17

Throughout Genesis 1 there are two repeated refrains:

  1. ויהי כן

    • 7And 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. ESV

    • 9And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. ESV

    • 11And 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. ESV

    • 15and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. ESV

    • 24And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. ESV

    • 30And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. ESV

  2. כי טוב

    • 10God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. ESV

    • 12The 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. ESV

    • 18to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. ESV

    • 21So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. ESV

    • 25And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. ESV

The parallels in day one are different:

  1. ויהי אור

    • 3And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. ESV

  2. האור כי טוב

    • 4And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. ESV

What is different about 'light' that it can't be referred to by 'it'? Or is it that the primacy of day one is emphasized by the explicitness?

  • 1
    In all these verses I would've thought the 'it' referred to the general situation... still a good question asking why it's different though. – curiousdannii Nov 9 '14 at 13:16
  • אלהים a pun of אלחים not אל dark חום, the light. Just as the invisible aleph is recapitulated in the first word, the first sentence the first Chapter and through the 6 divisions of the Bible, the Light is expressed in different ways: the fire אשin הראשית, the light in אלחים, and later as the person of Christ. In the pattern ABCabc there is light, water, land, then from light מ-אר-ת, the ת making it an object, and from water, from land. The first is a single word riddle, with day 1 calling attention to it. The children of Abraham are called dust (from land), sand by the sea (from water) ... – Bob Jones Jun 14 at 9:14
  • and stars in the firmament (light of the world), the firmament being Christ. To lock in the riddle מ-ארת is from herbs. Jesus is the herb in the parable of the mustard seed. Rabbi Eliezer permits the splitting of words this way "30. Notarikon: Interpretation by dividing a word into two or more parts." – Bob Jones Jun 14 at 9:27
  • The nature of the riddle is observed using Eliezers rule 24. When the specific implied in the general is especially excepted from the general, it serves to emphasize some property characterizing the specific. Should'a' polished that up and made that an answer ... – Bob Jones Jun 14 at 9:48
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Interesting question! I'm not sure it admits of a definitive answer, but some observations suggest one possibility.

As noted by OP, the typical divine response to each day's acts of creation tends to be "impersonal":

וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים כִּי־טוֹב
wayyarʾ ĕlōhîm kî-ṭôb
and God saw that [it was] good

This is the response in Gen 1:10, 12, 18, 21, and 25. However, at the beginning and at the end of the works of creation, the "approval formula" is longer. Here is the full set of data:

+-----+---------+--------------------------+---------------------------+----------+
| Day | Genesis |           Work           |   God sees + response     | in verse |
+-----+---------+--------------------------+--------- -----------------+----------+
| 1   | 1:3-5   | light                    | wayyarʾ ĕlōhîm            | 1:4      |
|     |         |                          |   ʾet-hāʾôr kî-ṭôb        |          |
| 2   | 1:6-8   | divide firmament, waters |  ø                        |          |
| 3   | 1:9-13  | land, sea, vegetation    | wayyarʾ ĕlōhîm kî-ṭôb (×2)| 1:10, 12 |
| 4   | 1:14-19 | “lights”                 | wayyarʾ ĕlōhîm kî-ṭôb     | 1:18     |
| 5   | 1:20-23 | birds, marine life       | wayyarʾ ĕlōhîm kî-ṭôb     | 1:21     |
| 6   | 1:24-30 | land animals, humans     | wayyarʾ ĕlōhîm kî-ṭôb     | 1:25     |
| +   | 1:31    | summary                  | wayyarʾ ĕlōhîm            | 1:31     |
|     |         |                          |   ʾet-kol-ʾăšer ʿāśāh     |          |
|     |         |                          |   wəhinnēh-ṭôb məʾōd      |          |
| 7   | 2:1-3   | (rest)                   | (blesses, sanctifies day) | 2:3      |
+-----+---------+--------------------------+---------------------------+----------+

At the beginning in 1:4 there is a "specific" mention of "the light" (hāʾôr):

wayyarʾ ĕlōhîm ʾet-hāʾôr kî-ṭôb
and God saw the light that [it was] good

Note here that:

  • there is only one "thing" created: ʾôr, "light"; on every other day there are multiple creative actions, and this is I expect the most obvious explanation for the explicit "outcome" statement ("and there was light" = wayəhî ʾôr) in 1:3, rather than the generic "and it was so" (= wayəhî kēn) of the other days;
  • it is the first day (FWIW!).

