Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sun Darkened and Moon turned to Blood - Part 3

The last article described God's sovereign act of creation, control and sustaining of the sun, moon and stars. When God has come to the conclusion of His plan of the earth, He will change the sun, moon and stars, using them as "signs" and judgment upon the inhabitants of the earth. Then, He will remove them since He will provide the illumination upon the earth. In this final article these objects will be examined as they are used in the metaphorical since. But first we must examine the claim by some that they are used as "dramatic hyperbole."

Figures of speech, metaphors and hyperboleWhen an object is used as a metaphor, there is some distinguishing characteristic that that stands out about the object that the author intends to bring out in comparing another object to it. When one thinks of the sun, there are several characteristics that immediately stand out that can be used. The sun's enduring heat is one of these characteristics, so the metaphor of endurance and strength (Ps. 72:5, 17; 89:36). And the sun's light provides a metaphor of an unveiling (e.g. Num. 25:4; Judges 5:31; 2 Sam 12:11, 12; Ecc. 2:17; Matt. 5:45; 13:43).

Metaphor The term metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus making a comparison. One example of a metaphor is Isaiah 40:6 "All flesh is grass." This is immediately identified as a metaphor for two reasons: (1) flesh is not grass; and (2) context.

6 A voice says, "Call out." Then he answered, "What shall I call out?" All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. 7 The grass withers, the flower fades, When the breath of the LORD blows upon it; Surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.

What characteristic of the flesh is like grass – it fades, that is, it grows old, dies and no longer exists in the living world. It fades away, if you will, from the minds of the living. The word of the Lord however, stands firm forever!

A simile is also a comparison of one object to another and uses the words "as," or "like." Peter uses a simile when he writes, "All men are like grass" (1 Pet. 1:24). This is the same as our Isaiah 40:6 text, except Peter is using Greek so he uses the adverb "as," or "like."

Another method used is the allegory, which means "to speak in a figure." Paul says that Abraham's two sons are an allegory. One born of a bondwoman [Hagar], and hence, is of the flesh, and the other born of the freewoman, he calls of the promise (Gal. 4:21-31). The allegory is clearly explained. Biblical allegory will almost always be explained by the author just as Paul did. Notice this is different from the technique of allegorical interpretation which seeks to find deeper meaning behind the text. The one is clearly explained, while the other is lost in a gnostic sphere where multiple interpreters explain the same text differently and neither has ground to stand.

Another technique that has been talked about is hyperbole. Hyperbole is a figure of speech where exaggeration is used for emphasis or effect. The word comes from the Greek compound meaning literally " to excessively throw." For example, in John 21:25 "But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written."

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4:8, "You are already filled, you have already become rich, you have become kings without us; and indeed, I wish that you had become kings so that we also might reign with you."

Examples of the Sun and Moon Used as Metaphor
There are times when the sun and moon are used metaphorically, but it is the purpose of some allegorists to make any unfulfilled prophecy an allegory but leave fulfilled prophecy literal – an inconsistent way of reading. Dr. Gentry lists several areas where he claims an allegorical use of the sun and moon is used. He provides the following examples as "apocalyptic language" and as a "dramatic way of expressing national calamity or victory in battle:" Judges 4-5; Isaiah 13:10; 13; Ezek. 32:2, 7-8; Jer. 4:11, 23-24, 29; Joel 2:1, 10. His claim of "dramatic hyperbole," and "apocalyptic language," provides him license to change what the author intends into some perversion. It may sound good, tickle the ears, but the intent of the author is replaced with the intentions of the expositor.

I will first examine Dr. Gentry's claims, then cover the verses that use sun and moon metaphorically.

Judges 4-5
13 Sisera called together all his chariots, nine hundred iron chariots, and all the people who were with him, from Harosheth-hagoyim to the river Kishon. 14 Deborah said to Barak, "Arise! For this is the day in which the LORD has given Sisera into your hands; behold, the LORD has gone out before you." So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with ten thousand men following him. 15 The LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army with the edge of the sword before Barak; and Sisera alighted from his chariot and fled away on foot. 16 But Barak pursued the chariots and the army as far as Harosheth-hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not even one was left. 17 Now Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. (Judges 4:13-17)

3 Hear, O kings; give ear, O rulers! I—to the LORD, I will sing, I will sing praise to the LORD, the God of Israel. 4 LORD, when You went out from Seir, When You marched from the field of Edom, The earth quaked, the heavens also dripped, Even the clouds dripped water. 5 The mountains quaked at the presence of the LORD, This Sinai, at the presence of the LORD, the God of Israel. (Judges 5:3-5)

Judges 4-5 does not use the sun and moon at all. This section of scripture is cites to illustrate the use of figurative language. The point of 5:4-5 is that when the army of ten thousand men (4:6; 10), and nine hundred chariots of iron (4:13) came together in battle the earth quaked (ra'ash, "to quake," "shake") - as one would expect of a great battle as the great thunderous sound waves pound the earth. The heavens poured, and the clouds poured water (as in a great storm that quickly overtakes in violence and blood), and the mountains gushed (nazal, "to flow") as the Canaanite army left their chariots and fled down the mountain on foot.

