Chapter 1.
The Beginning of the Universe

Genesis 1:1-2:3

The 11th chapter of Hebrews tells us, "By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible."

A Question of Faith

The facts of creation, therefore, are not open questions for human speculation, but are the subjects of special divine revelation; and the very first province of faith has respect to these. Any conclusions of human science which contradict the fundamental statements of God's Word in this matter are inconsistent with Christian faith and must ultimately be found to be scientifically false. So far as the doctrine of evolution contradicts this statement of the Holy Spirit, it must be rejected by reverent faith, as founded on false assumptions.

Within the Bible account, however, there is room for an almost boundless field of scientific research, and all its established conclusions will be found, ultimately, to be in keeping with the great facts here declared.

Right conclusions about creation are necessary to Christian faith, and fundamental to the very principle of faith, which requires us to recognize at every step the great fact of supernatural and omnipotent power, and to believe in the God who is able to exercise the power of creation, and even of resurrection.

Section I—the Creator

There is one phrase in the opening chapter of Genesis, however, that stands transcendently above even the stupendous facts of creation. It is the first four words of the Bible, "In the beginning God." This is the one thing that had no beginning. This is the one stupendous figure which stands in its divine and sublime isolation at the gateway of the great temple of truth. This is the fact which makes all other facts possible and real, and the first cause from which all effects ultimately flow. This is the overshadowing and transcendent thought that covers the whole subsequent pages of inspiration and all the confines of creation—God Himself; before all His works, Creator of all His works, and the Cause and End of all His works, "for by him all things were created" (Colossians 1:16). So let us begin our Bibles and all our purposes and works, writing on every tide page, "In the beginning God" (Genesis 1:1).

Section II—Creation of the Heaven and Earth

Coming now to the details of creation: First, we have the original creation of the heaven and the earth. It seems natural to take the sense of the word heaven, which is given to it in this chapter a little later, namely, the firmament, or expanse of the sky, including, naturally, all the heavenly bodies in its vast field of vision; so that the universe consists of the celestial bodies and the earth, our own planet. The number and extent of these material worlds are not intimated in the inspired account, but are growing more vast and vivid to the human mind as the discoveries of science extend our vision and unveil the secrets of nature.

As God precedes the universe, so heaven precedes the earth in the order of creation. This little self-conscious world is not the only world, or the greatest of the family of revolving spheres, although it is the theater of human destiny and the scene of God's momentous plan of creation and redemption. The story of creation, thus, in its earliest chapter, lifts our vision above the earth and makes most vivid and real to us the two greater facts of God and heaven.

What Is Creation?

The word create, here used, literally means to make out of nothing, and is so used throughout the Scriptures. It is employed 54 times in the Old Testament, and always applied to God and the higher forms of His creative power. There are other words employed in this narrative, and other portions of the Scriptures, signifying to form, to arrange, etc., but this word create is always used to introduce a new department of creation. The apostle, in the passage already quoted, defines its meaning beyond controversy. He declares that "what is seen was not made out of what was visible" (Hebrews 11:3). That is, they were made out of nothing, and are not developments of previous forms of matter, and certainly were not eternally existent.

We are not told in what form the universe was originally created, and there is room for unlimited transformations and developments of the materials thus called into being.

Section III—Chaos

Whether the condition described in the second verse was immediately subsequent to the original creation, or was the result of some catastrophe that followed the state of order and completeness, is not settled. But at least, at some period, either immediately after or long subsequent to the original creation, the earth was in a condition of chaos and wreck. The words used are "formless and empty" (Genesis 1:2). The two Hebrew words tohu and bohu are singularly expressive. They are very hard to translate. Literally they are rendered devastation and destruction. One is used in Isaiah 45:18, "He created it not tohu"—translated "to be empty." This would seem to imply that a condition of chaos was not the original state of the earth, but a subsequent wreck out of which the week of creation days was designed to reform and restore the world to its present condition as a suitable home for the habitation of men.