The other longer, explicit "approval formula" comes at the end of Day Six (1:31):

wayyarʾ ĕlōhîm ʾet-kol-ʾăšer ʿāśāh wəhinnēh-ṭôb məʾōd
and God saw all that he had made, and behold [it was] very good!

Note here that:

  • this is a summary statement inclusive of all creative acts and outcomes;
  • it is the last day of creating (FWIW!).

It seems significant to me that there are only two more times in the entire Hebrew Bible where it is recorded that "God saw x" (= wayyarʾ ĕlōhîm ʾet...), just like these two in Gen 1:4 and 1:31.1, 2

  1. Gen 6:12 - in which "God saw the earth, and behold it was corrupt", thus precipitating the flood - un-creation, if you like.
  2. Exodus 2:25 - the elliptical and evocative moment when "God saw the children of Israel, and God knew...", so a kind of re-creation.

That is, (1) the bringing of death-for-sin, and (2) the moment of initiating deliverance from oppression.

Summary - that goes beyond OP's Genesis 1:3-4 observation, but this distinctive phraseology of God's specific acts of "seeing" suggests to me a kind of narrative arc.


Note

  1. I'm setting aside Gen 35:9 which is niphal, i.e. "God appeared" (not "God saw").
  2. It appears that this set of connections was also noticed by the Masoretes (the medieval Torah scholars who supplied these annotations to the biblical text). At Genesis 6:12 there is a marginal note that reads:

    בׁ בתוֺר וכל מעשה בראשית דכוֺת
    ḃ btwṙ wkl mʿsh brʾsyt dkwṫ

    This is the way it looks in Codex Leningrad:

    Leningradensia Gen 6:12

    The phrase in Aramaic says: "2× and similarly in all the (creative) acts of in-the-beginning," which is a reference to Genesis Chapter 1, since the first word of Genesis Chapter 1 is "בראשית" (in-the-beginning). In the margin of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, there is mention of "בתור̇" ("in the Pentateuch"), which is however not evident in Leningradensia; also, this reference has a dreaded "sub loco" footnote which indicates a "problem"; the same note is repeated in BHS at Ex 2:25, without the "sub loco" notation. Leningradensia itself does not have this marginal note at Ex 2:25, and perhaps this is the "problem" that Georg Weil (editor of the Masorah Magna, who died before the "sub loco" entries could be explained) had in mind.

    (It is thus a small surprise to me that this is a feature which does not attract a comment from Rashi in any of its occurrences.)

    As noted above, the exact Hebrew phrase וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים and vowel points in Leningradensia occurs nine times: that is, twice in the Pentateuch (Gen 6:12 and Ex 2:25) and the remaining seven "similarly in all the (creative) acts of in-the-beginning," which is another way of referencing Genesis Chapter 1.

    In summary, the apparent correlation of these nine verses by the Masoretes further reinforces the notion of a distinct narrative arc in these instances of what "God saw".

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  • David: 1.) - It is wrongful to argue that the text indicates only one thing was created on the First day--and this is explicitly contrary to the text. 2.) - Even if you were to claim that the text shows only one "word of creation" on the first day, this would not preclude the fact that God could have possibly said something else. -- This is unknowable, and an argument from silence. 3.) - Both are Isagetical approaches to these interpretations, and should be noted as such. (Note, I understand the place for Isagetical interpretations, as long as it is noted.) – elika kohen Nov 27 '14 at 23:03
1

Genesis 1:3 ויאמר אלהים יהי אור ויהי־אור׃

Why is it that in describing the creation of light on day one, the Author of Genesis does so in such an extremely concise way, when this is not done for the other days?

Notice that God commands in two words, "יהי אור," and this is immediately followed by "ויהי אור," the result of his command being almost letter-for-letter identical. I suspect (but can't prove) that the Author of Genesis 1:3 deliberately used this language to signify that God's creation of the light was instantaneous AND that the outcome was exactly what He intended.

This would emphasize the unfathomable power of God.

But if Genesis 1:3 were to say "God made light" instead of "There was light," then the Hebrew would not be letter-for-letter identical and this elegance would be destroyed. The same problem would occur if the text said "And it was so" instead of "And there was light."

Look how elegantly Day One is written!


The question might arise then, why not use the same format for the other five days?

