After the first few verses, the creation account in Genesis 1 falls into a pattern, almost a refrain. The pattern goes like this: “And God said, ‘Let there be….’ And it was so. God made…. And God saw that it was good…. And there was evening, and there was morning, the ____ day.”
Nothing new here; anyone who has read Genesis 1 is familiar with the pattern. Whenever there is a pattern in the Bible, the first thing you should look for is any deviation from the pattern. This is usually a clue that you should pay close attention, something important is being said here. For instance, the most familiar deviation comes on the sixth day after God has created humanity, when he pronounces that his creation is not just good but very good. But it’s not the only deviation in the chapter.
The above pattern holds when God creates most things. “And God said, ‘Let there be….’ And it was so. God made….” It could be translated (and punctuated) another way to make the pattern clearer. “And God said, ‘I want there to be….’ And so there was: God made….” In other words, God formulated what he wanted to happen in his mind first, and then he went about making real the plans that were in his mind. The “God made…” chronologically falls between the time he said, “I want there to be” and the “And it was so.” It would be as if a man were talking to his neighbor and said, “So I said, ‘I want to build a deck on my house.’ So I did: I went to the store and bought some pressure-treated wood, some deck screws, and a book on building decks, and I built a deck. Took me three months, but I did it.” It wasn’t him saying that he wanted to build a deck that caused the deck to be built—how many times have any of us said something like, “I’m going to lose 10 pounds,” and yet they’re still here (and they brought some friends). No, the saying didn’t do it, it was the actual building that did it, and that is how, for the most part, it works in Genesis 1. In fact, on the 5th day (vs. 20-23), when God made the sea-swimming and sky-flying creatures, there is no “And it was so.” It’s just, “And God said….So God created….” There’s no explanation of how. It could have been just by speaking the words, as many have just assumed, but it could have been some other process. It doesn’t say how, it just says that God did it: he made everything that has been made. God created or made things.
The deviation from this pattern is on Day 1, back in verse 3: “Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.” If it followed the pattern it would say, “Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and it was so. God made the light, and separated the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.” But “made” or “created” don’t appear. God said it, and the saying made it happen. There was light.
In Genesis 1, light is the only thing created directly by the spoken word. The speaking wasn’t just a statement of intent or the setting forth of plans; it in itself was the creative event.
It’s as if the ancient Hebrews understood that light is fundamentally different from the rest of creation; that it is basic to all life, foundational for the rest of creation. But that’s not all: somehow light is created from the Creator in a way that is fundamentally different than the rest of creation. While everything else is made by him, light emanates from God. Humans may be made in God’s image, but light is somehow connected to God’s very being.
Light is sight; without light, everything would be blind.
Light is warmth; without light, the world would be a frozen wasteland.
Light is therefore life; without light nothing could live.
Beyond that, light is enlightenment; we see (understand) things that were previously hidden until someone or someone enlightened us.
And light is truth. Lies can exist only in the darkness where none can see. A lie is exposed when it is brought to light, and the truth is revealed.
Yes, the ancient Hebrews clearly understood that light is fundamentally different than the rest of creation, even if they didn’t understand the science behind it. And that is why light is the only thing created by the spoken Word of God.
And that is why John, a good Jew and clearly understanding this as well, opened his Gospel with Genesis 1 firmly in mind:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it…. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.