Monday, January 30, 2017

Saving Grace in the Storm of Judgment (Genesis 6-7)

As we were preparing for the birth of our first child, I remember the overwhelming assumption that many people made. Since we are Christians, we would certainly decorate our child’s room with the theme of Noah’s Ark. That seemed to be a popular option judging from the options presented in the local stores. It was a genuinely honest question that I asked to one person who made such an assumption, “Why would we do that?” And the person responded that it would be cute, what with all the animals and such, and after all, it was in the Bible. I replied, “Well, wouldn’t that be kind of like decorating with a theme of Sodom and Gomorrah, or Armageddon?” I think many people have in their mind’s eye this vision of the story of Noah’s ark being a cute little cartoony story. In fact, the story of Noah’s ark is a story of cataclysmic judgment. It is anything but cute. When we attempt to make it a cute story, we minimize the severity of this judgment and overlook the sinfulness of humanity that brought it about.

If we were to envision it accurately, we would see it as a horror story. And yet, in the midst of the horror story there would be a sweet story line of divine love and redemption. That is how the Bible sets forth the account, and how we must understand it. As we make our way through this passage, we will discover the conditions which made the flood a necessary act of divine judgment. We will also discover the characteristics of a man who was shown gracious favor by the Lord. And we will also see how God acts to rescue and redeem the objects of His grace in the midst of His judgment.

I. The Conditions of a Culture Destined for Judgment

In our exploration of the essential texts of Scripture, we have looked at creation, and we have seen corruption as sin entered into the human experience. Because of sin, Adam and Eve immediately faced the consequences of shame, fear, guilt, pain, conflict, frustration, and death. One generation removed, the human race experienced its first murder as Cain slew Abel (4:8). It was not long before the family unit began to deteriorate with Lamech taking two wives (4:19).[1] Like his ancestor Cain, Lamech was a coldblooded murderer who boasted of his evil deeds (4:23-24). Genesis 5 records for us the wages of sin working itself out over successive generations of humanity with the repeated refrain “and he died … and he died … and he died.” The first four verses of Genesis 6 are notoriously difficult to interpret, and there has been no shortage of creative (and sometimes bizarre) attempts to explain them. I have dealt with those issues in depth in a document I wrote concerning the infamous “Spirits in Prison” passage from 1 Peter 3, and that document can be found on our church website. Suffice to say here that, whatever those verses mean, the conditions of human existence on the earth had been progressively degrading since Adam and Eve disobeyed the Lord in the Garden of Eden. There was creation. There was corruption. And now comes catastrophe.  

Genesis 6:5 begins, “Then the Lord saw ….” The last reference we have to God “seeing” something occurred in 1:31 where, “God saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good.” But now, with successive generations of humanity having come and gone and with the sinfulness of man and the effects of sin having been compounded exponentially in the world, the Lord sees an entirely different state of affairs in the world. No longer is it “very good.” Now, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth.” The corruption of the human race had reached a tipping point, and divine judgment could no longer be withheld.

Notice how the text describes the expression of this corruption. There is a repetition of words like “wickedness,” “evil,” and “violence.” The Hebrew word hamas underlies our English word “violence” here. The word is defined by one scholar as “the cold-blooded and unscrupulous infringement of the personal right of others, motivated by greed and hate and often making use of physical violence and brutality.”[2] Verse 11 says that the earth was filled with it. It was but one of many manifestations of human sin that the Lord deemed to be wicked and evil.

We also see in verse 5 the extent of the corruption. Here is the summary indictment of the entire human race, and it is the Lord’s flawless estimation: “Every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” For the ancient Hebrews, “the heart” was considered to be the center of thought, feeling, the will, and morality.[3] Under God’s own evaluation, the collective human heart was a cesspool of evil. It was not that there was a rare or occasional evil thought. It was every intent which underlied every thought of the heart, continually. Every. Only. Continually. Evil. This is what sin has done to humanity. We are radically corrupted to the core. The theological term is “total depravity.” It does not mean that each of us is “as bad as we could possibly be.” But it does mean that there is nothing within ourselves which would make us commendable toward God. As Timothy George writes, “We are born rebels inheriting a corrupt nature from our parents and growing up in an environment tainted by sin. ... [W]e stand justly condemned before the bar of God’s righteous judgment.”[4] The Apostle Paul will say of the human race that “there is none righteous, not even one,” (Rom 3:10), and that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (3:23). We are “dead in our trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1), and hopelessly dependent upon the merciful pity of God for any remedy to our peril. This is the extent of our corruption.

We also observe the effects of our corruption. There is an effect upon the whole creation. Verse 11 says that “the earth was corrupt in the sight of God.” This earth which God had declared to be “very good,” He now looks at and says that it is “corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth” (6:12). The world did not make a mess of humanity, but humanity instead made a mess of the world by carrying out our sinful desires in their manifold expressions of evil and wickedness. When Adam sinned, God said, “Cursed is the ground because of you,” and so here on the precipice of the flood of divine judgment, the entire created order is in peril because of the sinfulness of man.

But notice also that there is an effect upon the holy Creator. Verse 6 says, “The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.” To say that the Lord was sorry that He had made man is not to suggest that He had second thoughts about what He had done. The sovereign, all-knowing God, does not make mistakes. He is not wishing He had a mulligan on this one. In a sense, we can say that this is anthropomorphic language – that is, God is being described with language to which human beings can relate. Human language is impoverished to explain the pathos of God’s emotions, but we all know what it feels like to be sorry for something. But let us not press that point so far as to minimize the anguish which God Himself did feel when He looked upon the sorry state of human sinfulness. He was grieved in His heart. It is the language we use when we speak of the death of a loved one. It is the sentiment that a parent has over a prodigal child. God feels all of this, and more, to an infinite degree when He beholds the destructive sinfulness of humanity. We speak of God’s wrath, and we are right to do so. But we must never lose sight of the fact that, beneath His wrath, there is a breaking heart filled with sorrow and grief for humanity.

And so it is declared in verse 7 that judgment must come. Mankind is radically corrupted and has corrupted his way upon the earth in violent evil and wickedness. The heartbroken Creator is moved to action, saying, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.”

