This beginning section of the Bible is not an eyewitness account, since humans have not been created yet. So, we can assume that God either told or showed someone about how the world was created. Whether this would have been to Adam or one of his descendants, we do not know. It must have been passed down verbally until someone decided it was a good idea to create a written record of it. Then eventually, it would have been gathered along with a collection of accounts until we get the current collection of writings that we call the Old Testament.
The first 23 verses cover the first five “days” of creation. Humans are created on the sixth “day”. The Hebrew term used for “day” could be a literal 24-hour day, or it could be figurative, meaning a “period”. Considering that the sun and the moon are not created until the fourth day, it is most likely not meant to be a 24-hour period.
Here is the order of creation:
- Day 1 – The heavens, the earth, light, day, night
- Day 2 – Dome to separate the water below and water above, and the dome was called “sky” (the original Hebrew used means “dome” but are also translated as “firmament” or “sky”)
- Day 3 – Dry land appears amongst the water, vegetation
- Day 4 – Sun, moon, stars, seasons
- Day 5 – Sea creatures, birds
- Day 6 – Land animals, humans
I first read Genesis after I got interested in reading the Bible for myself. I first read through the New Testament, starting with Matthew and all the way to the end of Revelations. By that time, I was sufficiently interested in the person of Jesus that I thought I’d better read through the Old Testament also. However, the one book I had some reservations about reading was Genesis – especially the first few chapters. The reason was because I was a science major at the University of Washington, and it seemed that there was some general disrespect of the sciences by the Christians and disrespect for the Christians by the scientists. I was grateful for the fact that God had brought into my life some brilliant science majors who were also faithful Christians, to show that some sort of straddling both sides might be possible.
So much of today’s society is polarized, with vocal people taking extreme views. How the world came to be is no different. On one hand, there are those who do not believe that God had a hand in this. They would say the big bang happened randomly and it was just natural forces over billions of years that got us to where we are. Then there are those who would take Genesis 1 literally and insist that God created the universe as we know it in 6 literal 24-hour days, all around 6,000 years ago or so.
There are problems with both views. Purely physical explanations still have some holes to fill to explain everything we observe, and totally ignore God’s role in physical and human history. The other side is not lacking in problems either. The days and nights happening before the sun is created is one, as well as the view of the earth where there is a physical dome over it with water below and above it. And if the moon is embedded into the dome, the space missions and probes that went to the moon and beyond should have encountered the dome.
In the early 1980s, there was a book written by a professor at Wheaton College that speculated that perhaps Genesis 1 was not dictated verbatim from God, but whoever was first to be taught the creation account was shown a high-speed vision from the surface of the earth perspective. The misty conditions would have, at the beginning, obscured details. So, one would have seen the effects of the sun and the moon in terms of day and night but would not have been able to see the actual sun, moon and the stars until the mist cleared up. If we were to buy into this premise, then things seem to generally fit what the scientific community believed about how the earth as we know it came to be. Probably a book like this would have been rejected by both sides of the argument.
It is important to keep in mind that the main reason Genesis was written was not to describe the mechanism of how God created the heavens and the earth. The main point is that God is the one who created. Just by speaking, God brought all these things in to being. The domed world was the accepted view of the ancient Middle East, and Genesis tells us who created it. A comparable message today might be, “The Big Bang, tectonic movement – God caused all of this to happen.”
We do not know exactly when Genesis was first made available to be read by the Israelites, but we speculate that it was an important book of hope and blessings at the time of the Babylonian exile. The Babylonians believed in numerous gods and goddesses, as well as believing that the stars had power over their lives. By the fact that they were able to conquer and subjugate the Jews, they would have concluded that their gods and goddesses were superior to Yahweh, the God of the Jews.
Worse, many of the Jews would have come to the same conclusion, especially as time dragged on and a whole generation of Jews who only knew life under Babylonian rule became the majority. But Genesis reminded the Jews that their God was powerful and was still in command. Their God was the one who created the heavens and the earth, even the stars that the Babylonians believed had heavy sway over their lives. The Genesis account even made the creation of the stars almost as an afterthought by God – “God made the two great lights – the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night – and the stars.”
The world we live in today, probably has some resemblance to Babylon. Many people’s lives are ruled by things other than God – Money, fame, power, promise of security. The societal values do not truly reflect the values that the Bible teaches. Even within churches, we are seeing non-Christian values and elements creeping in. Sunday morning services used to be the main vessel for worshipping and evangelizing for Jesus Christ. Now often, we see things like self-improvement hints, entertainment and politics sharing time with the Gospel. It often makes us long for the return of Jesus Christ, to take us all out of this mess.
In a world like this, the message of Genesis is important. Just like it must have done for the Jews in Babylon, it can give us hope and blessings. It reminds us that God is powerful and is still with us. He created us for a purpose and saved us through the cross of Jesus so that we can do the good works He created us for. We need to be reminded that Jesus died for the forgiveness of our sins, not just to take us from this mess, but also for this mess. We are to have one foot in heaven and one foot on earth, so that we can be guided by heaven to do work on earth.
It may seem daunting to be witnesses for Christ in this world. We can imagine the resistance we will face from our family, friends and co-workers as we tell them that Jesus is the Son of God and the Savior of the world. But remember that God has the power to create the universe just with his voice, and that His Holy Spirit is with us to guide and help us to do God’s work on earth.
(The above is a summary of the message shared with us by Shun Takano during our worship on January 22, 2023.)