3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. 6 And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 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. 8 And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day. 9 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. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11 And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day. 14 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, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. 20 And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” 21 So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
Somewhere around the year 1224, Francis of Assisi wrote his famous “Canticle of the Sun.” It reads:
Most high, all powerful, all good Lord! All praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing. To you, alone, Most High, do they belong. No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.
Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him. And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars; in the heavens you have made them, precious and beautiful.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, and clouds and storms, and all the weather, through which you give your creatures sustenance.
Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water; she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you brighten the night. He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you; through those who endure sickness and trial. Happy those who endure in peace, for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.
Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whose embrace no living person can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Happy those she finds doing your most holy will.
The second death can do no harm to them.
Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks, and serve him with great humility.
Around 640 years later, in 1864, Folliott S. Pierpoint was so struck by the beauty of creation that he took up his pen and wrote these words that many of us will remember singing at some point in our lives:
For the beauty of the earth,
For the beauty of the skies,
For the Love which from our birth
Over and around us lies:
Christ, our God, to Thee we raise
This our Sacrifice of Praise.
For the beauty of each hour
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale, and tree and flower,
Sun and moon and stars of light:
Christ, our God, to Thee we raise
This our Sacrifice of Praise.
It is striking to see how creation can move men and women to great praise! It is as if creation is a work of art that is so beautiful, so overwhelming, that it leads us to want to praise the artist who made it. Indeed, that is the right and biblical way to think of creation, and Genesis 1 bears this out in striking ways.
God created with order and artistry and dramatic effect.
When one looks at the days of creation in Genesis 1, one cannot help but be struck by the order, artistry, and even dramatic effect of God’s design. In short, God is depicted as an artist.
There is an order between the first three days of creation and the last three such that the last three represent further developments of the first three. In this way of looking at it, day 4 speaks of the further development of day 1, day 5 of day 2, and day 6 of day 3. Consider:
Day 1: light
Day 4: the greater and lesser lights
Day 2: separation of lower/upper waters
Day 5: creatures in water and sky
Day 3: land, seas, vegetation
Day 6: land animals and human beings
In day1 we have the breaking forth of the light of God’s glory. Day 4, however, speaks of the further development of light into greater and lesser heavenly bodies of light, the sun and the moon.
In day 2 we find the separation of the waters below and above. The scriptures speak of an “expanse” to separate the waters. Genesis’ description of this expanse or canopy has artistic overtones. Robert Alter writes that “[t]he Hebrew raki’asuggests a hammered-out slab”.Victor Hamilton observes concerning the word that “the basic idea is ‘to spread out’” and that it refers to “something that is created by being spread out either by stretching (e.g., a tent) or by hammering (e.g., a metal…).”But in day 5 we find the further development of the populating of the below and the above with aquatic creatures and birds, respectively.
Consider too how day 3 speaks of the creation of land and vegetations, but the final day of creation shows us the further development of land animals and human beings. There is an order to creation, an intentional design behind which is the very mind of God!
We even see the expansion of God’s color palette as He creates.
White and black (light and dark)
Blue (sky and sea)
Animal and human life (many colors)
As Old Testament scholar Victor Hamilton observes:
With the conclusion of the third day yet another color is added to God’s cosmos. To the basic white and black of day and night has been added the blue of sky and sea. Now the canvas is adorned with green. The golden-yellow sun and the reddish human being will complete this rainbow of colors.
Think of it: as God creates God’s designs and colors become more multitudinous and varied. The result is the brilliant tapestry of the created order with all of its various shapes and sizes and colors and smells. The earth is indeed a staggering work of art!
The stunning beauty and power of God’s work of art, creation, can be seen in the many exclamations of its goodness in Genesis 1:
4a And God saw that the light was good.
10cAnd God saw that it was good.
12eAnd God saw that it was good.
18cAnd God saw that it was good.
21fAnd God saw that it was good.
Like an artist who stands back to ascertain what progress he has made, the Lord on High announces the goodness and beauty of His handiwork! This is significant. Early in the church’s history it was plagued by a pernicious system of false believes that went under the umbrella term “Gnosticism.” Historian Bruce Shelley has described two of the basic Gnostic beliefs:
- Most of the Gnostic schools held to a moral and metaphysical dualism (theory picturing two kinds of real things); there were spiritual things that were regarded as inherently pure, while they regarded material things as intrinsically evil.
- The supreme reality or god is not the creator. The material world must result from a primeval disorder, or the ignorance or mischief of an inferior deity: a demiurge, the Old Testament God, or Jesus (a lower being for Gnostics).
How abhorrent these ideas should be to us! No: creation, matter, is good!It is a good gift from a good God who loves us! To speak ill of the created order is to speak ill of our great God, for He made it and bequeathed it to us.
So good is creation that one can see in the ordering of the days a kind of Voila!moment. Notice that each day in Genesis 1 begins with evening. It begins, then, with darkness. “The evening marks the first half of the full day,” writes E.A. Speiser.Then, into the darkness of each day, light breaks forth:
5cAnd there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
8bAnd there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
13And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.
