The Green Bay Packers were having a tough time playing their football game. After one particularly disappointing first half, their coach, Vince Lombardi, gathered the team together, held up a ball and said, “Gentlemen, this is a football,” to which one of the players replied, “Slow down, Coach!” It is always worth it to remind ourselves of the fundamentals and that is exactly what Lombardi was doing—returning to the basics, the foundation, the first things, the things you always have to keep in mind even as you advance to learn the finer details. This is true of every skill. While dancing in ballet, you must never forget that you are always visible, and every position and movement to the next position must be drawing a beautiful line for the eye. In music, you must never forget pitch and rhythm.
And in life, you must never forget that God created the world.
Genesis is the introduction to everything, and the introduction to Genesis begins in the beginning. We are going to be considering the first things, the facts and concepts that drive the rest of our lives whether we realize it or not. So today, we are going to be exploring a few key points, namely these three (though, we could cover so much more): God alone created creation, God alone commands creation, and God alone blesses creation
God alone created creation
Genesis begins by saying that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The Bible does not make an argument for God’s existence, because, at the time, that wasn’t the radical claim. The radical claim was that there was only one God who created everything! There were a lot of weird and violent stories that were popular at the time to explain why the world was made the way that it was, but the Bible just says, “No, there was only one God who made everything.” What’s amazing for the original audience, recently emancipated slaves from Egypt is that, as one scholar put it, “the God of the covenant community is the same as the creator of the cosmos.” (Bruce Waltke, 55). The same God who is leading the people of Israel through the desert is the same God who made the desert! This is especially a comfort as one of my old seminary professors said, “"In short, everything that the pagans worshiped God had made. Consequently, their gods should pose no real threat to Israel, for the creation must be subject to the Creator." (Allen Ross, 102). In a world that viewed other nation’s gods with fear, this would be a tremendously comforting message. The Egyptians worshiped the sun, but Israel served the God who made the sun.
We do well to keep this in mind. While you are much more likely to come across someone in our culture who doesn’t believe in the supernatural at all (although, there are some interesting trends that suggest that won’t be the case for long), Genesis is still relevant. In a culture that is increasingly believing that that the world popped out of nothing and grew itself into people, Genesis has even more to say! Genesis tells us that you are not some cosmic accident but are in fact a special creation with a job and purpose.
Let’s look at how God formed the world. Verse one told us the whole story in a nutshell, but now we are going to look at the details of how God went about doing this. As an aside, I am not going to spend a whole lot of time here arguing about creation versus evolution. That is an important subject, but I think our time is better spent thinking about the implications or “so what” of God creating everything. Briefly though, evolution is driven by survival, avoiding death. I think that death doesn’t show up until sin does in Genesis 3, therefore the primary driver of evolution doesn’t show up until after everything is already here. I think also that God is being pretty clear that everything is being made in six 24 hour days for the following reasons, as articulated by Allen Ross, “"(1) Elsewhere, whenever yom [the Hebrew word for “day”] is used with a number, it means a twenty-four hour period; (2) the Decalogue [the Ten Commandments] bases the teaching of the Sabbath day on the six days of creation and the seventh day of rest; (3) from the fourth day on, there are days, years, signs, and seasons, suggesting that the normal system is entirely operative; and (4) if yom refers to an age, then the text would have to allow for a long period of "day" and then a long period of "night"—but few would argue for the night as an age." (Ross, 109). If you have additional questions on this, come see me afterwards or send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org)!
So we get into verse 2 and we see that the world is formless and void. These are two Hebrew words that describe chaos and emptiness. A couple different commentators see this as actually providing us the structure for the rest of creation with the first three days putting things in order and the next three days filling the emptiness (Ross, 104). In the first three days of creation God is going to tame the chaos. There is going to be order, structure, and separation (Ross, 102). God is going to separate and order day and night, heavens and earth, and land and sea on the first three days and the second three days He is going to fill all of those spheres.
It begins with the Spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters or the deep. Many wonder where this comes from. Well, Genesis doesn’t say, but in John 1, we find out that there was nothing made that God didn’t make. God made everything, and one commentator likened this verse to being like a potter who takes an unformed lump of clay and slaps it onto the wheel to begin forming His creation (U. Cassuto, 23).
God starts with creating light. You’ll notice that God doesn’t start by creating the sun.That doesn’t happen until day four. God doesn’t need a sun to create light like we need a bulb to light up a room. God can simply speak light into existence as He does here.
Next, God creates a separation between the earth and the sky. God separates the waters of the ocean from the water in the clouds (Ross, 109). This shows us that there is nowhere that God does not rule. Go to the bottom of the ocean, God is still in charge, ascend to the highest atmosphere, and God has already been there and already created the place. This extends until day three where God also separates the land from the sea. There is nowhere that God does not rule and command.
Now, the Lord moves on to filling. We have brought order to the chaos, but now it is time to fill that which has been ordered. God begins with the land to fill it with vegetation and all kinds of plant life. This should remind all that all food comes from the hand of the Lord. This is why it is good for us to pray a prayer of thanksgiving before a meal. Every calorie on that plate is provided for us by God ultimately.