Here's why:

  1. Sometimes, God gives a reason for creating what He creates. But He doesn't on Day One.

  2. Sometimes, it says "God created." But not on Day One.

The reasons behind what God does are useful to know, and it is important to know that "God created" to avoid the heresy that angels or other inferior beings created the universe. But if all Six Days were to imitate Day One in its simple and elegant format, these important facts would be left out.

Note also that the commands on the other days of creation are much more lengthy. But on Day One, it's a two-word-command, at least in the Hebrew.

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-2

Disclaimer: There is no "Right" answer to this question--but some answers can be more plausible than others.


An Objection to the first Proposed Answer, by David:

I disagree with David, that "Light" was explicitly written side-by-side with the expressions, "good," and "it was so*," because only light was created on the first day, or because "It" could be used in the following passages to summarize the multiple acts of creation, and to summarize multiple created things ... I do not believe the text supports this conclusion.

Arguing that the author explicitly placed "Light" and "Good" side-by-side in the text because only one creative act occurred, or because only one thing was created, doesn't add up--literally.

Nevertheless, If, and Only If--one thing was created on the first day--And If Also--only one act of creation occurred on the first day, then this argument would be valid.

If BOTH those statements are true, this answer could be valid because:

  1. In each of the following passages, it is the case that "It was so," is a anaphoric/elliptical construction, describing an action, (or actions)--and could refer to multiple acts of creation.
  2. And, it is also the case that, "It was good," is a anaphoric/pronominal construction describing a thing that was created, (or things)--and could * refer to multiple things that were created.

The Third Alternate Answer below goes into detail about these constructions.

However/But: from the text only, it is apparent that: a.) Many acts of creation occurred on the first day, (i.e., creating the heavens, creating the Earth, separating light and darkness, creating day, creating night, etc), (Gen. 1:3: יְהִי אֹור, (let there be light); Gen. 1:4: וַיַּבְדֵּל אֱלֹהִים בֵּין הָאֹור וּבֵין הַחֹֽשֶׁךְ, (and God separated), the light from the darkness), etc); and b.) Many things existed by the end of the first day, (i.e., the Earth, water, darkness, day, night, etc. ...).


First Alternate Answer:

Interpretation of the Question:

Question: Can emphasis/significance be inferred regarding the Creation of Light from the text, as it is explicitly written "side-by-side" with "Good" in the text"?

None of the "usual" suspects are present in these passages to suggest that word order/arrangement imply that "light" should be emphasized.

Answer: On the contrary, the explicit depiction of "Light", "side-by-side" with "good" in the text, can actually be seen to de-emphasize the early periods of Creation--in juxtaposition with the sixth day, in order to ensure proper emphasis on all that was created--especially Mankind.

A common error by modern translators is "filling in the blanks" for modern readers. Ancient writers often omitted words, often for the sake of brevity--knowing that that readers could/would fill in the blanks themselves.

However, this technique also created carries with it a strong dramatic effect: By requiring readers to make inferences, ancient Writers were able to leave readers with a much greater impression.

Proof of this can be seen in Gen. 1:31--where there is no dispute that there IS a special significance in the declaration:

Gen. 1:31 - וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת־כָּל־אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה וְהִנֵּה־טֹוב מְאֹד

Gen. 1:31 - And saw, God, all he did, and behold, exceeding beauty!

In this final passage, there is an implicit reference to what was "exceedingly beautiful", requiring the reader to make the necessary inferences--unlike when the author explicitly states that "Light" was good.

Because light was explicitly called "good", requiring no inferences to be made by the reader, and because the writer does require the reader to make more and more inferences as more/greater things were added, day by day, culminating into the last day--the impression the reader is left with, at the end of the sixth day, is much, much, greater.


Second Alternate Answer:

Interpretation of the Question:

Question: Is it reasonable to infer a special significance to the creation of "Light", from the texts?

The linguistic construction of this passage, by itself, and the differences in how it is written, is not a Sufficient Condition to justify inferring a sort of special significance to the Creation of light.

(This is actually a common grammatical construction in ancient writing, see Third Alternate Answer).

Answer: A conclusion that "Light" bears some significance, in this context, is only valid if/when taking into account the differing Creation accounts written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, (all of which have been considered authoritative/inspired in Ancient Israel).

