We’re almost out of the Creation narrative! It’s funny, I was expecting two posts on creation, and instead we’re winding up with four or five. I guess I should be more careful with my predictions in the future. Anyhow, as mentioned in my last post, I’m going to be taking a look at some of the theology presented in the creation story. What does this passage say about God? What does God have to say to us through this text? Is it even important?
That’s enough of a ramble. Here we go.
1:3 God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light! 1:4 God saw that the light was good, so God separated the light from the darkness. 1:5 God called the light “day” and the darkness “night.” There was evening, and there was morning, marking the first day.
I think it is important to note that the previous verses referred to the ‘darkness’ over the surface of the water. While God was in the darkness, his first act of creation was the creation of light. This is powerful. Also note that the sun isn’t created for another few days… ever wonder why? Well, we’re going to explore one possible answer in a bit.
Here I want to touch on the word ‘yom’. This is the Hebrew word for ‘day’ as in ‘the first day’. There has been considerable debate over this word, mostly between those who read Genesis 1.3-2.3 completely literally, and so see creation as a literal seven 24-hour-day event, and those who read the passage figuratively. Those who read it figuratively have varied approaches. Some see each ‘day’ (yom) as an undefined period of time, mostly covering millions of years. While it is true that ‘yom’ is occasionally used as an undefined period of time (in the days of such and such, for example), that does not seem to be the case here. I think it’s safe to say that at least the original authors believed that it took seven literal days.
Personally, I read this as divine myth. I like to compare it to explaining sex to a six-year-old. If your six year old son or daughter asks you where babies come from, you are not going to tell them all the nitty gritty details. They’re not ready for that yet. All they need to know is that mommy and daddy love each other very much, and that that love helped to make the baby. With this perspective, I don’t need to make the creation event fit with a scientific understanding of the creation of the universe – I don’t need to reconcile a six or seven thousand year timeline with a several billion year timeline. Instead, I can focus on what this passage says about God, and how he cares for us. I think the literary structure of the creation narrative supports this view as well.
1:6 God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters and let it separate water from water. 1:7 So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. It was so. 1:8 God called the expanse “sky.” There was evening, and there was morning, a second day.
This passage has always fascinated me. It really illuminates the pre-scientific bias of the writer – The expanse, the area inhabited by plants, animals, and humanity, is seen as suspended between two areas of water. The water below is the sea, and the water above is the sky. To the premodern mind this makes perfect sense – the sky is blue, and water falls from it in the form of rain. It seems that the writer envisioned the world as suspended in a ‘bubble’ sustained and created by God, in the midst of chaos, as represented by the waters. Perhaps they thought the whole thing could collapse without God to hold it – they were dependent on God for their very survival.
1:9 God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place and let dry ground appear.” It was so. 1:10 God called the dry ground “land” and the gathered waters he called“seas.” God saw that it was good.
‘it was good’, meaning, it was the way it should be. It was how God wanted it. This is a powerful, powerful statement.
1:11 God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: plants yielding seeds according to their kinds, and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds.” It was so. 1:12 The landproduced vegetation – plants yielding seeds according to their kinds, and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. God saw that it was good. 1:13 There was evening, and there was morning, a third day.
We’re coming up to a switch here – this is the last day of the ‘forming’ days. See, in the first three days God forms – Day one, light and darkness are formed, Day two, the sky and the sea are formed, and day three, the land with vegetation is formed. Again, this underscores the fact that the writers saw vegetation as fundamentally different than animals and even insects – they did not define it as ‘alive’ in the way that we do today.
Days four, five, and six are ‘filling’ days, as we will see presently.
1:14 God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them be signs to indicate seasons and days and years, 1:15 and let them serve as lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.” It was so. 1:16 God made two great lights – the greater light to rule over the day and the lesser light to rule over the night. He made the stars also. 1:17 God placed the lights in the expanse of the sky to shine on the earth, 1:18 to preside over the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. God saw that it was good. 1:19 There was evening, and there was morning, a fourth day.
Here, God fills the formed light and darkness with ‘lights’ – the stars, the sun, and the moon. The writers saw these as symbols – they did not attach the fact that light exists to the sun. This also shows the power of God over the sun and the moon – two objects that were often the centre of worship for the ancients. The Sun and moon are seen as gods in many ancient religions, including Egyptian and Babylonian. Often they are a married pair, with one being masculine (as in the Egyptian sun god Ra’) and the other being feminine (as in the Greek Moon Goddess Artemis). Here the writer is showing God’s supremacy over both the sun and the moon – their power is found in Him alone.
1:20 God said, “Let the water swarm with swarms of living creatures and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.” 1:21 God created the great sea creatures and everyliving and moving thing with which the water swarmed, according to their kinds, and everywinged bird according to its kind. God saw that it was good. 1:22 God blessed them and said,“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth.” 1:23 There was evening, and there was morning, a fifth day.
Here, on Day five, the seas and the sky are filled with life – birds, and fish. Note that this corresponds with day two – the forming of the sea and sky. See a pattern?
1:24 God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: cattle, creeping things, and wild animals, each according to its kind.” It was so. 1:25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the cattle according to their kinds, and all the creatures that creep along the ground according to their kinds. God saw that it was good.
1:26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.”
God created humankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them,
male and female he created them.
1:28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it! Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that moveson the ground.” 1:29 Then God said, “I now give you every seed-bearing plant on the faceof the entire earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 1:30 And to all the animals of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to all the creatures that move on the ground – everything that has the breath of life in it – I give every green plant for food.” It was so.
1:31 God saw all that he had made – and it was very good! There was evening, and there was morning, the sixth day.
And finally, day six – the filling of the land with animals, both beasts and domestic, and the creation of humanity. This presents humanity as intimately connected with the created world – not something separate, but made of the same stuff. The only difference is that only humanity has the breath of God (interesting that ‘God breathed’ into humanity, and in 2 Timothy 3:16 we are told that Scripture is ‘God breathed’… I’ll leave you to ponder that one).
And so we have two distinct pairs in creation – forming and filling. Not only that, but they correspond to each other!
Day One / Four: Forming of the darkness and the light / filling of the darkness and light
Day Two / Five: Forming of the sky and sea / filling of the sky and sea with life
Day Three / Six: Forming of the land and vegetation / filling of the land with life
Isn’t it beautiful? To me, this was written to be poetic, and to give credit to the power of an almighty God. It was not written to be a scientific understanding of the order of Creation. I mean, light being created before the sun? Vegetation being created before the sun? Possible, sure. Likely… well, only if God is lying to us through the creation we can see around us. I personally don’t think he is. Regardless of your thoughts on whether this creation account should be taken literally or not, the poetry is there, and we don’t talk about it enough.
2:1 The heavens and the earth were completed with everything that was in them. 2:2 By the seventh day God finished the work that he had been doing, and he ceased on the seventh day all the work that he had been doing. 2:3 God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it he ceased all the work that he had been doing in creation.
This is a day set apart by God, and provides balance to the work of the rest of the week. It’s a day to honour what God has done for us!
And there we have it – finally, finally, through the creation account. I’m exhausted, I don’t know about you. I’m going to hop back over to Mark next, and I hope you’ll join me. We’ll get to the next verse in Genesis soon. Thanks for hanging in there, dear reader!