Genesis 1

Part I

Section 1—The Creation

1. The Absolute Creation—Genesis 1:1

Genesis 1:1

‏רֵאשִֹית‎ , the "head-part, beginning" of a thing, in point of time (Genesis 10:10), or value (Proverbs 1:7). Its opposite is ‏אַחרִית‎ (Isaiah 46:10). ‏רֵאשִׁית‎ , "in the beginning," is always used in reference to time. Here only is it taken absolutely.

‏בָּרָא‎ , "create, give being to something new." It always has God for its subject. Its object may be anything: matter (Genesis 1:1); animal life (Genesis 1:21); spiritual life (Genesis 1:27). Hence, creation is not confined to a single point of time. Whenever anything absolutely new—that is, not involved in anything previously extant—is called into existence, there is creation (Numbers 16:30). Any thing or event may also be said to be created by Him, who created the whole system of nature to which it belongs (Malachi 2:10). The verb in its simple form occurs forty-eight times (of which eleven are in Genesis, fourteen in the whole Pentateuch, and twenty-one in Isaiah), and always in one sense.

‏אֳלהִים‎ , "GOD." The noun ‏אֳלוֹהַּ‎ or ‏אֳלוֹהַּ‎ is found in the Hebrew scriptures fifty-seven times in the singular (of which two are in Deuteronomy, and forty-one in the book of Job), and about three thousand times in the plural, of which seventeen are in Job. The Chaldee form ‏אַלָהּ‎ occurs about seventy-four times in the singular, and ten in the plural. The Hebrew letter he (‏ה‎) is proved to be radical, not only by bearing mappiq, but also by keeping its ground before a formative ending. The Arabic verb, with the same radicals, seems rather to borrow from it than to lend the meaning coluit, "worshipped," which it sometimes has. The root probably means to be "lasting, binding, firm, strong." Hence, the noun means the Everlasting, and in the plural, the Eternal Powers. It is correctly rendered God, the name of the Eternal and Supreme Being in our language, which perhaps originally meant lord or ruler. And, like this, it is a common or appellative noun. This is evinced by its direct use and indirect applications.

Its direct use is either proper or improper, according to the object to which it is applied. Every instance of its proper use manifestly determines its meaning to be the Eternal, the Almighty, who is Himself without beginning, and has within Himself the power of causing other things, personal and impersonal, to be, and on this event is the sole object of reverence and primary obedience to His intelligent creation.

Its improper use arose from the lapse of man into false notions of the object of worship. Many real or imaginary beings came to be regarded as possessed of the attributes, and therefore entitled to the reverence belonging to Deity, and were in consequence called gods by their mistaken votaries, and by others who had occasion to speak of them. This usage at once proves it to be a common noun, and corroborates its proper meaning. When thus employed, however, it immediately loses most of its inherent grandeur, and sometimes dwindles down to the bare notion of the supernatural or the extramundane. In this manner it seems to be applied by the witch of Endor to the unexpected apparition that presented itself to her (1 Samuel 28:13).

Its indirect applications point with equal steadiness to this primary and fundamental meaning. Thus, it is employed in a relative and well-defined sense to denote one appointed of God to stand in a certain divine relation to another. This relation is that of authoritative revealer or administrator of the will of God. Thus, we are told (John 10:34) that "he called them gods, to whom the word of God came." Thus, Moses became related to Aaron as God to His prophet (Exodus 4:16), and to Pharaoh as God to His creature (Exodus 7:1). Accordingly, in Psalm 82:6, we find this principle generalized: "I had said, gods are ye, and sons of the Highest all of you." Here the divine authority vested in Moses is expressly recognized in those who sit in Moses' seat as judges for God. They exercised a function of God among the people, and so were in God's stead to them. Man, indeed, was originally adapted for ruling, being made in the image of God, and commanded to have dominion over the inferior creatures. The parent also is instead of God in some respect to his children, and the sovereign holds the relation of patriarch to his subjects. Still, however, we are not fully warranted in translating ‏אֳלהִים‎ , "judges" in Exodus 21:6; 22:7, 8, 27 (Hebrew versification: 8, 9, 28), because a more easy, exact, and impressive sense is obtained from the proper rendering.

The word ‏מלְאָךְ‎ , "angel," as a relative or official term, is sometimes applied to a person of the Godhead; but the process is not reversed. The Septuagint indeed translates ‏אֳלהִים‎ in several instances by ανγελοι (Psalm 8:6; 97:7; 138:1). The correctness of this is seemingly supported by the quotations in Hebrews 1:6. and Hebrews 2:7. These, however, do not imply that the renderings are absolutely correct, but only sufficiently so for the purpose of the writer. And it is evident they are so, because the original is a highly imaginative figure, by which a class is conceived to exist, of which in reality only one of the kind is or can be. Now the Septuagint, either imagining, from the occasional application of the official term "angel" to God, that the angelic office somehow or sometimes involved the divine nature, or viewing some of the false gods of the pagan as really angels, and therefore seemingly wishing to give a literal turn to the figure, substituted the word ανγελοι as an interpretation for ‏אֳלהִים‎ . This free translation was sufficient for the purpose of the inspired author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, inasmuch as the worship of all angels (Hebrews 1:6) in the Septuagintal sense of the term was that of the highest rank of dignitaries under God; and the argument in the latter passage (Hebrews 2:7) turns not on the words, "thou madest him a little lower than the angels," but upon the sentence, "thou hast put all things under his feet." Moreover, the Septuagint is by no means consistent in this rendering of the word in Similar passages (see Psalm 82:1; 97:1; 1 Samuel 28:13).