Friends, as we observe the conditions of a culture destined for judgment, we cannot help noticing that these conditions mirror the daily headlines of our nation and world. Wickedness, violence, evil, corruption, we see it all paraded about with callous pride all around us. Moreover, when we take an honest assessment of the individual whose face stares at us from the mirror each day, we know the truthfulness of the assessment that “every intent of the thoughts of his heart is only evil continually.” Judgment is not just something that those people back then deserved. It is not just something that those people out there deserve. If we understand anything of the notion of the justice of God, then we have to confess that judgment is something that all people everywhere, ourselves included, deserve. And it is against the bleak backdrop of these conditions that the light of God’s grace begins to shine with all the more brilliance. And so we move on to consider next …

II. The characteristics of a man transformed by grace.

Call it a needle in a haystack, a rose among thorns, or a diamond in the rough. But in the midst of this wrath-bound society of humanity, there was one man singled out as unique. His name was Noah. His great-grandfather had been a similarly unique man of his own generation. His name was Enoch. Whereas it is stated clearly of every person named in Genesis 5, “and he died,” of Enoch we read something different. Something had happened in Enoch’s life after the birth of his son that sparked a spiritual change in his life. From that time on, the Bible says, “Then Enoch walked with God.” So unique was this man’s walk with God that he did not taste death. The Bible simply says that he walked with God, “and he was not for God took him” (Gen 5:21-24). Enoch’s son, Noah’s grandfather was also a unique fellow. He lived longer than anyone else in recorded history. His name was Methuselah. His son was Noah’s father. His name was Lamech, not to be confused with the man of the same name who descended from Cain who was a murderous polygamist. This Lamech named his son Noah, a word meaning “comfort,” as a prayerful blessing on the boy, saying, “This one will give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the Lord has cursed” (5:29). And God answered that father’s prayer. At a certain point in Noah’s life, it is said of him that “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (6:8).

The word translated “favor” in the NASB could just as easily be translated “grace.” He found grace in the eyes of the Lord. Grace, as you may know, refers to the undeserved favor of God. This is the first time the word is used in the Bible, and from this point forward it takes on special meaning. It is not something that we earn, otherwise it could not be grace. Grace is a kindness shown to the undeserving. It was not because of anything inherent within Noah, or anything that he had done, that caused God to show him grace. Grace always flows from divine and sovereign initiative. God had grace upon Noah because God chose to have grace upon Noah. It had nothing to do with Noah, who apart from God’s grace would have been no different than the men of his day and time. It had everything to do with the benevolence of God, who chose Noah from among all the rest of men as the object of His unmerited favor. As the late Alec Motyer said, the idea of Noah finding grace is best understood by reading it backwards: “Grace found Noah.”[5] And this grace was effectual in Noah’s life. It transformed him into the man about whom we read in the rest of the story.

So what are the characteristics of a man so transformed by grace? Verse 9 tells us that he was a righteous man. Like the word “grace,” this is the first time we encounter this very important word in the Bible. The word “righteous” speaks of one’s standing before God. It is to be acceptable to God and upright in the Lord’s eyes. How does one who, by nature, is sinful and corrupted, become righteous before God? That is the question that the entire Bible answers for us. The righteousness that God requires cannot be found within any of us; but it is imparted to us by God’s grace and received on the basis of faith. Thus, we will read later of Abraham, of whom it is said that he believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness (Gen 15:6). It is important to understand that grace comes before righteousness. Noah did not find grace in the eyes of the Lord because he was righteous. Rather, he was righteous because he had found grace in the eyes of the Lord and the Lord declared him to be righteous. This is the doctrine of justification. Justification is that divine work of the Lord by which He removes from us the guilt of our sin and imparts to us His own righteousness by grace, which we receive by faith. And from that time forward, the Lord works within us to transform us into the righteousness He has imparted unto us. So Noah was right with God. He had a right relationship with Him and a right standing before Him. And he was so because he had found grace in the eyes of the Lord.

Verse 9 also tells us that Noah was blameless in his time. This speaks to his standing before men. “Blameless” is not the same as “sinless,” for none of us will ever be “sinless” as long as we occupy these sin-corrupted bodies in this sin-ruined world. But one is blameless when he or she lives uprightly in the world, abstaining from sin by the power of the Spirit and grace of God. Thus, no one is able to point a finger of blame at such a person or otherwise criticize his or her conduct. Noah had this kind of reputation in his time, because he had found grace in the eyes of the Lord.

Finally notice that verse 9 says that Noah walked with God. Previously it was stated of his great-grandfather Enoch. While others walked, in the words of Ephesians 2, “according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air (that is, the devil) … in the lusts of (the) flesh, indulging in the desires of the flesh and of the mind,” Noah walked a different way. He walked with God. He had a relationship with Him that began when he found grace in the eyes of the Lord. As Amos 3:3 says, “Do two men walk together unless they have made an appointment?” or “an agreement?” Noah had come into an agreement with the Lord that he would walk with him. He would walk in the Lord’s direction, following the Lord’s leadership of his life. This is ultimately what is meant when we call Him Lord. We mean that He has the full governance of our life, and the right to order our steps. Because he had found grace, Noah walked with God.

When a person walks with God, they walk in obedience to God. And the Scriptures record here with painstaking detail the obedience of Noah. The command comes to him in verse 14, “Make for yourself an ark,” and the command is followed by detailed instructions. Precise measurements and details are given. Instruction is given about what Noah is to take into the ark. And we read in verse 22, “Thus Noah did; according to all that God had commanded him, so he did.” Again in 7:5, “Noah did according to all that the Lord had commanded him.” We must acknowledge, it was a strange command, to build an ark. Along the way, surely Noah endured the mockery of his neighbors. They must have thought he was crazy. But obedience is not rendered for the audience of men. Obedience is rendered unto God alone. God had spoken. Noah’s task was to obey, and he did.

This is how grace transforms a man. When God’s grace is laid hold of by faith, a person comes into right relationship with God, by which he is declared righteous and then shaped into righteousness. When others look at one who has been transformed by grace, they find him to be blameless. He walks with God, and therefore he obeys what God says to him. It is true throughout the Bible, in the Old Testament and the New. The Apostle Paul says in Ephesians 2 that though we are dead in our trespasses and sins, by nature deserving of wrath, it is “by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” And it is that salvation by grace through faith that Noah experienced, and that we all may experience, as we come to know the God who saves. That brings us to our final observation here in this text. We have seen the conditions of a culture destined for judgment. We have witnessed the characteristics of a man transformed by grace. Now we find …

III. The provisions of the God who saves.

In order to rescue Noah from the flood of judgment that was coming, God provided all that was necessary. I hope you noticed that when God declared that He was about to bring about this flood, He did NOT say to Noah, “Therefore, you better learn to swim really well!” He did NOT say, “Therefore, you better figure out a way to deal with it!” He did NOT say, “Good luck with that!” He said, “Make for yourself an ark,” and He gave Noah very specific instructions on how to make it. When God brings about judgment, He makes all necessary provisions for salvation.

