This is the history of the fourth day’s work, the creating of the sun, moon, and stars, which are here accounted for, not as they are in themselves and in their own nature, to satisfy the curious, but as they are in relation to this earth, to which they serve as lights; and this is enough to furnish us with matter for praise and thanksgiving. Holy Job mentions this as an instance of the glorious power of God, that by the Spirit he hath garnished the heavens (Job 26:13); and here we have an account of that garniture which is not only so much the beauty of the upper world, but so much the blessing of this lower; for though heaven is high, yet has it respect to this earth, and therefore should have respect from it. Of the creation of the lights of heaven we have an account,
I. In general, Gen. 1:14, 15, where we have 1. The command given concerning them: Let there be lights in the firmament of heaven. God had said, Let there be light (Gen. 1:3), and there was light; but this was, as it were, a chaos of light, scattered and confused: now it was collected and modelled, and made into several luminaries, and so rendered both more glorious and more serviceable. God is the God of order, and not of confusion; and, as he is light, so he is the Father and former of lights. Those lights were to be in the firmament of heaven, that vast expanse which encloses the earth, and is conspicuous to all; for no man, when he has lighted a candle, puts it under a bushel, but on a candlestick (Luke 8:16), and a stately golden candlestick the firmament of heaven is, from which these candles give light to all that are in the house. The firmament itself is spoken of as having a brightness of its own (Dan. 12:3), but this was not sufficient to give light to the earth; and perhaps for this reason it is not expressly said of the second day’s work, in which the firmament was made, that it was good, because, till it was adorned with these lights on the fourth day, it had not become serviceable to man. 2. The use they were intended to be of to this earth. (1.) They must be for the distinction of times, of day and night, summer and winter, which are interchanged by the motion of the sun, whose rising makes day, his setting night, his approach towards our tropic summer, his recess to the other winter: and thus, under the sun, there is a season to every purpose, Eccl. 3:11. (2.) They must be for the direction of actions. They are for signs of the change of weather, that the husbandman may order his affairs with discretion, foreseeing, by the face of the sky, when second causes have begun to work, whether it will be fair or foul, Matt. 16:2, 3. They do also give light upon the earth, that we may walk (John 11:9), and work (John 9:4). according as the duty of every day requires. The lights of heaven do not shine for themselves, nor for the world of spirits above, who need them not; but they shine for us, for our pleasure and advantage. Lord, what is man, that he should be thus regarded! Ps. 8:3, 4. How ungrateful and inexcusable are we, if, when God has set up these lights for us to work by, we sleep, or play, or trifle away the time of business, and neglect the great work we were sent into the world about! The lights of heaven are made to serve us, and they do it faithfully, and shine in their season, without fail: but we are set as lights in this world to serve God; and do we in like manner answer the end of our creation? No, we do not, our light does not shine before God as his lights shine before us, Matt. 5:14. We burn our Master’s candles, but do not mind our Master’s work.
II. In particular, Gen. 1:16-18.
1. Observe, The lights of heaven are the sun, moon, and stars; and all these are the work of God’s hands. (1.) The sun is the greatest light of all, more than a million times greater than the earth, and the most glorious and useful of all the lamps of heaven, a noble instance of the Creator’s wisdom, power, and goodness, and an invaluable blessing to the creatures of this lower world. Let us learn from Ps. 19:1-6 how to give unto God the glory due unto his name, as the Maker of the sun. (2.) The moon is a less light, and yet is here reckoned one of the greater lights, because though, in regard to its magnitude and borrowed light, it is inferior to many of the stars, yet, by virtue of its office, as ruler of the night, and in respect of its usefulness to the earth, it is more excellent than they. Those are most valuable that are most serviceable; and those are the greater lights, not that have the best gifts, but that humbly and faithfully do the most good with them. Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister, Matt. 20:26. (3.) He made the stars also, which are here spoken of as they appear to vulgar eyes, without distinguishing between the planets and the fixed stars, or accounting for their number, nature, place, magnitude, motions, or influences; for the scriptures were written, not to gratify our curiosity and make us astronomers, but to lead us to God, and make us saints. Now these lights are said to rule (Gen. 1:16, 18); not that they have a supreme dominion, as God has, but they are deputy-governors, rulers under him. Here the less light, the moon, is said to rule the night; but in Ps. 136:9 the stars are mentioned as sharers in that government; The moon and stars to rule by night. No more is meant than that they give light, Jer. 31:35. The best and most honourable way of ruling is by giving light and doing good: those command respect that live a useful life, and so shine as lights.
2. Learn from all this, (1.) The sin and folly of that ancient idolatry, the worshipping of the sun, moon, and stars, which, some think, took rise, or countenance at least, from some broken traditions in the patriarchal age concerning the rule and dominion of the lights of heaven. But the account here given of them plainly shows that they are both God’s creatures and man’s servants; and therefore it is both a great affront to God and a great reproach to ourselves to make deities of them and give them divine honours. See Deut. 4:19. (2.) The duty and wisdom of daily worshipping that God who made all these things, and made them to be that to us which they are. The revolutions of the day and night oblige us to offer the solemn sacrifice of prayer and praise every morning and evening.