My church has begun a church-wide, across all departments, study through The Story, a chronological, abridged edition of the Bible that takes you through the story of Scripture from Genesis to the end of Acts in 31, novel-like chapters. That’s what I’ll be teaching through with my college student for the next 9 months or so. It’s a fun project that’s challenging me to deal with narrative sections, teach large chunks at a clip, and point my kids to Christ throughout the whole redemptive-historical storyline of the text.
That said, it seemed worth it to start posting my notes for these talks on a regular basis. It might happen every week, or not, depending on how helpful I think it is, or time constraints. My one request is that you remember these are pretty rough notes and I’m teaching my students, not a broader audience.
Well, with that intro out of the way, here’s Genesis 1.
Alright, I’d like to have some nice fluffy intro, but there is so much to say here and I can’t, which I hate so I’ll just start in. Note right off the bat, this is a beautifully-structured passage. Read it out loud like we just did and you notice it is a carefully constructed, poetic, balanced presentation whose structure has been arranged, measured, and given a rhythm and weight to it. This is not strictly Hebrew poetry, but it’s not just prose either. You’ll notice the repetition of key words and phrases over and over again with minor variations here.
There is a careful structure here built around sevens, which I wish I could go into in detail here, but let me ask you, which word stood out the most in that passage? What dominated it? There’s a lot of repetition and rhythm, but what was the center, the core, the heart of the passage?
“God”, right? I don’t know if any of you counted, but the word “God” is repeated 35 times, a multiple of 7, the number of perfection in Scripture. So, if you weren’t sure what the passage was about, very clearly, right out the gate, you see that, while there’s a lot going on, and we’ll get to some of it, at the center of the passage. and actually, the beginning and the end, stands God.
I make this point bluntly at the beginning because we’re going through the Story of the Bible and one thing you have to get clear if you’re going to understand it is just who the main character is and what is he like. If you think Gollum is the main character of LOTR you will be quite confused and disappointed at the ending, and well, throughout the novels. Or, if you understand that Frodo is the main character, but are under the impression that he is a wizard instead of a hobbit, you’ll be confused as to why he doesn’t magic himself out of certain situations. In the same way, if you miss that God is at the center of the story, and exactly what kind of God you’re dealing with, you’ll be rather confused as you read along.
So, it matters to know that this passage, and indeed, the series as a whole, is about God. This is what we’re trying to get out of this series: a knowledge of who God is, and really of God himself. Now, this passage presents to us a bit about who God is, by showing us the big thing that God ‘does’ to get the whole story going. And it tells us some key things about him that I just want us to start off with:
1. There is one God, ruler of all. – Against the ‘gods’ of the pagans and the polytheistic world, the Hebrew Scriptures testify to one God, sovereign ruler of all. In the Ancient Near East, the dominant creation myth had two gods fighting (Marduk and Tiamat), with Marduk coming out on top, killing Tiamat and creating the world out of her dead body, and human slaves out of her blood, with a pantheon of support gods behind him. In opposition to this, Genesis gives us a picture of a single God who simply commands things into existence. There is no cosmic battle, or fight, but the simple ordering of King God’s world. The stars, the moon, the sun that your neighbors worship? Those are lamps and clocks that Yahweh hung up in the sky. He is incomparable and unique. There is nothing and no one like him.
2. He is the Creator, not the creation. – God made stuff, he is not the stuff. Unlike some strands of modern New Age thought that says that God is the universe, we see that God made the universe. It all bears his mark, but he is not contained within it. Which is why he knows it inside out and is all-powerful over it. He made time and space so he is not contained by time and space. There is no limit to him. He is present to us here and now, but is not limited to here and now. Something else that flows from this, is that the stuff is HIS stuff. All of it. Also, the stuff is good because he made it. The world is not something to be scared of, but enjoyed as his creation. (Next week we will talk about the fall and how things go bad.)
3. God is a Speaking, Communicating God – How does God make the world? God creates all things by speaking it into existence. He is, essentially, a communicator even in the way he creates. He ‘makes common’ the quality of existence to things that don’t exist yet. This also means that he is a God who can make himself known to us. We get skeptical about this nowadays because of our smallness, and our sinfulness, which is real. We start to doubt that we could ever really know what God is like, especially since so many people have different ideas about God. All we have are guesses.
Now, that sounds humble enough at first, but it denies what we see here in the text: that if God is a God who can effectively bring the world into existence through his words, so he can make himself known to us through his words. No, we can’t figure him out on our own, but God can make himself known to us. And, in fact, part of our being made in his Image means that we can understand him when he does (apart from sin.)
4. God is Triune – This one is really the most important and undergirds and is revealed in the others. The sovereign King God who alone exists and is not creation but speaks it into existence has revealed himself as the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To see this, we only get hints here in the text (The Spirit, hovering) but if you turn to John 1:1, you read “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1-3, ESV)”
We see that the one God who is before all things and made all things, made it through his Word and Spirit. The fact that the world was made through the Spirit and By the Word, means that they are not the world–they are eternal God alongside the Father. See, from all of eternity, God has been Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, delighting in perfect community. This tells you something about why God created: he didn’t need us. He was perfect and complete, full of joy, love, and endless life. He was not lonely or needy. He did not make us to amuse himself or because eh needed help with things. His life is perfect apart from us. He created the world with a good purpose, though, to share himself with us.
