************ Sermon on Genesis 1:11-25 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 15, 2010
"The Filling of the Earth"
Let's suppose, let's just suppose, that God gave one of His angels a camera "in the beginning" (Gen 1:1). The angel's assignment: Take pictures of God's creation activity.
What would be on the angel's camera when God "created the heavens and the earth" (Gen 1:1) in stage one of creation? This first picture would be blank – like what happens when you forget to take the lens cover off. Or like what happens with my cell phone as it keeps taking pictures of the inside of my pockets. There are two reasons for this. First of all, there was no light – everyone knows you need at least some light to take a picture. Secondly, there was nothing to see because the earth was formless, empty, dark, and watery.
Now, as I have been mentioning, the seven days of creation are stage two. In stage two, we see that the earth is formed and then we see it is filled.
Now, imagine that the angel is still snapping pictures. But now he is told to take a picture at the beginning of each new day. So when does he take his pictures? In our time and culture, this means we take a picture of the sunrise. But, as I said last week, in Genesis each new day begins with evening. Which is why Genesis keeps saying, "And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day, the second day, the third day, the fourth day ..." Each new day begins with evening. To capture the beginning of each day, our angel needs to take a picture of the sunset. So, what will show on his camera? Nothing that we would recognize. We know a day has come and gone because God tells us a day has come and gone, but it is nothing we would recognize. Why do I say this? Because there is no sunrise or sunset, no full or waning moon, no twinkling stars, and no means of distinguishing light from darkness – at least not until after the fourth day.
Do you see the mystery and the majesty of the beginning? But more than that, do you see the mystery and the majesty of creation's God? He followed a plan. He made everything according to a certain order. An order that glorifies Him and shows His might and wisdom and goodness.
This is now my third message on Genesis 1. We already looked at the beginning according to verses 1 & 2. Then, we looked at the forming of the earth in days one through four. Today, we want to look at the filling of the earth in days three through six.
I want to make two preliminary observations. First, notice how earth-centered the creation story is. Though Genesis speaks about the entire universe, it addresses us as people who live and walk and see the things of this earth. Every being mentioned in Genesis 1 – fish, birds, creatures, animals, man – are known to us in ordinary human experience; there are no mythical beasts, no monsters, no angels, nothing unseen. The main regions of our world are mentioned: land, sea, air. Time unfolds as we know it – evening and morning.
Second, it should be clear by now that the Lord God made everything. The sky did not give birth to the world. The world did not beget the sea. The sea did not form creatures great and small. They all were made by God. They all are the result of His handiwork.
I Mother Earth
A My first point might surprise you. It surprised me. A study of the third day shows us a picture of "mother earth."
(Gen 1:11-12) Then God said, "Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds." And it was so. (12) The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
Do you see the break from the usual pattern? In the usual pattern God says, "Let there be ...," and then God creates or makes or separates or sets. So let me ask, who makes the vegetation – the seed-bearing plants, the trees that bear fruit with seed in it, the flowers, the plants, and the shrubs? Who makes the vegetation?
Take note of God's command. Then God said, "Let the land produce vegetation ..." (Gen 1:11). Did you hear that? "Let the land produce vegetation." In other words, as made by God, the land has reproductive powers, the land has the power to produce plants. All it needs is God's permission and God's command. This is something God has built in to this part of His creation. Fertility is a created capacity.
"Let the land produce vegetation." "Let the land be fruitful." "Let the land do what I created it to do." That is what we see in verses 11 & 12.
In this light, take note of the vegetation identified by Genesis: "seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it" (Gen 1:11). Notice, the vegetation identified both have seeds. Why? Why is this important? Because Genesis identifies plants that are self-propagating. Genesis mentions trees that reproduce themselves. The plants and the trees contain within themselves the means to be fruitful and increase in number.
Do you see why I call the land "mother earth"? Because, like a mother, she bears life. But not on her own. Never on her own. Only at the command of God. Only when God gives permission.
With this in mind, I want you to think about biblical famines. For instance, think of the seven years of famine in Egypt during the time of Joseph. And, think of the famine in Israel at the time of Ahab and Elijah. Do you know what happened? God withdrew His permission for the land to produce. God withdrew His permission for the land to do what it naturally does. In fact, God went so far as to command the land not to produce.
So, on the third day of creation, at the command of God, mother earth produces vegetation.
