Monday, March 18, 2013

Genesis 1:1-2 In the Beginning...

Here we are, at the beginning of the book of Genesis.  It is an amazing, wonderful book.  It speaks about the origins of the universe, the earth, all earth's creatures and mankind.  It speaks of God, who brought all these things about and who chose to have a relationship with His world, and particularly, with mankind.

Here is how it all began.

"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."
Genesis 1:1-2
Interestingly, the Bible does not start with a series of arguments about whether God exists.  It just assumes that He does.  That may seem to be strange, but think about it:  If you were in some position of authority, perhaps as a king over a nation, and were aware that some others did not want you to be in that position, and in fact wanted to do all that they could to remove you from that position, would you waste time arguing with them over the fact of your own existence?  Those who had acknowledged your authority had no trouble recognizing that you were indeed real, for they could see the things which you had done and appreciate the effects which your actions had upon their lives.  Those who opposed you could also see your works, but they would not be interested in acknowledging either you or your works, for then
  • they would have no reason to oppose you, and
  • that would mean that they really had no legitimate reasons for not submitting to your authority.
In the New Testament, the same idea is presented when the apostle Paul writes in Romans 1:18-32 about how people are without excuse for refusing to acknowledge God or thank Him for what He has done, for they have had ample evidence of His existence and works, judging both from creation itself and from what He has done in their own lives:

"The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven
against all the godlessness and wickedness of men
who suppress the truth by their wickedness,
since what may be known about God is plain to them,
because God has made it plain to them.

For since the creation of the world
God's invisible qualities -- his eternal power and divine nature --
have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made,
so that men are without excuse.

For although they knew God,
they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him,
but their thinking became futile, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools
and exchanged the glory of the immortal God
for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles."

Romans 1:18-23 (NIV)

The rest of the first chapter of Romans deals with this theme and the devastating consequences of refusing to acknowledge God.
In a way, it would be a pointless waste of time and frankly, beneath your dignity, to even entertain questions about the obvious fact of your own existence.  So the Bible text just begins with God already there, and beginning to create the universe.

The fact that God created all things is celebrated time and time again in the Bible.  Here are some of the many verses about that:  [Note: (NIV) means that these quotations are from the New International Version of the Bible]

"In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded."

                   Psalm 102:25-27 (NIV)
"Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God."
Psalm 90:1-2 (NIV)
" 'To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?' says the Holy One.
Lift your eyes and look to the heavens:  Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing."
Isaiah 40:25-26 (NIV)
"This is what the LORD says -- 
your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb:
I am the LORD who has made all things,
who alone stretched out the heavens,
who spread out the earth by myself,..."
Isaiah 44:24 (NIV)
"For this is what the LORD says --
he who created the heavens,
he is God;
he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it;
he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited --
he says:  'I am the LORD and there is no other."
Isaiah 45:18 (NIV)
"As you do not know the path of the wind,
or how the body is formed in a mother's womb,
so you cannot understand the work of God,
the Maker of all things."
Ecclesiastes 11:5 (NIV)
"But God made the earth by his power;
he founded the world by his wisdom
and stretched out the heavens by his understanding."
Jeremiah 10:12 (NIV)

Note:  Later in that same chapter, after saying that idols are a fraud,
and that idols are lifeless, worthless, and doomed to be destroyed, verse 16 continues:
"He who is the Portion of Jacob is not like these,
for he is the Maker of all things,
including Israel, the tribe of his inheritance --
the Lord Almighty is his name."
In this verse in the Bible, we see angels shouting for joy as they see the beauty of God's creative works:
"Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?
Tell me if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions?
Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone --
while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?"
Job 38:4-7 (NIV)
I find it interesting that all the angels shouted for joy in the verse above.  As you will see about five paragraphs below, it seems that Satan's rebellion occurred after this time when God created the heavens and the earth and declared it all good.

The angels are created beings.  Although they have certain aspects which are superior to man (greater strength, for example, and at times, the knowledge of heavenly matters or upcoming events which God has revealed to them), they should never be worshiped or prayed to, for such actions would show that we considered angels equal to God, which is not the case.  In fact, when humans who are overwhelmed by their presence try to worship them, angels refuse to accept it.  For example, when the apostle John is overwhelmed by the angel's description of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 22, to the point where he falls at the feet of the one who has been describing it to him, the angel says:

" '...Do not do it!  I am a fellow servant with you
and with your brothers the prophets
and of all who keep the words of this book.
Worship God!' "

Revelation 22:9 (NIV)

On the other hand, the popular depiction of angels as chubby babies with wings does not do them justice either.  I do not think that such a sight would have reduced otherwise stalwart men into a state of fear or awe when they see angels, as is evident in these and other verses:

"Then an angel of the LORD appeared to him,
standing at the right side of the altar of incense.
When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.
But the angel said to him, 'Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard...' "

Luke 1:11-13 (NIV) 

 "And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby,
keeping watch over their flocks at night.
An angel of the LORD appeared to them,
and the glory of the LORD shone around them,
and they were terrified.

