b) Gen 1:20–23: Just as the creation of light on day one corresponds to the formation of the sun, moon, and stars on day four,[1] so day two harmonizes with day five.

First God separated the sky from the primordial waters. Then he created the inhabitants of those environments: aquatic creatures and birds.[2] This section follows the standard formula for Gen 1, except for the omission of “and it was so.”[3]

Then the Lord commanded, “Let the waters swarm (sharats) [with] swarming living beings.”

This verb usually connotes the swift chaotic movement of fish, insects, and mice (Lev 11:10, 20, 29–30) but also implies fertility. According to Exod 1:7, “the sons of Israel were fruitful and swarmed and became great and exceedingly numerous.”[4]

The term “living beings” (nephesh) appears for the first time in Gen 1:20. Moses repeated it in reference to land animals in Gen 1:24 and to humanity in Gen 2:7.[5]

Thus, it applies to all who receive the “breath of life” (Gen 1:30).

For the first time since Gen 1:1, Moses specifically wrote that “God created,”[6] a matter of significance since what the Lord made was “the great sea monsters” (tannin).[7]

While we think of animals such as sharks and whales, the Israelites would automatically associate them with the forces of anarchy whom people in the Ancient Near East (ANE) believed ruled over the cosmic waters.[8]

These creatures included serpents, dragons, sea monsters, and river monsters (Exod 7:10; Neh 2:13; Ps 74:12–13; Isa 27:1).[9]

According to a Babylonian hymn to the sun god, “The monsters of the sea look upon your light…The monsters of the sea which are full of terror, the product of the sea [and] what belongs in the deep, the spawn of the river which it produces from itself, [all] O Shamash, are in your presence.”[10]

Thus, people throughout the Ancient Near East (ANE) viewed these monsters as living in submission to the sun god, just as in Genesis they obey the Lord.[11]

Ugaritic texts call the sea the enemy of the storm god Baal.[12] One poem claims that Baal crushed the sea and muzzled the dragon.[13]

Unlike ANE primeval rebels, in Genesis these monsters are not chaotic rivals but mere creatures whom the Lord made,[14] living under their creator’s command (Ps 148:7).[15] No hint of battle exists.[16]

Thus, while Moses utilized pagan imagery, he renounced their theology.[17] Most likely, this is why the text states, “and God created” here. Moses needed to discuss cosmic monsters of chaos for an audience steeped in ANE culture.[18]

Biblical texts which refer to clashes between these forces and God point back to “the days of old” or more recent days, such as the exodus from Egypt, rather than to the time of creation (Isa 51:9–10; Ps 89:10).[19]

In addition to those great creatures, the Lord created “all of the living beings moving/creeping about” (ramas) which swarm the waters.”[20]

This depicts fish and other animals which swim and wriggle or walk along the bottom of bodies of water.[21]

God said, “And let birds fly about over the land, over the surface of the expanse of the heavens,” which also suggests swarming.[22]

“And God saw that it was good” acknowledges the perfection of a good creator’s work.[23]

Moses reported, “Then God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and increase and fill the waters in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.’ There was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.”

This portrays the first time God spoke to someone else,[24] giving a blessing rather than performing the act of creating and naming.

Moses used wordplay between “created” (bara) and “blessed” (barak) to focus upon the theological relationship of these words, for creation typically precedes blessing (Gen 1:27–28; Gen 2:3; Gen 5:2).[25]

Barak occurs 327 times in the Old Testament, with eighty-eight of those occurrences in Genesis. This makes blessing a key theme of the book.[26]

Due to God’s empowering words, those whom he blesses can accomplish the creator’s will.[27]

By reproducing, the sea creatures and birds ruled over their realms.[28] The Lord proliferated all these creatures as a blessing, not as a difficulty for humans to overcome.[29]

Image via Wikimedia Commons


Read Gen 1:20–23. Why did Moses specifically mention the great sea monsters? How is being blessed linked with being created? What impact does this have upon the way you view nature?




Go to Living Things from the Earth

[Related posts include God Separates the Waters (Gen 1:6–8); Living Things from the Earth (Gen 1:24–25); Male and Female He Created Them (Gen 1:27); The Blessing of Fruitfulness (Gen 1:28); The Lord Breathes Life (Gen 2:7); In the Likeness of God (Gen 5:1–2); Bring Them Out (Gen 8:15–19); Author and Date of Genesis; and Ancient Literature]

[Click here to to go Chapter 2: God Creates Inhabitants for His Cosmic Temple (Genesis 1:14–25)]


[1] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 23.

[2] Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 129.

[3] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 23.

[4] Wenham, Genesis 1–152, 23–4.

[5] Walton, Genesis, 127.

[6] Walton, Genesis, 126.

[7] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 24.

[8] Walton, Genesis, 126–7.

[9] Brown, Driver, and Briggs, “תַּנִּין” (tannin), BDB, 1072, https://archive.org/stream/hebrewenglishlex00browuoft#page/1072/mode/2up.

[10] “Hymn to the Sun-God,” ANET, lines 1.38, 4.3–6, 388–9.

[11] Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 1:20.

[12] Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 130.

[13]H. L. Ginsberg, trans., “Poems About Baal and Anath,” in ANET, III ABA lines 7–30, 131, https://archive.org/stream/in.gov.ignca.16119/16119#page/n115/mode/2up.

[14] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 24.

[15] Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1–3, 58.

[16] Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 130.

[17] Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 63.

[18] Walton, Genesis, 127.

[19] Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 130.

[20] Brown, Driver, and Briggs, “רָמַשׂ” (ramas), BDB, 942–3, https://archive.org/stream/hebrewenglishlex00browuoft#page/942/mode/2up.

[21] Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17,129.

[22] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 24.

[23] Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1–3, 59.

[24] Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 131.

[25] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 23–4.

[26] Michael L. Brown, “בָּרַךְ” (barak), NIDOTTE 1:757–67, 757.

[27]J. Scharbert, “בָּרַךְ” (barak), TDOT 2:279–308, 294–5.

[28] Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 63.

[29] Walton, Genesis, 127.