005 – Seven Days That Made the World
Season 1, Episode 5
Series: Journey Through the Old Testament
In the previous episode, we looked at four of the common explanations as to the seven days of creation and the age of the Earth. Whatever the right explanation here turns out to be, I don’t believe the aim of Genesis one is to provide in depth scientific inquiry into the origins of the world, although I certainly do believe that the literal view of Genesis 1 is fully compatible with the scientific data, provided, of course, that you don’t reject the possibility of a divine being from the very outset.
But a scientific explanation isn’t the primary goal here, I don’t think. Instead, it is about identity and establishing the foundation of who God is, what his purposes for creation are, and our place in it. And it’s the literary structure of the creation account that we’re more concerned about now. I don’t mean the theological principle that’s somehow embedded behind it, but the story itself. How this part of the story is being told is quite interesting and significant. And by literary structure, all I mean are the narrative details and how they’re arranged in this opening chapter of the story.
Genesis 1 opens up with this proclamation that before anything else was God existed. The personal being of God with the will and the mind and autonomy. He was the source of all else, so we’re not beginning from an absolute nothingness. We’re beginning from one who has always eternally existed.
Nothing else existed as Genesis 1, verse 2 observes. Everything that wasn’t God is described as darkness, the dark, watery depths, this formless void. And, of course there’s no water or earth yet even made in Genesis 1:1. These are Hebrew euphemisms. It’s literary imagery for the empty nothingness of the universe that’s there before Creation. From there, in this empty nothingness, this void, the chapter proceeds in a very systematic way to go from God and nothing to God in everything. But what we actually see here in the text, it’s a contrast of before and after creation of this chaotic, formless emptiness being turned into an ordered, formed and inhabited creation full of life.
In the structure of the text days one to three, God formed the realms that make up his creation, especially this world we inhabit. That’s where the focus is. On days four to six, God fills those same realms with its inhabitants. Thus, the creation account is emphasizing preparation and forming followed by population and filling. And those realms are lighting, darkness, sky and water and land and vegetation. And God creates these realms merely by speaking his word, and they come into existence out of nothingness.
So, let’s take a look at this on day one. God speaks to the darkness in verse one and light is created. Light is separated from the darkness. On day two, God speaks to the dark depths, the abyss, and creates the skies as something separate from the waters. In the ancient world, imagines space as consisting of sky or the firmament surrounding the earth and the space beyond that as waters or empty darkness.
Again, literary imagery that’s going on on day 3. God speaks to formlessness the lack of physical matter, and here he creates the land and the vegetation of the earth that comes into existence within that sky and water.
Now this is all fascinating to me because we may have this picture in our head — I certainly did as a young person — that the days of creation move sequentially. God creates 1 component on one day, creates another component on another day and it all happens. It’s done, moves on to the next thing. Except that’s not what’s going on in the text here on days four to six, God moves back through those realms he had just formed in order to fill them with life. No creatures are made prior to Day 4.
On Day 4, the realm of light and darkness is filled with the celestial bodies. The sun, the moon, the stars that give order and purpose to that light. In that realm of light and darkness on day five, the sky and waters that realm is filled with birds and sea animals that give order and purpose to that realm.
And on day 6. This is the climax of creation. God creates the creatures that will inhabit the land and give order and purpose to the Earth itself. And that’s the Creation account, according to Genesis one. It’s good for us to wrestle with what is going on underneath this explanation and presentation of God’s processes.
So, let’s pull back a little bit. The account begins with this problem of emptiness and formlessness. The Hebrew would think of this as chaos. There’s nothing here. There’s no ordered life here, and God wants to do something about that, and so he creates the space and then fills it with life on days one to six, and then on day 7. That’s when he stops and says now that is good.
Well, what do we make of all of this? Now here’s some of my observations and thoughts through this literary structure. The narrative here is absolutely affirming to us that God is indeed establishing his absolute sovereignty and purposes over all of creation itself.
But it’s not random, arbitrary, or accidental. Not like in other ancient creation stories that we find in which the material world comes into existence as a byproduct of some kind of behavior of the gods. And there’s usually multiple gods involved, and it’s their activity, usually involving either sexuality or war, among each other. And the physical creation as a byproduct kind of pops out of that divine activity among the gods.
