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.

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