The Hebrew army killed them as they fled down the mountain, as the Hebrew play on words using "flow" with "to fall," is used. The Canaanite army fell (naphal, "to fall") by the edge of the sword (5:4-5). The picture drawn is of the massive Hebrew army, so numerous that there marching made a great sound, which could be heard throughout the land- shaking the earth. The sound was so great that the Canaanite army with their battle chariots, stopped their horse drawn chariots, abandoned them, and fled down the hill on foot. Just as a gushing rain that flows down the mountain, so the fleeing Canaanites and perusing Hebrew army came down the mountain and upon the Canaanites and they fell by the sword. It sounds like a violent storm. Is this a violent storm or judgment upon the Cannanite? This is a real battle which results with the conclusion of the storm in death for the Cannanites and victory for the Hebrews.

A normal reading relates the great battle using figurative language, the picture that is drawn makes it clear what the figure of speech relates to. The context and the complete story make the language clear. One does not have to go outside the text to other sections to understand the story. And what a story it is! God is glorified and sovereign in the affairs of His people. However, the story is literal and the metaphors point to a real event. In fact, the figure is a repeat of the figure used in Psalm 68:7-9 and the great victory at the presence of God.

Isaiah 13:10
Isaiah thirteen provides an oracle (massa', "load," "bearing," "lifting," burden," utterance," "oracle") of Babylon (Babel or Babylon). The oracle marks the starts a major section of the book that deals with the Lord's judgments against:

  • Babylon and Assyria (13:1-14:27)
  • Philistia (14:28-32)
  • Moab (15:1-16:14)
  • Damascus and Israel (17:1-14)
  • Ethiopia and beyond (18:1-7)
  • Egypt (19:1-20:6)
  • Babylon (21:1-10); Edom (21:11-12); Arabia (21:13-17)
  • Jerusalem (22:1-25)
  • Tyre (23:1-18)

This section provides a set of judgments against the nations listed above. Throughout this long section there are some nations with both a near and far prophecy. Babylon is one that has both a far judgment described first then the specific near judgment brought by the Meads. There are several things that demand a literal meaning for the following verses:

Behold, the day of the LORD is coming, cruel, with fury and burning anger, To make the land a desolation; And He will exterminate its sinners from it. For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not flash forth their light; The sun will be dark when it rises and the moon will not shed its light (Isaiah 13:8-10) .

Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken from its place at the fury of the LORD of hosts in the day of His burning anger (Isaiah 13:13).

What is the extent? (a) Destroy the whole land (13:5); (b) Punish the world (13:11); (c) the kingdoms of nations are gathered together (13:4).

Why? (a) He will punish the world for its evil (13:11); (b) Halt the arrogance of the proud (13:11).

How? (a) His angles will be gathered for battle (13:4); (b) All hands will be limp (13:7); (c) Every man's heart will melt (13:7); (d) He will destroy sinners from the land (13:9); (e) The sun, moon and stars will not give out light (13:10); (f) He will shake the heavens and the earth will shake from her place, or as some translate, move out of her place (13:13).

This is truly a physical event because: (a) there are no figurative identifiers "like," "as" used; (b) the context provides no secondary reference which might point to something other than its first meaning; and (c) the context provides the sense that the sun "will not give out its light" in a real historical sense (i.e., there is no immediate spiritual contextual link such as Israel left in spiritual darkness, etc); and (d) the earth is described as moving out of it normal place.

This last event should not be taken lightly, this will be a drastic change, as drastic as change possibly as that which changed in the days before the flood, verses after the flood. Before the flood an moderate climate, after the flood a realization of the full seasons.

But an additional reason for placing this section (13:2-16) in the future Great Tribulation with literal physical events is that God Himself "will cause to shake" (ragaz, "tremble," "disturb," "move") the heavens and the earth will shake (ra'ash, "quake," "shake"). This is similar to Matthew 24: 29. In addition, this section describes "the kingdoms of nations gathered together" (13:4). A new section starts with verse 17 dealing with the "Medes" and involves "the proud" (v. 11). The proud, not the world, because the "world" is feminine, whereas the "proud" is masculine and the pronouns "them" match in gender with the proud not the world. The proud, because that is the characteristic common with the Babylonians and the end time nations (cf. 13:19).