That’s not the case here. This creation is very intentional. It’s very purposeful. It’s very focused. There’s order, design and structure, and this narrative is revealing something to us about God’s very nature. Who he is. His nature is to take messy, chaotic nothing and out of nothing out of shapelessness out of formlessness and emptiness. To prepare a place to be perfectly ready and designed for the kind of life that will flourish and expand with him.
And, you know, in a way, this actually mirrors what God does in the rest of the Bible story. He’s going to take the mess and the formlessness and the chaos of a broken world. He’s going to prepare it with some order and structure. There’s intentionality. There’s a plan he’s going to fill it again with what we will come to find out is radical new life. What do you think all that new creation language in the New Testament and the Book of Revelation is all about starts here?
And so, what does this tell us about who God is? He’s certainly sovereign, but he’s an orderly God. He’s a God of design, of purpose, of creativity, of structure, and stability of coherence. And then the language that God uses through all of this is of great, great significance to us, because God said of his creation that it is good, and the idea of goodness is of great consequence to us as we impact the rest of the biblical story.
But hear me on this point because I think this is really important. What was God saying was good? God was saying that it was physical creation itself. It’s the material world. This isn’t a case where it’s the spiritual realm that’s the good one and the material world is somehow inferior, temporary, or secondary. But the material world is absolutely and utterly good the way God made it. Beauty, imagination, the ability to bring forth life, variety, diversity, splendor in the majesty of the physical world — both in its tiniest invisible quantum states and then the Grand Majesty of the stars and the cosmos and the heavens that we find in all of this what science done rightly shows us.
It’s good and we’ve got to reclaim the idea that God’s physical world is good. Far too often in life of the church, we’ve kind of left that slip off, at least in my tradition. This world is not my home, just a passing through. I’m going off to my spiritual heaven and eternity. God is going to destroy the world!
Well, friends, that’s not the Bible. God loves his creation and in Genesis 1 here, that’s the physical world. As that story of creation unfolds and we begin to see the spiritual realities of humanity and what God wants there, that, too, is good. We have to hold onto this because when we talk about redemption and salvation as the story progresses, our physical world is included in all of that. God’s creation is included in that. Every aspect of God creation is included. And thank God our bodies are included in that at creation.
What was God’s intention when he created Adam and Eve in the first place? A compelling answer, I think is given to us in Genesis 1:26-29. God said, let us make man in our image so that they may rule over the animals and so indeed God creates humanity in his own image, male and female. He created them, the text says. and then God blessed them, instructed them to be fruitful, to increase in number, to fill the earth, and subdue it. And then finally, God said he gave them every plant and tree to be food for everything that has the breath of life in it.
Well, there are a couple of key observations here regarding this language of being made in the image of God. As his image bearers, God made us to exercise rule over and fill the earth that he created. And that God, given job of filling and ruling over the earth, required a complementary partnership of man and woman.
And I tell students all the time that God created you on purpose for a purpose. So, what were the purposes for which God created mankind? Here in this chapter, well, I see three things. Well, I see four, but I’m going to give you three of those in this episode.
And the first of those is DOMINON. We were made for dominion. God intended for us to share in his rule over this creation that he made. And we are not like any other creature in this regard. We alone are given divine responsibility and authority to use and make something out of this physical creation that God gave us. And that’s language of authority, and it’s the authority to take the raw product, these natural resources of this created world — at least in the garden — and then expand it into something more in something bigger. It’s creative.
Here’s the basis, by the way, for the whole notion of business itself. Business is not a human creation. Now we’ve done a pretty good job of corrupting it. But it’s not our idea. It’s God’s idea. Entrepreneurship? Not our idea. It’s God’s idea that’s woven into creation itself.
In this language, in Genesis 128, about dominion and rule, is God very first commandment in the Bible. It’s what Nancy Pearcey and Chuck Colson called the cultural mandate. Adam and Eve are to exercise Dominion rule over the earth by subduing it, bringing it under their control, and then filling it with even greater things.
Now, we’ve not talked in depth here about the image of God. But part of that concept concerns or involves this idea of dominion in the ancient world. When a king would conquer a new territory or might want to demonstrate their sovereignty over another part of their realm, a statue of that king would be erected in a prominent public location. And that was the image of the king. And that statue represented the king and served as a symbol of his authority. It reminded all the people who lived in the area, who it was who ruled over them, even when the king was not physically present. Another person could also bear the image of the king by virtue of a royal seal or some other kind of royal object that represented the king’s authority. The person who was in possession of that token of authority had the right to wield that authority on behalf of the king.
