Light in the Darkness

Genesis 1:2-5

October 15, 2022 | Brian Bill

During the summer between my first and second year at Moody Bible Institute, I had the privilege of teaching at a Bible College in Zimbabwe, Africa.  This experience marked my life and ministry in countless ways.  One of the memories I have is how dark it was at night.  Because we were in a rural area, there were no streetlights or neon signs.  When the sun went down it was pitch dark.  

During the first week we had an activity at the Bible School at night and when it was over, I headed to the dormitory which was located about ¼ mile away.  I somehow got separated from others and found myself walking in deep darkness across a soccer field.  I felt disoriented, distressed, alone, and afraid.  I knew the dorm was at the end of the field, but I couldn’t see anything.  It was so dark I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face.  I kept walking very slowly, squinting in the hopes of finding some sort of light to guide my way.  I finally saw the faint beam from a classmate’s flashlight and made my way back.

Over 20 years ago, National Geographic ran an article called, “The Power of Light.”  The introduction caught my attention:

“Light reveals the world to us.  Body and soul crave it.  Light sets our biological clocks.  It triggers in our brains the sensations of color.  Light feeds us, supplying the energy of plants to grow.  It inspires us with special effects like rainbows and sunsets.  Light gives us life-changing tools, from incandescent bulbs to lasers and fiber optics.  Scientists don’t fully understand what light is or what it can do.  They just know that it will illuminate our future.”

A recent article with the same title incorporated some new discoveries.  Here’s an excerpt.

“There has been light from the beginning…in all its forms—visible and invisible—it saturates the universe…no one is exactly sure how to describe it…it is a measure of light’s importance in our daily lives that we hardly pay any attention to it.  Light is almost like air.  It’s a given.  A human would no more linger over the concept of light than a fish would ponder the notion of water.  There are exceptions, certain moments of sudden appreciation when a particular manifestation of light, a transitory glory, appears—a rainbow, a sunset, a pulse of heat lightning in a dark sky, the shimmering surface of the sea at twilight…usually, though, we don’t see light, we merely see with it.”

We’re continuing in our series from the first chapter of Genesis called, “Back to the Beginning.”  Last week we camped in the very first verse: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” and discovered this truth: Genesis has a big beginning because God is a big God.  

Our topic today is “Light in the Darkness,” and our text is found in Genesis 1:2-5.  Let’s stand and read it reverently together: “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.  And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.  And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.  And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.  And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”  After pondering this passage, I wrote down a summary sentence: When God says it, that settles it.  Let’s walk through it phrase by phrase and worship while we do so.

I like how one pastor captured the creation account: “The creation story is cast in the form of a prose poem.  It is written in terse, controlled phrases with rhythmic repetitions, the slow ascent of the cosmic drama culminating in the creation of humankind.”  Let’s look at some of these phrases now.

1. God’s setting. 

In verse 1 we see that God created the universe.  In verse 2, we begin with a vivid description of the situation on earth: “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.”  The phrase “without form” refers to a wasteland and means, “empty, barren, and formless” while “void” refers to “a lack of boundary, order, or definition.”  

I don’t make it a practice of quoting the original Hebrew because my Wisconsin accent messes up the proper pronunciation.  However, the Hebrew words for “without form and void” are fun to say because they reverberate with mystery and a sense of foreboding: “to-hu” and “bo-hu.”  

On top of the empty formlessness, deep “darkness” was upon the “face of the deep.”  Darkness often symbolizes disorder and uncertainty.  The “deep” refers to the heaving abyss of the primeval ocean as it roared and raged.  One commentator describes earth at that time “as shapeless as liquid water.”  Jeremiah 4:23 pictures a coming catastrophe like the undoing of creation: “I looked on the earth, and behold, it was without form and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light.”   

Many planets in our solar system are empty, dark, and deep.  For example, Jupiter is composed primarily of 90% hydrogen and 10% helium.  One source referred to it as a turbulent, stormy, whirlpool of wind.”  At the base of Jupiter’s atmosphere, pressures are so great, hydrogen gas is turned into a liquid.

Similar to Jupiter, the earth was uninhabitable, uninhabited, unfinished, and unfilled before Elohim fashioned it.  In addition, it was dark, desolate, and deep before His design was fully developed.  It’s fascinating how the opening of Genesis speaks of darkness and the deep and at the very end of Bible, we read of no more seas and no more darkness (Revelation 21:1, 25).

As we journey through the six days of creation, we’ll see two triads.  God formed creation on days 1-3, and He filled, or finished creation, on days 4-6.  Last week, I mentioned this helpful phrase from commentator Matthew Henry: “God created the frame and the furniture of the universe.”  Isaiah 45:18 says: “He did not create it empty, He formed it to be inhabited.  I am the Lord and there is no other.”