B Why do you think Genesis makes such a big point of this? Think of the original audience: the children of Israel, at the time of Moses, coming from the bondage of Egypt and on their way to the Promised land. Now, who was in charge of fertility according to the Egyptians and the Canaanites? Isn't this the province of Baal and Astarte? Baal was the god to whom the Egyptians and Canaanites cried and prayed for rain and sunshine and crops and harvests.
The idolatry of Baal was in the land Israel left and was also in the land to which Israel came. So, guess what this meant for the people of Israel? The children of Israel were constantly tempted to worship Baal, to cry out to Baal, to make an idol out of Baal. Remember the golden calf that Israel built at the foot of Mount Sinai? This was an image of Baal. Remember King Ahab and the prophets and priests of Baal and the contest on Mount Carmel?
Do you see what Genesis 1 is doing? Genesis 1 is making a declaration against Baal and its worship. Genesis 1 is demoting Baal. It isn't Baal or Astarte who makes the land produce. The land does this on its own by the command of God and the permission of God. Therefore, Baal is not a god. Therefore, Baal is not worthy of honor and worship and praise and prayer.
Remember what we looked at last week? There was light without the sun. There was time – that is, evening and morning – without sunrise and sunset. There was vegetation without the sun. I said, then, that the sun was being demoted. The sun – whom so many in Egypt and elsewhere worship as a god – is shown by Genesis to be not a god.
Now, it is Baal's turn to be declared false. Don't worship Baal. Instead, worship God because it is He Who commands the land to produce.
A careful study, then, shows that Genesis 1 is an attack against man's idols and man's idolatry. We can turn anything and everything into a god. Egypt was this way. Canaan was this way. Israel was this way.
And, we are this way too. Except our god or goddess of fertility is no longer Baal or Astarte. Whom does the modern farmer credit for the fruitful earth? Himself and his hard work. The ground produces crops because I plant and water and fertilize and cultivate. Or, I have food and clothing and a home and can provide for my children because of my hard work, my brains, my talents and abilities. Forgetting what Paul said, "So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow" (1 Cor 3:7). Forgetting what the psalmist says, that it is God Who "makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate – bringing forth food from the earth ..." (Ps 104:14). And, then there are those today who view the government as the source of life – they expect the welfare state to look after them from cradle to grave. Even worse are the many today who have an entitlement attitude. They, too, don't look to Baal or Astarte. Instead, they take the attitude that this is their due, what they deserve, regardless of hard work or anything else. Their providing idol is their very own existence. Then, there are those today who worship the earth itself. They speak in hushed, almost reverent, terms about nature and mother earth – not realizing or forgetting that fertility is a created capacity.
No, we don't bow before Baal anymore. Rather, the providing idol we worship before is our hard work or an entitlement mentality or the welfare state or the earth itself.
II The Filling of the Heavens
A Remember, we are looking at the filling of the earth that has been formed by God in days one, two, and three. So far, it has been filled with vegetation. Which brings us to day four.
What happens in day four? God fills the sky. "Hold it," you might say. "I thought we were looking at the filling of the earth." Well, we are. But, remember, Genesis takes a geocentric point-of-view, an earth-centered point-of-view. So, we are looking at the filling of the sky from the perspective of the earth. We are looking at the sky that man is under. The sky that is over the earth. The sky that man observes. The sky that man so often wants to worship.
What does God do? God fills the sky with the sun, moon, and stars. God "set them" in the expanse of the sky. Notice why: to separate the day from the night, to mark seasons and days and years, to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, to separate light from darkness (Gen 1:14,16,17).
Which makes me think of our picture-taking angel again. Until day four, a picture of this earth was not something we could possibly recognize. Until day four, day and night were not clearly delineated from one another. There was nothing to mark days and seasons and years. Light was already in existence, but this light was not yet shining upon the earth.
Day four completes what began on day two. On day two God made the sky. On day four, God fills the sky. Which helps to explain something odd about the creation of the sky in day two: this is the only thing about which Genesis does not say, "And God saw that it was good." The sky was incomplete on day two. Once it was complete, then God pronounces it to be good.
B As I already said, Genesis 1 makes clear that the sun and the moon and the stars are not god. They can't be god. Because they were created. Because they did not always exist. The sun, moon, and stars were set into the sky to serve the earth and NOT to be served by the earth!
Did you notice, the sun and moon are not even named. They are simply identified as a "greater light" and a "lesser light." As for the stars, they are mentioned as a mere afterthought (Gen 1:16). The message: these unnamed objects control nothing; in spite of what pagans and astrologers believe, they certainly do not control the fate of man.