Ezekiel 32:2
Son of man, take up a lamentation over Pharaoh king of Egypt and say to him
, 'You compared yourself to a young lion of the nations, Yet you are like the monster in the seas; And you burst forth in your rivers and muddied the waters with your feet and fouled their rivers.' (Ezekiel 32:2)

This is classic simile using the words "you compared yourself," and "you are like." There is no mistaking that a likeness will result and comparative language will follow. So the Lord finishes the figurative picture in verses three through eight:

Thus says the Lord GOD, "Now I will spread My net over you With a company of many peoples, And they shall lift you up in My net. I will leave you on the land; I will cast you on the open field. And I will cause all the birds of the heavens to dwell on you, And I will satisfy the beasts of the whole earth with you. I will lay your flesh on the mountains And fill the valleys with your refuse. I will also make the land drink the discharge of your blood As far as the mountains, And the ravines will be full of you. And when I extinguish you, I will cover the heavens and darken their stars; I will cover the sun with a cloud And the moon will not give its light. All the shining lights in the heavens I will darken over you And will set darkness on your land," Declares the Lord GOD. (Ezekiel 32:3-8)

This is clearly a picture of a great battle. Not, as the allegorist claims, but rather, the thing pictured has a literal aspect: (a) I will spread My net over you; the fishing net spread over Egypt is a large company of men who will draw them up (v. 3) – a literal army (Babylonian Army); (b) I will leave you on the land; they will be left on the land (the picture is that of fish laid out on dry land – helpless and dead) as food for the birds and beast (v. 4); (c) I will lay your flesh on the mountains, the dead carcasses of the Egyptians will fill the land – a literal multitude of dead bodies will cover the land (v. 5); (d) I will water the land with the flow of your blood – a literal flow of Egyptian blood will be on the land (v. 6); (e) I will put out your light. A literal result and finale that God will cover the heavens and "sun with a cloud" – a literal cloud possibly from the great battle, a cloud of fire and smoke. A cloud so thick it literally "brings darkness upon the land" (v .8).

"I will put out your light" (literally, I will intensely quench or put you out) is literal. At times the phrase "I will put out your light" is used as a metaphor for death, but here it is clearly not. The sun will be covered resulting in the moon not giving her light and the stars of heaven will be dark - a literal event. There is no figurative use of sun, moon and stars here!

Jeremiah 4:11, 23-24, 29
In that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem, "A scorching wind from the bare heights in the wilderness in the direction of the daughter of My people—not to winnow and not to cleanse, a wind too strong for this—will come at My command; now I will also pronounce judgments against them Behold, he goes up like clouds, And his chariots like the whirlwind; His horses are swifter than eagles. Woe to us, for we are ruined! (Jeremiah 4:11-13).

It is clear from these two verses that the "dry wind" of verse 11 is not a literal wind, but a storm of judgment. Context and simile defines the what the cloud is. Verse 13 describes the invading army as "clouds" and the chariots as a "whirlwind." The Lord describes their condition as a result of the storm as "plundered" (v. 13). This is classic metaphor usage as the word "like" is used forming the simile. There is no mistaking what the storm represents.

The total destruction described in verses 23 through 26 is a picture drawn that Jeremiah's beloved city Jerusalem was a wasteland (tohu, "formless," "vain," "wasteland," from an unused root meaning to lie waste). It was empty (bohu, "emptiness," "void," "waste," from an unused root meaning to be empty) and they had no light (both the heavens and the earth). The meaning implied is that the burning smoke and dust has blackened out the sun.

Jeremiah looked to the mountains and they trembled (ra'ash, "to quake," "shake," this is a participle so it might better be translated "I saw the mountains, and behold, the ones quaking and all the hills were themselves caused to shake"). A picture either of a quaking caused by an earthquake or more likely a description of the large Babylonian army moving from the destroyed city through the mountains to the next city. The massive army makes a great thundering sound whose sound waves shake the earth.

With Jerusalem destroyed, Jeremiah saw no people left in the city (v. 25) and there were no birds in the sky as the loud battle moved them out of the area to safety. He looked and there were no more orchards in the field, they had been trampled down and burned (v. 26). All the cities of Judah had been broken down.

The sun, moon and stars were not mentioned here, and the darkening of the sky is literal. There is no indication that the darkening is an exaggeration (hyperbole), it is a simile.

Joel 2:1, 10In Joel, the context is a unique "last days" called the "day of the Lord." This is a unique day of wrath whose army "the likes of whom has never been; nor will there ever be any such after them" (Joel 2:2). The use of metaphors fills this section as the author's poetic style and literary greatness leaves the reader in awe of the Word of the Lord.

1 Blow a trumpet in Zion, And sound an alarm on My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, For the day of the LORD is coming; Surely it is near,

2 A day of darkness and gloom, A day of clouds and thick darkness. As the dawn is spread over the mountains, So there is a great and mighty people; There has never been anything like it, Nor will there be again after it To the years of many generations.(Joel 2:1-2)

10 Before them the earth quakes, The heavens tremble, The sun and the moon grow dark And the stars lose their brightness. 11 The LORD utters His voice before His army; Surely His camp is very great, For strong is he who carries out His word. The day of the LORD is indeed great and very awesome, And who can endure it?(Joel 2:10-11)

The description of the day of the Lord is "darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness. As the dawn in spread over the mountains," describes a great battle. Hebrew is a pictorial language and God's use of the language, using metaphors and similes, makes the Bible – His Word, a masterful, wonderful work. This is classic simile as the word "as" (v. 2) relates. Verses 2 though 11 are an unbreakable section. These verses contain imagery of a great army's invasion upon the land of Israel. The army is described as devouring fire (vv. 3, 5), swift horses (v. 4), noise like chariots (v. 5), mighty men (v. 7). The section might be summarized as follows: (a) introductory picture set (v. 2); (b) similes drawn (v. 3-5); (c) invading army's characteristics (vv. 6-9), and (d) picture's completion.

