************ Sermon on Genesis 1:1-19 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 8, 2010
"The Forming of the Earth"
Do you remember what we said three weeks ago when we looked at verses 1 & 2? We affirmed that there is one God and He made everything out of nothing. We said that the earth, as originally made by Him, was formless, empty, dark, and watery. The six days of Creation changes all of this so the earth no longer is formless, empty, dark, and watery.
God didn't have to make Creation this way. He could have called all that exists into being in one millisecond. He could have made it all appear with just a simple snap of His fingers. God could have done it this way, but He chose not to. Instead, God chose to use a process. We see stage one of the process in Genesis 1:1-2. We see stage two in the six days of Creation. A close study reveals that in the first three days God formed the earth; and, in the next three days we see God filling what He has made.
I The Language of Creation
A How did God create? I want to highlight five different verbs that tell us the how of God's creation activity.
The first word we already looked at last time: the word "create." This word is used five times in Genesis 1 & 2. God "created the heavens and the earth" (Gen 1:1). God "created" man (Gen 1:27, 3X). God rested from all the work of "creating" He had done (Gen 2:3). The subject of this word is always God. God, and only God, is the One Who "creates." Not angels. Not demons. Not Satan. Not man. But only God. The word "create" ordinarily implies and conveys the idea of "out of nothing" (Rom 4:17; Heb 11:3).
B The second word is "make." This word is used ten times in Genesis 1 & 2. God "made" the sky (Gen 1:7). God "made" the sun, moon, and stars (Gen 1:16). God "made" the wild animals (Gen 1:25). God "made" man (Gen 1:26). God saw all that He had "made" (Gen 1:31). The word "made" means to fashion an object for a specific purpose. God "made" His Creation so that every part fits together and complements the whole. The word "make" implies and conveys the use of existing materials.
C A third word is "placed." God "placed" or set the sun, moon, and stars in the sky (Gen 1:17). He assigned them their place in the heavens and has designed their orbits. God organizes His creation so that everything is assigned a place. I like Job's description of this organizing work of God:
(Job 38:4-12) "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. (5) Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? (6) On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone ... (8) "Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, (9) when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, (10) when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, (11) when I said, 'This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt'? (12) "Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place?"
With this in mind, can you think of the one time the sun left its assigned place? I am thinking of the time the sun stood still at the time of Joshua (Josh 10). The sun left its place so the judgment of God could be executed upon the Amorites in order to save His people.
D A fourth word is "separated." This word is used five times in Genesis 1 & 2. God "separated" the light from the darkness (Gen 1:4). God "separated" the water under the expanse from the water above the expanse (Gen 1:6,7). God made the sun and moon to "separate" the day from the night and light from darkness (Gen 1:14,18).
Somehow, in some way, light and darkness were mixed together. So was the sky and the earth. And, so was the land and the seas. Don't forget, the earth of stage one was formless, empty, dark, and watery. It was chaotic. What does God do? God brings order out of chaos through acts of separation, division, and distinction. I like how the Psalmist describes this process of separation:
(Ps 104:5-9) He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved. (6) You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. (7) But at your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of your thunder they took to flight; (8) they flowed over the mountains, they went down into the valleys, to the place you assigned for them. (9) You set a boundary they cannot cross; never again will they cover the earth.
Three times in salvation history we see God joining together what He separated at the time of Creation. Can you think of the three times? The first time was the flood during the days of Noah when all the springs of the great deep burst forth and the floodgates of the heavens were opened (Gen 7:11; 8:2). What God separated were now joined together. The second time was in Egypt when darkness covered all Egypt for three days (Ex 10:21-29). What God separated at Creation were joined together in the plague of darkness. The third time was at the cross when darkness invaded the light at midday (Mt 27:45). Again, what God separated were now joined together.
Notice when this happens? In times of judgment in order to save His people. In times of judgment in order to save His people, God joins together what He separated at Creation. In times of judgment, God allows a return of the original chaos, in order to save His people.