Therefore, we don't worship and serve the sun, moon, and stars. Rather, the One to be served is He Who made the sun, moon, and stars. We never worship the creation; rather, we worship the Creator.
III The Filling of the Water, Sky, and Land
A Which brings us to day five and day six of creation. God now fills the water, the sky, and the land with birds, fish, and animals.
Notice a couple of things. First, God fills them in the order in which they were made. God first made the water, then the sky, then the dry ground. So, God first makes the fish, then the birds, and then the animals.
Second, notice the close parallels between the three. All are created "according to their kind" (Gen 1:21,24-25). Although there are swarms of new creatures, they don't appear in unordered chaos. Each has its own place in the created pattern. And, each is judged by the Creator to be good (Gen 1:21,25).
Third, on the fifth day, a new element enters the picture – a divine blessing. This benediction is extended to fish and birds. God wants them to be fruitful, to increase in number, to fill the water and the sky.
Fourth, did you notice that two times God said, "Let the land produce ..." (Gen 1:11,24)? The first time, given God's permission and command, the land produced vegetation. Meaning it is the land, not Baal, that is responsible for fertility. The second time, God commanded the land to produce living creatures. Then we are told that "God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds" (Gen 1:25). The land was commanded to "produce" but instead God "made." The rabbis say this means the land was disobedient. It is better to say the land on its own cannot create anything with the breath of life; only God can do this. Think of what this says to Darwin and all evolutionists.
B This is – again – a polemic against idolatry. Many nations believed the great sea creatures and various animals to be gods. They aren't. They are created beings.
Don't we have something similar today? People today worship and fear the bull and the bear. Don't think actual creatures. Think stock market. Both these symbols are steeped in mythology and astrology and their signs are to be found in the night sky.
IV The Priority of God
Instead of talking about the creation, let us now talk about creation's God. What does Genesis 1 tell us? That God alone is God and nothing else is. There are no rivals to God's sovereignty. We see this in six different ways in Genesis 1.
First, remember how Genesis starts? "In the beginning God ..." (Gen 1:1). God – not mother earth, not the sun, not sea creatures, not bulls and bears. God. And God alone.
Second, we see God naming the various parts of His creation. He Who gives a name is superior to that which is named. He Who gives a name is superior to that which is named. Which is why – in both the ancient and modern world – that those who conquer give a place or a city a new name: Jerusalem became Zion, the City of David; Volgograd became Stalingrad; Saint Petersburg became Leningrad and now it is Saint Petersburg again. In Genesis 1, God names the light and darkness (Gen 1:5), the sky (Gen 1:8), the land and the seas (Gen 1:10) – therefore, God is greater than the light, darkness, sky, land, and seas.
Third, God delegates responsibility and authority. On day four, God appoints the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night (Gen 1:16). He Who is greater delegates to that which is lesser. So, God is greater than the sun and moon. On day six, God gives man dominion over all the earth and the animals. Meaning that God is superior to man and meaning that man must not worship any creature for he is superior to everything else.
Fourth, the lesser is always blessed by the greater (Heb 7:7). God blessed the fish and birds of the fifth day (Gen 1:22), man on day six (Gen 1:28), and the Sabbath on day seven (Gen 2:3). Therefore, God is greater than them all. With this in mind, I always have to cringe when I hear the opening words of Psalm 103 (and other passages) mistranslated as,
(Ps 103:1-2) Bless the LORD, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name! (2) Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits ...We sinful, fallen creatures cannot possibly bless almighty God.
Fifth, God exercised His sovereignty by imposing restrictions on the created order. Four times, God ordered various life-forms to reproduce "after their kind" (Gen 1:11,21,24,25). Do you know what this rules out? This rules out any possibility of evolution from a one-cell creature to man. There is no migration from one species to another. There can be no migration from one species to another. Because God has made it this way. God is the Maker and the Creator. God, not chance, not evolution, has made each and every life-form.
Sixth, God alone determines the value of all things. It is God Who tells us what is good and what is evil. Seven times, God uses the word "good" to judge what He made (Gen 1:4, 9, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). It is God Who sets the standards. What God calls "good" is good, and we are not permitted to substitute another standard.
I have said a lot of things. What I want you to remember, though, is that it is God, all God.
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the Hebrew word for "God" is plural. There is one God but He is plural. Telling us what? That the Creator God we worship will be revealed in the rest of the Bible as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is this God, this triune God, that we worship and praise for all that He has made.
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