The first book of the Bible has a place of very great importance in the whole scheme of God-given truth which the Book brings to us. This may be stated with special emphasis in regard to its opening chapters, for in them is revealed to us the origin of the visible creation that surrounds us, together with the true account of how has come to pass the conditions of sin and sorrow and toil and pain and disease and death which fill the earth today. If we fall into untruth and delusion as to these things, we shall be deluded as to all things. If we are in doubt as to them, we shall be in doubt as to all else that is revealed.
Genesis 1 puts on record facts which preceded the appearance of man on the earth, and which therefore cannot have been derived from any kind of historical record. If its statements are not the record in writing of a revelation from God to man, they can only be the guesses and brainy concoctions of men who lived some 4,000 years ago. Such guesses were of course plentiful enough in the ancient world, and some of them have come down to us, grotesque in their deformity. We need not waste our time over them, or even mention them, save that they serve to throw into relief the calm certainty and sanity of the God-given record of Genesis 1.
The first four words of our English Bibles—"In the beginning God"—present to us the primordial germ from which springs all that is revealed to us in the entire book. Here is the great fact that comprehends every other fact within its all-embracing sweep. The Bible begins with God and not man, and we must do the same. If we begin with man rather than God confusion will reign in all our thoughts.
That God exists and that He originated all things is assumed and stated. Unbelieving men may demand that proofs of His existence be produced, but nowhere in Scripture does God condescend to furnish such proofs. Were He to do so they would not be intelligible to the feeble minds of puny men. Moreover they are no more really needed than proofs that the sun exists and shines. That fact could only be doubted by a man who had neither sight nor feeling, and it is just because unbelieving men have neither sight nor feeling of a spiritual sort, that they doubt, or even deny, the existence of God.
The heavenly bodies above us and the earth beneath our feet are realities too plain to be missed, even by the most unthinking and degraded of men. What are they? Whence came they? Have they always existed? The first verse supplies the answer. They are not eternal, but had a beginning. Both heavens and earth came into being by the creative act of the eternal God. Three times in the chapter do we read, "God created,"and five times another verb is used, meaning to make. To make is to fashion out of existing matter, whereas when we read of God creating, then "through faith we understand . . . that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear" (Heb 11: 3).
But another thing confronts us in this first verse, though not apparent in our English Bibles. The Hebrew word for God is Elohim, a plural word, where the verb, created, is in the singular. This is the more remarkable in that Hebrew nouns can assume a dual form, meaning exactly two. Hence the plural form must mean three, or more. Reading this in the light of the New Testament, we at once see the Trinity in Unity. That great revelation of the Godhead is not explicitly stated, but the words, given by inspiration of God, are so framed as to be wholly consistent with it, when it is stated.
To sum up: verse 1 gives us the original creative act of God by which the whole material and visible universe came into being, long before such things as "days and years" (verse 14), were known. Its epoch may have been inconceivably remote, but that His work was perfect in its season, we firmly believe. In the New Testament, as we know this creative act is attributed to the Word and the Son, for creation was left in His hands, as also was redemption, and as judgment will be.
In verse 2 we move from that remote epoch to a time much nearer our own, and we descend, as regards this earth, to a state of very great imperfection. It is found "without form;" that is, a ruin, a waste: it is also "void:" that is, empty. Isaiah 45: 18 plainly says, "He created it not in vain, He formed it to be inhabited." This is very striking, for here again the proper word for creation is used, as in our first verse, and "in vain" is a translation of the same word as "without form" in our verse. So we have a definite confirmation of the thought that the state of the earth as in verse 2, was one that supervened, long after the original creation, as the result of some catastrophic event which is not revealedto us.
Besides the ruin and the emptiness there was also darkness, not everywhere but "on the face of the deep." It looks as if at this stage the earth was covered with water, the face of which was swathed in darkness. God is light, and elsewhere in the universe light was shining, but something hindered light from reaching the earth. In this condition of things the Spirit of God acted. We believe it was Herbert Spencer, an atheist philosopher, who said that, to account for things visible, five things must be predicated: viz., time, space, matter, force, motion. All five appear in our chapter. The Spirit of God is indeed Force, and He moved on the face of this watery matter.
But not apart from the Word of God. It is remarkable how in the New Testament the Spirit and the word are brought together, and specially so in connection with the new birth—see John 3: 5, 6, and 1 Peter 1: 25. Hence we cannot but see a striking analogy between God's work here in things material and His even greater work in things spiritual. When our spiritual condition was one of ruin and emptiness and darkness, light shined into our hearts by the moving of the Spirit of God and the power of the word of God. The first word recorded as proceeding from the mouth of God is "Light," for we understand that "Let there be light" is more literally, "Light be!" This is alluded to by Paul in 2 Corinthians 4: 6, only there he carries us beyond new birth in itself to its glorious result, in beholding "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." What a contrast between the glory of His face and the darkness that once was on the face of the deep!
Note those words, "And God said." As we travel through the chapter we shall find they occur ten times. "The worlds were framed by the word of God," as Hebrews 11: 3 has told us; or we may adopt the words of Psalm 33: 9, "He spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast." How significant in this connection is the opening of John's Gospel, "In the beginning was the Word;" that is, He was pre-existent to the first beginnings of creation. Moreover He "was with God, and . . . was God . . . All things were made by Him." So it was the Word, who later, "was made flesh, and dwelt among us," that uttered the words of power that created and made all things. Hence creation contains very definite word as to the power and wisdom and glory of God, though the revelation falls far short of that which reached us when the Word became flesh.
Notice another thing. Six times in the chapter the words, "And God said," has the appropriate sequel, "and it was so." The word of God is seen at the very outset to be powerful, never failing of its effect. How encouraging to be assured of this fact in the first chapter of the Bible, for we may be sure it applies to every word that God has spoken. When the end of the story is reached we shall be able to say with triumph, "and it was so," in regard to every promise He has made, every prediction He has uttered.
