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GENESISA Commentary for Bible Students
By Wilbur Glenn Williams
Wesleyan Publishing HouseCopyright © 1999 Wesleyan Publishing House
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE SETTING
The great curtain of time opens with nothing but God, who pre-dates it and transcends it. He never began. In Scripture, He is always assumed. No space is given to prove His being, but He is the origin and fountain of all things. While He was the author of all, there was no stage for Him to begin His creative work. He set that stage to begin His work.
1. HEAVENS AND EARTH APPEAR (1:1-2)
The account of the creation of the world by God is stated in the most brief, most complete, or most exalted way. The opening words in Genesis have caused much discussion: In the beginning God created ... (Gen. 1:1). This traditional translation makes the phrase an independent clause. It affirms that everything that came into being afterwards was entirely God's work.
Many scholars have noted the same arrangement of words in many other ancient documents that use a similar phrase as is found in Genesis 1:1, and it is translated as a dependent clause. These scholars insist the more correct translation is "When God began to create the heavens and the earth...." But this makes the second verse read, "The earth [already] was formlessand void." This would suggest that when God began His creative task, He started with matter that already existed. This view has pagan origins, for in early literature, things like salt water, fresh water, silt, and sky were gods that brought all things into being. Nothing was indicated about their origin. Nor should one expect such insight, for the gods were created in man's image. This reverses the biblical account where man was created in God's image.
The biblical record did not come from the mind of a human author, but came through it. God used each writer's vocabulary, typical expressions, and writing style, but the Lord of all inspired what was written. So it is not a matter of what man thinks; it is rather what God intended the translation to be.
If one translates Genesis 1:1 as a dependent clause, then the truth that God predated everything is not supported. That God alone existed when He decided to create the world is a truth found throughout the Bible. For example, "By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible" (Hebrews 11:3; see also Psalm 33:6, 9; John 1:3; Hebrews 1:2; 6:5; 2 Peter 3:5; Romans 4:17). If the beginning phrase of Genesis 1:2 was intended to be a dependent clause, then, in order to blend with the truth elsewhere in the Bible, we must translate it "By way of beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."
The Hebrew verb that describes God's activity at this time is bara. Never is this word used in Scripture to express man's action. It is always used to describe God's work in creating, since He is the only one who can bring something out of nothing. Additionally, if He starts with something He has at that moment already created, the verb is changed to formed as with Adam, or built as with Eve.
This opening verse lifts us to heaven and allows us to observe God in His initial act of speaking the universe into existence, for in the expression of the heavens and the earth, the universe as we know it today is intended.
Did God create other worlds with intelligent life on them? It could be, but if He did, each had its own revelation, like the Bible God gave people on earth. Our sacred Word is intended exclusively for us so that we can know how God prepared the way for both our first parents and, ultimately, for our own births. Indeed, we were in God's mind as much as were Adam and Eve.
The earth at that time was in a state of formlessness, emptiness, and darkness. It had the appearance of a trackless waste where nothing lived, nothing roamed, nothing grew, and nothing could happen by itself. As Job observed, God had suspended the mass of "the earth over nothing" (Job 26:7).
When did all God's creative activity take place? Had He yet set the clock? The Bible does not say. Many people claim God created the world only six thousand years ago. But much evidence continues to emerge that argues for a much earlier creation. Archaeologists confirm that pottery, formed by hand, sometimes painted by hand and baked in a kiln, strongly suggests the existence of a sixth millennium B.C. period.
While anything God created would have had the appearance of age, it does seem unlikely that He would have created such things as fired pottery, put it in a buried context to make it appear older than it really was, so that people who would declare the numerous time measuring devices which operate by laws He created are all in error, and by so doing express great faith by affirming, without any supporting evidence, that the pottery was really made and used at a much later period of time.
One theory as to how God could have created our world much earlier than six thousand years ago takes Genesis 1:1 as separated in time from the remainder of the chapter by a gap of undetermined length. This view is strengthened by the description that God's first day did not end at 1:5, where the Hebrew, translated literally, has "One Day," or "Day One." It rather ends at 1:1, where we are told that God created the heavens and the earth in a completed, orderly form. While the original Hebrew describes all the other days with ordinal numbers-such as second day (1:8), third day (1:13), and fourth day (1:19)-the writer described only Day One differently. Further, this view calls for a translation of 1:2 to read, Now the earth [became]. Though was is the more common translation of the Hebrew word used here, on occasion the word correctly means became.
Those who hold this view find evidence of it in Jeremiah 4:23-26, where the prophet Jeremiah spoke of a vision he had in which he "looked at the earth, and it was formless and empty.... [He looked] at the heavens and their light was gone...." While Jeremiah wrote this in the context of the coming devastation on Judah, the view is that he saw, as a result of the disobedience of the people, a return to the state that occurred after God's perfect creation of the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1).
If God created a perfect heaven and earth on the first day (Gen. 1:1), then was Satan, after failing to take over heaven, "hurled to the earth, and his angels with him" (Revelation 12:7-9)? And did this cause a destructive disorder to occur? One theory holds that after a great gap of undetermined time God reconstituted the world, as described in Genesis 1:2 through 2:1-2, which had been caused by Satan's fall to become formless and empty. If this was so, the first earth could have been where dinosaurs and even a prehistoric human-like animal (all now extinct) once lived. Note also, Isaiah 45:18 declares that God "did not create it [the earth] to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited." Further, this theory speculates that Satan caused the earth to be void. If we translate Genesis 1:1 traditionally, we get a picture of God creating chaos first, out of which He later brought order. Those who hold this view believe a gap of undetermined duration occurred, after which God returned the heavens and earth to their original condition.
