Let’s look at how understanding ancient culture and ancient writings affects the way we interpret the meaning of Gen 1–2:3. First, read it from the Bible.

Next, imagine that you are a Hebrew person who left Egypt.

Slavery is all that you, your parents, and your grandparents remember.

The Egyptians taught you that the sun god Re spoke the god Ptah into being as the firstborn of all creation. Then Ptah created the rest of the gods and the whole universe out of nothing.

You have heard people from Babylon tell another part of the story. They say that there was a problem: the gods got tired of having to work to provide food for themselves.

Meanwhile, the god Kingu and the goddess Tiamat, the great sea monster, rebelled against them.

Another god named Marduk fought against them. He split Tiamat in two, separating the water in the sky from the water of the seas. Marduk then used her body to create the land.

Marduk also solved the gods’ problem of having to produce food. He killed the rebel god Kingu and mixed his blood with dirt to create the first people.

Now humans could do the gods’ work.

Since Egyptians worship Pharaoh Ramesses II as god (the Son of Re), you had always known that your only reason to exist was to work as his slave.

About a year ago, a man named Moses came from the desert to challenge the pharaoh.

Some things that Moses said and did were different from what you had learned.

Moses said that the God of your ancestors sent him to rescue you from the horrors of Egyptian slavery (Exod 3:7–9; Exod 4:29–31).

You watched in awe as the one who called himself “I AM” used Moses to bring judgment upon the gods and goddesses of Egypt (Exod 3:14; Exod 12:12).

They included the gods of the Nile River, of cattle, and of agriculture (Exod 7:20–21; Exod 9:1–7; Exod 9:22–26, 31–32).

I AM even kept Re—the powerful sun god—from appearing for three days (Exod 10:21–23).

He also did not spare the future god of Egypt, the son of Ramesses the Great (Exod 12:29–30).

Many of the ten plagues did not touch the area where your people lived (Exod 8:22–23; Exod 9:4, 25–26; Exod 10:23).

Best of all, the blood of a lamb spread on your door frame protected your oldest brother from dying with the firstborn sons of the Egyptians (Exod 12:21–23).

Soon after Ramesses freed you and your people from slavery, he changed his mind. He sent over six-hundred chariots to keep you from escaping.

Just when you were trapped, I AM split the Sea of Reeds so that you could walk through.

As soon as you reached the other side, the chariot wheels broke and the water returned to its place, destroying Pharaoh’s army (Exod 14).

When you reached Mount Sinai, I AM made a formal agreement, called a covenant, with your people (Exod 24:3–8).

You spent one-year camping at Sinai while skilled people built a model of the universe. It was called the tabernacle and was a place for God to live with you.

During that time, Moses called everyone together to learn what the Lord had done for your ancestors.

While much about how the universe was created sounded the same as what you had been taught in Egypt, there were some shocking differences:

  • Only one God, called “I AM,” created everything which exists.
  • Like Ptah, I AM spoke to make the universe out of nothing.
  • I AM separated the waters in the sky from the water in the seas but without conflict.
  • I AM spoke so that sea water came together. Then, dry land appeared.
  • I AM created with a plan of order. On the first set of three days, God made the universe. On the second set of three days, he made what fills the universe.
  • Day 1 (light) goes with Day 4 (sun, moon, and stars) (Gen 1:1–5; Gen 1:14–19).
  • I AM made the sun, moon, and stars to give light and to set a calendar of festivals. They are not gods and cannot predict the future.
  • Day 2 (sky and seas) goes with Day 5 (birds and sea creatures) (Gen 1:6–8; Gen 1:20–23).
  • I AM made the great sea monsters and he even blessed them!
  • Day 3 (dry ground) goes with Day 6 (land animals and humans) (Gen 1:9–13; Gen 1:24–27).
  • The gods did not make your ancestors from the blood of a rebel god.
  • Most importantly, the one who spoke the entire universe—his temple—into being made you in his image and placed you in his temple.

An image in a temple does the work of a god and has his authority. Therefore, God wants you, who are made in his image, to serve as his representative.

You can fulfill his purposes for humanity by tending, guarding, and governing the earth while displaying the Lord’s glory to other people and extending his kingdom among them.

After creating men and women in his own image, God said that everything was the very best it could be.

Then, the Lord rested from his work of creating the universe as his temple.

He gave us a command to follow his example by stopping our work on the seventh day, the Sabbath.

Discuss how you can apply what you have learned here to your life and ministry.


Image via Wikimedia Commons This photo was taken at Abu Simbel, a temple built by Ramesses II to display his power. Deep inside the temple, there are four statues of gods. Ramesses II is one of them.


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