Monday, June 27, 2016

God's Version of R & R (& R)--Genesis 2:1-3

What is it that you enjoy doing on vacation? It is, after all, the season of summer trips, long weekends, and recreational activity. Some people when they go away like to remain busy, filling their days with excursions, appointments, etc. Others like to read, veg out, watch TV, etc. Still others make it their job to try and do as little as possible and catch up on some much needed rest. So, how will you spend this 4th of July weekend? Truly, there is so much to appreciate about this great country of ours. However, one of its maladies is its commitment to the grind. While the concept of rest is often vilified in our 24/7 culture of deadlines and the ever-encompassing pressure to get ahead, accomplish, and succeed, consider this: rest is as old a concept as creation itself and was something that even God endorsed. Today we are going to ask the question: “How did God spend His vacation?” To be sure, while God never takes a real vacation from sustaining the universe and seeing to it that His promises are fulfilled, this question is really trying to understand how God conceives of rest. Therefore, today we are going to witness three ways God spent day 7 of creation week from Genesis 2:1-3. In so doing, we will learn how and why we ought to rest as those who are made in His image.

Image result for Rest and Relaxation

Reflection-2:1-“…Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts,…”

There is always a great deal of excitement when one completes something major. One of the things I’m currently working on completing is my PhD in Theology and Apologetics. With only three classes left, a few tests, and the writing of the dissertation, I am nearing the end and can hardly wait until I am able to say, “this degree is complete, along with all its requirements.” I imagine that following the completion of this endeavor, I might, as God does on day 7, reflect on what has been accomplished.

Chapter 3 begins with such reflection: “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts,…” (2:1). If we recall everything that this sentence considers, we will remember that in the overture, God created light and darkness in a vacuous mysterious universe—establishing the theme that the Lord is a God who brings order out of chaos (1:1-5). In the grand crescendo of 1:6-25, we watched in amazement as God created separations between the sea and sky and the land and sea, and then filled the skies with celestial bodies and birds, the sea with sea creatures, and ornamented the land with vegetation and beasts of all kinds. This crescendo demonstrates both for the original Hebrew audience and today’s church that the Lord is a God who stands over and above everything in the universe. Then, last week we observed God’s greatest creation—Mankind (1:26-31). Being made in God’s image, humans enjoy a level of glory and honor (Ps. 8) as they reflect God’s glory back to Him in their constitution, dominion over other created things, and unique relationship with the heavenly Father. This final creative act demonstrates that of all the created things in the universe, God cherishes humanity in general and individual people in particular. Having completed it all, God saw that it was “very good” (1:31).

Calling to mind the entirety of God’s creation, Moses reveals that it was completed in verse 1 of chapter 2. In other words, “the universe is no longer in a process of being created” (Hamilton, 142). Instead, procreation and self-perpetuation fill the planet with population and genetic variation. Moses, whether he realized it or not, makes an important statement that, along with what he has already mentioned no less than 8 times in chapter 1 (“after their/its kind”), speaks directly against the claims of macro-evolution (change that occurs at or above the level of species). Contrary to the claim that something new and genetically unique can derive from something that already exists, the Bible teaches that each created thing reproduced “after its kind.” By day 7 of that first week, God had already decided how many species there were and what pools of genes would be given each one, allowing them the genetic variation we can observe today. The creation of something new out of nothing is something that only God is capable of doing.


This creative work of God was completed on day 7—“by the seventh day God completed His work which He had done” (2:2a). Moses, again, has been emphatic on at least two things throughout chapter 1: the timeline in which God created the universe, and the superiority of God over and above false Gods (particularly those false God found in Egypt).

As it pertains to the nature of the “days” of creation, a few things are important to keep in mind when one goes to interpret this passage. Via the creation of light and the presence of darkness (and their separation) on day one, God began a program of 24 hour periods that Moses calls “day” (yom). Though this word is taken figuratively elsewhere in reference to other things (2 Pet. 3:8), whenever it is attached to a cardinal number, it typically describes a 24hour period. Not only that, but when the qualification “and there was evening and there was morning” is added, it becomes even clearer that a literal 24 hour period is an appropriate interpretation. If not, one would have to ask, “why did the Spirit move in Moses’ life to lead him to write “and there was evening and there was morning, one day” if it was not explicitly intended to refer to what men and women would have understood as a typical day. Though the creation narrative is intentionally hymnic and near-poetic at times, it is not pure allegory/metaphor, especially when one considers that this construction of “day,” cardinal number, and “evening and morning,” is repeated on each of the six days of creation (Answers in Genesis).

Interestingly enough, as was mentioned several weeks ago, early Jewish and Christian interpreters had a hard time believing that it would take God this long (6 days) to create the entire universe. Surely He would have been powerful enough to create it all at once! Still more interesting is that more recent modern scholarship wonders how God could have possibly created it all in so short a time. Ever since Darwin’s Origins of the Species and enlightenment’s claim of a billion-year-old universe and more recent fantasies of a big bang, many, even those within the church, have a hard time interpreting Moses’ account in this more grammatically conservative and straight-forward way—believing that the earth must must must be millions of years old. However, this foists a severely allegorical interpretation on what Moses seems to take pains to make clear. To arrive at an old-earth interpretation, one must turn “day” into something that does not mean “day,” “morning” into something that does not mean “morning,” “evening” into something that does not mean “evening” and “one,” “two,” “three,” etc. into something these numbers do not represent. This seems to be quite a stretch, especially when the repetition Moses employs and the organization of the text assumes organization and straightforwardness (a theme that is reiterated time and time again in chapters 1-2). This is why I believe the best interpretation is that each day was a 24 hour period, complete with evening and morning.

