God Commanded...And They Were Created
Scripture: Genesis 1:1–2:3
Genesis 1:1-2:3 (with parallel passages Psalm 148, Job 38-41, Psalm 121)
Genesis Chapter 1 is one of the essential foundation stones of Christian belief, and a key element in establishing a truly Biblical and truly Christian world view. It should not surprise us then, that this passage of Scripture has come under fierce attack and produced much controversy and debate, not only between believers and non-believers, but also among those who believe the Bible, but differ in their interpretations.
We read the text in our Scripture reading. (If you are reading this on-line, I encourage you to take the time now to read Genesis 1:1-2:3) Before we delve into the details of the passage, I want to discuss some key introductory issues. The first reality we must recognize is that Genesis 1 is a supernatural chapter, describing supernatural events. I believe we must begin here. It is really simply a matter of definition. The word “supernatural” has fallen on hard times in present day usage. It is often equated with the “paranormal” and the “twilight zone” and scary music. In its simplest usage, the supernatural is contrasted with the natural. The word natural comes from the word nature. It is that which occurs in nature, “naturally” and which can be accounted for by the laws and principles of the visible universe. The supernatural, in contrast then, is that which is above, over or outside of nature.
Last week, in our introductory message on Genesis 1:1, we examined the parallel passage in Hebrews 11:3: 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. Since God was “in the beginning” before the “natural”, visible world came into existence, then he is by definition “supernatural.” Since he formed the universe by his command, making the visible (“natural”) out of that which is not visible, the act of creation is by definition a supernatural act. Plainly and simply, then, if we do not believe in the supernatural, we do not believe the Bible, and we particularly do not believe Genesis 1.
But let me repeat what I said last week to the person who says, “I do not believe in the supernatural.” This is certainly your right. However, I believe it is important to acknowledge that such a statement of non-belief is in fact a statement of belief. You must then believe that the visible world you do see and do believe in either always existed, or somehow came into existence by natural means alone. The two contrasting statements must be laid side by side. “I believe God made the world.” Or, “I believe nothing made the world. It just happened.” Both are statements of belief and require faith.
So, depending on how we resolve that question in our own hearts, we will either dismiss Genesis 1 as just one more “creation myth” offering interesting insights into the thinking of an ancient culture, or we will take it seriously as God’s revelation to us about the origins of our world. Since I am in church and among people who are often referred to as “believers” I am going to assume that most of us take Genesis 1 seriously and believe in God as the Creator of heaven and earth. However, even among believers who believe in the supernatural, in God and in Creation, Genesis 1 poses some difficult questions which have led to some significant disagreements and debates among Christians.
Let me briefly highlight where some of the questions lie, and some of the more common interpretations or opinions. The first question is: What is going on in Genesis 1:2? Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. This verse poses a number of riddles to the interpreter. Great minds have suggested different answers to those riddles. I remember a learned Old Testament scholar gave an entire week of lectures when I was in seminary on this one verse. He spent most of his time on just two words in the Hebrew text: “tohu ve bohu”, translated “formless and empty”.
The interpretive questions hinge on the relationship between verse 1 and verse 2. The simplest interpretation is that verse 2 follows simply and naturally from verse 1, and is simply a description of the first stage of creation. God first created matter, the material stuff of the universe. In its initial state the universe was formless and empty. If we use the analogy of a potter getting ready to work, his first step is to slap a shapeless lump of clay onto his wheel. In this interpretation, verse 2 is simply describing the morning of the first day of creation before God sets to work to shape his masterpiece.
Others argue that the words “formless and empty” are always used in a negative sense of a state of chaos and disorder and confusion, and that such a state could never be attributed to God. They also argue that the word “was” should be translated “became”. They therefore speculate that there may have been an earlier creation (described in verse 1) that was destroyed and “became formless and empty” by God’s judgment, and that the rest of Genesis 1 is describing God’s “recreating” the universe as we know it out of his original raw materials. What happened to that original creation is not known or described, but some speculate that its fall into chaos and disorder may be linked to the rebellion of Satan and his fall. Such a gap between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:3 may then explain some of the questions we have about the age of the earth and the fossil record.
