14 Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years;
15 and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so.
16 Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also.
17 God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth,
18 and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.
19 So the evening and the morning were the fourth day.
The sun and the moon are … timekeepers. The moon orbits the earth once every 28 days. … It’s 28-day orbit is seen from the earth in the form of phases, from new moon, through quarters (crescents and half-moons) to full moon and back again.
The sun also gives us time scales. The orbit of the earth around the sun takes about 365.3 days. This is the length of our year. The earth’s orbit is elliptical, rather than circular. If the earth’s orbit were circular, and the earth’s axis not tilted away from the perpendicular, then we would notice no seasons. The ancient time scales, plotting the year’s course by the seasons, is entirely astronomical in nature. The earth’s rotation about its own axis takes about 24 hours. This is the length of the day.
This brings us to the second reason that these lights are in the sky. They are there to give life to the earth. — Taylor, page 52.
The words “created” and “made” … should be distinguished when it is being read. … For example, [God] “created” the sun, moon, and stars at some unknown period of time “in the beginning” (v.1), and afterwards, when preparing the earth for man, He “made,” i.e., appointed them in relation to the earth as light-holders, as measurers of time, and as vehicles of revelation (Psalm 19). — Williams, page 9.
The lights were set in “the firmament of heaven,” but this was not the same firmament as formed on the second day. The latter is the “open firmament of heaven” where birds were to fly (v.20). As noted above, the term “firmament” may apply to any particular region of space, as determined by context. In verse 8, we were told that “God called the firmament Heaven.” Evidently “firmament” is the common term and “heaven” is the formal name for any firmament (or space) which has been designated as a particular sphere of God’s creative or purposive activity. — Morris, page 67.
Since the heavenly bodies were to be used to denote the “seasons” (as well as “days and years”), it is obvious that there were to be distinct seasons through the year, and this implies that the earth’s axis was inclined as it is at present. —Morris, page 67
In addition to marking the passage of days and years, God indicates that [the stars] are foremost intended for signs and for seasons (not, as some read, “as signs for marking seasons, etc.”), both of which terms underscore God’s omniscience and preemptive redemptive focus in Creation itself. This is evident from the fact that the Hebrew word translated signs is commonly employed in Scripture to denote a miracle—i.e., a testimony to God’s active involvement in human history, usually in connection with a redemptive purpose (as in Exodus 4:8ff. & Deuteronomy 34:11); and the word translated seasons is typically employed to denote the “appointed times,” or “holy days,” of Israel (as in Leviticus 23), which are likewise intended to serve as testimonies to God’s redemptive activity in human history—specifically, in fact, to God’s plan of messianic redemption, as Paul writes in Colossians 2:16-17, that the festivals of Israel (i.e., each of the yearly festivals, the monthly new moon festival, and the weekly Sabbath) are fundamentally “a shadow of what is to come, the substance of which belongs to Christ.” In other words, knowing full well that man would sin and thus stand in need of redemption, God graciously and lovingly wove into the fabric of Creation itself—even before man was created—those elements that would serve as post-fall “signposts” of redemption, intended to help point man’s way back into “relationship” with his Creator-Father through the specific redemptive work of His Son, Jesus Christ. — Wechsler, page 68.
I’ve only copied out a tiny bit of what my commentaries had to say on this passage. All of them believe with complete conviction that God created the universe and everything in it, as do I. But none of them agree with each other as to exactly how He did it. In this passage, the issues are 1) whether or not the sun, moon, and stars that we can see were created earlier in Genesis 1:1 (before the “gap”), and 2) if the stars were created during the six days, how can their light possibly have reached the earth by this time.
I have my own theories that are nothing more than speculation. But I wonder if the universe at large was created in Genesis 1:1, before the gap. If there was a gap between Genesis 1:1 and the six days, we have no idea how long that might have been. It may even have been before time, as we know it, began. If so, the apparent age of the universe offers no problems. (Because there is so much disagreement on this point, let me rush to state, once again, that I DO NOT BELIEVE THAT THE PROCESS OF EVOLUTION TOOK PLACE DURING THE GAP. I DO NOT BELIEVE THAT THIS PLANET WAS CREATED MILLIONS OF YEARS AGO. I DO NOT BELIEVE IN THE EXISTENCE OF PRE-ADAMIC MEN WITHOUT SOULS.
Wechsler’s point of view, that the creation account is specifically focusing on the aspects of God’s creation that were for the benefit of humans, makes sense to me. In that light, perhaps the “making” (the word “creation” isn’t used here) of the sun, moon, and stars is referring only to those heavenly bodies that factor as signs. I have no problem with the concept that distance stars and galaxies were created before time as we know it and that the closer stars and planets were created on day four for us.
But that’s just pondering.