As it pertains to Yahweh’s superiority over other gods, Moses has been quite clear. Inasmuch as God’s origin is assumed and never explained (unlike other ancient deities whose origins were known), and given that God created the celestial bodies, sea creatures, land animals (which were in many cases deified in the pagan world), Yahweh is depicted as head and shoulders over every other presumed ruler (especially the gods of Egypt). Though God’s superiority over individual things has been suggested in more specific ways throughout chapter 1, here Moses is more general and emphatic in his claim saying, “God completed His work, which He had done” (2:2a). It is almost as if Moses says to his people, “our God is a God that did something no other God (or unguided process you’ve ever heard about) could do—He created the universe!”

So how does God celebrate his grand achievement? He rests—“and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done” (2:2b). The verb used here (sabat) and again in verse 3 underscores that the end of God’s work, not fatigue, motivated this rest (Matthews, 178). In other words, there was nothing left to create in order to satisfy God’s will. “Rest” (sabat) also means “the cessation of creative activity” (Matthews, 178) both here and in Genesis 8:22 (the only other time this verse is used in Genesis). Therefore, God’s rest on day 7 of the creation week involved the abstention of work (see Cassuto, 63).

I imagine God delighted in His rest as he looked over the universe at all He has wrought out of nothing. Although on an infinitely inferior level, I imagine that God’s satisfaction and rest was similar to the way I feel after I spend the day in my yard. More often than not, after I work in the yard (mow, trim, weed, prune, water, etc.), I take time to sit and examine the finished product with a small, but meaningful sense of accomplishment. Imagine how content God must have been to witnesses the fruits of His labor!


The seventh day is the first and only day to be called “blessed” –“Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it…” (2:3a). Though creatures and humans have already been blessed with the gift of procreation, this is the only interval of time that God esteems in a special way in this text. The reason for this is because God “sanctified it”—the very first act of consecration in the Scriptures. Anytime God consecrates something, He declares it especially devoted to Himself. This is true here of the Sabbath day. Eventually, Moses would reiterate the special nature of the Sabbath and his people’s responsibility on this day in Exodus 20:8, 11.

Exodus 20:8, 11-“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,…For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

The setting aside of the Sabbath day in this way, as with the entire narrative so far, is again as much an explanation as it is an argument against other worldviews. “In the Babylonian creation stories the gods are freed from their labors after the creation of humans, who were formed for the sole purpose of serving the deities’ needs. God’s Sabbath, however, is not aversion to labor but the celebrative cessation of a completed work, whereby He expresses His mastery over time by sanctifying it” (Matthews, 179). In fact, the celebration of the Sabbath was unique to ancient Israel. Also, while days, months, and years were related to the solar and lunar cycles, the Sabbath is not connected to any celestial movement. “The Sabbath thus underlines the fundamental idea of Israelite monotheism: that God is wholly outside of nature” (Sarna, 15).

God spent this reverent day resting, “because in it, He rested from all His work which God had created and made” (2:3b). In so doing, He created a work schedule/rest schedule that he then gifted to the newly-created human race! “The sanctification of the Sabbath institutes an order for humankind according to which time is divided into time and holy time…By sanctifying the seventh day God instituted a polarity between the everyday and the solemn, between days of work and days of rest, which was determinative for human existence” (Westermann, 1:171). Therefore, in addition to the world, its creatures, its vegetation, and the blessings of reproduction and dominion, God gave the human race a pattern in which to live that involved both work and rest—labor and reverent relaxation.

The Sabbath is both a spiritual and practical gift. Spiritually, a Sabbath reminds the adherent that God is in control as the time in reverent rest is spent abstaining from work in celebration of the one who created it all and sustains it all.  This not only exalts God but it humbles people as they are forced to honor Him, instead of toil for selfish or alternative reasons. Not only that, but resting as God rested is one way that we demonstrate our likeness to the Lord as human beings. Those who refrain from Sabbath rest are trying to be something other than human. God is not impressed by super-humans who work 24/7. Practically speaking, Sabbath rest provides many health benefits, as rest is essential to one’s overall wellness. Not only that, but Sabbath rest makes one more efficient during the work week. Finally, Sabbath rest, when observed, allows the people to God to stand out in a world of workaholics. In this way, believers testify to the lost that they belong to a God who is so lofty and powerful that He can take of things, even we take a break.

So What?

Ultimately, this passage reveals that God in His sovereignty gifted a day of rest to the human race as a reminder of His power and glory. As God is depicted as reflecting, resting, and spending time in reverence on this day—so too should the people of God set aside time to reflect on what He has done, rest in knowing that God is ultimately in control, and seek Him in reverence. To neglect the Sabbath is to neglect God’s prescribed schedule and strive to live outside of one’s created potential.

However, one must also remember that the Sabbath is a spiritual and practical gift, not an encumbrance. Just as gifts given by our fathers are for our good pleasure and benefit, so too is the Sabbath and the command to heed it. Thankfully, Jesus clarified the heart of the Sabbath command in Mark 2:27 saying, “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” to correct those who were overly-legalistic and believed that the Sabbath meant abstaining from any and all physical labor of any kind. In saying what He did in Mark, Jesus redeemed the Sabbath back into what was originally intended—a time set aside for reflection of what God has done, rest in who God is, and reverence toward what God wills. “It is a day on which we are called upon to share what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world” (Heschel, The Earth is the Lord’s and the Sabbath, 10).

Therefore, one way in which we image God is by resting as He chose to rest—spending special time in reflecting on His power, resting in His sovereignty, and reverently seeking Him. Inasmuch as God breaks up His week of creating, humans image Him by breaking up their schedules of working with this kind of Sabbath rest.  

"Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth."-Psalm 46:10

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Grand Fortissimo-Genesis 1:26-31

One of the ways that ancient rulers would honor themselves and seek to self-glorify was to stamp their likeness onto money, have it depicted in shrines/tombs, or insist that it be painted on the walls in hieroglyphics. Such actions illustrated for everyone in a particular region or empire who was at the top and to whom all respect and adoration should be given. This was no doubt the case in Egypt. I imagine that all of the Hebrews slaves who worked so hard on the temples and tombs for centuries grew accustomed to the likeness of Pharaoh (who believed that he was god on earth) plastered all over the place in ways that not so subtly reiterated time and time again who ruled over them. Now freed from this dystopia, it was time for them to understand things differently. As Moses continues his retelling of the origins of the universe, he reverses this whole paradigm and applies it in more profound ways to the one true God and his people. Up to this point, the creation narrative has been building up to this grand fortissimo in vv. 26-31 in which we are made aware of the creation of mankind. In the five parts of this passage, we will learn exactly how special we are in God’s eyes and how we should live in response.

The Creation of Mankind-1:26

Following the overture of Genesis 1:1-5 and the grand crescendo of Genesis 1:6-25 is the great fortissimo of 1:26-31 in which God makes His greatest creation. More special than the stars, more beautiful than the other creatures, more impressive than the sea, more wondrous than day and the night, is mankind—“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man,…” (1:26). Everything up to this point in the creation week has been leading up to this moment—the creation of man and woman.

So much takes place in the retelling of what happened in the second part of day 6 in this short phrase. First, Moses diverges from the usual “Let there be” to “Let Us make” to highlight something especially momentous that is about to take place. Second, the plural noun “Us” is deliberately emphatic as well. Though many interpretations have been suggested for this pronoun (other gods, a heavenly court of angels, the earth, a plural of majesty, a plural of deliberation), the most appropriate view understands this plural pronoun to call to mind the fullness of God (see Hasel and Clines). According to one commentator, God is speaking here to His Spirit—the same Spirit who was hovering over the waters in verse 2. Perhaps, given the Word of God as agent of creation, God is also calling to mind His Son which is, according to John later, the “Word made flesh.”  Therefore, the plural pronoun gives the reader plenty of reason to believe that there is more to God than meets the eye. Though He is one, He is more than that as well.

Moses continues by describing the nature of mankind—“in Our image, according to Our likeness” (1:26b). Man is not only above the other creations of God because he is created last, but because he is made in the image of God. However, what exactly does this mean? What is the Imago Dei? Due to the unyielding grip of Platonic categories on the human person, many divide the human person into body and soul, or body, soul, and spirit, or body, mind, and soul (etc.). These will choose where the image of God fits accordingly. Some suggest that it is limited to physical appearance, believing that humans look like God in some way (standing erect, on two legs, etc.). Still others will delimit the Imago Dei to the soul—the eternal part of a person. However, these distinctions are at odds with the Hebrews anthropology at work in Moses’ day. As Genesis 2:7 will remind us later, the human person is a unified whole containing body AND spirit existing in radical oneness. Therefore the image of God applies to both mankind’s physical and spiritual attributes.

Not only that, but as the rest of verse 26 suggests, imaging God may also involve mankind’s capacity and calling to “rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth and over every creeping things that creeps on the earth” (1:26c). While God enjoyed dominion over the universe in days 1-5, in His sovereignty, He gives mankind the ability to possess the land and its creatures and rule them accordingly. In this way, mankind resembles his Creator. Additionally, as Genesis will eventually reveal, “image” and “likeness” is connected to the concept of sonship (see Gen. 5:3). Inasmuch as sons were thought to bear the image of their fathers, so too does mankind bear the image of its Creator.

A healthy interpretation of what the “image” and “likeness” of God means in its relationship to the human person takes into consideration all of the above. To image God means that human beings resemble him body AND soul, are given authority over creation, and are related to Him as sons and daughters. All of these collectively result in a measure of glory for the human person.

Psalm 8:3-9-“When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained; what is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, and You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, All sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, whatever passes through the paths of the seas. O Lord, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth!

There is, as a result of the imago Dei, a strange paradox. Inasmuch as every human being possesses this image of God, all human life is sacred, eternal, and has the capacity for either great glory or terrible wickedness. When appreciated and used for good, humanity is wondrous. When unappreciated and used for evil, humanity is capable of great sinfulness.

C.S. Lewis: “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”-The Weight of Glory

The Definition of Mankind-1:27

Moses moves next to give the definition of mankind—“God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female, He created them,…”(1:27a).  The repetition of “image of God” and “created” twice in this one verse highlights the uniqueness of mankind in comparison to every other created thing. Though certain cloud nebulae are said to look like the “eye” of God or the “fingerprint of God,” though certain constellations in space or cumulus formations in the atmosphere may trace and outline of a divine being, nothing images God more than a human person. This renders mankind the crown jewel and prized creation of God’s universe. Humans are God’s icons in the world that represent His dominion over the universe and return all glory, honor, and praise where it rightfully belongs.

Not only that, but just as God’s image is not a respecter of ethnicity or limited to a particular class, so too does God’s image apply equally to both men AND women. God created both male and female in His image—“male and female, He created them” (1:27b). This means that “man and woman are equally human and share the same personal worth” (Matthews, 173). This also means that God created two kinds of humans—men and women—not men, women, gender neutrals, gender queers (their label), androgynous, etc. God, as with the different kinds of birds, sea life, and land animals, saw fit to organize the earth with clear distinctions and this is true also of the human race. To suggest an alternative to male and female is to diverge from God’s original and superior plan. Sexuality and the distinctions therein is not “an accident of nature, nor is it simply a biological phenomenon. Instead it is a [divinely willed] gift of God” (Hamilton, 138).

