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

I’m so glad that this is how the Bible starts. It is the perfect introduction: there is a Creator, and He is God. He is Elohim. He is not just ‘a god’, but the God, and to Him be the honor and glory and power: for being the Creator, for creating the earth with us in mind, and then for creating us.

The origin of the world was so deliberate.

This beginning is not the beginning of time, but the beginning of a time period.  Time has always existed because God has, and time would cease to exist if God ceased to exist.  There was eternity, and then there was the beginning.  Now, since the ancient Hebrew language is complex and elusive, we have two options: “the beginning” could refer to a separate period of time before everything else began, OR it could refer to the actual beginning of the creation week.  One thing is absolutely certain, and that is that there was no other beginning before this beginning.  This word for beginning is the same one for “firstfruits”, which is a Biblical term for “the first of something”.

I find it interesting that the author separates “the beginning” from the rest of the creation week.  Because in the beginning

In a way, I like the thought of the beginning being the time before time.

Before you cry “heretic!” and ready the stake, I’m not suggesting that this was millions of years. I say this because nothing is happening; there is no life. Think of it as a prelude to prove a point. It’s just peculiar to me that the author mentions the beginning at all, especially since this particular author is incredibly deliberate with the words that he uses (I say “he” because it is believed that Moses wrote the book of Genesis. So lower your swords and sawed-offs, all ye feminists). Seriously though, think of all the other parts in the book of Genesis where we are left basically cursing the Bible: “that is all they are gonna tell us?”. For instance, there are seven verses that walk us through the fall of man. That’s it. Seven verses. There is basically nothing to the narrative about Noah building the ark. We skip over vast amounts of time in Abraham’s life, even though he is the father of all the nations. But just because the Bible is mysterious and elusive doesn’t mean that it is unknowable. It’s not about what the author of Genesis doesn’t say, it’s about what he does say. What he chooses to tell us is what matters. To me, the pause here seems to say that the heavens and the earth were created in the beginning, but if God hadn’t done what He did next (made them inhabitable, and full of His creation), there would be no story.

How many of us know that God loves a good story?

“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.” Genesis 1:2

If you’re still with me, join me as we step outside of everything that this verse could mean, and let’s explore what it actually says.  In the harshness of its simplicity, like the most arid of landscapes, the beauty and complexity is breathtaking. We think that we see only desert, or tundra, but instead we behold an entire ecosystem.

There are no words in this second verse that suggest chaos. There is certainly no imagery of boiling particles and natural disaster.  What we read is the presence of the earth, but it was formless and void, or empty.  We know that the earth is not actually formless, and it certainly isn’t empty, so we take what the phrases mean in Hebrew and we find that the first half of this verse is trying to tell us that the earth was a wasteland. In essence, it was uninhabitable.

Intrigued?  Because this is intriguing.

In keeping with the theme from the first verse, that we must read what the author has written, we know that there must be a purpose for pointing out that the earth was in this condition.  The Bible could have just started on Day One of Creation week, but we have a chance here to really take a moment and appreciate what this ancient, archaic writer is trying to tell us.

You see, God set up the universe BUT He had not yet made it good.  The first chapter of the Bible repeatedly shows that God knows what is good for humankind, and that He will be the One to provide it.  It was part of the design, since the beginning.
What else was part of the design? The Spirit of God. In verse one we are introduced to God. In verse two we are introduced to the second part of the trinity, the Spirit. Ruach- wind, breath…  While Elohim is the mighty hand, Ruach is His living breath. And so there the Spirit was, hovering over the face of the waters, waiting for the Hand to mold the earth so that He could breathe upon it.

“And God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good.  And He 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, the first day.” Genesis 1: 3-5

This passage brings up one of the very first debates on the validity of the Word of God: Did this mean that there was light before there was the sun?  After all, there is no mention of the sun, moon, and stars until their creation on the 4th day.  Some say that the correct interpretation of the word “heavens” implies “sun, moon, and stars”. Their reasoning is that you can’t have the heavens without the heavenly bodies, but that the heavenly bodies were ‘formless and void’ until Day 4 when God made them useful, therefore “good”.  My problem with this idea is that if they weren’t made good until Day 4 they couldn’t possibly operate as they were meant to. Also, whatever happened to reading what the author has actually written? The author says that we have night and day on Day One, and the sun, moon, and stars don’t show up until Day Four. So I’m going to go with the author on this one.

But what does this mean?

