Right from the Beginning #1 – Rightly Created

(Please read Genesis 1:1-5 in your Bible.  I have used the NIV for my remarks.)

Here’s a headline that caught my eye: “Americans Love God and the Bible, Are Fuzzy on the Details.” Bob Smietana is senior writer for Facts & Trends magazine and he wrote the article that related the results of a new survey by the Southern Baptists’ Lifeway Research division. He wrote: “Americans don’t know much about theology. Most say God wrote the Bible. But they’re not sure everything in it is true.

Six in 10 say everyone eventually goes to heaven, but half say only those who believe in Jesus will be saved. And while 7 in 10 say there’s only one true God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—two-thirds say God accepts worship of all faiths.”

While most Americans still self-identify as Christians they are confused about the details of their faith.  In this post-modern age, most people accept this kind of ambiguity without questioning it.  I’ll spare you all the gruesome numbers and share only the highlights:

– Americans think God likes all religions.

– Evangelical believers say hell is for real. Other Americans aren’t so sure.

– Many evangelical believers say everybody goes to heaven. They also believe that only those who trust Jesus as their Savior are saved.

– Everybody sins but it’s no big deal.

– The resurrection really happened. But not everything else in the Bible did.

– Americans believe in the Trinity. But they’re fuzzy on the details.

– Americans disagree about sex, abortion, homosexuality and gender. – Personal salvation takes work. – Withholding communion is frowned upon. – Most Americans don’t buy the prosperity gospel—especially if they have money.

The article concludes: “Basic Christian theology is easy to find on a church’s beliefs webpage, yet most Americans don’t understand how the pieces are related.”

<Retrieved from http://lifewayresearch.com/2016/09/27/americans-love-god-and-the-bible-are-fuzzy-on-the-details/ on 09/30/16.>

  1. Before creation: Only God existed (1:1-2)

IN THE BEGINNING, or, “on the first occasion.”  This refers to a period of time more than a point in time.  This  opening statement affirms three truths that we get right from the beginning:

– God is our Creator; we owe ALL to Him.

– All that is came to be by His power.

– All time is in His hand; past, present & future.

GOD CREATED = The Hebrew word for “created” is used 48 times and in every case, it emphasizes organization, not manufacture.  This means that the writer was concerned about God using His power to bring order out of chaos.  “Chaos” is the appropriate descriptor: it fits with the words that describe THE EARTH prior to God’s commands to put it in order.

– FORMLESS. Think of a lump of clay on a potter’s wheel.  It has potential to be all kinds of things, but at the moment it has no useful form.  It is unorganized and essentially “formless,” awaiting the hand of the potter.

– EMPTY means that it was without life. Notice that on days three, five and six, God ADDED life to the earth.  It had not been there previously because the chaos had not yet been organized to make it hospitable to life.

– DARKNESS is often a biblical symbol of uninhabitable places. Jesus warned that people who refused to honor God would be CAST INTO THE OUTER DARKNESS, WHERE THERE IS WEEPING AND GNASHING OF TEETH (see Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 25:30).

– THE DEEP refers to the sea. For the Hebrews, the sea was the epitome of chaos.  They were not sailors and did not observe the regularity of the tides; they saw the waves rise and fall in random fashion and saw in that a symbol of chaos.

The Greek-influenced writers of the NT had a different purpose in their descriptions of creation: they added the answer to the question of the manufacture of the universe because it is a question important to Western-style thinking. They identified God as the origin of matter and said that he created all that is OUT OF NOTHING (see Colossians 1:16-17; Hebrews 11:3). They expressed God’s power in terms of the miraculous; none of us has the power to create something out of nothing.  God created EVERYTHING out of nothing!

The emphases of the Old Testament and New Testament authors are slightly different: How do we put the Hebrew and Greek points of view together?  By reading the text carefully, seeing the words on the page!  To review; the first line reads, IN THE BEGINNING GOD CREATED THE HEAVENS AND THE EARTH.  We normally take that in logical order, as a summary statement.  The author is introducing us to what will follow.  Why can’t it be taken in chronological order?  In this case, the author is telling us that God created everything first, then He organized it and gave it purpose.  This is where the four words that indicate chaos are appropriate.  Creation was a work in progress in verses one and two.  So the first statement answers the Greek question, “What is the origin of matter?”  The remainder of the chapter answers the Hebrew question, “What is God’s purpose in creation?”

THE SPIRIT OF GOD WAS HOVERING OVER THE WATERS.  In Hebrew and Greek, the word for SPIRIT also means “wind.”  This is aptly translated as Spirit, and the point is that the Spirit was ABOVE the chaos.  This statement comes at the end of verse two, at a time when the reader needed to be reassured that the four chaos words do not teach that God was not in control.  Just the opposite; God’s SPIRIT rose above the DEEP, hanging over the FORMLESS and EMPTY DARKNESS, poised to start organizing creation.  John H. Walton translated vs. 1+2: “The earth was nonfunctional; primordial, watery darkness prevailed, and a supernatural wind that was permeated with the power of God circulated over the surface of the waters.” (The New International Version Application Commentary, Genesis, p. 78)

Why is this at important? Three reasons:

First, this is the Bible answering two of the three important questions on which every worldview is based.  If we don’t get it right from the beginning, then all of what we do with the remainder is on a poor foundation.  The three questions are below.

– Where did we/I come from? The question of origin.

– Why are we/I here? The question of purpose.

– Where are we/I headed? The question of outcome.

The secular worldview of our time removes God and replaces Him with chance.  They say all that is comes from random combinations; that all this highly organized complexity came from plain doo-dah luck.  And they accuse us of blind faith!  If there is no Creator then creation has no purpose, and neither do you and I, except for the very temporary things we can achieve in our lives and our descendents.  That is a philosophy of loneliness and despair.

