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.
6 And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. 8 And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
9 And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.
11 And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day. – Genesis 1:4-13 ESV
As Moses began his record of the creation account, he described a darkness being “over the face of the deep” (Genesis 1:2 ESV). The Hebrew word he used is חֹשֶׁךְ (ḥōšeḵ), which can be translated as “darkness, obscurity, or secret place.” It comes from the root word חָשַׁךְ (ḥāšaḵ), which was used to refer to the absence of light. Unlike everything else Moses is about to describe, the darkness was not created by God. It was simply the void created by the absence of light. For the ancients, darkness became a symbol for evil. It came to represent such things as misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, and wickedness. In the Tanakh, the Hebrew Scriptures, darkness is used to represent all that stands in opposition to God. It was also associated with God’s judgment.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.” So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was pitch darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days, but all the people of Israel had light where they lived. – Exodus 10:21-23 ESV
The prophet Isaiah wrote of a coming day when darkness would be invaded by another source of light.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. – Isaiah 9:2 ESV
And the apostle Matthew would later reveal that Isaiah’s prophecy had been predicting the coming of Jesus, the Messiah of Israel.
Now when he [Jesus] heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people dwelling in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
on them a light has dawned.” – Matthew 4:12-16 ESV
God’s great work of creation began with the coming of the light. And His grand plan of redemption began the same way. In Jesus, the light entered the darkness once again, setting in motion the divine plan for the re-creation of all things. The theme of darkness and light will continue all throughout the pages of Scripture, setting up an ongoing contrast between the forces of righteousness and wickedness, the godly and the ungodly.
But the glaring difference between darkness and light is not the only contrast found in the opening chapter of Genesis. As Moses presents the sequential nature of God’s creation timeline, he records a number of important divisions or contrasts that seem to separate one thing from another.
On the first day, God invaded the darkness with His light, providing a stark contrast between that which was good and all that would later come to represent evil. Moses states that God “separated the light from the darkness” (Genesis 1:4 ESV). The Hebrew word is בָּדַל (bāḏal) and it refers to a separating or distinguishing of one thing from another. God set apart His light from the darkness and deemed it “good” or טוֹב (ṭôḇ). According to the NET Bible study notes, the Hebrew word ṭôḇ refers to “whatever enhances, promotes, produces, or is conducive for life.” By contrast, the darkness was unproductive and incapable of promoting or sustaining life. It represented the absence of God’s life-giving light and, therefore, was deemed as being the opposite of “good.”
The separation of the light and the dark established the end of the first day of creation. But God was far from done. There was another separation or division to take place. On the beginning of the second day, God created the “expanse.”
“Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters…” – Genesis 1:6 ESV
The Hebrew word is רָקִיעַ (rāqîa) and it refers to what we would call the upper atmosphere. But to the ancient Hebrews, it was used to describe “an expanse of air pressure between the surface of the sea and the clouds, separating water below from water above” (NET Bible Study Notes). In we recall, the creation story began with the earth was shrouded by water.
The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. – Genesis 1:2 ESV
At this point in the story, God separates the waters and, in so doing, He creates the upper atmosphere or what is sometimes translated as the “firmament.” There are some biblical scholars who believe that this separating process created a band of water vapor around the earth that would later become one of the primary sources of water that helped to create the worldwide flood recorded in chapter 6-8 of Genesis. There we read, “on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights” (Genesis 7:11-12 ESV). It is believed that, at this time, the canopy of water surrounding the earth was released and acted as a major source of the water necessary to flood the entire earth in a very short period of time. It is also believed that this canopy served as a protective barrier from the sun’s harmful rays and helps to explain the longevity of human life prior to the flood.
But God separated the waters, creating yet another distinction between one thing and another. He “separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse” (Genesis 1:7 ESV) and He called His creation, “Heaven.” While the Hebrew word can be used to refer to heaven, in this context it makes more sense to translate it as “sky.” On this second day of creation, God separated the earth from the sky.
At this point, God turned His attention to the earth, where He performed another act of separation or division.
“Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” – Genesis 1:9 ESV
The earth, which had been covered and obscured by water, was suddenly exposed. God separated the water, allowing the formerly hidden land masses to become visible for the first time. What is significant about this phase of God’s creative act was that the land was going to be necessary to sustain human life. Man would not be able to exist in an atmosphere of total darkness or in an environment consisting of nothing but water. So, God sovereignly separated one thing from another so that mankind might have a proper place in which to live. This was all preparatory work for God’s greatest act of creation: Humanity.
Moses states that “God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:10 ESV). God deemed it good because it was all part of His perfect plan. It was all according to His sovereign will and just as it needed to be to support the human life He would soon be creating. He knew that humanity would need air to breath, water to drink, and dry land on which to live. And so, He created all this for mankind’s good, long before they even existed. But God was far from done. Humanity would also need food to eat. So, He began the next phase of His preparatory work.
“Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” – Genesis 1:11 ESV
And, once again, God declared His work to be good. Everything He made was just as He had planned it and every aspect of His creative work had a purpose. There was nothing that God created that lacked a reason for being. It was all highly intentional and pointed to something even greater to come.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.