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The New Matthew Henry CommentaryThe Classic Work with Updated Language
By Matthew Henry
ZondervanCopyright © 2010 Matthew Henry
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA Practical and Devotional Exposition of the First Book of Moses,
Here before us is the Holy Bible, or book, for this is what the word bible means. We call it the Book, for it is incomparably the best book that has ever been written: it is the book of books. We call it the Holy Book, because it was written by holy prophets, moved by the Holy Spirit. The great things of God's Law and Gospel are here written for us, that they might be transmitted to distant lands and ages in a purer and more complete way than they could possibly be by word of mouth or tradition. This is the light that shines in a dark place (2Pe 1:19), and a dark place indeed the world would be without the Bible.
We have before us that part of the Bible which we call the Old Testament. This is called a testament or covenant because it was a settled declaration of the will of God concerning the entire human race, and had its force from the designed death of the great One who died, leaving his will, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8). It is called the Old Testament. This stands with reference to the New Testament, which does not cancel and supersede the Old, but crowns and perfects it, by bringing in the better hope which was prefigured and foretold in it.
We have before us that part of the Old Testament that we call the Pentateuch, or the five books of Moses. In our Savior's division of the books of the Old Testament into the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms, or Hagiographa, these are the Law.
We have before us the first and longest of those five books, which we call Genesis, written, some think, when Moses was in Midian, for the instruction and encouragement of his suffering brothers and sisters in Egypt. We prefer to think that he wrote it in the desert, after he had been on the mountain with God, where, probably, he received full and detailed instructions as to what to write.
Genesis is a name taken from the Greek. It means the "original" or "generation": it is a history of originals-the creation of the world, the entrance of sin and death into it, the invention of arts, the rise of nations, and especially the formation of the church, and its state in its early days. It is also a history of the generations of Adam, Noah, Abraham, etc. The beginning of the New Testament is called Genesis too (Mt 1:1); biblos geneseos, the book of the genesis, or generation, of Jesus Christ. Blessed be God for that book which shows us our healing, as this book opens up our wounds. Lord, open our eyes, that we may see the wonderful things of both your Law and your Gospel!
Here is a plain and full account of the creation of the world-in answer to that first inquiry, "Where is God my Maker?" Unbelieving philosophers have made a grave mistake in this matter, some asserting the world's eternity and self-existence, others ascribing it to a chance convergence of atoms: thus "the world by wisdom knew not God," but took great pains to lose him. The aim of revealed Holy Scripture is to revive the principles of the laws of nature, the first being that this world was, in the beginning of time, created by a Being of infinite wisdom and power, who was himself before all time and all worlds. The first verse of the Bible gives us a surer and better, a more satisfying and more useful, knowledge of the origin of the universe, than all the volumes of the philosophers.
We have three things in this chapter: 1. A general idea given to us of the work of creation (vv. 1-2). 2. A detailed account of the work of several days, put down in the form of a journal, distinctly and in order (vv. 3-30). 3. The review and approval of the whole work (v. 31).
Here is the work of creation in its essence and in its embryo.
1. The work of creation in its essence in v. 1, where we find the first line of our creed, that God the Father Almighty is the Maker of heaven and earth.
1.1. Notice in this verse four things:
1.1.1. What is produced: The world is like a great house, consisting of upper and lower stories, the structure grand and magnificent, uniform and fitting, and every room well and wisely furnished. The heavens are not only beautiful to our eyes with glorious lights which decorate its outside, the creation of which we read about here, but they are also filled inside with glorious beings, out of our sight. In the visible world it is easy to observe:
Great variety, several sorts of creatures differing vastly in their nature and being from one another. Great beauty. The blue sky and green earth are delightful to the eye of the careful spectator. How much more superlative must be the beauty of the Creator! Great precision. To those who with the help of microscopes closely examine the works of nature, they appear far more impressive than any works of art. Great power. The earth is not a lump of dead and inactive matter; the earth itself has an energy. Great order, a mutual dependence of beings, an exact harmony of movement, and a wonderful linking of the various causes. Great mystery. There are phenomena in nature which cannot be solved. But from what we see of heaven and earth we may deduce the eternal power and godhead of the great Creator. Our duty as Christians is always to keep heaven in our sight and the earth under our feet.
