| In the last article the origin of language was presented as being given by God with a complete set of complex rules that cannot be broken. That the normal reading of scripture and the literal method was His intention in creating language starting with Adam in order for mankind to understand what He has to say, but the allegorical method has been brought in to confuse and pervert the plain meaning. The allegorical is what the Greeks used to minimize the moral difficulty of their gods. When one wants to change the plain sense, for whatever reason, the most typical method used to move the reader away from the plain to their perverse is by means of allegory or some variant thereof. In this article an examination of typical interpretative errors will be presented and a systematic look at the sun and moon will follow.|
Today we face an interpretative battle with fellow evangelicals and it is getting really ugly as the literal approach is attacked in favor of one of the following interpretative errors that have been identified by Dr. John McLean in the book The Fundamentals for the Twenty-First Century (Mal Couch, gen.ed., Grand Rapids:Kregel, 2000). A summary of Dr. McLean's observations follows:
The Sun, Moon and Stars
It is time to take a systematic look at the sun, moon and stars. The common word for sun in Hebrew is shemesh from an unused root meaning "to be brilliant." In the Greek, sun is the word helios which comes from a root meaning "a ray." The normal use of the word is for the literal sun - that object of brilliance that God created and placed in the heavens. Of the 160 times the word is used in the Bible its primary use is literal, however, it can be observed to have several contextual meanings. A short list follows:
The sun serves as the center of our solar system, around which the earth travels and receives both its light and heat. Its light is denoted by the additional Hebrew words found for sun 'or meaning "light" (cf. Job 31:26), and heat by the word chammah (cf. Job 30:28). Sun worship dominated the nations surrounding Israel and the too, despite prohibition by the Law (Deu. 4:19) at times fell into sun-worship (cf. 2 Kg 21:3). So exacting is the movement of the sun that the ancient built elaborate sun-dials which trace the movement of the sun throughout the yearly cycle.
The word for moon in the Hebrew is yareach and serves as an important object for mankind and the earth as the physical effect of the moon on the earth are realized. The word month yerah is derived from moon, reflecting the moon's importance as a reliable source on measuring time. Time is often counted by the moon's lunar cycle. In the New Testament Greek the word for moon is selene. The moon is not only used as a literal object but also in the following ways:
The moon serves to illuminate the night and regulates the seasons. The calendar of the ancients centered around the cycle of the moon, so the word Hebrew month is derived. The moon has three primary distinctions in the Hebrew; yareach meaning the its "paleness;" chodesh meaning "new moon;" and lebanah meaning the moon from its "whiteness."
Moon worship was fairly common in the ancient Near East. The pagan cults made human sacrifices to their various moon gods. Moon worship was even taken up by Manasseh who promoted it as part of worshiping "all the hosts of heaven" (2 Kg. 21:3-5).
The Hebrews grouped all heavenly bodies except the sun and moon into the word star. The Hebrew for star is kokab and the Greek astron or aster. Along with the literal use, stars are used in many ways including the following:
Stars served the ancients along with the sun and moon as navigational guides. So it is that they are the least luminaries of the heavens. The pagan nations used the stars in a magical way, hence, the term stargazer (Hebrew chozeh, "seer"). They used the stars as astrological guides for life that the Bible calls magic and forbids. Astrology sought to see and foretell the future.
God Created the Sun, Moon and Stars
The fashioning of the sun, moon and stars on the forth day are found to be a literal historical event and is described in the first book of the Bible. Genesis 1:16 says God made (Heb. 'asah, "to do," "make," fashion," "to accomplish"; and literally here, "continues to make." The incomplete action is significant) the sun and moon. God alone carefully placed them in the heavens as He saw fit and provides the purpose for their creation:
14 Then God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years; 15 and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth"; and it was so. 16 God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also. 17 God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good. 19 There was evening and there was morning, a fourth day. (Gen. 1:14-20)
1. Purpose. The purpose for creating the objects of the firmament is primarily to separate or divide the day from the night; but too, for the purpose of being: (a) signs, both in the sense of a miracle (cf. Matt. 2:2; Luke 21:25; Joel 2:30; Jer. 10:2; Matt. 24:29 & etc), and in the sense of good or bad weather; (b) seasons, not merely for festal seasons but to establish fixed points and periods of time based on a periodic basis for the four seasons and all that means for man, animal, plant, and earth; (c) for days in a literal sense of time; and (d) for years in a literal sense of counting time and history (Some have tightly connected signs to days and years by what is called a Hendiadys. But there is a division of opinion on this, and I take these to stand as independent objects).
