The later Homer Hoeksema was professor of Dogmatics and Old Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
By way of introduction, we call attention to the fact that in this passage of Genesis 1 we have what must be interpreted as an unmistakable sign that the creation-record is not of human origin, and that Moses did not write the creation-narrative except as he was infallibly inspired by the Creator of all things Himself. We find this indication in the fact that in the Genesis narrative light is presented as being created first. On the one hand, the ordinary man-of-the-street, who is unschooled in the intricacies of such studies as astronomy and physics and in all the ramifications and significance of the reality that is called light, certainly would not think of presenting the creation of light as the first work of God the Creator if he were to concoct a creation-story. He is surrounded by light on every hand, and the reality of light is so commonplace that he takes it for granted; but he would never have thought of making this God’s first creation. He might probably place first in such, a man made account the creation of the heavenly luminaries – the sun, moon, and stars. But he certainly would not give first place to the creation of light, nor would he think of distinguishing between the creation of light and the creation of the heavenly luminaries. The Bible, however, does so; and thereby it presents us with a distinguishing mark which sets it apart as the unique, divine record of a unique, divine work.
On the other hand, this same aspect of the creation-narrative ought to constitute a very striking testimony to the modern man of science. For it would appear that if anything is plain in the light of all the modem research into the nature and activity of light and into the nature of energy and into the interaction of light and physical matter, it is this, that, in the reality which is called light, man confronts one of the ultimate and insoluble mysteries of our universe, a reality that is basic to all existence and which can be studied, and whose behavior can be investigated and to a certain extent explained, but which can itself ultimately not be explained. Certainly, the man Moses in his time did not and could not possibly know all that men today have discovered concerning light. He certainly knew nothing about such things as the wave theory or the corpuscular theory of light; nor could he know anything about such an involved thing as the quantum theory. And yet in the Genesis record the creation of this light, which is so basic to the existence of the entire universe, is placed first. There is but one explanation for this. That explanation is not to be found in the knowledge and investigation of Moses or of any other man, but in the knowledge and revelation and infallible inspiration of the Most High, who created all things at the beginning. This is one of the marvelous aspects of the Genesis record which ought not to be overlooked.
It behooves us, therefore, to assume an attitude of deep humility and to be silent as the Lord our God tells us concerning His work on the first day. For from Him, and from Him alone, do we receive the answer to the question concerning the origin of that mysterious reality called light.
When we face the question what God created on this first day, we may well begin with a confession of our ignorance with regard to the essence of light. We do not know what it is. A certain Dutch poet, having been blind, and his eyesight having been restored, exclaimed in wonderment: “Light! What is light? Heights of the heavens, depths of the seas, and thou, oh earth, answer me! What is light?” And so it is, indeed. We walk in the midst of this wonder, and pay little or no attention to it, so insensible have we become because of sin.
Nevertheless, we may say something about light, in order to see some thing of its significance, and in order that we may be brought to contemplate and appreciate a little the wonder work which God accomplished in this creation.
Then we may say, in the first place, that physical light is of the very essence of the existence of all matter in the universe. That is evident from this very passage in Genesis and from many passages of Scripture which speak in one way or another of light. The chaos was dark, absolutely dark, and as such was utterly lifeless. The waste and void spoken of in Genesis 1:2 was without light: darkness was upon the face of the deep. And it was therefore without that life, that energy, which is essential to the existence and form of all things. There was no movement whatsoever in it, and there was no revelation in the darkness. There was no communication possible in it. It was simply dead. But by the brooding of the Spirit lie and energy is-engendered into that motionless chaos, and things begin to stir and to move. And the, very first manifestation of that fact, that the Spirit brooded upon the waters and engendered life-energy into that dead chaos, is the light. That was the first expression of life and movement in the chaos. God said, “Let there be light.” By the Word of God the reality called light is separated from the rest, thinned out into the invisible atmosphere; and its motion, or waving, or vibration, is so formed as to be light. Light is the very life-energy of the material universe.
