Previous Post: Genesis 1:1 In the Beginning God
Now Read: Genesis 1:1-2:4 (NASB)
In my first post I focused entirely on Genesis 1:1, the epic opening line of God’s “personal letter written to mankind” (aka, the Bible). I focused on God who, Himself having no beginning and no end, was the beginning of everything that has a beginning. I explored how the layout of that first verse, putting God above the heavens and the heavens above the earth, painted the picture of the unimaginable greatness and glory of God.
But the key part of that verse that I did not focus on last time, but is no less important, is this: God created.
Again, this might seem like a trite, self-evident observation, but the author of Genesis didn’t believe so. The fact that God created everything that we know and see is so important that not only did he write it down explicitly in the very first verse, but then proceeded to spend the whole first chapter describing not only what, but how, God created.
Many people may read this opening chapter of the Bible and see it as fanciful description of God bringing the universe into existence (which they may or may not believe ought to be interpreted literally), but one thing they may not see it as is beautifully written poetry.
In fact, it actually is a perfect example of ancient Hebrew poetry, and that sets it apart from much of the rest of Torah (the first 5 books of the Old Testament). Indeed it even sets it apart from the rest of the book of Genesis itself. The rest of Genesis is written much more like a “history book” … describing how this person who was named this, did this and went here and said that … that sort of stuff. But this first chapter, describing the creation acts of God, is much more poetic, and when recognized as such it can be unpacked in much more meaningful ways.
It isn’t necessarily poetic in the sense that we today may think of poetry. We expect poetry to have rhyme (usually) and rhythm, and most importantly it “sounds nice” to the ear. But Hebrew poetry isn’t necessarily written for repetition of sound or rhythm, but repetition of concepts and repetition of specific phrases. It’s kind of like the repetition of the phrase “The sound of silence” at the end of each verse in Simon and Garfunkel’s classic song (a little bone for my fellow S&G lover’s out there). Only in this case the poetry of Genesis chapter 1 keeps repeating phrases like, “and there was evening and there was morning, the first day” and other phrases like “God saw that it was good”. But even more so, along with repletion of key phrases, it has a “repetition of events” or a “repetition of actions” on the part of God, beautifully showing how God, as He built His creation up one step at a time, followed a repetitive pattern. That pattern highlighted in the poetry, when pulled apart into its key elements, gives some key insights that can be taken from the text that might not seem so obvious from a simple line-by-line read.
The pattern of repetition goes something like this (Note: Not all of them happen in precisely the same order chronologically through the text, and they are in many cases interwoven with each other, but they are all there):
The poetry of the creation account highlights the key aspects of God’s creation process through this repetition.Eeach element in the repetition says something about God’s character and how He intends to relate to His creation:
1. God created empty spaces with the plan to fill them with something specific.
This might just be the way my brain thinks as an engineer, wanting to see purpose behind design, but I find it interesting that God specifically created what appeared to be emptiness, but He did so with a purpose and a design to fill that emptiness. Likewise He did not create anything that didn’t already have a place prepared for it to go. He did not create stars and then realize, “oh, I guess I ought to create a universe to put them”. Nor He did go, “oops, I’ve got all this cattle here, but they are sinking to the bottom of the seas because I forgot to create dry land to put them on.” God planned His creation, and each piece of His creation had an intended relationship to some other piece. And even the “empty spaces” that initially someone without vision might have thought as a “waste” was created with purpose in mind. Don’t ever think that anything that God has put in your life doesn’t have meaning or purpose or won’t become critical to the plan He has in your life. You might find times in your life where you feel empty, but trust that God has a plan to fill that emptiness with something truly spectacular.
2. God took the time to specifically name certain parts of His creation.
This might seem a little odd to us, and many might gloss over the fact that God gave certain items names, but it’s actually very important to our understanding of God’s sovereignty. In ancient societies naming something you discovered or created was a way of establishing ownership or dominion over it. Kind of like European colonists planting their nation’s flags on land they “discovered” and claiming their nations dominion over that land. That is what God is doing here. When He is calling the dry land “earth” He isn’t just assigning arbitrary words to certain items or defining language, He is saying, “I created this, and I am establishing my dominion over it by giving it its name”. So when God calls the light “day”, and the darkness “night”, and when He calls the dry land “earth”, and the waters “seas”, and the expanse “heaven” He is establishing His Lordship over His creation. He is saying, “All the land, all the seas, and all the cosmos above, are under My dominion and My control for all time (day and night)”. This is why we can have faith that ultimately God is in control. Yes, we live in a fallen world mired in sin (we’ll get to the “Fall of Man” in a couple chapters) and the sin that man has brought into the world may make things for a time seem out of control. But God’s hand of dominion is still over all the earth, and all the seas, and all the cosmos, all the time. In the end God will have the last say over everything that He created and called out by name.
