2 And the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 And God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day. 6 Then God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 And God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so. 8 And God called the expanse heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day. 9 Then God said, “Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so. 10 And God called the dry land earth, and the gathering of the waters He called seas; and God saw that it was good. 11 Then God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit after their kind, with seed in them, on the earth”; and it was so. 12 And the earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit, with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, a third day. 14 Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years; 15 and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. 16 And God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also. 17 And God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day. 20 Then God said, “Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens.” 21 And God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind; and God saw that it was good. 22 And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day. [NASB ‘77]
One of the most important things to keep in mind during the study of Genesis 1 is the vantage point of the author. Moses tells the story as if he is standing on the surface of the earth observing all that appears and changes. It is that perspective that informs his descriptions and governs what is stressed. The goal is to show how God brings glory to Himself as He prepares the earth for man’s habitation and His own dwelling. It seems to be a story of God bringing order to disorder rather than a detailed account of how everything is made. Anything that does not forward that storyline or is not vital to it is either left out or only vaguely described. Without this understanding the modern reader may find Genesis 1 frustrating for all that it leaves to conjecture. If the creation account were meant to be a comprehensive reporting of how the universe comes to exist, it would be written much differently.
The story has an apparent structure. The days seem to parallel each other as follows:
Day 1 – Light/dark, day/night Day 4 – Lights to govern day and night
Day 2 – Sea and sky Day 5 – Fish and birds to inhabit the sea and sky
Day 3 – Dry land Day 6 – Animals and man to inhabit dry land
Depending on how verse 1 is classified – either the first step in creation or a summary of it – verse 2 describes either the result of the creative act in verse 1 or the state of earth when the first day of creation occurs. Either way, Moses does not give details as to how the formless and void earth comes to be – it just is (first example of note above – it is not important to his overall goal).
The words for formless and void can also mean “waste and emptiness.” The idea seems to be that the earth is not inhabitable – it is not ready for man or to be God’s temple. There is no light and no land – no way to support life of any kind. Why it is this way is not addressed (why all the water?), but it sets the stage for the six days of creation. God obviously does not have to work in stages or start with a dark and watery wasteland, but He does so perhaps to highlight His specific creative acts and to point to the seventh day when He will take up residence in creation.
The verse ends with a sense of impending action. The Spirit of God [commentators disagree over whether this refers to the Holy Spirit or simply to the power of God or perhaps to a mighty wind – some say that reading it as the Holy Spirit is to impute a New Testament understanding into the text – seeing this as a reference to the Holy Spirit, however, does not require a change in overall meaning or context and thus appears reasonable – even if Moses and his Old Testament readers may not have understood it that way] hovers over the surface of the deep. God is active and the wasteland is about to change.
3-5 (Day 1)
The first step in preparing the earth for habitation is to bring light to the dark wasteland. God speaks light into existence, separates it from the darkness, then calls the light day and the dark night. Notice that the focus here is light but not just light. As soon as God brings light to earth He names it and then separates it from the dark which He also names. What this describes is the creation of time. On the first day of creation God creates time.
Notice all that Moses does not address here. He says nothing about the source of the light. He says nothing about how the light and dark are separated (does the earth begin to rotate?). He says nothing about how this all works before the sun, stars, and moon are created. He simply reports that God created light, called it good, and then used it to create time. It is the first step in bringing order to disorder. Anything beyond that is not important.
The first day of creation is perhaps the most controversial day of the six. It gives the naturalists some of their best ammunition to say the creation account is myth, and proves to be a dividing line between the different Christian views as well. Naturalists make the point that light and time cannot exist before the sun. Young-earth advocates point to Revelation 22:5 and say that God could easily be the source of the light without having to first create the sun. Day-age proponents say that God created the sun, moon, and stars in verse 1, and the first day of creation simply tells how – from the vantage point of earth – the atmosphere around the earth clears enough for light to shine through for the first time. The framework view holds that this is an example of how the days are not literal or sequential and so the first and fourth days are not listed in order.
The bottom line is that the author’s point in recounting Day 1 is not to address all the questions of the modern-day reader. He simply wants to show God beginning the process of making the earth ready for man and Himself. And in telling what happened he makes us aware that God is Creator and sustainer of light and time. Our God created time. He not only is eternal and unfathomable – He created time. And that means he is Lord over it. All that we do to fill it is a commentary on our appreciation of it and our perspective on who made it. God is the God of time and all that we have of it is from Him and to be used for Him.
The account of Day 1 ends with a statement that will be the summary statement of all the days. And there was evening and there was morning, one day. Now that God has created time there can be segments of time. That the order is evening first and then morning may simply be because the day ends with the evening. God just created the day and so the first benchmark in time will be the evening. The evening ends the day and then the next day starts with the morning.
The evening and morning motif becomes another source of controversy between the literal 24-hour view and the other views. The literal view holds this up to say that the days have to be 24 hours for the description to make sense. The Day-Age view says this is just a framework for the author, and the fact that he does not describe the day as being from evening to evening – the common Hebrew usage – shows that it is not restricted to a 24-hour day. They also point to the seventh day – when the motif is not used – to argue that the seventh day is ongoing (Heb 4) and thus not meant to be taken literally which throws into doubt the remaining days.