Notice that God provides a means of salvation. I doubt very seriously that any human being who has ever lived would have come up with the plan to build an ark to rescue them from the coming flood. How would you even know where to begin? And would anyone have thought to build it in such a way as to have enough room for representatives of every kind of animal? God did not leave the idea, the engineering, or the architecture up to Noah to figure out. He gave Noah the plans and told him exactly what to do. He did not leave it up to Noah to figure out how to wrangle all the animals together. He said in 6:20, “(they) will come to you to keep them alive.” And this divinely designed ark became the means of salvation for Noah and his family and the representative creatures.

Notice as well that God provides an opportunity of salvation. He told Noah that the flood was coming. He commanded him to build the ark. In 7:1, as the day drew near, He ordered him to enter the ark. At any point, I suppose Noah could have decided to not follow through. The follow through was Noah’s call. But it was for God to provide the opportunity. But, you may ask, what about all the rest of the people? What of those of whom it is written that they “perished,” “died,” and were “blotted out … from the earth” (7:21-23)? Did they have the opportunity for salvation? Indeed they did!

We read two important facts about Noah in the New Testament. Hebrews 11:7 says, “By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world and became an heir of righteousness which is according to faith.” Notice that the writer of Hebrews says that the very building of the ark was a condemnation of the world. They saw Noah building it. They surely inquired about it. And the second verse of the New Testament that informs us here is 2 Peter 2:5, which speaks of Noah as “a preacher of righteousness.” Perhaps in answer to their questions, or as a herald proclaiming the news, he warned them of the wrath to come and informed them that the ark was the only means of deliverance. God gave them the opportunity. But just as surely as the Lord gives, the Lord takes away. The day came when Noah and his family and the animals entered the ark. And Genesis 7:16 says that the Lord closed the door behind him. The opportunity for repentance and faith had expired, and the door was sovereignly closed. As they watched the rains fall and the waters rise, the vision of Noah’s ark was a condemnation of their resistance to the opportunity they had squandered. Thus we read that “only Noah was left, together with those that were with him in the ark” (7:23).

The Lord provides the means of salvation, and the opportunity of salvation, but let it not escape our notice that the Lord provides the assurance of salvation. The rains came just as the Lord had promised. The ark “lifted up … so that it rose above the earth … and the ark floated on the surface of the water” (7:17-18). You see God had said to Noah in 7:18, “I will establish My covenant with you.” Noah’s arrangement with God was not of his own doing. God had authored a covenant, a binding promise, and invited Noah to be a partaker in it. His salvation in the ark was as certain as God’s word is true. If Noah had perished in the flood, God would be found to be a duplicitous liar. But Noah’s salvation and security did not rest in his own craftsmanship or seamanship. It did not rest in Noah’s faithfulness to God, thankfully, but in God’s faithfulness to Noah and the covenant by which God had sworn to save him.

Friends, in the story of Noah’s ark, we find a picture of the salvation that God has provided for us all. 2 Peter 3 says the mockers will come in the last days, following after their own lusts, saying “Where is the promise of His coming?” They are saying, “Oh you Christians talk about the pie in the sky by-and-by, and the hellfire down below, and the end of time and judgment, but where is it? It is never going to happen!” And Peter says, “When they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (2 Peter 3:3-6). Jesus said that it will be as it was in the days of Noah! “For as in those days before the flood,” Jesus says, “they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage,” (in other words, just going about their daily lives) “until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be.”

Well, what hope do we have? We have a great hope – a sure and certain hope – because our hope is fixed on the God who saves! He has provided a means of salvation in the person of Jesus Christ. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Jesus Christ is the better Noah, who has by His cross built for us an ark of salvation. He is the better ark, into whom we can enter by faith and be saved from the judgment to come. On His cross, He has taken our sins and all their penalty upon Himself, immersing Himself beneath the flood of God’s divine wrath, that we might find saving grace in the eyes of the Lord and be reckoned righteous before Him as we turn to Jesus in faith.

As the Lord said through Isaiah the prophet, “Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other” (Isa 45:22). As the Philippian jailer asked of Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Their response was simply this, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Ac 16:31). He is the means of salvation provided to us by the grace of God to rescue us from judgment. This salvation is assured and secured through God’s faithfulness to His covenant promises.

And He has given us the opportunity to be saved! Hebrews 11:7 says that God has fixed a certain day, “Today,” saying, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” 2 Corinthians 6:3 says, “Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold now is the day of salvation!” How many “todays” will we have? How long is “now”? We do not know. Only God does. Psalm 139:16 says, “In Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.” And Hebrews 9:27 says that it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” You have today. You have now. You have this divine provision of an opportunity for salvation. But as surely as the Lord Himself closed the door of Noah’s ark, He will close the door of opportunity, and if we do not heed His call of grace, we will have sinned away the day of grace. Hebrews 2:3 warns us, “How will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?”

[1] It should be noted that this is a different Lamech than the father of Noah.
[2] Haag, cited in Bruce Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 134.
[3] Waltke, 118.
[4] Timothy George, Amazing Grace (Nashville: Lifeway, 2000), 72.
[5] David Atkinson, The Message of Genesis 1-11 (The Bible Speaks Today; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1990), 137.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Ruin and Rescue of Humanity (Genesis 3)

The weather has been so unusual lately that strange things are happening. I stepped out my front door earlier this week and had a nice surprise – a snake in my front yard! Thankfully, it was a good snake, and by that I mean a dead snake! I’d venture to say that most people have never been bitten by a snake, and very few of us probably even know someone who has been bitten by a snake, but we don’t like them. There’s always one or two folks we know who like snakes, maybe who have them as pets, but we tend to think they are a bit strange, don’t we? Call it a prejudice if you will, I think perhaps it is more of a long-standing grudge. They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and one of the first impressions that humanity had of a serpent did not go so well.

Chapter 3 of Genesis is an essential text of Scripture. W. H. Griffith-Thomas, the great Anglican preacher who died almost a century ago, said of this chapter, “This chapter is the pivot on which the whole Bible turns.”[1] He said, “if we take it away the rest of Scripture becomes meaningless. With the exception of the fact of Creation, we have here the record of the most important and far-reaching event in the world’s history—the entrance of sin.”[2]

We find here in this passage of Scripture the foundation for answering many of life’s hard questions. Why is our nature so bent toward rebellion? Why do our relationships take a wrong turn so often? Why is our work so often feel unsatisfying and futile? Why do bad things happen to seemingly good people? Why do people die? The answers to all those questions and more begin to unfold from this very page of the Bible. It is the account of the ruin of humanity and the first announcement of humanity’s rescue. We have been ruined by sin, and the rescue comes from God in the act of redemption. And so in this passage, we will see the deceptive origin of sin, the devastating effects of it, and the divine response to it.

