a word!
Genesis 1:3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
What a powerful and magnificent pair of phrases: And God said…and there was…! Again, for God alone does the first phrase (“and God said…”) always result in the second (“and there was…”). God’s word is always perfectly and completely effective. Never does he speak without immediate and perfect effect. Never does God speak with even the slightest or eventual defect.
Isaiah 55:10-11 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
When God speaks, all creation bows.
LET THERE BE LIGHT
What, specifically, did God speak on this first day that became so? Into the darkness he said, “Let there be light.”
Genesis 1:3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
If you are a careful reader (or listener) you’ve undoubtedly noticed that the sun, moon, and stars weren’t created until the fourth day. Where then did the light come from?
Oh, what glory we have here! What an amazing picture of the power and might of God. What an encouraging gift it is to his people that God saw fit to include this description of this aspect of his creative work in his word!
We know that it is God the Father who is primarily spoken of in this passage. We also know that the Spirit was present, hovering over the darkness. And from John’s gospel we know that Jesus is the Word by which God made the heavens and earth. In other words, each person of the trinity is explicitly said to be present and active at this very moment. Where did the light come from? God created it as an emanation of himself and as an expression of Triune glory. It came from God himself. God is the source and giver of all light…whatever its visible source.
Let this be a sharp reminder, Grace, that God is not bound by any means. The fact that he ordinarily uses the sun to bring light, gravity to hold us down, medicine to heal our sickness, people to proclaim the gospel, elders to lead the church, food to end hunger and give energy to our bodies, parents to raise their children, and people to worship him, does not mean that he is bound by those things. He is able to make food appear in an empty basket, diseases instantly disappear, defects overcome by saliva, donkeys speak, the dead rise, and stones cry out in praise. This means that your if your hope is placed in your job, retirement account, grocery store, family, health insurance, house, or anything but God alone, you are putting your hope in something that is in itself utterly impotent (without power).
The light of Genesis 1:3 is one a remarkable example of God accomplishing his purposes in such a way that leaves no doubt that he is bound by no means. That’s awesome.
But it gets more awesome still. All of this is a remarkable foreshadowing of the new heavens and the new earth. As it was in the first Garden, so shall it be in the Last.
In the new heavens and earth (Revelation 22:5) “night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light…”. Just as God was the light of the world in Genesis 1:3-5, so shall he be in the fullness of time. By God’s grace, in these few and simple verses we get a taste of the world as it will be when all is made right under the rule of King Jesus.
Indeed, as 1 John 1:5 says explicitly, Genesis 1:3 puts on display: God is light; the light of the world.
IT WAS GOOD
Like many of you, I’ve made quite a few projects; mostly out of wood. No matter how long ago I made them, I can still show you every defect in every one of them. Some have less than others, but everyone of them falls short of being truly good in some capacity.
Well, what did God think of his work? Having made the first pass through the darkness, formlessness, and emptiness, was God pleased with what he had made? Grace, from the first moments, God’s creation continued to expand in scope (forming and filling) and goodness.
Genesis 1:4 And God saw that it was good.
Grace, you know this already, but remember it now: God does not make things that are not good. God is only good and, therefore, he only makes good things. Further, the only things that have been made have been made by God. Therefore, there are no evil things. Evil is not a substance. Evil is a perversion of a good thing. For instance, seeking our own happiness isn’t evil; but seeking it outside of God and the ways he’s given is. Gossip, lying, and slander aren’t separate, evil substances; they are perversions of a good thing: talking. Lust, and adultery are likewise merely distortions of the nature and place of one of God’s good gifts: sex. There’s no such thing as evil music; but there are ungodly lyrics and music made for things other than the glory of God. You get the idea.
Something is good, then, when it corresponds to God’s design for it. This is a message that the world around us so desperately needs to understand. Good is not arbitrary or individually-defined. Something is good when it (joyfully) fulfills the purpose for which it was made. Thus, if we ever try to be or do something contrary to our God-given nature, it can only lead to futility and pain.
Beginning in these first lines of the bible we find God’s purposes for the things he’s made. Therein we find the only way they can honor God and we can live with them in true harmony and joy. Try as we might, we cannot redefine light (or anything else God has made) in nature or purpose and live well with it.
