Important Observations from Genesis 1

Title: Important Observations from Genesis 1

Text: Genesis 1:1-2, 26

Time: May 6th, 2010

For the Jews, the first five books of the Bible have always been most important of all the Hebrew writings. The so-called Torah or Law is actually the five books Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.  Now the Jews have always recognized these books as most important, but why is that the case? Why not the Books of Psalms or Proverbs or one of the prophets such as Isaiah or Jeremiah or Ezekiel? Why is priority given to the Torah – and why is the Book of Genesis first in the Bible? It’s easy to see why Genesis is first because it describes first things or origins; that’s a logical place to begin. But outside of the description of creation there are many other good reasons why Genesis is the first book of the Bible. Probably the most important reason is because Genesis addresses many or most of the really important issues of existence. It talks about the really big questions of life, issues that everyone, everywhere, at all times has asked about life. It doesn’t just deal with issues that pertain only to the Jews, but it covers topics that are relevant to everyone. That’s why Genesis, especially the early chapters, is so important for faith and life. Without Genesis we wouldn’t know very much about where we came from or the purpose for which we are here. In fact, without the early chapters of Genesis both Judaism and Christianity make little sense because the solutions they give to the most important human problems wouldn’t be known without the Genesis account. The solutions Judaism and later Christianity give make little sense without the problems described in Genesis. For example, without the description of the Fall – the original man and woman and their disobedience to God in the Garden of Eden – without this account, the problem of sin makes little sense. And of course without an understanding of human sin, the solution of the Savior Jesus Christ to die for our sins makes little sense. In the early church there was considerable debate over the relevance and importance of the Old Testament writings to the new Christian faith. One leader, Marcion, argued that the Old Testament had little relevance to Christianity; he argued we didn’t even need to read the books of the Old Testament any more because of the new Christian writings, the New Testament. But Marcion was rightly condemned as a heretic by the church fathers and the Old Testament was officially seen as part of the Christian Bible along with the New Testament. The importance of the Old Testament and the Book of Genesis in particular is hard to overstate. For example, today, I’d like to point out simply three very important observations we can make about the early chapters of Genesis. These are important but easy-to-miss points we should consider because they determine how we view not only the Bible but our own faith as well.

First, the name of God is found in the plural form hinting at the Trinity. Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God (plural) created the heavens and the earth.” There are clues to the Trinity doctrine throughout the Old Testament even if it’s only fleshed out in the New Testament and fully articulated by the early church fathers. In addition to the plural form of the name of God found in the Old Testament, there is the mysterious phrase found in Genesis 1:26, “Then God (plural form) said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness. . . .” Now the question is, why mix a plural wording with a singular concept of God unless it’s an attempt to explain a profound mystery that can’t be fully explained through words and ideas? This profound mystery starts in Genesis 1:1 with the plural name of God, in Hebrew Elohim. The singular form in Hebrew for the word God is El, so then why not simply use El in Genesis 1:1? But just like in Genesis 1:26, there is the use of the plural where a singular should be. “In the beginning God or Elohim (plural) created – or in Hebrew bara (singular) – the heavens and the earth. Again, why the grammatical mix and match? The Christian answer is obvious – God wanted to hint or give clues as to the Trinity nature of his existence. Why didn’t God come right out and start teaching the Trinity from the very beginning? In the sense of leaving hints and clues, he did; but he certainly doesn’t come right out directly and teach about himself as Trinity. Why not? I remember the words of Jesus saying, “There are many more things I’d like to teach you, but you are not able to bear it,” John 16:12. That’s probably why God reveals himself progressively in respect to the Trinity. It might have blown them away! We see this same progressive revelation take place in respect to the Holy Spirit as well. Here in Genesis 1:2 it says, “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” At this early point in God’s revelation of himself we wouldn’t know with certainty of the personality of the Holy Spirit or his inclusion in the Trinity of God. We’d have to wait for the New Testament revelation to understand this truth. But all this demonstrates the progressive nature of God’s revelation of himself. Now as for the plural name of God, Elohim, used here in Genesis and throughout the Old Testament, there have been a number of explanations given throughout history. The Jews – who don’t accept the doctrine of the Trinity and do not accept the revelation of the New Testament – try to explain it in the language used by a king, such as, “We shall find mercy in our heart for the citizens of this kingdom,” for example, or some other such statement of a king to his people. This is the so-called “plurality of majesty.” Others have suggested that the plural form may be trying to include angelic beings, but that’s stretching things! If we didn’t have the revelation of the Trinity, we might go with some of these alternatives, but since the New Testament revelation there’s no need to think anything more than what is obvious – God is communicating that he’s more than a simple, single entity; he’s a plural entity, three-in-one. He’s one God in three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Genesis 1 hints of this.