The concluding picture's completion fills in the last brush strokes to the masterpiece. The conclusion completes the similes presented in part two (vv. 3-5). Namely. the "earth quakes before them, and the heavens tremble" relates to both the chariots and devouring fire's noise (v. 5). The "sun and moon grow dark, and the stars diminish their brightness," reflect the result of the dust and fire that fill the air in the greatest battle that will ever be (v.2). The focus here is upon the great battle and its result.

What the Critic Leaves Out
What the critic leaves out is Joel 2:28-32 because here the sun and moon's darkening is clearly do to literal "wonders in the heavens" (v. 31). This is the section that Peter quotes in Acts 2: 17:21. Joel writes:

28 And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions. 29 And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. 30 "And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke. 31 The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD. 32 And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, As the LORD has said, Among the remnant whom the LORD calls. (Joel 2:28-31)

Joel identifies the signs and wonders in both the heavens and the earth. In Acts, Peter recognized the literal signs and wonders (2:12, 43), though not all the signs and wonders that Peter pointed out were present on that day. What must be identified are the signs and wonders presented in Acts two. What Peter points out as signs and wonders are: (1) your sons and daughters shall prophesy; (2) your young men shall see visions; (3) your old men shall dream dreams; (4) wonders in the sky above: (a) the sun shall turn into darkness; (b) moon into blood; (5) signs on the earth beneath: (a) blood; (b) fire; (c) vapor of smoke.

The phrase sun shall be turned into darkness (choshek, "darkness," "obscurity") is not one of the many words for darkness meaning, "setting of the sun," " dark saying," "a binding," "a dulling," "a cover," "thickness," or " dirty." This word has the idea darkness that is "unknown" or "obscure." The sun will turn from its normal bright self into something different, obscure. Likewise, "moon into blood" (dam, "blood," "color red") has as its root "to be red." The moon's color will change from its normal white to a reddish color.

The adherents of a non-literal hermeneutic have to "spiritualize" the cataclysmic events of this prophecy. What is the result of their spiritualization? Dr. Couch notes: "The national promises to Israel are reduced to spiritual fulfillment in the church. And the cosmic signs and wonders predicted by Joel (2:30-31) and quoted by Peter (Acts 2:19-20) must be allegorized. They did not occur at Pentecost, so they must be taken figuratively." (Mal Couch, A Bible Handbook to the Acts of the Apostles, p. 146) . In other words, God throws away all His promises to Israel, the Church replaces Israel, and all the cosmic signs are just hyperbole describing some battle that never took place in the land.

The argument that the day Jesus was crucified the "sun was darkened" (Luke 23:45) can be brought to the table, but where is the "moon turned to blood?" Some argue that the phrase "moon turned to blood" and "blood and fire and vapor of smoke" is a battle reference that was fulfilled in 70 A.D when the Romans came against the Jews. But where is the judgment on the nations and the resulting peace for the all Jews. The nations were not judged in the "valley of Jehoshaphat" nor did the Jew find rest as a result of 70 A.D., in fact the Jew has only found grief. The Jew had not returned to the land that God had given them until 1948, and since then has experienced only pain.

Sun and Moon as Figures
As with all things that God has created, language is another object to be marveled. Hebrew is what is called a pictorial language, meaning that it is rich in imagery. The nouns are usually derived from verbs, which describe some characteristic of the noun. For example, the word Adam comes from the word "to be red" reflecting where he originated from, namely, the ground. This makes the language a natural medium for creative metaphor usage. So, with the Bible being "God breathed" we possess the recorded, inspired word of God. A text where He uses human authors to record and convey what He has determined mankind to know. What this means to us is that what is observed in both the Hebrew and the Greek, is a rich creative literary text possessing both narrative and poetry intermingled. The reader's understanding and ability to follow what is being said makes this book truly the best literary work ever.

