Genesis: In the Beginning
Updated: Apr 22
For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved the night sky, awed at what’s up there, wondering what might be. I am alive to the beauty of it, amazed at the largeness of it. It thrills me and enthralls me and all the more reminds me that the Creator of it all wants to reveal Himself to me.
Perhaps that’s why, of the 1,180 chapters in the Bible, the first two are my favorites. They begin the story of why in the vast cosmos we’re here.
If time is limited, jump to Revelation 22 and see how it all turns out. It shouldn’t surprise you that it will end the way it started: just the way God wants it. But we’re here now, living in the in-between, with all our insecurities, questions, and fears, so it’s just best not to skip over any of it. Besides, the story is breathtaking, awe-inspiring, astounding and perplexing, if we only take time to ponder.
“In the beginning…”
Just three words and already we have an issue.
This beginning was the beginning of the world as we know it, not the beginning of all that ever was. Our word “beginning” is the Hebrew word rashit and refers not to the start, but to the start of something. A quick example: Jeremiah 26:1 begins, “In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim” and Jeremiah 27:1 begins, “In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim.“ Each “beginning” prefaces a different event, with the events occurring at different times over the span of a few years.
The ”beginning” was not a marker on the calendar, but a reference to the start of something new.
Genesis 1:1 is the beginning of the story of man.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
“Heavens” is a confusing word. We use it to refer to both the spirit realm and to the physical space surrounding the earth. Likewise, the Hebrew word shamayim was used for both. Since God exists in the spirit realm and has always existed there, those shamayim have no beginning. So it must be that these shamayim refer to “the sky above”— what we see when we look up—and the earth is the place where we stand.
The earth was without form and void.
Another Hebrew phrase, this one kind of fun: “Without form and void” in ancient Hebrew is the phrase tohu va vohu. And although tohu va vohu is fun to say, what it is is anything but. It means “chaos; without purpose or order.” A wasteland, barren and useless.
And there was darkness over the face of the deep.
For ancients in the near east, “the deep” was a primeval ocean, a cosmic sea with no bottom, a dark and scary space. Something we might consign to myth but very real to them.
See, the Bible wasn’t written to us. It was recorded by an ancient people and delivered to the same. They were speaking to people with the same conception of how a metaphysical world worked. Taking what they said then and trying to compare it to what we know now is foolish. And really, unnecessary. The Bible does not, nor was it ever meant to, explain “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment“ (Oxford Languages) —aka science. It wasn’t written by scientists for those trying to understand it. It was written by God-inspired men attempting to relate the story of a God beyond our understanding.
But before you set your Bible aside, realize that although it wasn’t written to us, it was written for us. Though it was recorded by men who had no idea you and I would ever exist, God included us in His audience. All we need to know about Him is recorded in these ancient texts. So if you want to know science, read a science textbook. If you want to know God, find Him in the story we’ve been given. Man’s understanding of the world is continually changing, but this ancient story remains.
And the spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
He was there. Present. Waiting. With something in mind for this empty, formless, chaotic space. And so He spoke. With a breath, He brought light into the void. He began to separate and order and name, preparing a place for what He planned to do.
And there was evening and there was morning—the first day.
For those who are trying to date creation: Stop trying so hard. You can’t. It’s just another diversion keeping you from things that really matter. The sun and moon, designed to mark out time on the earth, weren’t created yet. Time as we know it didn’t exist. The passing of “evening and morning” merely indicated that God was ready to do something new. So with the creative power of His words, he cleared a space.
If you lived before man ever imagined the earth as round, how would you explain it? What would you call it?
Walk into the middle of an empty field and look to the horizon. Then slowly turn yourself, 360 degrees. I’m guessing you’re not in a field right now, but chances are in your imagination, you’re not seeing yourself on top of a sphere with a surface area of 196,000,000 square miles. You’re imagining yourself on a flat piece of dirt looking to the place where the land and sky meet. Now, if you lived before man ever imagined the earth as round, how would you explain it? What would you call it? The writer called it the firmament, a vault, a created compartment to keep the tohu va vohu at bay.
And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.
Then God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.”
One of my favorite activities when teaching geography was to take the 2D image covering a globe, cut out the oceans and then squish the continents together to form one big landmass. It works! They fit together like a puzzle, with pieces a little worse for the wear. Whether you believe in Pangaea or not, it’s not hard to understand why the ancients imagined it that way.
And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.
So three visible, physical environments were created: the sky, the seas, and the land in between. Now it was time to fill them.
On day four, God filled the sky with lights. Sun and moon, stars and planets. They would become man’s markers for days and for seasons, and so, for man’s celebrations. On days five and six, He created things to swim and fly and roam, and He gave them power to fill their spaces. As He took it all in, He called it all good.
But not good enough.
It was time for the pinnacle, the crowning touch of His creation: a mammal with a difference. Formed from the earth and brought to life with His breath, this adam was extraordinary! One became two: male and female, and the two became one: the likeness of God. They were His stand-ins, God’s representatives, placed in this space to tend and to keep it, to subdue and to rule it. Not as earthly regents do, but as the heaven-sent sovereigns of a benevolent King.
Then God crowned them, not with gold, but with a blessing: “Take this place and make it fruitful. Fill it and give it a purpose. Establish order and in so doing, be My image on the earth.”
God had finished what He had begun. Now, He said, this creation—His masterpiece—was very good.
So He rested.
For man, the adventure had just begun.