Let's talk, for a moment, about time and the measurement of time. In popular language and thought, when do we say a new day begins? In popular language and thought, we say a new day begins at sunrise. By way of contrast, when does a new day begin according to Genesis 1 & 2? According to Genesis, a new day begins with evening. That's why Genesis keeps repeating the phrase, "there was evening, and there was morning" – the first day, the second day, the third day, and so on. Faithful Jews measure time the same way. That's why the Jewish Sabbath begins Friday evening and ends Saturday evening.
"There was evening, and there was morning." "There was evening, and there was morning." "There was evening, and there was morning." Why this repetition? To emphasize God's work of separation. To emphasize God's work of separating light from darkness. The world started with darkness and after the first day there was light. Likewise, each day starts with darkness – representing the original chaos – and ends with God's morning light. Each day, counted and measured this way, is a reminder of God's continued work of separation, of bringing order out of chaos, light out of darkness, land out of sea.
"There was evening, and there was morning." Do you know when this ends? In the new creation there no longer is any night (Rev 21:25). In the new creation there is only light and no darkness. The original chaos and every symbol of it will finally be gone.
E A fifth word is "said." "And God said." "And God said." "And God said." Eight times we find this expression. This is no magical word. This is no "abracadabra" so loved by magicians. God creates by speaking.
How does God interact with the world? Isn't speaking His chosen method? Didn't God speak to Abraham (Gen 12:1), to Moses (Exodus 3:4ff), to Elijah (1 Kings 17f), and to the rest of the prophets? Isn't Jesus the Word become flesh (Jn 1)?
We like to think that God speaks and everything instantly or magically appears. But that is NOT what we are told by Genesis 1 & 2. God speaks. And, by His speaking He does what is described by the first four words: He creates, He makes, He sets, and He separates. There used to be an advertisement, "When we speak the world listens." Well, when God speaks, the creation listens. When God speaks, there is light, sky, land, vegetation, sun and moon and stars, fish and birds, living creatures, and man.
"And God said." Speech means deliberate action. The world is not the product of blind chance or of eons of trial and error. It is the result of God's forethought and plan.
II The Sun as Idol
A "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen 1:1). That was stage one. Then what did God do? God spoke and by His speaking He created, He made, He set, and He separated. So what? What is the teaching here? What is the meaning here? What does this say to the children of Israel at the time of Moses? What does this say to you and me today?
One of the main teachings of Genesis 1 is that there is one God and this God is NOT the heavens; in particular, this God is NOT the sun, the moon, and the stars.
Before explaining this, let me remind you of the setting of Genesis. It was written for the children of Israel as they lived in Egypt and made their way to the Promised Land. Among the nations of earth, Israel was basically alone in not worshiping the sun, the moon, and the stars. Man's first recorded attempt at a city was Babel – central to the city was a tower with which to reach the heavens. The Egyptians worshiped the sun and other nature gods. The Babylonians looked up to the heavens. These all worshiped the sun as the source of light, warmth, and growth; these all worshiped the sun for its beauty, seemingly everlasting being, and perfect circular motion.
You might think it odd that I mention this. After all, none of us flirt with nature worship or pantheism (which identifies nature with God). Moreover, we no longer live lives that inspire interest in or concern for the heavens. Thanks to urbanization and artificial lighting, most people rarely look at or see the night sky. Thanks to modern science, almost no one ponders the movements of the stars. Fewer and fewer people live in awe of the power of the heavens: we don't pray for rain, we practice irrigation; we don't dread the full moon, we travel to it.
This was not the case, however, with the people who lived at the time of Moses. When they considered the sun, moon, and stars they were filled – on the one hand – with curiosity and wonder and – on the other hand – with anxiety and dread. The people of the Ancient World were naturally inclined to worship nature – especially the sun, moon, and stars.
Don't we see the same thing even today? Let me remind you of the extreme elements of the environmental movement – they speak of nature in reverent terms and refer to "Mother Earth" as a goddess. Animal Rights Activists basically are the same way – they worship creatures rather than the Creator.
So, what do we see in Genesis 1 & 2? We see the demotion of the sun. We see the depreciation of the heavens. We see the non-deification of the cosmos. To a people living in a pagan and polytheistic culture the message comes through loud and clear: THE SUN, MOON, AND STARS ARE NOT GOD! THEY ARE NOT WORTHY OF WORSHIP! INSTEAD, WE ARE TO WORSHIP THEIR CREATOR!
