Bible Studies on Genesis 1–11 Lesson 2: The First Day

READ GENESIS 1:1–5

In the beginning God created His kingdom. Genesis 1:1 reveals to us that the totality of all that exists was created by only one almighty Being, namely, God Himself. Very clearly God makes Himself the first subject of Genesis and thus of the Bible itself. Before anything created was or came into existence, God is and exists sufficient unto Himself and for Himself. Read Isaiah 40 and several following chapters. These Biblical passages make it clear that God is the First and the Last in creation.

All things He created

Genesis 1:1 tells us that God created “the heavens and the earth.” Later on in this chapter we learn that the sky (firmament) is called “the heavens” (or “heaven”). and the dry land is called “the earth.” But we would be misreading Scripture if we understood Genesis 1:1 to be saying nothing more than the fact that. in the beginning, God created “the sky and the dry land.” Rather, the two things mentioned in verse 1 (“the heavens and the earth”) refer to the totality that belongs to a particuLar category, in this case, that which was created. If, for example, the Bible mentions “day and night,” it refers to the totality of a unit of time. Or again, when we read in Zephaniah 1:12 that the LORD will “do nothing, either good or bad,” the words “good” and “bad” when read together speak of a totality. In Isaiah 44:24 we read, “I am the LORD, who has made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by Myself.” Notice in this Isaiah verse the words “alone” and “by Myself.”

The Christian Church confesses, however. that this God (the word in the original is the more general name for Diety, Le., 'Elohlm) is one Being, three Persons. In verse 2 the Spirit of God is seen hovering over the great deep, demonstrating already the uncreatedness of the Spirit as well as His splendid sovereignty over the creational elements. The Spirit of God and the Word (the Son) of Godare also active Persons in creating all things when Psalm 33:6 says, “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of His mouth.” The word for “breath” can also mean “Spirit” or “wind.” 

Furthermore, God the Son is also active in creation of the kingdom over which God rules. John 1:10 tells us that the world was made through Him. Paul reminds the Colossian church (and us as well!) that “by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible...all things were created by Him and for Him...and in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:16, 17). This teaching is again underscored by Hebrews 1:2 which says regarding Jesus Christ the Son, God “appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe.” These are powerful statements! Jesus Christ, God the Son, created everything, keeps it all together. gives all things meaning and purpose, and seeks to direct all things for Himself, for the glory of God the Father.

“In the beginning”

If time is integral to the creation order itself, it is somewhat problemmatic to speak of a “before” the creation. What was there before the “in the beginning” of creation, except God Himself? Yet He is above, before, underneath, and after time, space, and all things. We use language to describe God’s Being and His activity, sometimes in ways that cannot fully grasp all that God is. Before there was anything, there was, and is, and always will be the great Creator, God.

If we believe that the creation account here (and we are not forgetting the further revelation of Genesis 2) is being put by Moses before God’s people in the time of the wilderness wanderings, then the revelation of Genesis 1:1 is extremely significant. In Moses’ day (as today!) people believed in many gods. In effect, this leads to a “multi-verse” of conflicting deities and different law-givers (and thus different laws). Genesis 1:1 reveals that there is only one God, only one Law-giver, and thus His Law-word is one, coherent, unified, sensible, and ultimately good. One God, one kingdom!

Creation, then a gap?

It has been suggested by some students of the Bible that the creation account of Genesis one represents the restoration of a world that became chaotic “between” verses one and two. First, God created all things, but then the world fell into a disorganized state of affairs. This theory makes room, of course, for the world to be very, very old, and thus compatible with the claims of many scientists who insist on a universe that is at least six billion years old. The very ancient remains of “human ancestors” represent evidence from that earlier, fallen world, it is said. What God is doing in Genesis 1:3ff it is said, is actually reordering or reconstructing a universe that had become disordered. Thus, it is claimed, there is a “gap” between verses one and two, a gap that represents a great amount of time. After all, not everything that has happened in the history of the world has been recorded in the Bible for us (which, of course, is true, but not necessarily applicable at this point in the text!).

However, there is nothing in the text which warrants such a view. The text in the original language does not use a verbal form that would indicate “became” (thus “the earth became formless and empty”). When Adam was created, are we to understand that he lived in a creation already billions of years old, with the remains of pre-Adamite beings and many skeletal remains of thousands of creatures already in the ground? Was the first world that was destroyed (in the “gap”) not so good, while the world created in Genesis was “very good”? The Scriptural text does not allow us to say that “God created all things in six days, except for...” Rather, close attention to the text leads the reader to another kind of conclusion.

