Genesis 1:1-31 “God the Creator”
Genesis 1-3 is like the overture of the bible. Overture in a musical: distinct in itself, but introduces the musical themes throughout the rest of the play.
Genesis 1-3 is unique and distinct, but here in it we are introduced to the main themes that we find in all of the rest of scripture.
Genesis is the first of a five-volume work, “the pentateuch” – also referred to as the books of Moses – and while later editors filled in or updated material as necessary, and Moses certainly would have used oral and written sources in his writing, the traditional view is that the main body of the pentateuch was written by Moses – which was also the view of Jesus and the Apostles (not a test of orthodoxy – Jesus could just be adopting current view of those around him; but neither is it a impossible or implausible view). In fact, Moses is a very reasonable candidate for the task of composing pentateuch, being highly educated in Pharoah’s court, having access to the ancient near eastern myths which find connections to Genesis 1-11 and having been educated in ANE law-codes, but most of all: as the greatest of all the Lord’s Prophets, Moses would be uniquely qualified to tell the true origins & real history of the people of God.
And that is what he’s doing:
The english title “Genesis” comes from the title from the Greek translation of the OT, meaning “origin, source, or creation”. It’s Hebrew title comes from the first word of the book “b’reshit”, meaning “in the beginning”.
Both titles are appropriate as Genesis is a book of beginnings, and origins. It tells the origins of all of humanity generally, but specifically, the nation of Israel, the Old Covenant people of God.
Genesis is giving the people of God, who remember, had been enslaved for hundreds of years – and then wandered through the desert, led by a God they hadn’t known in Egypt – Genesis is giving those people, an identity – a history – and, further reason to trust, and love, and serve, and obey this God who led them out of Egypt.
and we see that here in Genesis 1: that the God who called Abraham, and made him into a great nation – a people of his own possession – he was no local divinity, but the Creator of the whole universe. He made all things, and this supreme God, this unique God, this God who was the only true God, is the one they are to serve – not the false gods of the nations around them.
And that is important: the context of Genesis 1 was a world of polytheistic, pagan religion.
It’s important to remember that Genesis 1 was not written in the context of modern scientific culture, trying to answer questions that modern scientific people have. Now, we are going to consider some of those questions next week – but we need to be careful to do so on Genesis’ terms, rather than trying to make Genesis say something it never intended. This week, we’re going to focus on the original context
The context in which Genesis 1 was a world of polytheistic, pagan religion. And, everything written in Genesis 1 was a polemic – an attack, against the false gods of the nations around Israel.
People often get concerned, that there are other creation stories that share some similarities with that of Genesis 1 – such that people often suggest, or are concerned, that the biblical account simply copied those other stories.
But, that’s neither unlikely, nor surprising, that there were other creation myths. Every culture has a creation story. Even ours – the big bang and the theory of evolution – we’ll talk more about that next week – but, every culture has a creation story, and so it’s not surprising that in Moses’ day, there were other creation stories, shared similarities b/c shared similar world-view.
But those similarities are overshadowed by the differences.
And, so, Moses certainly was aware of those as he composed Genesis 1 – everyone in his day was – but he did it with a very specific purpose: to specifically contradict those other creation myths – which were the pagan polytheistic world-views of the surrounding nations.
He didn’t write in clueless/ignorant dependence upon them, but in deliberate rejection of them.
It’s not as though he shrugged his shoulders and, “well, I don’t know, let’s see what some other people thought” – no, he was aware of those other myths, and of course they had some bit of the truth in them – they got some things right, and to that degree Genesis agrees with them, but mainly Genesis was written as a contradiction of them – to refute their view of the world & to make the biblical worldview stand out against them; and to give the Israelite nation their unique identity as the people of God.
He is purposefully contrasting the true God, with false gods, and the true creation account, with the false creation accounts. He is providing an alternative world-view to what was common at the time: Challenging his audience regarding the nature of the God, the nature of the world, and the nature of humanity.
2 things: 1) Other worldviews/claims to “the truth” may get something right, but Scripture always at some point, challenges and confronts a culture; and a person; a world-view. If God is the creator, and if we are fallen, then his truth is the only truth that is infallible – and we should always expect that God’s word will confront us.
Moses wasn’t writing only to refute other world-views, but to confront the people of God – and the ways they may be tempted to embrace or adopt those. Same with us.