2. God’s Spirit. 

God is not some detached deity who flung things into existence from a distance.  Nor is He a mere cosmic force.  He was personally involved as He took what was formless and empty and filled it with His furniture.  Look at the last part of verse 2: “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”  

The word for “Spirit” is “wind or breath.”  The idea that the Holy Spirit is “hovering” creates a sense of expectation that something big is about to happen.  He is attentive and poised for action.  In the darkness, there is movement as the Spirit goes back and forth, watching and waiting for God to reveal Himself in an explosion of light.

One pastor points out a progression in the three parallel clauses in verse 2.

  • The negative: “The earth was without form and void.”
  • The ambiguous: “Darkness was over the face of the deep.”
  • The hopeful: “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”

Interestingly, in Genesis 1:1, the word “created” is in the simple completed form.  In verse 2, the word “hovering” is in the intensive form, meaning the Spirit was moving continually.  Likewise, the Holy Spirit is described as a dove hovering over and upon Jesus after His baptism in Matthew 3:16: “Behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him.”

“Hovering” is a beautiful word in Hebrew.  It means, “to flutter or fly.”  In Deuteronomy 32:11 it’s used to describe how a mother eagle cares for her little eaglets as she broods over them, providing care and personal protection.  I like this paraphrase: “Like an eagle, she makes her young leave the nest to fly.  She stays close to them, ready to help.  She spreads her wings to catch them when they fall and carries them to a safe place.”

He cares for His creation with tenderness and compassion as He hovers, helps, and holds everything together like a hen caring for her chicks.

Over the primordial muck, God’s Spirit is moving.  God through His Spirit is personally present and ever attentive as He hovers over the unformed and lifeless material and then births it all into being.  This is captured by Psalm 104:30: “When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.”  He cares for His creation with tenderness and compassion as He hovers, helps, and holds everything together like a hen caring for her chicks.  

Let’s pause and consider why verse 2 is so important (the thoughts in this paragraph are not original with me).  Perhaps God wants us to know right at the beginning how He is personally present in the dark and disordered places of our lives.  He is King over the chaos we find ourselves in.  When we’re facing the unknown and unpredictable, we need to know God is there in the dark, hovering over us and helping within us so we can trust Him in the trying times.  Though it might appear God is hidden, He’s always at work caring and preparing, longing to fill empty places as He brings order to the disorder.  Remember Jesus willingly walked into the pitch-black wrath of God and stayed there until He finished His work.

Earlier this week, I posted this quote from John Piper: “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.”  I added these words: God is always at work…and sometimes we get to see it. When we don’t see it…remember God is always at work.  Jesus said it like this in John 5:17: “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” Trust in the providence of God when you can’t feel the presence of God.  Discover where He is working and when you do, join Him there. 

3. God spoke.

The story is told of a three-year-old boy crying in a dark room of his aunt’s house. “Auntie,” the boy cried, “Please talk to me!  I’m frightened because it is so dark.”  His aunt answered him from another room: “What good would that do? You can’t see me.”  To which the child replied, “That doesn’t matter.  When you talk, it gets light.”

In verse 3, when God talked, it got light: “And God said, ‘Let there be light…’”  The word “said” means, “willed, decreed, and appointed.”  In my reading of Genesis 1 every day this month, I saw something I hadn’t seen before.  The phrase, “And God said” appears 10 times in this chapter.  We could call them the “10 Commandments of Creation.”  Step by step, God brought shape and structure to His creation, all for His glory and our good.

There are some common elements in the creation narrative.

  • Introduction: “And God said.”
  • The creative word: “Let there be.”
  • Fulfillment of the word: “And it was so.”
  • A name given: “God called.”
  • The divine benediction: “And God saw that it was good.” (Interestingly, we don’t see this on the second day but perhaps it’s because the gathering together of the waters under the heavens is not concluded until the third day.  Also, the phrase, “very good” is reserved for the sixth day after God created man).
  • The concluding formula: And there was evening, and there was morning, the day.”

In the original, only two words follow “And God said” in verse 3: “Light be.”  God speaks with authority, doesn’t He?  The same was said about Jesus in Mark 1:22: “And they were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one who had authority, not as the scribes.”

When I consider my own preaching, I find I do a lot of quoting.  That’s because I’m simply a conduit as I quote what God said in the Scriptures.  Other times, I quote people with way more insight than I have.  I very seldom just quote myself as an authority because I’m not all that smart…and neither are you.  God alone has ultimate authority.  He says it and it happens.