Unformed and unfilled

In the original language, the last word of verse one is “the earth,” and the first word of verse two is “the earth.” This points out that the Bible is turning its attention to the concerns of what God did in the creation of the earth. The realm called “the heavens” is thus set aside for the moment. This is the place of God’s throne room, the place where the seraphim, the cherubim, the archangels, and thousands of angels wait upon the Lord in the great heavenly council, praising and glorifying Him forever. Psalm 89: 11 tells us that both the heavens and the earth belong to God because He has founded it. The heavens and the earth—these are the kingdom over which He is absolute Sovereign.

But there is more to consider. Psalm 115:16 reminds us that the highest heavens belong to the LORD, but the earth He has given to man. Thus the text turns our attention immediately to “the earth.” Within God’s kingdom we are given a home, a place, space in which we are called to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. This is the area of man’s activity, the place where the imagebearer of God will carry out his service for, and worship of, the living God.

This earth is described in verse two as being initially “formless and empty” (or void). This has led some to describe the initial creation as being a “chaos.” Such a term is most unfortunate because it suggests that matters were out of control, as if no one was in charge of things. Perhaps the word “chaos” reminds us of the children’s playroom after an afternoon when the three-year old and the five-year old have been in it!

God did not create a chaotic mess. In fact. the rest of the creation week will be God’s work that will divide the various areas of the earth (understood broadly as all that which is not “the heavens,” God’s special throne room, and then He will populate the areas that have been formed through division. What is formless receives form through separation on roughly the first three days, and what is empty receives occupants on the last three (or four) days of the creation week. The wisdom of divine design is about to be held up before the believers’ eyes! Thus “formless and empty” are not seen as something inherently evil, but the phrase describes “the earth” as it was in the beginning, at that initial point when our God brought it into existence.

Day one – one day

It is inevitable that the question arises here as to the nature of the days of the creation week. Does the word day represent a long period of time (an age of, say, millions or billions of years)? Does it mean a period of 24-hours, nothing more and nothing less, as we experience that today? Or, is the creation week of six days of work and the seventh day of rest merely a literary, quasi-poetic, account of the beginning, and therefore not at all descriptive of how the world began?

An exhaustive discussion of every question involved in this topic goes beyond the primary concerns of this Bible study. However, this writer takes the position that the days of Genesis one are to be understood not as long periods of time (“ages”) since the original language has devices for expressing long periods of time, and those vocabulary devices are not used in Genesis one. This writer understands that the days of Genesis one are ordinary days of alternating evenings and mornings, real periods of time that succeeded each other in the very beginning of God’s kingdom. Even many scholars who do not believe that the days of Genesis are real and ordinary days will admit that the text, on any surface reading, conveys that idea to the reader. In other words, the “plain sense reading” dearly pushes the reader to this conclusion: the days of Genesis one are ordinary days.

But there are more reasons that may be adduced in support of this reading. Read Exodus 20:11 and 31:17, for example. Scripture reminds us that God created the world and all that is in it in the space-time period of six days, with the seventh day being set aside as the day of rest (we’ll examine that more closely in a later lesson). Of course, the primary analogy being set forth here is the six plus one pattern that defines the human week, not primarily the length of the Genesis one days. However, if the days of Genesis one have no analogy to the days of the week as we experience the week, then God is drawing an analogy to something that, in effect. never happened. This would be a strange reading of the fourth commandment indeed!

Secondly, the argument that is occasionally heard, that to God a day is a thousand years, is not an accurate reading of the text. Read II Peter 3:8 (ef. Psalm 90:4). It says that “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” Notice the comparative word as. It reveals to us again (as we need to be reminded of this fact) that our sovereign King is above all limitations and restrictions that time may impose upon us as creatures. God created time, He controls all time, He is involved with us in time, but He is not restricted by time. God does not wear a wristwatch, nor is He constrained by human calendars! “His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour.” He can do whatever He wills in a split second, or He can work out His plan over many millennia. But it was His good pleasure to create all things in the space of six days, ordinary space-time days of successive evenings and mornings.

Thirdly, it must be admitted that the word “day” (yom in the original language) can have other meanings, even within Genesis one. Elsewhere in the Old Testament the “day of the LORD” phrase, so common in the prophets, takes us beyond a strictly 24-hour period. Genesis 1:5 (ef. verses 14, 16, 18) even draws our attention to two usages of the word. The light by itself is called “day,” while the evening and the morning constitute the period we know as a “day.” (Even the English language uses the same distinction.) So, the reader must be sensitive to context and usage of a word within that context. Our concern at this point is the usage of the word day that concludes the description of each successive period of creational activity.