2) Moses wrote in his own ancient context. he didn’t write, believe it or not, to answer modern scientific questions (we will look at those next week, but first we need to understand Genesis on its own terms). We have a very different view of the world than ancient people, and so the danger with that is that we can miss the point – we can become focused on parts of Genesis that really weren’t points of focus for the original author, and we can miss the things that were important to him. And so, we want to do our best to understand Genesis as it would have been understood to its original audience.
- God the Creator
- God the Supreme Creator
- God the Powerful Creator
1. God the creator.
The creator-creation distinction is an essential and unique part of the biblical world-view.
God is Creator, all else is creation; all else is creature. God can’t cease to be God and be lowered down to the level of creation, and creation can’t become divine and be lifted up onto the level of God. God is set apart; God is unique; God alone is creator, all else is creation.
v1 – is where we see this unique part of the biblical world-view: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
2 things we learn from that: 1) God unlike all else in all existence, had no beginning. He simply was – In the beginning God was simply there.
2) Everything else in all creation, is his creation – has it’s beginning in him; and so, belongs to him.
v1 – unique: it describes the initial act of creation.
Where, all the other pagan creation stories would start with something similar to v2, lacking this initial and total act of creation by 1 supreme and absolute creator of all things.
In those other stories, the earth is simply there – creation involves simply the ordering of it but lack the bringing it into existence – and so, can only be presumed to be eternal alongside of the gods of those religions – in other words, the creator/creature distinction is blurred. The creation is eternal; and the so-called “creators” are not set apart from the creation. The creation is lifted up to divinity; the gods are lowered down to humanity.
And that’s what sin always does. Sin blurs the creator/creation (or, creature) distinction. Sin lowers God down to our level – it minimizes him, it treats him as small, it makes him contingent, it makes him our servant, it makes him dependent upon us, it even – in our sin, we try to create our own idea of god.
Sin lowers God down to our level, and, it exalts the creation to God’s level.
It flattens out the distinction between creator and creation.
Sin lowers God down to the level of creation, or it deifies creation – either way, it makes God our equal – which he never is.
God is creator – and he can never lose his divinity. We are creature, and we never become divine.
nature is not divine, human beings are not divine, love is not divine, time is not divine, nothing in all creation is divine, because everything in all creation is creation! Only the creator – who stands uniquely outside of creation – only he is divine.
polytheism – many gods; pantheism – everything is divine. biblical view: God is divine, we are not. there are no degrees of divinity, there is no gain or loss of divinity (even in the incarnation, while Jesus took on humanity he didn’t stop being divine).
Even in heaven, we will still be creatures- salvation doesn’t turn is into gods, it makes us renewed creatures.
Everything in God is perfectly divine and not creaturely; in the world, nothing is divine and everything is creaturely. So: we cannot imagine what it is like to be God. The sheer greatness of God greatly exceeds our power to understand. His love, wisdom, power, grace, are all beyond measure.
He is eternal; all else is finite. He is immortal, all else is mortal; he is immense, all else is limited; he is totally independent, all else is utterly dependent; he is Lord, all else is servant. he is master, all else is his possession; he is Creator, all else owes it’s existence to him. There is nothing outside the scope of his creation and so there is nothing that is not his, including you and everything about you.
“There is a God, and I’m not him.”
You are not your own maker. You didn’t wish or will yourself into existence. And so, you are not your own. You belong to God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.
God is never our equal. We owe our existence to him. We are his possession, all that we have is a gift from him.
He gave you breath and air to breath. Will you use that breath to praise him or deny him? He gave you life. Will you use that life to serve him or rebel against him?
will you live unto yourself? Or will you live unto him?
freeing – you don’t have to try to be your own god. seems attractive, but the most hopelessly enslaving misery – because you can’t – but the God who made all things – he can be your God – we can rest in him and in his perfect knowledge of his creation and trust his guidance, obey his commands, and find purpose in living for what he has called us to.
2. God the Supreme creator
The Jewish religion was uniquely monotheistic – believed in only 1 God -absolute, eternal, unrivaled – as compared to the surrounding cultures, which were polytheistic – they believed in many gods – many rival competing gods, who weren’t absolute – they were more human-like or creature-like than they were god-like. And, many of those gods were the elements of nature or aspects of what in the biblical view was the creation.