Here we have Elohim, the one true God, who already pulled the earth together out of nothing. Creating light without the sun would not be impossible for Him, or even hard.  With all my heart I believe that He was introducing Himself as the light of the world. After all, when we get to Heaven the glory of His presence will be the only light that we will need to see by (Rev. 21-23). And when I look at this passage closely I begin to see something else, and I kind of think I’m looking at the first introduction to the third part of the trinity, the Son. In the New Testament, Jesus tells His disciples that He is the light of the world (John 8:12). Just like looking at the real sun, though, I start to squint. I have to look away, because my eyes cannot handle what I am seeing. I can never actually see what I am trying to look at. Are we being introduced to the Son, or is God just setting up the day? It doesn’t really matter, does it? Because we have what the author tells us, and that is good enough because it is actually good, and God said so.

Before moving on, I can’t pass up this opportunity to share my favorite description of this ‘light’. It was written by Donald Miller in his book Through Painted Deserts (if you stick around long enough, you will see that name pop up a few different times). He writes: “God makes a cosmos out of this nothingness…And into this being, into this existence, God first creates light. This light is not to be confused with the sun and moon and stars, as they are not created until later. He simply creates light, a nonsubstance that is…Light, then, becomes a fitting metaphor for a nonbeing who is… How fitting then, for God to create an existence…outside of time, infinite in its power and thrust: here is something you can experience but cannot understand. Throughout the remainder of the Bible, then, God calls Himself light.”

Need I (or Donald Miller, rather) say more?

When God calls the light and darkness to their jobs He is simultaneously creating the day. And by day I mean that He establishes evening and morning, and He calls it the first day.  After introducing Himself, after setting up the cosmos, before He does anything else, God establishes a framework for time.  It gives me some serious chills to think about how deliberate this Elohim was, and still is, and will be forever and ever and ever. If you take nothing else away from that, understand that God specifically chose to set up a system that the creatures of the earth would operate by.

Since we are reading what the author has written, and since the author is telling us that there was evening and morning and that they were the first day, we have no reason to believe that this first day was different than any of the other ones we find ourselves waking up to and putting to bed.  What is this strange notion going around about days being longer at the beginning of the earth?  It doesn’t make sense, and not making sense is counter-intuitive to what God was trying to do.  Doesn’t it seem so much more difficult to believe that the days were actually longer? I mean, why would they be? It just doesn’t make any sense. If the days had been longer then, the earth’s rotations would have been off, making life impossible, and the entire Creation story would have never been written.

It turns out that the author really wants us to know by the word he uses for ‘day’ (yowm) that he is talking about a twenty-four hour period. He uses the same word that every other author of the Bible uses when talking about any other day in the Bible. From this simple thing called a day comes the passing of days, the seasons, and the progress of life on this earth. It really is just that simple.

Now God can continue, because nothing else He intends to put on the earth would survive without the structure of the day.  A simple 24-hour-period: the foundation of all of history.  This is why it’s all so beautiful.  And to top it all off, He wraps up that first day by calling it good. He doesn’t say it because it is good by default, since He is God and He made it, but because it is beneficial to humanity.

Things are fairly self-explanatory from this point for a bit. (But just a bit.)

On the second day God makes the sky and the clouds.

On the third day He gathered the waters together so that dry land could appear. He called them ‘earth’ and ‘seas’.  A curious thing happened next. God told the earth to “sprout vegetation” (Gen. 1:11). I say this is curious because up until this point God is saying “let there be” and then there is. Why switch it up all of a sudden?  You know how I keep saying that the Creator is so deliberate? When He is assigning the vegetation to grow up out of the earth, and when He is assigning the earth to nourish the vegetation, He is establishing the system that is currently in place.  It started the way it was meant to perform.  Nothing changed with the passing of time.  It was meant to be a certain way, and it was made that certain way.  And all of those trees and plants were given seeds of their own kind, and we see that even the plants were meant to produce their own kind.  God called all of this good.

“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, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.’ And it was so. 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…” Genesis 1: 14-16

At the risk of sounding redundant, I turn again to the subject of the heavenly bodies. I do it because the Bible does it, and therefore it is profitable and useful for teaching (2 Tim. 3:16). As a brief review, we already established that God Himself is standing in as light for the world (perhaps even His Son, but that is neither here nor there). The day has been established, and the framework for time has been set up. Now it is day four and God wants to designate that job to a creation. Why not just keep standing in as the light? Then all of creation would have no choice but to recognize God as Elohim, the one true Creator God. I think that’s the point. First of all, the sun and moon and stars are absolutely gorgeous, and we know God loves to make beautiful things (have you seen a weeping cherry tree? A blue bird? The Nemo fish? Niagara falls, for crying out loud?). Second of all, it is up to man to recognize that God is Elohim, and we won’t really be able to if God is standing in as light; if that was the case we wouldn’t really have a choice.