I. The deceptive origin of sin (vv1-6)

It is of interest that nowhere in this passage do we find specific mention of the devil or Satan. The adversary in Genesis 3 is simply introduced as “the serpent.” But it does not take long for us to realize that this is not just a generic garden variety snake. Remember that everything the Lord created in this world was called “good” when He made it, and nothing has happened thus far in the text to change that. This “good” creation included all the earth dwelling creatures: “cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth” (1:24-25). Additionally, of all that God created, only one living thing was blessed with the gift of speech: humanity. It is an aspect of being created in the image of God. God is a speaking God, and His image-bearers have the ability to speak to Him and to one another. But along comes this serpent, who has the ability to speak. That tells us that this is no ordinary snake.

Verse 1 says that the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. I do not understand this to mean that snakes, in general, are more crafty than all the other animals. Instead, it seems that this particular serpent is in view. This one, the one who slithers in and speaks to Eve, is more crafty than any of the earth dwelling creatures that the Lord created. This particular serpent is set apart as unique and distinct from the rest of creation. And when it speaks, what the serpent says indicates that it is not part of God’s good creation in this world. Its origins are elsewhere.

We have the privilege of the rest of Scripture to help us identify that this serpent is actually a manifestation of the devil, Satan. How Satan came to possess or occupy the physical body of this serpent is not disclosed to us, but the testimony of Scripture is clear and unambiguous. In Revelation 12:9, we read about “the great dragon, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan.” Who is Satan and where did he come from? Again, the passage before us does not answer the question so much as raise it, and the rest of Scripture provides the answer. Revelation 12 tells us a war in heaven in which the angels did battle with the dragon, who had angels of his own on his side. In Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28, we read passages concerning the downfall of evil kings who are likened to an angel who had fallen from heaven. It is widely agreed that these passages are describing the origins of Satan. From those texts, we can ascertain that Satan was an angel, part of God’s angelic host in heaven. Because of his own pride, this angel tried to exalt himself above the Lord. This sparked a rebellion among the angels in which Satan and the angels who rebelled with him were cast out of heaven. Unable to overthrow God in heaven, it appears that Satan set his sights on that which was most precious to God – the human beings who had been created in God’s image. Thus, the cosmic conflict enters a new theater of operations: the earth.

In verse 1, the serpent begins to speak to the woman in the garden. Here, his craftiness is seen clearly in the tactics he employs to deceive the woman. Notice first how focuses on disputing God’s Word. “Indeed, has God said …?” Every temptation that man has faced since the garden of Eden has begun at this very point. When we allow ourselves to begin to question what God has said, we have opened a door to disaster in our souls.

From disputing God’s Word, the serpent moves quickly to distorting it. “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden?’” This is almost the exact opposite of what God had actually said. In Genesis 2:16, God had said, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely.” There was only one tree from which man was forbidden to eat. To her credit, the woman knew this, but notice in her reply that she herself distorts the Word of God. In verses 2-3, she says to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” Where did she get this notion about touching it? God never said that the man or woman could not touch the tree, only that they could not eat from it. In this sense, she commits the same error which Satan himself commits. He altered God’s word, and she added to it. Be very careful with your handling of Scripture. Ensure that you know what it says and what it does not say. Failure to recognize when Scripture is being distorted (whether you or another is distorting it) is surely a step toward disaster.

Finally notice that the serpent moves from disputing and distorting God’s Word, to denying it. The woman rightly understood that the penalty for partaking of the forbidden tree was death, but the serpent said, “You surely will not die!” (v4). We must always beware of anyone or anything that proclaims that what God has said is not true! And yet this is the way Satan always seeks to deceive us. His tactics have not changed. First he raises a question about what God has really said, then he distorts it, then he denies it and seeks to persuade us to agree with him.

From questioning God’s Word, the serpent moves into questioning God’s nature. From the very first verse of the Bible, it has been an unmistakable observation that God is good, and that He provides good things for His people. But the serpent subtly plants the notion in Eve’s mind that God is not really good at all, and that He is seeking to deprive her of something that would be to her advantage. The serpent says in verse 5, “For God knows that in the day that you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” The irony, of course, is that there is no way humanity could ever be more like God than the first man and woman were. They were created in His likeness and image. And they had all the knowledge of good and evil that they ever needed. God had given them what was good and instructed them in avoiding what was evil. The knowledge of good and evil was already theirs if only they would trust what God had said and receive what God had provided. But Satan’s tactics were gaining traction in the woman’s mind, and she began to contemplate all that she was hearing.

Verse 6 says that the woman saw that the tree was good for food. Remember, God had said that this tree was not good for food, and He had provided her with all the good food she would ever need. But Satan had deceived her into thinking that she can decide for herself what is good rather than trusting God to determine it for her. Her natural appetites were beginning to long for the fruit of that forbidden tree, and then she focused her gaze upon it. It was a delight to the eyes. How can something that looks so good be so bad? And then, having fully believed what the serpent had told her instead of what the Lord had declared, she considered that the tree was desirable to make one wise. First John 2:16 speaks of the things of this fallen world as consisting of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life. We see all of those things rolling around in Eve’s mind as she contemplates the fruit of this tree. And she took the fruit and ate it. She had been deceived.

It is interesting that, throughout Scripture, when we read of the origin of sin, we do not read of Satan’s activity or of the woman’s activity in the garden. We always find reference to the sin of Adam, not the sin of Eve. Romans 5:12, for example, says, “through one man sin entered into the world.” Romans 5:14 speaks of “the offense of Adam.” First Corinthians 15:22 says “as in Adam all die.” What’s the deal? Didn’t Eve sin first? Why does Adam get all the blame? The reason is found in the subtle yet all-important distinction between deception and disobedience. Eve was deceived into partaking of the fruit. But then, “she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.” There was no deception, no deliberation, no dialogue. He knew what God said, and he blatantly disobeyed him and sinned against Him. Eve has an excuse – not a great one, mind you, but an excuse nonetheless: she was deceived. Adam has no excuse. With willful intent, he disobeyed the clear command of God. And so sin had entered into the human experience. “Evil” had come into the “good” world that God had made. And the ruin of humanity was underway.

Having considered the deceptive origin of sin, we move now to …

II. The Destructive Effects of Sin (vv7-19)

As most of us have discovered the hard way, sin always promises more than it can deliver. The promise of the serpent was that this fruit would make the man and woman like God, knowing good and evil. They were already like God, and already knew good and evil as a result of God’s word to them, but they wanted more, and the serpent offered it to them. Having eaten the fruit however, they suddenly realized that they were no longer like God, not even like each other, and rather than knowing good and evil, they discovered that their knowledge of the good had been obscured and their knowledge of evil was now irreversible.