The Blessing of Mankind-1:28

Intimately connected with the definition of mankind and the categories therein is the two-pronged blessing/assignment of mankind mentioned in verse 28—“God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth…”(1:28a). The first item on the agenda for the human race is to reproduce.  Just as the animals were called upon the fill their spheres of influence, so too is the human population called upon the make good on the ability God gave them to multiply and fill the earth. Reproduction, therefore, is understood by God and His Word as a wondrous mandate—not a killjoy or imposition. It obvious from the natural flow of the text that being created “male and female” was integral to this first command given to the human race as both sexes are required for this to take place.

Item two on the agenda is to “subdue” the earth and “rule over” its inhabitants. In other words, Mankind was given to be God’s appointed managers of the land of its creatures—further illustrating God’s propensity toward organization and cultivation. Mankind was to cultivate and care for the land as well as maintain its rightful place over the animal kingdom. This responsibility, no doubt, stemmed from the fact that men and women were created “in God’s image” while everything else was not. This means the there is something intrinsically different between mankind and plants and animals. Men and women possess something those things do not, and because of this, there is no moral equivalency between mankind and anything else on this earth.

The Gift to Mankind-1:29-30

Humans are to subdue the earth in part because it is God’s gift to them for their good pleasure—“Then God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you;…”(1:29). As with any gift bequeathed by a loving father, the proper thing to do is to take good care of it. This is what mankind was equipped to do and called to do from the beginning of time.

It is also at this juncture where it becomes clear that nearly everything God has done thus far in the creation week has been in an effort to set the table for his most special guest—the human race. The celestial bodies yielding their light, the water, and the soil together are enjoyed by none other than men and women who consume the natural results of these things—fruit and vegetation.
The animals follow a similar trajectory—“and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to everything that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food’ and it was so” (1:30). Here, as with in verse 29, the earth works together as a cohesive whole:  the earth yields vegetation and the animals and human race eat this vegetation.

The Reaction to Mankind-1:31

So far in the creation week—the overture (1:1-5) and the crescendo (1:6-25), everything has been described in the same way—“God saw that it was good.” However, after reaching the fortissimo of vv. 26-31, God looks upon the landscape of the universe and declares “it was very good” (1:31). Some translations read “very beautiful.” What has changed? The beginning of the verse suggests that something has been completed-- “God saw all that He had made” and that this is part of the sentiment reached here. However, what sets God’s creation over-the-top is that now God’s universe is populated with people that can rule His creation as managers and relate to Him on a personal level as they are made in “His image.” You and I and every other person that has walked this earth are capable of glorifying God in a special way. People imaging God pleases God the most when He looks out upon the universe—more than the stars, the most beautiful precipice, the mightiest beast, or colorful landscape.

Again, as with every day before it, Moses ends the description of day 6’s happenings with “and there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”

So What?

Ultimately, this resolving chord and climatic end to the productive part of the creation week demonstrates that human beings are the apex of God’s creative order. This means that above all, we as God’s people, like God Himself, are to value, appreciate, admire, and respect our fellow man. Regardless of where we come from or how high on the social ladder we are, we are all image bearers of God—placed here on this spinning sphere in space for the purpose of representing His creative prowess and, by proxy, His matchless glory as icons. If people are expendable, common, dull, or unimpressive to you, then it becomes exceedingly easy to walk over others, use others, neglect others, even hate others. In a world that is so quick to disrespect and write off, God’s people—the people who know where they come from—are to value their fellow man and woman.

However, this passage also suffers implications for how we look at ourselves. Do you value yourself as highly as God does? If, in fact, we are just a random collection of highly evolved paramecium that has slowly evolved under an unguided and superfluous process as much of the world believes, then to believe we are valuable, special, or purposed is a farce.  In a world that promulgates this tripe, abortion becomes passé, genocide goes unreported, people grow addicted to temporary thrills, and some grow depressed and take their own lives. But exactly the opposite is the case. The Creator created you, stamped you with His image, and considers your uniqueness especially pleasing. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Grand Crescendo-Genesis 1:6-25

Often in works of music, composers will use gradual crescendos to accentuate the drama of a piece and move it toward its intended climax or finale. Two songs that accomplish this include the theme from 2001 A Space Odyssey and Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber. Both of these works of art slowly turn up the volume as they progress and ultimately resolve in a series of loud and beautiful chords that showcase the creativity of the composer and demand a response from the audience. This is similar to what is witnessed throughout the creation week of Genesis 1:6-25. What I plan to do today is have us listen to the score that Moses pens in this passage, paying special attention to how it crescendos toward something truly remarkable. Then, I plan on leaving the chord unresolved until next week’s fortissimo so that we can appreciate the last part of the final productive day of God’s creation for all that it has to offer on its own. For now, let us work our way through Genesis 1:6-25 by observing days 2-6 of God’s creation. Ultimately, in this passage we will be learn why the God of the Bible is bigger and better than anything we could ever witness in the universe.

Day 2-Expanse-1:6-8

In the first day of creation, God spoke light into existence, thereby showcasing His glory before the dark and empty universe. Such light distinguished itself against a backdrop of darkness and created two resulting phenomena: day and night. These two categories prove essential to both the rhythm and life of all that currently inhabits the earth. Therefore, in creating day and night—light and darkness—God establishes the beginning of an order that is added to in the remaining days of creation week.
After drawing distinctions between light and darkness—day and night—“God said, ‘Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters’…” This is the second separation required for an orderly universe—especially as it pertains to life on planet earth—a sky and a sea.  