As the result of God's first utterance light shone upon the face of the deep, and God saw that it was good. This indeed it must be since, "God is light." Do we ask—what is light? Scientists have their theories as to what it is, or how it comes to be, but no better answer can be given than that which Scripture furnishes, "Whatsoever doth make manifest is light" (Eph. 5: 13), or as another translation puts it, "That which makes everything manifest is light." In darkness unrealities may deceive us because realities are obscured, and that is not good. To have everything brought into manifestation is good indeed.
So God divided the light from the darkness. There was not to be a compromise, a mixture, a sort of indefinite twilight, but the darkness was for a season to give way completely to light, and thus there was a division between them. Hence there was evening and there was morning—a first day. For a long time great exception was taken by unbelievers to this statement of verse 5, because the sun does not appear until the fourth day. But the sun is not the only source of light.
The question is raised as to whether the days of Genesis 1 are to be understood in a literal sense or figuratively as indicating immense periods of time, and it has provoked much discussion, as neither interpretation of the word is free from difficulties. For ourselves, we believe it is to be understood literally. The figurative sense occurs in Scripture—"man's day," "the day of salvation," etc. But this sense is most evidently a secondary one and the literal sense is the primary. In our judgment this fact alone is pretty decisive. We must have theprimary meaning established before we can arrive at any secondary meaning at all, and Genesis 1 deals with primary things. When we reach Isaiah's prophecy we get "the day of the Lord," but even that, though not a day of 24 hours is not a long period of time. The repetition of "the evening and the morning" fits in with the primary meaning, and would have very little meaning in the secondary sense. Further, in verse 16, where the sun is made to rule the day and the moon to rule the night, we do not see how the primary sense can be avoided.
That these mighty works should be accomplished with extreme rapidity presents no difficulty to faith. Mighty works, though of another order, were done instantaneously by the Word, when He became flesh and took "the form of a servant." He was "in the form of God" when He acted in creation and everything displayed His unqualified omnipotence.
But we must carefully bear in mind that after verse 1 the verb "create" does not occur again till we come to verse 21. In between we have "God made," an expression which indicates His action in forming or re-forming already existing matter. In the days of Genesis 1, God was dealing with the earth that had been in a state of chaos, putting it into order with a view to the creation of man.
On the second day a "firmament," or "expanse," was called into being. As a result of this a further division took place; not now of light from darkness but of waters from waters. God called this expanse, Heaven. In verse 1 "the heaven" indicates what we should call the stellar heavens. In verse 8 the atmospheric heavens are indicated. There it is that immense quantities of water float above in the form of clouds, divided from the far greater quantities that lie on the earth beneath. As the result of the work of the second day the earth was surrounded with an atmosphere. It was accomplished by His word, "God said . . . and it was so."
Again on the third day there was division. The waters above the expanse were not affected but those beneath were gathered together into one place, and this permitted dry land to appear. In result that which was stable and fixed appeared, where previously all had been unstable and m motion. Other things followed before the third day closed, but this was the essential preliminary.
We have now had five things before us, the naming of which came from the lips of God. We observe this because in the next chapter we find God bringing to Adam the living creatures that He had made on the fifth and sixth days, that he might give them names; and in keeping with this the vast variety of creatures, indicated in verses 20-25, are only mentioned generically. The word "whales" in verse 21 might seem to be an exception, but the word so translated only means "sea monsters." So though Adam was permitted to display his powers of discernment in many a minor detail, these five things he had to accept as named by God—Day, Night, Heaven, Earth, Seas.
As we go through the Scriptures we find the five things become symbolic and have spiritual significance. Our true "Day" will be found in the light of the knowledge of God, and there is complete division between that and that alienation from God which is "night." The division between Heaven and earth we all recognize. It is clear too that in the world of men "earth" symbolizes that which is ordered and stable, separated from peoples restless and agitated under the powers of evil, like the seas. As before, in the division between light and darkness, so now in the division between earth and seas, we get the remark, "God saw that it was good." There are divisions that are good because Divinely made. It is only man-made divisions that are evil.
The third day did not close before the newly revealed earth had brought forth grass and seed-producing herbs and fruit-producing trees. Here we note another step forward in the work of making the earth a fit habitation for man. Vegetable life is perhaps the lowest form of life that is known to us. It has neither the instinct and limited intelligence that animals possess, nor has it their powers of movement, yet we all know the difference between the plant that is dead and the plant that lives. And God saw that even this lowest form of life was good.
Here for the first time we meet with the idea of variety and of species, and consequently for the first time we meet with the significant words, "after his kind." They occur no less than ten times in this chapter, and always in connection with the appearance of some form of life, which had within itself power of reproduction. Here at the outset then is stated most emphatically a great law that is binding on all animate creation. However great and many the varieties which may occur, or be induced, within a species, there is no development into another species.
No idea has been more diligently propagated by unbelievers during the last century than that of evolution, and though Darwin's theories as to how evolution can have been brought about have been, we understand, largely abandoned, yet the idea itself is still clung to as affording an alternative to the disliked truth of creation. In Genesis 1, with Divine foreknowledge we have this ten times repeated fact, which flatly denies evolution, and in practice it is continually verified. No species ever has developed into another species. Every creature reproduces itself after its kind, and never into another kind.
Adam in his fallen condition and all his race are bound by this law. No fallen sinner can evolve into a child of God. Our only hope lies in a new creation, and this is what we have in Christ, as becomes manifest when we turn to the New Testament. The "man in Christ" is a man of an entirely new order. Such is the work of God by His Spirit and through the Gospel.