God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. Genesis 1:16-18
Our text for today can be puzzling to understand. Some chalk it up as ancient humans trying to make sense of a big, mysterious world in a pre-scientific era. The text certainly reflects the vocabulary and world view of ancient people. It is also written in a highly symbolic form that modern man would not typically use. But to say that it has nothing important to tell us would be to miss out on a gazillion helpful lessons. (I am not sure exactly how many helpful lessons might be drawn from this text so I am attempting to communicate that the number is large.)
Consider what it means for the sun and moon to govern their respective times. How does the sun govern? It provides light and heat that all the earth’s inhabitants rely on for survival. It is consistent in its provision, never takes a day off or fails to show up at its appointed time. It is impartial, not selective about who receives its gifts. It is free to all and neither needs or expects any payment for its provision. It is a source of inspiration, hope, and joy. How good does it feel to walk out into the morning and feel the sun shining gently on your face?
What about the moon and stars? Their paths measure months and seasons that allow mankind to plan its important tasks. They provide us with wonder at the complicated shapes they form across the night sky. The sheer number of stars is a sign of God’s endless majesty. And yet for all their glory, they humbly remain dim enough to allow the world to rest and to cool.
Those observations are interesting and poetic until we consider that 10 verses later God is going to create mankind for a similar purpose. We were made to rule over the earth. One of the great quandaries of our time is what that should mean for us. What does it mean to be “environmentally sensitive” or “sustainable”? (Ruling and governing are not necessarily the same thing but we only need to assume that one can inform the other.)
When we consider the lessons of the text in that light, there is much we could learn about how to govern our world from the sun, moon, and stars. Do we act with constancy? Do we provide what all the creatures of the world need to sustain life and to grow? Do we offer the world a respite from our provision to allow it to rest? Beyond the obvious environmental stewardship question, how do we “govern” one another? Are we constant, generous, provisional, and impartial?
Next time you enjoy the sunshine on your face or gaze up at the moon and stars, allow them to challenge you. If we were as obedient as they in the tasks set for us by the Lord, the world would be a better place.