The revelations of geology bear ample witness to the existence of a primitive condition of convulsion and desolation. During this period, of whose length we are not informed, there was ample time for the geological formations which science has traced in the prehistoric period.

Over this darkness was the brooding presence of the Holy Spirit, and the language in which that presence is described is very beautiful, suggesting the figure of the brooding wings of a bird—the first revealing of the Heavenly Dove, who has since so graciously been manifested to dispel the darkness of earth and usher in the new creation.

Section IV—the Days of Creation

The process of restoring the earth from a condition of chaos and preparing it for the residence of man was a gradual one, and the periods of its successive stages are called days. There has been much discussion as to the length of these days. It is enough to say that there is no necessity in the record itself to limit the word to the natural day of 24 hours. The ordinary scriptural usage of the word day is much varied. In the present passage even, it is employed in several senses. In the fifth verse it means half a day, or the period of light that came in alternation with darkness. In the end of the same verse, it means a whole day, including both evening and morning. And in the fourth verse of the second chapter, it means the whole period of the six days; while in other Scriptures, again and again, it denotes a general period of indefinite duration—such as the day of trouble, the day of prosperity, the day of visitation. In Psalm 90:4, it means a period of a thousand years. There is no grammatical reason, therefore, for limiting it to the ordinary day; and there are many things in the narrative which make it apply much more appropriately in each instance to a long period, commencing with the dark evening of still remaining chaos and wreck and ending with a brighter morning of order and higher light and life.

1. The First Day's Work—The work of this day was the creation of light. It is preceded by the simple sentence, "God said" (Genesis 1:3). This is next in importance to the opening sentence of the book, "God was" (1:2).

This little sentence of two words is the foundation of faith and the cornerstone of divine revelation. Back of it, also, stands the Living Word, the Person of the Son of God, who was even then the Agent in creation's work, and who is now the substance as well as the theme of the written Word.

His first creative act was the formation of light by the command "Let there be light" (1:3), and light was.

The existence of light before the appointment of the sun and the arrangement of the solar functions, which occurred on the fourth day, was long a puzzle to science and a favorite ground of objection to the Mosaic narrative. But science has recently discovered that there are more kinds of light than solar light, and that it was perfectly in accordance with the facts of nature, now fully known, that there should be light even before the sun became a luminous bearer of light for the solar system.

"God saw that the light was good" (1:4). How beautiful the beneficence of this first work of His creating love and power! The work of this day was completed by the separating of light from darkness, probably by means of the earth's diurnal revolution.

The record of the first day is closed by the declaration, "And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day" (1:5), or literally, "day one." The progress is from the lower to the higher, from darkness to light—a type of the divine order in the greater work of the new creation.

2. The Second Day's Work—The work of this day was the separation of the sea and the sky; of the lower and terrestrial from the upper and aerial region, here called the firmament. The word firmament (KJV) is an unhappy translation. Literally that word means something solid. The Hebrew word means, however, something elastic; the air, or the expanse of the visible heavenly arch, often spoken of in the Bible as a curtain stretched by the hand of God. The word expanse (NIV) expresses the true idea. The effect of this day's work was to separate the vapors that had hung upon the surface, and poise them in their places in the clouds, leaving the heavier masses of water to roll in the seas and oceans upon the surface. To this expanse above the surface of the earth God gave the name of heaven. This means the region of the atmosphere, and includes all the immensity above us.

3. The Third Day's Work—The special work of this day was another separation, namely, of land and water. Hitherto the surface of the globe was a surging ocean. But now, whether by volcanic upheavals or supernatural forces, the continents and islands of earth are shaped, and the waters fall into their channels and basins. The work of this day is completed by the commencement of the vegetable creation, and the teeming plants of earth in all their varied forms of life and reproduction.

4. The Fourth Day's Work—The work of this day included the heavenly bodies in their relation to the earth, and the adjusting of the laws which regulated the luminaries of day and night. It is not necessary to suppose that the sun was created on this day.

