Getting it Right from the Beginning #2

(Please read Genesis 1:6-13 in your favorite version of the Bible.  I have used the NIV for these remarks.)

One day, Eve was walking in the garden with the Lord. She said, “Lord, the garden is wonderful, and the animals and birds provide such joy, but I am still lonely sometimes.”

“No problem!” the Lord replied. “I will make you a man for a companion. He will desire to please you and to be with you. But I have to warn you, he won’t be perfect. He’ll have a difficult time understanding your feelings, will tend to think only of himself, and will stay out late with his bowling buddies.”

“What’s bowling?” Eve asked.

“Oh… never mind. I was just getting ahead of myself, sorry.”

“That’s OK. I think I can handle this ‘man’,” Eve replied.

“Great, I’ll get right to it!” God said, and started grabbing some mud and shaping it.

Suddenly, the Lord stopped and said to Eve, “Oh, there’s one other thing about this man I’m making for you.”

“What’s that?” asked Eve.

“You’ll have to tell him he was here first.”

<Retrieved from http://jokes.christiansunite.com/Creation/Man_Is_Created.shtml on 10/07/16.>

We ask Genesis to answer a lot of questions, including the big ones; “How does all this exist?” and “What is the purpose of creation?” and, like that joke, the little questions like resolving the “Battle of the Sexes.”  Because Genesis is the inspired word of God, it is a reliable guide to all answers, but not all questions are worth asking, are they?

In fact, we see the writers of the New Testament turning to Genesis to solve some of the puzzles they had to solve.  Jesus and His followers took Genesis literally and seriously.  Its teaching formed the basis of their theology and that is another reason we must strive to interpret Genesis correctly, to “Get it right from the beginning.”  It is, after all, the basis for our theology too.

We observe the six days of creation are all followed by the same three-part formula:

  1. GOD SAID – the word of God is His power to make creation happen. God required no help whatsoever; He simply spoke and it happened. This phrase is followed by AND IT WAS SO, a formula repeated throughout the chapter to reinforce the fact of God’s supernatural power. His word alone is needed AND IT WAS SO.  The reality immediately conformed to His will when He spoke it into being.
  2. GOD SAW THAT IT WAS GOOD – This phrase appears on every day except day two. God approves when chaos is defeated by being organized. Creation was GOOD. That word, by the way, means that the created items were all functioning as they were supposed to.  Things were GOOD because they were going according to plan.  This Heb word can also be understood to be morally good, but it makes more sense in this context to emphasize it as “functional, orderly.”
  3. THERE WAS EVENING AND THERE WAS MORNING – this is the Jewish description of a day. As we are given no reason in the text to take these words any way other than literally, we believe that these words mean what they say. God’s power is underlined by the fact that He created all these changes in a single day.

Look for these recurring phrases as we study the days of creation in Genesis.  Pray that God will reveal all He wants us to know in this first book of the Bible, and that it will make a lifestyle difference in the way we live for Him.

REVIEW

  1. Before creation: Only God existed (1:1-2)
  2. Creation, Day One: Separating day and night (1:3-5)

NEW

  1. Creation, Day Two: Separating sky and sea (1:6-8).

God separated the waters into sky and sea by placing an EXPANSE between them.   This Hebrew word is difficult to translate.   Some have translated it as “atmosphere” in an attempt to make it sound more congruent with modern science.  This gives us an opportunity to address a few assumptions:

Modern science is NOT our authority in deciding what is most real; God is.  That means if the Bible says something and science says otherwise, we don’t assume the Bible got it wrong.  In fact, we can allow contradictory statements to exist side by side; there is no command in Scripture to reconcile the Bible with science.  Trying to shoe horn the Bible into science or vice-versa has created errors on both sides.

Like any other field of human endeavor, science is prey to trends, prejudice, errors, and other forms of fallibility.  It is temporary and ever-changing.  The Word of God, on the other hand, is eternal and unchanging.  The choice of which to trust first and foremost is obvious.

When science and Scripture agree, that’s great, but it is certainly not a matter of necessity because faith is not by sight.  We ought to see these instances of agreement as “happy accidents” and in no way base our confidence on them.

The Bible writers did not write with the same understanding of the natural world that we have.  But they were inspired by the Holy Spirit.  This means that scientific reliability is not a standard we need to use in evaluating the trustworthiness of the Bible.

Back to this word, EXPANSE (translated as VAULT in newer versions of the NIV); what the author of Genesis may have understood was that  the sky was a bowl that had been inverted and placed over the surface of the earth.  This bowl formed the solid foundation, the floor of heaven on the outside and provided a space between the surface and the heavens on the underside.

In this view, rain was the WATER ABOVE THE EXPANSE and it was held back by the bowl until such time as God saw fit to bring water to the earth (which explains 2:5-6, an otherwise challenging passage).  The WATER BELOW THE EXPANSE included the rivers and oceans.  The inverted bowl kept these two kinds of WATER separate.

The stars and other features of the heavens were believed to be like precious stones set into the inside of the bowl.  We understand there to be practically endless space between the stars, but that is not the way ancient cultures understood them.

One of the ironclad rules for understanding the Bible is to first seek the understanding possessed by those who originally received these words.  The first place to look for clues to their understanding is to draw from the text itself.  In this case, we find clues in vs. 8+20, where the emphasis is on the space between the earth and the heavens.

– 1:8 = God called the EXPANSE “SKY.”

– 1:20 = Birds fly ACROSS THE EXPANSE OF THE SKY.