Next, God fills the universe with planets and stars, the sun and the moon. At this time, these creations are used to mark the days and seasons. One commentator points out, "The first function: to separate the day from the night. This expression enables us to comprehend the existence of the first three days, when there was as yet no sun in the world. To separate one thing from another means to mark the distinction between two things already in existence. It is manifest that the night exists even without the presence of moon and stars. Similarly, according to the view reflected here, the sun is not the cause of daytime, for the latter is to be found without the former" (Cassuto, 43-44).
Then the Lord moves on to fill the heavens with the birds, the seas with the fish and great creatures, and the land with the animals we’ve come to know. There is an interesting tidbit of Hebrew here: "As a rule, the stem (swarming things) is used of small or tiny creatures, but here, in the command of God, who is communing with Himself, it refers also to large creatures, for vis-à-vis the Creator, they are all equally small. But when, in v. 21, the Torah tells its readers of the implementation of the fiat, it uses human phraseology and distinguishes between the big and the small creatures." (Cassuto, 48).
The Lord alone Commands His creation and Blesses His Creation
At this point the Lord commands the creatures to multiply and fill the earth, and the Lord has a particular blessing at this point for the fish. This blessing is that of fertility which became something of a proverb in Hebrew culture (Gen. 48:18, “let them multiply like fish”).(Cassuto, 51).
But then we move on to the creation of mankind. Here is where things really slow down in the narrative, and you can tell that there is a real effort to emphasize this portion of creation. Much has been made about the phrase “let us make man.” Who is God talking to? The noun for God throughout this passage is a plural noun, but the noun has always taken a singular verb. Moses is being very careful to show that God is alone in all of this, so this particular moment is odd. There are various ways to look at it, but I think that this is an early hint at the Trinity. You have your one God in three persons first mentioned here, but will get more explicit as the Bible moves on. This doctrine of the Trinity is actually much more important than we tend to think, and we will explore why next time, but suffice it to say, God decides to make mankind and mark them with His image.
What is His image? God doesn’t have a body (John 4:24), so this isn’t some sort of physical thing. Whether this is the fact that we share spiritual and moral attributes of God, or the fact that we have a soul, or many other possibilities for this, whatever the case may be, we are endowed with a special marking from God that gives us dignity above all the rest of creation. It is not strictly the fact that we are made human that makes us special, it is the fact that human beings bear the image of God. That is what gives us all worth.
This is something worth keeping in mind when we are upset with people, or annoyed with them on the road. Yes, that person is made in the image of God, even people who don’t use their blinkers while driving. And as such, they deserve respect. This is why life is so important to us. Babies in the womb bear God’s image all the way to the elderly in the nursing home. They all bear God’s image, so we don’t want them destroyed or ignored. It’s not a perfect analogy, but we are often careful with physical pictures of my family. We wouldn’t want to see them ripped up. Hurting the physical print doesn’t hurt the person pictured, but respect for the image shows respect to the person imaged. It is the same with God, we love God, so we love His image reflected in people.
Finally, God blesses humanity and sets them over all creation. This is both a privilege and a responsibility. We are called to subdue creation (something that gets a lot harder after the Fall), but that doesn’t mean destroy. We are called to rule it, but it is still God’s. As usual, humanity falls into one of two traps. Either creation care is elevated above care for humanity, or creation care is given such a low priority that it looks like we haven’t been called to be good stewards of it. We are called to care for it, but we don’t forget that this has been given for us to use but used responsibly.
Finally, on the seventh day, God stops from creating. It is said that he rested on the Seventh day, not because God was exhausted and needed a break, but because He was providing a model for us (Cassuto, 68). He again blesses the seventh day, and sets it apart, and makes it holy. This is something that we still enjoy today. It is a day where we set aside our work and remember how God has made all things for our good and His glory.
Of course, that day has changed for us from the seventh day to the first because there was something very special that happened on a Sunday two thousand years ago, that was itself four thousand years after creation: Jesus rose from the dead. Since the Fall, we have labored under sin, doing things that we shouldn’t do that are against God’s law. The penalty for this is death forever in a place called hell. This isn’t a place where we just cease to exist, but a place of eternal conscious torment. Jesus, God’s own Son, provided the way for us to not have to go there by paying the penalty Himself. When we put our faith in him, transferring our trust from ourselves to Him, leaving our sin behind, we enter into His rest. We don’t have to earn our way to heaven by what we do. And one day, after we die, we will live with God forever.
So what is our takeaway from this? Genesis 1 tells us that God created everything which means that God owns everything and controls everything. You are worshiping the God who made all things and is worthy of your worship on that fact alone, but He has done even more in saving your soul, something we will explore in the weeks to come.
Cassuto, U, A commentary on the Book of Genesis, Part One, Varda Books
Ross, Allen Creation and Blessing, Baker.
Waltke, Bruce Genesis: A Commentary, Zondervan
Image by Walkerssk