A Bible Lesson on Genesis 1:1-2:3

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

The ISSL lessons this quarter are a study of parts of Genesis and Exodus.  When we think about how much there is in these books, we must conclude that these lessons can only scratch the surface.

Genesis is the book of beginnings, the beginnings of all things:  beginning of the world, beginning of man, beginning of sin, beginning of God’s work of redemption.  It is the beginning of everything.  Francis Schaeffer, in his evangelism of modern men, always began in Genesis.  If a person doesn’t know the whole story of God’s work, man’s rebellion and God’s redemption, then just jumping in with the story of Jesus and God’s offer of salvation makes no sense.  We must begin with the beginning, and that’s what Scripture does.  So we begin with Genesis 1 and the first part of Genesis 2.

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

This magnificent statement is a kind of chapter heading or summary statement for what is to follow in the rest of the chapter.  It is an absolutely perfect opening statement, any other would have been inadequate.  The subject of the first sentence of the Bible is “God.”  This is the book (Genesis and the Bible) that is first and fundamentally about God.  Derek Kidner rightly said “… to read it with any other primary interest (which is all too possible) is to misread it.”

It is vital that we have clearly in mind what the assertion is here.  What are we told is the starting point of all things?  Before all was God: not matter, not God plus matter, not several gods … but God alone.  Secularists will sometimes point to ancient creation stories from the mid-east and try to argue that Genesis somehow derives from them.  In doing so, they ignore the very starting point.  Those other, pagan, mid-eastern stories presuppose matter and several gods.  The Bible starts with God alone.  This is a God who is more than the pantheist’s sum of all material things.  This is a God who is transcendent, who stands apart from, and has existence separate from His world.  This is, if anything, a repudiation of the mid-eastern pagan myths, not a borrowing from them!

God “created.”  This is a special Hebrew word used only in reference to God.  Humans are never, never, never spoken of as creating in this same way.  That’s a vital point in our time where it is so fashionable to talk about creativity and to talk about man as a “creator.”  That kind of talk can easily become rebellion against our Creator, the only One who has independent existence and can genuinely create anything.  The Hebrews understood that.  We in our 21st century arrogance don’t.  You can even hear people who think that they are Christian talking about us being “co-creators” with God.  That is plain blasphemy.

The Hebrew word for God used here is “Elohim” and is a plural form.  But the verb “create” is a singular form, as it always is when referring to the one true God.  The use of the plural expresses intensity rather than number.  It is sometimes referred to as the plural of majesty.

God created “the heavens and the earth,” that is, everything that is not Himself.  He created totality, the part that we inhabit (earth) and all else as well.

2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

A good rendering here would be “Now the earth …”  There is an air of mystery and disorder about the picture here.  We are told that God did the creating of the world in a progressive fashion, beginning with an unordered and chaotic situation and bringing greater and greater order and structure to His creation.  That is the nature of the work of God, both in creation and in our lives in redemption.  The saints of old understood this and expressed it clearly by saying that “order is the first law of the universe.” Genesis tells us that order is God’s doing, and is therefore a reflection of His divine nature and character.  God alone brings form out of chaos.  Again, anarchists, be they outside or inside the church, are in clear rebellion against this truth that has its first expression in the first few verses of Scripture.

Notice the picture of the Holy Spirit hovering over creation like a mother bird over its offspring.  This is not a picture of God being some kind of grand clock-maker, constructing a universe and setting it to ticking, then going on vacation.  It is, rather, a picture of God brooding over creation, actively involved in it.  Notice also the linking, from the very beginning, of the work of God’s Spirit and the Word of God.  In this verse we see the Holy Spirit hovering over the unformed world and in the next, God speaks and things happen.  The work of the Spirit of God is from this first glimpse in harmony with God’s speaking, with the Word of God.

3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

God speaks and there is light.  What is the physical source?  None is named.  We’re not told and that boggles our minds.  The fact is that previous to this there has been no light, and perhaps there is no physical source intended.  Ultimately, the invisible God is the source.