Along with the creative nature of our Creator in the doctrine of inspiration, Scripture possess lots of figures of speech. The use of the sun as a metaphor was noted previously as follows:

Direction (either sun-rising: east; sun-setting: west) (eg. Num. 2:3)

An object of worship (e.g. Deu 17:3; 2 Kgs 23:5; Jer. 43:13 )

Something done openly or publicly, an unveiling (e.g. Num. 25:4; Judges 5:31; 2 Sam 12:11, 12; Ecc. 2:17; Matt. 5:45; 13:43)

Battle shields (as glittering or shinning, reflecting the sun)

A sign (e.g. of the greatness of God, Deu. 4:19); of God's control over it (Josh 10:13; Job 9:7; Ps. 74:16)

An object of measurement whether it be time (e.g. Deu. 16:6), limited time (Deu. 24:15), or space (Josh. 1:4)

The source of fruitfulness (Deu 33:14; Job 8:16)

Death or spiritual darkness. They shall not see the sun (meaning death, Ps. 58:8; or spiritual darkness, Mic. 3:6)

Longevity, strength (Ps. 72:5, 17; 89:36)

Sun used as a simile
Similes are easy to observe when one comes upon them. But the sun is also found used as a simile as follows:

And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. (Matt. 17:2)

His face is not the sun's light, but shines like that of the sun. The characteristic transferred to the Lord is the whiteness and purity of the sun (see also Rev. 1:16 – relating the sun's strength; Rev. 10:1).

As can be seen by this set of articles, the use of the sun, moon and stars as metaphors are for the purpose of associating a certain characteristic of them to the other object. That is the purpose of the figure of speech. It is not, as some say, a way to dig beyond the surface to a deeper meaning, a spiritual meaning which serves to minimize the plan sense for a higher lofty meaning that one has to go outside the immediate context to identify what is being said to justify their perversion of the Word.

The use of the allegorical technique was originally used to minimize the moral difficulty of the Greek gods, to make them more acceptable. One cannot do this with a normal reading. One cannot move outside the context, searching for uses of a word or phrase that matches their brand of theology or presupposition, then move that meaning to another context to justify some obscure point. One must always remember context, context, context!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Sun Darkened and Moon Turned to Blood - Part 2

In the last article the origin of language was presented as being given by God with a complete set of complex rules that cannot be broken. That the normal reading of scripture and the literal method was His intention in creating language starting with Adam in order for mankind to understand what He has to say, but the allegorical method has been brought in to confuse and pervert the plain meaning. The allegorical is what the Greeks used to minimize the moral difficulty of their gods. When one wants to change the plain sense, for whatever reason, the most typical method used to move the reader away from the plain to their perverse is by means of allegory or some variant thereof. In this article an examination of typical interpretative errors will be presented and a systematic look at the sun and moon will follow.

Interpretative ErrorsToday we face an interpretative battle with fellow evangelicals and it is getting really ugly as the literal approach is attacked in favor of one of the following interpretative errors that have been identified by Dr. John McLean in the book The Fundamentals for the Twenty-First Century (Mal Couch, gen.ed., Grand Rapids:Kregel, 2000). A summary of Dr. McLean's observations follows:
  1. Allegorical Interpretation. Disregards the historical and contextual interpretation for a deeper, or mystical understanding.
  2. Spiritualized Interpretation. Similar to allegorical, the interpreter acknowledges the descriptive nature of the historical narrative, until the application step is reached. Then the historical is replaced in favor of a theological meaning.
  3. Typological Interpretation. The excessive application of seeing typology in every aspect of the Bible.
  4. Cross-Reference Interpretation. The interpreter searches for uses of the same or similar passages, words, or phrases anywhere in Scripture. The problem being there is a general disregard for context.
  5. Systematized Interpretation. The interpreter demands that Scripture fit into a particular theological system (e.g., replacement theology, covenant theology, etc).
  6. Prophetic Predictive Interpretation. The interpreter takes the fact that Scripture does contain prophecies to an extreme in which prophecies are seen everywhere. Cryptic, symbolic codes are seen everywhere.
  7. Wooden-Literal Interpretation. The interpreter fails to accept figures of speech, & etc.
  8. Personalized-Devotional Interpretation. Every passage relates directly to the reader's life (e.g., a promise to Abraham, David, or Paul becomes a direct promise to the reader).
  9. Prooftext or Dogmatic Issues Interpretation. The interpreter uses passages to prove a point, disregarding context.
  10. Rationalistic Interpretation. The rationalist seeks to maintain the understanding of the text within the realm of human reason or comprehension.
  11. Demythological Interpretation. The rationalistic approach, except that this system does not seek to comprehend the biblical story on any factual level. Historical facts are thrown away. The Bible does not contain actual history.
  12. Historical Interpretation. The Bible contains an account of history from the perspective of a particular cultural setting and represents their biases and values and views of reality.
  13. Literary Interpretation. The Bible is magnificent literature, but they do not accept it as the Word of God.
The list alone is an excellent way to identify the gross error that has crept into Christian writings. There is a multitude of reasons why one would change the plain sense into something else, but the result is the same - a perversion of God's Word and, furthermore, serves to minimize the intended doctrine. The perversion always affects theology in one way or another. The most important aspect of interpretation is context, context, context! As Dr. McLean writes, "Maintaining the big picture of literary context helps to control the direction of exegesis so that the exegete does not get off on to hermeneutical rabbit trails that have little to do with the argument of the book." Remember, words and grammar have some, but little meaning apart from the immediate context.