Verse 7 says that the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked. Now, how long had they been naked? Since they were created! They had never not been naked. And was there anything wrong with their nakedness? No, for 2:25 says that they were naked and not ashamed. Their unashamed nakedness symbolized the intimate union that they enjoyed as man and wife. So what changed? The fruit did not make their clothes fall off. They were naked before and they were naked now. But the change took place inside of them, and suddenly their perception of one another’s nakedness produced a sense of shame within them. Their hearts and minds had been corrupted and they would never view one another’s nakedness the same way again. From their unashamed state, they had fallen into shame, so they made an effort to hide their nakedness from one another with fig leaves sown together by their own efforts to conceal their sin.

Verse 8 says that they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day. Prior to their sin, this sound would have brought them great joy! The Lord who made them, who brought them together, who gave them all good things, was coming into their presence. But now because their hearts had been darkened by sin, what was their response? “The man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” Let’s make something abundantly clear: it is absolutely impossible to ever hide from God. But we all try, do we not? The Lord God called to the man in verse 9, saying, “Where are you?” Again, let us be clear: it is not that the Lord did not know. He always knows where we are. The question, and those which follow, are not attempts by the Lord to gain information. He does not need information from us. But by these questions, He is making Adam aware that something has changed. Adam is not where he is supposed to be, and with this question, the Lord begins to draw the man into a confession of his sin.

In verse 10, Adam said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” Note well the word afraid. For the first time ever in humanity’s short history to that point, the man made in the image of God was afraid of the one who made Him. The serpent never mentioned shame or fear, but these were immediate effects of the sin of the man and woman.

The questions continue: “Who told you that you were naked?” This question is not answered by the way. “Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” Again, God already knew the answer to this question, but He is giving the man the opportunity to confess his sin. And so the answer begins to unfold: “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree.” Notice what he is doing. It’s the blame game. It was not Jimmy Buffett who was the first to suggest that there is a woman to blame! He blames the woman, and obliquely blames God as well. Adam says that the woman whom God gave him as a good blessing was the source of all his trouble! It’s her fault, and beyond that it’s God’s fault! But none of these statements matter. The only phrase that matters in Adam’s response to God is the final words of verse 12: “And I ate.” You see, confession can never begin with what someone else has done. Confession has to begin with the word “I.”

With the confession, reluctant as it may be, Adam’s guilt is acknowledged. At what point did the serpent offer shame, fear, and guilt? Satan left those things out of his temptation didn’t he? Then notice in verse 16 that the effects continue to be compounded. To the woman, the Lord said, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, in pain you will bring forth children.” Now, this does not mean that the pains of labor did not exist before sin entered into the world. Anything multiplied by zero still equals zero. There was already physiological pain in childbirth, but as every mother will tell you, the memory of that pain fades away quickly. The multiplied pain of bringing forth children is more far reaching than the moment of delivery. It is the pain of seeing children born into the world with a sin nature, an inherent bent toward rebellion, and watching them grow up in a world infected by sin. In the very next chapter, Eve will experience the multiplied pain of which the Lord speaks as one of her sons murders the other in a fit of jealous rage. Shame, fear, guilt, pain – these are the effects of sin, but they go on.

Next the Lord says to the woman, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” In order to understand this statement, we do well to look at Chapter 4 and see how these exact words are used by the Lord in His confrontation with Cain. The Lord says to the embittered Cain in 4:7, “sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” The same Hebrew words are used as those here in 3:16. What does sin desire to do to Cain? It desires to overpower him and take control of him. And what must Cain do? He must wrestle against it and overcome it. So, what the Lord is saying to Eve here is that, because the corruption of sin within her, she will no longer be content to be Adam’s helpful companion. She will desire to overpower him, to domineer and control him. And in response, the man will abandon his God-ordained post as the shepherd-priest of the family and instead be a tyrannical overlord. So the intimacy of marriage that was demonstrated in Chapter 2 becomes a battlefield of domestic conflict. Shame, fear, guilt, pain, conflict. Devastating effects! And yet, there is more!

To the man, in verses 17-19, God says that the ground will be cursed because of his sin. The ground which God had blessed and caused to bring forth food for man will now have to be tended with sweat and toil. Thorns and thistles will spring forth, choking out the vegetation on which man’s life depends. His entire life will be conscripted to never-ending labor, with frustration and futility defining his efforts to put food on the table for his family. Shame, fear, guilt, pain, conflict, frustration. And then comes death. “Till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” He cannot say he was not warned. The Lord had clearly spoken: “In the day that you eat thereof, you shall surely die.” Death had set in. The sentence had been past. Though, as we shall see, man did not physically die on that day, he began dying physically on that day. Internally, spiritually, he was already dead, as seen in the rift that opened between himself and God, himself and his wife. Physically, every day of his life was a day closer to the grave.

Sin had a devastating effect on humanity. Shame, fear, guilt, pain, conflict, frustration, and death. And because every one of us born to Adam’s race have inherited his guilt and his sin nature, we are subject to these same devastating effects as well. When we find ourselves facing these effects, we begin to despair and cry out in anguish, as if to say, “This is not the way life should be!” And to that, the Lord would say, “Amen.” This is not life as God intended it. This is life as sin has corrupted it. But the Bible says, “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Rom 5:20 KJV). And we see the goodness and grace of God as we look finally at …

III. The Divine Response to Sin (vv15, 20-24)

Thanks be to God, sin and Satan do not have the final word for humanity. God has the first and last word, and His words are words of grace and mercy.

Notice in verse 15, the Lord announces the ultimate triumph over sin and Satan. He says to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you more than all cattle and more than every beast of the filed; on your belly you will go, and dust you will eat.” The words are symbolic – crawling on the belly and eating dust are images of defeat and conquest. And this conquering defeat will come about in the Lord’s timing according to the Lord’s promise here. He says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed.” The word “seed” here implies future generations. Satan will have “offspring,” if you will. They will be those who yield to their sinful natures and live their lives in disobedience to the Lord, carrying out the desires of the evil one. The woman’s seed, however, is the One who should capture our attention. Strictly speaking, women do not produce seed in the biological sense. Throughout Scripture, this word is used to describe the offspring of men, not the offspring of women. But there is One who is coming, whom the Bible says will be “born of woman” (Gal 4:4). It is the One of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke, saying, “The virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (“God with us”; Isa 7:14). There has only ever been One who was born of a virgin, only One who could be rightly called “the seed of woman,” only One who could wear the title of “God with us.” He is Jesus. Because of the enmity that exists between Him and the seed of the serpent, Jesus said to those who sought to kill him, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him.” And so, the seed of the serpent did their father’s bidding and conspired together to put the seed of woman to death on the cross. But in so doing, the victory promised in the garden by the Lord would come to pass. “He (the seed of woman) shall bruise you (the serpent) on the head, and you shall bruise Him on the heel.” That is, through His suffering, death, and resurrection, He would defeat Satan forever and deliver those who trust in Him from the power of sin and death. First John 3:8 says, “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.” Hebrews 2:14 says that “through death,” Christ has rendered powerless “him who had the power of death, that is, the devil,” and freed “those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.”