As simply as it was spoken, it was—“God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below and the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so” (1:7). On day two, one could distinguish between the sky (where water is held up in clouds) and the sea (where water collects below). Soon, God would populate these realms with creatures and celestial bodies. But for now, these separations were empty—filled only with the light of the glory of God.

As God has already done and will be shown to do time and time again, He next names what He created saying—“God called the expanse heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day” (1:8). In this context, “heavens” refers to the skies visible to the human eye—not the invisible abode of the spiritual realm.

What Moses reveals under the influence of the Holy Spirit is as much a polemic against paganism as it is an apologetic for the Hebrews.  In this case, Moses is demonstrating the one true God’s superiority over the pagan Gods who were more like fixtures within the heavens than sovereign rulers presiding over the heavens. For instance, Anu, the sky god, and Enlil, the god of the atmosphere, were two deities believed to establish and depose kings of the Sumerian city-states. Baal in the Ugaritic pantheon is identified as the “Rider of the Clouds” as he was the god of storm and rain (Matthews, 150). But Israel’s faith declares that Yahweh is the source of the heavens and all that it would ever contain—the sun, stars, nebulae, clouds, etc. All of the glories of the heavens are inferior in majesty to the God who created them. Anything witnessed in the skies above or in the space beyond is merely an instrument to serve God and showcase His glory.

Day 3-Dry Land-1:9-13

On day three, God introduces another important distinction required for organized life on planet earth—the distinction between land and sea—“then God said, ‘Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and the let the dry land appear’ and it was so” (1:9). This completes the third major distinction necessary to yield a productive and life-giving earth: day and night, earth and atmosphere, land and sea.

Again, because God provided all that was necessary to make that which existed, He allows Himself the pleasure of naming it what He will—“God called the dry land earth, and the gathering of the waters He called seas; and God saw that it was good” (1:10). Inasmuch as elements of the sky were worshipped by Egyptians and other pagan nations, so too were bodies of water and what was in them (especially the Nile). However, once again, Moses reveals that God stands over and above these created things. In other words, “the seas are not independent forces to be feared or worshipped but creations that respond to the direct commands of God“ (Matthews, 151).

Verses 11-13 “move from the creation of the bare earth to the ornamentation of that earth. Unlike the first and second days, which feature one act of creation, this day has two acts of creation: earth and vegetation on the earth” (Hamilton, 125)—“Then God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them’ and it was so” (1:11). 

“the earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seeds in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good” (1:12). Here, there is no hint of a mother earth who acts independent of Father God (or father time for that matter). The earth responds to the command of God who instructs it to be productive. God alone is the source of inspiration behind everything the earth yields. This too was distinct from what the pagans believed about how the world operated. Many ancients thought that vegetation and all reproducing processes were dependent on the procreation of the gods. However, here, vegetation and its reproduction is attributed to God’s enabling of the soil through His divine word.

The phenomena of production is witnessed among the plants “after their kind” (a phrase repeated three times in verses 11 and 12). Though it is perhaps too limiting to insist that the word “kind” refers to specific species, one thing is clear from both these verses and what is coming up—distinctions and differences among God’s creation are not to be feared, erased, or manipulated. They are, according to God—“good.” It is therefore a good and God-ordained phenomenon for a pear tree to produce pears and a wheat field to yield wheat. Such boundaries are pleasing to the God who created plants to make other plants “after their kind” not “of a different kind.” 

As if by reflex, Moses reminds the reader in verse 13 that “there was evening and there was morning, a third day” (1:13)—almost insisting on a literal interpretation of the “days” described here.

Day 4-Celestial Bodies-1:14-19

The second set of three days begins on day 4 when God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth’ and it was so” (1:14-15). On days 4-6, movement is introduced onto the landscape of the heavens as stars, a sun, and a moon is formed to help distinguish between days, months, and years. With these celestial bodies, God organizes the calendar and provides natural lighting.

The significance of this day’s creative acts is highlighted by the detailed description of what God brings forth—“God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; he made stars also. God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good…” (1:18). Moses’ description is careful and pointed again at inferior worldviews as it contradicts common pagan misconceptions. The usual Hebrew terms for “sun” and “moon” are not employed and in their place “lesser” and “greater” lights is used. Not only that but the “stars” are almost downplayed in this account. These descriptions and word choices spoke against the pagan fascination with the stars, moon, and sun. Inasmuch as stars helped navigation and the moon and Sun identified time, these celestial bodies were worshipped by Mesopotamian and Egyptian religions. I imagine the temptation to worship these things would have significantly increased for the Egyptians and others had they possessed access to the telescopes and information we now have today.

 “You might be surprised to know that there are 200-400 billion stars in our galaxy. Each one is a separate island in space, perhaps with planets... But then, there could be as many as 500 billion galaxies in the Universe, and each of which could have as many or more stars as the Milky Way. Multiply those two numbers together and you’ll see that there could be as many as 2 x 1023 stars in the Universe. That’s 200,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. The closest star to Earth is Proxima Centauri, located 4.2 light-years away. In other words, it takes light itself more than 4 years to complete the journey from Earth. If you tried to hitch a ride on the fastest spacecraft ever launched from Earth, it would still take you more than 70,000 years to get there from here.” ( 

Moses describes the vastness of space in just a few short words. In so doing, he subtly but directly demonstrates that the sun and moon are not cosmic deities worthy of reverence. Instead, they are creations of an even more wondrous and powerful God!

God calls this grandest of creations (at least by way of sheer scale and size) “good” and then allows these bodies to govern the evening and morning from that point on—“there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day…”(1:19).

