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Genesis: Day 1 through 7

This lesson is a part of an audio course Why Read Genesis by Robert Garland

The first chapter of Genesis describes how God created the world in six days. Day One describes his first action of creation, which was light. Light was created in four stages.

Stage 1: "And God said, Let there be light: and there was light".

Evidently, it's enough for God to say "let something happen" for it to happen. There's no intermediary stage. No process. No fashioning of any kind. No rudimentary material out of which light emerges. It just happens. And who does He say it to? To himself? To his nameless co-workers? Either way, his creative act doesn't seem to require much effort, though, spoiler alert, when He's finished creating, five days later, He'll need a day off.

Stage 2: "And God saw the light, that it was good."

In other words, he inspects his work, like any accomplished craftsman, to make sure that it's up to scratch.

Stage 3: "And God divided the light from darkness."

Division, according to the author or authors of Genesis chapter 1, is fundamental to creation. It implies order. Light versus dark, wet versus dry, sun versus moon, up versus down, good versus bad. Apparently, light was originally mixed up with darkness and now it becomes pure light.

Stage 4: "God names what He creates." He calls the light "day" and the darkness "night". In other words, He creates the beginning of a universal language, one, too, that will be comprehensible to humans, as we'll see later.

Day One ends with the words: "And the evening and the morning were the first day." The separation of light from darkness now enables his other acts of creation to proceed in orderly succession.

Over the course of the next four days God goes on saying, "Let this or that happen," until we get to the climactic sixth day at verse 27 when He says, at Day 6, "Let us make a human, 'adam, in our image, after our likeness." Then later in the verse he says, "he created both male and female."

"Man in our image, after our likeness" – those words are both suggestive and problematic. Notice, too, the repetition. The author is eager that his readers are in no doubt whatsoever that God and humans are intimately related, though exactly how is left to our imagination. Are we to assume that there is a physical resemblance or is the suggestion here that we think alike and have the same moral awareness? If physical, this means that God contains within herself/himself both the male and female principle.

The next thing God does is "bless" the human creatures and gives them dominion over all living creatures – fish, birds, and animals, including every creeping thing. For many of us, this is a problematic statement, since it suggests that the earth and all within it was created to serve our needs and that there is a purposeful hierarchy to existence with humans at the summit. This seems to be confirmed at the end of chapter by God's statement that He has given every living thing, both animal and vegetable, for humans to eat.

"Bless" by the way is a key verb in Genesis. It is used repeatedly of God. We could talk about it endlessly. It signifies protection, favour, love even.

Finally, God does one last check on the entire creation package, and this time, as He's signing off at v. 31, the last verse of Chapter 1, He observes that everything isn't just good but very good.

As I've indicated, it might not seem like a lot of work saying, "Let there be this and that," but after six days, at the beginning of Chapter 2, God stops. We don't know exactly why He stops, other than because His job is finished and because he wants humans to stop as well. In the King James translation, we read, He "rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made," whereas both Fox and Alter render the verb as "ceased". It's possible that God was exhausted by all that creating, but that's not what the Hebrew Bible says. The Qur'an, on the other hand, in its version of this story, explicitly says that God wasn't tired out.

Anyway, after creating the Universe, God took a day off. Fair enough. But what did He do the day after and the day after and the day after…? The author is silent on that point. I've always wondered…

In Chapter 2 verse 3, we're told that God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it. The creation story thus ends with what is technically called an aetiology – an explanation for why things are the way they are – in this case an explanation for why we rest on the Sabbath, which, we learn, we do in emulation of the fact that God rested on this day, too. Genesis is literally littered with aetiologies, some explaining human behaviour, many of them explaining place names.

The creation story we've been following ends at Genesis Chapter 1 verse 4 with the words, "This is the story of how the heavens and earth were created." But we're not done with creation yet. A second, alternative version follows, which is the subject of the next lesson.

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Written by

Robert Garland