The second major debate or difference of opinion about Genesis 1 is the question of the seven days. Are the days described in this chapter literal, 24 hour days as we measure them today? Or can we apply a more figurative use of the term in which a day may refer to an unspecified period of time. Reference is often made to the passage in 2 Peter 3:8: “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.”
The third major debate, closely related to the earlier ones, is whether God created things, particularly living things, instantaneously in the forms we know and recognize today, or did he create the world we know through slow processes over long periods of time; processes which he started and supervised. In other words, is the theory of evolution, particularly the evolution of all living things, from simple life forms into complex life forms, consistent with the record of Genesis 1 and a belief in God as Creator?
These are the main lines of questioning and debate. There are nuances and variations and subtle differences from one man’s answers to the next. But these are the major discussion points. We are certainly not going to resolve them today. My own belief on the matter, humbly held, is that the simplest reading is usually the best, and that any departure from the simple reading of the text creates as many problems as it solves, both scientifically and theologically.
The primary thing I want to do in the message today is to move beyond these debates; beyond the unknown to the known. In my research for this message, I looked up a message on Genesis 1 on the internet by a friend of mine, Mark Blair, a pastor in the Beijing International Christian Fellowship. He entitled his message Majesty and Mystery. My concern in any approach to this great passage of Scripture is the risk that we will get hung up on the mysteries and miss the majesty of God revealed in the text. We risk bogging down in the unknown and missing the clear truths about God which are declared here to the believing heart. We must accept that Genesis 1 was not written as a science text book for 21st century readers. If it had been, it would have been utterly foreign and incomprehensible to hundreds of generations of readers who came to this passage to understand the fundamental realities of the universe. The questions of science that we debate so vigorously today are “how” and “when” questions. While not silent on those questions, Genesis 1 was written primarily to answer a different question: “Who made the world?” On this question, the text is crystal clear.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The answer to the “who” of creation is God; “Elohim”, the all powerful God of the universe. As I mentioned in last week’s message, the name “Elohim” occurs 32 times in this chapter, and with only two exceptions, it is always the subject of a verb. In fact if we were to turn this chapter into a simple declarative sentence with a subject, a verb and an object, God is the subject of the sentence. His actions constitute the verb. The heavens and the earth and everything in them are the direct object.
As we look at the whole text itself, we are not going to go line by line. I just want to make a few, broad stroke observations. One of the methods that Hebrew writing used for emphasizing certain themes or points in a text was the use of repetition. There are three phrases that are used repeatedly in Genesis 1. The first phrase is “And God said…” Eight times this phrase is used.
In almost every case, it is followed in the very next sentence with the second repeated phrase: “And it was so.” If you like labels for things, the theologians call this a “fiat-fulfillment motif”.
If there is an answer to the “how” of Creation found in Genesis 1, this is it. God spoke…and the world came into existence. This is the teaching of Hebrews 11:3: By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command.
This is a repeated emphasis of Scripture when the Creation is referred to. Psalm 33:6: By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.
Again in Psalm 33:8-9:
Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the people of the world revere him.
9 For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.
The same theme is picked up in Psalm 148:3-6:
3 Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars.
4 Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies.
5 Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created.
6 He set them in place for ever and ever; he gave a decree that will never pass away.
This is the consistent testimony of Scripture. God commanded and they were created.
There is one more phrase that is used repeatedly in the chapter. It is the phrase, “And God saw that it was good.” I love the picture here. It is the picture of an artist or a sculptor at work. Periodically he steps back to evaluate his work. Each time he is pleased with what he sees. Six times we are told: God saw that it was good. Then on the sixth day, we are told that God looked at his finished work. He looked at all that he had made and it was very good. God made the world and he made it good!
