READ GENESIS 1:6–25
In this lesson we will examine God’s handiwork on days two through six. But we will reserve our study of the creation of man (the sixth day) until the following lesson.
The great Creator God created His vast realm in the course of six days, and He reveals that truth to His cov~ en ant people through Moses. In telling us the truth God was careful to say it in such a way that we might understand what is critical for Israel and us to be His people, and that we might be even better equipped to serve as the citizens of His kingdom.
Poetry, science or narrative?
A question that arises in the study of Genesis 1 regards the kind of literature it is. What type of writing is it? Some say that it is poetry. Others argue for prose narrative (i.e., straightforward story). No one would say that Genesis 1 is a science text, but they might look very carefully for ways in which Genesis 1 fits some modern scientific models or categories. Furthermore, some people ask whether we should take Genesis 1 in a literal manner or in a literary manner, perhaps posing these as necessarily in opposition to each other. Read Genesis 1 again and listen to its content and its cadences. Look for the repeated phrases in the description of God’s creative activity.
After reading Genesis 1 again in its entirety, you will notice several repeated elements as the construction of God’s creation-kingdom is described. Not every day has every one of these elements, but many of the days do contain them.
1. God’s speech: “And God said.”
2. The results of that speech: “God made…and it was so.”
3. God names what He has made.
4. An evaluation of what happened: “God saw that it was good.”
5. The “evening and morning” formula, marking the transitions from day to day.
In this way the inspired writer keeps pressing upon the reader certain critical matters. Genesis 1 is not written in classic poetic style, but neither is it a fiat, two-dimensional reporting of “just the facts.” God speaks, it happens, He gives it an identity, He judges it good, and then He does it again! He is busy putting together His kingdom in place, stage by careful stage.
So should we approach Genesis 1 literally, or should the reader simply note the literary formulas and little more? Myth, theology or science: what’s our category?
We should exercise great caution when we attempt to place relatively modern categories of literature upon the written revelation of God. To be sure, we are able to note the distinctive features of Biblical literature in its various types, but the Biblical types of literature do not always fall into hard and fast, ironclad categories. For example, the history of God’s covenant people is told in Psalm 78, part of the praise (i.e., poetic) collection of God’s Word. But Psalm 78:1–4 gives us certain descriptive words about what Psalm 78 is. It is “instruction,” a “parable” and “dark sayings of old.” We would not deny or even discredit the historical record being sung and retold in Psalm 78, but the reader would not be surprised to read the account and notice poetic features (e.g., parallelism, emotive language and more colorful description). Every piece of literature, including the Biblical text, has its own nature, its own genre. But we must clearly remember that the genre (type) of a text does not in itself determine the factual reality of the material in it. Even poetry can tell the reader “what really happened,” albeit in the manner of poetry. (Both words literal and literary come from the same Latin word for “letter,” littera: what does the text, the letters, say?)
As we noted above, Genesis 1 presses upon us certain things about God and His sovereign, wise manner of constructing the vast realm of His creation. Its measured cadences put this chapter somewhere between a straightforward story narrative and poetry. It is certainly a far cry from the elaborate, polytheistic myths of the Babylonians and the Egyptians. Nor is it simply a theological essay, only a statement of ideas that informs the doctrines of the church, but does not describe what the Creator God did in the beginning. Derek Kidner (Genesis, pp. 54–55) says that the “march of the days is too majestic a progress to carry no implication of ordered sequence; it also seems over-subtle to adopt a view of the passage which discounts one of the many impressions it makes on the ordinary reader. It is a story, not only a statement.” In other words, “facts” are presented to the reader in a stylized narrative form: in six days God alone created all that exists; all of it was properly ordered, and all of it was very good.
Science cannot ignore what Genesis 1 says. At the same time, Scripture does not answer all the many questions that we could raise. God’s Word “sets its own agenda” for us; we do not put an agenda upon the Word. Science must remain modest in its claims of what “really happened” in the earliest eras of time because science does not have all the data necessary to draw its own definitive pictures. Because none of us were there, humble students of God’s Word must listen to the Author of the Word, God Himself, who was actually there “in the beginning.” What He says, we believe, even though many questions may come to mind.