In typical Hebrew style, the primary point is repeated, "so let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to cause to be a light upon the earth; and it was so" (v. 15). The greater light [the sun] rules the day. The Hebrew word rule (memshalah, "rule, "dominion," "realm") has the idea of having a domain whose rulership is defined and where a rule of law is held. The rule of the sun involves the domain of the day (yom, "day," "a 24 hour period," "a period of daylight," "a period in general," whose root means "to be hot") as is properly defined as the natural daylight or that period which allows mankind to work by the light of the day. By rule is meant all things that the sun physically provides the earth, moon, and stars. Principally, physical laws that are known and unknown (e.g., laws of gravity, photons, & etc). Likewise, "and the lesser light [the moon] to rule the night; the stars also." God has established a set of rules or physical laws that govern the moon and stars, as well, a set of laws that the moon and stars provides the earth. The moon and stars reflect the light of the sun by night and is understood by the Hebrew word for night (lul) whose root meaning is "to fold back." That is, the greater (day or sun) is folded back (cf. Ps. 136:8, "the sun governs the day").
Again, as if to restrict mankind from placing to much interpretative nonsense on the text, the author stresses for the third time the primary purpose for the heavenly objects that He carefully placed in the sky – to give light to the earth, to rule over day and night, and provide a separation between light and dark (vv. 17-18).
The Hebrews distinguished the day as follows: the early morning until the sun is hot (1 Sam. 11:9; Heh. 7:3); the heat of the day in late morning and afternoon (Gen. 18:1; 1 Sam. 11:11; 2 Sam. 4:5); and the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8); the twilight "between the two evenings" was the period after sunset but before dark (Ex. 12:6).
The apostle Paul likens the difference between the quality of the light that the sun, moon and stars provide to the difference between the earthly and heavenly human body (vv. 42-49) when he writes:
There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. (1 Cor. 15:40-41)
What is distinguished by Paul in 1 Corinthians is the heavenly is different (Greek heteros, "another of a different kind") in kind than the earthly. The different glories of the sun, moon and stars are distinguished (Greek ollos, "another of the same kind") in the way they carry (Greek diaphero, "to carry differently," here, in the impersonal "difference in importance") their individual glories. The moon and stars would not shine if the sun did not provide the light.
God Actively Controls the Sun, Moon and Stars
Not only has God placed the sun, moon, and stars in the heavens as He saw fit but, He actively controls them as is demonstrated by "stilling" them in the sky for Joshua and the Israelite army (Josh. 10:12-13), and moving the sun back on the sundial of Ahaz as a sign for Hezekiah that God would heal him of his terminal illness (2 Kings 20:1-11). The Hebrew makes it clear as it literally says, "and He [the LORD] caused to return the shadow backwards by ten steps" (v. 11b). The causative verb "caused to return" makes it clear where the source of the control lies – with the LORD alone.
In several areas of Scripture, God speaks of His active control over His creation.
5 He removes the mountains, and they do not know When He overturns them in His anger; 6 He shakes the earth out of its place, And its pillars tremble; 7 He commands the sun, and it does not rise; He seals off the stars; 8 He alone spreads out the heavens, And treads on the waves of the sea; 9 He made the Bear, Orion, and the Pleiades, And the chambers of the south; 10 He does great things past finding out, Yes, wonders without number. 11 If He goes by me, I do not see Him; If He moves past, I do not perceive Him; 12 If He takes away, who can hinder Him? Who can say to Him, 'What are You doing?' 13 God will not withdraw His anger, The allies of the proud lie prostrate beneath Him. (Job. 9:5-13)
Job 9:7 says, "He commands the sun, and it does not rise." What makes this a literal statement? The context! In Job 9:5, Job says, "It is God who removes the mountains, they know not how, When He overturns them in His anger." This "removes or movement" ('athaq, "to move," "proceed," "be removed") of the mountains is in the causative making God the agent and refers to either a removal of a mountain as in a mudslide, a volcanic eruption where the mountain's lava serves to build a new mountain next to the old, or moves the mountains in the sense of an earthquake. Then in verse 6, Job says "Who shakes the earth out of its place, And its pillars tremble" no doubt speaks of earthquakes and all that entails. Then in verse 8, "Who alone stretches out the heavens And tramples down the waves of the sea." These are literal, historical events. Verse 9 continues with this theme of God's sovereign creation and control over His creation with verse 10 which gives the crescendo to the section essentially saying God's greatness is seen not only by His unfathomable ("great things that cannot be found out") and wondrous works, but man cannot count them. Man cannot even know all of them. This is the doctrine of God's infiniteness, omnipotence and omniscience.
