1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. Genesis 1:1-2
This week we start a new series on the early chapters of Genesis. These chapters are controversial in many church circles because they deal with things that are pre-history and seem to contradict what is acceptable science in terms of the creation of the earth and the time scales involved. To understand these early chapters maybe we can look at it this way: below are three different ways of seeing the Sydney Opera House. There is a photo, a painting and a set of plans.
They are all different, but they all show the Opera House as it is. They are different because they all have different purposes.
The photo is a reminder of the opera house in every detail as you see it.
The plans show how to build the Opera House.
The painting shows the opera house and how someone feels about it.
We can look at all three and say “That is the Sydney Opera House. That is what it looks like.” They are all true representations, but all different because they have different purposes.
That is the same with the Bible. The different books of the Bible are written differently, and they have different purposes, but they are all true. You just have to recognise what the writer is trying to do.
That is especially the case when we come to the first book of the Bible. It is breathed out by God but was written by a human being. It is true in all it asserts. It is historical, but it’s not history and it’s not poetry, as some have claimed it is. But it’s not a detailed plan of events either.
It’s more like the painting of the opera house than the plan or the photo. Not every building in the background is accurate, in fact you can’t see the details you can in the photo, but it doesn’t make the painting a false representation.
The first 11 chapters of Genesis is written to explain the reasons why our world is the way it is. That becomes plain when you read it. It’s not meant to be a scientific explanation of how it came to be other than God started it. So, the writer takes the bits that fit his purpose, and leaves out other bits.
So, Galileo said, rightly, “The Bible tells us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.”
What we learn from this first verse is that life as we know it was no accident. It was not random. God brought order out of chaos, and is that not what he does even today in the lives of his people? We are not an accidental collision of primitive life forms. We were created for a purpose – to glorify God by enjoying him forever.
Creator God, thank you for life and for redeeming me so that my life has purpose and direction. Amen
3 And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light ‘day’, and the darkness he called ‘night’. And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day.
We see here the beginning of a pattern in this chapter. “And God said” occurs nine times in this section. This is the biblical equivalent of someone saying “Jump” and the other person asking, “How high?” God’s word is law. God has only to say something, and it is done. In that famous passage in Ezekiel where the prophet is told to prophesy to the dry bones in the valley, we see the power of God’s word. 4
Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones and say to them, “Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath[a] enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.”’
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.”’ 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet – a vast army.
God’s word is God. It is breathed out by him and those who want to drive a wedge between the Holy Spirit and the Word of God have got it wrong. You cannot separate God from his Word.
So here in Genesis we have the beginning – that is what the word “genesis” means. It all begins and ends with God. That is why so many pastors preach by unpacking a passage of the Bible (exegesis) rather than preaching on a topic or one verse. They want God to speak for himself, with all the grammar and allusions and poetry, all the logic and thought lines – all breathed out by God and given to people to speak using their own words and style but overseen by God.
What makes Genesis unique amongst all the other creation stories in the various cultures round the world is that it is so matter of fact. Other stories have fantastical battles between the gods but the Genesis account undermines all those other stories. We call it a polemic; something designed to give the true story and destroy other versions of creation. So, for instance, the ancient Egyptians worshipped the sun god, Ra. In Genesis God creates light, and in verse 16 he creates the sun and the moon and the stars, all objects of worship in the surrounding cultures. It’s a bit of a put down to have your god dismissed by some words spoken by the God of the creation account.
It is Yahweh (the name for the covenant God of the Bible) who alone rules the heavens and the earth.
It’s no wonder that when challenged to leave Jesus Peter said “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” John 6:68.
When Jesus says “I will never leave you nor forsake you” he speaks as God.
Those are not just words but powerful words. Do they speak to you when things are tough? Do God’s words bring healing and rest to your soul? If not, then maybe you need to meditate on his words. The word “meditate” has something of the idea of chewing cud. Do you chew over the words of God? It is a useful thing to memorise parts of the Bible so that in going back over it and committing it to memory we are struggling with the meaning.
God who speaks, thank you for speaking to me. Help me to feed my soul on you. Amen
“And God saw that it was good.”
When God creates, at the end of each stage we’re told, “And God saw that it was good” or words to that effect. And with the creation of mankind, it says “And God saw that it was very good.”
We’re also told that Mankind was made in God’s image. That can only be a good thing!
We can see that in so much that is wonderful and beautiful in our world. We can see it in the heroism of those who sacrifice for the good of others. We see it in the wonders of creation, the love and sacrifice of parents for their children. Our world is a place of incredible beauty and wonder.
But at the same time this world is broken. When sin came into the world through Adam and Eve, historical people in a geographic place, the world broke. It now produces thorns and weeds, which I take it is figurative for all that is out of balance in creation. Instead of just perfection we now see the good mingled with dysfunction in our world.
Our planet is wonderful, but it is also full of things like flood and drought and earthquakes and fires and you name it, all the result of what happens in chapter 3.
Much of our world is in chaos. Verse 28 tells us that God told mankind to “fill the earth and subdue it.” That means to bring order to it, like a gardener does to a garden -like God did to the primordial chaos. We are not just another part of creation. We are not on a par with the rest of the animal kingdom, despite what the animal rights people want us to believe. We alone are in the image of God. We alone have been given the instruction to “work it and take care of it.” [2:15] We are alone will be held morally responsible for our actions and thoughts in this life.
