MEMORY VERSE: Genesis 1:1-2
BIBLE STUDY: Genesis 1-2
READING: God Creates the Cosmos
After reading Genesis 1-2, spend some time reflecting on this passage with the following questions in mind before looking at the Reading.
|DAY 1||DAY 2||DAY 3|
|DAY 4||DAY 5||DAY 6|
What are mere mortals that you should think about them,
human beings that you should care for them?
Yet you made them only a little lower than God
and crowned them with glory and honor. (Psalm 8:4-5 NLT)
In the first creation account (Genesis 1:1-2:4a), what are the indicators that human beings are the high point of creation, "a little lower than God"?
How about in the second account (Genesis 2:4b-25)?
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1). These opening words of the Bible are foundational and radical. Considered both in their ancient context and today, they are indeed earth-shaking and life-transforming.
After all, we are fascinated by stories of beginnings, and the creation story provides insight on some of the biggest questions we have. Who are we, and where did we come from? What is our place in this big universe? Were we made for a purpose? Why do we yearn for relationship? What is our connection with the rest of the universe? And then there are the biggest questions of all. What about God? Who is he, and can we have a relationship with him?
Let's first explore Genesis 1-2 in its ancient context. The biblical story of creation was written in the light of these ancient rival claims of creation, not in the light of modern scientific ideas.
There were many rival creation accounts at the time. Take, for instance, the Babylonian story Enuma Elish. In this story a god and a goddess are just there at the beginning. They are primordial, not created. Their names are Apsu, the god of the salt water, and Tiamat, the goddess of the fresh waters. The waters, in other words, were there at the beginning. This idea is also found among the Egyptians, who believed that the waters, represented by the god Nun, were there before anything else. In contrast Genesis teaches that God created the waters. At first there was nothing and then "the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters" (Genesis 1:2). From nothing to a watery mass to, after six days, an ordered and functional creation.
In the Babylonian account the ordered universe came about through conflict between the creator god and the god of the primordial waters. In the Enuma Elish the mingling of the waters of Tiamat and Apsu brought forth the next generation of gods. These gods disturbed the sleep of Tiamat and Apsu, and Apsu determined to kill his divine children. But before he could carry out his plan, Ea, the god of wisdom, discovered his plot and delivered a preemptive strike. This victory was short-lived, however, since Apsu's death enraged Tiamat, who was more formidable than Apsu. Ea knew he was no match for her, so he called for a hero to step forward to save the gods from Tiamat and her demonic horde, which was led by the chief demon, Qingu. Marduk volunteered for the dangerous task on condition that if he won, he would become the king of the gods. And he did indeed vanquish Tiamat and became the most important god of the Babylonians. The Canaanites had a similar picture of a conflict between the creator god Baal and the god of the waters, named Yam. In Canaan as well as Babylon, conflict introduces creation.
Back to the Babylonian story, Marduk then took Tiamat's body and split it in half "like a shellfish." With the upper half, the god made the heavens, and with the lower the oceans. He then pushed back the lower waters and gave them boundaries, and in this way land was created. After this, Marduk executed Qingu. After this, he took some clay from the ground and mixed it with Qingu's blood, thus creating human beings.
Those who first heard Genesis 1-2 would have had these rival accounts ringing in their ears when they read how their God, alone and not with other gods, created the world from nothing. The "formless and empty" earth represents the watery mass to be sure, but God did not by conflict turn that watery mass that he created from nothing into an ordered and functional earth, but by his divine decree over six days and then a final seventh on which he rested.
Again, it is important to read the Bible's depiction of creation against the background of its original setting rather than against modern scientific ideas, though the creation account will have implications for how we understand the science of origins.
The connection with the ancient Near East, however, is a reminder that we are not getting a literal description of how God created but rather an assertion of the statement that God, not the gods of Babylon, Egypt or Canaan, created creation. This understanding is also highlighted by the obviously figurative language used in Genesis 1-2. Let's begin with the days of creation. On first glance it appears that these are literal twenty-four-hour days. After all, right from day one they are described as having an "evening and morning." Closer examination, though, shows that the author of Genesis could not have thought of these days as literal days with literal evenings and mornings. After all, such days require a rising and setting sun, a moon as well as stars, and these are not created until the fourth day.