Prepare to be amazed, people.

See that part of verse 14, that talks about the separating lights to be for signs and seasons? The part that everyone just always skims over, including myself? That word used for ‘signs’ (‘owth), it means a sign like a distinguishing mark. It means that the sign represents some sort of proof. This is the exact same word used later on when God puts the mark on Cain’s head, so that no one will kill him (Gen. 4:15). It is used liberally throughout the rest of the New Testament as the token of the Covenant between God and all the flesh of the earth (i.e. the rainbow after the flood, the miracles done by Moses in Egypt, the blood of the Passover, etc.). The more appropriate, but indirect, translation of the word for ‘seasons’ (mo’wed) is ‘appointed time’. Meaning, it is sacred. This is the term used for when Sarah was going to have her baby (Gen. 21:2). It is the same term used for when feasts and holidays were to be celebrated by the Israelites, and it is the word used to describe whenever something pertains to the Tabernacle (i.e. offering sacrifices). They are both used over and over later on in the New Testament in the prophecies.

Okay, so I don’t actually know what any of this means. But it means something. I know it means something because it is written and meant to be read, and I think it’s just too big, too wonderful, too sacred for my puny, a’cursed brain to comprehend.  What I’m trying to say is that God didn’t just throw the sun and moon up into the sky like we throw up Christmas lights. The author puts that part about the signs and seasons in there first because we need to understand that God is the Creator of all things, of the day and of the night, of time itself. He is the only One Who can separate the light and dark, the day and night, and His sun and moon are proof of that.

One thing I know for a fact: it was good (Gen. 1:18b).

On the fifth day God filled the waters up with the sea creatures, and He filled the skies with birds.  He assigned them to each other, and He blessed them to be able to multiply and fill the earth with their beauty for all of time.  He called all of this good. It must have been such a glorious thing to watch the skies full of colorful plumage, and the seas roiling with the types of things only the sea can host.

On day six God created the rest of the living creatures.  Earlier, the author specified that the vegetation was supposed to come up out of the ground, as we know it does to this day.  Vegetation was produced from the land, but the living creatures were made directly by God.  The author wants us to recognize that the life of living beings originates from God, and is meant to be distinguished from the rest of the physical world.  And they were good.

The creation of the animals brings us to the second half of day six.

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image…” Genesis 1:26a

After the creepy crawlies and rolly pollies God takes a different approach. Instead of saying “let there be” He says “let Us make.”  Not only that, instead of being created “according to its own kind” humans were made “in [God’s] image”.  Not only were they like themselves, they were also like their Creator.  What a bold move on the part of the Creator, to imbibe His characteristics upon a creation.  Now that’s what I call sharing.

“And God blessed them…” Genesis 1:28a

No sooner did God create humans than He blessed them.  He simply couldn’t wait to do it.  He tells them to be fruitful and multiply, and this wasn’t said as a command, but as a blessing.  He goes on to give man dominion over everything on the face of the earth, and to reproduce and populate the whole earth, and to enjoy every part and piece of His entire creation.  Not only that, but He says that He has provided food for every kind of living being, in the plants that He took time to create earlier, and so nothing about existing and reproducing has to be hard.  Having dominion over the earth isn’t supposed to be work- God has already taken care of it.  Not only was all of this good, but it was very good, and the sixth day was over.

God rested on day seven as an example to us.  We were created in His likeness, and from then on what He does we also are supposed to replicate.  Resting is a service given by God to be given back to Him, where we take a break from all of the reproducing and having dominion and enjoying all of the vegetation, to be still and remember what He has done.  Why was man supposed to rest if nothing was even difficult or hard? I kind of see it as an act of service that keeps us in check, if you will. This is another one of those ‘signs’ we were talking about earlier (‘owth). This is to keep us focused on how everything we have is a privilege given to us by a sovereign God. To keep us focused on Elohim. We need to remember that He has done everything.  And He did it all for us.  The day of rest, which is typically Sunday for Christians, is not meant to be a performance, an empty display, or lip service…we are meant to treat this day as HOLY (Gen. 2:3).  We are meant to reflect on how alike we are to God, and to recognize the goodness that surrounds us.  Taking part in this rest is a willingness to be in His likeness, and it shows our faithfulness to Him.  The rest that He took then, and subsequently gave to us, will also be given in the future to those that are faithful (Ps. 95:11, Heb. 3:11).

Thank God for that.

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