The Sun, Moon and StarsIt is time to take a systematic look at the sun, moon and stars. The common word for sun in Hebrew is shemesh from an unused root meaning "to be brilliant." In the Greek, sun is the word helios which comes from a root meaning "a ray." The normal use of the word is for the literal sun - that object of brilliance that God created and placed in the heavens. Of the 160 times the word is used in the Bible its primary use is literal, however, it can be observed to have several contextual meanings. A short list follows:

  • Direction (either sun-rising: east; sun-setting: west) (eg. Num. 2:3)
  • An object of worship (e.g. Deu 17:3; 2 Kgs 23:5; Jer. 43:13 )
  • Something done openly or publicly, an unveiling (e.g. Num. 25:4; Judg. 5:31; 2 Sam 12:11, 12; Ecc. 2:17; Matt. 5:45; 13:43)
  • Battle shields (as glittering or shinning, reflecting the sun)
  • A sign (e.g. of the greatness of God, Deu. 4:19); of God's control over it (Josh 10:13; Job 9:7; Ps. 74:16)
  • An object of measurement whether it be time (e.g. Deu. 16:6), limited time (Deu. 24:15); or space (Josh. 1:4)
  • The source of fruitfulness (Deu 33:14; Job 8:16)
  • Death or spiritual darkness. They shall not see the sun (meaning death, Ps. 58:8; or spiritual darkness, Mic. 3:6)
  • Longevity, strength (Ps. 72:5, 17; 89:36)

The sun serves as the center of our solar system, around which the earth travels and receives both its light and heat. Its light is denoted by the additional Hebrew words found for sun 'or meaning "light" (cf. Job 31:26), and heat by the word chammah (cf. Job 30:28). Sun worship dominated the nations surrounding Israel and the too, despite prohibition by the Law (Deu. 4:19) at times fell into sun-worship (cf. 2 Kg 21:3). So exacting is the movement of the sun that the ancient built elaborate sun-dials which trace the movement of the sun throughout the yearly cycle.

MoonThe word for moon in the Hebrew is yareach and serves as an important object for mankind and the earth as the physical effect of the moon on the earth are realized. The word month yerah is derived from moon, reflecting the moon's importance as a reliable source on measuring time. Time is often counted by the moon's lunar cycle. In the New Testament Greek the word for moon is selene. The moon is not only used as a literal object but also in the following ways:

  • appointed time (eg. new moon Num. 10:10; 28:14)
  • enduring time (Ps. 72:5, 7)

The moon serves to illuminate the night and regulates the seasons. The calendar of the ancients centered around the cycle of the moon, so the word Hebrew month is derived. The moon has three primary distinctions in the Hebrew; yareach meaning the its "paleness;" chodesh meaning "new moon;" and lebanah meaning the moon from its "whiteness."

Moon worship was fairly common in the ancient Near East. The pagan cults made human sacrifices to their various moon gods. Moon worship was even taken up by Manasseh who promoted it as part of worshiping "all the hosts of heaven" (2 Kg. 21:3-5).

StarsThe Hebrews grouped all heavenly bodies except the sun and moon into the word star. The Hebrew for star is kokab and the Greek astron or aster. Along with the literal use, stars are used in many ways including the following:

  • Jesus the morning star (Num. 24:17; Rev. 22:16)
  • Angels (Rev. 1:16, 20), Fallen Angels (Rev. 12:4) and Satan (Isa. 14:12)
  • Saints in heaven (Dan. 12:3) an Christians (Phil. 2:15)
  • False gods (Acts 7:43) and False teachers (Jude 13)
  • Rulers of earth (Dan. 8:10; Rev. 6:13)
  • A great number, extent or posterity (Gen. 15:5)

Stars served the ancients along with the sun and moon as navigational guides. So it is that they are the least luminaries of the heavens. The pagan nations used the stars in a magical way, hence, the term stargazer (Hebrew chozeh, "seer"). They used the stars as astrological guides for life that the Bible calls magic and forbids. Astrology sought to see and foretell the future.

God Created the Sun, Moon and StarsThe fashioning of the sun, moon and stars on the forth day are found to be a literal historical event and is described in the first book of the Bible. Genesis 1:16 says God made (Heb. 'asah, "to do," "make," fashion," "to accomplish"; and literally here, "continues to make." The incomplete action is significant) the sun and moon. God alone carefully placed them in the heavens as He saw fit and provides the purpose for their creation:

14 Then God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years; 15 and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth"; and it was so. 16 God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also. 17 God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good. 19 There was evening and there was morning, a fourth day. (Gen. 1:14-20)
1. Purpose. The purpose for creating the objects of the firmament is primarily to separate or divide the day from the night; but too, for the purpose of being: (a) signs, both in the sense of a miracle (cf. Matt. 2:2; Luke 21:25; Joel 2:30; Jer. 10:2; Matt. 24:29 & etc), and in the sense of good or bad weather; (b) seasons, not merely for festal seasons but to establish fixed points and periods of time based on a periodic basis for the four seasons and all that means for man, animal, plant, and earth; (c) for days in a literal sense of time; and (d) for years in a literal sense of counting time and history (Some have tightly connected signs to days and years by what is called a Hendiadys. But there is a division of opinion on this, and I take these to stand as independent objects).

