Our God is always creating, always beginning, always doing new things with new people. When things or people go awry, He starts again with someone else. Seth, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, and many others were all new beginnings within the same continuing story.
When Moses was inspired to write the story of God’s dealings with the nation of Israel, he started his account from a beginning which was already familiar to those to whom he was telling it. He painted a backdrop and context into which his narrative unfolds. It is important to read this narrative without the numerous familiar filters and preconceived ideas which have been placed into it over the years. Sometimes we can hear an element of a story as told by someone else so many times that we come to believe that that is what the story actually says. Many times it does not.
The word “Genesis” means “Beginnings”. This is because it contains accounts of many beginnings, not just the one traditionally associated with it.
The most important beginning to any story that concerns the human race is “In the Beginning, God ...”
God is the beginning of all things. He upholds all things by the Word of His Power and by His Word all things were created. He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End.
So - In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
It is a total statement, with a full stop at the end, because it contains all that needs to be said as to how this world came into being.
Verse 2 states that the earth was (or became) without form and void (empty), and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
God does not create chaos, emptiness, shapelessness, or darkness. If the complete creation referred to in verse 1 was described this way in verse 2, then what happened to it? God through Moses isn’t about to tell us, because it is not essential to the story and would be a digression. It belongs to another story, different from the one that is about to follow. There are a few intriguing hints elsewhere in the Bible, however, as to some possibilities.
Isaiah 24:1 describes what the earth can look like after an exceptionally severe judgment. An especially intriguing clue comes from the expression used in Genesis 1:2 that the earth was without form and void. The Hebrew words used for that particular expression are “tohu var bohu” and only occur one other time in the Bible - in Jeremiah 4:23-26. In the prophet’s vision here he says,
“I beheld the earth, and, behold, it was without form and void (tohu var bohu), and the heavens, and they had no light. I beheld the mountains, and, behold, they trembled, and all the hills moved lightly. I beheld, and, behold, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled. I beheld, and, behold, the fruitful place was a wilderness, and all the cities thereof were broken down at the presence of the Lord, and by his fierce anger. For thus has the Lord said, the whole land shall be desolate; yet will I not make a full end. For this shall the earth mourn, and the heavens above be black; because I have spoken it, I have purposed it, and will not repent, neither will I turn back from it. ...”
Many prophecies contain events that are both near and far away in time. Sometimes they are a repeating pattern. There are many prophecies about the end of the world and judgment, and massive destruction and loss of life on occasion are mentioned. But in no future time from when Isaiah wrote is there ever a mention that there would be no people left at all upon the earth. It is possible, therefore, that the prophet had been given a vision of what the earth looked like after whatever event or possible judgement had destroyed the creation described in Genesis 1:1. There are marks upon the earth that indicate that catastrophic destructions have occurred in its past. It is possible that it was the result of a previous testing and fall of angels. The language used in Ezekiel 28:12-15 and Isaiah 14:9-14 certainly goes beyond the addressed kings of Tyre and Babylon.
But beyond the bald statement that the earth was a mess and in darkness, the Bible does not dwell any further. God is at pains instead to talk about the new beginning, because that is the one directly concerned with mankind and ultimately His family.
A new beginning
Isaiah 45:18 states that the Lord created the heavens, formed the earth and established it – he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited. He will not leave it in chaos, darkness and shapelessness.
Three creative acts and beginnings are recorded in chapter 1 of Genesis –
- the heavens and the earth in verse 1
- animal life in verse 21
- human life in verses 26 and 27.
We are not given dates for the first creative act of the heavens and the earth. It belongs to the dateless past. It could have been thousands of years ago, millions, or even billions for all we know. God is timeless and a thousand years is but a day in His sight. Certainly there is room for all the geologic ages that we know this earth has passed through, and no conflict with the time periods that science has postulated.