I can’t help but to remember the old TV show, the Greatest American Hero. It’s the story of a man who discovered a super-suit. It clearly had power, but the man lost the instruction manual and therefore the ability to harness the power of the suit. The show was a series of comical errors the man made in using the power of the suit without directions. Again, that’s where our world often finds itself today: tampering with the power of God in dangerous ignorance. What’s comedic in the Greatest American Hero is tragic in the world today. This is at the heart of the gender, marriage, and life confusion today. People really do seem to be seeking genuine meaning and purpose, but they are looking for it in the dark and consequently can’t help but bang their shins and eventually stumble and fall.
GOD SEPARATED LIGHT AND DARKNESS AND GAVE NAMES TO EACH
Look with me at the next part of v.4. Into the darkness God spoke light. But God didn’t create light to exist alongside the darkness, he separated them from one another.
Genesis 1:4 And God separated the light from the darkness.
In this sense, as we will see in just a moment, the separation is mainly a physical separation. Lots of things within God’s creation can exist at the same time. Water and music can both be present at the same time. Pizza and football (thank goodness) can too. Other aspects of God’s creation on the other hand cannot physically coexist. Light and darkness are among those things. Where light is present darkness cannot be. And where darkness is present, by its very nature light cannot be. This is an interesting, but simple fact concerning the world that God has made. But it points us to something much deeper.
We might ask, why would God create certain things in this way—mutually exclusive by their very nature? The answer, of course, is that this is not accidental, but purposeful—as all of God’s distinctions are. Again, then, what was God’s purpose here? Kindness. To kindly give us a visible, physical picture of an invisible, spiritual reality. In the bible darkness and light also represent death and life, sin and righteousness, evil and good respectively. “Light, [has] lent its name to all that is life-giving (John 1:4), truth-giving (2 Cor. 4:6), gladdening (Eccl. 11:7) and pure (1 John 1:5-7)…” (Kidner, TOTCS, 51).
Like male and female, marriage and divorce, and fullness and hunger, light and darkness are mutually exclusive and designed to point us to something much bigger.
The power and authority to make the world this way belongs to God alone. This becomes even clearer in the fact that in v.5 God gives names to this distinction; to this separation.
Genesis 1:5 God called the light “day” and the darkness he called “night.”
I mentioned in the first Genesis sermon that I believe Genesis to be the book of our day because it is a book which states in no uncertain terms the One in whom rests all authority. God alone is supreme over all that has been made because God made all that has been made. While it might not be immediately obvious to us, that power and authority are never more evident than when God names the things he has made.
“In the OT, to name something is to assert sovereignty over it…Here darkness, thought not said to have been created, is still named by God. Giving names also defines roles…” (Wenham, WBS, 19). Further, Genesis knows “of the watchful Creator who assigns to everything its value [including light] (good-4a), place (seperated-4b), and meaning (night and day-5a)” (Kidner, TOTCS, 51). Again, to understand this is to marvel at the sovereign power of God.
Genesis 1:5 God called the light “day” and the darkness he called “night.”
In this simple, seemingly innocuous, phrase is all the power in the universe…the power to name, to define, to ontologize, to assign purpose and meaning. God alone has this power and none can stay his hand.
Grace, don’t miss this. In this passage we find the first naming and, therefore, the first statement of meaning and purpose. We find the first assignment of creation. Do not miss the glory of this power and authority and clarity.
It’s easy to see God’s sovereign power when he sends his people into battle. There are a myriad of examples in the bible of God miraculously delivering his enemies over to defeat. God caused the walls of Jericho to fall when Joshua and God’s people marched around it. God caused Gideon and his few hundred to defeat an army of tens of thousands. God destroyed the army of the most powerful nation on earth by swallowing them up in a sea he had just parted for his people. Where God is for a cause, who can be against it? No one!
What we must see here is that just as no one can stand against God in battle, none can stand against God’s naming. All the same power that makes God invincible in battle, make changing his names impossible. In that, then, were once again confronted with a remarkable display of God’s authority. Where God has called something by name, nothing in heaven and earth can change that. We try—as mankind has done since the beginning—only to our peril. Things are what God calls them. You are what God has called you.
Remember that Grace. It is the foolest of fools who seeks to unname or rename something that God has named. That goes for our culture in life and marriage and good and evil. And it goes for you in your pride and discouragement. You are, as we will soon see, whether you know it, believe it, or like it, God’s image-bearer (). You are, again as we are about to see, male or female (). And your role, which we will come to shortly, as God’s image-bearing male or female is what God says it is (), to fill and exercise dominion over the earth. No manner of rebellion can change any of that one iota. Where we find others trying to change these things, we ought to be filled with compassion and then attempt to tell them this story, which is far truer and greater and more fulfilling than the one they are telling themselves.