The word here used means appointed or set, and it is sufficient to assume that their functions were now regulated and arranged, and the laws of nature in their present operation fully established. The word "lights" literally means "light bearers." The light already created was simply deposited in these bodies for the use of man and the illumination of the earth. The sun is simply the channel of light for the solar system. Not only were they made for the purpose of giving light, but also "as signs to mark seasons and days and years" (1:14).

5. The Fifth Day's Work—The fifth day's work comprised the creation of the lower forms of animal life. This was the commencement of life, and marks a new stage of great importance. There is an infinite difference between the lowest form of animal life and the highest vegetable organization. The creation of life is the divine prerogative. The literal translation of the 20th verse is, "Let the waters teem with living creatures" (1:20)—not "bring forth" (KJV), which seems to imply a spontaneous existence.

A Second Stage of Creation

The word create is here used for the second time, inasmuch as a new stage of life and being is now to be entered upon, requiring divine and omnipotent working.

The animals created upon this day include the fowls of the heaven and the fishes of the sea, regarded as alike the inhabitants of the waters, the one inhabiting the liquid air, and the other the liquid deep. The order of creation corresponds in this respect to the records of geology.

The higher character of the new world of animate beings thus created is indicated by the fact now stated for the first time, that God blessed them, and bade them be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and air. The "great whales" described in this section mean, literally, "great monsters," and describe the mighty relics of the primitive creation whose mammoth skeletons are found in the rocky tombs which geology has unveiled—the mastodon and saurian of the primitive rocks.

6. The Sixth Day's Work—Creation now makes its highest advance, and reaches the nobler forms of animal life, the mammalia of the earth, and at last, the human family. The records of geology find the first traces of man among the remains of the higher land animals, and Moses tells us that both were created on the same day.

Significance of Man's Creation

The creation of man, however, is accompanied with circumstances of peculiar distinction and importance. It is preceded by a divine council in the Trinity, and it is not the mere command of Omnipotence, but the plan of deliberate and infinite wisdom and love. The type of this creation is nothing less than the divine image.

There is no hint of the development of this crowning form of creation out of the earlier species of life that have successively appeared, but this is a distinct act, unlike any that preceded it. And to make it still more emphatic, the distinct word created is for the third time now employed. In the first verse it was employed with regard to the entire universe in its original creation, in the 21st verse with respect to the first creation of life, and now here, to mark the final stage of creation—man himself. This, however, will form the subject of the next chapter more particularly, and it is enough for the present to link it with the stages in the whole work of creation.

7. The Sabbath—The last day is called the Sabbath and signalizes the consummation of God's creative work, and the higher thought of hallowed rest. It implies that God has for the present completed the material universe so far as new forms of creation are concerned. And, therefore, the word Sabbath as first employed, denotes, like the other days of creation, a long period which commenced then, and is still running its course—the seventh great age in which we now are living. It became for man the type of his Sabbath also, and so was constituted the Day of Rest, with an authority that dates from the morning of creation.

Section V—Allusions to Creation in Later Scriptures

This wonderful story of creation is finely portrayed in the form of a series of panoramic pictures in Psalm 104. As we read it side by side with the first chapter of Genesis, it gives a vivid coloring to the simple narrative of Moses.

The First Day

"Let there be light, and there was light" (1:3) in the Mosaic record is answered by the Psalmist with the sublime words, "He wraps himself in light as with a garment" (Psalm 104:2).

The Second Day

Then the separation of the expanse of heaven is thus described: "He stretches out the heavens like a tent/ and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters./ He makes the clouds his chariot/ and rides on the wings of the wind./ He makes winds his messengers,/ flames of fire his servants" (Psalm 104:2-4).

