Genesis (Study 6)—The Lesson of the Days (Gen 1:1–2:3)

03/17/2019 13:40

Considering the days of creation, what if God’s intention was not about chronology at all? What if God was intent on teaching a lesson with the creation days instead of simply what was created first or second or fifth? I mean, God made light on day 1 and vegetation on day 3—to what spiritual renewal of mind do we attain by knowing that? There are some scholars who view these days somewhat differently. They see categories and structure which have nothing to do with chronology or mere durational instruction. They see the creation work of God organized into divisions to teach a grander theological lesson.

We had determined already that God’s purpose for creating was for everlasting love relationship. Relationship is God’s major concern. And to have relationship, God must teach his image bearers about relationship. We can see in chapter 1’s creation and ordering of the days a purposeful God-to-creation relationship.

Note that Genesis 1:2 presents us with newly created material that has two deficiencies before it can function as God intended: creation is formless, and creation is empty. There are no operating domains, and there are no occupants for those domains. Genesis 1, then, provides a literary format in which to view how God takes care of those problems by forming and filling this new creation. In day 1, God creates the first form or domain—that of light. He follows with the domains of sky and sea and finally with land and its vegetation. So depicted as the first half of the creation week, God takes care of one of the two problems we began with—from a formless mass, God has formed light, sea, sky, and land. God also addresses the problem of the emptiness of creation. He makes occupants to fill the void. He forms light-producing bodies (sun, moon, and stars) to fill the domain of light. He forms fish to fill the domain of the sea and birds to fill the sky. And then he forms animals to fill the domain of the land. 

So, in using the structure of days to tell the story, God lines up creation for our view to see how God takes his formless and void creation and forms it into the functional existence we have now. The point is not that these domains and occupants were made in a certain stated order. The point is that what we have in the world today was formed and filled by our Creator God. Domains for form and matching occupants to fill them.

 

Problems (Gen 1:2)—            Formless (& Dark)                           Empty

Solution (Gen 1:3–25)—               Forming                                  Filling

 

DOMAINS

OCCUPANTS

 

Day 1

light

sun, moon, stars

Day 4

Day 2

sky, sea

birds, fish

Day 5

Day 3

land, vegetation

animals

Day 6

 

And when he completed the forming and filling, God rested. What does that mean? Was he just too worn out to continue making anything else? No. The resting is part of the literary framework. The rest in his creation was the Creator and Ruler’s way of taking up operational control. Here’s how it is explained by John Walton, Old Testament Professor at Wheaton College, in his book, Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins:

"In the ancient world, deities rested in temples, and temples were built specifically so deities would rest in them. This rest was not primarily descriptive of  relaxation or sleep. . . . More importantly, it expresses how the temples served as the control room of the cosmic domain in the god’s jurisdiction. When gods rested in the temple, they assumed rule over their ordered cosmic comains from their command centers. In the case of Yahweh, his domain is the entire cosmos. This rule is intended to bring stability and smooth functioning to the ordered cosmos." (p. 111)

"In the ancient world, deities rested in temples, and temples were built specifically so deities would rest in them. This rest was not primarily descriptive of  relaxation or sleep. . . . More importantly, it expresses how the temples served as the control room of the cosmic domain in the god’s jurisdiction. When gods rested in the temple, they assumed rule over their ordered cosmic comains from their command centers. In the case of Yahweh, his domain is the entire cosmos. This rule is intended to bring stability and smooth functioning to the ordered cosmos." (p. 111)

"Day seven is the most important day in the account. Without day seven, the other days do not have meaning. God has ordered the cosmos so that it is ready to serve as sacred space in which he takes up his residence to rule over it, preserving its stability and order by his presence." (p. 112)

By God specifying the seventh day as the one in which he took over operational control, he demonstrated what he had pronounced—that his creation was very good, and it was the place in which his presence would rest as creation’s ruler. Thus, our model chart places our Creator, Ruler God in the seventh day construction over the domains and occupants he had made.