Two, the creation account teaches creation ex nihilo or “out of nothing.” Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The Hebrew word for “created” is bara – which according to Old Testament scholars such as my old professor Gleason Archer means “created new without using pre-fashioned material – in contrast with the Hebrew word yasa which means “fashioned from already existing material,” and is used to describe God’s other creating in the Genesis creation account. For example, in Genesis 1:16 that describes the creation of the sun and the moon, yasa is used not bara, these were created from the already created matter, not ex nihilo or “out of nothing” like the beginning creation. The reference book “Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament” by Gleason Archer points out this distinction in detail. Speaking of Gleason Archer, I remember one class in Old Testament Introduction where that old saint and scholar was taking class roll. He ran into a particularly hard name to pronounce and mangled it badly – and he was a language scholar who knew over eight separate languages! Well, as I remember, the person whose name it was made some sarcastic comment towards Professor Archer, so we all waited to see what he would say in reply. Would he chew out the student? Would he trade insult for insult? Would he expel the student? No. He just graciously and courteously overlooked the insult and continued on with the roll. But anyway, the doctrine of creation ex nihilo is supported by the very language used in the Hebrew to describe the creation account. But what is really interesting today is the doctrine is supported by the scientific theory called “The Big Bang.” The theory says that the universe came into existence all at once suddenly at a moment of time in one exact spot around 15 billion years ago. Now I’m not arguing for the validity of the Big Bang Theory, but it’s interesting that if it’s true it’s just one more piece of evidence for the Genesis creation account. For many years the Greek philosophers and secular thinkers have argued that the universe was eternal, that the Bible’s creation account was wrong because the universe has always existed and therefore didn’t need creating. But Christians, including the great Augustine, argued that God created the universe out of nothing and fashioned it according to his divine will. Well, it’s interesting now to see modern science swing around and support the Bible account of creation out of nothing. The very Hebrew word bara points to creation ex nihilo rather than creation from existing material. This is just another interesting observation we find in Genesis 1 that we might not pick up from simply reading in the English Bible, so I wanted to point it out to you from the Hebrew. I hope it helps your faith in the truthfulness of God’s Word.

Third, the deity of the Holy Spirit is hinted at in the creation account of Genesis. Genesis 1:1-2, “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.” The Hebrew word for spirit is ruah – and it can mean both spirit and wind. An interesting sideline, I recently purchased three old Hebrew Bibles at a used book sale in Livonia, Michigan. My parents told me about the sale and I though I’d maybe find a book or two to read, but I never imagined I’d find any Hebrew books. Well, they had an entire room of books under the heading “Judaica,” so being the student of the Bible as I am I thought I’d check it out. Low and behold I found two Hebrew-English Interlinear Bibles and one plain Hebrew Bible – for around a couple of dollars each! What I buy! Anyway, in one of the Hebrew-English Interlinear Bibles I noticed the word ruah had been translated “wind” in the English side of Interlinear Bible, while in the other Interlinear Bible it was translated “spirit.”  So it must be the Jewish scholars – it said all these Bibles were printed in modern Israel – were divided on how to translate the Hebrew word ruah in this passage. We can understand why, partly because Jews don’t accept the Trinity and in particular don’t accept the divinity of the Holy Spirit, so there would be every motivation to minimize any support for the idea of the divine spirit active in creation. Now Jewish theology is conflicted at this point because on one hand it wants to say that God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, is a reality but on the other hand the Holy Spirit isn’t a divine entity – certainly a Jew wouldn’t say the Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Trinity. But for us Christians we shouldn’t hesitate in the least affirming the Holy Spirit – the third Person of the Trinity – was active and present during creation. The Jewish translators can translate ruah as “wind” if that’s what they want to do, but even as other Jewish translators agree, the better rendering is “spirit,” although they would probably not capitalize the word but leave it in the lower case. As Christians, knowing what we now know about the Holy Spirit from the New Testament, we shouldn’t hesitate to see God the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, in the creation account. Most modern translations of the Bible actually capitalize the English translation of the Hebrew word ruah as “Spirit.” Now although we don’t go along with some Jewish translations that translate ruah “wind,” we can appreciate God’s symbolic meaning, because pure spirit is a hard thing to grasp, which is why Jesus uses the wind to help people understand the Spirit. “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” This Spirit, of whom Jesus speaks, is first introduced to us in Genesis 1:2. This is just another indication how important are the first few chapters of Genesis!

Jesus speaks of the importance of being born again. Do you personally know what he’s talking about? Have you experienced the spiritual rebirth Jesus is talking about? Jesus says that the Holy Spirit blows like the wind, or in other words, it’s a mystery. It’s really true! One moment we can be thinking of a thousand different things pertaining to life or work or survival in this complex world – but then all of a sudden our thoughts can turn to God and the desire to know him can well up within us to the point that the main obsession in our life is to seek after God. Do you want to know God? Do you feel the inner need to get the really big questions of life answered? Or are you content to live from day to day, going to work, having fun, earning a living, buying things, consuming things, discarding things? Are you content to live out your life seeking after and satisfying your so-called creature comforts? Don’t you ever ask if there is more to live than living and dying and trying to make it through the day? Well, there is more to live than merely existing. But the funny part is that God’s Spirit continually speaks to us through the Bible and directly but most of the time we ignore or neglect the message. Why? Because while we really do want to know the meaning and purpose of life, while we really do want to know God and draw close to him, at the very same time we also resist God and rebel against him in order to have our own way in life. So these two forces are acting up us all the time – one is drawing us closer to God and the other is drawing us apart from God. Which force is winning out in your life? Are you drawing closer to God, seeking out God in order to have a deeper relationship with him, or are you trying to avoid God as much as possible, or at least are you trying to get away from God when your will conflicts with his? According to Jesus, the Spirit blows in and out like the wind, it’s unpredictable. That means when you do sense the Spirit of God inspiring you, giving you a strong interest in God and God’s Word you must take advantage of the Spirit’s presence because it may not be there next time you look. In other words, if you feel conviction of sin, confess and repent of sin right then and there; don’t wait for another time because the gentle breeze of God’s Spirit may not be enabling you to turn from sin as it is now. Also, if you feel inspired to read the Bible and pray and seek God for the salvation of your soul, then follow that Spirit breeze now. Don’t wait until later or for another time because that inspiration, that motivation, that ability may not be there. Like the wind, the Spirit blows where it will, now here, now there. Don’t resist, don’t refuse; follow God’s Spirit now!

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2 Responses to “Important Observations from Genesis 1”

  1. gloria klug Says:

    Very interesting, send me more

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