Day 5-Fish and Birds-1:20-23

Day 5 of the creation week involves the filling of the waters and the skies—“then God said, ‘Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heaven…” (1:20). Again, days 4-6 involve the filling of what was created in days 1-3 with moving bodies and living organisms. Here, God fills the two realms that were distinguished in day 2—the sea and the expanse of the heavens.

Interestingly, “so God created” is the second of only 4 verses in which bara (“created”) is used in the narrative (see also 1:1, 27; 2:3). This phrase begins and ends the section, 1:1-2:3, and is also found in two very important places—the creation of the first animate life (birds and sea creature in verse 20) and the creation of human life (verse 27). It is almost as though the construction bara with the subject “God” was deliberately inspired and then penned in order to demonstrate on a grammatical level that God was totally autonomous over the creation of these living organisms and that their existence came from nothing else. Notice too that when God created these organisms He began with full-fledged “swarms of creatures” and flying “birds” not microscopic paramecium or archaebacteria.

Accompanying the creative act of God is His call upon the creatures to produce “after its kind” (1:21)—“God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind; and God say that it was good” (1:21). Remember, Moses is writing this way before Darwin ever challenged the status quo concerning the origins of the species. Macro-evolution did not threaten Moses’ worldview or challenge the people of God toward naturalism. Animals producing another animals after their kind was assumed in Moses’ day—not questioned. However, Moses writes down what would have been assumed anyway in an effort to demonstrate that from the beginning, God ordered that creatures produce the same kinds of creatures—not different creatures all-together (in a process known as macro-evolution). God calls this “good.”

In addition to creating creatures in the sea and in the air, God blesses them saying “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth” (1:22). The ability to procreate is a special feature given by the Creator God to His creatures. Though He was the sole giver of life, He invites and encourages His creatures to do the same, albeit in His will and according to capacities He has provided. That God created creatures and endowed them with the ability to reproduce means to worship an animal (as was done and is still done in today’s world)—no matter how beautiful, fearsome, or strong—is to worship something inferior to the God who created it.
As He has proven to do in his description of every other day, Moses concludes the daily log with “there was evening and there was morning, fifth day…”(1:23).

Day 6-Land Creatures-1:24-25

So far the creative acts have been working up and gaining momentum, it would seem, for some big finale. A plain dark world is first illuminated by light, then divisions are made between the sea and the sky and land is raised out of the depths. Days 1-3 provide a canvas upon which to put what comes in days 4-6. The descriptions for these days are more lengthy as celestial bodies are placed in the sky, birds placed in the air, and fish placed in the sea. Phenomena like blessings, reproduction, categories, and order or also introduced, rendering the world a far more beautiful and wondrous place than it was just a few short days ago. Everything this far is declared “good.”

However, things only crescendo more on day 6—the most significant of the creation week—“then God said, ‘let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their king’ and it was so…” (1:24). Added to all of the amazing creations in the first five days is the entire animal kingdom—beasts of burden (or domesticated animals), creeping creatures (bugs, insects, snakes, reptiles, microscopic organisms), and other more wild beasts. Surely, if God is bigger than the sea and sky, moon and stars, sea creature and birds of the air, He is also bigger than all of the other living creatures. This renders the pagan worship of animals inferior to the worship of the one true God.

Also, as with birds and fish, these animals are said to produce “after their kind” (twice in verse 24 alone)—continuing the theme of order among and within different animal groups. For all living creatures, “God set reproductive parameters” (Matthews, 160) and nowhere does Genesis suggests that one kind of animal could ever yield another.

“God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and cattle after their kind, and everything that 
creeps on the group after its kind; and God saw that it was good” (1:25). 

So What?

As we’ve worked our way through this passage, hopefully you have heard the gradual crescendo Moses has been working to build that will inevitably lead to the fortissimo that is to come next week. However, before the chord resolves and Creation week comes to a close, there is at least one insight that we must pull from Genesis 1:6-25. In this passage, God is depicted as standing over above the darkness, the sea, the sky, the earth, the celestial bodies, and the creatures of the sea, air, and land because He is the source of their existence. He is Creator God and as such is bigger than anything else that we could ever face. If last week we appreciated God’s ability to speak order into the chaos, this week we can appreciate that our God is bigger, more wondrous, more powerful, and more intimidating than anything we will ever confront in this universe. Not only did he create everything according to His will, but He ordered everything to behave in a certain way.  Praise the Lord! For the lost, this is a call to trade belief in an inferior god or in themselves for the one who stands head and shoulders above all. For the saved, this is a call to find peace in knowing that the one you have a relationship with will never be shaken or threatened.

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Grand Overture-Genesis 1:1-5

At the beginning of large works of music, there will often be an overture that is played in an effort to announce the major themes of a work or to highlight forthcoming movements. Different musical phrases are borrowed from the rest of the piece and fit together in a neat package that is offered to listening audiences to prepare them for what is to come. It is no different for the beginning of Genesis. In Genesis 1:1-5, four elements are used to create an overture that successfully introduces the major theological and organizational themes that will be in play throughout our study of the book. In this, the very first pericope/paragraph of the Canon, Moses, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, artfully pieces together a brilliant introduction that successfully reveals the origins of the universe and the agent responsible.

1. The Revelation-1:1

There on a mountainside in the wilderness, several million former Hebrew slaves sat patiently waiting to have their history, the world’s history, revealed to them—some for the first time. With simple profundity, Moses pens these words, “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (1:1). Though a relatively simple declaration, these words are pregnant with implications. First, “in the beginning” not only suggests a genesis, but also a terminus. You cannot conceive of something as having a beginning unless there is also an end. In fact, “Beginning” is often paired in the Old Testament with its antonym “end” in order to indicate an inclusive period of time. From this point on, all of the prophets and apostles after them could speak of the end (eschaton) that was to come in reference to the beginning of time that started here. Time started in this moment where it once didn’t exist!

