In The Beginning
A Look at Genesis 1:1-3
Gen 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 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.3 And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.
Theme: The Creation of the heavens and the earth out of nothing, in an ordered fashion by one God, in three Persons through the authority of the spoken Word and the creative energy of the Holy Spirit.
Historical Context: Probably around 1400 BC, Moses is leading the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt. As they wander through the desert God reveals Himself to Moses and Moses instructs the people in some basic theology - such as the difference between the One True Creator God and the multitudinous minor deities of Egypt. Genesis affirms that the created order is good and created by a good and benevolent God who has called them out of Egypt just as He originally called the world into being from nothing. The sun and moon and stars are not gods but just parts of Creation. It is one beautiful and good Universe made by one Almighty and Good God.
Type of Literature: Historical narrative in poetic form. Genesis uses an organized, repetitive poetic form but nonetheless conveys an accurate message.
Cultural Context: The religion of Israel is changing from Egyptian polytheism to that of YHWH worship - YHWH is acknowledged as being the largely forgotten God who was the God of their ancestors 420 years ago - Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Now with a new national identity and ethnic renewal there comes a return to the God who is distinctly theirs. Their knowledge of Him is sparse so Moses starts at the very beginning as he reveals YHWH to them. (YHWH is the "tetragrammeton" the four letters of God's ancient name in Hebrew. It is sometimes translated Yahweh or Jehovah).
"In the beginning" is one word in the original Hebrew beresit (the s sounds as sh) it means at the beginning of the Universe as we know it. It seems also to imply an end- the Universe has a distinct beginning in time and also therefore will have an end in time. The Universe is not eternal and was not always in existence. Other Scriptures indicate that before God said "Let there be light" many things happened including the fall of Satan. The curtain is drawn on what happened before this Universe was created. One thing we know is that Christ was slain for us "before the foundation of the world". Redemption was already in motion when God brought the Universe into being.
"God" - Elohim, a plural of majesty or of divine being. Hebrew has singular, dual and plural forms of nouns. This is plural implying three Persons at least. The Trinity is hinted at but not made clear.
"Created" - bara a unique word in Hebrew that exclusively means creation from nothing. The Universe was not formed out of pre-existent matter. It was formed by a powerful God - from nothing.
"the heavens" - ha shamayim - plural indicating three heavens at least. This is confirmed by 1 Cor 12 that speaks of a third heaven. Putting the pieces together we have the heavens above - the sky (Psalm 8), the mid-heaven where angles fly and spiritual warfare takes place (Rev 12) and Heaven where God dwells and no evil can approach - the "third heaven".
"and the earth" - ha erets. The focus now moves to the familiar. The earth remains the main focus of the rest of Scripture. God has set the stage now He starts filling it with the main players. Ha erets can also mean "the land" and is especially poignant given that Israel was heading for its own piece of "ha erets".
"formless and void" tohu w bohu. This is a rhyming Hebrew expression similar to our rhyming expressions for a disordered state - such as helter-skelter or topsy-turvy. Whenever it is used in Scripture it refers to a total mess, a howling wasteland, a pandemonium, generally of a place judged by God into oblivion.
"darkness" - both literal and spiritual.. choshek, kho-shek'; the dark; hence (lit.) darkness; fig. misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, wickedness:--dark (-ness), night, obscurity. Strong implications that The situation was hopeless in every sense.
"deep" - tehom, the abyss, the ocean, the fearful depths. Symbol of chaos and disorder. In Babylonian mythology Tiamat was the chaos monster. Here tehom sounds similar but the picture is much grander. God will take the chaos and disperse it with a Word.
"the Spirit of God hovered" -ruach Elohim - More than just God's creative energy, the Spirit is distinctly personal and "hovers" like a nesting eagle over her young. Here we get a hint that Elohim is not just a single uniform being a "monad" but is in fact triune and complex. The expression "Spirit of God" only makes sense if God has a "part" of Him called Spirit. God is a complex, personal, organic, creative being that acts in unity. Ruach also means a mighty wind and here both expressions combine. God's powerful wind of the Spirit is roaring around over the deep.
"over the waters" -literally "over the faces of the waters" panayim mayim. In combination with tehom this strongly suggests (as do later verses) that the world was a watery wasteland. A dark chaotic watery fluid. The Spirit of God is brooding over this in order to bring about order - but first must come the Divine command.
"And God said" - w Elohim amar - The Spirit is creative but His creative energy only stands ready for God's spoken word to unleash it. When the Word activates the Spirit then the miracle of Creation can begin. When Jesus spoke to the storm HIs Word took control of natural forces and subdued them. Obviously Creation does not have physical ears to hear God's command. Rather it is the Spirit -who holds all things together and is in all things that responds to the command thus producing that which is commanded by God. This is not to say tha Nature is God but that God undergirds Nature and that physical reality is held together and in-breathed by God who sustains all things.
"Let there be light" - wayahi 'owr- . 'owr, ore; from H215; illumination or (concr.) luminary (in every sense, including lightning, happiness, etc.):--bright, clear, + day, light (-ning), morning, sun. Light is the first and most fundamental thing brought forth by God. The coincidence between this and modern science is often noted. The Genesis account stands out from all other early Creation accounts in the way that it dovetails neatly with known physical facts - though not with all human theories. Every attempt to marry Genesis with a particular scientific theory from Aristotle to Darwin has failed. Yet in the end it is the account in Genesis that continues to be seen as reliable when these theories have come and gone.
"And there was light" - Whatever God calls into being comes into being. his word is irresistible and omnipotent and not even the forces of darkness and chaos can oppose it. Even in the darkest hours of our personal lives, of humanities crises and of Christ on the cross God can speak Truth and Life and Light and bring resurrection -yes even to the dead. His Word is ultimately powerful and His cause will triumph. Praise Him!
Meaning To The Original Hearers
Moses spoke of this irresistible Creator God who brought the light out of darkness and who controlled the very elements of the universe. The God who had darkened Egypt but left them with light. The God who had brought them through the Red Sea and provided manna in the wilderness. The pagan gods of Egypt would seem fragile, silly little things by comparison, gods who could not breathe or talk or bring anything good into being. This God was the true God and this God accounted for the world as it was and made sense of life. This God- this complex almighty personal God was the God of order and beauty and light and joy. His Word could call the world into being and His Spirit was full of love and creativity. No matter how dark or chaotic the situation was this God -the YHWH of Moses, could control it.
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