1.1.2. Who caused this great work: God. The Hebrew word is Elohiym, which speaks of:
22.214.171.124. The power of God the Creator. El signifies the strong God; and what less than almighty strength could bring all things out of nothing?
126.96.36.199. The plurality of persons in the Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This plural name of God in Hebrew, which speaks of him as many, though he is one, confirms our faith in the doctrine of the Trinity, which, though only barely intimated in the Old Testament, is clearly revealed in the New. We are often told that the world was made by the Son, and nothing was made without him (Jn 1:3, 10; Eph 3:9; Col 1:16; Heb 1:2).
1.1.3. How this work was carried out: God created it, that is, made it out of nothing. There was not any preexistent matter out of which the world was produced. Crafts-people cannot work unless they have something to work on. But with God it is different. The God of nature is not subject to the laws of nature. By the almighty power of God it is not only possible that something be made out of nothing, but in the creation it is impossible that it be otherwise, for nothing so dishonors the eternal mind more than to suppose in the existence of eternal matter.
1.1.4. When this work was produced: In the beginning, that is, in the beginning of time, when that clock was first set going: time began with the production of those beings which are measured by time. Before the beginning of time there was nothing but that infinite Being that lives in eternity. But for us it is enough to say, In the beginning was the Word (Jn 1:1).
1.2. Let us learn from this:
That those who deny God's existence are foolish, for they see there is a world that could not make itself, and yet they will not acknowledge that there is a God who made it. That God is the sovereign Lord over all by his indisputable right. That with God everything is possible, and so the people that have him for their God can be happy: they are the ones who receive his help and who stand in his name (Ps 121:2; 124:8). That the God we serve is worthy of all blessing and praise (Ne 9:5-6). If everything comes from him, everything must be given to him.
2. The work of creation in its embryo in v. 2, where we have an account of primordial matter and the Prime Mover.
2.1. Chaos was the primordial matter. It is here called the earth; it is also called the deep, both for its vastness and because the waters which were afterward separated from the earth were now mixed with it. The Creator could have made his work perfect to begin with, but by using a gradual process he showed what is the normal method of his providence and grace. Notice the description of this formless earth, this chaos:
2.1.1. There was nothing in it desirable to be seen, for it was without form and void. Tohu and bohu, confusion and emptiness are the translation of these words in Isa 34:11. To those whose hearts are in heaven, this lower world, when compared with that upper, still appears to be nothing but chaos and desolation.
2.1.2. If there had been anything desirable to be seen, there was no light to see it by; for darkness, thick darkness, was upon the face of the deep. This chaos represents the state of an unregenerate, graceless soul: there is disorder, confusion, and every evil work; it is empty of all good, for it is without God; it is dark till almighty grace brings about a blessed change.
2.2. The Spirit of God was the Prime Mover: He moved upon the face of the waters. The Spirit of God begins to work, and, if he is at work, who or what can hinder him? God is said to make the world by his Spirit (Job 26:13; Ps 33:6); and by the same mighty worker the new creation is brought into being. He moved upon the face of the deep. God is not only the author of everything living, but the fountain of life and spring of every change. Dead matter would remain dead if he did not bring it alive. And this makes us believe that it is possible for God to raise the dead.
We have here a further account of the first day's work, in which notice:
1. That the first of all visible beings which God created was light. We needed light so that we might see his works and his glory in them, and might carry out our work while it is day (Jn 9:4). Light is the great beauty and blessing of the universe. In the new creation, the first thing created in the soul is light: the blessed Spirit captivates the will, mind, and heart by giving light to the understanding. Those that by sin were darkness become by grace light in the world.
2. That the light was made by the word of God's power. He said, Let there be light; he willed and appointed it, and it was done immediately. The word of God is quick and powerful. Christ is the Word, the essential eternal Word, and by him the light was produced, for in him was light, and he is the true light, the light of the world (Jn 1:9; 9:5). The divine light which shines in sanctified souls is created by the power of God, giving the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ, as, at first, God commanded the light to shine out of darkness (2Co 4:6).