3. Everything that God created was good.
At this point we still haven’t gotten to where man brought sin into the world. At this point there is nothing that exists that wasn’t specifically created and crafted by God and God alone. And since God is good, and there is nothing bad or wrong in Him, everything that He creates is good. God is specifically calling attention to that by emphasizing over and over (repetitively and poetically) the goodness of His creation. It is almost as if God is speaking to us in our fallen world, which is most certainly not good, and He is saying, “Hey, look … when I created it, it was all good. I did not create anything that was not good. Anything that you have in your world that is not good is your own (ie. man’s) creation.” In this day and age it is very common for the world to try and heap the blame for evil, pain and suffering onto God’s door step, or try to use it to prove God doesn’t exist: “How can a good God allow this? Where was God when this happened? Why did God do this?” But God will have none of that. He is making it perfectly clear here in the very beginning that what He created was good, and beautiful, and perfect, and that everything in our world today that is not good, and not beautiful and not perfect is because we, human beings, have taken what He created and broke it, smeared it, and tainted it with sin.
4. God always finishes what he starts.
Encompassed in the pattern of “creating, filling, naming, and declaring it good” is the emphasis that God did not start the process of creating something without seeing it through to its full completion, at which time he could step back and admire it as being good. He did not create an ocean of waters, and then leave it empty and lifeless. No, He put life in it, and not just a little bit of life, but life to the point of it “teeming”. He filled it with life. He did not create dry barren rocks and call it done. No He filled the dry land with beautiful plants and vegetation and animals and birds, and only then after it was filled with a great diversity of life could He step back and admire it as being good. I think it also bears mentioning that the creation account makes special note of the seventh day when “God rested”. This is not to say that God was “tired” or in need of rest, but the point is to say that this was when God was finished with his initial work of creation. Just because the creation is divided into 6 days we are not to think that God stopped His work at the end of each day. Just because there was evening and morning and a day was over, we are not to think that God paused His act of creation. No, He didn’t “rest” until the 7th day, because His work wasn’t complete until then. When God starts something He sees it through to the end, until it is complete, until it is truly, “very good.”
So what should we take away from this first chapter of Genesis? Many people are tempted to read these verses and get into a debate about what the creation account really means as far as how God created the universe, in what order, and how long did it take him to do it. It is a great source of controversy for debates between “Young Earth Creationists”, “and “Theistic Evolutionists”, and Atheists and all flavors in between. They can get caught in debates on what does a “day” mean? Is it a literal 24 period or could it be metaphorical that could mean epochs of time? Was the earth and the whole cosmos created in 6 literal 24 hour days, five or six thousand years ago or did it evolve over billions and billions of years? These debates are fine to have, and there is nothing wrong with looking at this first chapter of Genesis to try an answer those questions. I encourage people to do that, and I certainly have opinions on that, but I obviously can’t tackle all of that with one little blog post, so if I had to read these words and think, “What is the most important message to take away from Genesis chapter 1?” My answer is this: God is not finished with us.
When I read this creation account what is most evident to me is that (1) God has a plan for everything he creates (2) He has dominion over everything he creates (3) Everything he creates is good, and (4) He does not stop until his creation is “complete” and “very good”. We can look around our world today and see that we as a race of sinful people have messed up God’s perfect creation pretty bad. What was “very good”, is now not so good. But we know from God’s pattern of creation, that God does not rest until all of His creation is “very good.” God has a plan. He knew we would mess up from the very beginning, and provided us with Jesus Christ for our salvation. God still has dominion over all things; He is not powerless to bring the world back into His loving embrace. God will not give up on us or His creation. We may be broken now, but He has started a work in us that He will see through to its completion, until that glorious day when He can look over us, the most precious of all His creations, and smile and declare finally that we are “very good.”
P.S. If you’re confused how I could write about Genesis 1, and not comment at all about the creation of man and woman … don’t worry. I will cover that in my next post. As I move into Chapter 2 I will revisit the latter part of Chapter 1 as I ponder what it means to bear the image of God.
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