However, there is at least one entity that existed prior to time. That is the agent doing the creating—“God” (Elohim). The term used here for God –“Elohim”—celebrates His transcendence and the power of His spoken word along with His plurality—inasmuch as Elohim is a plural noun. In fact, though not explicit here, there are hints throughout this opening overture that subtly reveal the Trinity as pre-existent over the universe. In verse two, God’s “Spirit” is witnessed “floating over the waters.” In verse 3, God’s word brings forth light—perhaps hinting at the Son who is called the “Word of God” in John’s Gospel. Throughout the passage, “God” the Father is mentioned as the major character and focus. He is the center of this theocentric passage/chapter as everything revolves around and comes from Him.

This plural, transcendent, speaking God is assumed and never explained.  The omission of His origins, although cause for inquiry to some today, was actually a polemic tool used of Moses in his context. Elohim’s unexplained existence “repudiates the cosmogonies of the pagan world, where the origins and biography of their ‘gods’ are paramount” (Matthews, 128). In other words, contra the Egyptian Gods who were many and whose beginnings were explained in elaborate stories, Moses reveals that there is actually one God whose origin cannot be explained, only assumed.

The temptation for many in our skeptical world is to demand that Christians explain where God came from. Unfortunately, believing this to be too hard a question to answer, many Christians shirk away from such remarks or can even grow discouraged. However, this question is misplaced. The Christian God is not the kind of deity that can come from anything. He is, as this verse teaches, outside the created realm and therefore His existence is not contingent on anything. As He is not contingent on anything (dependent on anything to exist), He is not affected by time, space, or matter. Each of these is a continuum that depends on the other for its existence. For instance, you cannot have time without space, for, where would you put it? You cannot have matter without time, for, when would you put it? These all must exist together simultaneously. The Bible explains how this all came to be in one sentence (10 words in English and 7 in Hebrew), “In the beginning (time: past, present, future), God created the heavens (space: length, width, height) and the earth (matter: solid, liquid, gas).” These God created instantaneously! As He created these continuums, He stands outside of them and therefore, to conceive of God as having an origin is to place Him within the limits of something that He created (time), thereby limiting His divinity. He is above time, unaffected by space, and transcends matter. The God that Moses reveals here is not limited by time, space, or matter and is therefore superior to the God’s of Egypt whose origins were known. This renders Him worthy of worship and praise!  

This “God” “created the heavens and the earth.” Though “created” is used in many ways throughout the Old Testament (to “restore,” “fashion,” “make”, etc.), here there is nothing to restore, no tools available for the use of fashioning something, and no compounds/elements present to make anything. Here, God “created” everything out of nothing. In fact, every time “created” is used with “God” as its subject “special significance for God as autonomous Creator” is in view (Matthews, 129). In other words, when God creates, He does not depend on what is available, He creates out of nothing (ex nihilo).

Just what did God “create” out of nothing? EVERYTHING!—“the heavens and the earth” (1:1c). All of the space necessary to place everything and all of the matter necessary to yield everything in that space was created by a transcendent God in the beginning.

2. The Description-1:2

In its original form, Moses reveals that the earth was “formless and void” (tohu wabohu)—literally “a desert and a wasteland” (Hamilton 108). Using rhyming words here and in verse 1 (bereshit bara), Moses is depicting the history of the universe in a near-hymnic style—perhaps to aid this largely oral audience in appreciating and memorizing the content that is being espoused. Here, it is clear that Moses would like his people to know that earth began in chaos—an unproductive uninhabited place. As it existed on the beginning of that first day, the world was in no way capable of supporting life as we now know it.

Moses also reveals that “darkness was over the surface of the deep” (1:2b). Interestingly, darkness resulted when time/space/matter collided—the illumination of God’s creation would require its own specific and special creative act. However, at this point the “darkness” and the “deep” seem to suggest that the earth was an “undifferentiated mass or vacuous nonentity” (Sailhamer, 27). 
The vacuous and deserted earth was of no concern to the “Spirit of God” who is depicted as “moving over the surface of the waters” (1:2c). In the ancient near-eastern world, the “darkness,” “deep,” and “waters” were viewed as sources of chaos, danger, and mystery. In Moses’ “Spirited” retelling of the account, he artfully places the Spirit of God “over the surface” of these things, suggesting God’s dominance and authority over all—even though, at this point in the creation narrative, evil and danger do not even exist yet as categories.

3. The Creation-1:3-4

Breaking the silence of this dark and wet void is the voice of Elohim who begins creating on this vacuous canvas what humans know to be the universe today—“Let there be light” (1:3a). It is here that God begins to bring order out of the chaos, rendering the world organized, inhabitable, and even fruitful for His good pleasure.

As simply as it was spoken, it existed—“and there was light” (1:3b). Though the source of creation’s first “light” is not specified, the text insinuates that the “light” was sourced in God Himself (Matthews, 145). “This ‘light’ on the first day then is indicative of the presence of God both at creation and among His people Israel, a light that both reveals and conceals the presence of God. The Light at creation was the first word, the word that is indistinct from God’s personal presence…” (Matthews, 146). Though Moses illuminated God’s revelation for His people in his day, only Jesus would satisfy the intercessory position par excellence as God’s most complete and most illuminating revelatory presence. This theme is picked up later in the book of John when Jesus refers to Himself as the “light of the world” –God’s perfect representation on the earth (see John 1:9-18; 8:12). Ever wonder why God created light first? Perhaps because He wanted the first revelation given in the universe to be about His matchless glory—even if it was just for an audience of one.