Kidner’s commentary on Genesis does a wonderful job of saying how profound this simple “Let there be … ” is.  We think about giving orders and having things happen.  But we are always thinking about the moving around of things and beings that already exist. But here, in this speaking, is every smallest detail of the existence of the things spoken into being!  In the creation of a toad is not just the design of an external appearance of a toad, but every piece of DNA that makes it up, every function of every one of its organs, everything that a toad will naturally want to do, everything that makes a toad a toad.  That’s true of a toad, and it’s true of the details of light in this verse.  Humans don’t really know how to even adequately describe light, let alone invent it from scratch.

4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.

The light was “good.” It couldn’t be otherwise, but the Scripture is making a point here.  It is telling us in no uncertain terms, that as created, the universe was right, it was in order.  The lack of order, the chaos, the evil that we see around us has some other source than God’s work in creation.

Notice also that not only is light biologically absolutely necessary for life, but it is a primary Christian symbol of how God redeems us.  He brings us light, causes us to see.  It is thus appropriate that early in creation God speaks light into existence.  Note, by the way, that light precedes the sun in creation.  And in Revelation, we see that it will outlast the sun!  Rev. 22:5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

God separates and names.  Again there is progressively more order being brought here.  It is “evening and morning,” the first day.  The sense of it is “evening came and morning came,” not that (like the Jews) we are to count a day as beginning at sundown.

6 And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.”

7 And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so.

God made “an expanse.”  Presumably this is means the band of atmosphere that surrounds the earth and gives us a place to breathe.  What mechanism did God use to do this?  Again, we’re not told, and it’s not clear that Moses really cares.  That’s a 21st century type question, that even if we did have an answer for, wouldn’t really profit us much of anything.  The fact is that God did so, separating the clouds above from the water below with an atmosphere.

For what it is worth, the word translated “made” here in verse 7 is a different word than the “created” of verse 1.  This is a making out of stuff that God had already created.

8 And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

There was a second day.

9 And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so.

The picture is one of God creating topography for the earth and the water, instead of covering everything, running to the low areas.  Imagine (what are by our finite standards) the cataclysmic forces that had to be operating to produce this!  This whole chapter ought to take our breath away.

10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.

The statement that God called the land “land” and the seas “seas” can appear almost as a truism.  But the significance of God naming things should not be overlooked.  To name something both in ancient times and in our own connotes/indicates ownership.  I don’t name your kids.  You do.  The message here is that the earth and all that is in it are God’s!

It is also significant that ancients thought of the seas as almost god-like in themselves, if nothing else, at least very mysterious and dangerous.  In some of the middle-eastern creation stories the “god” had to do battle with the dark powers of the seas.  The statements here give man comfort and sanity.  The seas are simply part of the creation of the one true God.

God’s work of creation and bringing order and form from chaos is partly a work of differentiation or separation, setting things into their appropriate places.  It is also a work of fullness.

11 And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so.

12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

There is no hint here of any gradual evolution of plant life from a single organism.  The plain meaning is that at the same time there came into being a variety of types of plants and that those plants reproduced not something different from themselves, but plants of their own kind, plants appropriate to the earth on which God has placed them.  Note that fertility, often worshiped by pagans, is here plainly identified as a created capacity.

As we daily partake of food that ultimately traces back to plant life, we ought to stop in wonder and awe, giving thanks for God’s creative Word that set this all in motion and now sustains it.  Calvin put it this way: “If therefore we inquire, how it happens that the earth is fruitful, that the germ is produced from the seed, that fruits come to maturity, and their various kinds are annually reproduced; no other cause will be found, but that God has once spoken, that is, has issued His eternal decree; and that earth, and all things proceeding from it, yield obedience to the command of God, which they always hear.”

13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

On the third day, the dry land and plant life were brought into being.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years,

15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so.

16 And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars.

This is a fascinating set of verses.  Ancients worshiped the sun, moon, and stars.  If we have any sensitivity to vastness of the universe, looking up into the sky ought to inspire us with awe.  These verses say that all these heavenly bodies are simply part of the creation that God called into being.  Verse 16 doesn’t even mention the sun and moon by name, possibly to avoid calling up pagan notions of worshiping these heavenly bodies.  The mention of the stars (which again were a major concern of ancient people and are truly awe-inspiring if we take the time to look up and see) is a short sentence in the grand litany of what God did in creation.

