Chapters 1-2:4a.
The Creation

'The foundation of foundations and pillar of all wisdom is to know that the First Being is, and that He giveth existence to everything that exists! 'Thus wrote Moses Maimonides, a Jewish scholar of the 12th cent, a.d., concerning whom the Jewish proverb runs: 'From Moses to Moses there arose none like Moses.' He had in his mind the opening chapter of the Bible, the object of which is to lay this foundation; to declare the existence of the One God; to teach that the Universe was created by Him alone, not by a multitude of deities; that it is the product of a living, personal Will, not a necessary development of the forces inherent in Matter; that it is not the sport of Chance, but the harmonious result of Wisdom. The writer, and the Blessed Spirit who guided him, had but one object in view, to insist on the two truths which underlie all others, the Unity of God and the derivation of all things from Him If we remember that, we shall be relieved of a difficulty which has greatly troubled devout and thoughtful men. Many are the essays and books which have been written on the discrepancies between the scientific account of the mode in which our globe came into being, and the account given in this first chapter of the Bible. Astronomy has shown it to be highly probable that, millions of years ago, an inconceivably immense mass of glowing gas gradually cooled down and took the form of a rotating sphere. This threw off the planets, our earth amongst the number. The central part is now the sun. The earth by slow stages grew fit to be the abode of life. Assuming that the astronomers are right, or, indeed, on any reasonable supposition, the sun and moon were not created later than the earth, on the Fourth Day (1:16, 17). Again, Geology has proved that animal life cannot be dated later than vegetable (1:11, 12 compared with 1:24), and the remains of animals found in the rocks testify by their structure to their feeding on other animals, not on fruit and herbs (1:30) But such discrepancies do not detract from the real value of our narrative, which is intended to teach Religion, not Science. For the exercise and training of human faculties God, in His Wisdom and Goodness, has left men to find out physical truths by the use of; the powers He has given them. The biblical writer availed himself of the best ideas on i the subject then attainable, put them into a worthy form, freed them from all disfigurements, stamped them with the impress of Religion. And the miracle of it is that the result continues valid and precious for all time, a noble presentation of the Unity and Spirituality of. God, of the Omnipotence of His Will and of the Wisdom of His operations. (For a fuller consideration of this subject see art. 'Creation Story and Science.' The question will be asked, whence did the OT. writer derive his ideas about the creation of the world which we find in this passage? It used to be generally supposed that they were given to him by direct revelation of God. Some competent authorities maintain that, if not appearing for the first time in his work, they were at least original to the nation to which he belonged. Something may be said for this view, but the majority of scholars, upon historical and literary grounds, incline to the opinion that they were more or less derived. All the great nations of antiquity, it is argued, endeavoured to account for the origin of the world, and there are striking similarities in the pictures they drew. There is little doubt that the Hebrews were deeply affected by Babylonian influences, political and literary, and the Creation Story written on the clay-tablets of Babylonia has so many features in common with that before us as to warrant the conclusion that there is a historical connexion between them.

In an article 'Genesis and the Babylonian Inscriptions,' extracts are given from the Babylonian stories of the Creation and the Flood, and the relationship of the two accounts is discussed. It is sufficient to say here that nowhere is the force of inspiration more manifest than in the way the whole subject is treated in the Bible. The Babylonian poem describes the Creation as an episode in the history of the gods; the Bible places it in its right position as the first scene in the drama of human history: the former represents the deities themselves as evolved from Chaos; the latter assumes God to be before all things, and independent of them: the former loses itself in a confused, conflicting medley of deities; to the latter there is but One God: the wild grotesqueness of the one story is in startling contrast with the gravity, dignity, and solemnity of the account with which we have been familiar from childhood, which has also its message for our maturer years.

The present passage is full of the characteristics which mark the Priestly source. See on 2:4b; and art. 'Origin of the Pentateuch.' 1-3. Render, 'In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth—now the earth was waste and void, and darkness was over the deep, and the spirit of God was brooding over the waters—then God said: Let there be light.' On this rendering 'Creation' is not 'out of nothing,' but out of preexisting chaos. Vv. 1 and 3 tell how, when God determined on the creation of the ordered universe, the first work was the formation of light as essential to life and progress. The first half of 2:4 was probably prefixed originally to v. 1. See on 2:1-3.