With regard to the use of the word, it is to be observed that the plural of the Chaldee form is uniformly plural in sense. The English version of ‏בַּר‎ ‏אַלָהּ‎ , "the Son of God" (Daniel 3:25) is the only exception to this. But since it is the phrase of a pagan, the real meaning may be, "a son of the gods." On the contrary, the plural of the Hebrew form is generally employed to denote the one God. The singular form, when applied to the true God, is naturally suggested by the prominent thought of his being the only one. The plural, when so applied, is generally accompanied with singular conjuncts, and conveys the predominant conception of a plurality in the one God—a plurality which must be perfectly consistent with his being the only possible one of his kind. The explanations of this use of the plural—namely, that it is a relic of polytheism, that it indicates the association of the angels with the one God in a common or collective appellation, and that it expresses the multiplicity of attributes subsisting in him—are not satisfactory. All we can say is, that it indicates such a plurality in the only one God as makes his nature complete and creation possible. Such a plurality in unity must have dawned upon the mind of Adam. It is afterward, we conceive, definitely revealed in the doctrine of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

‏שָׁמַיִם‎ , "skies, heavens," being the "high" (shamay, "be high," Arabic) or the "airy" region; the overarching dome of space, with all its revolving orbs.

‏אֶרֶצ‎ , "land, earth, the low or the hard." The underlying surface of land.

The verb is in the perfect form, denoting a completed act. The adverbial note of time, "in the beginning," determines it to belong to the past. To suit our idiom it may, therefore, be strictly rendered "had created." The skies and the land are the universe divided into its two natural parts by an earthly spectator. The absolute beginning of time, and the creation of all things, mutually determine each other.

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1). This great introductory sentence of the book of God is equal in weight to the whole of its subsequent communications concerning the kingdom of nature.

Genesis 1:1 assumes the existence of God, for it is He who in the beginning creates. It assumes His eternity, for He is before all things: and since nothing comes from nothing, He Himself must have always been. It implies His omnipotence, for He creates the universe of things. It implies His absolute freedom, for He begins a new course of action. It implies His infinite wisdom, for a κοσμος , "an order of matter and mind," can only come from a being of absolute intelligence. It implies His essential goodness, for the Sole, Eternal, Almighty, All-wise, and All-sufficient Being has no reason, no motive, and no capacity for evil. It presumes Him to be beyond all limit of time and place, since He is before all time and place.

It asserts the creation of the heavens and the earth; that is, of the universe of mind and matter. This creating is the omnipotent act of giving existence to things which before had no existence. This is the first great mystery of things; as the end is the second. Natural science observes things as they are, when they have already laid hold of existence. It ascends into the past as far as observation will reach, and penetrates into the future as far as experience will guide. But it does not touch the beginning or the end. This first sentence of revelation, however, records the beginning. At the same time it involves the progressive development of what is begun, and so contains within its bosom the whole of what is revealed in the Book of God. It is thus historical of the beginning, and prophetical of the whole of time. It is, therefore, equivalent to all the rest of revelation taken together, which merely records the evolutions of one sphere of creation, and nearly and more nearly anticipates the end of present things.

This sentence (Genesis 1:1) assumes the being of God, and asserts the beginning of things. Hence, it intimates that the existence of God is more immediately patent to the reason of man than the creation of the universe. And this is agreeable to the philosophy of things, for the existence of God is a necessary and eternal truth, more and more self-evident to the intellect as it rises to maturity. But the beginning of things is, by its very nature, a contingent event, which once was not and then came to be contingent on the free will of the Eternal, and, therefore, not evident to reason itself, but made known to the understanding by testimony and the reality of things. This sentence is the testimony, and the actual world in us and around us is the reality. Faith takes account of the one, observation of the other.

It bears on the very face of it the indication that it was written by man, and for man, for it divides all things into the heavens and the earth. Such a division evidently suits those only who are inhabitants of the earth. Accordingly, this sentence (Genesis 1:1) is the foundation-stone of the history, not of the universe at large, of the sun, of any other planet, but of the earth, and of man its rational inhabitant. The primeval event which it records may be far distant, in point of time, from the next event in such a history; as the earth may have existed myriads of ages, and undergone many vicissitudes in its condition, before it became the home of the human race. And, for ought we know, the history of other planets, even of the solar system, may yet be unwritten, because there has been as yet no rational inhabitant to compose or peruse the record. We have no intimation of the interval of time that elapsed between the beginning of things narrated in this prefatory sentence and that state of things which is announced in the following verse, Genesis 1:2.

With no less clearness, however, does it show that it was dictated by superhuman knowledge. For it records the beginning of things of which natural science can take no cognizance. Man observes certain laws of nature, and, guided by these, may trace the current of physical events backward and forward, but without being able to fix any limit to the course of nature in either direction. And not only this sentence, but the main part of this and the following chapter communicates events that occurred before man made his appearance on the stage of things; and therefore before he could either witness or record them. And in harmony with all this, the whole volume is proved by the topics chosen, the revelations made, the views entertained, the ends contemplated, and the means of information possessed, to be derived from a higher source than man.

This simple sentence (Genesis 1:1) denies atheism, for it assumes the being of God. It denies polytheism, and, among its various forms, the doctrine of two eternal principles, the one good and the other evil, for it confesses the one Eternal Creator. It denies materialism, for it asserts the creation of matter. It denies pantheism, for it assumes the existence of God before all things, and apart from them. It denies fatalism, for it involves the freedom of the Eternal Being.