God separated light and darkness and gave names to each. In separating them God gave us a category for sin and righteousness, good and evil. And in naming them God again put his unique and unrelenting power on display, assigned the first purpose and meaning to his creation, and provided for his people the beginning of an explanation of how we are to understand the world we live in and the God who made it.
THE FIRST DAY
Finally, then, consider the last clause in our passage.
Genesis 1:5 And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
As I mentioned earlier, every time we find a distinction in creation, we need to ask why it’s there. Nothing God does is arbitrary. Why create this 24 hour rhythm? Why create a day? The bible tells us several reasons for this distinction.
One such reason is to remind us to trust in God. We often want all the mercy we need for all of life at once. But if God had done that we’d trust in God’s mercies rather than the God of mercy. Thus, God created days in order to give us mercies—mercies for that day—every morning.
Lamentations 3:22-23 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Like the Israelites in the wilderness couldn’t store God’s manna, God’s people cannot store his mercies. Both came new every day so that our hope would remain in God.
Another such reason that the bible tells us is so that we can have weeks and months and seasons and years. With weeks comes the Sabbath, with months comes the sacrifices, with seasons come the feasts and with years comes the jubilee. Each of these rhythms are built on the days God created in Genesis 1:3-5 and each of these rhythms points us to something much, much bigger.
Grace, once again, to understand this is to be amazed by it. To even begin to see the glory and power and wisdom embedded in these words is to be overcome by the worthiness of God to receive all praise and honor and blessing. The vastness of God’s plan; the goodness of God’s choices; the strength of God’s might; the rightness of God’s ordering; and the satisfaction of submitting ourselves to all of this are all staggering.
Again, you’ll remember that after God’s initial act of creation (1:1-2) all was good even though it was formless, empty, and dark. You’ll also remember that the six days of creation are rightly seen as addressing each of these things (2 days for each). On this first day God did so by creating light, separating it from the darkness, naming the separation, and starting the rhythm of creation. This initial light came about by the word of God. For God alone do his commands perfectly and permanently bring about their intended effect. This initial light (three days before the sun) was the glory of the Trinity, good, and the first look at the light of heaven. This initial light was meant to set apart the darkness and provide a constant picture for all of mankind the holiness of God and the holiness for which we were made. This initial light was the first thing formally named by God; which is to say it was the first expression of God’s unique, ontological power. And this initial light set in motion the primary measure of time.
Grace, this is your God. This is the world he has made. This is what God offered to his people to submit to for fullness of joy and everlasting life. Instead, though, they chose rebellion, futility and death, and all of us in them. None of us have rightly submitted to God, the world as he made it, or our place in it.
But God loved the world in such a way that he sent his one and only Son to do all that we couldn’t and then die in our place. Jesus alone rightly understood and lived in the world according to the Father’s design—he rightly oriented himself to every tree and light beam and flower and person and mountain and body of water (even as those things rightly oriented themselves to him, the one by and for whom they were made). And he alone rightly oriented himself to the Father. For these reasons God was pleased to receive him as an acceptable sacrifice for our sins. He hung on a tree that was made by him and for him to reconcile all things to God; all things and all people who would receive him in faith.
By the grace of God, then, let us see God, his world, our place in it, and the Son who died to rescue all that sin has destroyed. Let us see these things, savor these things, and in the strength God promises to all who hope in him, let us walk in these things in newness today.
Were the days literal 24 hour days? This quote summarizes my thoughts:
“The meaning of the term ‘day’ (yôm) in this chapter has received varying interpretations. Although the word normally means a twenty-four-hour day, it can also mean a longer general period of time (Isaiah 61:2) or an idiom ‘when’ (as in Genesis 2:4). In this chapter, however, it must carry its normal meaning. Support for this view includes the following: (1) elsewhere, whenever yôm is used with a number, it means a twenty-four hour period; (2) the Decalogue bases the teaching of the Sabbath day on the six days of creation and the seventh day of rest; (3) from the fourth day on, there are days, years, signs, and seasons, suggesting that the normal system is entirely operative’ and (4) if yôm refers to an age, then the text would have to allow for a long period of ‘day’ and then a long period of ‘night’—but few would argue for the night as an age.” (Ross, CB, 109)