2 ways: Day 4 (sun, moon, stars), 5 (sea creatures)
Israel was coming out of slavery for hundreds of years in Egypt, and in the Egypt pantheon, the sun, moon, and stars were powerful deities – but here in Genesis, Moses is at great length to portray them merely as creatures. They are not divine, they are creations of God, his creatures, which do his will – which is their appointed function of separating day and night.
In fact, on day 4, he specifically avoids calling them by their proper names – he doesn’t say in v16 God made two great lights – the sun and the moon – which is what you’d expect. no, God made two great lights, the greater light and the lesser light – he avoids their proper names, and refers to them generically, in order to avoid any suggestion that they would be objects of worship or have some sort of divine personality to them.
They do not rule over human destiny, as in Egypt, no, they simply hang in the sky and give light – they do God’s will. They are his creation, not co-creators; not to be worshiped alongside of him.
Day 5 (Great creatures of the sea, or sea monsters)
Sea monsters were rival gods of the Canaanites; but in Genesis, sea monsters are not God’s rivals whom he needs to defeat or conquer – No, they are mere creatures – v 21 – So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it…” “teems” – motion of small animals.
the great creatures are created right alongside of all the creatures of the sea, even the tiny little fish of the sea – they are reduced to the same level as everything in the sea.
sea monsters aren’t gods; they don’t rival God; they are just one kind among many, of fish. Not gods, they don’t rival him, they are his handiwork. Not worthy of worship or service or homage.
3. God the Powerful Creator
He creates by the power of his word. He simply speaks, he speaks all of creation into existence. This is power that all everything else in all of creation lacks. None of us can simply speak something into existence. If what we do can be called creating at all, the most it an be considered creating is actually just rearranging already-created things. We may make things, but we always start with some pre-existing elements of creation. At most, we are “sub-creators”.
But, God creates out of nothing, simply by speaking. v3 “And God said, let there be light, and there was light.” v9: God said, let dry ground appear. And it was so.” v6 and it was so. v11 and it was so. v15 “and it was so”. v24 And it was so.
No extra steps, no
In other creation myths, the gods struggle to accomplish some aspects of the creation. For example, the pagan gods struggled to separate the upper waters from the lower waters – by the way, this I believe is phenomenological language (sun rising.)
the pagan gods struggled to do this; but do you sense any struggle here?
v6 – 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.
No struggle, only speaking.
Or, they struggled against one another, and in fact creation resulted from their battling and struggling.
God is not battling or struggling or needing to conquer some other God. He simply does what he wants by his powerful word.
Or, they create by calling upon some higher power than themselves. In the Egyptian myths, they would recite magical utterances – magic words – the whole idea of a magic word is that – the power isn’t in the speaker, it’s in the words – and so it is calling on some power above – greater than – the speaker.
But, with the true God, it’s different. There is neither struggle, nor is there any hint of him calling upon a power higher than himself. there is no magic – he simply speaks, and it is so. His words are powerful in themselves because he is absolute power – there is no power above him; he is all-powerful. There is no obstacle or difficulty or hindrance in the way of him accomplishing his will, no, but as Psalm 115, 135 says, “he does whatever he pleases.” Only God can truly do whatever he wants, because only God is all-powerful with no rival.
Just as God is the hero in Genesis 1, so God is the hero of the whole bible. He is the hero in creation; he is the hero in re-creation; he is the hero in his plan of redemption of the fallen creation and humanity whom he loves.
good – bad; vs Sumerian Flood story, where things start bad and move to good. In those other stories, the gods were not the heroes, humanity was. Things started badly for them (they were created as an afterthought for the purpose of providing food for the gods) but, they improved their plight by human effort and progress. They are optimistic about mans efforts to save himself. The bible, the creation story, is marked contrast. God’s original creation is good. But Genesis 1-11 is a marked contrast to those other cultures, and to our modern day culture – it declares that mankind is without hope if individuals are without God. But, there is redemption.
And, God is the hero.
Gen 1 – God is the creator of life (after initial act – formless/void – a wasteland) But God forms, fills it with life – and, his spirit (v3) is present bringing life to this new creation.
And, when the creation becomes submerged under the darkness of sin and spiritual death, God – just as he was creator of life, so throughout the rest of the bible, He is the re-creator of life. His Spirit comes to bring new life to us – new birth.