(Heb. shemesh), first mentioned along with the moon as the two great luminaries of heaven ( Genesis 1:14-18 ). By their motions and influence they were intended to mark and divide times and seasons. The worship of the sun was one of the oldest forms of false religion ( Job 31:26 Job 31:27 ), and was common among the Egyptians and Chaldeans and other pagan nations. The Jews were warned against this form of idolatry ( Deuteronomy 4:19 ; 17:3 ; Compare 2 Kings 23:11 ; Jeremiah 19:13 ).
In the history of "greater light," of the creation the sun is described as "greater light," in contradistinction to the moon, the "lesser light," in conjunction with which it was to serve "for signs and for seasons, and for days, and for years," while its special office was "to rule the day." ( Genesis 1:14-16 ) The "signs" referred to were probably such extraordinary phenomena as eclipses, which were regarded as conveying premonitions of coming events. ( Jeremiah 10:2 ; Matthew 24:29 ) with Luke 21:25 The joint influence assigned to the sun and moon in deciding the "seasons," both for agricultural operations and for religious festivals, and also in regulating the length and subdivisions of the years "correctly describes the combination of the lunar and solar year which prevailed at all events subsequent to the Mosaic period. Sunrise and sunset are the only defined points of time in the absence of artificial contrivances for telling the hour of the day. Between these two points the Jews recognized three periods, viz., when the sun became hot, about 9 A.M. ( 1 Samuel 11:9 ; Nehemiah 7:3 ) the double light, or noon. ( Genesis 43:16 ; 2 Samuel 4:5 ) and "the cool of the day," shortly before sunset. ( Genesis 3:8 ) The sun also served to fix the quarters of the hemisphere, east, west north and south, which were represented respectively by the rising sun, the setting sun, ( Isaiah 45:6 ; Psalms 50:1 ) the dark quarter, ( Genesis 13:14 ; Joel 2:20 ) and the brilliant quarter, ( 33:23 ; Job 37:17 ; Ezekiel 40:24 ) or otherwise by their position relative to a person facing the rising sun--before, behind, on the left hand and on the right hand. ( Job 23:8 Job 23:9 ) The worship of the sun, as the most prominent and powerful agent in the kingdom of nature, was widely diffused throughout the countries adjacent to Palestine. The Arabians appear to have paid direct worship to it without the intervention of any statue or symbol, ( Job 31:26 Job 31:27 ) and this simple style of worship was probably familiar to the ancestors of the Jews in Chaldaea and Mesopotamia. The Hebrews must have been well acquainted with the idolatrous worship of the sun during the captivity in Egypt, both from the contiguity of On, the chief seat of the worship of the sun, as implied in the name itself (On being the equivalent of the Hebrew Bethshemesh, "house of the sun") ( Jeremiah 43:13 ) and also from the connection between Joseph and Potipherah("he who belongs to Ela") the priest of On, ( Genesis 41:45 ) After their removal to Canaan, the Hebrews came in contact with various forms of idolatry which originated in the worship of the sun; such as the Baal of the Phoenicians, the Molech or Milcom of the Ammonites, and the Hadad of the Syrians. The importance attached to the worship of the sun by the Jewish kings may be inferred from the fact that the horses sacred to the sun were stalled within the precincts of the temple. ( 2 Kings 23:11 ) In the metaphorical language of Scripture the sun is emblematic of the law of God, ( Psalms 19:7 ) of the cheering presence of God, ( Psalms 84:11 ) of the person of the Saviour, ( John 1:9 ; Malachi 4:2 ) and of the glory and purity of heavenly beings. ( Revelation 1:16 ; 10:1 )
Poetical conceptions for the sun are frequently found in the Scriptures, though the strictly figurative expressions are not common. Undoubtedly the Jewish festivals, religious as well as agricultural, were determined by the sun's movements, and this fact, together with the poetical nature of the Hebrews and their lack of scientific knowledge, had a tendency. to multiply spiritual and metaphorical expressions concerning the "greater light" of the heavens. Some of these poetical conceptions are very beautiful, such as the sun having a habitation (Habakkuk 3:11), a tabernacle (Psalms 19:4) set for him by Yahweh, out of which he comes as a bridegroom from his chamber, rejoicing as a strong man to run a race. The sun is also given as the emblem of constancy (Psalms 72:5,17), of beauty (Song of Solomon 6:10), of the law of God (Psalms 19:7), of the purity of heavenly beings (Revelation 1:16; 12:1), and of the presence and person of God (Psalms 84:11). The ancient world given to personifying the sun did not refrain from sun-worship, and even the Hebrew in the time of the kings came perilously near this idolatry (2 Kings 23:11).
C. E. Schenk
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