These clues indicate that the best translation of EXPANSE would be “sky.” Regardless of how you understand the science or prescientific views of the writer, it accounts for the space between the surface and the heavens.  We may include clouds with rain as the WATERS ABOVE, even if the Bible writers did not understand clouds to be water vapor.

The point of day two’s creative activity is to reassure the reader that God is in control of the weather.  He created the bowl so that He could regulate the exchange of water from the sky to the surface.  This recognizes that the writer of Genesis’ purpose to have been theological, not meteorological: it is not to explain how weather works, but to point to God as the one who makes it work.

Permit me a moment on a tiny soap box: I wince when meteorologists – supposed scientists  – refer to “Mother Nature” as the origin of weather.  Such a creature is a pagan notion, an idol they worshipped and appealed to for fertility in their crops and families.  “Mother Nature” does not control weather and it is not simply chance combinations of variable conditions.  Can we agree with the writer of Genesis that God is in control?!

As we learned in part one, the story of creation is the story of God exerting His control to bring order to the originally chaotic first form of creation.  What we see here on day two is God exerting control over a resource we know to be essential to life; water.  God is acting powerfully to make the earth hospitable to life.

  1. Creation, Day Three: Separating the sea and the land, growing plants on the land (1:9-13).

Day three is a little different.  God still used separation as His means of organization, but then went a step further, and added something (PLANTS) to the new element of LAND.  This makes sense when you consider that with all three basic elements in place – light, water, and land – that God would then turn to developing them, as he does in days four to six of creation.

We see God’s organizing creation continuing on day three.  The WATERS UNDER THE SKY (on the surface, under the bowl) were GATHERED TO ONE PLACE so that DRY GROUND would appear.  Having separated them, God called the gathering of waters SEAS and wherever the dry ground appeared, He called it LAND.

Remember that THE DEEP was one of the four things in verse two that showed the creation was initially chaotic.  Now God takes care of that matter by organizing the surface waters, dividing them by placing DRY GROUND in between.  The previously chaotic waters are now organized.

Then, starting in vs. 11, God gives the LAND a job to do – grow plants.  In this sense, it can truly be said that God created agriculture on day three.  Here we see some of the “happy accidents” to which I referred earlier: points of agreement between the ancient text and modern science.

– Both the Bible and science assert that plants commonly grow on the LAND.

– Both teach that plants reproduce by means of seeds.

– Both affirm that plants bear FRUIT according to their KINDS. (What a horror farming would be if every seed were a mystery!  Imagine sowing a field and ending up with hundreds of different kinds of plants!)

These details emphasize the predictability that orderly systems have.  Science is able to observe “laws” of nature because our Creator is the One who wrote those laws! They are also indicative of God’s making the world a place suited for human habitation.

Later in Genesis (8:22), God points out the orderly aspect of nature as He created it; “AS LONG AS THE EARTH ENDURES, SEEDTIME AND HARVEST, COLD AND HEAT, SUMMER AND WINTER, DAY AND NIGHT WILL NEVER CEASE.” This promise was given to Noah, along with God’s pledge to never again destroy the earth a flood. As with all God’s promises, it is meant to reassure His faithful people that He is in control.  The world exists and acts according to the laws of nature because He keeps it that way.

These are important truths ever since Moses was inspired to record these words because our experience of nature is not always GOOD.  (Say a prayer for those who’ve suffered recently because of hurricane Matthew.)  While nature operates under observable laws, those laws don’t always operate in our favor.  When you’re on the receiving end, nature can feel out of control.

A zoo-keeper noticed that the monkey was reading two books – the Bible and Darwin’s The Origin of Species. In surprise he asked the ape, “Why are you reading both those books”?

“Well,” said the monkey, “I just wanted to know if I was my brother’s keeper or my keeper’s brother.”

<Retrieved from http://jokes.christiansunite.com/Creation/The_Monkey.shtml on 10/07/16.>

Let’s recap: in the first three days of creation we have seen God organizing light, water, and earth.  Do you recognize these as three of the essential elements in an equation that results in LIFE?  What kind of world would we have if any one of these three foundational elements were missing?  We’d have an uninhabitable world, that’s what.

What’s clear in Genesis is that God created the world as a place perfectly suited to nurture human life.  God made a home for all of us.  Scientists have shown that if a change were made in any one of several small ways, the earth would be uninhabitable.  For example, the Earth is the right distance from the Sun. It is close enough to be kept warm by an insulating atmosphere, but not so close as to suffer the worst effects of sunspots and other solar activity.

<Retrieved from http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/permanent-exhibitions/rose-center-for-earth-and-space/david-s.-and-ruth-l.-gottesman-hall-of-planet-earth/why-is-the-earth-habitable on 10/07/16.>

There are several applications of that truth, but let’s try this one on today: what kind of job are we doing taking care of our God-given home?  As we’ll see later in Genesis, God put us in charge of our own planet.  What are we doing to keep it clean and hospitable to all the life forms with whom we share our home?

People who understand Genesis must be serious managers of the environment.  We have the very best motivation to care for the world; to honor the One who created it.

I’m not advocating Greenpeace or the Green Party or any other worldly environmentalist group, I’m simply saying that each of us, in our own fashion, needs to contribute to the cleanliness and safety of our world.  I want to challenge you this week to honor and show gratitude to our Creator by doing something to maintain our earthly home.

(View a video version of this message on YouTube at “EBCSF.”)

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s