But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid.
I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you;
he is Christ the Lord.' "

Luke 2:8-11 (NIV)

"At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius,
a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment.
He and all his family were devout and God-fearing;
he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.

One day about three in the afternoon he had a vision.
He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, 'Cornelius!'
Cornelius stared at him in fear.  'What is it Lord?' he asked..."

Acts 10:1-4 (NIV)

Another incorrect idea which is sometimes put forth is that people become angels when they die.  Sometimes well-meaning but incorrectly informed people comfort themselves over the loss of a loved one by saying that 'now heaven has a new angel', or that they themselves now have an angel in heaven watching over them, but this is not a scriptural idea.  Angels and mankind are two different kinds of creatures and humans do not change into angels at death.

There are verses which tell of a great power struggle -- no, actually a war -- which began in the realm of these heavenly beings.  At the end of His creation of the heavens and the earth and all that is within them, "God saw that all that he had made, and it was very good." (Genesis 1:31) Therefore, at the time of creation, all of the angels were sinless and the rebellion of Satan and some of the other angels had not yet occurred.  However, at some point, it appears that Satan decided that he wanted to be in God's place, and he led a rebellion of some of the angels against God.

 Some people see in Ezekiel chapter 28 a glimpse of Satan's part in the rebellion.  Although chapter 28 is a prophecy against the earthly king of Tyre, from about verse 11 to verse 19 it seems to have a kind of dual story which refers to someone who was:
  • "...the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty." (v.11)
  • " Eden [the Garden of Eden] (v.13)
  • "...every precious stone adorned you" (v.13)
  • "...annointed as a guardian cherub" (v.14)
  • "on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones." (v.14)
  • driven in disgrace from the mount of God; a guardian cherub who was expelled from among the fiery stones (v.16)
  • "Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor." (v.17)
  • thrown to the earth (v.17)
Some of these aspects are way over the top for describing an earthly ruler, even allowing for poetic description.  The beginning of Ezekiel chapter 28 seemed to refer to the earthly king of Tyre.  Verses 11-17 seem to refer to Satan, and then verses 18-19 could refer to the punishment of the king of Tyre or of Satan, or possibly elements of each.  [Sometimes prophecies had a dual fulfillment, which took place at separate times.  I'll go into that later when we talk about prophecy.]
I think that this chapter is referring to both the arrogance of the king of Tyre and the arrogance of Satan in opposing God, and how both the king of Tyre and Satan receive their just punishment.  If it does, it gives us interesting information about how pride about his own beauty and splendor, and a corrupted sense of his own wisdom led to Satan believing that he should be in God's place.
I feel like I have gone away from the passage at hand, but it seemed like these matters were important background for understanding what will happen later in Genesis chapter 3, so that is why I covered this material.  Now let's get back to some thoughts on Genesis 1:1-2:
  • The verb for 'create' in Genesis 1:1 is, according to the NIV Study Bible, only used in the Old Testament about divine activity, never about human efforts.  That makes sense, for only God can bring something out of nothing.  Humans can do a wonderful job of using matter which God has created to form other things, but we can't bring matter into existence.
  • One excellent observation from the NIV Study Bible about Genesis 1:2, where it speaks about the earth being 'formless and empty', is that this phrase actually gives us the structure for the rest of the chapter.  Certain verses in Genesis chapter 1 speak of God forming aspects of creation, while other verses speak of God filling that empty form with various features/creatures.  For example, God makes light (v.3) and then God makes the sun, moon and stars and sets them in place. (v.14)  He makes the expanse (the sky) separating the waters, and draws the waters below the sky into a sea (v. 7-10), then later fills that sea with fish and other sea creatures, and fills the sky with birds (v.20-22).  The dry ground is formed (v.9), which is later filled with living creatures and mankind. (v. 24-26).
  • Perhaps the most beautiful image of all in these verses is that even before the light is created, the Spirit of God is depicted as hovering over the formless, empty, dark scene.  Scripture declares that the Spirit of God was active in creation:

"The Spirit of God has made me;
the breath of the Almighty gives me life."
Job 33:4 (NIV)
         The creative power of the Spirit continues even today:

"When you send your Spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the earth."
Psalm 104:30 (NIV)

What a sharp contrast to the viewpoint of those who think that the universe 'just happened', or that if there was a Creator, he has just set things in motion and then left it all on its own!  Instead, the Scriptures depict the Spirit of God as hovering over the creation, much like a mother bird protectively circling her young.  In fact, Scripture sometimes uses that very image to portray God's care over his people:
"You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt,
and how I carried you on eagles' wings
and brought you to myself."
Exodus 19:4 (NIV)
"In a desert land he found him,
in a barren and howling waste.
He shielded him and cared for him;
he guarded him as the apple of his eye,
like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young,
that spreads its wings to catch them
and carries them on its pinions
Deut. 32:10-11 (NIV)
"Like birds hovering overhead,
the LORD Almighty will shield Jerusalem;
he will shield it and deliver it,
he will 'pass over' it and will rescue it.
Isaiah 31:5 (NIV) 

May God grant us the insight to see, and the wisdom to acknowledge, our loving God.

No comments:

Post a Comment