 

Problems (Gen 1:2)—              Formless (& Dark)                      Empty

Solution (Gen 1:3–25)—               Forming                               Filling

 

Day 7 Rest for God, Creator / Ruler

 

 

DOMAINS

OCCUPANTS

 

Day 1

light

sun, moon, stars

Day 4

Day 2

sky, sea

birds, fish

Day 5

Day 3

land, vegetation

animals

Day 6

 

One hint from the text that lends support to this way of viewing the creation days is the coordination shown between day 1 and day 4. In Genesis 1:4, we read, “God separated the light from the darkness.” We may muse about this and wonder just how God did that. But we shouldn’t muse too long. In Genesis 1:18, in describing the creation of sun, moon, and stars, we are told their purpose is “to separate the light from the darkness.” It is the exact same phrase in the Hebrew, demonstrating God doing something (verse 4) and how God did it (verse 18). Taking the activity of each day in a chronological sense, we can’t find a connection between these verses. But understanding it in a literary framework, the whole of the discussion makes sense.

But even while emphasizing the downplay of chronology and duration shown here, let me repeat an earlier understanding I’ve expressed. Some people see this literary framework and find it fits in well with their old earth theories because insistence on duration—short or long—is not necessarilyemphasized in this passage. However, it is more than this passage that convinces me of a young earth. It is God’s link of death—human and animal—with sin and destruction that forces me to accept a less than 10,000 year age for the earth. 

So our chart shows the relationship of God to his creation. It is that of Creator/Ruler to subject. Of course, in our chart, I haven’t yet mentioned humans. But we know well that humans were created in the category of day 6 along with the animals. So if we tuck in humans in the day 6 portion of our chart, we see the same relationship of God to creation in God to humans: he is our Creator/Ruler as well.

We also have another relationship taught in this first chapter. It is the relationship of humans to physical creation. The Hebrew had emphasized God as Creator/Ruler. The only name for God used in this first chapter is ElohimElohimmeans mighty one, powerful one, supreme one. So it is a fitting name to be used of God as he creates from nothing, forms and fills, and then rests in supreme control as creation’s commander. But when we get to verse 26, we see a change in the narrative form of the text. God, the supreme commander speaks to himself. We are shown this to emphasize that what is about to happen is not outside his control, something that just naturally occurred, but rather was the very will and purpose of Elohim. Since Elohim means supreme and mighty, I’m going to use mighty to quote a portion of this verse: “Then the mighty one said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. They will rule. . . .” Stop right there. Read that portion again and reflect. The mighty one —> creates someone like him —> who will rule. Who is God? He is the supreme commander over this creation he made. Who is the human to be? One like God who will rule. The passage is clear that the relationship humans are to have to physical creation is that of ruler to subject.

But what is interesting is that humans are also part of physical creation. So is God talking about physical creation ruling over physical creation? Not exactly. Remember we are to understand the image bearer from the one whose image is borne. God as Spirit ruled over physical creation. God will make, not merely an animal—a creature of physical creation, but a human a person with a spirit that images God as well. And it is humans in spirit that were to rule over physical creation, even the physical creation that was part of themselves—their own bodies.

Now, our chart doesn’t totally satisfy with humans inserted in day 6 along with animals. By this proclamation, humans, though created on day 6, will have rule and control over creation in the same day 7 rest that God enjoys. Our chart would then look like this:

 

Problems (Gen 1:2)—              Formless (& Dark)                        Empty

Solution (Gen 1:3–25)—               Forming                                 Filling

Day 7 Rest for God, Creator / Ruler—humans

 

DOMAINS

OCCUPANTS

 

Day 1

light

sun, moon, stars

Day 4

Day 2

sky, sea

birds, fish

Day 5

Day 3

land, vegetation

animals, humans

Day 6

 

And this structure is precisely why Jesus responded to the Pharisees as he did. In Mark 2, the Pharisees were rebuking Jesus for plucking and eating grain on a Sabbath as they passed through the fields. But Jesus told them they misunderstood the purpose for the Sabbath. It was not meant as a law to control them. It was a law about the human control over creation: “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.”

