Reflections on Genesis 1 – God Our Creator

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In John Walton’s NIV Application Commentary he points out that the verb “Bara”, translated “to create” occurs 48 times in the Hebrew Old Testament. Every single time God is the subject of the verb and when God creates he doesn’t manufacture out of existing materials. God creates from nothing (ex nihilo). God is on a completely different level than we are. We say we create things but it has a completely different flavor and level of power and authority than when God creates something. We are really more like assemblers of things that already exist than we are actual creators.

God’s orderly creation:
Many have pointed out that there is a pattern to how God created the heavens and the earth. First he creates the space and then he fills the corresponding space. Longman charts it out in his book “How to Read Genesis” on p.105

Day one                                       Day two                                Day three
Light/Dark                                   Sky/water                               Land

Day four                                      Day five                                 Day six
Sun, moon, stars                        Birds/fish                                Animals & humans

Walter Brueggeman points out more order to the creation story pointing out the symmetrical nature of each day (Genesis, Interpretation, 30):

  • Time: “there was evening and morning”
  • Command: “God said, ‘Let there be…'”
  • Execution: “And it was so.”
  • Assessment: “God saw that it was good..”
  • Time “there was evening and morning”

His point is that God’s creation is not chaotic. It is orderly and created with purpose and precision. He believes that God’s commands are somewhat passive, “Let there be” rather than strictly authoritative, “Light appear!” He says God “gives permission” for creation to take place. God certainly does the creating. He is not negating that but the way in which he creates is spoken permission for things to be. His authority speaks for itself when those things appear just as he said they should.

Man’s special place in creation:
Not only does God differentiate Day six from the rest by saying it was all “very good” but even the verb used in creating man is different from the other five days. God made everything else but when it comes to man God “formed” him (Gen 2:7). Why the different verbage from the rest of the creation story when it comes to mankind? In his excellent Genesis commentary Nahum Sarna points out that this verb is “yasar” and has the same root as the Hebrew word for potter “yoser”. He says that Hebrew word is translated both potter and creator. Does that mean God was “hands on” when he created Adam from the dust of the ground? What is more the word for “dust” here is the same word as “clay” which a potter uses to form his pots. Now that is something. God cares for us. God is personally involved in creating us. David said God knit him in his mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13). What is more God “breathed” life into man. Did God do that with the fish and birds? Did God make the animals “in his image”?

Made in God’s image:
Several commentators point out that kinds often used images to stand in their absence in distant lands they had conquered. It was a reminder of who the king was, his power and his sovereignty. People are made in God’s image. We are here on the earth proclaiming that God is sovereign and that he rules over our lives. Our very bodies are bear witness that God is real. God is alive and well.

God is still involved in the creation process:
On the seventh day God rested. So what is he doing now? Deists say God is like a clockmaker who made the world, wound it up and lets it run down. He is hands off. The Bible teaches us that God continues to create. Although God rested on the Sabbath the Jews believed that God continued to work in creation. The most obvious examples were God’s work in conception of babies in the womb and through circumcision that had to be done 8 days after birth even if that day was a Sabbath. God was still at work and God could accept circumcision on the Sabbath. One of the accusations brought against Jesus was that the messiah would not work on the Sabbath but Jesus points out that God still did and so would he (John 7:21-24)

It is important for us to realize that God has revealed himself through scripture to be active and engaged in the world. He didn’t wind it up and put it on a shelf. God works in and through creation because God loves us too much to leave us alone. I am reminded of the opening lines of Gensis…” 1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”

The Spirit of God was right there hovering over it all. God is present and God is working. God is forgiving sin and creating people and newly creating people. God is love and God is creative and all God makes is good. If anything in all creation is messed up it is because we tend to do that to the things we “create” on this earth. Fortunately in all the new beginnings in Genesis redemption is on the list!

6 Responses

  1. Good stuff Matt. I’ve also enjoyed teaching through the beginning of Genesis using these sources and descriptive illustrations that you’ve cited. I really enjoy highlighting the theology of orderliness that saturates the beginning of the story, and how that is used to paint the picture of everything being good and right in the world as the Creator always intended. What is fascinating is how Genesis 3 flips the “order” on its head to show the chaos of sin entering the story: although the story starts with mankind having authority over and being above the animals (thus Adam’s role of “naming” them,), chapter 3 illustrates the despised of creatures (serpent) having dominion over the woman, who in turn pulls her husband down instead of “helping” him as she was created to do. Everything goes in reverse of how it was intended to be.

