Guests: Alden Thompson and Jody Washburn
Relevant Verses: Genesis 1-2
Theme: The Wonder of Creation
Leading Question: How would you describe a good world?
Genesis 1–2 contains the two primary biblical stories about creation of the universe where God brings order to the sky, the land, and the seas and fills the earth with living beings. These chapters stand in contrast to other ancient creation stories which centre around chaos, warring gods, and humans created to serve the gods. The two chapters address questions about the nature of God, the world, and humanity; about the reason for a seven-day week and Sabbath rest; about the intimate relationship between God and humanity; about ecology and the task of human beings to be stewards of God’s created world.
Questions: What strikes you as significant about the way the Bible begins? What do you find most interesting about God’s creation?
The first creation narrative is Genesis 1:1–2:3. It serves as the official gateway to the entire Bible and relates God’s creative activities in seven paragraphs, that tell of God’s seven days of creation. Over the course of six workdays, divinely spoken words resound in rhythmic and almost consistent fashion the making of a highly ordered universe. One of the often-overlooked wonders of the passage is its mathematical intricacy. The number seven is no random counting in the Hebrew Bible in general but is particular in its use in the Bible’s first creation account. In the original text in the Hebrew language, the first verse consists of seven words; the second contains fourteen. The final section, Genesis 2:1-3, yields thirty-five words. And the total word count of the account in Hebrew is 469 or 7 x 67. In addition, there are a number of key phrases and key words: God “saw” and pronounced creation “good” seven times; “earth” or “land” (same word in Hebrew) appears twenty-one times; the word “God” is repeated thirty-five times. There are several more of these examples, but the most obvious and most important is that the seventh day marks the climax of the narrative, the only day declared “holy.” In fact, we can argue that Genesis 1:1–2:3 is a numerologist’s wonder- land.
Another amazing element in the Bible’s first creation account is the theme of wholeness which seems to be God’s foundational goal for the created world. This theme is related in the language of the text. For example, instead of saying “God created everything” the text says, “God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). This is a merism, a figure of speech, in which the combination of the two most contrasting elements refers to the whole including everything in between. For example, when we want to say that someone searched thoroughly, everywhere, we use the expression, “searched high and low.” Throughout the Gen 1 creation account, similar contrasting elements appear. There are light and darkness, day and night, waters above and waters below, earth and sea, grass and trees, the greater light and the smaller light, fish and birds, animals and humans, male and female, God and humans, as well as the six occurrences of evening and morning.
In the first three days of creation, certain cosmic domains are established: first light, then the sky, the waters, and the land. In the second set of three days, each domain becomes populated with its own members: lights, marine life, aviary life, and land animals, including human beings. In the course of creation, a remarkable symmetry unfolds as outlined in this diagram.
|Unordered becomes ordered||Uninhabited becomes inhabited|
|Day 1: light||Day 4: lights|
|Day 2: air / water||Day 5: birds / fish|
|Day 3: land / vegetation||Day 6: animals / humans|
|Day 7: Sabbath|
The grand and glorious result is creation’s “goodness.” “Good” or “beautiful,” repeated seven times in the divine speeches of Genesis 1, acknowledges creation’s ordered integrity and intrinsic value. “Good” affirms creation’s sustainability, its proclivity for fecundity. The world deemed “good” by God is creation set toward the furtherance of life: plants and fruit trees regenerate through their seeds; vegetation sustains all land animals, including humans and animals, who reproduce. Robust, resilient, evolving life is conclusive of God’s creation.
The compelling notion of the human being as “image of God” (Gen 1:26–29) is one of the major contributions of the biblical creation account to our understanding of human nature and humanity’s place in the world. It continues to serve as the theological basis of contemporary struggles for liberation and equality. As Martin Luther King Jr. notes, “Man is a child of god made in His image, and therefore must be respected as such” (King, 255).
Question: What would this world be like if every human being truly began to appreciate what it means that we humans are all vested with the image of God?
The first creation account concludes with the seventh day, holy and blessed by God who ceases from all his work (Gen 2:1–3). The seventh day, the climax of creation, sets the tone for the Sabbath theme in all of Scripture. In the holiness of the seventh day God discloses His divine presence within the created world. The Creator intends a relationship with the human being. The narrative shows how God’s words are heard over the course of six days and His acts are seen in nature. However, it is when God’s work is completed and His voice silent that His presence may be best perceived in the sacredness of the seventh day.
Question: Why is Sabbath-rest a key issue for God in His relationship with us and all created beings?
The second narrative (Gen 2:4–25), describes creation in an arid land by the LORD God (Yahweh Elohim) in much more anthropomorphic terms. The LORD God does not create by word in six days but by manual work without reference to time. Whereas the first account presented a cosmic panorama with everything set in its proper place, the second narrative shows the Creator at work as a potter, a gardener, a physician, and a builder. The LORD God forms the “earthling” (Hebrew ’adam; related to ’adamah meaning “earth”) as the first act of creation (Gen 2:7), and intimately performs CPR on this earthling to bring it to life. Then, instead of creating by word of command, the LORD God “planted a garden” (Gen 2:8), “took” and “put” the earthling in it (Gen 2:15), “formed” from the same earth (’adamah) other living creatures (Gen 2:19), and then performed an elaborate surgical procedure by taking a “side” (Hebrew tsela; best read not as a single “rib” but as “side”) and fashions the earthling’s appropriate counterpart. It is only now that the earthling is described with the gendered terms “man” (Hebrew ish) and “woman” (ishah) in the creation account.
When read as an elaborate etiology for the institution of marriage, the second creation account presents this institution on the basis of relationship and wholeness between human counterparts and concludes with a compelling statement: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and be clings to his woman, and they are one flesh” (Gen 2:24). At the center of such intimacy and mutual companionship, there is neither fear nor shame, even before God (v. 25).
Question: The creation of humankind in Genesis 2 is humbling and beautiful. What does this creation account mean to you in your relationships?
The book of Exodus weaves both creation accounts into the lengthy narrative of the building of the tabernacle in Exodus 25–40. Here, Israel is called to make a home for God in the wilderness, because God desires to “dwell among them” (Exod 25:8). The pattern of God’s speeches about the building of the tabernacle follows the pattern of the creation account in Genesis 1:1–2:3 and integrates numerous concepts from the creation account in Gen 2:4–25. Here too, the Sabbath holds an elevated place and shows that the Creator God of the first pages in the Bible is the Redeemer God of Israel. The LORD God, who created the universe, also liberates from slavery through majestic creational acts, and desires to live among human beings inspite of their destructive behaviors.
In his “Faith Lecture: Creation,” Rabbi Jonathan Sacks remarked, “It is not difficult for an infinite Creator to make a home for mankind. What is difficult is for mankind to make a home for God.”