In this connection, we must not overlook the fact that in the six days of creation we have in each case only one central expression of what God created on that day. Light means much more than only the light as we understand it in the everyday sense. Also the atmosphere, that which we sometimes call the “ether,” must have been created on that day. And the movement that is caused in that “ether,” that exceedingly rapid motion, is. called light. But to this creation belongs much more. Light also implies heat. The two, as we know, are very closely related. The original chaos must also have been cold, as well as dark-absolutely cold. The universe as it is now is full of heat. And there is no other proper place for the creation of this heat than on the first day. Together with the light, therefore, heat was created. That light and heat are also the condition of all other existence and of all life. Power and energy are implied in the light. Electricity is in the light. Fire is in the light. Magnetism belongs to the creation of the light. Radioactivity belongs to that same creation. All these related realities belong to the one category of the formation of physical light. Moreover, that light is the life also of the living creatures. Plants and animals and man cannot live without light and heat. All of these have light as the very condition of their life. Take it away, and they could not exist.
We must remember, too, that light is the means of communication. Light moves, we are told, with the unimaginable speed of 186,000 miles per second. It moves against various objects, and it moves back, is reflected from those objects. And when it reflects from those objects, it contains the picture of those objects in it. That picture is caught by the eye of animal and man, and reveals in picture form the object that is reflected by the light. Light, therefore, reveals. It is the means of communication between man and the world, between man and man, between God and the world, and between God and man. This is also suggested when Scripture here states specifically in connection with the first day that “God saw the light, that it was good.” The idea is expressed here that in the light is the reflection of the world to God Himself, and that the light is the means of communication between God and the world, and, by implication, between God and man. The light that God created was good. It served the purpose whereunto God created it. God saw the light, that it was good. In this same connection, we must not forget that color and form and number and movement are all conditioned by the light.
Hence, light as the first creation of God is the basic condition for the existence of every creature. If we consider this work of creation in its broadest scope, we can understand somewhat why it is God’s first creative work. The sacred record informs us that light is created in antithesis to the darkness, that is, not to the absolute darkness that is mentioned in verse 2, but in antithesis to the darkness of the night. For we read that God divided the light from the darkness, and that God called the light Day and the darkness He called Night.
Darkness itself, in the absolute sense of the word, is nothing. And in that sense there was darkness before the light was created. God did not create the darkness: He is the Father of light. Absolute lifelessness, deadness, coldness, motionlessness, nothingness, is the darkness of the original chaos. But the text speaks here of the darkness of the night. This suggests that not all darkness was removed on the first day. The absolute darkness is no more. It is dispelled by the light. But the shadows are left; and our night is a shadow of turning. On the first day the light is so formed by the creative Word of God that it is divided from the darkness. God caused that division by His almighty, creative Word. The result is that already on the first day the light is so formed that it does not shine everywhere at once. The darkness of the night from the very first day forward alternates with the light of day. There are those who suggest that the light of the first day must have surrounded the entire unformed mass of the earthly creation at first, and that at the end of each day, in the evening, God removed that light, destroyed it, and brought about the night.
Now it may be granted that it is very difficult for us to form any conception at all of the earth in the midst of the original chaos, prior to the finishing of creation. But it is also extremely difficult, if not impossible, to conceive of it that God destroyed and recreated the light every time during the first three days, before the sun was created. This is an extremely difficult conception both because it seems inconceivable that God would destroy a creature which He first made, and because that creature, light, included too many other things. On the basis of the fact, therefore, that the earth was already separated from the heavens in the very beginning, and on the basis of the fact that light is movement and that it is the condition of the existence of all matter, it may be suggested that already on the first day the light was placed by God in some central position and that the earth rotated, and that in this way the alternation of day and night were created. For we must also remember that the division of the light from the darkness and the alternation of the Day and the Night is the work of God’s creative Word. We read specifically in the text: “And God called to the light Day, and to the darkness He called Night.” These expressions suggest, therefore, that God separated the light from the darkness on the very first day, and that He left it so, and that He created day and night in their alternation from the very first. Thus we have the night and the darkness as a shadow-not as the original darkness, but as a shadow left to remind us of that darkness. God created the antithesis. The night is the antithesis of the day; and the darkness is the antithesis of the light. God lets part of the darkness remain, in order to show the beauty of the light, and He reveals Himself antithetically also in nature. The light always shines in the darkness.