The Hebrew word for day – “yom” – can be used to refer to different time periods throughout scripture. It is not limited to a 24-hour day. Context, however, is everything. In that respect it is similar to words used for time in English. The word ‘minute’, for example, can mean a literal time period of sixty seconds or it can refer to a brief, approximate time. Its usage, however, is rarely unclear. If someone says there is a minute left in a football game, the listener understands that there are sixty seconds of playing time left. If someone says they will be ready “in a minute,” the listener understands that the time is approximate and the speaker will be ready in a short time. In both cases it is not hard to understand the meaning. The same could be said here. The days of Genesis 1 could refer to long time periods and not 24-hour days. But the context certainly seems to argue for literal days and it seems odd that Moses would go to such lengths to make it sound like 24 hour days if that were not his intent. [On the other hand – see Ps 90:4, II Pet 3:8, and all that occurs on the sixth day]
6-8 (Day 2)
On Day 2 God creates the sky and calls it heaven (not to be confused with paradise). Remember that the vantage point for this description is the earth. As readers we stand on the surface of the earth and look up and now see sky (and what all that encompasses is not important – space is not seen from earth). What exactly it means that God uses the sky to separate the waters below from the waters above is not entirely clear. It could be as simple as understanding the waters above to be clouds. God seems to be setting up the means to bring rainfall and other weather to the earth.
For whatever reason, God does not describe the expanse as good. On Day 3, however, He pronounces each creative act separately as good. It could be that the creation of the sky is meant to be linked to the separation of dry land and sea, and thus the pronouncement of the dry land as good on Day 3 incorporates both the dry land and the sky.
9-13 (Day 3)
God makes dry land appear and then causes the land to bring forth vegetation which can reproduce. He calls the dry land earth and calls the gathering of the waters seas. This is the final step in preparing the earth for living creatures. There is now sky, sea, land, and food.
14-19 (Day 4)
God creates two great lights – one to rule the day and one to rule the night. For whatever reason, Moses does not list the names of the lights and God apparently does not name them (perhaps leaving that to man?). The sun is the light to rule the day and the moon is to rule the night. God also creates the stars on this day (the last phrase of verse 16 is the clearest example of Moses’ understating what is not vital to the story – He made the stars also. The fact that God creates billions and billions of gigantic balls of light that are spread billions of light years across the universe warrants only a quick five-word statement in Moses’ account).
The Day-Age view holds that Day 4 records the sun/moon/stars becoming visible for the first time – not their creation. They say the verbiage in Hebrew allows for verse 16 to be read as a parenthetical note referring to a completed action. One of the items they point to to back up their theory is what God says in verse 14 and what Moses records in verse 18. In both cases the sun and moon are said to separate the day from the night. This is the same statement made on Day 1. Therefore – they say – this day records being able to finally see what has been dividing day and night all along.
Whether or not the reasoning behind the Day-Age view is convincing, this day does bring up a couple of difficult issues to understand. One is that Moses says God places the sun/moon/stars in the expanse – the same word he used to describe what God created on Day 2. If that is the case, however, how can there be waters above the expanse when the expanse includes the sun and stars? Secondly, why does God need to separate the light from the darkness when He already did that on Day 2?
The first question may be answered again by the vantage point of the story. From the surface of the earth the sun/moon/stars are in the same sky as was seen on Day 2. As for the second question, it is harder to explain. The Day-Age explanation is a possibility, but apart from that it could simply be that God now places into creation a permanent means to do what He has been doing to this point. As to why He does it this way there is no real way to know.
20-23 (Day 5)
God now fills the heavens and the seas with living creatures (first time this term is used). He creates birds to fly in the heavens and sea animals to swarm in the seas. He creates every living creature that moves along with great sea monsters in the seas (hard to know if this describes animals that exist today like whales or if it refers to giant animals now extinct – perhaps the description of Leviathan in Job 41 means these are animals that do not exist today). He fills with animals what He created in Day 2.
He blesses the creatures and tells them to multiply and fill the waters and the heavens. This is the first time God speaks to someone other than Himself.
The earth is now ready for the penultimate act of creation on Day 6.
What an awesome God. Before we debate the different theories and views of how creation actually takes place and before we struggle with how to reconcile Genesis 1 with science, we should step back and simply worship the One who can singly and wholly create ALL THINGS. He speaks and light comes into existence. He speaks and time begins. He scatters billions of stars into galaxies billions of light years away. He creates every living thing – from the smallest microbe to the largest sea creature. He holds the incomprehensible universe in His hands. Whether He takes one week or billions of weeks to create, He commands and fashions and makes everything that is.
Moses does not write to prompt debate and controversy. He writes to evoke praise, worship and awe. No detail in the story should overshadow the most important thing Moses tells us. God – our God, our Father in heaven – is Lord of all because He created all and is above all and is the reason for all.
The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Ps 19:1
He counts the number of the stars; He gives names to all of them. Ps 147:4
It is God who removes the mountains, they know not how, when He overturns them in his anger; who shakes the earth out of its place, and its pillars tremble; who commands the sun not to shine, and sets a seal upon the stars; who alone stretches out the heavens, and tramples down the waves of the sea; who makes the Bear, Orion, and the Pleiades, and the chambers of the south; who does great things, unfathomable, and wondrous works without number. Job 9:5-10
1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; Praise Him in the heights! 2 Praise Him, all His angels; Praise Him, all His hosts! 3 Praise Him, sun and moon; Praise Him, all stars of light! 4 Praise Him, highest heavens, And the waters that are above the heavens! 5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, For He commanded and they were created. 6 He has also established them forever and ever; He has made a decree which will not pass away. 7 Praise the LORD from the earth, Sea monsters and all deeps; 8 Fire and hail, snow and clouds; Stormy wind, fulfilling His word; 9 Mountains and all hills; Fruit trees and all cedars; 10 Beasts and all cattle; Creeping things and winged fowl; 11 Kings of the earth and all peoples; Princes and all judges of the earth; 12 Both young men and virgins; Old men and children. 13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, For His name alone is exalted; His glory is above earth and heaven. 14 And He has lifted up a horn for His people, Praise for all His godly ones; Even for the sons of Israel, a people near to Him. Praise the LORD! Ps 148