For millennia readers of the Bible have questioned the meaning of Genesis chapter 1, verse 3, where God, on the first day of creation addresses the light. The first five verses read,
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 And the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. 3And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4And 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, one day.”
People are confused because God said “Let there be light” on the first day even though He did not create the sun until day four (Gn 1:24-19). Adding to the puzzle, God calls the first light “day” and darkness “night.” This suggests that the light on day one caused the plants, created on day three, to grow before God made the sun on day four (Gn 1:11-13). What are we to make of this first light?
According to Midrash (Rashi, 1040-1105) the first light was something different from the sun that the wicked were unworthy of. Therefore, God saved it for the righteous in the afterlife. Some Jews also refer to this as Ohr HaGanuz meaning “the hidden light,” which was spiritual in nature and enabled humans to see deeper truths. In Kabbalistic thought the first light is the power of creation which connects everything and allows it to exist. It is also seen as the source of everything positive we experience. Many Christians explain the discrepancy regarding the sun being created after the plants as God being all-powerful and that God Himself is the light. Skeptics and cynics see this as more proof that the Bible is a compilation of unscientific bronze-age myths and not the inspired words of a god. While Scripture strongly suggest that the first light is the light in Heaven, I propose that these lines go deeper than that and speaks to the character of God Himself.
God as the light is based on numerous Biblical passages such as the first letter of John, which states, “God is light and in him is no darkness at all” (1:5). There are also many references in the New Testament to Jesus as the light. For instance, in the Gospel of John, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (8:12). The Prologue of John’s Gospel (1:4) says that in Jesus “was life, and the life was the light of all people.” The verse goes on to elaborate on the light connection and it also notes that John the Baptist himself was not the light but came to testify to the light (1:8).
The light references culminate in the Book of Revelation. It says that in the new Jerusalem in Heaven there is no need for a sun because “the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp” (21:23). The lamb is understood as Jesus. Towards the end of Revelation we read that, “night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign for ever and ever” (22:5). This indicates that night and darkness are representations of evil while light and day are euphemisms for God and goodness.
These thoughts are akin to Jewish Midrash where the first light is the light of Heaven. One can also see why Christians—given Trinitarian theology—believe that this confirms that God is the light, which is intertwined with goodness. In the New Testament this light is also something that each believer needs to have within themselves (see for instance Lk 11:35, 16:8, Mt 5:16, Jn 11:10, 12:35). Jesus told his disciples that they are the “light of the world” (Mt 5:14). This may be explained by how believers are filled with the Holy Spirit. Paul stated in his first letter to the Thessalonians that, “For you are all sons of light and sons of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness” (5:5). This is yet one more passage that can be read as the light being synonymous to God. But is this interpretation really in line with Scripture?
God cannot be the light when Genesis specifically tells us that He called the light into being. For this reason, you also cannot argue that Jesus is the light and simultaneously the uncreated God.
The prophet Isaiah, speaking on behalf of Yahweh said,
“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” (45:7)
If we go back to the beginning in Genesis, when “the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters” (1:2) and the darkness was over the face of the deep, this means that the Spirit and the darkness of the deep were separate. It also suggests that darkness and light were mixed before God divided them (verse 4). In the book of Job there is a passage—which is the title of this essay—where Job says that God, “described a circle upon the face of the waters at the boundary between light and darkness” (26:10). This is also stated in Proverbs where Lady Wisdom spoke about Yahweh and said, “When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep” (8:27). This emphasis on the demarcation between light and darkness tells us that this was about good and evil because Yahweh “saw that the light was good” and He “separated” (1:4) it from darkness.
I want to add here that what is translated as the “deep” and “waters” are two different words in Hebrew. The “deep” refers to the depth of the sea, even the springs that feeds it and for that reason allusions are made to the netherworld (see Ez 31:14-15). The Hebrew word translated as “waters” is the common word for water. By using these two different words it highlights that the darkness is particularly linked to the deep. The “boundary” between the light and dark is sometimes translated as the “horizon” or “circle” that is drawn over the face of the deep, which can sound confusing for readers. What is translated as “circle” and “horizon” is in Hebrew the common word for “festival.” Festivals would have commonly involved circle dances or linear processionals, which were visually like the line of the horizon in the distance. In Genesis, the horizon is the line between the darkness of the depth of the ocean where there is no light, and above it, where the Spirit was moving. Yahweh separating light from darkness thus strongly suggests that it represents the original boundary between good and evil.