In order to demonstrate what God was going to do for mankind through the Seed of Woman who was to come, the Lord provided a covering for the sinful man and woman. They had failed to conceal their guilt and shame by the works of their own hands with their garments of fig leaves. Our works can never make us right before the Lord. Only His work can do that. So to demonstrate what God would do through Jesus Christ, verse 21 says, “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.” In order to provide a garment of skin, there has to be a death. So on the day that they ate thereof, there was a death. But the man and the woman did not die on that day. Instead an innocent substitute died in their place, that they might be covered by its sacrifice. And this is precisely what happened at the cross. Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, laid down His life as a substitute for us, that He might die the death that we deserve for our sins, that we might be clothed in His righteousness before God.

In the Lord’s mercy, He kicked Adam and Eve out of the garden. That may not sound merciful, but hear the love of God’s words as He says in verse 22, “”Now he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.” Friends, as we have said, this sin-infected life is not life as God intended it. Therefore, in His mercy, He has prevented us from living forever in these corrupted bodies in this fallen and defiled world. He kicked humanity out of the garden, so that we might have the privilege of dying. Dying doesn’t sound like much of a privilege, and it surely isn’t if we die in our sins. But if we die covered in the righteousness of Christ, we have the promise of life everlasting in God’s presence in heaven. There, there will be no shame, no fear, no guilt, no pain, no conflict, no frustration, and no more death. There, we will live the life we long for, the life God intended for us to live. The Bible says that the tree of life, from which we have been barred in the garden, will be accessible to us in heaven. Revelation 22:14, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life.” Our robes are washed in the blood of Christ, who took our shame, our fear, our guilt, our pain, our conflict, our frustration, our death upon Himself. He was nailed to the tree of Calvary to rescue us. In the Garden, God says, “Take from this tree and die.” At the cross, Jesus Christ says, “Take from this tree and live!”

Sin has ruined us. Christ has rescued us. So let us turn to Him in faith and repentance and live.

[1] W. H. Griffith-Thomas, Through the Pentateuch Chapter By Chapter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957), 33.
[2] Griffith-Thomas, Genesis: A Devotional Commentary (Vol. I; London: Religious Tract Society, 1908), 45.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The God Who Creates (Genesis 1-2)

As we kick off a new year, we also kick off a new series of studies in God’s Word. In the past, we have devoted prolonged seasons of study to single books of Scripture, and I remain convinced that this is the best way to understand the Bible and to feed ourselves spiritually. However, I also believe that sometimes it is easy to “miss the forest for the trees,” and for that reason, I have felt inclined to “zoom out,” if you will, and take a broader look at Scripture over the next indefinite season of time. A number of years ago, I became acquainted with a Bible study plan called “The Essential 100” which covers 50 carefully selected passages of the Old Testament and 50 from the New Testament which provide the grand overview of the entire metanarrative of Scripture, the “Big Picture,” you may say. And so we begin today with the first of these studies, and rightly so, we begin the series where the Bible itself begins, with the creation account in the book of Genesis. Today we will deal with the first two chapters of Genesis, but for time’s sake, I will only read a selection of verses from these chapters. So, if you have your Bibles, and I hope you do, I invite you to turn to Genesis 1 as we begin. This is the Word of God:

Genesis 1:1 (NASB)
1  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Genesis 1:26-31 (NASB)
26  Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."
27  God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
28  God blessed them; and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth."
29  Then God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you;
30  and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food"; and it was so.
31  God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Genesis 2:1-3 (NASB)
1  Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts.
2  By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.
3  Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.

Genesis 2:7-9 (NASB)
7  Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.
8  The LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed.
9  Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Genesis 2:15-25 (NASB)
15  Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.
16  The LORD God commanded the man, saying, "From any tree of the garden you may eat freely;
17  but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die."
18  Then the LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him."
19  Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name.
20  The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him.
21  So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place.
22  The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man.
23  The man said, "This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man."
24  For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.
25  And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

The Word of the Lord, thanks be to God.

When we think of essential passages of Scripture, the creation account that we find in Genesis 1-2 should be at the top of the list. If we do not understand the creation account correctly, it is not likely that we will understand much else. Some of you are familiar no doubt with the game Jenga. In Jenga, the object is to remove blocks from a tall tower without making the tower topple. I submit to you that the creation account is an immovable block in the tower of Christian faith and practice, and by removing it, the entire tower crumbles to the ground.

In Romans 1, Paul says there that since the creation of the world, God’s invisible attributes, His eternal power, and His divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made. So, as we look into the biblical record of creation found in Genesis 1-2, we seek to know who this God who creates is and what He is like.

I. The Existence of God (v1)

In the first verse of Genesis, we find just ten words in English, merely five in Hebrew. And yet, never has more been said in so few words than in this sentence. Here we discover that this world and all it contains, and the universe surrounding it had a definite beginning point, when it came into existence by the God who existed eternally before it.

In these opening words we find the eternality of God expressed. Unlike everything other than God, God Himself has no beginning. He has always existed and always will. To say that God is eternal is to say that time does not change God, for God created time and exists beyond it. Psalm 90:2 puts the matter simply: “Before the mountains were born or You gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.”

We also discover in these brief words that God is self-existent. The answer to the age old question, “Who made God?” is simply this: “No one made God, for God does not need making. Rather He is the One who made everything else.” The theological term for this self-existence is aseity, meaning that He exists from Himself. God is not dependent on us, or on anything else for His existence, for unlike every other thing that exists, God exists by virtue of His own nature. The medieval theologian Anselm of Canterbury popularized the ontological argument for God’s existence, which can be summarized like this: “God is the Being which nothing greater can be imagined. Therefore, He must exist, because if He did not, then we could imagine something greater than Him, namely a God who does exist.” So this God who does not exist would not be God at all. The modern value of such an argument in dialog with an unbeliever may be debated, but the logic is solid. For a being to be such a One as we may rightly call “God,” He must exist, for if He does not exist by His very nature, then He is not qualified to be called “God” at all. This God, as Paul says in Acts 17:25, is not “served by human hands, as though He need anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things.”