The interpreter cannot spiritualize the text as some have tried, saying for example, that the removing of the mountains are a figurative way of saying that God removes nations, since nations are referred to as mountains. The interpreter cannot take the Bible as a whole, mix it up, like a salad bowl, and pull out information without regard for context. Some interpreters ignore the literal and go straight for the "spiritual," saying something like, "God can move the big mountains in your life." While the desire to make the text mean something practical to the person in the pew is a good thing, the main point of the text cannot be skipped over or minimized. The context involves real objects, real events and the point of the section involves God's unfathomable works that are visible, so there is no reason to make this section mean anything other than what it says. God is sovereign over His creation and that creation includes mankind! Is that not good enough for some? Are man's words better that God's? Does the interpreter have to improve God's word? The personal application is found as one continues through the verses of chapter 9, but to spiritualize this section is to do great harm to the plain reading of the Word.
In Psalm 104, the psalmist speaks of the sovereign control God has over creation. For example:
19 He made the moon for the seasons; The sun knows the place of its setting. 20 You appoint darkness and it becomes night, In which all the beasts of the forest prowl about. 21 The young lions roar after their prey And seek their food from God. 22 When the sun rises they withdraw And lie down in their dens. 23 Man goes forth to his work And to his labor until evening.
Psalm 104 says that God has appointed to each unique part of His creation an appointed part. The rules are for every aspect of life whether one observes it or not. For example in verses 19 through 23, the psalmist describes the aspect of the "season" (mo'ed, "appointed time," "season," or "place") of night. This particular season is night where the prowling beasts seek prey. The sun knows (yada', "to know") when to go down so that the appointed time called night can come in. The sun is described as "knowing," as if it had a mind. The lion is described as understanding why it hunts at night, as if he actually understood why that was. The man understands why he labors by day. These are general rules of life that each object lives by and in general cannot change. They are natures built into each one. The sun ruled by the natural laws we call physics. The lion the natural laws we call instinct. The man the natural laws called necessity. The sun cannot change its nature any more than the lion can change his.
In this case the literal interpreter does not say that the sun literally "knows" as if it had a mind and can understand its purpose, but this is clearly understood to be a literary means of explaining that even those objects that have a mind and capable of understanding, observe the natural function of the lion who hunts by night, and the man who labors by day, but to truly understand why, that is left to the Creator alone.
In the final period before the establishing of the Davidic kingdom, God will either change the quality of the sun or bring opportunity for the sun to scorch (kaumatizo, "to burn with heat," i.e, signifies the result of burning; hence to brand or sear) the inhabitants of the earth:
8 The fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun, and it was given to it to scorch men with fire. 9 Men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory. 10 Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became darkened; and they gnawed their tongues because of pain, 11 and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds. (Rev. 16:8-11)
The result of the intense nature of the sun, either as a result of a change in the sun itself, or bringing about circumstances on the earth which creates an environment for the sun to burn with full force all the extended day, is that sores (helkos, "sore," esp., a wound producing a discharge) are upon the men (cf. the seeds that are burned up by the sun in Matt. 16:2-3).
It is understood that both the sun and moon will have a wholly different nature in the last days as the light of the sun will be seven times greater than normal and the moon will be a light as the sun:
The light of the moon will be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven days, on the day the LORD binds up the fracture of His people and heals the bruise He has inflicted (Isa. 30:26).
God Removes the Sun and Moon
Just as surely as God created the sun, moon, and stars, so He will someday remove them. There will be no need for the sun and moon in the new earth. This is clear in the Old Testament by the word of the Lord in Isaiah 60:
No longer will you have the sun for light by day, Nor for brightness will the moon give you light; But you will have the LORD for an everlasting light, And your God for your glory. Your sun will no longer set, Nor will your moon withdraw; For you will have the LORD for an everlasting light, And the days of your mourning will be over. (Isa. 60:19-20)
Just as surely as God created the sun for light by day, He will remove its light, saying literally, " [The] light of the sun will not be for you for the light by day." Likewise the moon will not provide light by night. They will be replaced by the light of the Lord. Notice in verse 20 the sun goes down (bow', "to come," "go"), but the moon withdraws ('acaph, "gather together," "take away," the root idea is an association, i.e., the moon is tightly associated with the sun – the moon has no glory apart from the sun).
The New Testament tells the story of the New Jerusalem and the light present there. The Lord Himself will provide all the light needed at that time as His Shechinah (Hebrew shaken, "to dwell") Glory - the dwelling presence of God provides the illumination:
23 The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. 24 And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. 25 Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). (Rev. 21:23-25; cf. 22:5)
As can be seen in this article, God not only created the sun, moon and stars, but He actively controls them, holding them up by His power. The elements of the heavens are real and will at some point in the future change in their character and eventually go away, replaced by the light of the glory of the Lord Himself. These facts cannot be denied. There is nothing to indicate a spiritual reading of these events. It is only by interpretative error that they be minimized and their truth be perverted. In the next article the metaphorical use of the sun, moon and stars will be examined and a closer look at the subject of dramatic hyperbole will be examined.