With verse 3, the process of restoration and new beginnings is set forth. “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” It is important to note that neither in verse 3 nor in the following verses 14-18, which describe the appearance of the stars, sun and moon, is an original creative act described. The word bara (create, prepare, form, fashion) which was used for the creation of the heavens and the earth in Genesis 1:1 is not used here. Different words are used - first hayah, “be, or come to pass” and then asah with the sense of “appoint, declare its function, bring forth”. The sun and moon had been created “in the beginning”. Their light had been obscured by the dark cloud that had covered the earth since the devastation of verse 2. God sweeps away the darkness and restores their light-giving function.
How long did it take?
The evening and the morning after “Let There be Light” are described as being the first day. The use of the English word “day” has led many to think that God created the world, animals and people in a single week. He certainly would have been able to if He had chosen to do this – God can do anything He pleases. But the creation didn’t have to all be confined to the space of a single week either. The Hebrew word translated “day” is Yom – which simply means a period of time with a beginning and an ending. It is not limited to mean a solar day at all – in fact, how could it have been? The sun and the moon don’t appear until verse 14. God could well have taken any amount time of His choosing to create the world and mankind. Revelation 4:11 states that He has created all things for His pleasure. He has taken infinite care to create everything in this world from the smallest detail to the greatest. The more we examine the tiniest of His creation, the more perfect we see that it is. Magnificent and intricate flowers bloom in deserts or inaccessible places that only He can see. He had no reason to create anything in a hurry, and the enormous and detailed variety of His creation bears witness to that painstaking care. After each major stage of creation it is stated that God saw that it was good - He liked what He had made!
The water girdle
An interesting development appears in verse 6. God puts an expanse called Sky or Heaven to divide the waters under the sky from the waters above the sky. This means that He put a circle of water or water vapour around the earth. Water is an effective shield against radiation and the circle or girdle of water around the earth would have shielded it from the sun’s radiation to a greater degree than is present today. Genesis 2 states that God had not caused it to rain upon the earth and instead a mist went up from the earth and watered the face of the ground.
One of the reasons that the flood described in the days of Noah was so effective would have been due to God collapsing the water girdle above the area of earth upon which He sent the flood of judgment. Simply raining for 40 days would not have caused a flood great enough to have destroyed that entire civilisation. God also opened the fountains of the deep.
There are some differences in earthly conditions post-flood. A rainbow is visible for the first time, showing a change in atmosphere. There is an interesting reference in the book of Job, long regarded as the oldest book in the Bible, to the heavens being viewed as like brass. Possibly the sky was a different colour before the flood from the blue we now see. We don’t know, and can only guess. What we do know is that the life-span of mankind becomes progressively shorter and shorter than the extreme ages that men lived to before the flood. The age at which people reproduced also becomes dramatically shorter. Both of these genetic changes are suggestive of mankind experiencing a greater degree of radiation from the sun than before, causing faster ageing and much earlier reproduction.
After six time periods of restoring the earth and creating animal and bird life, God creates mankind. He states His wish for them to have dominion over His creation. He creates both male and female in His image. And God blesses them, and tells them to be fruitful, to multiply, and to replenish the earth – another interesting reference to the fact that it is a new beginning, filling up again that which had been full previously and now is not. God places within every part of His creation the ability to reproduce itself and multiply.
Adam and Eve - who were they?
Having succinctly described the creation of the heavens and the earth, Moses now turns his attention to a new beginning which has far more direct relevance to his people and the nation with whom God had chosen to have a special relationship. Every Israelite was taught to trace their ancestry back to Adam and thus to God, and in Chapter 2 the most important new beginning is described.
Many have been taught that the creation described in chapter 2 is simply a repetition of Chapter 1. The Bible does frequently use repetition for the purpose of emphasising an important truth. However, when this is the case, the words and details are usually repeated almost exactly, sometimes word for word. Why have many decided that Chapter 2 is a mere repetition of Chapter 1 rather than a continuation of the story, describing a new beginning? To insist that it is simply repetition and that the man whose creation is described in Genesis 2:7 is the ancestor of the entire human race creates unnecessary difficulties, makes the Biblical account far harder to believe than it needs to be, and discredits it unnecessarily.
