Friday, July 26, 2019

Creation as the External Basis of the Covenant

God brought creation into existence to serve as the context for his covenantal relationship with man. God created man in his own image to fulfill the purpose of creation. Genesis 1 describes creation as the context of the covenant. Genesis 2 describes the covenant as the purpose of creation. In this subsection we will reflect in detail on the first creation saga (Genesis 1:1-2:4).

Genesis 1:1

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (English Standard Version, here and following).

We may accept this verse as a heading which refers to what will be developed beginning with verse 3. In the beginning: God alone is without beginning. The existence and history of all that is not God starts here. God created: Creation did not generate itself. It came into being out of nothing solely through God’s effortlessly creative activity. [T]he heavens and the earth: God created an ordered world consisting of these two specific realms. Earth here means the sky, the land, and the waters both around and beneath the land. This Earth is what serves as the concrete context for the history of the covenant which follows. Like Earth, Heaven also contains elements which are solid (the “expanse” or “firmament”) and liquid (the waters). To this solid expanse are attached the sun, moon, and stars (v. 17). Elsewhere in the Bible (e.g. Psalms 2:4, 11:4; Isaiah 66:1), we learn that God has his throne in Heaven even though Heaven itself cannot contain him (1 Kings 8:27) and therefore belongs to creation.

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.

Genesis 1:1 and 1:3f. reveal to us that God actively created an ordered world consisting of a heaven and earth which he declared very good. Genesis 1:2 is a caricature of this. It is the description of an absurd earth which only an absurd God would create. By contrasting Genesis 1:2 with 1:1, we learn that God actively rejected the existence of an ungodly world hostile toward him when he created our world as an expression of his love and for the privilege of sharing in this love.

The problem first addressed in Genesis 1:2 is limited to the lower realm of creation: man and his world. It is something different from and hostile to the creation later called “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Yet v. 2 mentions nothing either self-existing or created by God. Instead it begins simply by stating, The earth was tohu and bohu. The earth described in this way is an absurd desolation and wasteland.

[A]nd darkness (hoshek) was over the face of the deep (tehom). This second clause is our second perspective on this absurd earth. Tehom, “the deep,” perhaps suggests the perilous waters that later engulfed creation during the time of Noah. Upon it lies hoshek, “the darkness,” which perhaps is identical in meaning to nothingness as a power of annihilation. This is not to say that the darkness is another self-existing power alongside God in some cosmic dualism. Nor is it to say that darkness is willed and created by God in the same way as light.

And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. This clause, like the first two, refers to water with the connotation of evil. But now, instead of darkness lying upon it, the Spirit of God is said to be hovering over it. This seems to be yet another description of an earth God did not create. Alongside the depiction of that absurd earth we have here the absurd depiction of the Spirit of God as an impotent bird hovering over sterile waters.

In summary, Genesis 1:2 perhaps portrays an option for the earth which God rejected with his actual creation of a good earth by his Word. That actually present creation made chaos the original and definitive past. But God, in creating man, brought into being a creature who could love him freely and therefore a creature with a freedom distinct from his own. The risk was that this creature would misuse his freedom, that he would reject God’s Word and the world God created, and instead would choose the absurdly enticing world of chaos hated by God. By doing so, man would thereby grant chaos a present and future it did not have by nature and call down upon himself the wrath of God for loving what God hated.

Yet God did not fear this risk. Our rejection of his Word did not force God to reject either his Word or the world created through it. That chaos became present did not alter the fact that it remained the past in essence. God spoke his Word once in creation, then freely chose to repeat it in the history of the covenant of grace. If God chose to take seriously our rebellion against his Word and our disruption of his creation, he did so in a way consistent with the Word we so despised. The Word we despised became the flesh we distorted and suffered in order to free us and the entire cosmos from the threat of eternal death we had brought upon it and ourselves.

Genesis 1:3

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

That creation came into existence when God spoke means that creation resulted from a free decision by God rather than simply as an emanation from God. It also means that the creature freely created by the Word was created deliberately to be free for the Word. We may deny the Word, through which we exist and for which we live, but we cannot escape it.

The emphasis placed upon God’s Word as the sole means of creation is the one aspect of the creation saga which echoes most significantly through the rest of Scripture. The expression, “and God said,” connects creation history with all biblical history. God’s Word in Genesis 1:3 fixes the boundary between creation and chaos. God’s Word similarly fixes the same boundary for Abraham between Haran and Canaan. This same Word is also the goal of the history of Israel. When the creative Word became a creature, he took upon himself all the misery of creation and enabled creation to participate in his own eternal life. Just as by his Word God was Creator, so by his Word he is our Reconciler and will be our Redeemer.