In Genesis 1:2, God intentionally narrowed the focus to the earth, for the word earth has more significant emphasis by being placed at the beginning of the sentence. Perhaps God knew man would eventually have an inclination to worship heavenly bodies, so nothing more was said about the heavens after 1:1.
We read that earth, at the time of 1:2, was formless. Isaiah used the same word in Isaiah 34:11, where it was translated "desolation." This indicated that the earth lacked any orderly definition. It was in a chaotic state.
Next we read that the earth was empty (Gen. 1:2) or void of anything that grew. It had the barrenness of a moonscape. The same Hebrew word used here is found in Job's description of God's spreading "out the northern skies over empty space" and hanging "the earth on nothing" (Job 26:7). The earth was bleak, barren, and devoid of any living thing (Gen. 1:2).
The third Hebrew word describes the earth as having darkness ... over the surface of the deep (1:2). While the deep was not defined, it was somehow related to the earth. It was liquid mass of tremendous volume without any illumination whatsoever.
Hovering over the waters was the Spirit of God. We call rivers and seas "waters," but in this instance it was yet another way of designating the earth's fluid consistency. Water was used this way in Scripture to designate something that was normally solid becoming soft (see Joshua 7:5; Ezekiel 21:7). The phrase the Spirit of God is understood as the third person of the Trinity.
Just what was intended by the activity of the Spirit of God hovering over the waters (Gen. 1:2) is clarified by the use of the word in other instances, such as Deuteronomy 32:11 where Moses described "an eagle ... [hovering] over its young." We can imagine a mother bird nurturing, training, protecting, and looking after every aspect of the life of her offspring. This helps us to understand how the Holy Spirit was relating to this fluid, moving substance that God had created.
One might ask, "But why did God need the Spirit to function this way? Could God not do this nurturing by himself?" Such a question does not help us to understand what was occurring here. For God was and is the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit was and is God! They are not separated, yet they sometimes appear that way to the human mind. The Spirit of God was actively maintaining this creative substance called earth, doing everything needed to prepare it for God's next stage in its development.
2. FIRST DAY (1:3-5)
In Genesis 1:3, God spoke light into being. While God could, and often did, communicate in sounds clearly understood by man, He did not speak with vocal cords as we know them. God's speaking creation into being was a far more profound activity than simply opening a mouth and uttering sounds. John said God created by His Word which was "in the beginning ... with God ... and the Word was God" (John 1:1). The apostle emphatically informed us Jesus was that Word of God which brought into being "all things" (Gen. 1:2) at the time of creation.
Could not God the Father have created alone? Again a moot question. For God was and is Jesus, and Jesus was and is God. The way we can understand the relationship of God and His Son, both very active at the Creation, is by understanding the inseparability of the sounds one makes from the person who makes those sounds. So here, in the first three verses of the Bible, we see the Trinity at work collectively and individually.
God created the light (1:3). There had been none before that time. All that existed earlier was a formless, empty, stirring mass covered with darkness. While God did not need to have light to do His work, we learn that everything He did was to prepare for the creation of Adam and Eve and all humankind that would follow.
What was the consistency of this light God created? We are not told. While it was possible to have light without a light bearer (for example, lightning), it might be that the light came from the burning mass from which God made the greater light to govern the day on the fourth day (1:16). This might explain how the vegetation-seed-bearing plants and trees (1:11)-could grow after God created them on the third day (1:13). God does not give a complete explanation that eliminates all questions about His procedures and techniques. Probably the human mind simply cannot fathom all the ingredients of God's recipe for His own activity. We can only comprehend God's work from the completed project.
God, at this time, saw that it [the light] was good (Gen. 1:18). There was not even a remote possibility that anything God did was other than good. This biblical account was meant to give us a grasp of what occurred during this time of creation, so God used what are called anthropormorphisms-that is, human expressions to explain divine activity and assessment. When a person accomplishes something through his own activity, it would be natural for him to look at it afterwards to determine if it has met his expectations. If he is satisfied with the results, he calls it "good." In this sense, the word was used here and in verses 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, and 31 to describe God's evaluation of His own creative work.
The second half of 1:4 reveals that God did not eliminate all darkness when He created light. The darkness simply gave way to the light when God separated them. Darkness must always give way to light when light comes, not vice versa. God created our world this way. Remember that Jesus would in time refer to himself as "the light of the world." He said, "Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12). It was in this sense that He told His disciples, "You are the light of the world" (Matthew 5:14). David wrote in his psalm of deliverance, "the LORD turns my darkness into light" (2 Samuel 22:29).
As Jesus made light symbolic of himself, so darkness was made symbolic of one that does not have the light of Christ. In the Gospel of Matthew, we read the parable Jesus told of a marriage feast. The king in that parable described hell as " the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matt. 22:13). If God is light, then darkness, the opposite of light, is everything that He is not. Isaiah 9:2 speaks about "the people walking in darkness, [seeing] a great light," and compared it to those "living in the land of the shadow of death."
God named the light "day," and the darkness "night." The use of the word day here stood for more than just the daylight hours when the sun illuminated the earth. This was not possible until the fourth day. The word day was God's day. And since "with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day" (2 Peter 3:8; Psalm 90:4), we cannot know the precise length of that day.
Was it twelve hours long, as many argue, or twenty-four, or forty-eight? Or was the word used in the sense of a day-age of unknown length? The first day began when God caused the first light to appear, and it concluded when He caused that light to disappear. Clearly God did not need a long duration in which to create the world.
Excerpted from GENESIS by Wilbur Glenn Williams Copyright © 1999 by Wesleyan Publishing House. Excerpted by permission.
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