2. God] Heb. EloMm. The word probably signifies 'strength,' but the etymology is obscure; cp. Arabic Allah. The Heb. word is plural in form, but as a rule it is significantly followed by verbs in the singular, except when used of heathen gods. The plural form may be used to express the variety of attributes and powers which are combined in the divine nature, or it may indicate that with the Hebrews one God had taken the place of the many gods who were worshipped by their heathen kindred. Created] Heb. Bara; a word used only of the creative action of God. The heaven and the earth] the ordered universe as contrasted with the dark watery waste of v. 2. The creation of the heaven and the earth did not precede the work of the six days, but comprised it, cp. 2:1. There was no 'heaven' until the second day. With the whole v. cp. Col 1:16, 17, Heb 3:4; 11:3. Without form (RV 'waste') and void] The word rendered void is bohu. It reminds us of the Phœnician myth that the first men were the offspring of 'the wind Kolpia and his wife Baau which is interpreted Night,' and of the yet earlier Babylonian Bau, 'the great mother,' who was worshipped as the bestower of lands and flocks on mankind, and the giver of fertility to the soil. The deep] Heb. tehom: the mysterious primeval watery mass which, it was conceived, enveloped the earth. The Babylonians personified it as Tiamat, the dragon goddess of darkness whom Merodach must conquer before he can proceed to the higher stages of creation. The Spirit (RV 'spirit': lit. 'breath' or 'wind') of God] In the Bab. myth the gods are first evolved from the primeval deep: here the Divine agency is described as working on formless matter from the beginning. Moved] rather, 'was brooding' with life-giving power as a bird on her nest.

3-5. First day:—Creation of Light.

3. And God said, Let there be light] A sublime sentence! 'By the word of the Lord were the heavens made.' Light and darkness are regarded as two objects, each occupying a place of its own (Job 38:19). Light is created on the first day, the luminaries on the fourth. Not as an explanation, for this it is not, but merely as an illustration, it may be remembered that, according to the generally approved modern theory, the matter composing our solar system existed at first in the shape of an inconceivably vast mass of fiery vapour, which gradually cooled down and took the form of a rotating sphere. This threw off the planets, our earth amongst the number. The central part is now the sun. So that light in itself may be regarded as prior to the specific lights that stood related as luminaries to the earth. The earth by slow stages grew fit to be the abode of life.

4. Good] i.e. perfect for the purpose for which God designed it.

5. And the evening, etc.] RV 'and there was evening and there was morning, one day.' In the endeavour to bring the Creation story into harmony with the ascertained results of science, it is often maintained that the writer meant indefinite periods of time by the term 'days.' But the science of Geology was entirely unknown to the ancients, and it is not legitimate to read a knowledge of modern discoveries into these ancient records. The author meant days in the sense of v. 16. Evidently, he had in mind the Jewish week, which he regarded not only as prefigured, but rendered obligatory, by God's example in creating the world, as God worked six days, and rested the seventh: so the week was to consist of six working days, and a Sabbath day of rest. At the same time the writer intended to show that there was an orderly process in the work of creation. Note that evening is put before morning, probably because the Jewish day began at sunset.

6-8. Second day:—Creation of the Firmament.

6. The firmament] the sky, heavens. The word means something 'solid' or 'beaten out,' like a sheet of metal. The ancients supposed that the sky was a solid, vaulted dome stretched over the earth, its ends resting on the mountains, and the heavenly bodies fastened to its inner surface. It served as the throne of God, cp. Ex 24:10; Ezk 1:26. Its purpose here was to divide in two the primeval mass of waters. Above, it supported the upper waters which fell upon the earth through 'the windows of heaven (7:11) in the form of rain; below were the waters on which the earth rested, and from which it emerged. These waters were supposed to form a subterranean abyss which supplied the springs and seas; for the idea cp. Gn. 7:11; 49:25; Dt 33:13; Job 38:16; Ps 24:2; Prov 8:28, also Ex 24:10; Ezk 1:26; This thought of the division of the primeval ocean into an upper and lower portion is represented in the Babylonian story by the cleaving of the body of Tiamat.

9-13. Third day:—Separation of land and wator. Creation of vegetation.

Let the dry land appear] by emerging from the flower waters which were now gathered into seas. See Ps 104:6-8. 11, 12. Grass.. herb yielding seed.. tree yielding fruit] a dimple and popular classification of the vegetable? world. Whose seed is in itself] RV 'wherein' (i.e. in the fruit) 'is the seed thereof.' After his kind] i.e. according to their several species.

14-19. Fourth day:—Creation of sun, moon, and stars.

The special value of this part of the story lies in its opposition to the worship of the heavenly bodies as deities, which was such a prominent feature of heathenism in Babylonia and elsewhere. Here they are declared to be created for the service of man, fulfilling a definite purpose. That purpose was threefold: (a) 'to divide the day from the night'; (b) to be 'for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years,' i.e. to give the means of reckoning time; (c) 'to give light upon the earth.'