5. God is a God of purpose and that Purpose is to Dwell With Us – To dwell with us. God created all things with a rhythm, a pattern, a meaning, an order (6 days). We saw that earlier. What I didn’t go into yet, was the two-part structure of the first 6 days of Creation. See, if you pay attention closely, you’ll see that what God does in the passage is first, create creation kingdoms (Light & Darkness, Waters & Skies, Land), and then, the next three days he creates creation kings who ‘rule’ or keep the areas (Sun & moon, Fish & birds, animals & Humans.).
More importantly, what we have to see is that the picture we’re getting is of God the King, constructing a palace, a Temple to dwell in and ‘rest’ on the ‘Sabbath’ of creation as the Creator King. This is what anybody in the ancient Near East would have heard. At the end of those stories, the king god would always set up shop in their palace-temple and begin their rule. Here, we see the Creator King has finished establishing his kingdom and setting up his sub-rulers and so now he will dwell in his palace-temple. In this case, the whole world. (For more on this, see here.)
The idea is to dwell in the Temple of Creation with his creations. This is, in fact, why he creates us. The idea is that he wants to dwell with us to share himself with us and bless us. For us to enjoy him, know him, and enjoy the world that he made in the way that he intended us to.
That said, we are not the point of this text. We’re important. We come at the crown, we’re significant, more so than the rest of the creation, but let’s be honest, we’re still not the point. God is. We exist for God, by God, to God, in God’s Image. He makes all things and provides all things for us, but we are his. We are supporting characters.
And here’s the Problem – We tend to forget all of this. We tend to put ourselves at the center of the story, time and time again. We’ll talk about that next week in more detail when we come to the story of Adam and Eve and the fall. Still, we tend to put ourselves at the center of the story which screws with our ability to see the story for what it is. All of the problems we encounter become our problems to solve. All of the blessings in our life are our gifts to ourselves. All the purpose we have is whatever we’ve chosen for us. All of the good, the bad, the ugly, the weird, etc. is now on us or for us and to us, and the whole thing starts to lose it’s shape.
The biggest tragedy of all is that when we put ourselves at the center, we lose our ability to see GOD for who he is. It’s like losing the north star at sea, or forgetting who you’re married to, or losing equilibrium and living your life off-balance. When you lose sight of God, your life starts to lose shape.
In the Beginning – This is what Jesus came to do: to put God back at the center of the story for us.
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side,he has made him known.(John 1:9-11, 14, 18 ESV)
This God makes himself known, not just in general, but in one way. It’s not just ‘god’ but the God of Jesus Christ. He is the one through whom God made the world. And what we see here in John is that his purposes for Creation are reaffirmed through the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son. He came to the world he made, and although we denied him, he decided to dwell with his creation that he made.
I don’t know what you needed to hear tonight. Maybe you needed to be reminded that you don’t set the grid for your life? That you are not the one setting the agenda? Maybe you needed to remember that God is bigger than your problems? Maybe you need to remember that the God who made all things can re-create the broken pieces? Maybe you need to be reminded that God’s purpose in Christ is to dwell with you? Or maybe, just maybe, you just need to take this time to worship, praise and adore something greater than yourself.
Listen to the Spirit speaking of the Son who points us to the Father, says in his written Word. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria
Reblogged this on Sunday School on Steroids-The Seminary Experience.
You sure you haven’t read Van Til? 😉
Quite sure. Probably plenty of guys who have, though.
Derek: Genesis 1 and 2 are simply not poetry. If you’d like to see my full discussion of that point, it’s here — http://www.creationbc.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=160&Itemid=62>
Thanks for the link. I’m not sure I said they were poetry, but I do see a poetic element to it.
Hi again, Derek. What you wrote was: “Read it out loud like we just did and you notice it is a carefully constructed, POETIC, balanced presentation whose structure has been arranged, measured, and given a rhythm and weight to it. This is NOT STRICTLY HEBREW POETRY, BUT IT’S NOT JUST PROSE EITHER. You’ll notice the REPETITION of key words and phrases over and over again with minor variations here.” [Capitalization indicates emphasis added.]
In other words, you began by saying it’s “poetic,” then you clarified (back-pedaled?) by acknowledging that it’s “not strictly Hebrew poetry.” Then you seemed to perhaps pull back on that acknowledgment by calling attention to “repetition.”
What I’m saying is this: Genesis chapters 1 and 2 is simply narrative prose. It is not poetry. Period. (Possible exceptions: the speech by God on Day 6, and Adam’s speech about Eve.) These chapters carry clear grammatical marks of historical narrative, and do not exhibit the diagnostic features of Hebrew poetry. The fact that there is repetition does not change this. An in-depth scholarly analysis of this issue can be found at: http://www.fireprior.com/resources/genesis/Statistical-Determination-of-Genre-in-Biblical-Hebrew.pdf
Yes, I did use the word poetic. No, I did not back-pedal. These are rough notes and I’m trying to capture the fact that the scholarship on the text has had mixed estimates as to the type of text we’re dealing with. In any case, I think the theological presentation holds up, but thanks for the note to the article.
Really, really good. Thank you for sharing what the Lord has shown you. Excited for the next set of notes you share!
Thanks! I hope they make sense. I’ll try to edit them by this Sunday.