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"By Periods God created that which produced the solar systems; then that which produced the Earth." Genesis 1:1 The Bible in Modern English by Ferrar Fenton 1901
The term, the meaning of which we shall first investigate, is “day” (in the Hebrew, yom.) The interpretation of this, in the sense “epoch” or “period,” has been a subject of animadversion, of an unnecessary severity in some cases. A careful examination of the first chapter of Genesis itself, leads unavoidably to the conclusion, that our natural day of one revolution of the sun cannot be meant by it, for we find that no fewer than three of the six days had passed before the measure of our present day was established. It was only on the fourth day, or epoch of the creation, “that God made two great lights to divide the day from the night, and to be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and for years.” The very first time that the term occurs in the Hebrew text, after the history of the six days’ work, and of the rest of the seventh, as if to furnish us with definite information regarding its true import, we find it employed in a similar manner to that in which we must understand it here; for, in Gen. ii. 4, we have, “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth, in the day (beyom) that the Lord God made the earth and heavens.” The use of the term in this indefinite sense is so common in the Hebrew writings, that it would be a great labor to quote all the passages in which it is found; and we shall satisfy ourselves by at present referring to Job xviii. 20, where it is put for the whole period of a man's life, “They that come after him shall be astonished at his day” (yomu); and Isaiah xxx. 8, where it is put for all future time, “Now go note it in a book, that it may be for the latter day (leyom), for ever and ever.” It is quite obvious, from these examples, that the Hebrews used the term (yom) to express long periods of time. The very conditions of the history in this chapter, prove that it must be here so understood.
They who object to this interpretation of the term here, immediately quote against it the reason added to the fourth commandment, “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day, wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath-day and sanctified it.” This is, however, no more than a brief reference, and the terms of it must therefore be strictly interpreted in accordance with those of the detail to which the reference is made.
It has been said that such an interpretation goes to nullify the reasons assigned for the sanctification of every seventh revolution of the sun; but this does not follow. In point of fact, the rest from the work of creation (we use this form of speech from the example before us) did not endure for only one revolution, of the sun, but has continued since the creation of man; and we have no grounds on which to establish even a conjecture of the time of its coming to a close; so that if we were urged to adopt a period of twenty four hours as the meaning of yom, that the six days of creation might literally correspond with our six working days, we should then find the apparent disagreement, which, by this process, we would endeavor to avoid, transferred to our weekly period of rest, and the rest from the work of creation.
It will surely be readily allowed, that the sanctification of the Sabbath has respect to man and his duties; and since his Creator has been made known to him, and the order of the six successive epochs in which the earth was rendered fit for his habitation; if we are to allow what surely no reflecting mind will ever deny, that it is his duty to reflect with gratitude on the blessing he has received, and to maintain in his heart a sense of his dependence upon, and responsibility to him, who made the heavens and the earth, and all that they contain, no method could have been devised better calculated for preserving these feelings in constant activity than appointing some definite portion of time, returning at short intervals, to be devoted to the contemplations that awaken them, nor any interval more appropriate than that which so directly recalls the order of the events of the creation. Since we have introduced the subject of the measure of our present day, we would offer an observation regarding the work of the fourth day, which includes the sun, moon and stars. Respecting the period of their creation, geology, from its nature, gives us no precisely definite indications. The history regarding them is from the 14th to the 18th verses, and we would observe of it, that the terms employed are such as do not not absolutely imply that these bodies were at this epoch first created, but admit of the interpretation that their motions were then first made the measures of our present days and seasons. We had found it already stated in the 1st verse, that the heavens and the earth were created in the beginning, antecedently to the work of the six days, by which they were reduced to their present order, and the earth was peopled with organized beings. It would seem an unwarrantable interpretation to exclude the sun, moon and stars from among the objects expressed by the general terms, the heavens and the earth. It is the most obvious interpretation, that they were then created, and were lighted up on the first day, but that it was only during the fourth epoch, that they were made, the greater light to rule over the present day, and the lesser light to rule over the present night, and to be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and for years, according to the measures of time, which we now find established by them. This part of the history, then, when interpreted in consistency with the 1st verse, and without any violence to the terms, implies, (in the common language of men, which, in all nations, refers the diurnal and annual revolutions of the heavenly bodies to the motions of these bodies themselves,) that the earth was during this epoch, finally brought into its present orbit.
The Meaning of the Hebrew Word YOM by John Thein 1897
There is no one conversant with Holy Scripture but will agree it is by metaphor that God is, at times, represented expressing words; seeing what He did is good, calling the light day, and the darkness night. Science shows us that the Hebrew word Yom—day— is also employed in a figurative sense. Certainly. Moses does not designate before the fourth day the ordinary succession of day and night, because the sun did not yet shine in the horizon; hence, it is taken in a figurative sense, and so is the latter part of the account. With our more accurate use of language it might appear strange that the inspired writer would make use of the word day for an indefinite period, and yet, the word day is frequently used in our languages in an analogous manner. Modern languages are rich in such expressions: duration, epoch, age, time, etc., but the Hebrew has only the word Yom, to express both a day, and an indefinite period of time.
By following the dictates of reason, we must conclude it was unnecessary that God should employ twenty-four hours to create the light, twenty-four hours to create the stars, the planets or the animals; an instantaneous act of His will was sufficient for Him to bring forth all these things, as God could not employ an entire day's work to give existence to every one of the species of creatures, which appeared during the Genesical days; therefore, there is good reason to believe that the word day is figurative, and denotes here an epoch of time.
The Arabs call a period of time Jaumun, which word is evidently related to the Hebrew Yom. That what proves the word Yom to mean here an epoch (as we shall show more fully when we come to explain the Hexaemeron) is, that the earth contains in its bosom remains of plants and animals beyond computation, and that the geological layers are immense graveyards where the dead are heaped up:—
The earth has gathered to her breast again
And yet again, the millions that were born
Of her unnumbered and unremembered tribes.
It is not possible to preserve to the word Yom the meaning of twenty-four hours duration, except in supposing that God did create in the fossil state those numberless remains of plants and animals found in the strata. Such a hypothesis cannot be accepted by one that has studied geology. We cannot suppose that all these fossils had been deposited in the terrestrial layers since the creation of man: 1. Because we should then have to give to man a much greater antiquity; 2. Because in the ancient layers there is nowhere a trace of man, which proves that the animals which have left their remains had lived before the creation of man.
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