The depiction of the creation week is a literary presentation of the great truth that the biblical God, and no others, created creation. The days have an interesting structure in that the first three days describe the creation of realms that are filled by the inhabitants of those realms in the second set of three days.
|DAY 1||DAY 2||DAY 3|
|light and darkness||sky and waters||land|
|DAY 4||DAY 5||DAY 6|
|sun, moon and stars||birds and fish||animals and human beings|
A second example of the highly figurative nature of the description of creation in Genesis 1-2, as well as its interaction and critique of pagan notions of creation, is found in the account of the creation of Adam in Genesis 2:7, "the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man's nostrils, and the man became a living person" (NLT). Remember that the Enuma Elish described the creation of humans from the ground and the blood of a demon god. It is no accident that there are similarities and differences between the Bible and the writings of the ancient Near East; writing like this was a way of denying the Babylonian account that gave such a low view of humanity as connected to the demonic and thus inherently evil. To be created from the breath of God, on the contrary, expresses a profound understanding of the dignity of humanity.
While Genesis 1-2 teaches us little about how God created creation, it wonderfully proclaims important foundational truths about God, ourselves and our relationship to God. Let's explore some of the leading ideas.
God created creation. Everything that exists exists because of God; everything and everybody else are creatures totally dependent on God. We owe our very lives to God. And, in contrast to ancient Near Eastern ideas of the time, he did this alone by the power of his word and not in conflict or with the assistance of other gods. There is only one God who deserves the worship of his creatures.
The creation account introduces the God of the Bible as one who is both transcendent as well as immanent. That is, he is not a part of creation, which is something that he makes, looks at and pronounces "good." On the other hand, he is involved in creation. He does not make it and stay uninvolved. This differentiates the biblical God from many other religions: those that say he is other and not involved (deism), and those that say he is a part of creation (pantheism).
Reading Genesis 1-2 in the light of the religions of the ancient Near East also highlights something that to us seems unexceptional but to the people of the ancient Near East would have been shocking and radical. God is neither gendered nor sexual. All the gods of the ancient Near East were either male or female, had sexual relations and bore children. The fact that God is neither male nor female is indicated by the fact that both men and women are created in the "image of God" (more about this later).
In sum then, God is the sovereign, self-sufficient and supreme Creator of all things.
That God created Adam and Eve from whom all humanity descends indicates that everyone owes their life to God. The manner in which God created Adam and Eve inform us about who we are as human beings. The emphasis is on human dignity, especially when Genesis 1-2 is read with rival texts like the Enuma Elish in the background. The creation of Adam from the dust of the ground and the breath of God, rather than the blood of a demon God, speaks to the fact that humans, though creatures like the other animals, have a special relationship with God. Genesis 1 also announces that human beings, male and female, are created in the "image of God" (Genesis 1:27). While clearly indicating humanity's special place in God's creation, no precise definition is given of the meaning of this phrase. However, by studying the word image elsewhere in Scripture, we observe its use in connection with human kings who set up images of themselves around their kingdom to represent their power and authority. On analogy, then, human beings represent God's presence, power and authority in the world. We reflect God's glory like the moon reflects the light of the sun. These and other features of the creation accounts in Genesis 1-2 emphasize humanity's dignity as God's creatures.
As God's image bearers, human beings were also commissioned to "fill" and "subdue" the earth. They are to "rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground" (Genesis 1:28). While some have wrongly read this verse as permitting humans to run rampant over the creation for their own benefit, it really is a command to responsibly care for the rest of creation like good rulers should care for and promote the interests of their subjects.
The story of the creation of Eve speaks volumes about the nature of human beings, as well as the relationship between the genders. In the first place, notice God's remarkable statement that "it is not good for the man to be alone" (Genesis 2:18). Think about this. Adam is in a harmonious relationship with God and lives in Eden, whose very name means "abundance." What else does he need? Well, God understands that we need human relationship as well. So he creates Eve, who is a "helper suitable for him" (Genesis 2:18). We should be very careful not to read the idea of subordination into the word helper here, since it is used elsewhere to refer to God who is the "helper" of his people. In another context this word could be translated "ally." They will be partners in the business and, after Genesis 3, the battle of life.
