“Let there be lights in the domed barrier of the skies to separate between the day and the night, and let them be for signs, and for fixed times, and for days, and for years.”
The domed vault or raqî‘a that was made in verses 6-8 to separate and hold back the waters above is now populated with the luminaries: sun, moon, and the stars—with no awareness of the individual distances of each luminary from the earth nor their actual places in the solar system. Here they are presented as two-dimensional buttons on an arched vault behind which are the primordial waters above.
Unlike modern man, ancient man constructed their calendars and measured the progression of time according to the celestial luminaries: predominantly the sun and the moon. The author of Genesis’ first creation account depicts this idea by having the creator deity specify that these luminaries were created for this specific purpose.
The most fascinating, and certainly the most revealing, element here in verse 14 is the claim that these luminaries function, in part, as celestial markers for mankind to identify specific “fixed times.” The Hebrew mo‘adîm is most often translated as “seasons.” But this translation does not capture the full semantic range implied in the word mo‘adîm, and completely misses, I would argue, this author’s subtle argument here.
A mo‘ed, the singular form, was not only a fixed or appointed time (i.e., a specific day set by the appearance or position of the moon), but it was equally a fixed meeting, congregation, or more significantly festival. So the author of this text is claiming that the god who created the habitable world also embedded into the very fabric of the skies luminaries for observing the festival dates, the mo‘adîm, which mankind in general, but the Israelites specifically, were obliged to keep. In other words, the luminaries in part were created so that mankind could know, observe, and keep Yahweh’s festivals, these mo‘adîm!
What exactly are these “festival dates” or mo‘adîm? And why was this author interested in alluding to them in his creation account?
Out of the 158 times that the word mo‘ed appears in the Pentateuch, only 13 of them are from non-P texts! That is to say approximately 92% of all the occurrences of the word mo‘ed in the Pentateuch are found in the Priestly source. This is no coincidence. The Aaronid priestly guild responsible for the composition of this once independent scroll, which scholars conveniently label the Priestly source, was inflexible about the observance of the cult and Yahweh’s mo‘adîm. In fact, according to this priestly guild, and its god, the observance of the sacrificial cult, Yahweh’s festivals, and as we shall see the Sabbath as well, were all intimately woven into the very fabric of the creation of the world itself.
The specific mo‘adîm, “fixed times” or “festivals,” alluded to in Genesis 1:14 are specifically laid out in detail in Leviticus 23—a text penned by the very same author who wrote Genesis 1:1-2:3 (this goes for all of Leviticus), our Aaronid priest!
And Yahweh spoke to Moses saying, “Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: ‘Yahweh’s fixed times/festivals (mo‘adîm) which you shall call holy assemblies—these are my fixed times/festivals (mo‘adîm):’” (Lev 23:2)
The chapter then continues with a list of Yahweh’s “fixed times” (mo‘adîm):
- The 14th day of the 1st new moon is Yahweh’s Passover—an “eternal law” according to this author, and his Yahweh.
- The 15th day of the 1st new moon is Yahweh’s festival of Unleavened Bread—also an “eternal law.”
- The day of the first harvest is the Festival of Weeks, also proclaimed an “eternal law.” And 7 sabbatical weeks later, on the 50th day is Pentecost.
- The 1st day of the 7th new moon is the Horn Blast Holy Day.
- The 10th day of the 7th new moon is the Day of Purgation/Atonement, also an “eternal law.”
- The 15th day of the 7th new moon is the Festival of Booths, also an “eternal law.”
Now you know to what exactly these “fixed times” (mo‘adîm) in Genesis 1:14 refer. They refer to Yahweh’s festivals which were to be observed, eternally, throughout the generations on penalty of death or excommunication.
What the priestly writer has subtly done is to argue that there is no excuse for the non-observance of these mo‘adîm, of Yahweh’s festivals, given that the creator god himself created the luminaries so that man would know when these fixed times/festivals occurred and thus be able to observe them. In other words, according to the views and beliefs of the priest(s) who wrote Genesis 1:1-2:3, the inviolable obligation for all Israelites to observe Yahweh’s appointed holy days and festivals was directly woven into the very fabric of creation itself and indicated to man by way of the celestial luminaries which served as signs informing man when Yahweh’s fixed festivals were to be celebrated. There is no excuse for non-compliance. According to this author, and the god of his text, both the Torah (the book of Leviticus) and the world as God created it bear witness to the eternal obligation of mankind to observe and keep Yahweh’s festivals!
This, then, was the priestly writer’s argument. You can’t, centuries later, “interpret away” these laws which were envisioned as being embedded/created into the very fabric of creation itself. This is to misunderstand and neglect this priestly writer’s and his God’s theological conviction! To impress this upon my modern reader, this would be analogous to “interpreting away” the law of gravity, claiming that we no longer have to follow it. This is just as an absurd and impossible a claim to us as it would have been to claim that one no longer needed to follow Yahweh’s fixed festivals (mo‘adîm) to the priestly writer and the Yahweh of his text. Like the law of gravity, these were laws embedded into the very fabric of the world itself. They don’t just disappear or become obsolete.
This is what I mean when I advocate that our goal as a culture is to understand these ancient texts on their own terms and beliefs, and be able to faithfully reproduce them. From there the real conversation begins: Hmm… this is a fascinating worldview. We certainly don’t hold to it today, nor do we worship a god who does. Hmm again… Doesn’t this mean that these “eternal laws” were subjectively held “truths” by this elite priestly guild, shaped by his cultural perspectives and worldview, and then transferred onto the god of his text? Hmm… what are the ramifications of this properly contextualized understanding of these ancient texts and what does it mean with respect to how we as a culture view the Bible?
Modern day Creationists or fundamentalists who claim, ignorantly and hypocritically it must be acknowledged, that they believe in the creation narrative of Genesis 1 are just being dishonest and negligent about this ancient text. The text does not validate nor support their claims. For they do not believe in the beliefs expressed in this text, and legitimated by this text’s god. A proper and correctly contextualized reading of the text itself convincingly demonstrates this point. Moreover, as we have seen with respect to the worldview expressed in Genesis 1:1-10, so too here: it is constructed on culturally and subjectively shaped beliefs and perceptions about the world which were then transferred to the creator deity of this text.
This can be illustrated again even here. The fact that the moon is presented as “the lesser light” (1:16) among the other celestial luminaries reflects the subjective and cultural perceptions and beliefs inherent to the ancient world. Since the sun’s light reflects off of the moon—a knowledge that our ancient biblical scribe did not possess—the moon was falsely perceived as producing its own light. This culturally conditioned “truth” was then transferred onto the god of its text so that our biblical scribe presents God’s creation of the moon as the creation of a light producing source, as he himself understood it! God now creates not the moon per se, but how the moon was perceived by our biblical author and his culture!