We see something else in the rulership of humans over creation. As mentioned, we see an image link to God in spirit over the physical. But because of that link, we note that the spirit then must align with God’s Spirit. First, let’s look at structure.

God is, as we talked about several discussions ago, a Trinity. He is a being of multiple in his existence but one in essence. In Genesis 1:26 and 27, when God discusses creating humans as image bearers, he uses language that shouts out to us these human image bearers would be imaging God in his multiple-in-one construct. Note first the opening of verse 26: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” Through the plural pronouns, God appears to be establishing the fact that he is multiple. Some people deny this by saying the great ruling God is merely speaking in the majestic (or royal we)—a device to show authority. We may all be familiar with Queen Victoria purportedly saying, after hearing a slightly scandalous but humorous story told at a royal dinner, “We are not amused.” Margaret Thatcher, although holding an office not so royal, received disdain for using the expression when announcing, “We have become a grandmother.”

However, in the case of Genesis 1:26, I think we do not have a use of the majestic plural. First, the majestic plural is used by royalty or other personage of majesty (like the pope) in announcements or proclamations to those below or other than that majesty. Its purpose is not for self-directed musing. Further, the repeated instances of both plural and singular references to God contained in these verses would be confusing if we should regard all the plurals as merely majestic. Here is the word-for-word translation from the Hebrew: and he-is-saying Elohimwe shall make human in image of us as likeness of us.” The beginning of 1:27 reads, “he-is-creating Elohimhuman in image of Elohim he created him.” Note that the plural Elohimin these verses is referenced by both plural and singular pronouns.

I maintain that it is the intention of these verses to demonstrate the carryover of the plural/singular duality to human creation. Let’s concentrate on verse 27. In the HCSB it is translated: “So God created man in his own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female.” The verse seems redundant until you recognize that the phrasing is designed to show the image.

                  So God created man in his own image:

                                    he created him                   in the image of God;

                                    he created them                male and female.

The first clause introduces the action. Notice the beginnings of the following two clauses: “he created him” and “he created them.” A singular and then plural pronoun demonstrates the dual nature. Thus, him (singular) = them (plural). The second halves of the clauses offer the same connecting idea. The image of God = the multiplicity of humans in the one creation.

So, it is not just God that is spoken of in plural and singular designation; it is also humans that are spoken of in plural and singular designation. And the arrangement (and redundancy) is to emphasize how they bear his image: they are multiple in one as he is multiple in one. 

Now, why is God doing this? Why is God forming humans in this same multiple-in-one construct? The reason goes back (as all good biblical reasoning should) to God’s purpose for creation. God created for everlasting love relationship. In order to have that love relationship, God had to create image bearers who could recognize, embrace, and extend that same love a love relationship requires. With this thought, we need to take a deeper look into the image-bearing attributes God decided on so as to fulfill his creation purpose. 

Recall our diagram of God in his essence and existence:

God always acts (both in his inward and outward attributes of existence) only according to his essence of truth, goodness, and beauty. Therefore, if God is to embrace another in love but maintain his activity founded on that basis of truth, goodness, and beauty, that other with whom God enjoys relationship must also base activity on God’s truth, goodness, and beauty. Therefore, in creating humankind, God intentionally formed them to bear his image, not only in rule over physical creation and as multiple in one but also in imaging of, comprehension of, concurrence with, and communication of his truth, goodness, and beauty. Those attributes of existence we hold individually (in the multiplicity of our persons). But as one in essence, we hold our physical, material beings. My body was not created from nothing. It was created from the bodies of my parents, coupled with food of the earth constantly fed to me, air breathing in, sunlight, water, and a host of other several parts of physical creation to form me. And I am constantly in flux, still breathing, still taking in water and food and sunlight, still expelling what I call waste but which actually reorganizes and refines and reincorporates into physical creation, including the bodies of others. The essence we share, then, is our physicality. We may add to our chart of God to show the relationship of the image bearers.

—————

Back