    1. Good stuff Ray…I will have a look at that flip flop tomorrow as I look at Genesis 2-3 in more detail. Thanks for sharing that. I also think it is interesting how Revelation 21-22 is so similar to how God set things up in Genesis 1-2. So much of the language is so similar. I have a chart of that somewhere I will have to post.

  2. Oops hit “Post” too early – didn’t mean to imply that the serpent & woman are the only ones to blame in the Fall. If I’m not mistaken, I think it’s Don Miller who has a great discussion of this account in “Searching for God Knows What”. He discusses the ultimate disgrace of Adam’s culpability here, and his lack of presence in the situation. As I point out here, Adam failed to “man-up” (pun intended). And his failure to be a man continues when he tries to pass the blame when asked about it, which is quite significant. Note that God starts with Adam first in the questioning, as if to give Adam a chance to redeem himself and the situation by owning up and confessing to his sin. When you really reflect on the imagery here in this story, it is quite remarkable the stark contrast between the goodness of chapters 1 & 2, and what happens as it all begins to unravel in chapter 3.

  3. Maybe it was the WIND blowing around? Since bara can mean cast down as Lucifer was “cast as profane” the first cycle of creation can just as easily be.

    The gods (Elohim) began to make the earth an empty and worthless mess since Jehovah said that He didn’t make it that way.

    This is a motiff (pattern) repeated of the flood, the Red Sea and the nation of Israel who became void and empty.

    Isaiah 45:5 ¶ I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me:
    Isaiah 45:6 That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else.
    Isaiah 45:7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.
    Isaiah 45:8 Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together; I the LORD have created it.

    Isaiah 45:18 For thus saith the LORD that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD; and there is none else.

    It is true that the one Jehovah had had His wisdom, spirit and word with Him when He “began” to speak but HE was not triplets..

  4. Hi Matt, I think the points you make here – the difference between how God created the world and how we create things, and the apparently different way in which He made man – can be explained when we look at the flip side of what we usually take from Genesis 1: 26, God’s decision to create man (perfectly) as an image of Himself within the framework of the world, to manage it. The words are, “… Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule… over all the earth.”. I therefore think we have no better insight into God and how He relates to what He creates than thru introspection into our own beings.

    The Schema [Mark 12: 29] tells us that God is a unity: conscious man is also a unity. However, the above passage tells us that during the Creation He is Elohim, a plurality in which individuals can be distinguished [see Genesis 3: 22]. When can man be a plurality in that sense in the normal scheme of things? When he is dreaming or musing. As you drift into that state, your single-stream conscious individuality splits into multiple quasi-independent dream personae apparently doing their own thing, among whom your stream-of-consciousness is usually centered in some particular individual, the dream ego. But, they are all part of you: a one expressing itself as a many. This may mirror the emergence of the sons of God [Genesis 6: 2] apart from God per se [Job 38: 4-7]. It is in that form, perhaps, that God appears before Abraham at Mamre. And, of course the integrated man has a monitoring awareness of his dreams and musing that allows him to waken up or come alert or even to consciously direct his meandering thoughts. This may its analog in God the Father interacting with the Creation and in particular with the Elohim [Psalm 82] and with the Son [Mark 8: 7].

    Paul, when addressing the Athenian Areopagus, makes the point that our lifes, our beings, all reside within God [Acts 17: 28]. From this we can infer that the Creation exists within the unity that is God, just as our dreams exist within us. In dreams and musings, the backdrops and details emerge spontaneously with only a little subconscious direction by us. Could this be a mirroring of how God let the Creation emerge into reality? And the deliberate fashioning of man, as opposed to the emergence of the sons of God, does that have an analogy in how we might muse on the building of that yacht on which we planned to sail into the sunset?

    I am not saying that there is not more to it than this, but I hope this might help to clear up what I think is often very difficult to understand. It has the nice side-effect that it renders all these very unChristian arguments [1 Timothy 1: 4] between Young Earth Creationists, Old Earth Creationists and Evolutionists as largely irrelevant, for in a dream the historical ordering of events arises retro-actively from the causal associations, and has nothing to do with the emergence of the initial state of the dream.


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