Let’s begin digging into the text itself…
Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Right away notice a few things.
1) First, notice the difference between the way Moses begins Genesis and the way a common fairy tale begins. Moses says, “In the beginning…”, how do fairy tales begin? “Once upon a time…” This is meant to teach us that the events of Genesis are a real historical account. Creation, fall, and the promise of redemption, the flood, and the tower of Babel are all real occurrences. Adam and Eve, Noah, and Abraham’s family are all real people. It is popular in our generation to believe that Adam and Eve, the garden, the serpent, Noah, the flood, and basically the events of Genesis 1-11 are nothing more than mere myth, given to us in Scripture to teach us lessons, not to tell us real history. The reality lost in believing chapters 1-11 are filled with myth and real historical people who encountered real historical events is that we lose the greatest thing that could ever be given to us, the gospel itself. I am not overstating my case here. If we don’t believe Adam and Eve were real people what do we believe the fall was? A metaphor meant to teach us a greater lesson? That the fall of man is a figurative dilemma and not a realistic death? If that’s the case, do we really need a Savior to come and die for sinners if sin is merely a metaphor and not reality? Adam foreshadowed Christ, in that just as sin passed to all men through Adam, so too in Jesus, righteousness passes to all who believe. If Adam and Eve weren’t real people, if they didn’t really exist, there is no need for salvation because no fall would have taken place, and sin would have not entered the world. If sin never entered the world, there is no need for salvation, and if there is no need for salvation there is no need for Christ, and where there is no need for Christ there is no life to be found at all. We must see the necessary implication on the gospel if we deny the existence of Adam and Eve. To love the gospel is to love the historical reality of our first parents. So bound up with the reality of the first Adam is the grander reality of the Second Adam. If we lose the first, we lose the Second. Do not be fooled, this is a slippery slope. If we see Adam and Eve as myth, what’s next? Noah? The flood? The Exodus? The Cross? As soon as we give way to the false notion that Genesis 1-11 are myth, it is really only a matter of time before we begin to believe the entire Bible is just a grand legend someone made up.
2) Second, notice the phrase “In the beginning…” What other Bible book begins with the exact same phrase? The Gospel of John begins like this in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Both the beginning of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament start in the exact same place, in the exact same manner. Seeing this repetition we should ask the question: why? I think the answer is simple: Moses through Genesis means to introduce the work of the Creator in Creation while John in his Gospel means to introduce the work of the Creator in New Creation. Moving from the Creator’s in creation to the Creator’s work in new creation is in line with how the New Testament fulfills the Old Testament.
3) Third, notice that in the phrase “In the beginning…God…created…” we are introduced to the main character of the Genesis narrative, God. We learn much in this introduction. We learn God exists, we learn God is not silent, we learn God is eternal, we learn God is fully independent, and we learn God is powerful and strong. That Moses begins the creation account with the person of God we can conclude that Genesis is more concerned with God the Creator than with the time or details of God’s creation. God, the author of the great play, has walked on the scene. He is about to make the stage on which the drama of redemption will be acted out. This God has made the heavens and the earth.
Genesis 1:2– “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”
The phrase “…without form and void…” is the Hebrew phrase ‘tohu vabowhoo.’ I know a seminary professor who teaches Hebrew who used to look out over his students lamenting their lack of ability to retain the Hebrew language and say about them ‘tohu vabowhoo.’ But back to the point, in Genesis 1:2 we’re introduced to the Person of the Holy Spirit, and are told that He is hovering over the dark and deep waters. The word for Spirit in Hebrew is ‘ruach’ which could also be translated as ‘wind’ or ‘breath.’ Question: where else do we see the Holy Spirit hovering over water in the Bible? I’ll give you five occurrences. We see it 1) Genesis 7:15 when it says the ‘breath of life’ entered the ark safely, 2) Genesis 7:22 when the ‘breath of all life’ on the dry land died because of the flood, 3) Genesis 8:1 when a ‘strong wind’ blew the flood waters back and caused the flood to recede, 4) Exodus 14:21 where another ‘strong wind’ blew the waters of the red sea to drive them back making way for God’s people to safely go through, and 5) Matthew 3:16-17 when the Spirit of God hovered over the Son of God at His baptism in the Jordan. All these uses exist to show us a pattern which God purposely uses to prepare His people for the coming of the Messiah. Meaning, that as we see the act of creation in Genesis 1:2 where the Spirit hovers over the water, we see the same thing when the Holy Spirit brings the people of God to safety during Noah’s flood and the parting of the Red Sea. It is not a coincidence that we find all of this same Genesis 1:2 activity when we see the Son of God Jesus Christ at His baptism.
Matthew 3:16-4:1 says, “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately He went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’ Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Note that just as the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters in Genesis 1:2, the same Spirit of God is blew back the waters of the flood, the waters of the Red Sea, and hovered over the Son of God as He was in the waters of baptism. We’ve already seen new creation in the pairing of Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1, but here in Genesis 1:2 we see more of the new creation theme presenting itself in the Holy Spirit’s activity. Hovering over the waters of Genesis 1:2 and blowing back the waters of the flood shows creation, seeing the Spirit hover over the water’s of Jesus’ baptism shows new creation.