Finally, when it comes to His existence, we find the beginning of the unfolding of a mystery in this opening verse of Genesis that will require the entire Bible to see clearly. That mystery is God’s existence in a Triune nature. The Hebrew word translated “God” in verse 1 of Genesis 1 is the word Elohim. Strictly speaking, it is a plural word. Yet, this God is spoken of as a singular unity through this passage and the rest of Scripture. The verbs and pronouns that relate to Him in this passage are singular words. But  He says to Himself, “Let Us make man in Our image.” So we begin to see from the very first verse that God is unique in that He is both a singularity and a plurality. The great Hebrew passage of Deuteronomy 6:4 seeks to explain it a bit, saying that YHWH is our Elohim (there’s that plural word again), and YHWH is one! There are not many gods but one God. And yet, this One God exists as three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So, the book of John can speak of the Son (Jesus Christ) as the eternal and divine Word of God, through whom all things come into being, and apart from whom nothing comes into being that has come into being (Jn 1:3).

Now, it is obvious to all of us that not everyone agrees that God exists, or that the world came into existence by His direct creation. But, no matter what view anyone holds about why there is something rather than nothing, everyone has to affirm that something or someone is eternal and self-existent. And those who deny the biblical creation account have a trinity of their own to which they are devoted by faith. The view of atheistic materialism clings by faith to a trinity of matter, time, and chance. Matter, in their view is eternal and self-existent. And without the intervention of God to shape that matter according to some purpose, the combining, splitting, and mutating of molecules must occur by chance. So, all that we see in the world today has come into the form it has by a random series of accidents. So how can all this variety of life, all these geological features, all these atmospheric and cosmic phenomena which are the result of random chance accidents of molecular matter come into their present form without the guidance of a divine outside creative agent? Well, it would simply require time. Very, very, very long periods of time. Thus we have materialistic cosmologies which posit billions and billions of years of these random arrangements of matter coming into their present form. Can it be proven? Can it be observed scientifically? No. Why? Because it would take billions and billions of years to observe it. Thus, these worldviews are held, not by reason alone but by a manner of faith which is not dissimilar to the faith which believes in God. This materialistic worldview begins by faith with the presupposition that God does not exist. Remove the eternal, self-existent, Triune God from the picture, and you still have to answer the question of why we have something rather than nothing. And in His place is substituted the false Trinitarian idol of time, matter, and chance. If both positions are held by faith, what is the advantage of rejecting the biblical account of creation and the existence of God? It is simply this – by jettisoning God from my worldview, I remove all moral accountability, and place myself in a state of moral anarchy in which I can live however I desire. This is precisely why Paul says in Romans 1 that humanity has suppressed the self-evident truth of God’s existence in unrighteousness.

So, we begin to understand something of God’s existence in the very first verse of the Bible. He exists eternally, He exists by virtue of His own nature completely independent of any and every other person and thing, and He exists as a Trinity. Now from this we move on and discover …

II. The Power of God (1:3-2:3)

God has within Himself by virtue of His divine nature unlimited power. We speak of His omnipotence, meaning that He is all-powerful, or that He has the power to do all that He wills to do. In the creation account, we see the power of God on display as He creates something, indeed everything, from nothing (as the Latin phrase states, ex nihilo). Nothing was there, and from it, God made everything. Some of you are very creative people, and you have the ability to make wonderful things from raw materials. But, God creates without using raw materials, and that is something that no other person or thing can do. The universe came into being simply as a result of the exercise of God’s power. He did not assemble it from a kit as though it were a set of Legos or Lincoln Logs. There was nothing, and amid and from that nothing, God made everything.  

Notice how He does this. He does it by the Word of His power. He speaks things into existence. He says, “Let there be light,” and light comes into existence (1:3). He says, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters,” and the sky comes into existence (1:6-8). He says “Let the waters be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear,” and the Bible simply says, “and it was so” (1:9). He says, “Let the earth sprout vegetation …, and it was so” (1:11). He says, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens … and it was so” (1:14-15). He says, “Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth,” and these things came into being (1:20-22). He says, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth …,” and these things began to exist (1:24-25). This is the power of His word. He can speak to things that do not exist, and by His very word can cause them to exist.

Then we also notice that God has the power to take that which is unformed and unfilled and form it and fill it according to His good pleasure. Notice that Genesis 1:2 says, “The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” Pay special attention to those two adjectives, “formless and void.” God had created the earth, but it remained unformed and unfilled. Then, over the course of the subsequent six days, God formed it and filled it. The first three days of creation are devoted to forming what was unformed. On day one, he forms light and separates light from darkness, day from night, so we have time coming into being. Day two involves God separating the waters above from the waters below, that is, He made the sky and the atmosphere. On day three, He separated the dry land from the seas. Just as one who prepares to build a building has to first prepare the land on which to build, God had prepared and formed the unformed world to begin filling it with life. So on day four, He fills the sky that He has formed with objects to emit the light which He has made – the sun, the moon, the stars. On day five, He fills the seas with living creatures, and fills the sky with birds. On day six, He fills the earth with living creatures. By His power, God prepared everything perfectly and orderly. He did not create land dwelling creatures before there was dry land for them occupy. He did not create stars before there was a sky in which to hang them. We see that His power enables Him to create, to form, and to fill with meticulous perfection.  

Next we notice that God has the power to do something that we are never able to do. That is, He finishes what He starts. At the end of each day of the creation week, we read that “God saw that it was good.” At the end of the sixth day, “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” And on the seventh day, God rested “from all His work which He had done” (2:2). God did not rest after His work for the same reasons that you and I rest after we work. He was not tired, exhausted, fatigued, or frustrated. He had not run out of time or energy. The simple fact of the matter is that He was finished. Chapter two begins with this statement: “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts. By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done.” Recently, I was talking with my neighbor about our annual chore of raking leaves. He was out with his rake and blower literally every day from about Halloween until Christmas. I spent a week working on mine. And after all that work, we were commiserating about the fact that the yard was still covered in leaves! But we agreed together that we were finished. We had done all we could do. We were tired, and the leaf truck would soon come and collect what we had gathered, but it was futile to go on with the task because we would never gather every leaf. That is the way most of us work on things. We do it until we get tired. We do it until we run out of time. We do it until we cannot do it anymore, until it is sufficient, until it is “good enough.” But God does not work like we work. He works until He is finished, and when He is finished, it is complete and perfect. It is “very good.” And so He rests, not because He cannot do more, but because there is no more to do. That is a demonstration of His power.