If you are counting, you might be saying: What about the seventh day? The answer is found in Genesis 2:2-3:
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
Why did God rest? He did not rest because he was tired. He rested because the work was finished. One book I read on Genesis 1 asserts that the whole chapter follows a particular pattern and paints a specific picture. It is the picture of a temple being constructed and prepared and furnished. The final event in the picture or the story is when the Deity enters the temple to take up residence in it. This is what is happening in 2:2-3. The builder and owner of the temple enters his own dwelling and, satisfied with what he has built, he takes up residence. He sits down to rest and enjoy what he has made.
Well, as we have been saying, this is a chapter about God. Genesis chapter one is written to answer the question: Who made the world? The answer is: God made it. We are back to the opening statement of the chapter in verse 1: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
Since we believe that God created the heavens and the earth, what do we learn about him from Genesis 1 and from the Creation itself? Romans 1:20 gives us at least a partial answer to that question. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
When we look at our world through the lens of Genesis 1, we can clearly see God’s power. It is an incredible, supernatural power. And God said…And it was so. He is a God of absolutely stunning and awesome power. The starry host of heaven came into being by the word of his mouth. He just spoke and they appeared. In their billions! The astronomers are still counting! The invisible, supernatural God spoke and the visible world came into existence. The vast oceans; the lofty mountains; the endless variety of living creatures. Wow! What power! What a God!
What else do we learn about God? We learn that he is a God of system and order and structure. He took what was “formless and empty” in verse 2 (whatever we may believe about that unformed state) and he gave it form and structure and then he filled its emptiness. This is what happens in the first six days of creation. In the first three days of creation he gave the universe its structure and then in the second three days, he filled it. On the first day he created light and separated the light from the darkness. It is interesting to note that the creation of light preceded the creation of the sun and the stars that we think of as the light producers. By creating light and separating it from the darkness, God created order and day and night. On the second day, God separated the waters below the firmament and the waters above. He created the atmosphere and the clouds and the waters in the atmosphere. Then on the third day he gathered the waters on the earth into place and established their boundaries, and the dry ground appeared. The continents became distinct from the oceans. From disorder and confusion, in which light and darkness commingled and all the earth was covered in water and there was no atmosphere or air in which to live and breathe, God created and formed the structure of the universe as we know it. He gave the unformed mass form and structure. The basic conditions for life as we know it were created.
God then moved to fill the world he had made. On the second half of the third day, the land began to produce vegetation and grass and plants with seeds and trees with fruit. In broad strokes, all forms of plants are described. Then on the fourth day, God filled the heavens. He created the sun and the moon and the stars and set them in the heavens. Then on the fifth day, God filled the seas with living creatures and the sky with birds and commanded them to be fruitful and multiply.
Then on the sixth day he created the living creatures of the land: animals, insects, and all other living things. And finally he created the pinnacle of his creation: he made man to rule over all that he had made. We will look more closely at the creation of man next week. But throughout the week of Creation we can see that he is a God of order and design. He is a God with a plan. He created a place for everything and then he put everything in its place.
As we read the account of Creation and then we look at the world that he has made, we also come to understand that he is a God of wisdom. Psalm 104: 24-25:
How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. 25 There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number— living things both large and small.
Proverbs 3:19-20 conveys the same message:
By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place; 20 by his knowledge the deeps were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew.
The intricate complexity of the individual creatures, the unique interconnection between all the elements of the universe and the various ecosystems and biospheres, all testify to the matchless wisdom of God.
These are just some of the things we learn about God as we study Genesis 1 and then look at the world around us through the lens of Genesis 1. So what applications can we take with us from these chapters? I want to point out several. These are not original to me. These are ways the later writers of Scripture used the truths of Creation and applied them to life.
1. The Creation calls us to worship.
What else can we do before such an awesome God? We can “glorify God as God and give thanks,” as we saw last week. We can say, “Wow!” and then say, “Thank you, God!” We can join all Creation in singing our Creator’s praise. Look at the words of Psalm 148:
1 Praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord from the heavens,
praise him in the heights above.