The significance of "Light" becomes even more apparent when considering other texts, like Proverbs 8, Job, the first book of Enoch, and even John 1--and "Light" takes on a much more mystical/philosophical connotation.

Genesis' account explicitly places "Light," near, or at the very beginning of Creation--even before the "Sun and Moon were given as lights"; This placement at the "beginning," is a Necessary Condition to begin arguing that significance can be inferred hermeneutically, in view of a Systematic Theology, etc, etc. (This would preclude a conclusion that "days" in this passage were computed as 24 hour days, as the Sun was not "given/made/placed" until the fourth day.)

Given all of these texts and sources, the primacy of "Light" takes on a whole new meaning.


Third Alternate Answer:

Interpretation of the Question:

Question: Linguistically, can significance be logically inferred to the "Creation of Light" in view of the fact that Gen. 1:4 explicitly associates "Beautiful/Good" with "light", whereas every other instance of "Good/Beautiful" is implicitly associated by the use of the word "It"?

In Ancient Languages, an expression appearing first can imply emphasis--but primacy in this case is not sufficient to conclude that there is special emphasis/significance--explicitness, anywhere, is not indicative of emphatic construction, unless it is in direct repetition.

In this case, there are more plausible reason for this construction.

Answer: The two explicit references to "light", mentioned in the original question, are not grammatically considered "emphatic constructions"--and by themselves, are insufficient to imply special significance. However, these instances are actually only two parts of a much larger grammatical construction, which spans from Gen. 1:1 to 1:31. This construction actually has a completely different purpose--to emphasize the awesomeness of all Creation.

Grammatical Constructions:

Commonly, in Ancient Languages, there are "Elliptical Constructions" and "Anaphoric Constructions": a.) Elliptical Constructions: omitting one or more words from clause that is nevertheless understood, by inference, from the context, (in the expression, (Coming to be so, It was so, is elliptical, requiring the reader to infer that "the separation of the waters came to be so, etc); b.) Anaphoric Constructions: Requires the reader to infer meaning based on another expression in that same context, (an antecedent or postcedent), (in the expression "it was good," "it" is anaphoric, (specifically, a pronominal suffix, and pronominal article in Greek), referring back to water, etc.

In both of these constructions, the reader must infer what is being spoke about, and substitute some expression in the place of what is missing ...

If the grammatical constructs in Hebrew were truly intended to require the Reader to make inferences, by using elliptical and/or anaphoric constructions, then this would be firmly proven IF the Greek translators conveyed these passage similarly. And--it is the case that these constructions are unmistakingly present in the Greek Septuagint/LXX text of Genesis 1, repeated over and over again.

The Constructions in Greek, Anaphoric/Pronominal, and Elliptical:

ὅτι καλόν = That it was good / a Neuter Construction.

καὶ ἐγένετο οὕτως = and coming to be so / An Adverbial phrase, neither M/F or Neuter.

As expected, The Constructions in Hebrew begin clearly, and explicitly:

Gen. 1:3 - וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי אֹור - וַֽיְהִי־אֹֽור

Gen. 1:3 - And calling/called, God, "light, become", - and light became.

Gen. 1:4 - וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת־הָאֹור כִּי־טֹוב

Gen. 1:4 - And calling/called, God, the light as good.

As expected, the writer continues by beginning to generalize, omitting the explicit phrase, "and the there was a Firmament/Expanse," requiring the reader to make the necessary inferences :

Gen. 1:6 - וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי רָקִיעַ בְּתֹוךְ הַמָּיִם וִיהִי מַבְדִּיל בֵּין מַיִם לָמָֽיִם׃

Gen. 1:6 - And said, God, "Expanse/Firmament, become" ...

Gen. 1:7 - וַיַּעַשׂ אֱלֹהִים אֶת־הָרָקִיעַ וַיַּבְדֵּל בֵּין הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר מִתַּחַת לָרָקִיעַ וּבֵין הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר מֵעַל לָרָקִיעַ וַֽיְהִי־כֵֽן׃

Gen. 1:7 - And made, God, the Expanse/Firmament ... [The reader infers/injects God's command to/for the Expanse/Firmament to become, which was written before] became so.