There is something sad, even wrong, about people who love their pets more than people, and those who leave millions in their wills to look after their pets and alleviate the suffering of animals but not fellow human beings. The command to love your neighbour as yourself was not intended for the animal kingdom. This does not preclude our caring for the rest of creation and giving our resources for that care, and especially to the pets that us love and devotion, but our first duty and love surely is for those made in the image of God, for whom the Son of God gave his life, without forgetting our duty to care for this creation that belongs to God. The problem is that all too often people let us down. The broken, sinful aspect of humanity pokes through and hurts so much that some people retreat to where it is safe – to their pets. We need to keep asking God to help us to see people as he does – “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” [Matthew 9:36].
Forgiving Father, give me eyes to see others as you do. Help me to be like Christ who prayed for those who hated him. Amen
26 Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’
27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
Male and female are together created in the image of God. There is no overt explanation of how this works, but there is a clear hint in the words “Let us make mankind in our own image…”. With the strong emphasis in the Bible on relationships [just check out the number of “one another” passages in the New Testament especially], it would seem clear that part of being in the image of God is the way that we are built for relationships. As the Father, Son and Holy Spirit love and serve each other member of the Godhead, so we as human beings are created to do likewise with God and each other. There is something about male and female (two beings) being in the likeness of God. [one image]. It is not man who is made in the image of God, nor is it woman. It is man and woman together. Men and women are different. Our obvious physical differences underly our just as fundamental inner differences. Despite what some in our culture are saying about gender fluidity, God made us male and female. In the very rare cases where physically it is impossible to tell whether someone is male of female it is acknowledged that that something has gone wrong. It is normal and natural for physical gender to be one or the other. As Mark pointed out on Sunday, we do not get to choose our identity. Furthermore, there is something about the way that male and female were made to relate to each other and the world around them that complements each other. We see that in the equality debates, how we are told men and women bring different perspectives to things and how we need both to function well, and that is how God intended it to be. We are equal but complementary, all of humanity.
Being in the image of God gives humankind an added responsibility and dignity that does not belong anywhere else in creation. People should be treated as “image bearers”. That means that despite how they present, there is a sense that every human being is God’s representative.
In our debates over what the Bible says about gender and gender roles we have to ask whether our views are determined by our world view or the Bible.
We have been given dominion over creation. Many years ago, my mum and dad sold the family home in which I grew up. They had planted a wonderful garden with many beautiful trees. Some years ago, we drove by and saw that the new owners had cut down the trees and got rid of the many beautiful shrubs. It felt like they had taken something quite lovely and scorched the earth. It makes wonder how God feels about the way we have handled what he has put under our care. Even more than that though is the thought of how he might feel when he reviews my dealings with other image-bearers. Thank God that I am clothed with Jesus’ righteousness.
Does the Bible inform your view of gender, sexuality and gender roles?
O Lord, in whose image I am made, help me to treat other image-bearers as image-bearers.
2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so, on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
God blessed the seventh day.
Did God create it all in 6 days: six 24-hour periods?
There are some who see it is so important to believe that it was 6 actual 24-hour periods that it is the litmus test of orthodoxy. To find out whether or not you’re worth you salt as a Bible teacher they will ask about the 6 days of creation and depending on your answer you will be accepted or written off. Yet great scholars who believe in that the Bible is completely God’s word, and true in all it teaches, and who believe that Adam and Eve were Historical figures, have disagreed on this.
Kent Hughes in his commentary of Genesis says that there are at least 6 different views on what is meant by “day”.
What you believe about the 6 days does not make you either a Bible believer or not.
I believe that the Bible is the word of God and inerrant – that means I believe it is without error, yet I don’t think it matters if it was 6 24-hour periods or not.
I know that will scandalise some believers.
In fact, personally I don’t think it means 6 24-hour periods. My biggest reason for that is that in Genesis there is no end to the seventh day – the day of rest. It does not say, like every other day of creation, “and there was evening and there was morning the seventh day.” The book of Hebrews in chapter 4 makes a big argument that we are still living in the seventh day. That being the case it doesn’t have to be 7, 24-hour “days”.
The Bible uses the word “Day” in different ways and one of them is like our phrase “Back in my day.” We don’t mean a particular 24-hour period but a stage of time.
Be that as it may, let’s be clear about what the Bible is clear about – God created and then rested on and blessed the rest day. What does it mean that God blessed the seventh day and made it holy? Holy means “set aside”. The Anglican Book of Common Prayer, the basis of doctrine and practice for the Church of England, does not use the word 'altar' but rather refers to 'the Lord's Table' or 'Holy Table'. That is because we don’t carry out sacrifices (unlike Roman Catholic Churches). It is a holy table because it is used for one main purpose – it has been set apart for the celebration of communion. The seventh day was set apart by God for his special purposes, and ours. It is a day meant for enjoying our relationship with God. We see that clearly in Hebrews 4 where the writer encourages us to enter the genuine rest of God [Heb 4:8-11].
John Piper has helpfully put it that our purpose in life is to honour God by enjoying him forever [John Piper “Desiring God”]. That is the purpose of the Sabbath, and the purpose of the life lived in the Kingdom of God.
Are you enjoying God? Is he your delight and your gaol?
‘Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
2 Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labour on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.
3 Give ear and come to me;
listen, that you may live.’ Isaiah 55
God who satisfies our spiritual hunger, so fill me with delight in you that my life will honour you in all I do. Amen