We started a new series of sermons on the book of Genesis in the middle of September. And I was able to preach one sermon from this book of beginnings, but since then, Roland has been taking the evening service while I’ve taken the morning service. And then last week was harvest. So, we haven’t got very far. In fact, the one sermon I preached was kind of an introduction to the book of Genesis and we only managed to get as far as verse 1 of chapter 1.
So, bearing in mind there are 50 chapters in Genesis, we’ve got a long way to go. But we noticed a lot of important things the last time. First of all, we learned that Moses wrote the book of Genesis and he wrote it, originally, for the people of Israel who were making their way from Egypt, through the wilderness, to the Promised Land. And so, Moses didn’t make any effort to prove the existence of God, because the people he was writing for already believed in God. And he didn’t write using scientific language, because he was writing for farmers who — like most of us — know very little about science. So it’s written in a way that anyone can understand. And it was written to teach the Israelites that their God was far, far, far greater than the gods of the neighbouring nations. The pagans worshipped the sun and the moon and the stars, but the God of the Israelites made the sun and the moon and the stars. And then we began to study verse 1. And Genesis 1:1 teaches us that God is the eternal God who was before all things. Before there was anything else, there was God. And Genesis 1:1 teaches us that God made the heavens and the earth out of nothing. When we make something, we have to start with something. But God started with nothing; he started from scratch and, from nothing, made the heavens and the earth. And we noticed as well that he made all things by his word. His word is powerful. And through the reading and preaching of his word today, God continues to work powerfully in the hearts and minds of his people. Once he spoke and he created the light. Now he speaks and he illuminates our dark hearts and gives us faith in the Saviour.
So, those were some of the things we were thinking about the last time. Today, we want to turn our attention to verse 2, first of all, and then to the rest of the chapter. Now, much of what I’m going to say this evening I said last week as well, when we were thinking of how God provides for us. Because in verse 2, Moses, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, describes for us what the earth was like when God created it at first. And it’s a rather bleak picture, isn’t it? Moses tells us that the earth was formless and empty. More literally: it was waste and void. The word translated ‘formless’ or ‘waste’ is used in Deuteronomy 32 of a barren desert; and it’s used in Job 6 of a wasteland where men perish. In other words, it’s like a desert where there are no landmarks and there’s nothing to look at and nothing to help you find your way out of it. It’s shapeless and formless. Barren and inhospitable. That’s the way the world was when God first created it.
And the earth was empty: nothing grew there and nothing could grow there, because of it was, in the beginning, only a barren wasteland.
And not only was it formless and empty, a barren wasteland, it was also dark. Moses says in verse 2:
Darkness was over the surface of the deep.
By ‘the deep’, Moses means the deep waters. You see, the earth was a watery wilderness; and everything was dark.
So, who wants to live in a world like this? Who could live in a world like this? Who could live in a world which is a watery wilderness so there’s nowhere to live? Who could live in a world which is empty so there’s nothing to eat? Who could live in a world which is always dark so it’s impossible to see anything?
But the good news is that God wasn’t yet finished with the world he had made. Look at the rest of verse 2. Yes, the earth was formless. Yes, it was empty. Yes, it was dark. But the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. The word translated ‘hovering’ is used in Deuteronomy 32 of a mother eagle, hovering over the nest where she keeps her young. And so, it’s a picture of care and concern. Just as a mother eagle takes care of her young, so the Spirit of God was hovering over the dark waters, because God cared for the world that he had made and he was concerned about it and he was waiting for the moment when he would begin to transform this formless, empty and dark world into a home suitable for us to live in.