It indicates the relative superiority, in point of magnitude, of the heavens to the earth, by giving the former the first place in the order of words. It is thus in accordance with the first elements of astronomical science.

It is therefore pregnant with physical and metaphysical, with ethical and theological instruction for the first man, for the predecessors and contemporaries of Moses, and for all the succeeding generations of mankind.

This verse forms an integral part of the narrative, and not a mere heading as some have imagined. This is abundantly evident from the following reasons:

  1. It has the form of a narrative, not of a superscription.
  2. The conjunctive particle connects the second verse with it; which could not be if it were a heading.
  3. The very next sentence speaks of the earth as already in existence, and therefore its creation must be recorded in the first verse.
  4. In the first verse the heavens take precedence of the earth; but in the following verses all things, even the sun, moon, and stars seem to be but appendages to the earth. Thus, if it were a heading, it would not correspond with the narrative.
  5. If the first verse belongs to the narrative, order pervades the whole recital; whereas; if it is a heading, the most hopeless confusion enters. Light is called into being before the sun, moon, and stars. The earth takes precedence of the heavenly luminaries. The stars, which are coordinate with the sun, and preordinate to the moon, occupy the third place in the narrative of their manifestation. For any or all of these reasons it is obvious that the first verse forms a part of the narrative.

As soon as it is settled that the narrative begins in the first verse, another question comes up for determination; namely, whether the heavens here mean the heavenly bodies that circle in their courses through the realms of space, or the mere space itself which they occupy with their perambulations. It is manifest that the heavens here denote the heavenly orbs themselves—the celestial mansions with their existing inhabitants—for the following cogent reasons:

  1. Creation implies something created, and not mere space, which is nothing, and cannot be said to be created.
  2. Since "the earth" here obviously means the substance of the planet we inhabit, so, by parity of reason, the heavens must mean the substance of the celestial luminaries, the heavenly hosts of stars and spirits.
  3. "The heavens" are placed before "the earth," and therefore must mean that reality which is greater than the earth, for if they meant "space," and nothing real, they ought not to be before the earth.
  4. "The heavens" are actually mentioned in the verse, and therefore must mean a real thing, for if they meant nothing at all, they ought not to be mentioned.
  5. The heavens must denote the heavenly realities, because this imparts a rational order to the whole chapter; whereas an unaccountable derangement appears if the sun, moon, and stars do not come into existence till the fourth day, though the sun is the center of light and the measurer of the daily period. For any or all of these reasons, it is undeniable that the heavens in the first verse mean the fixed and planetary orbs of space; and, consequently, that these uncounted tenants of the skies, along with our own planet, are all declared to be in existence before the commencement of the six days' creation.

Hence, it appears that the first verse records an event antecedent to those described in the subsequent verses. This is the absolute and aboriginal creation of the heavens and all that in them is, and of the earth in its primeval state. The former includes all those resplendent spheres which are spread before the wondering eye of man, as well as those hosts of planets and of spiritual and angelic beings which are beyond the range of his natural vision. This brings a simple, unforced meaning out of the whole chapter, and discloses a beauty and a harmony in the narrative which no other interpretation can afford. In this way the subsequent verses reveal a new effort of creative power, by which the pre-Adamic earth, in the condition in which it appears in the second verse, is prepared for the residence of a fresh animal creation, including the human race. The process is represented as it would appear to primeval man in his infantile simplicity, with whom his own position would naturally be the fixed point to which everything else was to be referred.

2. The Land—Genesis 1:2

Genesis 1:2

‏הָיָה‎ , "be." It is to be noted, however, that the word has three meanings, two of which now scarcely belong to our English "be."

  1. "Be, as an event, start into being, begin to be, come to pass." This may be understood of a thing beginning to be, ‏הָיָה‎ ‏אוֹר‎ , "be light" (Genesis 1:3); or of an event taking place, ‏הָיָה‎ ‏קֵצ‎ ‏יוֹם‎ , "and it came to pass from the end of days."
  2. "Be," as a change of state, "become." This is applied to what had a previous existence, but undergoes some change in its properties or relations; as ‏הָיָה‎ ‏נְצִיב‎ ‏מֶלַח‎ , "and she became" a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26).
  3. "Be," as a state. This is the ultimate meaning to which the verb tends in all languages. In all its meanings, especially in the first and second, the Hebrew speaker presumes an onlooker, to whom the object in question appears coming into being, becoming or being, as the case may be. Hence, it means to be manifestly, so that eye-witnesses may observe the signs of existence.

‏תּׂהוּ‎ ‏בּׂהוּ‎ , "a waste and a void." The two terms denote kindred ideas, and their combination marks emphasis. Besides the present passage ‏בּׂהוּ‎ occurs in only two others (Isaiah 34:11; Jeremiah 4:23), and always in conjunction with ‏תּׂהוּ‎ . If we may distinguish the two words, ‏בּׂהוּ‎ refers to the matter, and ‏תּׂהוּ‎ refers to the form, and therefore the phrase combining the two denotes a state of utter confusion and desolation, an absence of all that can furnish or people the land.

‏חשֶׁךְ‎ , "darkness, the absence of light."

‏פָנִים‎ , "face, surface."

‏פָנָה‎ , "face, look, turn toward."

‏תְּהוֹם‎ , "roaring deep, billow."

‏הוּם‎ , "hum, roar, fret."

‏רוּחַ‎ , "breath, wind, soul, spirit."

‏רָחַףּ‎ , "be soft, tremble." Piel, "brood, flutter."