3. That the light which God willed, when it was produced, God approved of: God saw the light, that it was good. If the light is good, how good is the One that is the fountain of light, from whom we receive it.
4. That God divided the light from the darkness. Yet he divided the time between them, the day for light and the night for darkness, constantly and regularly following each other. Though the darkness was now scattered by the light, yet it takes its turn with the light, and has its place, because it has its use; for, as the light of the morning is the friend of the business of the day, so the shadows of the evening are the friend of the rest of the night, and draw the curtains around us, so that we may sleep the better.
5. That God divided them from each other by distinguishing names: He called the light day, and the darkness he called night. He gave them names, as the Lord of both. Let us acknowledge God in the constant sequence of day and night, and set apart both to his honor, by working for him every day and resting in him every night.
6. That this was the first day's work, and a good day's work it was. The evening and the morning were the first day. This was not only the first day of the world, but the first day of the week. Let us observe the honor of that day, because the new world began on the first day of the week in the same way in the resurrection of Christ, as the light of the world, early in the morning. In him the rising sun has come to us from heaven (Lk 1:78).
We have here an account of the second day's work, the creation of the firmament. Notice:
1. God's command concerning it: Let there be a firmament, "an expansion" or "great space," for this is what the Hebrew word means, like a sheet spread, or a curtain drawn out. This firmament is not a wall of partition, but a way of passage. See Job 26:7; 37:18; Ps 104:3; Am 9:6.
2. Its creation. So that it should not seem as if God had only commanded it to be done, and someone else had carried out the work, he adds, And God made the firmament. What God requires of us he himself works in us, or it is not done. He that commands faith, holiness, and love creates them in us by the power of his grace alongside his word.
3. Its use and design: to divide the waters from the waters, that is, to distinguish between the waters enveloped in the clouds and those that cover the sea. God has, in the firmament of his power, heavenly palaces, from which he watereth the earth. O how great God is! He has provided for the comfort of all that serve him.
4. Its naming: He called the firmament heaven. It is the visible heaven, the sky, the pavement of the holy city; above the firmament God is said to have his throne (Eze 1:26). We should be led by the contemplation of the heavens that are in our sight to consider our Father who is in heaven. The height of the skies above us should remind us of God's supremacy and the infinite distance there is between us and him; the brightness of the heavens and their purity should remind us of his glory, majesty, and perfect holiness. The vastness of the heavens, their surrounding of the earth, and the influence they have upon it, should remind us of God's immensity and providence for all.
Until this time the power of the Creator had been applied in the upper part of the visible world; the light of heaven was lit, and the firmament of heaven fixed: but now our God comes down to this lower world, the earth, which was designed for the human race, designed both for us to live in and also to support us. Here we have an account of how the world is suitable for both purposes: its building and its provision:
1. How the earth was prepared to be lived in by human beings, by the gathering of the waters together, and the making of the dry land to appear (vv. 9-10).
1.1. The waters which had covered the earth were ordered to withdraw, and to gather into one place. The waters collected in this way he called seas. Waters and seas often, in Scripture, stand for troubles and affliction (Ps 42:7; 69:2, 14-15). God's own people are not exempt from these in this world; but it is their comfort that they are only waters under the heaven (there are none in heaven), and that they are all in the place that God has appointed them and within the limits that he has set for them.
1.2. The dry land was made to appear, and emerge from the waters, and was called earth, and given to us. The earth, it seems, existed beforehand; but it was of no use, because it was underwater. Similarly, many of God's gifts are received in vain, because they are buried; if we make them appear, they become of use to others.
2. How the earth was made suitable to keep and support the human race (vv. 11-12). God made provision by the immediate products of the newly made earth. It became fruitful, and brought forth vegetation: plants and trees, for livestock and people. Provision was similarly made for the future, every one having its seed in itself after its kind, that, as long as we live on the earth, there might be food for our use and benefit. Notice here:
Excerpted from The New Matthew Henry Commentary by Matthew Henry Copyright © 2010 by Matthew Henry. Excerpted by permission.
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