Well, there are two things to note here. One, of course, is to note the very clear distinction between God the Creator and his creation. You see, on the one hand, there’s the Spirit of God. And on the other hand, there’s the formless, empty and dark world. The two are distinct. We saw that in verse 1 as well. There’s God who made the heavens and the earth. And there’s the heavens and the earth which he made. Now, that’s important because the last time we looked at the book of Genesis, I mentioned a popular idea known as pantheism which teaches that everything is divine. And I also mentioned panentheism which teaches that God interpenetrates all things so that there’s a little bit of God in everything. Either everything is divine or there’s a bit of God in everything. These ideas are popular now, because of the influence of New Age Mysticism. But in Genesis 1, Moses makes clear that God and his creation are distinct from one another. On the one hand, there’s God. And God is very different and he’s separate and he’s distinct from what he has made. In the beginning, there was the formless, empty, dark world. And then there was the Spirit of God, hovering over it. Not part of it, but over it.
But then secondly, though they are distinct, and though God is separate from his creation, nevertheless, God is near his creation. His Spirit is hovering over the world he has made, and he’s about to illuminate and shape and fill this world. In other words, he’s not far away and aloof. He’s not at a distance, even though he’s distinct. He’s very close to what he has made.
And, of course, the rest of the Bible teaches the same two things. God is separate from us. But he’s cares for the world that he has made and he continually sustains all things and directs all things and he provides for us every day. That’s the picture we get from Psalm 104 where the Psalmist describes how God set the world on its foundation; and he waters it like a gardener who waters his flowers; and he feeds all his creatures, opening his hand to us the way we might open our hand to give a dog a treat. The Lord is distinct and separate. He’s the Creator; and we’re his creation. But he’s also near to us and he cares for us.
So, in verse 2 we’re told that the world was formless, empty and dark. That’s the way the world was, when God first created it. But then, in the remaining verses of the chapter, Moses describes how God goes about transforming the world in order to make it a suitable home for us. And in doing so, in describing how God went about transforming the world, Moses uses a pattern which he repeats several times throughout the chapter.
First of all, first of all, for each new thing God does, Moses introduces it, using the words: ‘And God said…’ Do you see that? It’s in verse 3. And verse 6. And verse 9. And verse 11. And verse 14. And verse 20. And verse 24. And verse 26. And verse 28. And verse 29. How many times does he repeat this phrase? Well, if you were counting, you’ll know that the words ‘And God said’ are repeated ten times. That’s perhaps significant when we remember that Moses was writing the book of Genesis for the Israelites. And God had just delivered them from their captivity in Egypt. And he then gathered them below Mount Sinai. And what did he do at Mount Sinai? He gave them his Ten Commandments. Ten Commandments, addressed to the Israelites. And ten commandments in the beginning, addressed to the earth God had created. Not only does God command his people how we are to live as his people, but in the begining he spoke and commanded the light and the sky and the waters and the dry land and so on. He rules over us, his people. And he rules over the earth that he has made.
And, of course, it’s worth nothing that this means God is the lawgiver. He’s the one who speaks and who commands and who determines what there should be and what we should do. Years ago a read a book in which the author argued that the reason people try to undermine the truth of God’s word is because if God’s word is true, we’d all have to obey it. If the Bible is really God’s word, we ought to believe it and obey it. But since we all want to please ourselves, and since we don’t want to obey God, then we must try to convince ourselves that his word is not true. And so people will do everything they can to undermine the truth of God’s word. But, of course, since that book was written, it’s got worse, because not only do people try to undermine the truth of God’s word, now they deny the very existence of God. Not only do they say God’s word is not true, but they say there’s no such thing as God. But it’s for the same purpose, isn’t it? Since we don’t want anyone to tell us how to live, then we must convince ourselves that there’s no God. If there’s no such thing as God, then we can do whatever we want and we can live to please ourselves. But in the beginning God spoke and he commanded the light and the waters and the sky and the dry land and everything else. He determined what there would be and what everything would be like. And now, by his Ten Commandments, he commands us how we ought to live. He is the great lawgiver. The one who commands his creation.
So, we have the words:
And God said….
Then we have his command:
Let there be light….
Let there be an expanse….
Let the water be gathered in one place and let the dry ground appear….
Let the land produce vegetation….
And so on.