‏אֶרֶצ‎ , "and the earth."

Here the conjunction attaches the noun, and not the verb, to the preceding statement. This is therefore a connection of objects in space, and not of events in time. The present sentence, accordingly, may not stand closely conjoined in point of time with the preceding one. To intimate sequence in time the conjunction would have been prefixed to the verb in the form ‏הָיָה‎ , "then was."

‏אֶרֶצ‎ means not only "earth," but "country, land," a portion of the earth's surface defined by natural, national, or civil boundaries; as, "the land of" Egypt, "thy land" (Exodus 23:9, 10).

Before proceeding to translate this verse, it is to be observed that the state of an event may be described either definitely or indefinitely. It is described definitely by the three states of the Hebrew verb—the perfect, the current, and the imperfect. The latter two may be designated in common the imperfect state. A completed event is expressed by the former of the two states, or, as they are commonly called, tenses of the Hebrew verb; a current event, by the imperfect participle; an incipient event, by the second state or tense. An event is described indefinitely when there is neither verb nor participle in the sentence to determine its state. The first sentence of this verse is an example of the perfect state of an event, the second of the indefinite, and the third of the imperfect or continuous state.

After the undefined lapse of time from the first grand act of creation, the present verse describes the state of things on the land immediately antecedent to the creation of a new system of vegetable and animal life, and, in particular, of man, the intelligent inhabitant, for whom this fair scene was now to be prepared and replenished.

Here "the earth" is put first in the order of words, and therefore, according to the genius of the Hebrew language, set forth prominently as the subject of the sentence; whence we conclude that the subsequent narrative refers to the land—the skies from this time forward coming in only incidentally, as they bear upon its history. The disorder and desolation, we are to remember, are limited in their range to the land, and do not extend to the skies; and the scene of the creation now remaining to be described is confined to the land, and its superincumbent matter in point of space, and to its present geological condition in point of time.

We have further to bear in mind that the land among the antediluvians, and down far below the time of Moses, meant so much of the surface of our globe as was known by observation, along with an unknown and undetermined region beyond; and observation was not then so extensive as to enable people to ascertain its spherical form or even the curvature of its surface. To their eye it presented merely an irregular surface bounded by the horizon. Hence, it appears that, so far as the current significance of this leading term is concerned, the scene of the six days' creation cannot be affirmed on scriptural authority alone to have extended beyond the surface known to man. Nothing can be inferred from the mere words of Scripture concerning America, Australia, the islands of the Pacific, or even the remote parts of Asia, Africa, or Europe, that were yet unexplored by the race of man. We are going beyond the warrant of the sacred narrative, on a flight of imagination, whenever we advance a single step beyond the sober limits of the usage of the day in which it was written.

Along with the sky and its conspicuous objects the land then known to the primeval man formed the sum total of the observable universe. It was as competent to him with his limited information, as it is to us with our more extensive but still limited knowledge, to express the all by a periphrasis consisting of two terms that have not even yet arrived at their full complement of meaning: and it was not the object or the effect of divine revelation to anticipate science on these points.

Passing now from the subject to the verb in this sentence, we observe it is in the perfect state, and therefore denotes that the condition of confusion and emptiness was not in progress, but had run its course and become a settled thing, at least at the time of the next recorded event. If the verb had been absent in Hebrew, the sentence would have been still complete, and the meaning as follows: "And the land was waste and void." With the verb present, therefore, it must denote something more. The verb ‏הָיָה‎ "be" has here, we conceive, the meaning "become;" and the import of the sentence is this: "And the land had become waste and void." This affords the presumption that the part at least of the surface of our globe which fell within the cognizance of primeval man, and first received the name of land, may not have been always a scene of desolation or a sea of turbid waters, but may have met with some catastrophe by which its order and fruitfulness had been marred or prevented.

This sentence, therefore, does not necessarily describe the state of the land when first created, but merely intimates a change that may have taken place since it was called into existence. What its previous condition was, or what interval of time elapsed, between the absolute creation and the present state of things, is not revealed. How many transformations it may have undergone, and what purpose it may have heretofore served, are questions that did not essentially concern the moral well-being of man, and are therefore to be asked of some other interpreter of nature than the written word.

This state of things is finished in reference to the event about to be narrated. Hence, the settled condition of the land, expressed by the predicates "a waste and a void," is in studied contrast with the order and fullness which are about to be introduced. The present verse is therefore to be regarded as a statement of the needs that have to be supplied in order to render the land a region of beauty and life.

The second clause of the verse points out another striking characteristic of the scene. "And darkness was upon the face of the deep": Here again the conjunction is connected with the noun. The time is the indefinite past, and the circumstance recorded is merely appended to that contained in the previous clause. The darkness, therefore, is connected with the disorder and solitude which then prevailed on the land. It forms a part of the physical derangement which had taken place on this part at least of the surface of our globe.

It is further to be noted that the darkness is described to be on the face of the deep. Nothing is said about any other region throughout the bounds of existing things. The presumption is, so far as this clause determines, that it is a local darkness confined to the face of the deep. And the clause itself stands between two others which refer to the land, and not to any other part of occupied space. It cannot therefore be intended to describe anything beyond this definite region.

The deep, the roaring abyss, is another feature in the pre-Adamic scene. It is not now a region of land and water, but a chaotic mass of turbid waters, floating over, it may be, and partly laden with, the ruins of a past order of things; at all events not at present possessing the order of vegetable and animal life.