B Let's begin with verse 1. What did God do in the beginning? "He created the heavens." The heavens. Plural. None of them named. None of them distinguished one from the other.
Furthermore, notice they are created. Created. They came into being. They are not eternal. They are temporary. Obviously, they are not God. Furthermore, the God Who created them is obviously above them and over them and controls them.
"In the beginning God created the heavens and earth" (Gen 1:1). After this statement, all the attention is focused on the earth. As I said last time, Genesis is geocentric – which means earth-centered. Which also means that Genesis is not sun-centered or moon-centered or star-centered. The focus is earth and not the heavens. And, when the heavens are mentioned, it is only in terms of their usefulness to the earth.
Now, what did God do on day 1? God pronounces the existence of light on day 1 before the existence of the sun on day 4. There is light in the absence of the sun or of any other light-giving heavenly body.
Did you notice the passage of time and the measurement of time before we have the sun and moon and stars? Genesis 1 keeps repeating the refrain of "evening and morning" – the first day, the second day, the third day – all without the presence of the sun. In other words, time is measured without the rising and setting of the sun.
Take a look at what God commanded the land to produce on the third day: vegetation – seed-bearing plants and trees. Thanks to science, we know they cannot survive and produce and bear fruit apart from sunlight and the miracle of photosynthesis. Yet, there they are – surviving and producing and bearing fruit before the sun came to be.
Isn't all this odd? We need the sun for light – but the sun is not needed for light in Genesis 1. We need the sun to measure time – but the sun is not needed to measure time in Genesis 1. We need the sun for vegetation – but the sun is not needed for vegetation in Genesis 1. The sun is not needed for light, time, and vegetation – BUT GOD IS. That is the message here.
Look at verse 17. What does God do to the sun, moon, and stars? He "set them in the expanse of the sky" (Gen 1:17). God put them in the heavens and assigned them their place and their orbit. They take their orders from God.
Do you see what Genesis is doing? Genesis is demoting the sun. The sun – which is regarded by so many as a god – is shown to be nothing but a lifeless creature. The sun is NOT god and therefore is not to be worshiped and glorified.
C With all this in mind, consider the warning we read in Deuteronomy:
(Deut 4:15-19) You saw no form of any kind the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, (16) so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, (17) or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, (18) or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below. (19) And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars--all the heavenly array--do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the LORD your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven.Hear the warning: do not be like the nations, do not worship the stars, do not bow down to the moon, do not make a god out of the sun.
Again we are to hear the message of the first verse of Genesis: "In the beginning God ..." (Gen 1:1). Not the sun in the beginning. Not the moon in the beginning. Not the stars in the beginning. But God. He alone is God and worthy of our worship and praise.
Consider this in the light of the Revelation. How does Revelation end? With a warning against idolatry and a command to worship God. How does Genesis begin? With a warning against idolatry and a command to worship God. So, the Bible begins and ends the same way.
Why? Because idolatry was the number one temptation faced by and sin committed by Israel. And, idolatry continues to be man's biggest temptation and sin. We are so quick to turn anything and everything into an idol. So, God starts and ends His Word with a warning against idolatry and a command to worship God.
Last time, I compared the old creation to the new creation. I said that the New Testament uses imagery from the Genesis account to illustrate the new creation.
What was the first act of the old creation? And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light (Gen 1:3). What was the first act of the new creation? The Word became flesh and is the light that shines in the darkness (Jn 1:1-5). Isn't this amazing? In both instances, God makes light that penetrates the darkness and overcomes the darkness. So, in the account of the old creation we are to see the foundation being laid for what happens in the new creation.
I've said many things. But when it comes right down to it, I've mostly talked about the Creator. He is God – not the sun, moon, or stars. He is the One Who speaks and through His speaking He creates, He makes, He sets, and He separates. He is almighty. He is a God of order. He is wise. He is good.
If you are an unbeliever or an atheist or an agnostic or someone who worships nature, I invite you to read Genesis 1. Read and believe that neither you nor this world is an accident. Read and believe that you and this world have been made by God. Read and believe and worship God.
If you are a believer, marvel about our God and His wonderful ways. And, worship Him Who made the heavens and the earth.
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