Robin Parry notes that whilst the eternity of God transcends the natural temporality of the created world, natural time governs the seasons. Seasons in the Torah refer to religious and sacred festivals. In this impression, natural rhythms, including the periodic emergence of the full moon, are believed to regulate the temporalities of collective rituals.
The cultic association of the sun, moon, and stars – that they are the lamps in God’s cosmic temple – brings attention to a central focus of the author: “Let them be for signs (‘otot) and for seasons (mô’adîm), and for days and years.” The word translated here as seasons (mô’adîm) is always used in the Torah to refer to religious festivals, sacred seasons, and not merely the natural seasons of the year. The sun and the moon are given important assignments vis-à-vis Israel’s cultic festivals. It may be that the sun and moon are assigned roles over two kinds of time: sacred time (signs and festivals) and ordinary time (days and years).
With regard to natural time we may note that the stars were used to predict the seasons. They were also used to tell the time at night (when sun dials are not much help) and allowed an accurate prediction of when sunrise would happen. So they functioned somewhat akin to calendars and clocks.
With regard to sacred time we should note that ancient Israel used a lunar calendar and that its “appointed festivals” (mô’adîm) were regulated by this calendar. Thus Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Tabernacles all occur on a full moon. The “new moon” (hodes), the first day of the month, was also celebrated as a religious festival. What is fascinating about the creation of the sun, moon, and stars in Genesis 1 is that part of the reason that God made them was to regulate the rhythms of Israel’s worship – natural time and sacred time were linked (Parry 2014, 114-15).
Parry, Robin. 2014. The biblical cosmos: A pilgrim’s guide to the weird and wonderful world of the bible. Eugene: Cascade Books.