In typical Hebrew style, the primary point is repeated, "so let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to cause to be a light upon the earth; and it was so" (v. 15). The greater light [the sun] rules the day. The Hebrew word rule (memshalah, "rule, "dominion," "realm") has the idea of having a domain whose rulership is defined and where a rule of law is held. The rule of the sun involves the domain of the day (yom, "day," "a 24 hour period," "a period of daylight," "a period in general," whose root means "to be hot") as is properly defined as the natural daylight or that period which allows mankind to work by the light of the day. By rule is meant all things that the sun physically provides the earth, moon, and stars. Principally, physical laws that are known and unknown (e.g., laws of gravity, photons, & etc). Likewise, "and the lesser light [the moon] to rule the night; the stars also." God has established a set of rules or physical laws that govern the moon and stars, as well, a set of laws that the moon and stars provides the earth. The moon and stars reflect the light of the sun by night and is understood by the Hebrew word for night (lul) whose root meaning is "to fold back." That is, the greater (day or sun) is folded back (cf. Ps. 136:8, "the sun governs the day").

Again, as if to restrict mankind from placing to much interpretative nonsense on the text, the author stresses for the third time the primary purpose for the heavenly objects that He carefully placed in the sky – to give light to the earth, to rule over day and night, and provide a separation between light and dark (vv. 17-18).

The Hebrews distinguished the day as follows: the early morning until the sun is hot (1 Sam. 11:9; Heh. 7:3); the heat of the day in late morning and afternoon (Gen. 18:1; 1 Sam. 11:11; 2 Sam. 4:5); and the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8); the twilight "between the two evenings" was the period after sunset but before dark (Ex. 12:6).

The apostle Paul likens the difference between the quality of the light that the sun, moon and stars provide to the difference between the earthly and heavenly human body (vv. 42-49) when he writes:

There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. (1 Cor. 15:40-41)

What is distinguished by Paul in 1 Corinthians is the heavenly is different (Greek heteros, "another of a different kind") in kind than the earthly. The different glories of the sun, moon and stars are distinguished (Greek ollos, "another of the same kind") in the way they carry (Greek diaphero, "to carry differently," here, in the impersonal "difference in importance") their individual glories. The moon and stars would not shine if the sun did not provide the light.

God Actively Controls the Sun, Moon and StarsNot only has God placed the sun, moon, and stars in the heavens as He saw fit but, He actively controls them as is demonstrated by "stilling" them in the sky for Joshua and the Israelite army (Josh. 10:12-13), and moving the sun back on the sundial of Ahaz as a sign for Hezekiah that God would heal him of his terminal illness (2 Kings 20:1-11). The Hebrew makes it clear as it literally says, "and He [the LORD] caused to return the shadow backwards by ten steps" (v. 11b). The causative verb "caused to return" makes it clear where the source of the control lies – with the LORD alone.

In several areas of Scripture, God speaks of His active control over His creation.

5 He removes the mountains, and they do not know When He overturns them in His anger; 6 He shakes the earth out of its place, And its pillars tremble; 7 He commands the sun, and it does not rise; He seals off the stars; 8 He alone spreads out the heavens, And treads on the waves of the sea; 9 He made the Bear, Orion, and the Pleiades, And the chambers of the south; 10 He does great things past finding out, Yes, wonders without number. 11 If He goes by me, I do not see Him; If He moves past, I do not perceive Him; 12 If He takes away, who can hinder Him? Who can say to Him, 'What are You doing?' 13 God will not withdraw His anger, The allies of the proud lie prostrate beneath Him. (Job. 9:5-13)

Job 9:7 says, "He commands the sun, and it does not rise." What makes this a literal statement? The context! In Job 9:5, Job says, "It is God who removes the mountains, they know not how, When He overturns them in His anger." This "removes or movement" ('athaq, "to move," "proceed," "be removed") of the mountains is in the causative making God the agent and refers to either a removal of a mountain as in a mudslide, a volcanic eruption where the mountain's lava serves to build a new mountain next to the old, or moves the mountains in the sense of an earthquake. Then in verse 6, Job says "Who shakes the earth out of its place, And its pillars tremble" no doubt speaks of earthquakes and all that entails. Then in verse 8, "Who alone stretches out the heavens And tramples down the waves of the sea." These are literal, historical events. Verse 9 continues with this theme of God's sovereign creation and control over His creation with verse 10 which gives the crescendo to the section essentially saying God's greatness is seen not only by His unfathomable ("great things that cannot be found out") and wondrous works, but man cannot count them. Man cannot even know all of them. This is the doctrine of God's infiniteness, omnipotence and omniscience.