The Third Day

The work of the third day, the separation of land and water, is majestically pictured in the Psalmist's vision: "He set the earth on its foundations;/ it can never be moved./ You covered it with the deep as with a garment;/ the waters stood above the mountains./ But at your rebuke the waters fled,/ at the sound of your thunder they took to flight;/ they flowed over the mountains,/ they went down into the valleys,/ to the place you assigned for them./ You set a boundary they cannot cross;/ never again will they cover the earth./ He makes springs pour water into the ravines;/ it flows between the mountains./ They give water to all the beasts of the field;/ the wild donkeys quench their thirst./ The birds of the air nest by the waters;/ they sing among the branches./ He waters the mountains from his upper chambers;/ the earth is satisfied by the fruit of his work" (5-13).

The teeming vegetable life which finished the work of the third day is exquisitely described in the Psalmist's vision: "He makes grass grow for the cattle,/ and plants for man to cultivate—/ bringing forth food from the earth:/ wine that gladdens the heart of man,/ oil to make his face shine,/ and bread that sustains his heart./ The trees of the Lord are well watered,/ the cedars of Lebanon that he planted./ There the birds make their nests;/ the stork has its home in the pine trees" (104:14-17).

The Fourth Day

Passing on from this beautiful picture of the newborn earth, in all its robes of verdure and beauty, he next ascends with the narrative of creation to the heavenly regions, and thus describes the fourth day's work, the appointment of sun and moon, and day and night: "The moon marks off the seasons,/ and the sun knows when to go down./ You bring darkness, it becomes night,/ and all the beasts of the forest prowl./ The lions roar for their prey/ and seek their food from God./ The sun rises, and they steal away;/ they return and lie down in their dens./ Then man goes out to his work,/ to his labor until evening" (104:19-23).

The Fifth Day

The fifth day's work brought the creation of the marine animals, and so the Psalmist's vision sweeps along the same majestic track. "The earth is full of your creatures./ There is the sea, vast and spacious,/ teeming with creatures beyond number—/ living things both large and small./ There the ships go to and fro,/ and the leviathan, which you formed to frolic there./ These all look to you/ to give them their food at the proper time./ When you give it to them,/ they gather it up;/ when you open your hand,/ they are satisfied with good things./ When you hide your face,/ they are terrified;/ when you take away their breath,/ they die and return to the dust./ When you send your spirit,/ they are created,/ and renew the face of the earth" (104:24b-30). The closing refrain, "may the Lord rejoice in his works" (104:31b), is almost an echo of the old creation decree of divine approval—"God saw... it was very good" (Genesis 1:31).

Section VI—Correspondence Between the Bible Account of Creation and Nature

While, as we have already premised, the Bible is not directly intended to be a revelation of natural science, and often speaks in popular terms adapted to the intellectual progress of the age when it was written, and which might not now be rigidly accurate in the light of the most advanced scientific progress, yet it never contradicts the real facts of nature; and in many things has been found to be a truly marvelous anticipation of the most remarkable discoveries of modern science. Even the statements and allusions which at one time were criticized by science as incorrect and ignorant have been found by later discoveries to be in real accord with the constitution of nature, although opposed to what was once supposed to be scientific truth.

Light and the Sun

This is nowhere so apparent as in the account of creation, and the most striking illustration of the fact just stated is the Mosaic reference to the creation of light on the first day, and the adjustment of the celestial luminaries on the fourth day. It was long thought to be ridiculous that light should be said to have been created before the sun was constituted the luminary of this planet. But the most recent discoveries have proved that this is exactly true in the order of nature, and that there are many kinds of light besides solar light.

The chief correspondence between the Mosaic account of creation and the best established results of modern science are admirably stated by Dr. Dawson in his little volume, Nature and the Bible, and may be summed up as follows:

First—Both present an exact order of creation. "The order of creation as stated in Genesis is faultless in the light of modern science, and many of its details present the most remarkable agreement with the results of sciences born only in our own day. This is a severe test for the Bible—one from which many of its friends seem to shrink; but we shall see in the sequel how it endures it, and why it was necessary that it should be subjected to it."

