In the Beginning

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." In quiet grandeur and simplicity it is stated, without argument, without explanation.

The first 11 chapters of Genesis are part of a much larger work: the Pentateuch—the first five books of the Bible, which according to tradition were written by Moses. He wrote these books for the people of Israel on their way to Canaan, the Promised Land.

Genesis 1-11 sets the stage and holds the key to our understanding of the entire Bible, both Old and New Testaments. Within these few chapters, God reveals Himself to us—He is the Creator, our loving Father, the provider, and a just judge. God creates man in His own image, with a free will. Satan, the great deceiver, introduces sin into God's perfect creation. God cannot tolerate sin. Because God is a just judge, there is consequence for sin. God has a plan to redeem man to Himself and put an end to Satan's power forever.

God's redemptive plan, which is introduced in Genesis 1-11, provides for us the backdrop of why God chose Noah and why He chooses Abraham. This is also why He will make Abraham a blessing to the world—God's plan for the redemption of the world runs through Abraham and through the nation of Israel and leads us ultimately to Jesus Christ, our Savior.

Genesis 1-11

Creation; Adam and Eve
Cain and Abel; Noah and the Flood
Tower of Babel

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.

Genesis 1:31

"I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.... Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life."

Genesis 9:13-15

Who Wrote Genesis?

Ancient Hebrew and Christian traditions say that Moses, guided by God, composed Genesis from ancient documents that were already in existence in his day. The book of Genesis ends about 300 years before Moses. Moses could have received this information only by direct revelation from God, or through such historical records as had been handed down from his forefathers.

How Genesis Is Organized

The book begins with the "Creation Hymn," followed by 10 "accounts" (KJV, generations), which constitute the framework of Genesis. It seems that they were incorporated bodily by Moses, with such additions and explanations as he may have been guided by God to make. These 11 documents are as follows:

  1. Creation Hymn (1:1-2:3).
  2. The account of "the heavens and the earth when they were created" (2:4-4:26).
  3. The account of Adam's line (5:1-6:8).
  4. The account of Noah (6:9-9:28).
  5. The account of "Shem, Ham and Japheth, Noah's sons" (10:1-11:9).
  6. The account of Shem (11:10-26).
  7. The account of Terah (11:27-25:11).
  8. The account of "Abraham's son Ishmael, whom Sarah's maidservant, Hagar the Egyptian, bore to Abraham" (25:12-18).
  9. The account of "Abraham's son Isaac" (25:19-35:29).
  10. The account of "Esau (that is, Edom)" (36:1-43).
  11. The account of Jacob (37:2-50:26).

These 11 documents form the book of Genesis.

The book begins with the creation and the first humans in the Garden of Eden. It ends with Abraham's descendants in Egypt.

Between the end of Genesis and the beginning of the next book, Exodus, is a gap of about 400 years.

1. The "Creation Hymn," Genesis 1:1 to 2:3

A poetic description, in measured, majestic movement, of the successive steps of creation, cast in the mold of the oft-recurring biblical number seven. In all literature, scientific or otherwise, there is no more sublime account of the origin of things.

Who wrote the "Creation Hymn"? Used by Moses, but written, no doubt, long before. Writing was in common use long before the days of Moses. Furthermore, some of God's "commands, decrees, and laws" were in existence in the days of Abraham, 600 years before Moses (Genesis 26:5).

How did the writer know what happened before man appeared? No doubt God revealed the remote past, as later the distant future was made known to the prophets.

Who knows, perhaps God Himself may have taught this hymn to Adam? And it may have been recited by word of mouth, around the family circle, or sung as a ritual in primitive worship (hymns constituted a large part of the very earliest forms of literature), generation after generation, until writing was invented; God Himself then guarded its transmission until finally it found its intended place as the opening statement in the divine Book of the Ages.

SIDEBAR: Who Made God?

Who Made God?

Every child asks this question—and no one can answer it. There are some things beyond us. We cannot conceive of the beginning of time, nor the end of time, nor the boundaries of space. The world has been in existence always, or it was made out of nothing—one or the other. Yet we can conceive of neither.