Pleased with what He had created, God set out to distinguish the light and the darkness—“God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness” (1:4). By calling the light “good” God provides a qualitative evaluation of what He has created. This establishes Him as the judge of His creative order. The light is deemed “good” because it serves God’s-intended purpose of bifurcating between light and darkness. The difference between the two is the first of three separations that would prepare the earth for Life’s possibilities—see sky and earth (1:6) and land and sea (1:9).

However, notice what else God introduces in here. According to Moses’ account, God with one word yields light AND Morality. By introducing the concept of “good” here, God introduces the beginnings of a moral framework that would be revealed with further nuance later. However, at least for the time being, the universe as it is exists on day one possesses light and its opposite (darkness) and moral qualities (goodness). From day one, the universe contained a moral framework that was rooted in the person of God Himself!

4. The Identification-1:5

The final element involved in the overture to Chapter 1 of Genesis is God’s identification of the different phenomena He has created—“God called the light day, and the darkness He called night” (1:5a). Though a simple recognition, this verse demonstrates God’s authority over that which is created. By naming day and night, and continuing to name things throughout this entire creative account, God demonstrates His authority over it all. He made it all happen and therefore gets the honor of naming it whatever He wills.   

The closing notes of the overture provide readers with a helpful and nearly emphatic way of interpreting the time schedule in which all of this took place, --“and there was evening and there was morning one day” (1:5b). Via the creation of light and the presence of darkness (and their separation), God begins a program of 24 hour periods that Moses calls day (yom). Though this word is taken figuratively elsewhere in reference to other things, whenever it is attached to a cardinal number, it describes a 24hour period. Not only that, but when the qualification “and there was evening and there was morning” is added, it becomes even clearer that a literal 24 hour period is an appropriate interpretation. If not, one would have to ask, “why did the Spirit move in Moses’ life to lead him to write “and there was evening and there was morning, one day” if it was not explicitly intended to refer to what men and women would have understood as a typical day. Though this passage is hymnic and near poetic at times, it is not pure allegory, especially when one considers that this construction of “day,” cardinal number, and “evening and morning,” is repeated on each of the remaining days of creation (Answers in Genesis).

Interestingly enough, early Jewish and Christian interpreters had a hard time believing that it would take God this long (6 days) to create the entire universe. Surely He would have been powerful enough to create it all at once! Still more interesting is that more recent modern scholarship wonders how God could have possibly created it all in so short a time. Ever since Darwin’s Origins of the Species and enlightenment’s claim of a billion-year-old universe and more recent fantasies of a big bang, many, even those within the church, have a hard time interpreting Moses’ account in this more grammatically conservative and straight-forward way—believing that the earth must must must be millions of years old and that God had to of used a process like macro-evolution to accomplish this mammoth feat. However, this foists a severely allegorical interpretation on what Moses seems to take pains to make clear. One must turn “day” into something that does not mean “day,” “morning” into something that does not mean “morning,” “evening” into something that does not mean “evening” and “one,” “two,” “three,” etc. into something these numbers do not represent. This seems to be quite a stretch, especially when the repetition Moses employs and the organization of the text assumes organization and straightforwardness. The best interpretation in my mind is that each day was a 24 hour period, complete with evening and morning.

Some respond to this with, “well, how could there be an evening or morning without a sun” (the Sun does not exist until day 4—see vv.14ff)? Respectfully, I would respond “I’m sure that a God who conceived of time and created matter out of nothing can manage morning and evening without a sun for the first three days, especially if He is the source of light in the first place!

The creative act described in this overture also sets in motion a pattern that will be followed without fail throughout the rest of chapter one. First, “God said” is mentioned as He alone instigates every creative work. Second, the command is given—“let there be light.” Then that which is commanded is created—“and there was light.” Fourth, God evaluates His creation—“God saw that the light was good.” Fifth, the boundaries of the creation are acknowledged—“and God separated the light from the darkness.” Finally, He names that which is created—“God called the light day, and the darkness He called night.” Moses adopts this pattern on each of the following days almost to a tee and, like an overture intends to do in a brilliant piece of music, this opening passage introduces the thematic phrases that can be anticipated throughout the account.

So What?

So what does this overture foreshadow about the God of creation and His unfolding work? So far, God is shown to be in many ways outside of the created realm—independent of time, space, and matter. He is therefore not contingent on anything else for His existence. Because of this, we have learned along with the Israelites in the wilderness that unlike other deities in Egypt or any other worldview, God’s existence must be assumed as it cannot be explained or exhaustively delineated. We have also learned that God is a Creator. He is the one who conceived of time, made space, and filled it with matter. Not only that, but, morality itself emanates from His character as the impassable standard by which everything else is judged and compared. We have also been shown a preview of how God can turn chaos into order. In fact, this passage depicts God as a God of order who is able to speak clarity over a vacuous deep and illuminate the darkness. This, He does in His own time-table as is suitable for Him (and independent of scientific THEORY or popular opinion). What a mighty God!

If this overture is any indication of what we are in for throughout the rest of this chapter and study of Genesis 1:1-11, we are in for a real treat! The Israelites in the wilderness and the church today ought to respond to such revelation with praise, adoration, and submission to the Creator God. Additionally, we must also take comfort in the fact that God is a God who is not bothered by the depths of obscurity or in any way intimidated by the darkness—as His Spirit was shone to do in this passage, God floats above the mysteries of our lives and is capable of speaking order into our chaotic situations. What a brilliant reminder and aesthetically pleasing piece of music that foreshadows what He has accomplished for us and just what He can do in our lives today!