Within this theme we also find something we haven’t mentioned yet. Where did Israel go after they passed through the Red Sea on dry ground? Into the wilderness. Where did Jesus go after His baptism? Into the wilderness, led by the Spirit. Is it a coincidence that we see the almost the exact same Holy Spirit activity at work in the Exodus and Jesus’ baptism? What is this to teach us? The coming of Christ not only brings new creation, it brings a new and greater exodus as well, where God will once again save His people from Satan, sin and death, the greater pharaoh, taking them ultimately to a new and greater promised land in glory. This shows us that Jesus at the beginning of His ministry in Matthew 3 and 4 is re-telling the story of Israel. You see Israel was tempted in the wilderness and almost the whole time they grumbled and complained. Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by the devil himself and remained faithful to God. Lesson? In Exodus 4:22 God calls Israel ‘My firstborn son’ – Jesus is showing that He is the true and faithful Israel (or Son) of God. Because of this He will lead the new and greater exodus in the power of the Holy Spirit.
I am glad to see this, because I know my own sin. The Spirit hovers over deep and dark waters, and we see God by the power of the His Word order and bring life to the darkness. The same was true in the flood, the same was true at the Red Sea, and the same is true in our salvation – God, by the power of His Spirit, brings life and light where there was only death and darkness before. Rejoice Church, there are no aspects of creation, including those of disorder and wickedness, over which God is not ultimately bringing a redemptive order.
Genesis 1:3– “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”
When we come to 1:3 we come face to face with the gospel of grace. It may not seem like it, but 1:3 is the first place in the entire Bible when we come face to face with the drama of redemption. How so? One grand reason: Paul quotes Gen. 1:3 in 2 Cor. 4:6 to show that the same creation power at work to make the world is also at work in the salvation of every sinner. Let’s read 2 Cor. 4:1-6, “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
In this passage we see Paul defending his ministry, encouraging us to not lose heart but renounce disgraceful, underhanded ways, refusing to tamper with God’s Word as Paul does. Sure the gospel may be veiled to those who are perishing because Satan, who is called here ‘the god of this world,’ has blinded them. But just as the darkness could not hold back the power of God in Genesis 1:3 when light came bursting forth at the command of God, so too the darkness of the blinded human heart cannot hold back the power of God in new creation here in 2 Cor. 4:6 when light comes bursting into the heart at the same command of God. Conclusion? Genesis 1:3 shows God’s creation power to make the world. 2 Cor. 4:6 quotes Genesis 1:3 to show God’s power to remake the sinner. Genesis 1:3 shows us creation, 2 Cor. 4:6 quotes Gen. 1:3 to show us new creation.
In 1:4, 1:6-7, 1:9-10, 1:14, 1:17-18 there is a repetitive theme that we would do well to pay attention to. This repeated theme present in these verses is one of separation. Listen for it as I read these verses. 1:4 says, “And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 1:6-7 says, “And God said, ‘Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so.” 1:9-10 says, “And God said, ‘Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so. God called the dry land earth, and the waters that were gathered together he seas. And God saw that it was good.” 1:14 says, “And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years…’” 1:17-18 says, “And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.”
In these few verses we see the theme of separation repeated. God separated the light from the darkness in v4, God separated the waters above from the waters below in v6-7, God separated the waters under the heavens and the dry land in v9-10, and in v14 and v17-18 God separated day from night by creating the stars. You can even say God made another act of separation in 1:26-31 when He called everything He has made ‘very good’ only after He made man, which in turn gives mankind a distinct status that is higher than every other creature He had made.
Now, usually we tend to think of God’s creative activity in making the world an act of bringing harmony into chaos, and this is right for us to think so, for this is what God truly did. But rarely do we see this from another angle, that in God’s creative activity He brought separation into certain aspects of creation where it did not earlier exist. And after creating separation He called it good.
Think about this idea of separation more. That God brought separation into His creation for the purpose of distinguishing between one thing and another thing, God is preparing us to see how He will deal with His redeemed people. This has meaning for both Israel and the fulfillment of Israel, the Church. As for Israel, God called them to Himself out of Egypt in the Exodus. Once He called them to Himself what did He then command them to do? He gave them His Law so that they would obey it and become different than the other nations. Again and again, we see God calling His people to be different, not like the other nations; so different that the nations would notice a difference between Israel and all other nations on the face of the earth. In Leviticus 11:44 God says, “For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.” Another way to translate the word ‘holy’ is to be ‘separate.’ So just as God did great works of separation in creating the world to distinguish between this and that, God, by redeeming Israel out of Egypt did another great work of separation, setting His people apart from all other nations, for Himself. This also shows us the root of Israel’s sin through the OT was such that they no longer looked different than the nations around them. Each time they began to resemble the surrounding nations more than God, God would send a prophet to rebuke them and remind them of His Law.
This work of separation does not end when we cross over into the NT. Peter, in 1 Peter 1:14-16 applies Leviticus 11:44 to the Church saying, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written ‘You shall be holy, as I am holy.’” More so, using OT language notice how Paul speaks to the Corinthians in regard to their conduct before the pagan world in 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of God; as God said, ‘I will make My dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a Father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me, says the Lord Almighty.’ Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.”
Notice what’s happening here. The same work of separation that God did at creation, He then did with His people Israel, and then also did with the fulfillment of Israel, His Church. As His work of separation was to distinguish between this and that in Genesis 1, and as His work of separation was to distinguish Israel from their surrounding nations in the OT, His work of separation now continues by distinguishing His Church from the unbelieving world. He calls us to be holy, calls us to be separate, calls us to be the light of the world, to be light in darkness, and calls us to be different from the world that He calls us to reach for Christ. This work of separation prepares us for Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:34, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” God is working to conform His people to His own character and by doing so, He is creating a people that will be holy, distinct, and separate from the rest of the world.
Therefore, when we see God doing works of separation in Genesis 1 we get a preview of the kind of life He calls His people to live in both the OT and the NT.