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1b) Gen 1:3–5: Moses arranged the first chapter of Genesis thematically, rather than in chronological order.[1] It moves from an inoperative condition of chaos into an established functional pattern.[2]

The first three days consist of the creation of kingdoms/habitations with a second set of  three days in which God made their kings/inhabitants.[3]

Thus, the first day corresponds to the fourth, the second to the fifth, and the third to the sixth:[4]

light                                               sun, moon, and stars
seas and sky                              sea creatures and birds
dry land                                       land animals and humans

This format combated Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) mythologies, which worshiped creation and its creatures instead of the creator on whom they ultimately depended.[5]

In all the ANE creation stories, the world arose in at least one of these four ways: 1) as the work of God or gods; 2) due to the spoken word; 3) from conflict with opposing forces; or 4) by self-reproduction and birth. Genesis depicts only the first two of these categories.[6]

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In God’s first recorded act in the biblical narrative, he fabricated the entire universe though his sovereign decree (Cf. Heb 11:3).[7]

Likewise, the Egyptian god Ptah envisioned creation in his mind and then spoke it into being.[8]

People in the ANE believed that things did not exist, nor were they given their function, until they were named.[9]

Therefore, by naming and assigning purpose to creation, God demonstrated his power and authority over all he made.

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A similar concept occurs in the beginning of Enuma Elish.[10] It says:

When on high the heaven had not been named, firm ground below had not been called by name, naught but primordial Apsu, their begetter, (and) Mummu Tiamat, she who bore them all, their waters commingling as a single body.

No reed hut had been matted, no marsh land had appeared, when no gods whatever had been brought into being, uncalled by name, their destinies undetermined-Then it was that the gods were formed.

Lahmu and Lahamu were brought forth, by name they were called”[11]

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This idea parallels the Lord’s creation of light.[12] However, Moses did not deify the forces of nature but cited their obedience to God’s commands.[13]

Since the people of Egypt and nearby nations routinely worshiped the sun and moon as gods,[14] Moses sought to prevent idolatry by calling them simply “lights” created by God (Gen 1:16).

Light signifies life, salvation, the Lord’s presence, and even his commands (Ps 56:13; Isa 9:2; Exod 10:22–23; Prov 6:23).[15]

People in the ANE considered the sun only one source of light in addition to the stars and even the moon, which all made light of their own. After all, daylight appears before the sun rises and remains visible after it sets.[16]

By not describing the creation of the sun until “a fourth day,” Moses conveyed the idea that God is the ultimate source of light (Gen 1:14–19).[17]

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He reported, “And God saw the light, that it was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.”

The Lord delighted in his handiwork.[18] One of the nuances of “separated” (badhal) is being set apart for a specific function,[19] a concept we see repeated in Gen 1:6–7, 14, 18.[20]

Light and darkness not only cannot reside together, each serves a different purpose.[21] They appear in alternating periods of time, rather than being restricted to distinct spheres.[22]

Moses continued, “And God called the light ‘day,’ and the darkness he called ‘night.’”

In the ANE, to give something or someone a name signified one’s authority (Cf. 2 Ki 23:34).[23]

By naming the light and the darkness, the Lord dethroned the celestial deities whom the Israelites had seen people worship in Egypt.[24]

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The creation of the sun and moon on “a fourth day” highlights the difficulty of a precise definition for the term “day.” Light had been present since “a first day.”

In addition, the Hebrew word “yom” often loses the specific meaning “day,” [25] becoming a vague term for “time” or “moment.”[26]

On each of the first five days in Gen 1, no definite article occurs before the number of each day (e.g. “a second day”). In Hebrew grammar, authors employed the word “the” (ha) to denote a specific person or thing.[27]

Consequently, the syntax of Gen 1 permits a range of ideas in the length of time during which God created.[28]

The lack of a definite article also permitted Moses to depict the events of days one through five in a sequence other than their chronological order for literary purposes.[29]

Presenting the process in a series of “days” accommodates the finite thinking of human minds.[30]

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Using the same formula to conclude the account of each day, Moses wrote, “And there was evening and there was morning, a first day.”[31]

On “a first day” God created time,[32] alternating periods of darkness and light. He listed evening first due to the preexisting condition of darkness.[33]

Image via Wikimedia Commons

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Read Gen 1:3–5. What pattern occurs in Gen 1? How does Enuma Elish correspond to this passage? Why did Moses call what God created on the first day “light” when he did not make the sun until the fourth day? What features of Gen 1 make a precise definition of the word “day” extremely difficult? How can we interpret the word “day” here?

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Go to In the Beginning was the Word (John 1:1–2)

[Related posts include Greater and Lesser Lights (Gen 1:14–19); The Light Shines in Darkness (John 1:3–5); God’s Perception of Time (2 Pet 3:8); and Ancient Literature]

[Click here to go to Chapter 1: God Establishes His Cosmic Temple through Creation (Genesis 1:1–13)]

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[1]Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview, 25.