The first line of Genesis tells us that God “created” the heavens and the earth. But Genesis and Isaiah seem to suggest that Yahweh, who is the author of all life and all that is good, chose to call the light out of the darkness. By making them separate entities He refined them from the formless raw material that already existed. Only after that did God call everything He created “good.” Evil/darkness inevitably continued to exist because if it did not, there would be nothing to measure good against, i.e. it would render the word “good” meaningless.
“For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor 4:6)
Paul cites Genesis 1:3 here and describes God as letting the light shine “out” of the darkness. He also calls the light “the knowledge” of the “glory of God” displayed in Jesus. So, the light appears to represent the knowledge of God and all that entails such as: love, goodness, and truth. The Spirit of God, who dwells in the faithful, reveals the truth and allows us to know God. Jesus came to testify to this truth.
The understanding of light as knowledge is also related to the theme of the truth being hidden. Those who love and follow God are the ones who find it. The famous Christian author C.S. Lewis once wrote “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” In this way the first light reveals darkness and the nature of both. Jesus is recorded in the Gospel of Luke saying,
“Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.” (1:22)
Jesus is alluding to the end times when all works of iniquity will be exposed and defeated. One of the reasons darkness symbolizes evil is because it conceals and thus deceives. Evil is synonymous with the lie which hides the truth, and this is one way the devil lures humans to do what is contrary to God’s will. Jesus said that the devil is the father of lies because there is no truth in him (Jn 8:44). Again, we can understand the creation of light as God drawing light out of the darkness and revealing it. Light/truth in turn reveals darkness/lies. In this way good and evil were born in the beginning of time.
The theme of truth being “hidden” is prominent right away after the fall. Only a select few could see God and Moses was the only one able to see Him “face to face.” Jesus then said that he, as the Messiah, revealed Yahweh to his disciples. So, God has made Himself partially hidden until evil/darkness is defeated once and for all and those who have chosen God, i.e. good over evil, will eventually live in the full presence of God. This is how the light of the first “day” is present again in the Book of Revelation where night no longer exists (21:25). Evil is banished and it is even mentioned that “there is no longer any sea” (21:1). This could allude to the darkness tied to the primordial deep in Genesis 1:2 which the Spirit of God hovered over. This too is another instance that tells us evil will never win over good.
The knowledge of the separation of good and evil brings free will—the ability to choose between the two. God’s creation of the light on the first day reveals the presence of the eternal kingdom of heaven that is the direct result of the division of dark and light. In Heaven there is no need for a sun, yet all forms of life will live and grow anyway. This is how plants first grew on earth on the third day even though the sun was created on day four. We know about the kingdom of heaven here on earth only when God reveals it.
Finally, the core question that this examination of the first light leads to is whether God Himself is inherently good or if He chooses to be good. Since Yahweh is the sole uncreated Creator of everything, He is the only one who determines what is good and what is evil, making the question in one sense circular. He is the only one making that choice. For this reason, we can only know what is right, true, and good through Him and His Spirit. Yet, the Bible also tells us that Yahweh consciously chose what is good because He “saw” that the light was good. We, as part of His creation, have been given the ability to choose good or evil. We cannot be given free will from God if He Himself does not have it. This choice relies on the existence of both good/truth and evil/lie, so there is something to choose from, as well as knowledge about it. What we cannot do though, is choose what is good and evil. That decision belongs to God alone. The prophet Isaiah said,
“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (5:20)
The Bible is through and through teaching a dualistic reality—the classic battle between good and evil–that is playing out in real time. Although Jesus was sentenced to a torturous execution by Rome, he denounced a violent revolution against the authorities. Instead he taught about the kingdom of God. The Book of Revelation, Jesus’ prophecies, and the prophecies about the Day of Yahweh in the Hebrew Scriptures, tells us how it will all end. Jesus declared that the power of darkness will never prevail over God’s people even before the final separation (Mt 16:18). While good and evil dwell together now, they do not do so as one. They are competing powers.
One of many instances when Jesus warned the disciples about this was in a parable about the kingdom of God. He gave the example of a man who sowed good seeds but while he slept, an enemy came out at night and sowed bad seeds. They both grew together, and his servants asked if they should root them up. Then the landowner said,
“Let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'” (Mt 13:30)
One day the separation between good and evil will be completed, and divine justice will be executed for each human individually. When that time arrives the light that God created on the first day will be present for all who have chosen to walk with Him. Nothing will be hidden, not even the face of God.