The interpreter cannot spiritualize the text as some have tried, saying for example, that the removing of the mountains are a figurative way of saying that God removes nations, since nations are referred to as mountains. The interpreter cannot take the Bible as a whole, mix it up, like a salad bowl, and pull out information without regard for context. Some interpreters ignore the literal and go straight for the "spiritual," saying something like, "God can move the big mountains in your life." While the desire to make the text mean something practical to the person in the pew is a good thing, the main point of the text cannot be skipped over or minimized. The context involves real objects, real events and the point of the section involves God's unfathomable works that are visible, so there is no reason to make this section mean anything other than what it says. God is sovereign over His creation and that creation includes mankind! Is that not good enough for some? Are man's words better that God's? Does the interpreter have to improve God's word? The personal application is found as one continues through the verses of chapter 9, but to spiritualize this section is to do great harm to the plain reading of the Word.

In Psalm 104, the psalmist speaks of the sovereign control God has over creation. For example:

19 He made the moon for the seasons; The sun knows the place of its setting. 20 You appoint darkness and it becomes night, In which all the beasts of the forest prowl about. 21 The young lions roar after their prey And seek their food from God. 22 When the sun rises they withdraw And lie down in their dens. 23 Man goes forth to his work And to his labor until evening.
Psalm 104 says that God has appointed to each unique part of His creation an appointed part. The rules are for every aspect of life whether one observes it or not. For example in verses 19 through 23, the psalmist describes the aspect of the "season" (mo'ed, "appointed time," "season," or "place") of night. This particular season is night where the prowling beasts seek prey. The sun knows (yada', "to know") when to go down so that the appointed time called night can come in. The sun is described as "knowing," as if it had a mind. The lion is described as understanding why it hunts at night, as if he actually understood why that was. The man understands why he labors by day. These are general rules of life that each object lives by and in general cannot change. They are natures built into each one. The sun ruled by the natural laws we call physics. The lion the natural laws we call instinct. The man the natural laws called necessity. The sun cannot change its nature any more than the lion can change his.

In this case the literal interpreter does not say that the sun literally "knows" as if it had a mind and can understand its purpose, but this is clearly understood to be a literary means of explaining that even those objects that have a mind and capable of understanding, observe the natural function of the lion who hunts by night, and the man who labors by day, but to truly understand why, that is left to the Creator alone.

In the final period before the establishing of the Davidic kingdom, God will either change the quality of the sun or bring opportunity for the sun to scorch (kaumatizo, "to burn with heat," i.e, signifies the result of burning; hence to brand or sear) the inhabitants of the earth:

8 The fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun, and it was given to it to scorch men with fire. 9 Men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory. 10 Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became darkened; and they gnawed their tongues because of pain, 11 and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds. (Rev. 16:8-11)

The result of the intense nature of the sun, either as a result of a change in the sun itself, or bringing about circumstances on the earth which creates an environment for the sun to burn with full force all the extended day, is that sores (helkos, "sore," esp., a wound producing a discharge) are upon the men (cf. the seeds that are burned up by the sun in Matt. 16:2-3).

It is understood that both the sun and moon will have a wholly different nature in the last days as the light of the sun will be seven times greater than normal and the moon will be a light as the sun:

The light of the moon will be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven days, on the day the LORD binds up the fracture of His people and heals the bruise He has inflicted (Isa. 30:26).

God Removes the Sun and MoonJust as surely as God created the sun, moon, and stars, so He will someday remove them. There will be no need for the sun and moon in the new earth. This is clear in the Old Testament by the word of the Lord in Isaiah 60:

No longer will you have the sun for light by day, Nor for brightness will the moon give you light; But you will have the LORD for an everlasting light, And your God for your glory. Your sun will no longer set, Nor will your moon withdraw; For you will have the LORD for an everlasting light, And the days of your mourning will be over. (Isa. 60:19-20)
Just as surely as God created the sun for light by day, He will remove its light, saying literally, " [The] light of the sun will not be for you for the light by day." Likewise the moon will not provide light by night. They will be replaced by the light of the Lord. Notice in verse 20 the sun goes down (bow', "to come," "go"), but the moon withdraws ('acaph, "gather together," "take away," the root idea is an association, i.e., the moon is tightly associated with the sun – the moon has no glory apart from the sun).

The New Testament tells the story of the New Jerusalem and the light present there. The Lord Himself will provide all the light needed at that time as His Shechinah (Hebrew shaken, "to dwell") Glory - the dwelling presence of God provides the illumination:

23 The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. 24 And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. 25 Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). (Rev. 21:23-25; cf. 22:5)
As can be seen in this article, God not only created the sun, moon and stars, but He actively controls them, holding them up by His power. The elements of the heavens are real and will at some point in the future change in their character and eventually go away, replaced by the light of the glory of the Lord Himself. These facts cannot be denied. There is nothing to indicate a spiritual reading of these events. It is only by interpretative error that they be minimized and their truth be perverted. In the next article the metaphorical use of the sun, moon and stars will be examined and a closer look at the subject of dramatic hyperbole will be examined.