Day two (1:6–8): the atmosphere
After the creation of the light, God now proceeds on the second day to create the firmament. The word used here is related to a verb that means to stamp out or to stretch. For example, metals can be pressed out or hammered out to form an overlay or covering (gold, Ex. 39:3; silver, Jer. 10.9; bronze, Num. 16:39). If you were to stand outside on a cloudless day, the sky above would look something like an enormous blue bowl. now inverted over the earth. From the vantage point of one who stands on the ground, this expanse is the place where the sun travels in daily regularity and the moon moves in its regular cycles. This “upside-down bowl” looks as if it had been stamped out or stretched out over us.
The firmament is that expanse which covers the earth. It is the atmosphere that, one might say, lifts the sky above the earth and serves as a kind of boundary between the earth and the “beyond.” This is not the precise language of science, because Moses is not speaking here as a scientist. He speaks as a prophet revealing how God is now putting in the necessary spacing in the earth; spacing required for His kingdom elements on the subsequent days. E.J. Young reminds us that the expanse (“firmament”) is “not a material substance, but simply a separation of the waters that adhere to the earth from what is beyond. More than that we cannot say” (In the Beginning, p. 44).
Day three (1:9–13): land, seas and vegetation
The third day of kingdom construction has two points of activity or focus. Verses 9 and 11 both record the important words, “God said.” If on the second day God separated the waters, on the third day He now gathers them together into distinct bodies. This now allows the dry land to appear, without which of course, no land-based life could exist. The seas may, later in Biblical revelation, come to symbolize the restlessness of the nations, but in the perfect beginning the seas have boundaries, set in place by God.
The various kinds of vegetation (plants, trees and others) are said to be produced by the land, and the plants and trees are made “according to their kinds.” Admittedly, the ancient world did not work with the precise categories of species that scientists use today, but the ancient peoples knew, for example, the differences between the palm and the oak, the myrtle and the thorn bush. We should also recognize that diversity and differentiation within God’s creation is already in place from the very start. It is not the case that all life forms (plant, bird, animal) evolved out of one single primitive cell. Many of God’s creatures may be like each other in so many different ways (e.g., they breathe oxygen and have two legs). But such similarities do not constitute proof of development from the one to the other. Diversity in the plant and animal realms (1:24, 25) of God’s creation was from the beginning. “And God saw that it was good” (1:12).
Day four (1:14–19): the light-bearers
Genesis 1:14–19 records the creation of the sun, moon and stars. But did you notice that the words sun and moon are not used in this account? There seems to be a reason for such. In the ancient world, the civilization of Moses’ day, if you said “sun,” the reference would be to the sun god. If one mentioned the “moon,” he would be speaking of the moon god. Polytheism (the belief in more than one god) was rampant, and words which to us would not have any association with gods and goddesses, did have such a meaning to the ancients. Perhaps in a very subtle way, God through Moses is pressing an understanding upon us that moves us away from a polytheistic worldview. If the pagans believed in all kinds of myths about their gods and goddesses, then God is giving us a creation account that is very “demythologized.” The sun, moon, and stars are not minor deities; they are created by God Himself, and therefore they are His creatures, subject to His control, to His Word, and to His law.
God assigns to the heavenly light-bearers the task of separating day from night and also of governing the day and the night. The sun, moon and stars are signs for marking “seasons and days and years” (1:14).They are celestial clocks or calendars, one might say, to gUide the daily and liturgical lives of God’s people. The ancient Hebrews observed a lunar month (new moon festivals), and with the passing of the various months, they would know when particular festivals should be celebrated. Not only do the heavens declare the glory of God (Ps. 19:1); but the sun rules the day and runs like a bridegroom-champion across the sky (Ps. 19:4b–6). The pagan world would turn these heavenly beings into deities and worship them, but God’s Word tells us that they were made to regulate our time.
Day five (1:20–23): creatures of the seas and skies
On the second day of the creation week God formed the expanse which separates the “waters below” from the “waters above.” Now He proceeds to fill these areas of His kingdom. The water of the seas now swarms with living creatures (fish, sea mammals and others) while the skies over the earth receive all the varieties of birds. Again we hear the text underscore the fact that God made all these creatures “according to their kind.” Plus, God evaluates all that He made as good.
