Monday, April 22, 2013

Genesis 1:20-23 The Fifth Day: God creates sea creatures and birds

"And God said,
'Let the water teem with living creatures,
and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.'
So God created the great creatures of the sea
and every living and moving thing with which the water teems,
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."

Genesis 1:20-23 (NIV)

Some observations:
  • Throughout this passage, there is a sense of great abundance being created.  God uses phrases like:  "let the water teem with living fruitful....increase in number....fill the water".
  • "great creatures of the sea"  This phrase was used in Canaanite mythology to refer to a dreaded sea monster.  It was seen as a symbol for 'chaos', for powerful forces beyond control.  In the Old Testament, the prophets used this as a metaphor for powerful hostile forces or nationsHere are some verses about this sea creature or 'leviathan':

 "Can you pull in the leviathan with a fishhook
or tie down his tongue with a rope?
Can you put a cord through his nose or pierce his jaw with a hook?
Will he keep begging you for mercy?  Will he speak to you with gentle words?
Will he make an agreement with you for you to take him as your slave for life?
Will traders barter for him?  Will they divide him up among the merchants?
Can you fill his hide with harpoons or his head with fishing spears?
If you lay a hand on him, you will remember the struggle and never do it again!
Any hope of subduing him is false; the mere sight of him is overpowering.
No one is fierce enough to rouse him.
Who then is able to stand against me?
Who has a claim against me that I must pay?
Everything under heaven belongs to me."
Job 41:1-11 (NIV)

[I thought it was interesting that whatever sea creature this leviathan is, it seems that it would be mere foolishness to attempt to capture him with conventional methods such as fishhooks, ropes, spears or even harpoons.  Whatever it is must have had a very tough outer hide, or was so huge that even the hope of subduing him is out of the question.  In contrast, however, God is perfectly able to control the leviathan, as we see in these verses.]

"But you, O God, are my king from of old;
you bring salvation upon the earth.
It was you who split open the sea by your power;
It was you who crushed the heads of Leviathan
and gave him as food to the creatures of the desert.
It was you who opened up springs and streams;
you dried up the ever flowing rivers.
The day is yours and yours also the night;
you established the sun and moon.
It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth;
you made both summer and winter."
  Psalm 74:12-17 (NIV)

[These verses emphasize many of the aspects which we have been talking about lately -- how God created day and night, sun and moon, seasons, etc.  Did you note that the Leviathan mentioned above seems to be at least a dual-headed beast?  Near Eastern creation myths depicted the primeval waters as a many-headed monster which the creator had to overcome in order to establish his own order to the world.  Although some would say that the imagery here is borrowed from such myths, perhaps it was the myth-makers who borrowed the imagery from events which took place between the Creator and his creation, including this Leviathan.  Although sometimes the leviathan concept was used as a metaphor to depict nations which were hostile to God, it seems that there actually was such a powerful creature which God as its creator was fully able to control.

Also, when the verses above speak about how God crushed Leviathan's head and gave him as food for desert creatures, it made me wonder if at the time of the Flood such creatures had been dashed to death by the torrential flooding and then deposited upon the desert floor and eaten by desert creatures as the flood waters receded.  The later is just speculation on my part, but if so, then these verses have a dual application -- to events which actually happened as well as imagery which depicts God's triumph over nations which opposed him.  At any rate, the point is quite clear:  God is fully in control and is able to triumph over anything or anyone who might oppose him.  

In Genesis chapter 1:20-23, though, such creatures are simply seen as part of God's creation.  In fact, Psalm 104:24-26 portrays this sea creature or 'leviathan' in this way:
"How many are your works, O LORD!
In wisdom you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
There is the sea, vast and spacious,
teeming with creatures beyond number --
living things both large and small.
There the ships go to and fro,
and the leviathan, which you formed to frolic there.
These all look to you
to give them their food at the proper time.
When you give it to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things.
When you hide your face, they are terrified;
when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust.
When you send your Spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the earth."
Psalm 104:24-30 (NIV)           
To its Creator, the dreaded leviathan is no more than a playful creature frolicking in the vast sea.  This word 'frolic' has the idea of 'cheerful playfulness' and 'merriment', which is about as far away from the concept of a threatening monster as one could get!  It depends upon God for food and for its very breath. The NIV Study Bible note on these verses says this:  "That fearsome mythological monster of the deep (see Job 3:8 and note) is here portrayed as nothing more than God's harmless pet playing in the ocean." 

Other observations:
  • 'let birds fly above the earth'  While the sea frames the lower half of creation, the sky above is filled with creatures of its own. 

  • The phrase 'according to their kind' or 'according to its kind' appears again.  There are distinct types of creatures, not ones which have evolved from a common ancestor.  They are contemporaries, existing at the same time.
  • 'God blessed them'  By God's blessing, creatures fill the sky and the seas.  God's rule is one of life and goodness.


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