[2]Walton, Genesis, 84.

[3]Meredith G. Kline, “Space and Time in the Genesis Cosmogony,” PSCF 48, no. 1 (March 1996): 2–15, http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1996/PSCF3-96Kline.html.

[4]James W. Skillen, “The Seven Days of Creation,” CTJ 46, no. 1 (4 January 2011): 111–39, 124.

[5]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 61.

[6]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 119.

[7]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 61.

[8]John A. Wilson, trans., “Theology of Memphis,” in ANET, lines 53–4, 4–6.

[9]Walton, Genesis, 86.

[10]Walton, Genesis, 71–2.

[11]“Enuma Elish (The Creation Epic),” ANET, 1:1–10, 60–1.

[12]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 107.

[13]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 60.

[14]John A. Wilson, trans., “A Hymn to Amon-Re,” in ANET, 365–7.

[15]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 18.

[16]Victor H. Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (IVPBBCOT) (Downers Grove, IL; Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 2000), Gen 1:5–8.

[17]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 61.

[18]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 18.

[19]Swanson, James, “בדל” (badhal), Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament) (DBLSDH) (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1997), 976.

[20]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 18.

[21]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 61.

[22]Walton, Genesis, 79.

[23]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 19.

[24]Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1–3 (ed. Martin Rüter, Ilse Tödt, and John W. De Gruchy; trans. Douglas Stephen Bax; DBW; Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2004), 48.

[25] Brown, Driver, and Briggs, “יֹום” (yom), BDB, 398–401, https://archive.org/stream/hebrewenglishlex00browuoft#page/398/mode/2up.

[26]Holladay, “יֹום” (yom), CHALOT, 529.

[27]Gesenius, GKC, 407, https://archive.org/stream/geseniushebrewgr00geseuoft#page/406/mode/2up.

[28]Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1–3, 49.

[29]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 77.

[30]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 61.

[31]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 19.

[32]Walton, Genesis, 84.

[33]Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 1:5.

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1) Gen 1:1–2: “God” (Elohim) can refer to any deity. However, here it depicts the sovereign originator of the whole universe.[1]

These verses correlate with an Egyptian funerary spell (ca. 2134–1991 BC) from the Book of the Dead.[2]

The incantation states, “I am he that closeth and he that openeth, and I am but One. I am Ra at his first appearance. I am the great god, self-produced; His names together compose the cycle of the gods; Resistless is he among the gods.”[3]

People living in Egypt believed that when the sun god formed the universe, he began to rule as king over his creation.[4]

Consequently, Moses’s original audience—the Israelites who had recently escaped from Egypt— understood the concept of a creator ruling over what he made. Only the identity of this Lord was new to them (Exod 3:13–14).

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Due to the nuances of Hebrew grammar, specifically the vowels employed by Moses, a good translation of this passage starts with “In the beginning of God’s creating of the heavens and the earth, the earth had been formless and empty.” [5]

The Hebrew word (reshith) appears fifty one times in the Old Testament.[6] It means “beginning of” (Cf. Gen 10:10; Gen 49:3; Deut 21:17),[7] with one exception (Isa 46:10).[8]

Thus, Gen 1:1 does not function as a topic sentence. It describes the state of our world at the time when the Lord began his creative work.[9]

Typically, the term refers to a time-period, such as the year of succession of a king to the throne, rather than to a single point (Deut 11:11–12; Jer 28:1).[10]

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In the early chapters of Genesis, usually the verb “create” (bara) occurs in association with “bless” (barak). The Lord’s purpose in creating intertwined with his desire to bless (Gen 1:21–22; Gen 1:27–28; Gen 2:3–3).

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Although the text does not specify that God created from nothing, Ps 148:5 lends credence to the view of ex nihilo (“out of nothing”) creation, as does Prov 8:12, 22–31, when the personification of Wisdom speaks.[11]

The phrase “heaven and earth” is a common Hebrew example of merism. This literary device names polar opposites with the understanding that they include both them and everything in between.[12]

In other words, God created the entire cosmos, all that exists (Isa 44:24).[13]

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Verse two opens with the perfect tense: “The earth had been (hayah) formless and empty,”[14] another indication that this sentence does not occur later in time than the first verse. In Hebrew, the perfect tense describes a completed act.[15]

Thus, Moses described the situation before the activity of verses 3–31 commenced.[16]

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Intriguingly, Gen 1:2 resembles these opening lines of the Babylonian creation epic entitled Enuma Elish:[17]

When on high the heaven had not been named, firm ground below had not been called by name, naught but [the] primordial [water god Apsu, their begetter,  and the water goddess] Mummu-Tiamat, she who bore them all, their waters commingling as a single body; no reed hut had been matted, no marsh land had appeared, when no gods whatever had been brought into being, uncalled by name, their destinies undetermined.[18]

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Both Enuma Elish and Genesis 1 begin by describing the state of the world before the creating began.