Genesis 1:3-5

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

God willfully creates light first. Only as he separates light form darkness is darkness also created. Creation and time begin with light and as works of God continue only in it. God calls this light day and in doing so makes light his declaration that his will is life and that he has rejected definitively the darkness and death of chaos. Later God created the sun, moon, and stars to allow our eyes to see this light and the cosmos enlightened by it. God gives light its dignity by calling it good. As such God establishes it as the sign of his grace. Just as by grace the light overcomes the darkness, so by grace God will maintain his creation despite the absurd presence of sin and death. With God’s creation of light, he reveals his grace. In this way light as God’s first creation serves the rest of creation throughout history as a witness to the truth of God’s grace.

The creation of light before the sun destroyed the foundations of all the religions around Israel whose adherents worshiped the sun. For Israel, light was created by God’s Word to serve that Word immediately as a sign of the gracious will of God revealed through it. Light, then, is not to be identified with any other source than God.

God created light and called it good. Neither is said of the darkness. It is by God’s grace alone that light is good, an object of God’s good pleasure, and all else is good insofar as it too is seen by God as corresponding to his good will. Light is good because God separates it from darkness and puts it to good use as a sign against chaos.

Light is separated from darkness. Darkness, however, is not separated from God’s will but remains wholly subject to it. God separates the light from it, God names it, God creates light to which it can offer no resistance. Between light and darkness God establishes an impenetrable barrier (they can never mix) and an irreversible hierarchy (light always overcomes darkness).

God calls the light day and the darkness night and we have the evening and morning of the first day. God names the light first. Then comes the first day—but not the first night. The separation and subordination of darkness to light continues. In naming both, God establishes himself as Judge and Ruler of both.

God established light’s function when he calls it “day.” In so doing God creates time as we know it. Day, then, is God’s creation and not our invention. Because day is light set aside by God for his purpose as well as our time, we too should dedicate ourselves to God’s purpose. That light is called day means that light and not darkness is the gift of God in which we are to participate. God calls the darkness night. This means God remains Lord over the darkness, describes it as that which is opposite of light, and limits its menace as such to the boundary of creation.

There was evening and morning. The first day came into being by and for God’s Word. That other days follow means that each is also created by and for this Word and that the creatures brought forth on those days are created by the same Word who created light on the first day.

Evening and morning: a curious order at first glance. God’s work constitutes the day. When God brings his temporal work to its goal, the day ends: it is evening. God’s work is the creation of light and not darkness. Night still comes under God’s lordship as he names and limits it. He does not make it part of the day but he does surround its anonymity with the evening and morning of day. Morning is the beginning of a new day of God’s work. Night cannot keep it from coming. Evening and morning of the first day: the promise of the first day that the second day will come. Morning: the promise of yesterday and the beginning of today or the promise of today and the beginning of tomorrow.

Genesis 1:6-8

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. And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

Undivided water would be the perilous waters of chaos. So we do not have the creation of the waters and then their separation. They come into being with the creation of the expanse permanently dividing and mastering them according to God’s Word. This expanse or dome permanently separates the celestial ocean above from its terrestrial counterpart below, protecting us and the cosmos from the chaos that would follow if this upper water was unleashed. No matter how fearful our terrestrial ocean becomes, it can pose no ultimate threat because of the expanse established by the Word of God and given to us as God’s assurance.

Whenever Heaven is mentioned in Scripture we rightly think first of this expanse as boundary and guarantee of the world in which we live. To live under Heaven, then, is to live under the protection God provides and the limits he sets. In Jesus Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Heaven was opened (John 1:51, Acts 7:55), the threat from above obviously having been overcome. In the end, Heaven will be utterly transformed, its threat completely overcome, and the expanse, no longer needed, will disappear.

Genesis 1:9-13

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 called Seas. And God saw that it was good.

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. 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. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

With light separated from darkness, and the waters above from those below, creation of a place for man to live now becomes possible. This also takes place through a separation; this time, in the lower cosmos, of the sea (which in its limitations also menaces) from the land according to the merciful and liberating Word of God. And God saw that it was good—so now commences something new: natural history, life, specifically the plant life upon which animals and humans will depend: grass and leaves for the former, fruits and vegetables for the latter (Genesis 1:29f.). Anticipated in this bountiful harvest the Word prepares for man God’s covenant of grace with him.

Genesis 1:14-19

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, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 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. 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. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

With this fourth day of creation the focus shifts from survival to abundance. Though attached in some way to the expanse in Heaven, the heavenly bodies belong to our lower cosmos because—like us—they are visible. Indeed they were created as such so that we as creatures of the lower realm could distinguish light from darkness, tell time, orient ourselves in space, and so be historical actors with God. Consequently, these heavenly bodies remained unnamed by God. As creatures of our realm, created between the first living creatures and the others to follow, they too are alive—ruling day and night (v. 17) and being called the hosts of the Lord. In contrast to all cosmologies, ancient and modern, these heavenly bodies were created to serve man by separating day from night, by burning as a sign and promise of the day even during the night and, by doing so, by being a sign and promise of that ultimate separation of light from darkness chosen and created by God in the beginning.

