“And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” Genesis 1:5b
Did you ever wonder why Genesis 1:5 mentions evening before morning? For years, as a young Christian, I wondered, “Since it is describing the first day, why doesn’t it say there was morning and there was evening? The day starts with morning, and then evening comes afterward. So, why is the order switched?”
The verse didn’t make sense to me because I was interpreting the reference to evening and morning as a recap of the day. But is it?
The preceding events are presented in chronological order: v3) And God said, “Let there be light.” And then there was light. v4) And then God saw the light. And then God separated the light from the darkness. v5) And then God named the light and the darkness. This is a list of events in chronological order. Unless there is something to indicate otherwise, we should expect the chronological order to continue. Thus, after God named the light and the darkness, the next event was the coming of evening. And the next event after evening was morning. If that is so, then “and there was evening and there was morning” in Genesis 1:5 is not a recap of the first day. Instead, it is the nighttime after God’s workday. “And there was morning” is the last event of day one. Thus, dawn is the transition point from day one to day two.
One can see this in an English translation by reading the context carefully. But, as a young Christian, I was so stuck thinking that “there was evening and there was morning” was a recap of the day, the idea that it simply continued recounting the events in sequence never occurred to me until I learned to read it in Hebrew.
In Hebrew, Genesis 1:3–5 is a chain of wayyiqtol verb clauses — the normal verb form used to indicate the next event in a past-tense narrative. So, the meaning is “And then God named the light … and then there was evening and then there was morning.”
Understanding that the evening and morning in Genesis 1:5 are in chronological order enables us to notice something else in the text — namely, nothing is mentioned between evening and morning. God worked during the day (Genesis 1:3–5a). And then at night — from evening until morning (Genesis 1:5b) — the Bible makes no mention of anything God did. Why not? We know from Hebrews 1:3 that Jesus is upholding the universe by the word of his power moment by moment. The universe is not autonomous, independent, or self-sustaining. God is always keeping the universe in being. He never stops to let creation continue on its own. Furthermore, Psalm 104:20–21 tells us that God feeds nocturnal animals at night. And Psalm 121:3 assures us that we are safe because “he who keeps you will not slumber.” So why do Genesis 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, and 31 describe events in a way that looks like God did nothing at night? Furthermore, why mention the nighttime at all if there are no nighttime events to report?
All narratives are selective. As John 20:30–1 explains, a narrator reports certain events because they serve the purpose of the writing, and narrators must necessarily leave other events unmentioned. To figure out why some events (like what God did at night) are omitted from a narrative and why others (like the fact that night occurred) are included, we need to know the narrator’s purpose. Exodus 20:8–11 makes it clear that one of the purposes for choosing which details are included in Genesis 1 is to establish a pattern for the human work week. The God-given pattern for our work week includes not only a rest day on the Sabbath, but also rest every night: “Man goes out to his work and to his labor until the evening” (Psalm 104:23). That explains why Genesis 1 tells us about God’s work during the daytime and then tells us that night occurred without mentioning God’s creation-sustaining work during that time. God designed us to need sleep. Accepting that creaturely limitation as part of God’s design is an act of faith. In sleep, we trust in the Lord rather than in our own work (Psalm 127:1–2). God showed his love for us by setting a pattern for our work week. And he revealed that pattern to us in Genesis 1 by narrating his work in the daytime and explicitly mentioning the occurrence of night even though he recounted no events during that time.
Although all this can be seen in English, I did not see it until I studied it in Hebrew. Bethlehem students pour so much effort into the Biblical languages in part because, when we are stuck misunderstanding a Bible verse, reading it in the original language may clarify the issue or jar us out of a rut. Thus, we are forced to ask new questions and see new truths. God told us in Genesis 1 about his work during the day and about the night without work because that is the pattern for us to imitate in our work week, including nightly rest. “In peace, I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, YHWH, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8). God works at night but did not tell us about it in the section of Scripture where he demonstrated the pattern for our work week because “he gives to his beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:2). That is why Genesis 1 tells us six times, “And then there was evening and then there was morning.”
John Beckman, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Old Testament
- Praise the Lord that he sustains us with rhythms of work and sleep, and pray that we would trust him fully as the one who holds all things.
- Pray that the Lord would bring and encourage the pastors who attend Serious Joy: The 35th Bethlehem Conference for Pastors.
- Pray that our students and faculty would enjoy a restful end to the Christmas break and return ready for the spring semester.
- Pray for the students considering where God would have them attend school.