Because the biblical books were handwritten, read aloud, and then hand-copied long before standardized printing, their authors and compilers needed a way to indicate divisions within the text itself. They often did this by repeating a phrase or expression each time they made a transition from one section to another. We can confirm that particular phrases are significant in this way by observing how their placement reinforces a structure that can already be recognized implicitly from other characteristics of a book, such as changes in topic, movement in place or time, or shifts from one kind of writing to another. Through line spacing, we’ve marked off sections of varying sizes. The smallest are indicated by one blank line, the next largest by two lines, and so on, up to four-line breaks in the largest books. We’ve also indicated key divisions with a large initial capital letter of new sections. Our goal is to encourage meaningful units to be read in their entirety and so with greater appreciation and understanding.
Zondervan. NIV, The Books of the Bible: Covenant History: Discover the Origins of God’s People (Kindle Locations 265-272). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.
And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.
And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.
And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.
And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness,so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and overall the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
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. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
Into the ancient world of polytheism (belief in the existence of many gods or divine beings), God called his people to be monotheistic (believing only in him). When they were delivered from their bondage in polytheistic Egypt and journeyed toward polytheistic Canaan, he began the long process of training them to relate to him and not to all the other gods, which were at hand. It is difficult for our Western mind to grasp that almost everything in their culture was divine. There was a sun god, a moon god, a light god, a darkness god, a sky god, a sea god, male gods, female gods, and the list goes on and on. Israel was faced with learning and relating to the one and only God, the creator of the universe in which they lived and moved. Of course, the present world worships many gods: the god of science, the god of nationalism, the god of money, and the god of politics to name a few. We are more pagan than we think!
As Israel camped at the foot of Mt. Sinai, they could not shake the polytheism of Egypt. They were headed into the land that God had promised that was filled and fueled by the worship of many gods. Israel needed a clear word about who God was. On their journey, they had witnessed his power and judgment. It is not difficult to picture the family meetings at night as they sat around their campfires and the story of creation was told and retold. In simple rhythmic form, they learned about their God and how he was different from the many gods of the land they were to inherit.
With impact and power, they learned that God spoke and the world came into existence! The world was not a deity. The great lights in the heavens were not deities. God and God alone was the deity. He had created all that there was. Genesis 1 rehearses these great acts. From nothing to a beautiful world filled with his creation, Genesis rings out a clear message: God is the creator!
There is a distinct, discernible pattern in the creative acts of God that are described. The NIV format offers the reader a clear look at the rhythmic breakdown of this great chapter. You can see the following pattern:
- An introduction: And God said…,
- a creative word: Let there be…,
- Fulfillment: And it was so…,
- Occasional name giving or blessing: God called…,
- Divine approval: And God saw that…,
- Conclusion: And it was evening and morning… .
Remember that they did not read these words. They memorized them and repeated them often.
Genesis 1.1-2.3 is a small treatise against polytheism. In our time, we have seen the rise of Creation Science, which is an effort to give scientific proof for the account of the creation of the universe. We must note that the first chapters of Genesis predated science. These chapters have no interest in discussing science, teaching science, nor entering into any argumentation about scientific assumptions. These opening chapters, as well as the rest of Scripture, are theological in scope and nature. Their only intent is to teach us about who God is, not what he did or how he did it. The crucial teaching of this section of Scripture centers on polytheism versus monotheism. That was the burning need of their day and time. Hearing it as the first people may have heard and recited it would be very different from the way certain American groups, thousands of years later in the middle of a scientific age, might think and speak about it.