14. Lights] rather, 'luminaries,' to hold and distribute the light created on the first day. In] rather, 'on' or 'before' the firmament; so vv. 17-20. See on v. 6. Signs.. seasons.. days.. years] For some of the modes in which the heavenly bodies were believed to serve as signs see 2 Ki 20:8-11; Isa 7:11; Jer 10:2; Joel 2:30; Mt 2:2; 24:29. The seasons of the year arc of course determined by them. The sun and moon rule the day and night; the length, temperature, etc., of day and night depending on their positions.

20-23. Fifth day:—Creation of fishes and birds.

20. Let the waters] render, 'let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures,' animalculæ, insects, fish, etc. Fowl that may fly] RV 'let fowl fly.' 21. Great whales] Heb. denotes rather creatures like serpents, crocodiles, etc. 22. Blessed them] As animate creatures they received a divine blessing, which suggests God's pleasure in the creation of beings capable of conscious enjoyment.

24-31. Sixth day:—Creation of animals and man.

26. Let us make man] the crowning work of creation and its highest development. The plural form 'us,' which occurs again 3:22; 11:7 and Isa 6:8, has been interpreted of the Holy Trinity, but this would be anticipating a doctrine which was only revealed in later ages. The thought is perhaps that of God speaking in a council of angelic beings, or the form of the word may indicate a plural of majesty: see on 'God' v. 1. The point of the expression, however, is that it marks a closer relation of God to man than, to the rest of His creation. It is not 'Let man be made' but 'Let us make man.' Man] Heb; adam, the name of the race which becomes the name of the first man.

In our image, after our likeness] The. likeness to God lies in the mental and moral features of man's character, such as reason, personality, free will, the capacity for communion with God. These distinguish man from the animals with which on the physical side he has much in common, and inevitably ensure his dominion over them (cp. Ps 8:5, 6). When the perfect Image of the Father (Heb 1:3) had fully manifested His character, it became possible to declare, in yet more adequate language, what true likeness to God is (Eph 4:24; Col 3:10).

27. Male and female] There is nothing in this account of the Creation to suggest that the sexes were not simultaneously created: contrast 2:21-23, which is from the earlier document. 29, 30. The writer of the Priestly narrative here represents men and animals as living only on vegetable food. We seem to trace the thought of a primitive golden age, when the animals did not prey on each other, but lived at peace together: cp. Isa 11:6-9; 65:25; Hos 2:18. It is he also who records the permission to use animal food after the Flood (9:2, 3). But the parrallel narrative from the Primitive document refers to the keeping of flocks (4:2, 4, 20), and takes no notice of any prohibition of animal food.' 31. Very good] Certain systems of philosophy and morality, ancient and modern, have proceeded on the assumption that evil is inherent in matter, and therefore that God and the world are antagonistic. This idea is quite foreign to the Scriptures, which teach that 'every creature of God is good.' Genesis teaches that evil enters the world from without: see on 3:1.

2:1-3. Seventh day:—God ceases from His work and sanctifies the day on which He rests.

Vv. 1-3 clearly belong to the first narrative of the Creation, of which they form the natural conclusion. The first part of v. 4, 'These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created,' has probably been transposed from its original place before 1:1, as in all other cases the phrase stands at the beginning of the section to which it refers, cp. 5:1; 6:9; 10:1. The second account of Creation begins in the latter half of v. 4, and should have formed the commencement of c. 2.

1. All the host of them] i.e. 'all the contents of heaven and earth.' 2. He rested on the seventh day] God ceased (as the word means) from His creative work.

3. God blessed the seventh day and sanctified (RV 'hallowed') it] This is adduced in Exodus as the ground for the observance of the sabbath (see Ex 20:8-11 notes, 31:17; Heb 4:4). It was separated from ordinary days, and set apart as a day for rest, and at a later time for holy observance. Further instructions as to its use will be found in Ex 31:13; 36:2; The Babylonians observed the 7th, 14th, 19th, 21st and 28th days of the lunar month, as days when men were subjected to certain restrictions: the King was not to eat food prepared by fire, nor offer sacrifice, nor consult an oracle, nor invoke curses on his enemies. But the weekly sabbath came to have a peculiar religious significance among the Hebrews, which is not evident among other nations; and by its regular recurrence every seventh day it was dissociated from its connexion with the moon, and with lunar superstitions.

4. These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created] i.e. this is the history of their creation. See on vv. 1-3. The phrase 'These are the generations' occurs ten times in Genesis, viz. 2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27; 25:12; 25:19; 36:1; 37:2.