Reformed Baptist Fellowship

God’s creational provision for the accounting of time in terms of days and years, including periodic festivals?

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on July 5, 2016 at 12:40 pm


Copyright © 2016 Richard C. Barcellos. All rights reserved.

In a previous chapter mention was made of the days of creation as paradigmatic for man’s week. In Genesis 1, a creational provision for the accounting of time on the earth was infused into the created realm. Genesis 1:14-19 says:

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. 1:14-19)

Commenting on Genesis 1:14-19, Wenham says:

The creation of the sun, moon, and stars is described in much greater length than anything save the creation of man. The description is also quite repetitive. The fullness of the description suggests that the creation of the heavenly bodies held a special significance for the author . . .[1]

On day four, the Creator infused into the realm of creation the means by which day and night are to be separated (Gen. 1:14, 18) and governed (Gen. 1:16, 18). Psalm 136, evoking God’s acts at creation, indicates that the Creator “made the heavens with skill” (Psalm 136:5a), “spread out the earth above the waters” (Psalm 136:6a), “made the great lights” (Psalm 136:7a), made “[t]he sun to rule by day” (Psalm 136:8a) and “[t]he moon and stars to rule by night” (Psalm 136:9a). These provisions are coeval with creation. They are the divine means by which humans are to account for temporal divisions, “for days and years” (Gen. 1:14), for “day” and “night” (Gen. 1:16).

Of special interest is the clause in Genesis 1:14, “and let them be for signs and for seasons.” The Holman Christian Standard Bible translates this as “They will serve as signs for festivals.” The New International Version has “let them serve as signs to mark seasons.” The variety in translation is interesting to note. This indicates that the translators wrestled with the exact nuances indicated by the terms used. In a 2003 article in the Tyndale Bulletin, David J. Rudolph argues for the translation “festivals” or “festivals and seasons.”[2] He supports the plausibility of his translation on various factors: modern English and non-English translations,[3] lexicons and theological dictionaries,[4] commentaries,[5] and “recent studies on Israel’s calendar.”[6] The bulk of his article surveys usage distribution in the Torah. His focus is on the word moed, translated “seasons” (NASB and NIV) and “festivals” (HCSB) in Genesis 1:14. He sums up his survey of usage distribution as follows:

To sum up, out of 224 occurrences of [moed] in the Hebrew Bible, 197 are singular and twenty-seven are plural (including Gn. 1:14). Table 3 indicates that of the twenty-six plural forms subsequent to the creation account, twenty-two mean ‘festivals’. This demonstrates that the plural form of [moed] eighty-five percent of the time means ‘festivals’ in the Hebrew Bible. The figure rises to one hundred percent in the Torah, the literary background of Genesis 1:14. Moreover, when all the exact lexical forms of [moed] in Genesis 1:14 are extracted from Table 3 and evaluated, the ‘festivals’ rendering occurs one hundred percent of the time.[7]

Rudolph also notes the immediate literary context within which Genesis 1:14 occurs. It contains priestly language and “places strong emphasis on order and separation.”[8] The priestly language is seen in the fourth day’s provision of “lights.” “[A]ll other occurrences of [this term] in the Torah refer to lamps in the [tent of meeting] (Ex. 25:6; 27:20; 35:8, 14, 28; 39:37; Lv. 24:2; Nu. 4:9, 16).”[9] The term “lamp” is used “as a metonymy for sun and moon (Gn. 1:14, 15, 16 [3x]).”[10] Rudolph concludes: “. . . the writer of Genesis 1 uses this cultic imagery to depict the sun and moon as being like ‘sacred lamps in the sanctuary of the universe’.”[11]

The emphasis on order and separation is seen in various ways in Genesis 1.

God divides his creation into distinct spheres. Light is separated from darkness, day from night, waters above from waters below, earth from seas, plants from trees, birds from fish, cattle from wild animals, and male from female. The verb . . . (to separate) occurs five times in Genesis 1 (vv. 4, 6, 7, 14, 18). Notably, two out of the five references are to the fourth day of creation; one reference is in Genesis 1:14.

Viewed against the backdrop of havdil [i.e., separation] imagery, the string of plural nouns . . . in Genesis 1:14 may arguably be a division of two types of time: sacred time (signs and festivals) and ordinary time (days and years).[12]

Commenting on Genesis 1:14, Gordon J. Wenham says:

What is clear is the importance attached to the heavenly bodies’ role in determining the seasons, in particular in fixing the days of cultic celebration. This is their chief function.[13]

This function is creational, both prior to the fall into sin and Israel’s later calendar.