Genesis 1.1-2. The first word in the text of Genesis is re’ shiyth (pronounced ray-sheeth). It is translated in most versions as in the beginning. In the beginning, is not just a simple reflection of temporal time. It announced the setting in motion of a series of events. The phrase is pregnant with the end. The creative acts of God set history in motion determining its flow toward a specific end. It can and maybe should be translated When God began to create. The Hebrew word created is bara (baw-raw). The word indicates the initiating of something new, which occurs suddenly, or the patient work of bringing something to perfection. It may carry both meanings in Genesis 1.1. There is no definition of God that is offered in these opening sentences. Unlike the pagan cosmologies, Genesis displays no interest in the question of God’s origin. His existence prior to the world is self-evident. These sentences demonstrate that God’s nature finds expression through his acts, not through philosophical or scientific hypothesis.
Day One: Genesis 1.3-5. And God said destroyed the primeval cosmic silence and signaled the birth of a new order. God created by fiat (without any preexisting material). God said means that God thought or willed and signifies that he is wholly independent of his creation. In each of the creative containers, God dismissed two gods within polytheism. The intent of the author of this little treatise is to demonstrate that God is the creator even of those things that their society may have thought to be gods. So, on this first day, the gods of light and darkness are dismissed. God called placed him in the position of power over the object that was named. In the ancient world, the one who gave a name had power over the object named. What about time? Should the twenty-four hour days of creation be taken literally? One might ask how there could be a day of twenty-four hours before the sun and moon were present to determine days, which did not occur until Day Four.
Day Two: Genesis 1.6-8. In the second container of creation, God dismissed two more gods of the ancient world, the gods of sky and sea. Remember that the intent of the author is to present his material to be recited for ease of remembrance, as well as training the Israelites that monotheism, not polytheism, was their inheritance.
Day Three: Genesis 1.9-13. In the third creation container, the earth gods and gods of vegetation were booted.
Day Four: Genesis 1.14-19. The sun, moon, and star gods are now dismissed. We should take note that the author did not call these gods by their names, but referred to them as the greater and lesser lights. By doing so, he removed their divinity. To speak the name of the god was to give it its divine authority.
Day Five: Genesis 1.20-23. The fifth day of creation brought the dismissal of the fish and foul gods.
Day Six: Genesis 1.24-31. The last repository of creation disposed of human male and female gods such as pharaohs, kings, and heroes who were believed to be gods. God created man (adam), which was male and female. He created man in his image. This phrase may indicate that God created humankind to be a community. While our culture places a high value on individualism, the ancient Hebrew culture was being trained to place a high value on community. This theme certainly continues in the New Testament with the many metaphors for the church, as the body of Christ. Even after the fall, Scripture can still say that man is in God’s image (Gen. 9.6). Genesis 1.28 makes it clear that God intended Adam and Eve to have children in their sinless state. He commanded them to be fruitful and increase. God invented human sexuality within the framework of marriage (see Gen. 2) for both procreation and enjoyment. Sexual expression is a joyful affirmation of a married couple’s intimacy. What God had created and said was very good, pleased him. We could substitute the words exceedingly good as an appropriate picture for the evaluation of humankind. On each day of creation, another set of gods was smashed and in their place was a pronounced creation of the one and only God.
Day Seven: Genesis 2.1-3. On this day, God rested. Surely, we do not think that the God of the universe grew tired and needed a day off. In the culture of the day, the people would often act out what they wanted the gods to do. God simply reverses this action and models for his children what he would like them to do. Day Seven is another blast against polytheism and a victory for monotheism.
Numbers in Scripture are often quality instead of quantity. In this treatise against polytheism, this is true. There are two sets of gods disposed of each day, which totals twelve, a number of completion for the ancient Hebrew. The story has seven parts. Seven is another number of completion and perfection. What did this mean for them? The creation of God is perfect and complete. He and only he was the creator. It certainly has the same meaning for us all these thousands of years later.
Community Discussion Questions
➡ |CDQ Info|
- Note the different acts of God as recorded in Genesis 1.1-2.3 and ask yourself: What do these acts reveal about the character of God?
- How many of the twelve polytheistic gods do you still serve?
- Read Psalm 104.1-5, 33-34 and note the emotion of the psalmist as he reflects on creation.
- Respond to God as creator by thanking him for his creation of you.