In the Genesis account, Moses portrayed the formulation of order from disorder. Unlike other Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) descriptions, he communicated no sense of forces of chaos being restrained, nor of any personified force of evil, such as Tiamat, the Babylonian goddess of the primordial depths.[19]

Even though the deep waters obeyed the Lord’s commands (Ps 104:6), the combination of the words “formless” (tohu) and “empty” (bohu) still implies a dreadful situation (Isa 34:11; Jer 4:23).[20]

God did not create the earth to remain in chaos (Isa 45:18),[21] but to function as a place of order.[22]

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Moses wrote, “And the spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.”

The same Hebrew word means “wind,” “breath,” “spirit,” and “Spirit.”[23]

This creative activity involved God at work in the organization of the cosmos, not the destructive force connoted by translating ruakh as “wind.”[24]

Therefore, we can best translate ruakh as “Spirit” in Gen 1:2.[25]

Like the glory cloud or flame appearing in other covenants (Gen 15:17; Exod 19:9; Matt 17:5; Acts 2:1–4), the Spirit acted as a divine witness to the covenant of creation.[26]

Due to the polytheism in surrounding nations during the Old Testament era, Moses focused upon the existence of one God. Introducing an idea such as the Trinity would have sowed confusion and tempted Israel to expand their number of gods. Israelites viewed “the spirit of the Lord” as an emanation of God’s power and authority, akin to “the hand of the Lord” (2 Ki 3:15; Ezek 1:3).[27]

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In a related language called Ugaritic, the Hebrew word for “hovering” depicts the action of birds,[28] such as a vulture circling over an awaited feast,[29] or an eagle hovering over its brood (Deut 32:11; Matt 3:16). An Assyrian emperor described himself as one whose wings were spread like an eagle’s over his land to faithfully tend to his people.[30]

Likewise, the awesome presence of God mysteriously and protectively fluttered over the primordial waters.[31]

Image via Wikimedia Commons

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a) Read Gen 1:1–2. What was the cosmos like at the beginning of God’s creating? How was the spirit of God at work? What aspects of these verses would have surprised Moses’s original audience?

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Go to Let There Be Light (Gen 1:3–5)

[Related posts include God Separates the Waters (Gen 1:6–8); Let Us Make Humanity (Gen 1:26); A Reversal of Creation (Gen 7:5–16); In the Beginning Was the Word (John 1:1–2); The Firstborn of All Creation (Col 1:15–18); and Author and Date of Genesis]

[Click here to go to Chapter 1: God Establishes His Cosmic Temple through Creation (Genesis 1:1–13)]

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[1]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 15.

[2]P. Le Page Renouf, The Book of the Dead (London: Society of Biblical Archaeology, 1904), 40, https://archive.org/details/egyptianbookofde00reno/page/40.

[3]Renouf, The Book of the Dead, 17, 35, https://archive.org/details/egyptianbookofde00reno/page/n71.

[4]Jeffrey J. Niehaus, God at Sinai: Covenant and Theophany in the Bible and Ancient Near East (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 86.

[5]Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17 (NICOT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 104.

[6]Result of Logos 7 word study on “רֵאשִׁית” (reshith).

[7]S. Rattray and J. Milgrom, “רֵאשִׁית” (reshith) in TDOT 13:268–72,  270.

[8]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 104.

[9]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 104.

[10]Walton, Genesis, 68–9.

[11]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 14.

[12] Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 302.

[13]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 15.

[14]Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, “הָיָה” (hayah) in Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (BDB) (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 2000), 224, https://archive.org/stream/hebrewenglishlex00browuoft#page/224/mode/2up.

[15]F. W. Gesenius, Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar (GKC) (ed. Emil Kautzsch; trans. Arthur Cowley; Oxford: Clarendon, 1910), 309, Https://archive.org/stream/geseniushebrewgr00geseuoft#page/n3/mode/2up.

[16]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 116–7.

[17]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 107.

[18]E. A. Speiser, trans., “Enuma Elish (The Creation Epic),” in ANET, 1:1–8, 60–61.

[19]Walton, Genesis, 73.

[20]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 15–6.

[21]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 109.

[22]Walton, Genesis, 73.

[23]William L. Holladay, “רוּחַ” (ruakh) A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (CHALOT) (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 334–5.

[24]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 17.

[25]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 114.

[26]Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview, 16.

[27]Walton, Genesis, 76–7.

[28]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 115.

[29]Walton, Genesis, 78.

[30]Niehaus, God at Sinai: Covenant and Theophany in the Bible and Ancient Near East, 153.

[31]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 17.