This is a part of what we see happening here in Genesis 128 as divine image bearers. We have been given the authority and the responsibility by God as the Creator King to bring his creation to an even fuller and greater state of life and abundance. And in our conduct and our activity, we represent God’s rule over that physical world. Now we’ll talk in the next episode about the constraints and the moral expectations that come along with. But for now, and here, this is the starting point. Purpose number one is dominion.
Second, we were created for the purpose of WORK and Genesis chapter 2 is an affirmation of this. In Genesis 1, we see a 50,000-foot view of the creation sequence, and in this first version of the account God creates the earth, he places man in it, and then it’s done. It’s all good. Day 7 has come, and it’s completed. But then Genesis revisits that Creation account again, and in Genesis Chapter 2, a more detailed treatment is provided about specifically the creation of the land and humanity. So, Genesis 1is the broad big picture summary if you will. Genesis 2 is the microscope zooming in on Adam and Eve.
When Chapter 2 begins, day six is not yet over and the land isn’t yet completed. Now the ground is there, but it’s missing parts. In the chapter 2 story, God brings forth the vegetation and then he brings Adam to life by forming him out of the dust of the ground and breathing his spirit into his nostrils. And then he places at him in that garden and says to Adam, now, this is for you to work and to cultivate for food.
Now I don’t know about you, but have I’ve often wondered about this part of the chapter, and maybe you have as well. Isn’t it the case in God’s perfect creation that Adam and Eve had no need of any kind. Well, Genesis 2 seems to be suggesting otherwise. Why did Adam need to work the ground for food? Why did he need to eat?
Didn’t God give him everything that he needed already there in the garden? Well, yeah, but he had to work for it. But why did he have to work for it?
You see, that’s central here to God’s design and purpose for humanity, to do something with the world. And this purpose of work, it also tells us something about God and who he is. He is an active, enterprising, creative God. He is a God who uses his own abilities in his own nature to bring forth life in other words, life itself is the product of God’s work. So, should it really be that much of a surprise to us that if we are made in the image of God that our work is also an essential part of helping create the things that we need to sustain ongoing life? You see, we were made for that kind of work.
This question about work we have got to reclaim it as Christians in the church, especially for our young people. Because we are dealing with another generation that is radically lost as to their fundamental purpose in life. And I think we’ve got this whole thing about vocation and work and the educational systems and philosophy that leads to it and the purpose and the meaning and the thinking about success in life that come out of that. I think we have it all upside down and backwards. And I think the solution is simple. We return back to Genesis 2 and let’s begin here again.
Work is a beautiful thing. It’s a God made thing and it points us to the deeper purpose for the world around us. Now something has wrecked that we’ll get to that in Genesis 3. But work itself. It’s a part of God’s creation in us. We were made to do things we were made to.
And let me add one more thing, this picture is more expansive in Genesis 2 than just simply going out and toiling to make something that we’d really rather not have to deal with. Kind of a reluctance to have to engage in work. And one barrier here is that we can’t help but really consider work through the lens of a fallen human nature. We can’t help that most of us probably have at best a damaged view of work, even so far as maybe thinking about work as a product of human sinfulness in the fall.
But work as it is in the Garden of Eden is a delightful thing. And it’s not only involved in the activity that is required to bring forth provision out of the ground, but it also involves creativity, entrepreneurship, and beauty. There’s language in both Genesis Chapters 2 and three that speak about beauty. And so our work is meant to produce beauty in life and enjoyment, as well as provision for our physical needs. And our work is an ongoing celebration of God’s world and its incredible potential the way he made it as a gift to us.
And it breaks my heart when I hear people talk about how much they hate work and how they look forward to the time when they can retire so they can stop working and enjoy life. I understand that I understand where it’s coming from. But really, Kingdom life, even here in a broken world it points us to something better and it offers to us the possibility of a renewed, redeemed view of work here in this life, there’s more that we can have.
We can think beyond this idea of just the necessary labor and toil in order to be able to eat because something else is fundamentally wrong that God wants to renew and wants to restore our very idea of work and vocation even here and now. Because there’s a beautiful, creative purpose behind the idea of work, and I think God can give us that opportunity.
So, purpose #1: the exercise of dominion: Purpose #2: to engage in work. The third purpose we find here is RELATIONSHIP.