2 Praise him, all his angels,
praise him, all his heavenly hosts.
3 Praise him, sun and moon,
praise him, all you shining stars.
4 Praise him, you highest heavens
and you waters above the skies.
5 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for he commanded and they were created.
6 He set them in place for ever and ever;
he gave a decree that will never pass away.
7 Praise the Lord from the earth,
you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,
8 lightning and hail, snow and clouds,
stormy winds that do his bidding,
9 you mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars,
10 wild animals and all cattle,
small creatures and flying birds,
11 kings of the earth and all nations,
you princes and all rulers on earth,
12 young men and maidens,
old men and children.
13 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for his name alone is exalted;
his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.
2. The Creation inspires us to trust in God’s power.
Let me ask you a question. If God could speak the world into existence with a word, do you think he has the power to deal with your problems and your situation? It is interesting how the Apostles prayed in Acts 4. They were facing persecution and hardship. So how did their prayer begin? Look at verse 24: When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. It is a good place to start a prayer. Creation reminds us that there is no limit to his power.
3. Creation teaches us to trust in his wisdom and in his plan.
This was the struggle that Job had. He followed God. But then his life fell apart. He began to question God’s plan and God’s wisdom. Where did God take him? He took him to Creation. Look at Job 38:4-14:
"Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! <
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6 On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
7 while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?
8 “Who shut up the sea behind doors
when it burst forth from the womb,
9 when I made the clouds its garment
and wrapped it in thick darkness,
10 when I fixed limits for it
and set its doors and bars in place,
11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
here is where your proud waves halt’?
12 “Have you ever given orders to the morning,
or shown the dawn its place,
13 that it might take the earth by the edges
and shake the wicked out of it?
14 The earth takes shape like clay under a seal;
its features stand out like those of a garment.
For four chapters God continues with example after example from Creation and the natural world. He asks question after question which Job cannot answer. Job got the point. He learned his lesson well. “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. 3 You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” (Job 42:2-3) He learned to trust the wisdom of the God who created and sustains the universe.
I want to close by looking at one final verse of Scripture that ties all this together. It is a verse that is saturated with incredible comfort. The verse is found in Psalm 121. Verse one read: I lift up my eyes to the hills— where does my help come from? It is a rhetorical question. But look at his answer in verse 2.
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. This God; this Creator God; this God of power and wisdom cares about you and about me and he is watching over you and over me.
Does that give you goose bumps? It should. The “”Maker of heaven and earth” is my helper and yours. The psalm goes on to describe that this same God is our “keeper”, our guardian who will not allow our foot to slip.
I don’t know what challenges you are facing in the beginning of this New Year. They might be challenges at work, problems at home, financial difficulties, health worries. Whatever you are facing, if you can only manage to join the truths of Genesis 1 and Psalm 121 together in your heart and mind, I guarantee you this: you will sleep a lot better at night.
QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
Together, compile a list of questions you have about Creation and Genesis 1.
Now, figuratively (or literally) put the list in an envelope, seal it, and write on it: Questions to ask God when I see Him.
As you think about Genesis 1 and the created universe, what are some specific ways they demonstrate…
- God’s power
- God as a God of order and structure
- God’s wisdom
Read Psalm 148 together. Which image or verse is your favorite? Write a new verse to the Psalm using another image from the created universe.
What is the greatest challenge you are facing in life right now? (You may or may not feel comfortable sharing this with your group, but answer the question in your mind.) How does reflecting on God’s power in Creation (eg. Acts 4:24) help put your problem in perspective?
Can you think of a time in your life when you questioned God’s wisdom? (Share it if you are comfortable doing so.) Read Job 38, and choose selected passages from Job 38-41. How do these passages make you feel?
Reflect on Psalm 121 (particularly verse 2). Compose prayers or written responses to the verse.