In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)
Genesis opens with the declaration that God simply is, and has been from the beginning. What an amazing way to start.
There is no, “out of the primordial stew, the gods kind of formed and then realized they needed slaves to feed them.” There is no, “This god such-and-such fought with this god so-and-so and the victor made the world by ripping apart the body of the loser.” There is no, “Yep, matter, motion and chance struck the jackpot and something was created out of nothing.”
Verse 1 serves as the theme sentence of the creation account. It is a solemn declaration of God’s creative act. But, even more so, it is a solemn declaration that it is from the God of the Bible that all things have their beginning.
What does this display about God?
Notice two things from the language. First, “in the beginning,” literally “at the first” in the original language, is frequently used to describe a first step in an event. Here it directly means that creation took place at a specific time, the beginning of time. And yet, God was already there. There is an assumption of the eternality of God. It doesn’t try to prove it or explain it. It just reveals it and stops.
Second, “in the beginning, God…” focuses on God as the Central Actor and He never ceases to be the main hero and star of the redemptive drama. There is no stuff before Him. There is no struggle for supremacy among a theater of gods. He simply is and it is because of Him and for Him that everything else is. (Ps. 33:6)
The Significance of God as Creator
The Hebrews did not have a single word to describe “universe”. When they wanted to speak of reality, they spoke of “the heaven and the earth.” The ten-dollar word for this is merism: two opposites that are all inclusive. You see this in other contexts throughout Scripture – Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, for example. Likewise, this phrase points to God’s creation of the entire universe. Nothing that has been created was left out.
Additionally, note that the word for create here (“bara”) specifically is used only and always with God as its subject; never as an action of mankind. Why? Man can’t create this way, out of nothing. Man can only make stuff out of pre-existent matter.
All things exist because of the decree and will of God and no one else. Further, God reveals some other things about Himself by the very act of creating.
- God’s creative power makes Him known through the works of His creative will.
(Ps. 19:1) Therefore, He wants to be known.
- As a result of God’s creative power, the creation declares, reveals, God’s righteousness. (Ps. 50)
- God’s creative power is often pointed to in order to establish His authority over His creatures. (e.g., Job 38:4-7, Is. 42:5, Is. 45:18)
Trinitarian Seeds in the Beginning
Quick note on the use of “Elohim” as the name of God here. The word is a masculine plural form of the Hebrew “‘l”. When it is used of the God of the Hebrews it has singular agreement; when it designates other gods it takes plural agreement. (No other gods before me, takes plural agreement in Ex. 20:3)
God the Father is in the act of creation, the Spirit is hovering over the deep, God the Word is the agent of creation. God uses the plural when speaking of Himself later on.
This is no argument that the Trinitarian concept of God is as clear in Genesis as it is in the New Testament, but that’s the nature of God’s revelation. Here we have it in seed form. Watch for it as we progress throughout Genesis and the rest of the Old Testament.
Focus turns to the Earth
The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:2)
In the original language, the word that is translated in the ESV as “without form” [tohu] is a word that reflects a state of wilderness. Likewise, the word translated “void” [bohu] has the view of a place devoid of all living things, plants and animals. Think Mars without all the NASA debris and light.
These two words are found on only two other occasions in Scripture. (Is. 34:11; Jer. 4:23) In both of these places the prophets were having visions of what the earth would look like after God’s judgment. It will essentially return to a wild and dark state as it was in the beginning.
Darkness on the surface of the planet simply refers to the fact that there was not any light yet. However, some skeptics make the argument that the word “deep” [tehom] is a left over from Mesopotamian mythology and claim that it refers to the goddess of the chaotic deep sea, Tiamat, who was a foe of the creator-god Marduk. In the mythological account, Marduk defeated Tiamat and used her body to create the earth, seas and heavens.
The critics claim that Gen. 1:2 demonstrates that the Hebrew God had also to conquer the chaos deity Tiamat in the form of the “deep.” This theory is assumed to be a fact in much of the recent literature.
However, in Hebrew thought, the deep is simply the primal world ocean and nothing more. It was certainly not deified. Further, there is no hint of any kind of battle between God and the deep. He just speaks and everything changes.
There almost is a sense of pregnant pause. The Spirit hovers over the waters…
Light into Darkness
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Genesis 1:3)
God shatters the darkness and the formlessness by merely speaking the words, “Let there be light!” These four words in English, two in Hebrew, demonstrate his crushing power very dramatically.
God spoke and the physical came forth out of nothingness. The language indicates a form of speech which was typical in showing a speaker imposing his will on another. It also shows the immediacy and spontaneity of the event’s completion. God said it, and it was done immediately and without hesitation.
What was the light, since the sun hadn’t been created yet?
Some rabbinic writings reflect a belief that it was the “effulgent splendor of the divine presence.” I think the biblical record supports that concept. (Isaiah 60:19, Revelation 22:5)
Others would say that the light was God’s creation of energy. Whatever it was, it was drastically different from the picture in the previous verse.
The Light is Good
And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. (Genesis 1:4)
“And…and…” is a motif in Hebrew literature to point to the fact that these events took place in sequence. You see such particular sequential references in this first chapter, it is difficult to swallow that it is merely a figurative passage. There’s imagery, no doubt, and much of it a polemic or argument against the pagan mythology of the day. But, there is a clear, successive, historical account being told here.
Also, the use of “separated” or “divided” in this first chapter is also central to the creation account. Light from darkness (v. 4, 18). Waters above from waters below (vv. 6, 7), and day from night (v. 14).
Here we also see God’s assessment of His work. “It was good” appears seven times. The seventh time accentuates the entire account when He says that all He made was “very good.” (1:31)
Evening and morning
Next we see God naming objects in His creation.
God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (Genesis 1:5)
What does naming Day and Night tell us about God?
Some commentators say the literal translation of the first half of this verse is “And God called to the light ‘Day!’ and to the darkness He called ‘Night!'”
There was an ancient idea that all objects are bound to the spoken word. In fact, many believed that an object took its identity from its name. In other words, a thing had no being or character unless it had been named. You see this in the particular way parents named their children in Scripture.
In the creation account, the naming of the created objects certified their essence and existence. Without a name, they had no real being. The act of name-giving reflects God’s authority over the objects that He named. We’ll see this idea more in chapter 2.
Again, we see a merism in “evening and morning” which signifies the end of light and encompassed the entire period of darkness. Day 1 begins with the entrance of light and ends with the departure of darkness. Day 2 begins at sunrise. Notice the clear sequence of events here. It will not be the last time we see them in the creation account.
These opening verses to the Bible are simply astounding. How many times have I read these and just skimmed over the meaning of these words? That God is the Creator is fundamental to everything. We will flesh this out more as we move along, but this simple declaration in the first few verses refutes much of today’s false teaching as it did the mythology of the time in which it was penned.
Of the three worship scenes in Heaven pictured in Revelation, the first shows worship to God as Creator.
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:11)
But, even as amazing as this is, there is another “in the beginning” that is even more amazing.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made…v. 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-3, 14)
Genesis 1:1 is a step toward Christ revealed in John 1:1 through Whom God demonstrates His creative power once again. His power is and will be demonstrated in a very personal way to we who were by nature spiritually formless and void. (Eph. 2:1-3)
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Cor. 4:6)
If God is not the Creator, what hope do we have that He can recreate us? However, He is the Creator; and, in faith through Christ by His Spirit, Who no longer hovers over but resides in us, we trust Him.