  1. Creation, Day One: Separating day and night (1:3-5)

Following a two-step process again, God first created LIGHT where none had previously existed; all creation was in DARKNESS, remember?  Then He organized the LIGHT by separating it into the two halves of every day: DAY and NIGHT.

Skeptics point out that the heavenly bodies, including the sun and moon, were not created until day four.  They argue that a “day” is measured by the sun, so this makes no sense to them.  Our answer to this objection is simple: God used another light source on day one, probably the radiance of His presence.  Think about it: why would our Creator have to depend on the sun to create LIGHT?  Obviously, He did not.

Their objection arises from looking at the account through the lens of their own reason and experience instead of through a theological lens, as the writer surely intended.  Their objection has no power to disprove because it simply does not apply.

Because LIGHT is the first step in organizing creation, the use of the word DAY at the end of each section makes perfect sense, even in the usual way we take that term; a “day” is a period of DARKNESS and a period of LIGHT.  Indeed, at the end of each section the writer is keen to consistently observe, THERE WAS EVENING, AND THERE WAS MORNING.  Why repeat this phrase except to emphasize the order God imposed on creation, bringing time itself into being!  Also, remember the Hebrew emphasis is on order, not on science.  His account of creation is more to form our theology than our science.  The first LIGHT was supernatural.

Why is EVENING listed first?  The Jews marked the beginning of a new day at sunset, not sunrise.  Their calendar was based on the moon, not the sun.  As the Jewish practice was likely based on this account, the two things make perfect sense.

Some well-meaning folks have tried to say that the Hebrew word for DAY can actually refer to an extended period of time.  They want to integrate the theory of evolution into the Bible by making the word DAY essentially meaningless.

– First, I would say that if the word DAY were meant to indicate any number of days, this would make the words EVENING AND MORNING absurd and puts the text at odds with itself.

– Second, a rule of Bible interpretation is that unless the Bible itself gives you good reason to do otherwise, always assume that you will take the words on the page literally.

– Third, interpreting the creation account from a scientific point of view will do violence to the text. God, not science, is the final authority.  These words were given to point to God, not to justify the current trends in science.

In fact, the words “GOD SAID” indicate the engine of creation; the word of God.  We have to observe from the beginning that He spoke and it came into being.  That is power, folks.

This emphasis on the WORD will be picked up again in the Gospel of John where Jesus is connected to this creation account: IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE WORD, AND THE WORD WAS WITH GOD, AND THE WORD WAS GOD.  HE WAS WITH GOD IN THE BEGINNING.  THROUGH HIM ALL THINGS WERE MADE; WITHOUT HIM NOTHING WAS MADE THAT HAS BEEN MADE.  IN HIM WAS LIFE, AND THAT LIFE WAS THE LIGHT OF MEN.  THE LIGHT SHINES IN THE DARKNESS, BUT THE DARKNESS HAS NOT UNDERSTOOD IT. (JHN 1:1-5)

Here’s another headline that caught my eye last week: “The wrong kind of throne: Toilet discovered at 2,800-year-old shrine reveals Biblical tale of desecration of religious sites by King Hezekiah.”  The article was published by Richard Gray for MailOnline on September 28, 2016.

“The city gate at Tel Lachish in Israel has been found to have once contained a sacred shrine with two altars. Raised corners once decorated the altars have been cut and a toilet was installed in the corner of the shrine.  Archaeologists believe this was a desecration as part of a religious crackdown on cults and idol worship.  King Hezekiah is said in the Bible to have ‘removed the high places’ and ‘smashed the sacred stones’

“It was one of the most zealous religious crackdowns in the history of Judaism and saw the numerous cults in ancient Judah smashed to pieces. Now evidence of the reforms implemented by King Hezekiah, which are described in the Old Testament, around 2,800 years ago have surfaced in a surprising form.

“Archaeologists digging at the site of an ancient gate to the ruined city of Tel Lachish in Israel have uncovered the remains of a shrine that was desecrated during the purges in the 8th century BC.

“The Lachish city gate, as it is known, consists of six chambers which contain signs of city life at the time.  In one of the chambers, however, is a shrine that once had walls covered with white plaster and two altars decorated with raised corners – known as horns.

“These, however, appear to have had their tops deliberately cut off, a sign that there had been an attempt to end the spread of religious cults and centralize worship in Jerusalem.

“But perhaps the greatest sign that the shrine had been the site of one of King Hezekiah’s crackdowns was the installation of the toilet within the inner sanctum of the shrine. This stone with a hole cut through the centre would have been the ultimate desecration of the Holy site.

“Tests at the site showed that while the toilet stone appears to have been installed to desecrate the shrine, it was never actually used.  Archaeologists instead believe it had been placed there symbolically and the inner sanctum of the shrine was sealed shut.”

“WHY INSTALL A TOILET?” you ask?

“Putting a latrine at a holy site was considered to be sacrilege as it soiled a religious location that was to be respected.  Evidence of abolishing cultic locations by installing a toilet in them is known in the Bible.

“In the case of Jehu destroying the cult of Baʽal in Samaria, the Bible states: “And they demolished the pillar of Baʽal, and demolished the house of Baʽal, and made it a latrine to this day” (II Kings 10:27).

“The discovery at Tel Lachish, however, is the first time that an archaeological find confirms this practice.”

<Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3811712/The-wrong-kind-throne-Toilet-discovered-2-800-year-old-shrine-reveals-Biblical-tale-desecration-religious-sites-King-Hezekiah.html on 09/30/16.>

So – here is yet another place where science proves the Bible to be true.  If God can use a latrine to prove His word truthful and trustworthy, then maybe He can use you and me!

(This message can be viewed on YouTube at “EBCSF.”)

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