Second—Both lead us back to a beginning. "The tendency of all modern geological and astronomical reasoning has been to point by positive indications to a beginning. Geology shows us that the animals and plants which are our contemporaries did not always exist, and we can trace back animal and vegetable life perhaps to their origin on our earth. Even the rocks and continents have their geological dates, and there are none of them that we cannot assign to an origin in geological time. So in astronomy. Science, therefore, must agree with Moses in affirming a beginning of all things."

Third—Both begin with a condition of chaos.

Fourth—Both teach us of the creation of light, before the appointment of celestial luminaries. "This distinction between light and luminaries is another point on which Moses anticipates science. On any physical hypothesis of the formation of the universe, there ought to have been diffused light first, and the aggregation of this about the central luminary as a subsequent process; and the enormous lapse of time implied in this physical perfecting of our system is well shadowed forth, in its being finished only on the fourth of the six creative aeons."

Fifth—Both point to an early aqueous condition, and to the origination of the first animals from the waters.

Sixth—Both give the same account of the formation of land, and its separation from the terrestrial waters. "The greatest of all the physical changes implied in the preparation of the earth is that of the third creative day, in the elevation of the dry land and clothing it with vegetation. It is in perfect accordance with what we know from scientific investigation that the dry land should appear before the completion of the final arrangements of the bodies of the solar system. The natural cause of the appearance of the first dry land is explained by geological investigation. We left the earth at the end of the second creative aeon, with a solid crust supporting a universal ocean. But, as time advanced, the gradual cooling of the earth's mass would make this crust too small. At length it would collapse and fall into folds, giving ridges of land and shallow oceans. When rightly understood, nothing can be more thoroughly accurate than the Bible language respecting those elevated portions of the crust, arched and pillared above the waters, and in which we have our secure abode. It yet remains, however, for geology to discover the first traces of the vegetation which followed this process, and preceded the creation of the lowest forms of marine animals."

Seventh—Both trace the same scale of progress in the animal creation from the lower forms of life up to man. And both place man's creation among the higher orders of mammalia, and at the same stage of the work of creation. "In both records man is geologically modern, coming at the close of the great procession of animal life; and it is remarkable that geology concurs with revelation in not finding any new species introduced since the creation of man, and only a few species can be supposed to have been introduced along with him. As in the Bible record man is introduced in the same creative aeon with the higher brute animals, so in geology he is united without any break to the close of the Tertiary period of the great mammals."

Eighth—Both represent the most ancient men not as evolutions from former animal life of a lower order, but as a higher order of beings, forming as distinct a species as the men and women of today. "The oldest men whose remains have been found are not of a different species from modern men, but, on the contrary, are nearly allied to the most widely distributed modern race; while their great stature and physical power reminds us of the giants of Genesis. They testify, in short, to a specific identity and common descent of all men; and their great bodily development, accompanied probably with great longevity, is such as geological facts would lead us to anticipate in the case of a new type recently introduced, rather than in one which had descended through a long course of struggle for existence from an inferior ancestry."

Dr. Dawson eloquently adds: "All these coincidences cannot be accidental. They are the more remarkable when we consider the primitive and child-like character of the notices in Genesis, making no scientific pretensions, and introducing what they tell us of primitive man merely to explain and illustrate the highest moral and religious teachings. Truth and divinity are stamped on every line of the early chapters of Genesis, alike in their archaic simplicity, and in that accuracy as to facts which enables them not only to stand unharmed amid the discoveries of modern science, but to display new beauties as we are able more and more fully to compare them with the records stored up from old in the recesses of the earth. Those who base their hopes for the future on the glorious revelations of the Bible need not be ashamed of its story of the past."

