The Beginning of the Story (Genesis 1:1-2:3)

The story of Creation starts right at the beginning of the Bible. The stage is set, the main characters introduced and we begin to read about who God is and what he is doing in time and space.  In Genesis 1, we are told that God creates the world over a 7 day time frame.

The Creation Week

Day 1

In the beginning, God creates (1:1).[1] We are taken right back to the start of time.  If you have read the whole story, you will immediately be alert to future echoes of this and their significance. In particular, John 1:1 tells us that “In the beginning was the Word.” Jesus, God the Son, was present at creation. If he was there at the beginning of time, then he pre-exists time. In other words, Jesus is the eternal Son.   Creation’s condition at the start is described as “formless and void” and dark. The starting point is without shape and empty. It is waiting to be shaped, ordered and filled. God’s Spirit is present “hovering” and again we may immediately think of later imagery that echoes this: the dove that hovers over the flood and the Spirit himself again seen in the form of a dove at Jesus’ baptism.

God creates light (v3-5).  He simply speaks and it happens.  Creation is obedient to his command. God separates light from darkness. We begin to see the forming, shaping and ordering process at work. God names light “day” and darkness “night.” Here we see ordering happening in the beginning of measured time.

Naming is significant in Genesis 1.

“Seven times a subsequent divine word either of naming (vv5 [2 times]. 8, 10 [2 times]) or blessing (vv22, 28) follows an act of creation… In the OT, to name something is to assert sovereignty over it; c.f. 2:20; 2 Kings 23:34; 24:17. Here darkness, though not said to have been created, is still named by God. Giving names also defines roles, and the naming of the day and night here is an aspect of separating darkness and light.”[2]

God evaluates what he has created. He sees that it is good.

Day 2

Creation of an expanse (V 6-8 -). Sky separates waters above from waters below.  Wenham comments:

“Put another way, the firmament occupies the space between the earth’s surface and the clouds. Quite how the OT conceives the nature of the firmament is less clear.”[3]

The point is this. Once again, God is giving form and structure. He is putting clear boundaries in place between the earth and the rest of the Universe.  Once again, God names his creation.

Day 3

God divides water from land (1: 9-10) and names them “sea” and “earth”. Once again, he sees that it is good.

God causes vegetation to grow (1:11-13).   He is beginning to fill the land. The living things, plants, trees, animals etc. each reproduces “after its kind.” Like produces like.

Day 4  

Lights are made to populate and rule in the heavens (1:15-19). These are the sun, moon and stars.

“The creation of the sun, moon and stars is described at much greater length than anything save the creation of man. The description is also quite repetitive. The fullness of the description suggests that the creation of the heavenly bodies held a special significance for the author.”[4]

So often in ancient religion and mythology, the celestial bodies were seen as divine and to be worshipped, but here is a clear reminder that God made them.[5] They are beautiful and serve a purpose, but they are not to be worshipped.

“Rule” here means to give order and structure to the day and night and the different seasons. These are governed by where the earth is in relation to the sun and where the moon is in relation to the earth.

Day 5

The sea and the sky are populated with fish, other sea creatures, birds (1:20-23). God blesses them. In this context, we start to learn that blessing has something to do with fruitfulness. They are told to multiply and fill out the heavens and the seas.

Day 6

God makes living creatures of all kinds (1: 24-25).

Mankind are made in God’s image (1:26-27). This includes both male and female. Men and women are equal in nature, both reflecting God’s image.  In verses 28-30, they are blessed. As well as being fruitful and multiplying, they are to rule over and subdue creation.

God’s image here reflects something of his character. Prior to the Fall this would include “righteousness and true holiness”[6] a long with authority to rule and subdue.[7] It may also include the idea that man acts as God’s vice-regent on earth.[8]  I agree with Calvin that “image” and “likeness” are not two different things but two words reinforcing the same point.[9]

In verse 31 God surveys the whole of his creation. It isn’t just “good” – it is very good.

Day 7

Creation is complete (2:1-3).  On day 7, God rests.  He blesses the 7th day.  This gives us more clues as to what it means “to bless.” Blessing also has something to do with completeness, rest and enjoying the fruits of your work. Blessing involves taking delight in the goodness of things.