17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth,

Why are they there?  To be worshiped?  Hardly!  They are there for the benefit of the earth.  That’s pretty amazing and humbling if we have sense enough to take it correctly.

18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.

19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

The heavenly bodies “rule” only as light-bearers, not as powers.

Again, it was good.  God is bringing more and more order to His creation, creating a place more and more ideal for our existence, and it is good … in harmony with His character and purposes.

20 And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.”

21 So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

22 And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.”

Again, the ancients lived in fear of sea monsters and went so far as to think of them as supernatural.  Here the statement is one of God’s dominion over and ownership of all creatures in the oceans.  This repudiates the wrong views of the other creation stories that were common in the mid-east.  Again, this is not borrowing from them, but speaking against them!

23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so.

25 And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

Everything is in place, except man, and it is good/right, made in accord with who God is and with His wishes.  Next we see man’s place in this creation.

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

God said “Let us …”  As earlier in the chapter, this is possibly the plural of majesty and likely a foreshadowing of the revelation of the Trinity.

Humans are made “in our image, after our likeness.”  This is an absolutely key/pivotal phrase for our understanding of who we are.  We are creatures (we are made by God), but at the same time we were made “in His image.”  In one sense, this phrase refers to what capacities we have, and what we can do.  It means that we have personality, rational intelligence, moral will, the ability to communicate in a sophisticated manner, self-awareness, etc. But the phrase has meaning beyond those things that man can do that are unique among the created beings.  It has meaning in terms of our unique relationship with God among all His creatures.  We are made in his image in the sense that we are invited to know and have relationship with Him.  We are made in His image in that we can have a history with Him.  We are made in His image in that we are in some ways His representatives on earth.  Colossians 1:15, speaking of Christ, says He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  The fundamental characteristic of Jesus is His relationship with the Father, His perfect harmony with the purposes of the Father.  This was such that He could say to the disciples that if they had seen Him, they had seen the Father.  To be made in the image of God means that we can know, have relationship with, and in some limited way represent Him on earth.

Humans “have dominion.”  In the light of what has just preceded it, this is a solemn phrase indeed.  Contrary to the claims of the evolutionists, we human beings are more than just another animal species.  The life of a human has infinitely more significance than that of a dog.  On the other hand, we are not here as exploiters and spoilers.  We are here as God’s representatives and caretakers in His world.  He made the earth and the life on it and declared it good.  It is not our business to abuse it or spoil it simply for our convenience.  We are here as stewards.

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

From the beginning, Scripture gives men and women dignity and a place from which to reason.  We are all, male and female, created with wonderful capacities to think, will, do, and most importantly to know, represent, and be related to God.  It is from here that our worth derives (and not from some silly psychobabble about “self esteem”).  We ought take most seriously all people as ones made in the image of God.  We are all made by Him and owned by Him, whether we acknowledge that or not.

Kidner said: “Vis-à-vis the animals, man is set apart by his office and still more by his nature; but his crowning glory is his relation to God.”

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Good blessed them.  Kidner: “To bless is to bestow not only a gift, but a function, and to do so with warm concern.”  God blesses man’s procreation and stewardship of the earth.  The rule that man is told to exercise is again the rule of a caretaker, watching over a master’s estate.  Throughout this first chapter of Genesis, we’ve seen God progressively bringing order and organization to the world.  Here man is given responsibility to continue in that vein.

29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.

30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.

31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Notice that several times before this point, Scripture has declared God’s creation to be “good.”  It is now complete (with the creation of man) and the pronouncement is that it is very good.  This has spanned 6 days, and now comes the 7th.

Genesis 2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.

2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.

3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

God rested.  Was this because he was tired and needed a break?  Hardly.  The job was done.  Everything was in perfect order; there was nothing left to do.  This surely doesn’t mean that having finished, He left His world to take care of itself.  He presently and always sustains that which He created.  But there is here a feeling of what we would call satisfaction, of joy in the perfection of what He has made.

This cycle of 6 and then 1 is something that we are told that God has built into the way things are.  6 days of being about what He’s given us to do and then 1 to reflect on our relationship to Him and the quality of what we’ve done in light of that relationship.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

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