THEME OF THE PROLOGUE
The prologue announces that the God of the covenant community is the same as the Creator of the cosmos. God is the implicit king of this cosmos, making provision, establishing order, and commissioning regents. The life-support systems of air, water, and land provide creation’s abundance of all sorts of living species with sustenance and space to live. It is the stage on which the drama of history under God will be played.
God steps creatively into the primordial abyss and darkness to transform it into a magnificent, ordered, and balanced universe. Those who submit themselves to the Creator’s rule are assured that their history will not end in tragic darkness and chaos but will continue in triumphant light and order.
As God unfolds the drama of creation in successive days, building to a climax, so God develops the drama of history through successive epochs, which reach a dramatic climax when all volitional creatures bow to Christ.
The order of this creation will undergird God’s later revelations regarding humanity’s social order. His law (the teachings of Scripture) is in harmony with the created order. Thus, to flout his revealed moral order is to contradict creation, his created reality.
OUTLINE OF THE PROLOGUE
|Summary statement of the creation of the cosmos ||1:1 |
|Negative state of earth before creation ||1:2 |
|Creation by God’s word ||1:3–31 |
|Summary statement of the creation of the cosmos ||2:1 |
|Epilogue: Sabbath rest ||2:2–3 |
LITERARY ANALYSIS OF THE PROLOGUE
The Pattern of Creation: Process and Progress
Process of Creation
The creation account is a highly sophisticated presentation, designed to emphasize the sublimity (power, majesty, and wisdom) of the Creator God and to lay the foundations for the worldview of the covenant community.
Creation is divided into six days or “panels,” each following a basic process of creation. The key words—“said,” “separated,” “called,” “saw,” “good”—as actions and thoughts of God, emphasize his omnipotent and omniscient presence in creation. The process of creation typically follows a pattern of announcement, commandment, separation, report, naming, evaluation, and chronological framework.
Each day begins with an announcement
: “And God said.” Much of the detail of the account is framed in narration, but it is the direct speech of God, however brief, that drives and forms the account. Thus Hamilton rightly concludes, “God is the soloist; the narrator is the accompanist.”1
The hero of creation is God. Each event occurs according to God’s expressed will and through the agency of his word. Speech signifies that God is intimately bonded to his creation.
Announcement is followed by commandment: “Let there be” (or its equivalent). God’s word in conjunction with his Spirit is irresistible and creative; consequently, it overcomes chaos and emptiness (cf. 2 Cor. 4:6).
Third, God’s powerful words bring separation, dividing day and night, waters and land, fish and fowl. Boundaries are important in both the created and social orders. When everything keeps to its allotted place and does not transgress its limits, there is order, not chaos.
The narrator’s subsequent report,
“And so God made” (or its equivalent), affirms that everything exists by God’s expressed will, purposes, and word.2
God also displays his sovereignty on the first three days by naming
the elements (“And he called. . .”). Naming, an indication of dominion,3
reveals God as the supreme ruler. Even the negative elements of the precreated state, darkness and chaotic waters, are under his dominion and brought within his protective restraints.
Then, of each piece of handiwork, God offers his evaluation
(”God saw that it was good”).4 Everything, including the bounded darkness and sea, satisfies God’s purpose. Because God is completely benevolent, as well as all-powerful, humanity has nothing to fear from creation. Accompanying the evaluation of living creatures is God’s “blessing” (i.e., potency for life). Beginning with the fish and fowl, God blesses each creature with procreativity.
Finally, all of the acts of creation follow a chronological framework.
God does not create in time, but with time. The week becomes the basic unit of time: six days of work and one of rest.5
The careful use of numbers throughout the account attests to God’s logical and timely shaping of creation.6
Progress of Creation
Utilizing the structure of the creative process, the narrator constructs the story with billowing detail and movement. With crescendo the narrator devotes more time and space to each day until the climactic apex of creation, when motion ceases and God rests.
The creation account is divided into two triads, which contrast with the unformed (tōhû) and unfilled (bōhû) state of the earth when the story begins.
|Form/“The Resource” (versus tōhû) ||Fill/“The Utilizer” (versus bōhû)7 |
|Day ||Day |
|1 ||Light (1:3–5) ||Lights (1:14–19) ||4 |
|2 ||Firmament (1:6–8) ||Inhabitants (1:20–23) ||5 |
| ||sky ||birds || |
| ||seas ||fish || |
| 3 ||Dry land (1:9–10) ||Land animals (1:24–25) || 6 |
| ||Vegetation (1:11– 13) ||Human beings (1:26–31) || |
The movement and development of each triad reveals a progression within creation. The first triad separates the formless chaos into three static spheres. In the second triad, the spheres that house and shelter life are filled with the moving forms of sun, moon, and living creatures. The inhabitants of the second triad rule over the corresponding spheres: the sun and the moon rule the darkness,8
while humanity (head over everything) rules the earth.9
Each triad progresses from heaven to earth (land) and ends with the earth bringing forth. In the first triad, the land brings forth vegetation; in the second, the land brings forth animals. The number of creative acts also increases within each triad: from a single creative act (days 1 and 4) to one creative act with two aspects (days 2 and 5) to two separate creative acts (days 3 and 6).
Action in the creation account also escalates.10
Within the first triad, there is simple movement from light to dark, from firmament and seas to growing vegetation. Within the second triad, there is an eruption of kinetic energy. Sun and moon arch across the sky; birds and fish swarm the air and sea; land animals rove across the ground. The pattern of movement in the second triad occurs progressively. The lights follow a predictable and structured pattern. The animals travel with limited levels of freedom, bounded by their instinctual patterns of migration and habitation. Human beings have the greatest freedom, limited only by the earth itself.
The entire account is unified by a basic week time structure. Structure affirms the consonance and symmetry, the harmony and balance in God’s world.
EXEGETICAL NOTES TO THE PROLOGUE
Summary Statement (1:1)11
1. In the beginning.
The daring claim of verse 1, which encapsulates the entire narrative, invites the reader into the story. Its claim and invitation is that in the beginning God completed perfectly this entire cosmos. “Beginning” refers to the entire created event, the six days of creation, not something before the six days12
nor a part of the first day. Although some have argued that 1:1 functions as merely the first event of creation, rather than a summary of the whole account, the grammar makes that interpretation improbable.13
]. The form is plural in Hebrew to denote God’s majesty.14
This name of God represents his transcendent relationship to creation. He is the quintessential expression of a heavenly being. God, unlike human beings, is without beginning, begetting, opposition, or limitations of power.
]. This telic verb refers to the completed act of creation.15
Although many verbs denote God’s activity of bringing creation into existence,16 bārāʾ distinguishes itself by being used exclusively of God. His creation reveals his immeasurable power and might, his bewildering imagination and wisdom, his immortality and transcendence, ultimately leaving the finite mortal in mystery. The earth endures in part because it is brought into existence through God’s wisdom, which entails his righteousness. His creation embodies both physical and sociocultural aspects of reality (see Prov. 3:19–20; 8:22–31).17 Because of God’s largess, the apple tree does not produce one apple but thousands, and the grain of wheat multiplies itself a hundredfold.
the heavens and the earth.
This merism represents the cosmos,18
meaning the organized universe in which humankind lives. In all its uses in the Old Testament (cf. Gen. 2:1, 4; Deut. 3:24; Isa. 65:17; Jer. 23:24),19
this phrase functions as a compound referring to the organized universe.20
Negative State of Earth before Creation (1:2)
2. Now the earth.21
The starting point of the story may be somewhat surprising. There is no word of God creating the planet earth or darkness or the watery chaos.22
The narrator begins the s...