And the commands are immediately followed by their fulfilment:
Let there be light. And there was light.
Let the water be gathered to one place and let the dry ground appear. And it was so.
Let the land produce vegatation. And it was so.
And so on. Again this speaks to us of the power of God’s word. He only needs to speak and it is done. And how very different he is from us. We command the dog to sit, and it runs away. We command it to walk, and it sits down. But God speaks, and things happen. As the Prophet Isaiah said: the word of God does not return to him empty, but it always accomplishes whatever he planned.
And then, in this pattern, there follows a word of approval.
God said: Let there be light.
And there was light.
God saw the light and it was good.
God said: Let the water be gathered to one place and let the dry ground appear.
And it was so.
And God saw that it was good.
And so on. What does this tell us? Well, this tells us that, in the beginning, the earth was formed in exactly the way God intended it to be. It turned out exactly as he wanted. We try to bake a cake, and it comes out of the oven burnt, or lopsided. And so we try to cover it up. But we’re unhappy about it. It’s not right. An architect designs a house, but it doesn’t turn out the way he intended and he’s unhappy with it. It’s not right. But God was pleased with what he made, because it turned out exactly as he intended.
And that’s important for us to note, because while the world has clearly been spoiled by sin, nevertheless, the earth is not evil. That’s what the pagans believed. They said that physical matter — all the stuff we can see and touch — is evil. They said the human body is evil; the earth around us is evil; we ought to have nothing to do with the earth and with physical things. That’s what the pagans believed. But we believe that the earth is good, because God made it and he was pleased with it. Whatever is sinful should be rejected; and we want nothing to do with all those things which corrupt the world God has made. But the earth God made is good and the world around us is still full of good things which God has made and given to us to enjoy.
And then in this pattern which is repeated throughout chapter 1, Moses adds a few more words of explanation or description. So, having made the light, Moses added that God called the light ‘day’ and the dark he called ‘night’. Then, once God had formed the expanse to separate the waters above from the waters below, Moses added that God called the expanse ‘sky’. And then, after God made the dry ground appears, Moses added that God called it ‘land’. And so on, down through the chapter.
And then, the pattern ends with the number of the day:
There was evening and there was morning — the first day.
And so on, down through the chapter.
So, there’s this pattern which is repeated throughout chapter 1. Moses didn’t just give us a list of things that God did. A child is asked to write an essay about what she did during the summer. And the essay ends up being a long list of things:
And then we did this. And then we did this. And then we did this. And then we did this.
Moses didn’t write a list. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he used this pattern to tell the Israelites — and us — about our God who made all things.
And there’s another pattern. Days 1 to 3 are about how God began to give shape and order to the earth which was once formless. And Days 4 to 6 are about how God began to fill the earth which was once empty. So, the six days of creation are split into these two divisions. And then, Days 1 and 3 match, and Days 2 and 4 match, and Days 3 and 6 match. In Day 1, God made the light and in Day 4 he made the lights in the sky. In Day 2 he made the sky and separated the waters, and in Day 5 he filled the water with fish and the sky with birds. In Day 3 he formed the dry land and in Day 6 he made the animals who live on the dry land. There’s this wonderful and clever arrangement to what Moses wrote. And because Genesis 1 isn’t written in scientific language — because it’s written using popular language which even the young child can understand — people will despise it for being too simple. They say it was written only for dummies who didn’t know any better. But whoever thinks that hasn’t seen the way Moses used this wonderful and sophisticated arrangement to describe all that God did in the beginning. But, of course, we shouldn’t be surprised by this wonderful arrangement, because it reflects the creativity of the God we worship and adore.