Remaining true to this form/construction, the writer generalizes even more, providing even less detail, leaving the the reader to make more inferences, and further in contemplation, (before, God made the expanse; but, what God's actions are, in this event, are omitted):

Gen. 1:9 - וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יִקָּווּ הַמַּיִם מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמַיִם אֶל־מָקֹום אֶחָד וְתֵרָאֶה הַיַּבָּשָׁה וַֽיְהִי־כֵֽן׃

Gen. 1:9 - And said, God, Waters, be gathered ... and land be seen ... [the reader infers/injects all the Commands just given, how, etc] ... became so.

The writer continues to use these grammatical constructions, to greater and greater effect, within this passage :

An example of Anaphoric/Pronominal Suffix in the Hebrew Context:

Gen. 1:14 - וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי מְאֹרֹת בִּרְקִיעַ הַשָּׁמַיִם לְהַבְדִּיל בֵּין הַיֹּום וּבֵין הַלָּיְלָה וְהָיוּ לְאֹתֹת וּלְמֹועֲדִים וּלְיָמִים וְשָׁנִֽים׃

Gen. 1:14 - And said, God, "Lights, become in the expanse of the heavens", ... and [lights, (omitted)] become signs ...

This specific passage ends in an Elliptical Construction, leaving the reader considering for themselves just what had happened in the heavens:

Gen. 1:15 - וְהָיוּ לִמְאֹורֹת בִּרְקִיעַ הַשָּׁמַיִם לְהָאִיר עַל־הָאָרֶץ וַֽיְהִי־כֵֽן׃

Gen. 1:15 - "And Lights, become ... to give light on the Earth ... and [injected by inference: the sun, the moon, the stars, nebulae, meteors, ensure God's command] came to be so.

Finally, this entire construction culminates with a very large, awesome, anaphoric/elliptic expression, requiring the reader to compress, and inject, all of those ideas and contemplations into one very small expression:

Gen. 1:31 - ... וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת־כָּל־אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה וְהִנֵּה־טֹוב מְאֹד

Gen. 1:31 - καὶ εἶδεν ὁ θεὸς τὰ πάντα ὅσα ἐποίησεν καὶ ἰδοὺ καλὰ λίαν ...

Gen. 1:31 - And saw, God, all he did--and behold, exceeding beauty!

The reader has to inject/substitute/infer, "a lot of actions" in the place of "all". And, the reader has to inject/substitute/infer, "a lot of created things," to know what was exceedingly beautiful.

In the end, the the writer's use of this grammatical construction is incredibly successful: the reader is left with the sense of being "breathless."

The writer doesn't seem to be able to convey the right words, and doesn't try. The reader is left overwhelmed in contemplation, at a loss to make any inferences, overwhelmed by a sense of awesomeness--the narrative ultimately ending with the creation of Man ...

The emotional sense that the reader is left with is an obvious parallel to the account of Creation in Job.

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  • 2
    If, and Only If--one thing was created on the first day--And If Also--only one act of creation occurred on the first day, then this argument would be valid. But this is precisely what Genesis 1:3-5 says, in a precisely "text only approach". On "Day One" of creation, Gen 1:3-5 depicts God as uttering one creative word, having one outcome. The other things you describe are not presented in Gen 1:1-5 as part of divine creating activity. As deep and profound as the mystery may be, that's how it is! ... /2 – Dɑvïd Nov 20 '14 at 22:58
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    .../cont'd] On language: וַיְהִי [wayəhî] occurs almost 800x! The construction is not ambiguous in Hebrew: it's very clear. I also don't understand what you mean by a "substantive construction", in spite of your kindly including a definition. There are no inferences required here of the kind you seem to be suggesting. – Dɑvïd Nov 20 '14 at 23:00
  • @Davïd - 1.) Added another answer. 2.) Removed comments on "being verbs," to avoid lengthy debate. 3.) Replaced casual references to "substitutions" with real linguistic terms, to clarify. 4.) Regarding Creative Words: a.) Arguing that God only said one thing, on the first day--is an argument from silence, and non-conclusive. b.) Claiming that only one thing was created on first day, just because the text only demonstrates one stated command, assumes that God doesn't act without speaking first; c.) The text does not support this, and contradicts this; d.) This would be great for another topic. – elika kohen Nov 21 '14 at 19:57
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    e.s. kohen, I appreciate that you're trying to improve this post, and I think you have done so. However, please try to batch your edits together a little more. You have now edited 45 times, each time bumping this post to the top of the "active questions" page. This can be a distraction for those who use that page to view new content. Thanks! – Susan Nov 21 '14 at 21:51

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