All this is effortless for Elohim.  All He had to do was speak and it came into existence.  Interestingly, the phrase “Let there be light” is in the “jussive mood,” which I had to look up.  Instead of an imperative, which is a strong command, the jussive mood is softer.  One commentator offers this insight: “God does not jerk the creation into existence but speaks it gently into existence.”

Contrary to all other ancient accounts of the universe’s origin, the God of Genesis did not put forth extraordinary effort or by fighting another god for control.  He simply spoke, and it came to be.

We see this in Psalm 33:6: “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host.”  Isaiah 55:11 reminds us God’s Word always accomplishes its purposes: “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” 

When God says it, that settles it.  

4. God settled it. 

We see this in the second half of verse 3: “…and there was light.”  God declared it, and it was done.  As King over the chaos, He spoke His word and the world was created.  John 1:14 tells us this Word was Jesus, through whom God created the world.  All three members of the Trinity were actively involved in the creation of the world.  Listen to these worshipful words penned by a pastor: “Christ created the cosmos and died on a cross to call you out of chaos and make you a citizen in His city.”

Let’s go back to verse 3: “Let there be light, and there was light.”  Literally, it reads like this: “Light be, and light was.”  Psalm 33:9: “For He spoke, and it came to be; He commanded, and it stood firm.”

Without light there can be no order

It’s not surprising that God’s first creative act was to provide light because there can be no visibility or viability of life without it.  We need light to see, and we need light to live.  Without light there can be no order.

Some critics have questioned how God could create light on the first day since He didn’t create the sun, moon, and stars until the fourth day.  The answer is quite simple.  Because God is Himself light according to 1 John 1:5, and Jesus is the Light of the World as stated in John 8:12, He doesn’t need the heavenly lights to give light.  

One translation of Psalm 76:4 says, You are resplendent with light.”  In addition, according to Revelation 21:23, in the new heaven and new earth, the city of Jerusalem will have a holy light source: And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.”  All this helps us see how there could be light without lights.

When God says it, that settles it.  Check out this formula in chapter one.

Verse 3: “Let there be light…and there was light.”

Verses 6-7: “Let there be an expanse…and it was so.”

Verse 9: “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered…and it was so.”

Verse 11: “Let the earth sprout…and it was so.”

Verse 14: “Let there be lights in the expanse…and it was so.”

Verse 24: “Let the earth bring forth living creatures…and it was so.”

He spoke and the stars filled the sky.  He spoke and the birds began to fly.  He spoke and He made you and I (that’s as far as I got in my attempt at poetry).

5. God saw. 

After creating light, it’s as if God stepped back, looked at what He had done, and broke out into a beautiful benediction according to verse 4: “And God saw that the light was good.”  This word is richly nuanced and means: “abundant, useful, pleasant, appealing, and right.”  

Humans have created some beautiful buildings, and artwork, and music, and landscaping, and bridges, but most of what we create is ultimately flawed or will rust, run down, or break down.  I know I’m not very good at creating things.  

6. God separated. 

Because light is good, God created a divide between light and darkness in the second half of verse 4: “And God separated the light from the darkness.”  To “separate” means “to set apart.”  The principle of separation is stated throughout Scripture – Abraham was to separate from Ur (Genesis 12:1), the church is to be separate from the world (John 17:14-16), and believers are to be separated from sin (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1).  

1 Peter 2:9 says believers are to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”  God pronounces judgment on those who juxtapose these clear distinctions as we see in Isaiah 5:20: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”  

When God says it, that settles it.  

7. God summoned. 

In the Ancient Near East, to name something was a mark of ownership or lordship.  In the Old Testament, kings had the sovereign right to assign names as in 2 Kings 24:17: “And the king of Babylon made Mattaniah, Jehoiachin’s uncle, king in his place, and changed his name to Zedekiah.”

God exercises His naming rights as king of the universe in verse 5: “God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night.”  To “call” means, “to summon, declare, or name.”  We’ve experienced an illustration of “naming rights” in our community as the Tax Slayer Center has now become the Vibrant Arena.  While they had to pay a good amount of money for this privilege, God has naming rights to everything in the world because He already owns everything.  God later delegated the naming of animals to Adam in Genesis 2:19-20.  Adam also named the first woman “Eve” in Genesis 3:20.

In Hebrew, the word “day” signifies “warmth or heat,” while night refers to a “rolling up.”  We’re experiencing that now as our nights are getting colder because the sun goes down earlier each day.

8. God supplied. 

As a gift to His creation, God designed and determined a 24-hour rhythm.  We see this in the second half of verse 5: “And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” In the Hebrew world, a new day began when the sun went down.  Incidentally, the Bible is clear that God created the world in six literal 24-hour days.  The Hebrew word for day (yom) when linked to numerical adjectives, always refers to a 24-hour period.  