Genesis 1:20-23

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.” 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. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

God’s work on the fifth day corresponds with that of the second just as his work on the fourth day did with that of the first. On the fifth day God creates fish and birds. In anticipation of human life, these creatures are capable of independent activity. Even more remarkably, they are brought forth to live in the sea and air; that is, in those two provinces which menace the land and where humans can live only temporarily and artificially and at risk. Yet God demonstrates his lordship over all that might threaten man by making even these spheres, so close to chaos, teem with life. If God preserved the lives of creatures so similar to humans in such menacing environments, surely nothing can keep him from saving us. Finally, God blesses the procreation of these creatures: he approves, enables, and promises their fruitfulness. Here the history of creation proper begins, with God guaranteeing for fish and birds the succession of generations that later will prove so important in the history of the covenant.

Genesis 1:24-31

And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image,
      in the image of God he created him;
      male and female he created them.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

God’s work on the sixth day relates to his on the third: his creation of land animals to his preservation of the land; his creation of man as the final form of life to his creation of plants as the first. The Bible sees humans not in isolation but living in a terrestrial context alongside various domestic and wild animals. While humans stand as the noblest form of creature, we also stand as the form most in need of all those which preceded us. If we may freely respond to God’s Word, the complete submission of these other creatures to that Word stands as a constant challenge to our own. Their need for God’s preservation reminds us of our own. Their subordination to our dominion challenges the responsibility with which we exercise it. Created before us, they remain with us throughout the history of the covenant as our companions. Finally, in their greatest humiliation as animal sacrifice, they prefigure the one way we will be saved.

The completion of creation is God’s rest from his work on the seventh day. The goal of that work, however, was God’s creation of man. With that, God had created everything needed as context for his covenant with man. While God will continue to preserve and renew creation, he will add nothing new to what he created between light and man.

The significance of this final work and goal of creation is marked by the unique expression, God said, “Let us make…” of v. 26. God is one in the dynamic unity of three distinct ways of being and not as a static being. Just before the creation of man, emphasis is given to the intra-divine conversation because it is the divine prototype of the human image to come. According to our likeness means patterned after the divine nature. Repeated twice, image is the critical insight here; man, then, is made in the likeness of or according to the pattern of this divine prototype. The nature of this intra-divine conversation as divine prototype, the nature of the dynamic unity of distinct ways of being as divine image, is brought out in the parallel expressions:

in the image of God he created him,
male and female      he created them.

Here man is revealed as the sole creature created to exist as a genuine counterpart in relation to both God and to one another as male and female. This likeness of God’s image, this analogy between divine and human life, is mutually enhancing encounter and existence. The divine prototype of dynamic unity between distinct ways of being—of one God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—finds its image in man as male in relation to female and female in relation to male. While fish, birds, and animals exist as male and female, they were created as groups and species. Only man was created simply as male and female.

To the creatures made in this divine image, God gave dominion over the fish, birds, and animals with whom they share the earth. But as these other creatures remain subordinate to man, so man remains subordinate to God who created all. Humans are commissioned by God, represent God, and witness to God. This both establishes and limits their dominion. One limit: no authority is given here to take the life of an animal. But God does bless them; he does approve, enable, and promise success to their procreation and dominion and to the first male and female and through them to their posterity.

For humans to be fruitful and exercise dominion, they depend primarily on God’s gracious provision of food and his permission and command to eat it. They depend secondarily on the cosmos which God has given them. In his grace God provides humans with fruits and vegetables and the animals with plants. God first invites man to this bounty. This emphasizes greater dignity but also that this dignity comes through God’s gracious invitation and not by man’s own merit. God then invites the animals to eat. This emphasizes man’s solidarity with the animals. The diet created by God for both humans and animals is strictly vegetarian. The needs of existence are met by God and not through violence. The relationship between Creator and creation, and between creatures, still knows only peace.

Genesis 2:1-3

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

God finished the work he had done. This God did by confirming the completion of his work on the seventh day with his rest. No more acts of creation—just joyful appreciation of creation’s accomplished goodness. Satisfaction with creation just as he had created it in just the six days he’d given to create it. Satisfaction in having attained the freely established limit to his own work. Love for the limited world he had freely chosen to create. God reveals himself as Lord by repeating here in time, on the seventh day, the rest he had enjoyed eternally in himself. As Lord in this way, he freely reveals his love by linking his eternal being, through this act in time, with our temporal being; his honor, with our well-being as his proper counterparts. This final act of the history of creation becomes the first in the history of the covenant because God affirms the divine image in humans by setting aside the day for them as well. God gives them time for their joyous and restful fellowship with God—the meaning of God’s covenant with them. God’s seventh day, with his rest, becomes the first day for humans, in which they begin their first week of life; their first full day which, as the Lord’s Day, will be recognized as such and celebrated with the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Copyright © 2019 by Steven Farsaci.
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