Verses 4 to 31
So, having said all that, we can move through verses 4 to 31 fairly quickly, though I’ll probably come back to the creation of Adam next week. And remember, in these verses God is transforming the earth as it was originally formed. Originally it was formless and empty and dark. So, in Day 1, God made the light. In fact, what he made was daylight. Look at verse 5: He called the light ‘day’ or ‘daylight’. And he called the dark ‘night’. What was he doing? Well, he was getting rid of the dark. But more than that, he was creating a world suitable for us. If it’s dark, we can’t see. So, God made the light so that we could see. And, he made daylight in particular so that we could go out and work. That’s one of the purposes of the day, according to Psalm 104. When the sun rises, man goes out to do his work, the Psalmist says in verses 22 and 23.
And, of course, as well as making the light, God was given order and shape to the earth. He was separating out the light from the day, the daytime from the nightime.
On Day 2, God made an expanse to separate the waters above from the waters below. And he called the expanse ‘sky’. And that’s important for us, because eventually the water above would fall from the sky and water the earth and cause the crops to grow. God was thinking about us and what we needed for our home.
On Day 3, God gathered the waters into one place and he let the dry ground appear. In other words, he separated the sea and the lakes and the rivers from the dry land. And that’s important for us, because we need somewhere to live. Also on Day 3, he made the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees with fruit with their seed in it. In other words, he produced food for us to eat. And since these plants and fruits contained their own seed, they were able to reproduce themselves so that there would always be plenty for us to enjoy.
That was Days 1 to 3, shaping the earth so that it was no longer formless. Days 4 to 6 are about filling the earth. So, on Day 4 he fills the sky above with lights. Not only do they separate the day and the night, but they mark the changing of the seasons and the days and the years and they give light to the earth. And since the sun and the moon were regarded as gods by some of the other nations around Israel, Moses doesn’t even name them here. He simply refers to them as ‘the greater light’ and ‘the lesser light.’ They’re not gods! They’re just big lights. And since so many people think their life is determined by the stars in the sky, Moses only mentions their creation as a throw-away line. It’s almost an afterthought. It’s as if he’s saying:
Oh yeah. I almost forgot. He also made the stars.
On Day 5 God filled the waters with fish and the sky with birds. And look at verse 22 and how God blessed them and commanded them to be fruitful. Once again, he gave them the power to reproduce themselves.
And then, on Day 6, he made the land animals. And once everything was ready, once the formless earth had been formed and shaped, once the empty earth had been filled, and only then, God made man. First, he made a world suitable for us to live in. And only then, did he make us.
Well, I mentioned the Heidelberg Catechism last week. And I’m going to do it again this evening. Question 26 asks:
What do you believe when you say: ‘I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth’?
And here’s the answer:
That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who out of nothing made heaven and earth, with all that is in them, who also upholds and governs them by his eternal counsel and providence, is for the sake of Christ his Son, my God and my Father. I trust in him so completely that I have no doubt that he will provide me with all things necessary for body and soul. Moreover, whatever evil he sends upon me in this troubled life he will turn to my good, for he is able to do it, being almighty God, and is determined to do it, being a faithful Father.
Isn’t that great? In the beginning, God used his mighty power to form and fill a world that was just right for us. Light to see and to work by. Rain from the sky to water the ground. Dry land to live on and work on. Plants and fruit to eat. Animals for food as well. It was the perfect environment for us. And though Adam disobeyed him, and though we have all fallen into sin and misery so that we sin against God continually, and have become liable to his wrath and curse, nevertheless, through faith in his Son, this God who made all things has become our loving, heavenly Father. And so, we can continue to count on him to help us everyday and to look after us. And even though, from time to time, he sends us troubles and trials and hardships, so that our life in this world is often full of trouble and sorrow, nevertheless, our faithful Father will always help us.
We all need to remember this. We worry sometimes what the future holds for us. What will I eat? What will I wear? How will I pay my bills? What happens if I get sick? What will happen to me in the future? But we believe that the Lord — who made the heavens and the earth — is my Father; and he will take care of me. Just as he provided for us in the beginning, when he made a world suitable for us to live in, and just as he has provided us with a perfect Saviour so that we might have everlasting life, so he will continue to provide for us and to help us. And so, we ought to trust in him, and remain faithful to him just as he is always faithful to us.