Look at the wording in Genesis chapter one God said about each of the days of creation up through the animals on land, that it was all good. And then the last thing he creates is humankind. And he says, yeah, that is very good. But then we get into Genesis Chapter 2 and something else is revealed after creating Adam. Specifically, God looks at Adam and says, I can do better!
No. [chuckles] Of course not. God says it isn’t good that he should be alone. And so, Genesis 2 is affirming to us that we were created for relationship. The very goodness of creation in God’s eyes only comes about with a man and a woman together as one. In between Adam’s creation from the dust and Eve’s creation out of Adam’s rib, we have this very interesting sequence. God says Adam go over there and sit down. I’m going to bring all of the animals in front of you on a parade and I want you to give them names.
That had always struck me as a pretty strange story to include. It was a really long time before I ever thought about that or explored it. And then I begin to recognize that part of what God is showing Adam is just how absolutely unique he is in all of creation. Adam is not just making up funny, unusual or creative names off the top of his head. Rather he is observing and naming the animals based on their attributes, what they are, what they’re like, how they behave, how they look. And as that process unfolds, Adam comes to the conclusion, comes to the realization, none of them are like him.
There is something fundamentally different about mankind, so even though we bear many similar characteristics and attributes, and our DNA is composed of the same cellular organisms as all the rest of the animal Kingdom, we’re something unique. A materialist worldview would say, well, it’s just because we’re higher evolved animals. We’re further along the evolutionary chain, after all, they’re quick to point out we share 97% of our DNA with chimpanzees with Genesis 2 says no. There’s something radically different about you. Them you are not like anything else in my creation and that 3% difference between us and the chimps, it turns out it’s pretty massive.
And now that Adam understands who and what he is, only now does God then make the companion that is like him in creating Eve. The process of her creation itself is unique. Eve wasn’t made the same exact way Adam was. Because even though she is the same kind of being, she is unique in her own way, beginning with her very method of creation, and blessedly, as theologians have pointed out for centuries, man has been born out of the body of woman ever since.
Well, here’s the appropriate place to say that we can’t have a biblical view of humanity without male and female. And we can’t have a biblical view of God by putting man and man together, or woman and woman together only one gender by itself is an incomplete picture of who God is. It takes the two. Both human beings are alike in their kind, but different in their design and different in their function. Two beings coming together who are both alike and yet different. And they match each other, but in a complementary rather than an identical way. And it takes 2 complementary beings to produce the full goodness and splendor of God’s creation and ongoing plan for life.
And we’re reminded as we see what’s going on in social media and in the news and in politics and in the halls of government that we live in a culture that says it can’t even define what a woman is, much less understand and make a case why women matter. Why men matter and why the two together are so central to the human design and purpose for which God made us.
Well, let’s wrap up. We were created for dominion, work, and relationship, and this is the portrait we’re left with at the end of these days of creation. God is saying to Adam and Eve: you all occupy a unique place in my creation. You’re made in my image. You are relational beings. You have one another. You have me. You have this perfect garden. And now, Adam and Eve, my expectation is that you take that and you expand it all around the world. You fill the earth with people and you fill the earth with culture and you fill the earth with provision and joy and beauty. Make it bigger and better!
And then it is here that God’s work is finished. God himself stops to enjoy all that he had made and to guide in fellowship with us, his image bearers as we fill his creation with these same kinds of expression of his goodness. Well, why? Because God himself is a creative God. Remember Genesis 1:1? There was formless empty nothingness and the creator turned nothing into something. And it follows that as the apex of his creation, you and I as people, he says to us, now I want you to take this little that I have given you and I want you to turn it into something bigger. And doing that is a reflection of the image and the very nature and the heart of God. And this is how God designed his Kingdom to work.
In the next episode, we’ll talk about the two trees and how they provide the boundary and the freedom within which this splendid creation and our role in these purposes in it, are to be exercised. But for the moment, creation itself is good. Our work is good, our societies, and the potential there for relationship is good. This is what God is pleased with this is what God is wanting to enjoy together with us.
Old Testament scholar and author Bill Arnold says it this way: “As the human race lives together in right relationships of mutual blessing with each other in the world, all creation will see the presence in the character of the Divine King who has brought life out of chaos.”
And this is the creation of the Kingdom of God in his world. It shows us the goodness of God as the sovereign king. And how we occupy the highest place in this Kingdom with incredible life-giving purposes together!