The last clause introduces a new and unexpected clement into scene of desolation. The sentence is, as heretofore, coupled to preceding one by the noun or subject. This indicates still a conjunction of things, and not a series of events. The phrase ‏רוּחַ‎ ‏אֳלהִים‎ means "the spirit of God," as it is elsewhere uniformly applied to spirit, and as ‏רָחַףּ‎ , "brooded," does not describe the action of wind. The verbal form employed is the imperfect participle, and therefore denotes a work in the actual process of accomplishment. The brooding of the spirit of God is evidently the originating cause of the reorganization of things on the land, by the creative work which is successively described in the following passage.

It is here intimated that God is a spirit. For "the spirit of God" is equivalent to "God who is a spirit." This is that essential characteristic of the Everlasting which makes creation possible. Many philosophers, ancient and modern, have felt the difficulty of proceeding from the one to the many; in other words, of evolving the actual multiplicity of things out of the absolutely one. And no wonder. For the absolutely one, the pure monad that has no internal relation, no complexity of quality or faculty, is barren, and must remain alone. It is, in fact, nothing; not merely no "thing," but absolutely naught. The simplest possible existent must have Being, and Text to which this being belongs, and, moreover, some specific or definite Character by which it is what it is. This character seldom consists of one quality; usually, if not universally, of more than one. Hence, in the Eternal One may and must be that Character which is the concentration of all the causative antecedents of a universe of things. The first of these is Will. Without free choice there can be no beginning of things. Hence, matter cannot be a creator. But will needs, cannot be without, Wisdom to plan and Power to execute what is to be willed. These are the three essential attributes of Spirit. The manifold wisdom of the Eternal Spirit, combined with His equally manifold power, is adequate to the creation of a manifold system of things. Let the free behest be given, and the universe starts into being.

It would be rash and out of place to speculate on the nature of the brooding here mentioned further than it is explained by the event. We could not see any use of a mere wind blowing over the water, as it would be productive of none of the subsequent effects. At the same time, we may conceive the spirit of God to manifest its energy in some outward effect, which may bear a fair analogy to the natural figure by which it is represented. Chemical forces, as the prime agents, are not to be thought of here, as they are totally inadequate to the production of the results in question. Nothing but a creative or absolutely initiative power could give rise to a change so great and fundamental as the construction of an Adamic abode out of the luminous, aerial, aqueous, and terrene materials of the preexistent earth, and the production of the new vegetable and animal species with which it was now to be replenished.

Such is the intimation that we gather from the text, when it declares that "the spirit of God was brooding upon the face of the waters." It means something more than the ordinary power put forth by the Great Being for the natural sustenance and development of the universe which he has called into existence. It indicates a new and special display of omnipotence for the present exigencies of this part of the realm of creation. Such an occasional, and, for ought we know, ordinary though supernatural interposition, is quite in harmony with the perfect freedom of the Most High in the changing conditions of a particular region, while the absolute impossibility of its occurrence would be totally at variance with this essential attribute of a spiritual nature.

In addition to this, we cannot see how a universe of moral beings can be governed on any other principle; while, on the other hand, the principle itself is perfectly compatible with the administration of the whole according to a predetermined plan, and does not involve any vacillation of purpose on the part of the Great Designer.

We observe, also, that this creative power is put forth on the face of the waters, and is therefore confined to the land mentioned in the previous part of the verse and its superincumbent atmosphere.

Thus, this primeval document proceeds, in an orderly way, to portray to us in a single verse the state of the land antecedent to its being prepared anew as a meet dwelling-place for man.

3. The First Day—Genesis 1:3-5

Genesis 1:3-5

‏אָמַר‎ , "say, bid." After this verb comes the thing said in the words of the speaker, or an equivalent expression. In this respect it corresponds with our English "say."

‏אוֹר‎ , "light." Light is simply what makes a sensible impression on the organs of vision. It belongs to a class of things which occasionally produce the same effect.

‏אָמַר‎ "then said." Here we have come to the narrative or the record of a series of events. The conjunction is prefixed to the verb, to indicate the connection of the event it records with what precedes. There is here, therefore, a sequence in the order of time. In a chain of events, the narrative follows the order of occurrence. Collateral chains of events must of necessity be recorded in successive paragraphs. The first paragraph carries on one line of incidents to a fit resting-place. The next may go back to take up the record of another line. Hence, a new paragraph beginning with a conjoined verb is to be connected in time, not with the last sentence of the preceding one, but with some sentence in the preceding narrative more or less distant from its terminating point (see on Genesis 1:5, and Genesis 2:3). Even a single verse may be a paragraph in itself referring to a point of time antecedent to the preceding sentence.

A verb so conjoined in narrative is in Hebrew put in the incipient or imperfect form, as the narrator conceives the events to grow each out of that already past. He himself follows the incidents step by step down the pathway of time, and hence the initial aspect of each event is toward him, as it actually comes upon the stage of existence.

Since the event now before us belongs to past time, this verb is well enough rendered by the past tense of our English verb. This tense in English is at present indefinite, as it does not determine the state of the event as either beginning, continuing, or concluded. It is not improbable, however, that it originally designated the first of these states, and came by degrees to be indefinite. The English present also may have denoted an incipient, and then an imperfect or indefinite.

‏רָאָה‎, "see" ὁραω ,

‏אוֹר‎ , "emit light,"

‏רָאָה‎ , "see by light."

‏טוֹב‎ , "good." Opposite is: ‏רַע‎ .

‏קָרָא‎ , "Cry, call."

