[This post is part of the Genesis series]
Maybe, just maybe, I can get one of these Genesis posts to come in under 1000 words. That’s always the goal, but I usually fail in meeting it. Let’s see if this one can do the trick.
While Days 1-3 established functions, Days 4-6 install functionaries. This should immediately alleviate a problem in your mind that generally arises in a view of creation that is overly focused on the material. It is the issue of how we have light in Day 1, but the stars are not created until Day 4.
Or are they?
The two words (in Hebrew) that are used to depict God creating in Genesis 1 are “bara” and “asa.” They have some level of semantic overlap (they can be glossed in English with the same word in some cases), but they are not interchangeable terms. The former refers to “creating,” or “designing,” and is exclusively a divine activity. “Asa” on the other hand can be rendering “make,” or “do,” and is something both God and man can do. It appears later in this narrative talking about the work that God had done (“asa”).
“Asa” is the verb that is used here in Day 4:
God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them be signs to indicate the seasons and days and years, and let them serve as lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights – the greater light to rule over the day and the lesser light to rule over the night. He made stars also. God placed the lights in the expanse of the sky to shine on the earth, to preside over the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. God saw that it was good. There was evening, and there was morning, a fourth day.
Notice that the overwhelming emphasis here is on God “appointing” two great lights to a specific function. From a scientific standpoint, there are all kinds of issues:
- The two great lights are not consider stars, even though one is (and the other isn’t even a light)
- All of them are being depicted as placed inside the expanse, or in other words, they are stuck inside the dome, not outside it in any kind of atmosphere.
- The stars in a strict sense do not indicate the change of the seasons, when seasons refer to autumn, winter, spring, summer (but the moon phases do help indicate planting/harvesting seasons to a culture that follows a lunar calendar)
Not to hammer home the point too far, but notice that the emphasis is on the lights (which are inanimate objects installed into the sky by God) serving a purpose and having a specific function to make life on earth habitable. There is no sense in which this is giving us any kind of scientific explanation, nor does the text demand that the sun, moon, stars could not have already been materially present and are now being literarily depicted on Day 4 as installed by God to their proper role. This is because it fits the flow of the narrative Moses is crafting to drive home a point other than the strict chronological order of material creation. Think for a minute how this would strike a people coming out of a culture that deifies the celestial bodies, specifically the sun.
Now you’re maybe seeing what Moses is getting at.
There’s not as much of a point to make in Day 5, but in light of the ANE background there is something to take note of:
God said, “Let the water swarm with swarms of living creatures and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.” God created the great sea creatures and every living and moving thing with which the water swarmed, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth.” There was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.
I am not going to deny the presence of material creation here (nor are we ultimately denying material creation at all in Genesis 1) but again, it’s just not the focus of the narrative. Day 5 though installs functionaries into the arena that was fashioned on Day 2. To see it conceptually it would look something like this:
- Day 1: Heavens || Day 4: Objects to function in Heavens
- Day 2: Sky/Ocean || Day 5: Animals to function in Sky/Ocean
- Day 3: Land || Day 6: Plants/Animals/Man to function in the Land
It is interesting though to note why the giant sea creatures are singled out. Doesn’t that strike you as odd? The reason, so far as I can see, is that typically in the ANE giant sea creatures are symbols of chaos, and several creation myths involve a deity vanquishing one of these creatures (ending chaos) before then creating (or ordering) the cosmos. I won’t get into it here, but check out Psalm 74 sometime for this motif attributed to Yahweh (and also ask yourself why no one scientifically tries to explain that one). Also, re-read the end of Job again, see if parts of it make more sense now.
The point it seems is that in God’s world, sea creatures are not chaotic and they simply are part of God’s creation, placed by Him in their place and then given a function to serve God (being fruitful and multiplying). This further underlies the denial of the chaos motif in Genesis 1, even though it is prominent in other Mesopotomian sources. The point could be that it either doesn’t figure prominently in the Egyptian creation accounts, or that Moses is just making the point that ultimately, there was no initial chaos before God created the heavens and the earth (of before he ordered them starting in v.3).
The creation of man in Day 6 is a huge break from other creation accounts, as in those man is either created by accident (like in Enuma Elish) or as an after thought (in Egyptian ones if I remember correctly), usually to be a servant of the lesser gods (Enuma Elish again and to a lesser extent the Egyptian).
We’ve already seen the functional idea in the chart above, and since I could spend an entire post on the meaning of man being created in the image of God, we’ll stop here and pick that idea back up in a later post.
The take-away at this point is the idea that the focus of creation thus far has been on establishing functions and installing functionaries. We’ll look in the next post how this wraps up in Day 7 (including what the function of man is, which we left alone here) and some issues related to reconciling Genesis 1 and 2.
Only 165 words over. Not bad I guess.