A mighty wind on the waters blew. Alleluia.
Soon a whole world stood shiny and new. Alleluia.
Planets and stars in the heavenly spheres, alleluia.
Mark the seasons, days, and years. Alleluia.
Which did God create
first—light or the sun and stars?
On the first day God created
light and separated it from the darkness. (Think of it as temporal
separation—alternating times of dark and light.) But God didn’t create the
sun, moon and stars until the fourth day. Whatever astrological theories
about stars and planets, their attendant gods, and their influences on life
down here may have been current in Israel and
her neighbors, the Bible does not condemn them as religiously or
scientifically false. Only, don’t give these cosmic gods the time of day.
Look, they’re only fourth in the order of things God made.
As for that particular bit
of Biblical science, it’s completely impossible, of course. It doesn’t even
help to reinterpret the days as ages. But Israelite “scientists” would have
been quite comfortable with the story as it stands. You can understand why if
you think about it. What do we see first every day? Not the sun
but light. The Israelites’ idea about the sun is that it “rules the
day.” That’s not the same as making it. The moon and stars “rule the night,”
and they don't make that either.
This creation story pulls
the heavenly bodies down from the exalted status they have in other religious
systems. It wasn’t because those gods weren’t real. It’s not clear just when
the Jews became true monotheists. What is clear is that worshiping a sun god
or a moon god didn’t fit with an important insight that the Jews gave us:
something new is possible in the history of this world. All the heavenly
bodies follow unchanging circular patterns in the sky. To worship these
beings, that is, to put them in control, is make yourself a slave not so much
to gods as to ever-repeating patterns on earth.
The Israelites' God was not
bound to any cycles of nature or the cosmos, and that was a freeing belief.
The Israelites were ordered not to worship any God but Yahweh. They were
commanded to be free. Why did the Israelites so often fall back into
worshiping those other gods? I think it’s because it was hard to get used to
living without the comfort that comes from repeating patterns and the freedom
from care that control by cosmic forces can provide.
That’s probably a universal
temptation. In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar Cassius has to
buck up his fellow conspirator: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” St. Paul knows
that these false gods tempted the early Christians. He assures them:
I am convinced that neither
death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future
things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be
able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:
A footnote in the New
American Bible explains, “Height, depth may refer to positions in the zodiac,
positions of heavenly bodies relative to the horizon. In astrological
documents the term for "height" means "exaltation" or the
position of greatest influence exerted by a planet.”
The negative “Thou shalt
not” that forbade worship of other gods was a step toward freedom for the
Jews and for us. But they took a positive step in that direction, too. They
gave themselves one day of rest in every seven. “Remember to keep holy the
Sabbath Day.” This was probably a Jewish observance before
the story of the seven days of creation was composed. That story, with God
resting on the seventh day, provided a sort of divine justification
for the Sabbath.
Six days to work and one to
wind down. Alleluia.
Should have been the other way around. Alleluia.
Before Israel was
a nation, the Egyptians had a fling with something like monotheism. Pharaoh
Akhenaton proposed the Sun God as the creator of the universe and all the
other gods. But Egypt never
accomplished the religious freedom in relation to life's necessities that Israel did.
The Israelites may have been
lucky in that they came from a people who worshiped the moon. The moon’s
cycle divides neatly into four weeks of seven days. That number seven has
very little to do with the business of life in an agricultural community. For
practical purposes it’s the seasons that matter much more than the weeks. If
farmers worship the sun, their religion is directly tied to their work; but
not so, or not so much, if they worship the moon.
Abraham’s descendants, who
no longer worshiped the moon, took the next huge step. Religion had always
been support for the patterns that make a society’s existence possible. For
the Jews religion became something more. There’s more to life than survival.
The weekly Sabbath wasn’t just a break in the routine so you could return to
work refreshed the next day. It was a “holy” day. Every week it forced the
Jews to remember “something more,” whatever that is. Twenty-first
century America, a
society that has nearly lost the Sabbath, may be losing more than that.
to Adam and Eve