Today we begin our expository journey through Genesis 1-11. There are claims that Genesis 1-11 are a separate work from Genesis 12-50. I believe they are one, cohesive work, each chapter consisting of literal history. Chapters 1-11 do differ from Chapters 12-50, however. They are more like the Ancient Near East Myths of the region, including Gilgamesh and the creation myths of Mesopotamia and Egypt—myths that do, indeed, predate Moses. If you are familiar with some Ancient Near East literature, you see how Moses appropriated the imagery from other eastern works in His own account of creation and history leading up to Abraham, his forefather. I don’t think this appropriation makes Genesis 1-11 any less true. I actually believe it strengthens Genesis 1-11 as a proper and appropriate accounting of universal and human origins. I’ll explain that more as we move through the first 11 chapters.
Genesis was composed during Israel’s exodus from Egypt and forty-year sojourn in the wilderness prior to entering Canaan—probably around 1445 B.C. and following. Some scholars believe Genesis to have been written closer to 1290 B.C. but without any supporting textual evidence.
Moses is attributed with writing Genesis. There are no other contenders. Some scholars think there might have been a Mosaic school writing under Moses’s direction. Others don’t believe Moses can be attributed with the whole work because it seems to them a loose compilation. I believe Moses is likely the sole human author of the Genesis account.
When it comes to genre, Genesis is history. Genesis 1-11, though they are history, sum up history in a much broader fashion than Genesis 12-50. Chapters 1-11 also include myth imagery (not to be confused with mythology). Here, myth refers to genre and should not be confused with the legend genre. Myth refers to an origin story or concerns otherwise unsearchable things. Legend refers to a fictional account. Myths may or may not be legendary. The story of Zeus and Hercules is a legendary myth, as is the stories about Odysseus returning home, the death of the monster named Grendel, King Arthur (who was probably an appropriation of a Viking king by the English) and the founding of Rome by Trojans. Legends may appropriate historical events but are ultimately unsound as historical fact. Conversely, the story of the big-bang is myth even though it was created by people making an educated guess about the origins of the cosmos. The stories we hear about the emergence of life from the primordial ooze or the early earth are in the myth genre. Stories told by those within the intellectual community about the death of the earth and eventual burning out (whether with a bang or a whimper) of the universe are myth—which is a genre and does not necessarily speak to the veracity of any claim being made. So, to recognize Genesis 1-11 as myth does not speak to its veracity. I believe the account to be true.
Genesis 1-11 sets the scene for national Israel’s history. Why would God call Abraham out of Ur and promise him descendants he could not count through whom the world would be blessed? Why would God eventually fulfill his promise in the Messiah, born of national Israel and a blessing to all nations? What reason would God have to care at all about the actions and inactions of humankind? Why does God allow so much suffering in the world right now? Why does God allow people to deny and disrespect Him and still live? If God is just, how can evil people go on in their evil deeds? Why aren’t my mystical prayers for miracles always answered? Genesis 1-11 answers these questions before the history is recorded for us. People don’t normally read Genesis 1-11 asking “why?” They read in order to defend a “how” they have already decided on. So, instead of gleaning what we are meant to glean from Genesis 1-11, we spend all of our time trying to defend it in light of the most recent scientific discovery or claim. We will doubtless practice some apologetics as we move through the text, but not at the expense of gleaning what we are meant to glean by the inclusion of Genesis 1-11 in the Bible.
All this being stated, we will jump right in to verses 1-5 of the first chapter:
1 1 בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ׃
2 וְהָאָ֗רֶץ הָיְתָ֥ה תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ וְחֹ֖שֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י תְה֑וֹם וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם׃
3 וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֖ים יְהִ֣י א֑וֹר וַֽיְהִי־אֽוֹר׃
4 וַיַּ֧רְא אֱלֹהִ֛ים אֶת־הָא֖וֹר כִּי־ט֑וֹב וַיַּבְדֵּ֣ל אֱלֹהִ֔ים בֵּ֥ין הָא֖וֹר וּבֵ֥ין הַחֹֽשֶׁךְ׃
5 וַיִּקְרָ֨א אֱלֹהִ֤ים׀ לָאוֹר֙ י֔וֹם וְלַחֹ֖שֶׁךְ קָ֣רָא לָ֑יְלָה וַֽיְהִי־עֶ֥רֶב וַֽיְהִי־בֹ֖קֶר י֥וֹם אֶחָֽד׃ פ
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.
In the beginning. According to the biblical account, there was a beginning. There was not an infinitely regressive series of events in the universe. There was a point at which time began—the beginning. According to the same story, there is a being who transcends time such that he exists without beginning. He is here referred to as God. אֱלֹהִ֑ים, the word translated as “God” in the english, is plural. So, there is a certain plurality at play, though it is not immediately obvious how the God of the Bible exists in plurality. It is plain that he exists without beginning. For there to be action, though, there must be sequence. For there to be sequence, there must be structure for that sequence, either space or time. When God creates, it results in the beginning of all things, the creation of sequence itself in the new structure we now call space-time. It can be understood, then, that there was only God. When he created, sequence began. We can understand that God created from nothing outside himself. The universe, space, and time did not come from nothing, then, they came intentionally from God. It is nonsensical to claim that something came from nothing. The Bible claims that all things have a transcendent and intentional source—God.