Now, from this display of His power in creation, we move on to focus on the crown jewel of creation. All that God created bears the marks of His handiwork. All of it, as Romans 1 says, shows us His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature. But only one component of creation actually bears His image. And so now we consider …

III. The image of God (1:26-28)

Into this creation which has been formed and filled, God inserts a creature who will function on His behalf, unique from all other creatures. So unique in fact is the human race that more time, attention, and detail is given to man’s creation than to any other aspect of creation. We find the account of the creation of man given both in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. There have been many sloppy and erroneous attempts to deal with these passages, which may be avoided by understanding how the text is arranged. In Genesis 1, we have a summary treatment of the whole of creation. In Chapter 2, there is a doubling-back and retelling in more detail of the creation of man. The marker in the text which reveals this transition is found in 2:4. There we read in English the words, “This is the account.” In Hebrew we find the word toledoth, which occurs throughout the book of Genesis as a boundary between sections. Scholars are divided as to whether verse 4 functions as the end of the first section or the beginning of the second section, but all are agreed that it is a transition point. So, in Genesis 1:26-30, we have the creation of humanity in the context of the six creation days; and in Genesis 2 we have the account of the creation of humanity as a specific focus in more detail.

It should be obvious to even the casual reader that there is something special and distinct about the man that God created on day six of creation week. In verse 26, God says, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” And here for the first time, we find God, not speaking something into existence, but crafting this creature from the things already made. In 2:7, we read that “the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” So here we have a creature crafted by the very hand of God and endowed with His own breath of life, shaped in His image and likeness. That makes man unique among all creation, and it means that human life bears a special dignity among all creation. Every human being who has ever lived or ever will bears the image of God in his or her very being.

Now what is entailed in humanity being made in God’s image? It means, most plainly, that there are ways in which man is like God and represents God. While some have sought to make a list of all this includes, there is no way to enumerate all that the image of God in man means. In any and every way that man is like God, it is a part of this image and likeness. Whatever else it may mean or include, it is a revealed truth in this very text that the image of God includes relationship, authority, mission. To no other creature but humans does God personally speak in the creation account. He speaks to man, and as a result of this communication with His image bearer, humanity is invited into the unique intimacy of a personal relationship with our Maker.

Notice that the very first thing God says after saying “Let us make man in Our image,” is “and let them rule ….” So God has appointed the human race as His emissaries in the earth, exercising an endowed authority on His behalf over everything else in creation. This authority is not absolute, but comes with accountability; therefore mankind’s authority is that of a steward or manager. We are not authorized to do as we please with the created world, but rather to do as God would have us to do on His behalf. Because we are His image-bearers and representatives on the earth, we are to do as He would do with what He has made.

Part of that authority includes a mission which God gave to humanity. Notice that in 1:28, we have the first commandment of the Bible. The Lord said to man, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” God desired that the earth would be filled with those who bear the image of God. As people made in God’s image who lived in a worshipful and obedient relationship with Him went forth into all the world, the earth would be filled with the knowledge and glory of God and governed in His name and for His purposes. “And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.” Had it not been for the entrance of sin, which we will discuss in Genesis 3, this is how the world would be.

So, as we see the God who creates revealed in Genesis 1-2, we find Him as the One who exists, the One who is all-powerful, and the One who has installed in the earth a representative species – humanity – to bear His image and serve Him. Now finally, we see Him as the One who is good.

IV. The Goodness of God (1:29-31; 2:5-9, 15-18, 21-25)

We see it throughout the creation account: God is good. He did not have to make anything at all, much less a world such as we have, filled with beauty. He did not have to make us at all, much less in such a fearful and wonderful way. He created us with senses to enjoy and appreciate all that He has made so that we would rejoice in His goodness and glory. And He did not set us out in a rugged wilderness to fend for ourselves and scavenge to meet our own needs, but rather placed man into a carefully prepared garden, where He demonstrated Himself as a generous and gracious provider for our every need.

Life itself is a gift from His hands, quite literally, as He formed humanity from the dust of the ground. The first breath ever taken by man was taken from the very mouth of God as God breathed into Adam’s nostrils upon creating Him. So, the next time someone says, “God never did anything for me,” consider that your very life and the air you breathe is a gift of His grace. It is not owed to you, and it can be taken away as easily as it was given.

With this life, God has also given us all we need to live it. He has given us food to eat. Notice in 1:29, He says, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you.” Again notice in 2:16, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely.” Of course, there was one prohibition, one tree from which man was not to eat, and that brings us to another need that God provides: wisdom for guidance.

By marking off one tree – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – as forbidden, God was instructing man in the matter of obedience. Man could know good and evil as a result of God’s revelation, rather than by the bitter education of personal experience. How many of you can remember from your childhood being told that something was hot and not to touch it? And what did you do? You touched it. You learned from personal experience what it feels like to be burned. But it would have been better for you to learn that from the instruction you were given rather than by experience. You see, this is how we must see God’s commandments. They are for our benefit, our guidance, and protection. God gives us wisdom to make decisions based on His revelation. When we disobey Him, there are consequences, and when we obey, there are blessings. Because God is good, He gives us wisdom for guidance.

Notice that He also gives us work to do. Work is actually a blessing, for the ability and opportunity to work is a gift from God. God placed man in the garden and commanded Him to cultivate it and keep it. In so doing, God was giving the man opportunity to glorify Him by using the strength and energy supplied by God to care for the things God had made.

Then let us observe that, out of the goodness of God, he gave to man the help and companionship of a partner. The first time in Scripture that we read that something was “not good” is in 2:18, when God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” And so, God created for man a helper suitable for him. From his own flesh and bone, God fashioned a woman and brought her to the man. Here is one who is an equal with man, sharing with him in the image of God. But this equal partner is not an identical partner. They are compatible and complimentarian to one another. Just as the three persons of the Holy Trinity are equal in all respects, but each has a distinct role, so with man and woman, each are of equal value and worth before the Lord, equal objects of God’s love and blessing, but distinct in function and role. And without this beautiful distinction, obedience to God’s first command to be fruitful and multiply would be impossible. So, God creates the intimate union of marriage between a woman and a man, saying, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.”

We see from all of this the goodness of God. He provides for everything we need and desire. Any attempt to find satisfaction apart from Him is futile because only He is good, and only He is able to provide what we need to live life as He created us and intended for us to live.

The God who exists, who is all powerful, and who is good, created you and me and everything else in this world. He created us in His image, that we might know the blessing of a personal relationship with Him. As we will see in the subsequent chapter, that relationship is hindered by our sin, but the God who made us loves us so much that He has acted on our behalf to redeem us from sin through the cross of Jesus Christ. It is only as we come to know God by faith in Christ that we can enter into the relationship for which we were created, that we can enjoy the goodness of His creation, and that we can experience life as He intended for us to live. As we study the creation account, there is much we can learn about the world and everything in it. But the primary thing that the Holy Spirit desires to convey to us in these inspired words is the truth of God, the uniqueness of mankind, and the joy of man living in union with His Maker in faith and obedience.