We should also note that the word create is used in verse 21. In this context the verb create almost certainly does not mean “out of nothing” as it does in verse 1. Later in verse 25 the text says that “God made” the wild animals, and this strongly implies that God used the material of the earth to form these creatures. In a parallel manner, God creates mankind, but Genesis 2 will make clear that the dust of the ground is the raw material, one might say, for making man. In any case, God fills the seas and the skies with their respective populations.
God also creates the sea monsters, the “great creatures of the sea.” This is also a significant statement. The pagan world lived in fear of a great sea monster, a monstrous serpent-like creature of the ocean depth. (There is no need to speculate on what species this might be!) Of course, it is true that the oceans and seas contain some remarkable creatures. The blue whale, for example, is the largest mammal in the world, and it is not land-based. But the inspired text confronts us with the truth that all creatures come from the creative and powerful Word of God. Therefore, one should not stand in fear of them. In fact, these creatures are part of the grand chorus of creation that praises the LORD. Psalm 148:7 says, “Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths.” Then the Psalm adds this in verse 10, “wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds.”
Genesis 1:22 also says that God blessed these sea and sky creatures. He even addresses them with a “command” to be fruitful so that they may fill the seas and the earth! We will say more about this in the lesson that deals with the creation of man. It is sufficient to point out here that the statement about God’s blessing is that it is the very thing that empowers the creatures to be so fruitful. Without God’s blessing nothing can ever prosper. That will be true for humans and all human endeavors; it is also true for the non-human creation. “Thy Spirit, O Lord, makes life to abound” (see Psalm 104:30).
Day six (1:24–25): all kinds of land creatures
We will, as was said earlier, reserve our study of the creation of man until later. Day six, like day three, records the expression, “God said” more than once (see 1:24, 26, 29). Thus there seems to be a multiple focus to this day as there was to day three. As day three was concerned with the formation of seas and dry land, so day six is concerned with the filling of the dry land, first with the land creatures as well as with man himself.
We note that the various land creatures include everything from the large beasts down to the creeping things. Animals that will later be suitable as clean animals for sacrifice are now made “living beings.” But, in addition, beasts not clean in the Old Testament era are made, including the animals that glide and creep over the earth’s surface. Nothing is inherently evil or unclean in the beginning. In fact, the inspired writer Moses reminds us that God’s own evaluation of all the animals of the dry land is also “good” (1:25).
The stage is now set for the last (but not least!) element to be created and thus complete the creation-kingdom of God. Up to this point the construction work of creation has proceeded without any conflict and without problems. God’s words bring about in perfect order all that His sovereign will has desired. He scans His handiwork, and He exclaims, “I really like what I have done. Excellent work!” Certainly the heavenly choirs must have sung out His praises as the appropriate worshipful response.
POINTS TO PONDER AND DISCUSS
1. Read II Corinthians 12:1–6. Paul speaks of a man (Paul himself?) who is caught up to “the third heaven” (12:2) or “to paradise” (12:4). Where can we say this place is? Does the rest of the Bible give us any insight into what the third heaven or paradise is? For this answer, read also Ephesians 4:10; Hebrews 4:14; 7:26.
2. One frequently hears weather announcers referring to “Mother Nature.” Do you ever hear mention of “Father God” on TV or radio weather report? What do people mean by “Mother Nature?” Is this some kind of modern goddess? What should be the attitude or response of Christians to this “Mother Nature” deity?
3. The Belgic Confession in Article 2 says that we know God “by two means: First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe; which is before our eyes as a most elegant book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many characters leading us to see clearly the invisible things of God, even His everlasting power and divinity, as the apostle Paul says (Rom. 1:20).” Why does the natural man deny this? What kinds of things should a Christian point out to those who do not believe that the creation points to the existence of the Creator God?
4. In the light of what is revealed in Genesis 1 about the creation week, how important are Christian education and a Christian perspective in education and in all the sciences? What can an unbeliever truly “know” about this world which God created?
5. When the Bible says that the various plants and animals were created “according to their various kinds,” how is evolution already being implictly addressed and refuted?
6. From the order-lines of the creation account, what things do we learn about the nature of our God? See also Psalms 104 and 136, Isaiah 40:21, 22, 45:18, (c.f. I Corinthians 14:33, 40).
Mark D. Vander Hart