Notice how the description of her creation also emphasizes equality between Adam and Eve. He puts Adam in a deep sleep, takes something from his side, perhaps a rib, and creates Eve. That God took something from Adam's side, and not from his head or from his feet, is theologically and practically significant. She is neither superior to him or inferior, but his equal.
Eve's creation leads to the first marriage and a biblical definition of the institution of marriage. "That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). Marriage first involves "leaving" parents (note that Psalm 45:10 implies that a wife must leave her parents as well). Leaving means that the married couple no longer gives their primary loyalty to their parents but rather to each other. The next step is to "weave" (be united to) each other. This weaving of two lives takes place through common experiences and communication. Then, finally, marriage involves "cleaving" to each other, becoming one flesh in the act of sexual intercourse.
Marriage is not the only institution addressed in the creation narratives. Notice that work is not a consequence of the Fall but rather was to be a human activity even if humans were not sinners. The task was noble, to tend and guard the Garden. I will have more to say about this in study 2.
In addition, the creation texts establish the pattern of six days of work and then a sabbath rest. The commandment to observe the sabbath is grounded in the presentation of the creation as a week of seven days, and God rests on the seventh (Exodus 20:8-11).
Finally, note how the creation accounts end: "Now the man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame" (Genesis 2:25 NLT). This physical nakedness indicates that there are no barriers—physical, psychological, spiritual, emotional—between Adam and Eve. There is harmony in the Garden among humans because there is harmony with the Creator God.
John 1:1-5, Colossians 1:15-20 and Revelation 3:14 inform us that Jesus participated in the creation of the world. He is after all God. The trinitarian nature of God is not revealed in all its glory until the New Testament, so we have a clearer idea of the involvement of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in creation. It is not that we can identify specific and different roles that the persons of the Trinity play, but as Christians, we understand that the Godhead is our Creator. The Father, the Son and the Spirit created us. We owe him everything.
Sadly, as we will see in study 2, sin deeply mars God's creation and his creatures, particularly humans. Thus, it is particularly interesting that the New Testament uses the language of new creation (see Isaiah 65:17; 66:22) to describe the future after Christ's second coming: "Then I saw 'a new heaven and a new earth,' for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away" (Revelation 21:1). By speaking of a new creation of heaven and earth, the biblical author warns against the view that the cosmos as we know it will simply be destroyed. It will not be destroyed; it will be transformed.
And, according to Paul, God's transformation of the old to the new creation has already begun! According to 2 Corinthians 5:17 (see also Galatians 6:15), "if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!"
Genesis 1-2 presents a story of foundations or origins, informing us of crucial information about the nature of God, humanity and the world we live in. The narrative takes us beyond what we can see and experience with our senses to inform us concerning the ultimate nature of reality. Thus, these two chapters shape our view of the world.
Here we learn that God is our Creator. Though the highly figurative language that describes creation does not actually tell us about the process of creation, we do learn that the world and humanity came about through the action of a personal being, not through some impersonal chance process. This God created us, and we are totally dependent on him for our lives. God is above creation, but he is involved with his creation. There is no one who is like this God who created everything else.
We also learn that human beings are the high point of creation. Though we are creatures like everything else, we occupy a special place in that creation as the only ones designated as created in the "image of God." Humanity, you, me and everyone, has special dignity in God's world. That, of course, has important ramifications for how we should treat each other. We reflect who God is; we reflect his glory. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect. In addition, we learn in these opening chapters that we were not created to be isolated individuals but are made for relationship, with God and with each other. Marriage holds a special place among the relationships between human beings as the most intimate of all. Genesis 2 makes it clear that marriage is God-ordained and that sexuality is a gift from God.
As human beings created in the image of God, we also learn that we are to take care of God's world. The creation story indicates that the material world is important. Though in the history of the church, and even in some quarters today, the goodness of creation is rejected and downplayed, Genesis 1-2 serves the important function of telling us that such a view is wrong and even dishonors God who made the world and pronounced it "good." We are to be stewards of this world.
Adam and Eve stand naked before each other and feel no shame. They have nothing to hide because they have a harmonious relationship with God. But the next chapter of the story will bring their wonderful situation to an end.
Longman, Tremper, III, How to Read Genesis. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005.
Walton, John H. Genesis. NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.