Genesis was written using a narrative or story telling format. The 2 creation accounts in Genesis are very important because they have formed much of our modern human culture. The creation story is packed with information and even if you read it often it is easy to miss something. The goal of this post is to read the 2 creation stories in Genesis with the hope of learning something new that you didn’t notice before. I will point things out and I will ask many questions, but most questions I will not answer and I leave these questions with you to either ponder, search scripture on your own, google them or pray to God and ask God what the meaning is.
When reading the creation story try imagining what is happening. For example, God plays a big part in this story. How do you imagine God? Is God distant or close? What does God call good and why? What does God bless?
Genesis 1:1-5 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 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. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.NIV
Creation begins with darkness and no structure. The word for Spirit can be translated as breath or wind. When I imagine this scene I think of a wind over a vast ocean making waves.
What you will notice is that God is speaking words and then something happens. God’s words have power. Do you believe that your words carry this kind of power? When God speaks, he makes light and light is good. So the result of God’s words is good. When you speak, do your words bring light and goodness?
The Apostle John, when talking about Jesus’ birth, looked back all the way to creation.
John 1:1-5 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.NIV
The theme of light and darkness begins in Genesis. Jesus is the light of the world. It isn’t that dark is evil, but evil finds that it can work best in darkness. When Jesus was betrayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus points out that evil does it’s work in darkness.
Luke 22:52-53 Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour —when darkness reigns.”NIV
Genesis 1:6-10 And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day. And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.NIV
We notice that God calls most of what he creates good. Not everything is called good, but just because something is not called good doesn’t make it bad. Water, specifically the oceans and seas, represented chaos. chaos is not evil in of itself, but it makes it difficult for life to thrive and so it can be bad. God starts ordering the chaos and setting boundaries for chaos creating spaces for life to thrive. It’s this ordering of creation, setting boundaries, that is good. To limit the effect of chaos on life.
Genesis 1:11-13 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.NIV
When you imagine this happening, what do you see? Do the plants grow to full maturity on this 3rd day? Is all the land covered or are there still plenty of empty spots?
Genesis 1:14-19 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.NIV
Light was created on the first day, so where was that light coming from if there was no sun, moon and stars? On day 4 light takes a form or structure and the lights are given authority to govern time so that they can serve as signs to mark time.
Genesis 1:20-23 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.NIV
Genesis 1:24-25 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.NIV
God gives a blessing to the sea creatures and birds to increase. It’s interesting to note that the land creatures don’t get a similar blessing, but maybe that’s because humanity receives the main blessing on day 6. God sees all the animals he has made and calls them good.
Do you imagine the earth is full of animals? Or is the earth mostly still empty? And where is God as he creates?
Genesis 1:26-28 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, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”NIV
Humans, both men and women, are made in the image of God. Notice how God refers to himself in the plural when he says he’ll make humanity in “our image” and then he creates humanity in his image using a singular form.
Humanity is made in the image of God so that we can rule over creation. All the creatures on earth look at humanity and recognize the image of God we are created in and respect the authority we are given. What does it mean to rule? We should remember that God never intended us to rule like leaders lead in our modern world, the way that governors and presidents lead in our present day is not what God wants.
Mark 10:42-45 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”NIV
God blesses humanity to fill the earth and subdue it. This scripture implies there is more work to do and humanity is given the assignment to continue the work of ordering creation as it grows and flourishes.
Genesis 1:29-31 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.NIV
This verse does say that every living creature was a vegetarian in the beginning. Also note that while God often calls his creation good, when God sees the whole, he calls it very good.
After God finished all his work, do you think he sat down on a couch to rest his legs?
Genesis 2:1-3 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 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.NIV
At the end of the 7th day, it doesn’t say that there was evening and there was morning. The 7th day skips an ending. Why would they miss this detail?
It is also interesting that while God had been working all 6 days, the first full day for humans was the sabbath day.
Jesus spoke often about the sabbath and what it meant for it be holy and it’s not what the Jews of his day expected.
Mark 3:1-3, 4-5 Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.NIV
Jesus makes clear the purpose of sabbath in Mark 2:27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
The second account
Genesis 2:4-7 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the LORD God made the earth and the heavens. Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.NIV
Genesis 2 has a different account of the creation story. It doesn’t begin with nothing. Day 3 in the first account is when plant life is created and day 6 is when humanity is made and this account seems to say that Adam is formed before plants come up. The order seems different, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it is at odds.
Does this second story change how you imagine God in creation? Where does God stand when he creates Adam?
The Hebrew word Adam can be translated as man or humanity and it sounds similar to the Hebrew word adamah which is translated as ground or earth.
Genesis 2:8-9 Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.NIV
In the first creation story, heaven and earth are separated by an expanse. In this story, God’s garden is a place on earth cultivated to be a source of life from heaven to earth, it becomes a meeting place between heaven and earth. When you read Revelation you will notice it describe a place that is like the garden, but still different.
Genesis 2:10 A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters.NIV
Rivers play a vital role in life on earth. The rivers from God’s garden bring life to the earth. Rivers continue to exist in the new creation in Revelation again, bringing life. We don’t notice rivers as much in our daily life because of plumbing, but what would happen if your city’s plumbing broke down for a month?
In Revelation, the new creation has a tree of life, but no mention is made of a tree of knowledge of good and evil. While the new creation in revelation is like creation in genesis it is also definitely different.
Genesis 2:15-17 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”NIV
In the first creation account, humanity’s role is to rule over and subdue creation. The job described here seems a lot more limited. And while humanity is given a lot of freedom in the garden, there is one tree which is dangerous and this is the first time death is mentioned. The tree of knowledge of good and evil represents God’s authority to define good and evil and this authority was not given to humanity. The Garden of Eden is the source for life for the rest of creation and humanity’s role in the garden is to take care of that source of life. And the center of the garden are these two trees, which become essential for life.
Genesis 2:18 The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”NIV
This is the first time God calls something not good. In our modern era, where everyone has a phone and social media to communicate and there are billions of people to talk with, being alone is surprisingly a big problem. We are more connected and more lonely than before and it is not good. Being by yourself is not bad, but being lonely is not good. In what ways do we help each other feel like we are not alone?
This scripture implies that women are assigned the role of being the helper, but what does it mean to be a helper? When you see how Millie and I lead as pastors, does this fit how you imagine we work, I lead and Millie helps? Do you know that most of the direction we have in our church work comes from Millie and she often leads first and I follow. This is a point of struggle for some because it goes against their traditional church understanding, but it is also possible that it just goes against the traditional definition of helper and leader. The prophetic word of the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37 was given to Millie 7 years ago and that is something that God decided to do.
In the gospels, Jesus talks about another helper, for the church, and if you read the book of Acts, you will notice that it is this helper that often leads the church.
John 14:16-17 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.NIV
Genesis 2:19-25 Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.NIV
Marriage is a big part of life on earth. Both Jesus and Paul affirm marriage as described here, but Jesus also says the following:
Luke 20:34-36 Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.NIV
One point that is often missed is how God gave the task of naming his creation to humanity. God made it, we named it. Giving a name was a vital task because names give identity. It’s why calling someone by the wrong name causes bad feelings and why nicknames can be insulting. We often add titles to names, like Doctor or President or Pastor. Jesus renamed Simon to Peter. Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites because of their bad behavior.