God created the heavens and the earth. There is no timeframe referenced, here. We do not know how long God spent creating the heavens, here to mean the cosmos—including stars and planetary objects. We do not know how long it took Him to distinguish the earth out of all the space matter He created. The text simply says God did it. The Bible does not make it a point to try to tell us how old the universe is, and that’s probably not something we should try to be dogmatic about since the Bible makes no claim one way or the other. The Bible simply asserts that God created the heavens and the earth. It seems better to believe that the universe came from something rather than nothing and avoid the nonsensical notion of infinite regression often invoked to try to explain how the universe could come to be without need of a deity. “God created” is the most reasonable and simplest claim and avoids the philosophical contradiction of other claims—namely that of infinite regression or cyclical argumentation.
The earth was formless and void. The initial state of the space matter designated as earth (meaning land or dirt) at this juncture in time was once without form. It was malleable matter without any distinguishing features. It was uninteresting and just like every other space rock expanding away from the center of the universe. It was also void, empty. There were no trees, rivers, fish, beasts, single-cell organisms, or people. Upon reading this statement, we see how the biblical account differs from Ancient Near East myths about creation. The eastern myths always started with something, a lesser god or a moon or a turtle. There is something controversial about the creation account in Genesis. Moses is singling out the insignificance, not the significance, of the earth.
Darkness was over the surface of the deep. Earth was a water world from the start. There was enough hydrogen and oxygen to condense and cover the earth with water. It was also dark. So, there was heat. Earth was not an ice world. Yet, there was no light. This means that Earth had an atmosphere like many planets in the universe have—an atmosphere that traps heat.
The Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. ר֣וּח literally means spirit, mind, breath, or wind. The imagery presented, here, is that akin to wind moving over the whole surface of the waters all at once. This omnipresent spirit or mind of God was moving over the whole formless and empty earth—over the surface of all the waters.
In the first two verses, we are introduced to a God who is plural in nature. We meet His Spirit, part of His plurality. We see God as transcendent. We also see Him interacting intimately with a space rock (literally, “the land”) of His choosing through the omnipresence of His Spirit. So, there is God and there is the Spirit of God—one in plurality but distinct in personality. Though the Spirit is the only person of the plurality of God we meet in this text, we know from this text that there is at least one more person, the one from whom the Spirit proceeds because the Spirit is the Spirit of God.
Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.
God commands the light to be, and it is. This account does not give us the source of the light. Regardless, God created the light as we saw in the previous two verses when He created the heavens—including the stars and planetary objects like the earth. Here, He commands that light to appear on the earth. One question I had as a youth about this creation account was, “How could light preexist stars.” Every person I asked within the local church could not answer. “Just believe the Bible,” they said. God can do whatever He wants. But, the Bible encourages us to reason (cf. Proverbs 1:7; Isaiah 1:18; Acts 17:17; Romans 12:1; Ephesians 4:17-25; Colossians 1:9; 2:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:21 1 Peter 3:15; James 3:17). Over and again, we are instructed not to be ignorant but, instead, reason and investigate and love the truth in righteousness. I almost left the church because church people didn’t care to reason together. Instead, they seemed to want blind faith. I’m still not okay with that because God instructs us otherwise. If the heavens were created in verse 1, then the heavens are revealed when God says, “Let there be light.” We have further textual proof of this order of creation. God calls the light good and separates the light from darkness. Well, light is not separated from darkness like this but on the earth (and other planets). Darkness is simply the side of the earth that is pointed away from the light. God distinguishes day from night. From the beginning, God is both transcendent creator and immanent revealer. He has not changed. Unless God commands the light He created to be revealed, it is not. This aspect of creation, like every aspect of creation, reveals something about God (cf. Romans 1:20). If He is light, only He can reveal Himself in creation and in our hearts—which are otherwise formless and empty by their nature. One day, there was the first evening and morning. In the Hebrew, the text does not distinguish this as “the first day” like some english translations do. The correct translation is, “one day,” meaning that this is simply one day when the light of the cosmos shown on the earth by God’s command and is not a reference to a specific timeframe. Much to the angst of many bible-believers, Moses’s account of creation if more vague than we would often like. He is not answering the same questions in the Bronze Age that we are trying to answer in our modern and postmodern society.
Finally, the last thing I want to notice today. God saw that the light was good. Throughout the creation week recorded here in Genesis 1, God takes time at the end of each day to observe the work of His hands, so to speak (God doesn’t have literal hands). He recognizes the work of His hands as good. He takes time to receive glory at the end of each day for His work, which speaks, I think, to His purpose of creating in the first place and evidence that He does all He does to be glorified. We will make some application with reference to this later, when people are created in God’s image. Might there also be a place for us to look back on the day’s work, look upon the work of our hands, glorify God, and enjoy the fruits of our labor as He enjoys the fruits of His? I think so.
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