This we do know: the highest of all things within reach of our thinking is personality, mind, intelligence. Where did it come from? Could the inanimate create intelligence? In faith we accept, as the ultimate in our thinking, a power higher than ourselves—God—in hope that someday, in the beyond, we shall understand the mysteries of existence.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it."

—Genesis 1:27-28

If the Bible is God's Word, as we believe it is, and if God knew from the beginning that He was going to use the Bible as a main instrument in the redemption of humanity, why should it be difficult to believe that God Himself gave the germ and nucleus of that Word?

Gen. 1:1. The Creation of the Universe

"In the beginning" God created the universe. What follows, in the "seven days," is a description of the forming of substance already created in preparation for the creation of Adam.

Gen. 1:2-2:3. The Seven Days

Whether the seven days were days of 24 hours, or long, successive periods, we do not know. The word "day" has variable meanings. In 1:5 it is used as a term for light. In 1:8 and 1:13 it seems to mean a day of 24 hours. In 1:14 and 1:16 it seems to refer to a 12-hour day. In 2:4 it seems to cover the whole period of creation. In passages such as Joel 3:18, Acts 2:20, and John 16:23, "that day" seems to mean the whole Christian era. In passages such as 2 Timothy 1:12 the expression seems to refer to the era beyond the Lord's Second Coming. And in Psalm 90:4 and 2 Peter 3:8, "With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day." Note that the six days form three pairs (days 1 and 4; 2 and 5; 3 and 6). In the first of each pair the realm is created that is later populated by the objects or beings that are created in the second.

Day 1: Light and dark Day 4: Lights of day and night
Day 2: Sea and sky Day 5: Creatures of water and air
Day 3: Fertile earth Day 6: Creatures of the land; land animals; humans' provision of food

in Genesis 1:2-2:3
1. Announcement "and God said"
2. Command "let there be," "let [them] be gathered," etc.
3. Report "and it was so"
—a descriptive phrase telling what God did
—a word of naming or blessing
4. Evaluation "it was good"
5. Temporal statement "there was evening, and there was morning—the ___ day"

First Day: Light, 1:2-5

The heavens and the earth were created by God in the beginning—sometime in the dateless past. All was dark, empty, and formless until God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. We see that God's creative power is manifested by simply speaking. His first creative word called forth light in the midst of darkness.

In John 1:1-2 we learn that the "Word" (Jesus) was in the beginning, and that the "Word" was with God and was God. John further tells us that "through him [the Word] all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made" (1:3).

SIDEBAR: Creation and Re-creation?

Creation and Re-creation?

While most Bible students believe that Genesis is an account of creation, some believe that Genesis gives us an account of both creation and recreation. In the case of the latter, v. 1 tells of the original creation, while v. 2, "Now the earth was [became] formless and empty," tells of a time subsequent to the initial creation when God re-created the heavens and the earth after they had become formless and void, perhaps due to some catastrophic event. The Hebrew word for "was" used here in the original text is translated "became" where it appears elsewhere in the Bible.

God did not just make a physical universe: "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good" (Genesis 1:31). Whatever God makes is very good indeed, because the Word through which He created all things is the very essence of goodness, beauty, and light: "In him [Jesus] was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness" (John 1:4), now as it did at the very beginning of creation.

Second Day: The Expanse, 1:6-8

The expanse (KJV, firmament), called "sky," is the atmosphere, or layer of air between the water-covered earth and the clouds above, made possible by the cooling of the earth's waters.

Third Day: Land and Vegetation, 1:9-13

Up to this point, the earth's surface seems to have been entirely covered with water. God commanded the water to gather in one place that He called "seas." We envision that the earth's crust, as it became cooler and thicker, began to buckle, and islands and continents began to appear. There was as yet no rain, but dense mists watered the newly formed land, which was still warm by its own heat. A tropical climate was everywhere, and vegetation must have grown rapidly and in gigantic proportions.

Fourth Day: Sun, Moon, and Stars, 1:14-19

On the fourth day, God created the sun, moon, and stars. It is likely that seasons came when the earth's surface ceased to receive heat primarily from within and became dependent on the sun's heat.