To insist that Adam and Eve were the first humans also creates further anomalies as the account continues. After the murder of their son Abel by his brother Cain, Cain was banished to become a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth. Cain protested to God that his punishment was more than he could bear. He had been driven out from the “face of the earth” and would be a fugitive and a vagabond “in the earth”, and that because he would be hidden from God’s face then “everyone who finds me will slay me”. God did not say, “You are delusional, Cain. There is only your father and mother on the earth and they certainly know who you are, and who else is around to kill you?” Instead, God agreed that Cain had a point, and said that if anyone killed Cain then vengeance would be taken on him sevenfold – seven people for one – and put a special mark on Cain “lest any finding him should kill him”.
We are told in the narrative that Cain went out from the presence of the Lord and dwelled in the land of Nod on the east of Eden. He then married, had children, and started a civilisation of his own. One of the oldest questions posed by skeptics is the very valid, “If Adam was the first man, then where did Cain get his wife?” After Cain left, Adam and Eve had another child, Seth, whose children are also named. It would therefore also be quite in order to ask where Seth got his wife? Some have postulated that the wives came from other children that Adam and Eve no doubt had. But this would mean that God planned for the whole human race to arise from multiple acts of full incest, something He specifically forbids in Scripture, to say nothing of the resulting genetic effects/defects created by such inbreeding. At every point such theories break down, and it is reassuring to remember that the Genesis narrative never states that Adam was the first man.
In some of his writings Paul did refer to the first man Adam. However, this cannot be taken to say that he was teaching that Adam was indeed the first man. In the same verse he also referred to the last Adam and then went on to talk about the “first man, of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from Heaven.” If he was meaning that Adam was literally the first man, then he would also be saying that Christ was the second man, and the last. There have clearly been more than two men on the planet in a physical sense! Paul was spiritually contrasting Adam with Christ – each being identified with two different types of people, describing the first as being natural and the second as being spiritual.
In Genesis 2:8 God plants a garden eastward in Eden – a specific place. The area with its accompanying rivers is clearly described, and certainly quite distinct and more localised than the expanse of earth, sea, animal and bird life set out in Chapter 1. Rather than being a repetition, there are few similarities with the account given in Chapter 1. Things are created in a completely different order, and some are missing entirely:
|Chapter 1||Chapter 2|
|Plants (v 11)||A man - Adam (v 7)|
|Fish and great whales (v 20,21)||Plants (v 9)|
|Birds (v 20,21)||Animals (v 19)|
|Animals (v 24)||Birds (v 19)|
|Mankind - male and female together (v 26,27)||A woman - Eve (v 21, 23)|
|When? Undated, possibly thousands or even
millions of years in the past
|When? 4,000 years BC|
|Where? Various plateaux, worldwide -
referred to as "in the earth", or "all the earth".
|Where? A plateau with specifically named rivers -
referred to as "the face of the earth".
We are not told anything about the rest of the world at this stage – it would only be a sidetrack to a narrative that is focused upon what happened in the Garden of Eden.
Relationship, blessing, companionship
Into the Garden of Eden, God placed the man Adam whom He had formed from the ground, and breathed life into him. Adam was to be the beginning of an entirely new creation, and a being with whom God would have a special, close and personal relationship. The man was given a paradise to live in and an intellect that enabled him to name all the animals and birds, which God had also formed to be company for him. The man was blessed, with no detail of provision lacking. However, God stated that it was not good for the man to be alone, and so He took a rib from within Adam and formed a woman to be his companion and helper.
God even put some thought into where He took that piece from Adam. He did not take it from Adam’s head as a sign that the woman would rule over him, nor did He take it from Adam’s feet as a sign that the woman should be downtrodden by him. He took it from Adam’s side so that the woman would walk beside him as his equal, from under his arm to be protected and near his heart to be loved.
The man and woman were both naked in terms of human clothing, but were not aware of or bothered by this. It is possible that they were clothed in the light of God’s presence instead.
Yet another beginning follows in chapter 3 - the change in their relationship with their Creator, and its consequences.