Creation Themes

As we’ve worked through the passage, we’ve noticed some important themes that begin to tell us more about God and his work of creation. First of all, as already alluded to, an important theme is that God forms, shapes and orders his creation.

This may even be seen in the process of creation and the structure of the passage.  Wenham suggests that we can see the chapter fitting into two parts. The first part is to do with the ordering and shaping on days 1-3 and then on days 4-7, the forming and filling parallels the first 3 days.  This can be shown as below.[10]

Day 1     Light      Day 4 Luminaries

Day 2     Sky         Day 5 Birds and fish

Day 3     Land      Day 6 Animals and Man

(Plants)                (Plants for food)

The structure of the passage sends a clear message. God is a God of order, not chaos. God is the great and intentional designer who plans, wills and decrees.

Another way that the passage conveys its message is through the repetition of key words and phrases.  We’ve already noted that the phrase “God called” is repeated throughout the passage as God names things, exercising his dominion and authority over his creation. There are three other phrases that get repeated: “God said”, “And it was so”, “God saw that it was good.”

“God said…” God creates by speaking. This reminds us of his authority particularly as this is coupled with “and it was so…” Creation responds obediently to his voice. There are important theological implications here. First of all, this chimes with the point John makes: the Word is present and involved in Creation. Secondly, we see that God is sovereign. Thirdly, we are reminded of the trustworthiness of God’s Revelation. God’s Word is true and when God says something, it comes to pass.

Conclusion

It should be no surprise to see that the way that God creates the World fits with all that we have seen about who God is and what he is like.  We see that it is the Triune God who creates.  All three persons are present are involved. The Sovereign God demonstrates his greatness as all creation is obedient to his voice and the Good God creates a good and beautiful Universe.[11]

We also see that Creation results from God’s voice. It is an act of revelation and we can only truly understand His World through revelation.

 

 

[1] Note there are 4 possible interpretations of v 1. For a detailed discussion of the options, see Gordon J Wenham, Genesis 1-15 (WBC1. Word: 1987), 7-13.  Grammatically, it could either be a main clause or a subordinate temporal clause. If it is the main clause “In the beginning God created…,” then it is either the first act of creation or a heading for the whole thing. If it is subordinate, then either “In the beginning when God created…the earth was….” So that v2 is the main clause or “In the beginning when God created ….God said” with v 3 as the main clause and v 2 in parenthesis. This is theologically important: does God create from nothing, or should we “presuppose the existence of chaotic pre-existent matter before the work of creation began?” Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 11. The grammatical issue is whether the word Hebrew word for “beginning” can be used in an absolute sense in the main clause or whether it is only used in temporal clauses. Some scholars think it is only used in temporal clauses.  Wenham concludes with the majority of commentators that it is the main clause and the start of the acts of creation: Gordon J Wenham, Genesis 1-15 (WBC1. Word: 1987), 12-13. I agree with Wenham on this both because of his exegetical arguments, but also because of the theological implications. We will discuss this later. However, at this point note that John 1:2 and Revelation 4:11 require us to conclude that God created from nothing. Everything exists because he created it. Additionally, as Blocher explains, “The verb which we translate ‘create’ (bara) carried very considerable force in Hebrew. The Old Testament uses it most sparingly and in that form, exclusively of the God if Israel. Never is any material mentioned.” Henri Blocher, In the Beginning: The opening Chapters of Genesis (Downers Grove, IL.: IVP, 1984), 61. This does not leave room for uncreated primordial matter.

[2] Wenham Genesis 1-15, 19.

[3] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 19. Note that Calvin is insistent that this really should be thought of as an “expanse” and not as a solid firmament.  John Calvin, Genesis (Latin Edition, 1554. Tr. John King. Rpr. London: Banner of Truth, 1965), 79. He also relates the “waters above” to the sky being filled with clouds but says that we should not treat this as a technical scientific description. “Whence I conclude that the waters here meant are such as the rude and unlearned may perceive.” Calvin, Genesis, 80.

[4] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 21.

[5] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 21.

[6] Calvin, Genesis, 94.

[7] Calvin, Genesis, 94.

[8] See Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 30 & 31-32.

[9] Calvin, Genesis, 94.

[10] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 7. See also Henri Blocher, In the Beginning, 51 & 54-55.

[11] See Blocher, In the Beginning, 67.

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