19And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.
23And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
Thus, into each and every day God has built a dramatic unveiling, as if He were throwing back the curtain of darkness with a heavenly Voila!in order to reveal the resplendent beauty of His own handiwork! What a great gift this dramatic unveiling is! God, every morning, proclaims, “It is still good!”
God created with authority and supremacy that only He has!
Genesis 1 highlights also God’s supremacy and authority. His authority is reflected in the repeated refrain:
6a, 7c“And God said…And it was so.”
9a,c“And God said…And it was so.”
11a,c“And God said…And it was so.”
14a, 15b“And God said…And it was so.”
This is what is called “creation by fiat,” “fiat” being the Latin word for, “Let there be!” There is a simple and telling bluntness to this formula, “And God said…And it was so.” See here the sheer power of God’s word. It is the word above all words and it carries a weight that no other word carries. Earthly parents will sometimes, when stumped by the questions of their children concerning the validity of some parental instruction, say, “Because I said so!” But God is the only one who can truly say this and it be so with utter integrity and actualization: “And God said…and it was so.” God’s word will prevail!
And there is a note of supremacy in this as well. Once again we find evidence in Genesis 1 of a polemic against the pagan notions of creation. For instance, Hamilton notes “the proliferation of astral deities in most Mediterranean deities.” The lights in the heavens were, in the pagan mind, gods and goddesses. In the Babylonian creation myth, Enuma Elish, the heavenly lights are depicted as “great gods” and in this order: stars, moon, and sun. In other words, when a devout Babylonian looked into the night sky he or she saw awesome and terrible deities reflected in light of stars and moon. So too when they looked into the bright light of day. And, tellingly, they saw it in this order: stars, moon, and sun.
How fascinating, then, to read verse 16:
16 And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars.
Note two things: first, the order of Enuma Elish’s list of heavenly bodies is reversed. Instead of stars, moon, and sun, we find that God created the sun, moon, and stars. Secondly, there is a polemical thrust in the almost parenthetical reference to the stars. It almost sounds like an afterthought: “Oh, and He made the stars.” It is as if Moses, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is saying, “Yes, we know that you tremble before what you see as the gods of the stars, the moon, and the sun. You tremble and quake before their assumed power. But hear now the truth: the one true God creates the sun and the moon. The stars He has flung out into the canopy of the heavens! These are not gods. There is only one God! To Him, the stars are just one more display of His artistry. Do not fear the creation. Rather, worship the Creator!”
Our artist God has a name.
Yes, Genesis 1 is positively shot through with artistry and craftsmanship. Consider now the amazing fact that Paul, in Colossians 1, names this creator God:
15 [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
How unbelievable! How staggering! How beautiful!
Jesus, our King and Savior, is the God of Genesis 1! The prepositions of Colossians 1 are telling: “by him,” “through him,” and “for him.” He is the God who creates. He is the word through whom God creates. And His is the creation: it is for Him.
Here is a high Christology of praise! Jesus makes! Jesus is the One through whom the world is made! And the world was made for Jesus!
This makes the cross of Jesus that much more staggering. It means that when Christ was born, lived among us, then died on the cross to save us from our sins, He did so by stepping into His own work of creation, His own work of art!
We began with two songs of praise. We will end with another, this time sung and performed by Phil Keaggy. It is called “Maker of the Universe.” Consider how Keaggy marvels at the reality of the Creator Jesus stepping into, dying within, and then rising again with His own creation:
The Maker of the universe,
As Man for man was made a curse.
The claims of Law which He had made,
Unto the uttermost He paid.
His holy fingers made the bough,
Which grew the thorns that crowned His brow.
The nails that pierced His hands were mined
In secret places He designed.
He made the forest whence there sprung
The tree on which His body hung.
He died upon a cross of wood,
Yet made the hill on which it stood.
The sky that darkened o’er His head,
By Him above the earth was spread.
The sun that hid from Him it’s face
By His decree was poised in space.
The spear which spilled His precious blood
Was tempered in the fires of God.
The grave in which His form was laid
Was hewn in rocks His hands had made.
The throne on which He now appears
Was His for everlasting years.
But a new glory crowns His brow
And every knee to Him shall bow.
Let us praise the name of our great Creator King! Let us worship at the beauty of His handiwork! And let us stand astonished before the beauty of His love displayed therein on Calvary and in the empty tomb.
Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses. The Hebrew Bible. vol. 1 (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Co., 2019), p.11, f.6.
Victor Hamilton, 122.
Victor Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-17. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Gen. Eds., R.K. Harrison and Robert L. Hubbard (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), p.122.
Shelley, Dr. Bruce L.. Church History in Plain Language: Fourth Edition (p. 55). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
E.A. Speiser, Genesis. The Anchor Bible. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1964), p.5.
Victor Hamilton, 127-128.