Section VII—Spiritual Lessons From the Story of Creation

The Trinity

1. Creation foreshadows the doctrine of the Trinity. In the first verse of Genesis the name of God, "Elohim," is in the plural, implying surely more than the idea of dignity, and suggesting the threefold personality of the Creator. And yet to show unmistakably that the Bible does not sanction Polytheism, but reveals to us the unity of God in contrast with ancient idolatry, the verb created is in the singular number, thus expressing with emphatic clearness at once the trinity and unity of the divine Being. This prepares us for the reference in the following verses to the Word of God and the Spirit of God. And the firm conviction that this is all designed is confirmed by the strong language of the 26th verse with respect to the divine Council relating to the creation of man, "Let us make man in our image, and in our likeness" (Genesis 1:26). It is even conceivable that the constitution of man in the image of God has a reference to the trinity involved in the fact of man's own threefold nature—spirit, soul and body.

The Word

2. There seems to be an allusion, at least, to the eternal Word in the third verse of the first chapter, "God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light," compared with the first three verses of the first chapter of John: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men." The Apostle Paul tells us, in the Epistle to the Colossians, that He was the Agent in the work of creation, and that "by him," or rather "in him were all things created" (Colossians 1:16). He was the living Word and the Author of life and existence.

The Spirit

3. The Holy Spirit is also distinctly foreshadowed in the figure of the brooding wings that hovered above the chaotic night out of which sprang the newborn earth. "The Spirit of God hovered over the face of the deep" (Genesis 1:2). This is the first picture of the Heavenly Dove whose gentle wing has ever appeared amid the darkness of earth's sin and sorrow as the harbinger of order and peace, and a beautiful type of the new creation which the same Spirit ushers in. The Scriptures elsewhere refer to the cooperation of the Holy Spirit in the work of creation. "By his breath the skies became fair" (Job 26:13). "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made,/ their starry host by the breath of his mouth" (Psalm 33:6).

Faith

4. The province of faith in connection with nature and the doctrine of creation is involved in this subject. In Hebrews 11:3 we are taught that the first step of faith is to believe in the doctrine of the supernatural creation of the material universe. This is not a matter merely of scientific investigation, but the distinct subject of divine testimony. God requires us to believe that the material universe was His own direct workmanship, and not a mere process of natural development or spontaneous generation. And evangelical faith must, therefore, stand firmly upon these records, and God will vindicate their truth, as we have already seen He has ever done, in the face of human wisdom and the light of the most advanced science and true philosophy.

The reason God requires that faith should ever recognize Him as the Creator is because at every stage of our spiritual progress faith needs to claim the interposition of God who is still able to work with all the omnipotence involved in the first creation. Again and again in our spiritual life we come to a place where we must believe in One who can make something out of nothing, without any materials or resources except His own all-sufficiency. The thing we believe for, even in our Christian life, is often a thing which not only is not, but naturally cannot be without a divine creation. And, therefore, God constantly says to us before His mightiest promises, "Thus saith the Lord that formed it, that created it."

Therefore, in Isaiah and the other prophets, we find God constantly appealing to the works of nature as the witnesses of His power and faithfulness and the ground of His people's confidence. "Do you not know?/ Have you not heard?/ The Lord is the everlasting God,/ the Creator of the ends of the earth./ He will not grow tired or weary,/ and his understanding no one can fathom./ He gives strength to the weary/ and increases the power of the weak" (Isaiah 40:28-29).

The New Creation

5. The story of creation is a figure and type of the new creation which God is introducing through the mediatorial work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The whole process of the six days' work is a vivid foreshadowing of the work of grace, beginning in a condition of chaos which itself was probably the wreck of primeval order. The new creation, like the old, is introduced by the Holy Spirit, and the divine and eternal Word, bringing light, order and life in due succession, revealing at length the Sun of Righteousness in the soul as its center of power and source of illumination and life, and culminating at last in "the new man" who stands complete in the glorious image of his Author (2 Corinthians 4:6; 1 Corinthians 6:17).

The Rest of God

6. The Sabbath of creation is the foundation both of the Mosaic and Christian Sabbath, each of which looks back to this as its authority. And it is also the spiritual type of the Rest of Faith, into which the soul enters when, like God, it ceases from its own works, and enters into the finished work of Jesus Christ (Genesis 2:3; Hebrews 4:3-10).