‏עֶרֶב‎ , "evening, sunset." A space of time before and after sunset. ‏עֶרֶב‎ , "two evenings," a certain time before sunset, and the time between sunset and the end of twilight. ‏בֵּין‎ ‏עֶרֶב‎ "the interval between the two evenings, from sunset to the end of twilight," according to the Karaites and Samaritans; "from sun declining to sunset," according to the Pharisees and Rabbinists. It might be the time from the beginning of the one to the beginning of the other, from the end of the one to the end of the other, or from the beginning of the one to the end of the other. The last is the most suitable for all the passages in which it occurs. These are ten in number, all in the law (Exodus 12:6; 16:12; 29:31, 41; 30:8; Leviticus 23:5; Numbers 9:3, 5, 8; 28:4). The slaying of the evening lamb and of the passover lamb, the eating of the latter and the lighting of the lamps, took place in the interval so designated.

At the end of this portion of the sacred text we have the first pe (‏פ‎). This is explained in the Introduction, Section VII.

The first day's work is the calling of light into being. Here the design is evidently to remove one of the defects mentioned in the preceding verse,—"and darkness was upon the face of the deep." The scene of this creative act is therefore coincident with that of the darkness it is intended to displace. The interference of supernatural power to cause the presence of light in this region, intimates that the powers of nature were inadequate to this effect. But it does not determine whether or not light had already existed elsewhere, and had even at one time penetrated into this now darkened region, and was still prevailing in the other realms of space beyond the face of the deep. Nor does it determine whether by a change of the polar axis, by the rarefaction of the gaseous medium above, or by what other means, light was made to visit this region of the globe with its agreeable and quickening influences. We only read that it did not then illuminate the deep of waters, and that by the potent word of God it was then summoned into being. This is an act of creative power, for it is a calling into existence what had previously no existence in that place, and was not owing to the mere development of nature. Hence, the act of omnipotence here recorded is not at variance with the existence of light among the elements of that universe of nature, the absolute creation of which is affirmed in the first verse.

Genesis 1:3

Then said God. In Genesis 1:3, God speaks. From this we learn that He not only is, but is such that He can express His will and commune with His intelligent creatures. He is manifest not only by His creation, but by Himself. If light had come into existence without a perceptible cause, we should still have inferred a first Causer by an intuitive principle which demands an adequate cause for anything making its appearance which was not before. But when God says, "Be light," in the audience of His intelligent creatures, and light forthwith comes into view, they perceive God commanding, as well as light appearing.

Speech is the proper mode of spiritual manifestation. Thinking, willing, acting are the movements of spirit, and speech is the index of what is thought, willed, and done. Now, as the essence of God is the spirit which thinks and acts, so the form of God is that in which the spirit speaks, and otherwise meets the observations of intelligent beings. In these three verses, then, we have God, the spirit of God, and the word of God. And as the term "spirit" is transferred from an inanimate thing to signify an intelligent agent, so the term "word" is capable of receiving a similar change of application.

Inadvertent critics of the Bible object to God being described as "speaking," or performing any other act that is proper only to the human frame or spirit. They say it is anthropomorphic or anthropopathic, implies a gross, material, or human idea of God, and is therefore unworthy of Him and of His Word. But they forget that great law of thought and speech by which we apprehend analogies, and with a wise economy call the analogues by the same name. Almost all the words we apply to mental things were originally borrowed from our vocabulary for the material world, and therefore really figurative, until by long habit the metaphor was forgotten, and they became to all intents and purposes literal. And philosophers never have and never will have devised a more excellent way of husbanding words, marking analogies, and fitly expressing spiritual things. Our phraseology for mental ideas, though lifted up from a lower sphere, has not landed us in spiritualism, but enabled us to converse about the metaphysical with the utmost purity and propriety.

And, since this holds true of human thoughts and actions, so does it apply with equal truth to the divine ways and works. Let there be in our minds proper notions of God, and the tropical language we must and ought to employ in speaking of divine things will derive no taint of error from its original application to their human analogues. Scripture communicates those adequate notions of the most High God which are the fit corrective of its necessarily metaphorical language concerning the things of God. Accordingly, the intelligent perusal of the Bible has never produced idolatry; but, on the other hand, has communicated even to its critics the just conceptions they have acquired of the spiritual nature of the one true God.

It ought to be remembered, also, that the very principle of all language is the use of signs for things, that the trope is only a special application of this principle according to the law of parsimony, and that the East is especially addicted to the use of tropical language. Let not western metaphysics misjudge, lest it be found to misunderstand eastern aesthetics.

It is interesting to observe in the self-manifesting God, the great archetypes of which the semblances are found in man. Here we have the sign-making or signifying faculty in exercise. Whether there were created witnesses present at the issue of this divine command, we are not here informed. Their presence, however, was not necessary to give significance to the act of speech, any more than to that of self-manifestation. God may manifest Himself and speak, though there be none to see and hear.

We see, too, here the name in existence before the thing, because it primarily refers to the thing as contemplated in thought.

The self-manifesting God and the self-manifesting act of speaking are here antecedent to the act of creation, or the coming of the thing into existence. This teaches us that creation is a different thing from self-manifestation or emanation. God is; He manifests Himself; He speaks; and lastly He puts forth the power, and the thing is done.

Let there be light. The word "be" simply denotes the "existence" of the light, by whatever means or from whatever quarter it comes into the given locality. It might have been by an absolute act of pure creation or making out of nothing. But it may equally well be effected by any supernatural operation which removes an otherwise insurmountable hinderance, and opens the way for the already existing light to penetrate into the hitherto darkened region. This phrase is therefore in perfect harmony with preexistence of light among the other elementary parts of the universe from the very beginning of things. And it is no less consonant with the fact that heat, of which light is a species or form, is, and has from the beginning been, present in all those chemical changes by which the process of universal nature is carried on through all its innumerable cycles.