In v. 16 we learn that the "greater light" rules the day and the "lesser light" rules the night. These sources of light have three primary functions (vv. 17-18): they give light to the earth, they govern the day and night, and they separate light from darkness.

These passages are beautiful examples of how God has manifested His image, His divine characteristics, in all of His creation.

SIDEBAR: Universe God Created

The Universe God Created

Astronomers estimate that the Milky Way, the galaxy to which our earth and solar system belong, contains over 30 billion suns. Many of these suns are immensely larger than our sun, which is a million and a half times larger than the earth. The Milky Way is shaped like a thin watch; its diameter from rim to rim is 200,000 light-years. (A light-year is the distance that light travels in a year at the rate of 186,000 miles per second.) There are at least 100,000 galaxies like the Milky Way, some of them millions of light-years apart. All this may be only a tiny speck in what is beyond in the seemingly infinite, endless reaches of space.

Fifth Day: Sea Animals and Birds, 1:20-25

By God's blessing and with His command, "be fruitful and increase in number," the sea creatures and birds filled the waters and increased on the earth.

Note the progression: inanimate things on the first and second days, plant life on the third day, and animal life on the fifth day.

Sixth Day: Land Animals and Man, 1:24-31

The earth was at last ready for animals and, ultimately, man. God reveals that each living creature on the land is created "according to their kind." This refutes the notion that all species of animals evolved from a single, common, primeval organism. It supports the scientific evidence that living creatures have adapted over time to their environment, while there is no convincing evidence that one species of animal has evolved into another.

God created Adam and Eve in His own image. God's divine blessing and benediction for male and female together was to flourish and multiply so as to fill the earth and exercise rulership (stewardship) over all creation. God's universal reign is reflected in the rulership that He commissions humanity to carry out over all earthly creation. In a sense, God has created the earth as man's training camp, where He is preparing us for our eternal destiny where we will rule and reign with Christ over all the universe (2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 3:21).

God saw everything that He had made, and it was "good" (1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). But soon the picture darkened. God must have known beforehand that it would, and He must have regarded his whole work of the creation of humanity as but a step toward the glorious world that will yet emerge from it, as is told in the closing chapters of the book of Revelation.

It is interesting to note that God declared all that he had made on the sixth day "very good" perhaps to stress the relative significance of this day in comparison to the prior days.

SIDEBAR: What Is the "Image of God"?

What Is the "Image of God"?

Passages such as Genesis 9:6 and James 3:9 show that the image of God in humans was not lost at the time of the Fall and that even those who are not part of the people of God possess it. The phrase "image of God" is not used frequently in Scripture, and its exact meaning is difficult to determine.

It may be that a correct understanding of the concept actually includes aspects of more than one of the above interpretations. A major point to be remembered is that we, as humans created in God's image, are related to God in a special way that is not shared by other animal life. And as humans we need to remember that we all are bearers of that image—which, of course, should influence how we treat each other.

Seventh Day: God Rested, 2:1-3

God did not rest in an absolute sense (John 5:17), but from this particular creative work. This was the basis of the Sabbath (Exodus 20:11). The "Sabbath rest" is also an image of heaven (Hebrews 4:4, 9).

ARCHAEOLOGICAL NOTE: Babylonian Creation Stories. Various epics of creation have been found in the ruins of Babylon, Nineveh, Nippur, and Ashur which are strikingly similar to the "Creation Hymn" of Genesis. These epics were written on clay tablets from before the time of Abraham.

These Babylonian and Assyrian (as well as the Egyptian) creation stories are all grossly polytheistic. They usually argue for the preeminence of one of the gods and often reflect conflict or war among the gods. The creation account in Genesis stands in stark contrast to these stories by its simplicity and clarity: "In the beginning God created...."

There are points of similarity between the Babylonian and Assyrian creation stories and the Genesis account—for example, the sequence of the creative acts: expanse (firmament), dry land, celestial lights, humans. But the similarities do not prove dependence, although the simplicity of the Genesis account could argue for the Babylonian and Assyrian stories' being corrupted traditions based on the simple, divine original.