What does all of this have to do with our discussion? There is a creational provision for accounting both ordinary time and sacred time, for days and years, and for festivals in the midst of days and years. These were to occur on a regular basis, the sun and moon being signs which indicate the passing of one day to another. The seventh day should not be forgotten in this creational sequence and qualitative distinction of time. As Randolph says, “Analogous to such a qualitative time distinction is the relationship between the first six days of creation and the seventh day.”[14] Relying on Rudolph’s work, Beale says:

Since we have seen that the notion of “sanctify” elsewhere in the OT often is related to setting apart people, things, and certainly days as holy for cultic purposes, it is natural to see that God’s sanctifying of the seventh day in Gen. 2:3 is one of those festival days included in Gen. 1:14, which is part of the temporal divisions within which Gen. 1:14 says humans are to live.[15]

Since Genesis 1:14 establishes qualitative time distinctions, the seventh day is the first occurrence of such. It is a day qualitatively distinct from days one through six; on it God rested.

One more factor is important to consider. Rudolph asserted: “. . . the writer of Genesis 1 uses this cultic imagery to depict the sun and moon as being like ‘sacred lamps in the sanctuary of the universe’.”[16] If this is the case, and I think the evidence above supports this view, this comports with viewing the heavens and the earth as God’s cosmic temple. It also ties in with Adam’s identity and vocation. As God worked in creation unto consummation, so Adam was to do the same according to his creaturely capacity and calling. As Beale puts it:

. . . just as God subdued and ruled over the chaos at the inception of creation, so Adam was to subdue and rule over the earth [and] just as God created and filled the earth, so was Adam to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.”[17]

Just as God entered into his rest from his creative work, so Adam was to do the same according to his creaturely capacity and vocation. Adam, by virtue of his obedience in accord with the covenant imposed upon him, was to work then enter God’s rest. Beale says:

Just as God had achieved heavenly rest after [creating] and constructing the beginning of his creational temple, so Adam presumably would achieve unending rest after . . . extending the boundaries of the glorious Eden temple around the entire earth.[18]

As Owen says, “for herein [i.e., the covenant of works] rest with God was proposed unto him as the end or reward of his own works . . .”[19] We could add this as well: though Adam failed as a public person to work then enter God’s rest on behalf of others, Christ as a public person successfully worked then entered God’s rest on behalf of others. The rest God proffered to Adam was attained by Christ, indicated by the reward of resurrection.

The separation of days mentioned above is reflected in the subsequent narrative in Genesis. After the fall into sin, days, weeks, and years are mentioned (e.g., Gen. 5:3-32). Moses notes that after a period of days cultic acts were conducted. In Genesis 4:3 we read, “So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground.” No commands for such are mentioned prior to this event. Cain and Abel brought offerings to the LORD without a command recorded by Moses and, literally, “at the end of days.” This act of worship occurs after a non-specified period of days after the fall into sin. Somehow they knew that God required offerings and, quite plausibly, they knew these were to be offered at specific times (Gen. 1:14). As well, Moses wrote of this event that predated him, most likely either by the testimony of others passed down to him or by direct revelation from God. In either case, offerings were made “at the end of days” quite early in the post-fall narrative. The concept of days does not seem to be an introduction of anything new in man’s experience, nor does the concept of offerings “at the end of days.” If Genesis 1:14 indicates a creational provision for both days, years, and festivals (i.e., acts of worship on a given day or days), then the almost casual mention of offerings “at the end of days” makes sense.[20]


[1] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 21.

[2] David J. Rudolph. “Festivals in Genesis 1:14,” Tyndale Bulletin 54.2 (2003): 23-40.

[3] Rudolph. “Festivals in Genesis,” 23-24.

[4] Rudolph. “Festivals in Genesis,” 24.

[5] Rudolph. “Festivals in Genesis,” 24-25.

[6] Rudolph. “Festivals in Genesis,” 25-26.

[7] Rudolph. “Festivals in Genesis,” 31.

[8] Rudolph. “Festivals in Genesis,” 33.

[9] Rudolph. “Festivals in Genesis,” 32. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, says: “’light, lamp’ is always used in the Pentateuch to designate the sanctuary lamp in the tabernacle . . .” (22).

[10] Rudolph. “Festivals in Genesis,” 32.

[11] Rudolph. “Festivals in Genesis,” 32. Rudolph is quoting another scholar.

[12] Rudolph. “Festivals in Genesis,” 33.

[13] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 23.

[14] Rudolph. “Festivals in Genesis,” 33.

[15] Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 780.

[16] Rudolph. “Festivals in Genesis,” 32.

[17] Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 776.

[18] Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 40.

[19] Owen, Works, 18:338. Owen’s treatment of “A Day of Sacred Rest” argues in many places for an eschatological function of God’s rest from the beginning. He views God’s rest as proffering to Adam a quality of life to be obtained via obedience.

[20] See Martin, The Christian Sabbath, 63-65 for discussion on Gen. 4:3-4.

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