Genesis 1:4

Then saw God the light that it was good. God contemplates his work, and derives the feeling of complacence from the perception of its excellence. Here we have two other archetypal faculties displayed in God, which subsequently make their appearance in the nature of man, the understanding, and the judgment.

The perception of things external to Himself is an important fact in the relation between the Creator and the creature. It implies that the created thing is distinct from the creating Being, and external to Him. It therefore contradicts pantheism in all its forms.

The judgment is merely another branch of the apprehensive or cognitive faculty, by which we note physical and ethical relations and distinctions of things. It comes immediately into view on observing the object now called into existence. God saw "that it was good." That is good in general which fulfills the end of its being. The relation of good and evil has a place and an application in the physical world, but it ascends through all the grades of the intellectual and the moral. That form of the judgement which takes cognizance of moral distinctions is of so much importance as to have received a distinct name,—the conscience, or moral sense.

Here the moral rectitude of God is vindicated, inasmuch as the work of His power is manifestly good. This refutes the doctrine of the two principles, the one good and the other evil, which the Persian sages have devised in order to account for the presence of moral and physical evil along with the good in the present condition of our world.

Divided between the light and between the darkness. God then separates light and darkness, by assigning to each its relative position in time and space. This no doubt refers to the vicissitudes of day and night, as we learn from the following verse:

Genesis 1:5

Called to the light, day,... After separating the light and the darkness, he gives them the new names of day and night, according to the limitations under which they were now placed. Before this epoch in the history of the earth there was no rational inhabitant, and therefore no use of naming. The assigning of names, therefore, is an indication that we have arrived at that stage in which names for things will be necessary, because a rational creature is about to appear on the scene.

Naming seems to be designating according to the specific mode in which the general notion is realized in the thing named. This is illustrated by several instances which occur in the following part of the chapter. It is the right of the maker, owner, or other superior to give a name; and hence, the receiving of a name indicates the subordination of the thing named to the namer. Name and thing correspond: the former is the sign of the latter; hence, in the concrete matter-of-fact style of Scripture the name is often put for the thing, quality, person, or authority it represents.

The designations of day and night explain to us what is the meaning of dividing the light from the darkness. It is the separation of the one from the other, and the orderly distribution of each over the different parts of the earth's surface in the course of a night and a day. This could only be effected in the space of a diurnal revolution of the earth on its axis. Accordingly, if light were radiated from a particular region in the sky, and thus separated from darkness at a certain meridian, while the earth performed its daily round, the successive changes of evening, night, morning, day, would naturally present themselves in slow and stately progress during that first great act of creation.

Thus, we have evidence that the diurnal revolution of the earth took place on the first day of the last creation. We are not told whether it occurred before that time. If there ever was a time when the earth did not revolve, or revolved on a different axis or according to a different law from the present, the first revolution or change of revolution must have produced a vast change in the face of things, the marks of which would remain to this day, whether the impulse was communicated to the solid mass alone, or simultaneously to all the loose matter resting on its surface. But the text gives no intimation of such a change.

At present, however, let us recollect we have only to do with the land known to antediluvian man, and the coming of light into existence over that region, according to the existing arrangement of day and night. How far the breaking forth of the light may have extended beyond the land known to the writer, the present narrative does not enable us to determine.

We are now prepared to conclude that the entrance of light into this darkened region was effected by such a change in its position or in its superincumbent atmosphere as allowed the interchange of night and day to become discernible, while at the same time so much obscurity still remained as to exclude the heavenly bodies from view. We have learned from the first verse that these heavenly orbs were already created. The luminous element that plays so conspicuous and essential a part in the process of nature, must have formed a part of that original creation. The removal of darkness, therefore, from the locality mentioned, is merely owing to a new adjustment by which the pre-existent light was made to visit the surface of the abyss with its cheering and enlivening beams.

In this case, indeed, the real change is effected, not in the light itself, but in the intervening medium which was impervious to its rays. But it is to be remembered, on the other hand, that the actual result of the divine interposition is still the diffusion of light over the face of the watery deep, and that the actual phenomena of the change, as they would strike an onlooker, and not the invisible springs of the six days' creation, are described in the chapter before us.

Then was evening, then was morning, day one. The last clause of the verse is a resumption of the whole process of time during this first work of creation. This is accordingly a simple and striking example of two lines of narrative parallel to each other and exactly coinciding in respect of time. In general we find the one line overlapping only a part of the other.

The day is described, according to the Hebrew mode of narrative, by its starting-point, "the evening." The first half of its course is run out during the night. The next half in like manner commences with "the morning," and goes through its round in the proper day. Then the whole period is described as "one day." The point of termination for the day is thus the evening again, which agrees with the Hebrew division of time (Leviticus 23:32).

To make "the evening" here the end of the first day, and so "the morning" the end of the first night, as is done by some interpreters, is therefore equally inconsistent with the grammar of the Hebrews and with their mode of reckoning time. It also defines the diurnal period, by noting first its middle point and then its termination, which does not seem to be natural. It further defines the period of sunshine, or the day proper, by "the evening," and the night by the morning; a proceeding equally unnatural. It has not even the advantage of making the event of the latter clause subsequent to that of the former. For the day of twenty-four hours is wholly spent in dividing the light from the darkness; and the self-same day is described again in this clause, take it how we will. This interpretation of the clause is therefore to be rejected.

