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Genesis 1: A Wonderful Campfire Story

Posted by Gary Labels: ,

Imagine, if you will, a campfire many thousands of years ago. A kind, elderly Hebrew man pokes the fire with a stick, roasting a lamb for a feast. His grandson, sitting in his lap, looks up and says, "Grandpa, why do we work so hard for six days and then rest on the seventh day?" The kindly grandfather smiles with satisfaction and amusement. He opens his mouth and is instantly cut off: "Grandpa, how did God make the world?" He pats his grandson's head affectionately, and points to the fire.

Amid the crackling of the fire and the smell of roasting meat in the cool, night air they both stare off at the flames. *Funny thing, flames,* he thinks. *Their have no definite shape or form. They're a primeval force, but not something you can hold.* "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the land," he says with a grand flourish of his hand, drawing the boy's attention to everything around them. "Now, the earth was formless and empty. Darkness was over the surface of the Deep Abyss, for there was nothing in that bottomless pit, and God's spirit had nowhere to stand, so it hovered over the waters..."

Though a very small section of the Bible, there's a lot here to look at and ponder, and there's definitely been a LOT of pondering by Jews and Christians alike over the past three millennia. In this post I intend to focus in on the creation story and bring out its poetic elements. I'll address theological issues in greater depth in a different post.

Overview of Creation
The week of creation follows a linear pattern where God first furnishes each area to make it inhabitable (days 1-3), then fills it with things meant to thrive there in days 4-6. The culmination is God resting on the seventh day and setting it apart as holy. On day one, God makes light in general, then comes back to fill the darkness with luminaries: the stars, moon, and sun. On day two, God creates an expanse to separate land-bound bodies of water (the "water below") from the "water above," and calls this barrier "sky." (Presumably, the "water above" refers to clouds or whatever mystical place they believed rain fell from.) God comes back later and fills these two waters with fish and birds, creatures made to live in just those places. On day three, God takes the water under the sky and makes it collect in specific areas, forming dry ground. He creates vegetation so the land is inhabitable for animals. Later, He comes back to add animals, and finally, man. Then comes rest.

Sadly, blogspot sort of limits me from giving a good graph of how this works. Hopefully this will still be enough of a visual aid. Hamilton chronicles the days of creation like this:
Day 1: God creates light in the orbit.
Day 2: God creates the heavens to separate water from water in the sky.
Day 3: God creates vegetation on the dry land.
Day 4: God creates the luminaries in orbit. (Echoes day 1)
Day 5: God creates birds/fish in the sea and sky. (Echoes day 2)
Day 6: God creates land animals, and finally mankind. (Echoes day 3)

To understand how God does this creation business, we need to look at verse 2: "now the earth was formless and void." Another way to word that is that the world was "unstable and empty." On days one to three, God creates stability in the environments (orbit, sky & sea, land), and on days four to six He actually fills the environments. It's very important to note the order that God created in. Look, this is how I would have done it instead:

Day 1: Gary creates light in orbit.
Day 2: Gary creates luminaries in orbit.
Day 3: Gary creates the heavens to separate water from water in the sky.
Day 4: Gary creates birds/fish in the sea and sky.
Day 5: Gary creates vegetation on the dry land.
Day 6: Gary creates land animals, and finally mankind.

I think this is how most people go about their projects, isn't it? We work with one thing at a time and complete it before moving on to something else. For the sake of staying on topic, let's conveniently ignore the fact that I would have accidentally drowned the birds with this order, OK?

God was so very purposeful in creation! With great care He first prepared each environment. Never did He rush His work. When day one's work was done, He sat back and reveled in the beauty of His creation, making sure everything was right before moving on to the next day.

He started with the least elements of creation: the sun, moon, and stars, and then worked his way up. But not until every environment was furnished completely did he create any living thing whatsoever. Let me note that Hebrews didn't consider plants to be "alive." Only creatures that draw breath are "alive."

Ever is God the cheerful giver of blessings and life. He gives a special blessing to the truly living things on days five and six. On day five, he blesses the birds and fish (v 22), telling them to flourish. And as for day six? How does God bless the creatures of the land? Their blessing is not multiplication, but a ruler made in God's own image. This ruler, man, is over the birds and fish also, but lives on the land and is much closer to those creatures. God tells this creation -- humanity -- to be fruitful and multiply, and graciously gives us dominion over all the rest of creation.

Whenever God looks at His creation, His feeling is pleasure and awe. It is because of His love and grace that He blesses creation. The Creator is so fond of the creation, and we likewise are fond of Him if we are in a right relationship with Him. Grace, with God as its provider to all creation, was part of God's interaction with us from the very beginning.