Consider this thought: Every morning, day one of creation is repeated.  Maybe that’s why we like sunrises so much because it gives us a fresh opportunity to rehearse God’s faithfulness.  With this in mind, I read Lamentations 3:22-23 to someone in the hospital this week: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”


We’ve seen a progression in the opening verses of Genesis:

  1. God’s setting.
  2. God’s Spirit.
  3. God spoke.
  4. God settled it.
  5. God saw.
  6. God separated.
  7. God summoned.
  8. God supplied.

When God says it, that settles it.

A boy heard in Sunday School that Jesus was the light of the world.  After class, he went up to his teacher and said, “If Jesus really is the light of the world, I wish He’d come hang out in my house.  It’s awfully dark where I live.”

Is it dark where you live?  Are you stumbling around in the dark?  Are you tired of living with gloom?  If so, it’s time to make Him room.

Many years ago, when we were organizing one of our file cabinets, I came across some love letters from Beth that I’ve kept ever since we were dating.  When I found this folder, I immediately sat down in the middle of the floor and started browsing through them.  

My favorite letter is dated June 30, 1983 and was sent to me when I was in Zimbabwe.  Beth and I had met and become good friends the previous semester when we were at Moody, and even though I wanted to date her, she had not yet seen the light!  Things didn’t look very promising because she was going out with some “dweeb” from another college.  On top of that, she was planning to transfer to Nursing School in the fall and there was a chance I would never see her again.  

Anyway, during the spring I found out that she had broken up with her boyfriend (actually, I pestered her roommate almost every day until she spilled the beans!).  I had been praying for this relationship to rupture and was thrilled when it dissolved.  But instead of immediately calling her for a date, I decided to wait until she told me this news herself.  I thought that if she told me about the breakup, it would be a signal from God that she might be interested in me.  I found out in March.  April came and went.  May went by quickly and then I left for Africa in June.  

We both said we would write during the summer, but I seriously doubted if I would ever hear from her again.  She wrote several times and then I received a four-page epistle that changed everything.  Let me read her closing lines: “Brian, one thing I may not have told you during spring semester, but [the dweeb] and I haven’t been dating since about March.  I mean nothing in telling you this other than just updating you because you are my brother and friend.  In Jesus, Beth.”

I’ll never forget what I did when I read this.  I was sitting on my bed in a dormitory in the middle of Zimbabwe.  A number of my students were hanging out with me.  I immediately started jumping around the room, shouting, “Yes!  Yes!  Yes!  She finally saw the light!”  My African brothers started hugging me and dancing around without even knowing why I was so excited.  I then looked up and saw Beth running toward me with her arms outstretched…Oh, wait, that’s a scene from a movie.

Has the light gone on for you today?  When God says it, that settles it!  What has God said that you need to settle?  Have you been doing some dark stuff in the dark?

Rosaria Butterfield writes: “If God is the Creator of all things, and if the Bible has His seal of truth and power, then the Bible has the right to interrogate my life and culture, and not the other way around.”

  • Life begins at conception
  • You were made in His image
  • God designed and assigned gender 
  • Marriage is one man and one woman for life
  • Sin has infected and affected everything since Adam and Eve disobeyed
  • Salvation comes only through Christ
  • God’s commands are true and right
  • Judgment is certain
  • Eternity is real
  • Jesus is coming again so you better be ready!

 John 3:19 says we have a problem: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”  Jesus offers you light and life according to John 12:46: “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.”  Listen to what Jesus said in John 8:12: “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

It’s chilling that for those who refuse to believe and receive Christ, they will be cast forever into deep and desolate darkness.  Jesus said it like this in Matthew 25:30: “And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness.  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  Jude 13 takes us back to Genesis 1:2 as it describes the destiny of the godless: “Wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.”

Without spiritual light from God, we’ll all die in the dark according to 2 Corinthians 4:3-4, 6: “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.  In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God…For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

If you’re tired of dwelling in the darkness, it’s time to repent, believe that Jesus died in your place and receive the light of life into your life.  God longs to say to you today, “Let there be light!”

If you’re ready to be transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, please pray with me.

“Jesus, I’m tired of dwelling in the dark.  I confess that because of my sinfulness, I’ve just been stumbling through life.  I repent of how I’ve been living.  Thank You for coming down into our world and for dying on the cross as my substitute and for rising again on the third day.  I believe you are Lord, and You are Light, and I now receive You into my life.  Please save me from my sins and be my Savior and give me what I need to live under Your leadership for the rest of my life.”

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?