The days of this creation are natural days of twenty-four hours each. We may not depart from the ordinary meaning of the word without a sufficient warrant either in the text of Scripture or in the law of nature. But we have not yet found any such warrant. Only necessity can force us to such an expedient. Scripture, on the other hand, warrants us in retaining the common meaning by yielding no hint of another, and by introducing "evening, night, morning, day," as its ordinary divisions. Nature favors the same interpretation. All geological changes are of course subsequent to the great event recorded in the first verse, which is the beginning of things. All such changes, except the one recorded in the six days' creation, are with equal certainty antecedent to the state of things described in the second verse. Hence, no lengthened period is required for this last creative interposition.

Day one is used here for the first day, the cardinal one being not usually employed for the ordinal in Hebrew (Genesis 8:13; Exodus 10:1, 2). It cannot indicate any emphasis or singularity in the day, as it is in no respect different from the other days of creation. It implies that the two parts before mentioned make up one day. But this is equally implied by all the ordinals on the other days.

This day is in many ways interesting to us. It is the first day of the last creation; it is the first day of the week; it is the day of the resurrection of the Messiah; and it has become the Christian Sabbath.

The first five verses form the first ‏פָרָשׁ‎ or "section" of the Hebrew text. If this division come from the author, it indicates that he regarded the first day's work as the body of the narrative, and the creation of the universe, in the first verse, and the condition of the earth, in the second, as mere preliminaries to introduce and elucidate his main statement. If, on the contrary, it proceeds from some transcriber of a subsequent period, it may indicate that he considered the creative work of the first day to consist of two parts,—first, an absolute creation; and, second, a supplementary act, by which the primary universe was first enlightened.

4. The Second Day—Genesis 1:6-8

Genesis 1:6-8

‏רָקִיעַ‎ ; "expanse;" στερεωμα , ‏רָקַע‎ , "spread out by beating, as leaf gold." This expanse was not understood to be solid, as the fowl is said to fly on the face of it (Genesis 1:21). It is also described as luminous (Daniel 12:3), and as a monument of divine power (Psalm 150:1).

‏עָשָֹה‎ "work on," "make out of already existing materials."

The second act of creative power bears upon the deep of waters, over which the darkness had prevailed, and by which the solid crust was still overlaid. This mass of turbid and noisy water must be reduced to order, and confined within certain limits, before the land can be reached. According to the laws of material nature, light or heat must be an essential factor in all physical changes, especially in the production of gases and vapors. Hence, its presence and activity are the first thing required in instituting a new process of nature. Air naturally takes the next place, as it is equally essential to the maintenance of vegetable and animal life. Hence, its adjustment is the second step in this latest effort of creation.

Genesis 1:6

Let there be an expanse in the midst of the water. For this purpose God now calls into existence the expanse. This is that interval of space between the earth on the one side and the birds on the wing, the clouds and the heavenly bodies on the other, the lower part of which we know to be occupied by the air. This will appear more clearly from a comparison of other passages in this chapter (Genesis 1:14, 20).

And let it be dividing between water and water. It appears that the water in a liquid state was in contact with another mass of water, in the shape of dense fogs and vapors; not merely overhanging, but actually resting on the waters beneath. The object of the expanse is to divide the waters which are under it from those which are above it. Hence, it appears that the thing really done is, not to create the space that extends indefinitely above our heads (which, being in itself no thing, but only room for things, requires no creating), but to establish in it the intended disposition of the waters in two separate masses, the one above, and the other below the intervening expanse. This we know is effected by means of the atmosphere, which receives a large body of water in the state of vapor, and bears up a visible portion of it in the form of clouds. These ever-returning and ever-varying piles of mist strike the eye of the unsophisticated spectator; and when the dew is observed on the grass, or the showers of rain, hail, and snow are seen falling on the ground, the conclusion is obvious—that above the expanse, be the distance small or great, is laid up an unseen and inexhaustible treasury of water, by which the earth may be perpetually bedewed and irrigated. The aqueous vapor is itself, as well as the element with which it is mingled, invisible and impalpable; but when condensed by cold it becomes apparent to the eye in the form of mists and clouds, and, at a certain point of coolness, begins to deposit itself in the palpable form of dew, rain, hail, or snow. As soon as it becomes obvious to the sense it receives distinguishing names, according to its varying forms. But the air being invisible, is unnoticed by the primitive observer until it is put in motion, when it receives the name of wind. The space it occupies is merely denominated the expanse; that is, the interval between us and the various bodies that float above and hang upon nothing, or nothing perceptible to the eye.

The state of things before this creative movement may be called one of disturbance and disorder, in comparison with the present condition of the atmosphere. This disturbance in the relations of air and water was so great that it could not be reduced to the present order without a supernatural cause. Whether any other gases, noxious or innocuous, entered into the constitution of the previous atmosphere, or whether any other ingredients were once held in solution by the watery deep, we are not informed. Whether any volcanic or plutonic violence had disturbed the scene, and raised a dense mass of gaseous damp and fuliginous matter into the airy region, is not stated. How far the disorder extended we cannot tell. We are merely certain that it reached over all the land known to man during the interval between this creation and the deluge. Whether this disorder was temporary or of long standing, and whether the change was effected by altering the axis of the earth's rotation, and thereby the climate of the land of primeval man, or by a less extensive movement confined to the region under consideration, are questions on which we receive no instruction, because the solution does not concern our well-being. As soon as human welfare comes to be in any way connected with such knowledge, it will by some means be made attainable.

The introduction of the expanse produced a