Fourthly, each of the six creation days has a numerical adjective before it (“second,” “third,” etc.). Byanalogywith other portions of Scripture (for example, Numbers 7:12–78; d.Zech. 14:7), when such a construction is used, the days are understood to be ordinary days. When the plural “days” is used elsewhere in the Old Testament, the understanding is that they are normal, ordinary periods of time we recognize as days.

Fifthly, the text of Genesis one defines these days as “evening...and...morning.” This restricts the understanding of what a day is. Obviously, Genesis was not written at the North or South poles, where an evening or morning can be quite long at certain times of the year! Genesis was written by Moses, whose feet stood on the ground of the ancient Near East. A day is composed of an evening period (darkness), followed by the period of morning (daylight). In Daniel 8:26 there is the reference to evenings and mornings (in connection with sacrifices); these are clearly understood as normal days.

Finally, the references to “seasons,” “days” and “years” in Genesis 1:14 point to units of time measurement which were understood and were well-known by the reader. As mentioned above, the plural form here for “day” points to the meaning of “day” as that of a normal, ordinary day.

The points noted above, when put together, have an accumulative effect. They point us in the direction of understanding the creation week as being six, ordinary days, in immediate succession to each other, days in which God separated the parts of the earth into their respective portions and then populated those separate portions with the creatures that make up His royal realm.

There are those who see Genesis 1:1ff merely as a literary panel. They come to this conclusion from at least one of two directions (not always mutually exclusive, but certainly distinguishable). Some say that “the assured results” of science tell us that the world, the stars, and all living creatures could not have come into being at the instant God gave His Word. Others would argue that the account of creation as given in Genesis 2:4ff is historical, while Genesis 1 has only a theological, perhaps polemical, point to make. In other words, there may be exegetical (textual) reasons for seeing Genesis 1 as not literal, although it is still very important for what it reveals about God’s creation and sovereignty. In several later lessons, we will give more attention to these suggestions.

“And God said”

The first subject of the Bible is God, and the first Speaker of the Bible is God as well. By His words, “Let there be light,” He wills light into existence. So it will be with the other events of the creation week and with the other elements that are made in these first six days.
Read verses 3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 22, 24, 26, 28 and 29. Here we read the recurring phrase, “And God said,” or “God blessed them and said.” Creation begins with divine, royal words. Later, at Mount Sinai, the Ten Words will come from the heavenly King, covenantally binding Israel as a people, divinely-created, to their royal Master and sovereign Father. In the beginning God's Word creates His kingdom; at Sinai God’s Word creates His kingdom of priests, Israel.

The first word: light God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all (d. Ps. 27:1; 36:9; John 1:3; 12:35). This light of Genesis 1:3, however, is a created phenomenon, the first of God’s gifts to the creation. By creating light first before the light-givers or the light-bearers of the fourth day, God is showing us that the sun (or suns) are not the ultimate source of light. The ancients worshiped the sun as a god because they saw it as a source of their life and well-being. In connection with the creation of light first. E.J. Young (In the Beginning, p. 40) says the following: “Light is the foundation of all that follows...But that we may understand that light, the necessary foundation for all life, is the gift of God and not of the sun, light is mentioned before the sun.” We will say more about this in connection with the fourth day. In any case, we note that light is created to separate itself from the darkness. God has begun the grand task of removing the formlessness of the earth He created in the beginning.

POINTS TO PONDER AND DISCUSS

1. II Timothy 3:16–17 tells us that the Scripture is profitable and useful for teaching us the truth so that we may be equipped for every good work. What teachings (doctrines) are positively taught, explicitly or implicitly, in Genesis 1:1? What falsehoods (errors, heresies) are denied or are able to be refuted by Genesis 1:1? (Think in this connection of atheism, polytheism, deism, pantheism and other “isms.”)

2. Read Colossians 1:15–17 and Hebrews 11:3. Historically the Christian church has confessed the doctrine of creation ex nihilo (out of nothing). How important is this teaching? What challenges in recent times have been raised against this teaching? At what points did God use means and/or material in His creative work?

3. God as the absolute Sovereign of the universe controis all that happens within His kingdom, yet we speak of miracles and providence. How can we explain what is a divine miracle and what is divine providence?

4. In the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter IV (“Of Creation”) we read: “It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein, whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days, and all very good.” In your own words, what is the Confession here teaching? What does the Confession mean “in the space of six days”? Do Christian churches today need to make even more explicit statements about what they believe about creation, or may there be some freedom of understanding within the wording of the Reformed confessions? Why, or why not?

5. Read John 1:1–5. In what ways is this New Testament passage parallel to the opening verses of Genesis 1? What is the significance to such an introduction to the Gospel of John?

6. What comfort is there in Genesis 1:1 for the believer in the revelation that all things come from God, the only God, the sovereign God?

Mark D. Vander Hart

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