How does the Book of Genesis begin?
Genesis is the book of beginnings. So it would make sense that Genesis begins at the beginning of human history. It doesn’t tell the beginning of God, because God has always existed and will always exist.
But it does begin with human history, creation itself. God is the agent of creation. He is above and beyond it. That’s why the very first verse of the Bible tells us that in the beginning (of human history) God created the heavens (universe) and the earth (Genesis 1:1).
Many people discern what they call a “gap” between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2. The way the language works, this could either be the beginning of a new sentence or the continuation of the old. I suggest that it is the beginning of a new thought. I will explain better below.
Genesis 1 continues by outlining in poetic form God creating the universe and everything in it by his voice. He speaks the word and it happens. Creation responds to the presence and voice of God.
There are a couple of things about the creation poem people don’t understand. First of all, they think there is an inconsistency between all six days. People wonder how God can call forth light on day one but then on day four he puts lights in the sky.
One of the schemes running throughout the poetic passage is that God forms creation on the first three days and then fills what he has formed on days five through six. This forming and filling is based off of two Hebrew words in the beginning where the earth was formless and empty or void. That small Hebrew phrase sets up the idea of the forming in the first three days and the filling in the next three days. The number three is significant throughout the Bible.
The other thing people wonder about is why there is “evening and morning” instead of morning and evening. Basically, in the Hebrew culture, a day goes from evening to the morning. As an example, the Sabbath is observed beginning in the evening on Friday and ending in the evening on Saturday.
At the end of Genesis 1, God describes how he makes humans with a special, privileged status. He decides to make humanity in his image (Genesis 1:26-27). This is one of the ways distinguishes humans even from the animals that he creates.
In Genesis 2, the chapter opens with an explanation of the final, seventh day. God rests on the seventh day not because he needs the rest, but to set an example for humanity for later. Throughout the Pentateuch/Torah, the Sabbath rest becomes part of the Law of Moses.
God teaches by example that humans need a day of rest. During that day of rest, we do not only physically rest from work, but we rest in the presence of God. It is a day dedicated to the Lord in worship. It is a day where we rest not only physically, but spiritually and mentally.
The rest of Genesis 2 focuses on God’s creation of animals and humanity, paying specific attention to humanity. It expounds on how God created humans differently than the rest of his creation. Whereas he spoke everything into existence, he slows down and “forms the man out of the dust of the earth.”
God slows down because he wants to take time with the pinnacle of his creation. Genesis 1 tells us he made us in his image. Genesis 2 tells us he takes time to form us out of the dust personally. He doesn’t just speak humans into existence. Later the Bible talk about him forming us in the womb (Psalm 139:13-16).
The third mark of his special creation is that he breathes the breath of life into us (Genesis 2:7). The word for breath and Spirit in the Bible is the same in both languages. This may bear significance, that he breathes into man and not into animals. It has a spiritual sense to it. This may speak of the human soul or life given by God, the eternal part of us housed in the dust of the earth, our bodies.
There is one more mark that we are his special creation among the creation. He institutes marriage among men and women, but also even more significantly, he gives humanity charge to steward the earth as its masters.
The image of God may be reflected in us mastering creation in a smaller way, as he is the Master of his creation. His image may also be reflected in marriage, and the joining of man and woman together, two compatible people for one another, just as the members of the Trinity are compatible with one another in intimate relationship.
Returning to the point about the gap between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2, there is a larger structure at work in the beginning of Genesis. Imagine a telescope. The end is larger than the beginning. We look through the small and and it gets larger so we can see smaller things.
But if you reverse that image, Genesis 1:1 is like looking through the wide scope first, seeing the wider picture. Then beginning at Genesis 1:2, the scope gets a little bit smaller, beginning to zero in on the story in more detail.
By the time we reach Genesis 2, the scope gets even smaller, further zooming in on the details of creation. It is not a gap, but zeroing in on the details of creation each time. It’s just most noticeable from the first verse to the second.
The book of Genesis doesn’t stop there with beginnings. We will next see in further chapters the beginning of the fall of man, the first murder, the beginning of separation between good and evil, the first violation of marriage by the “Sons of God” marrying the “daughters of man” and having relations with them.
We will see God become so disgusted with the wickedness of humanity that through the Flood he starts over with creation. We will also see the beginning of wickedness again starting with Noah, and the Tower of Babel later on.
We will finally see the beginning of nations in Genesis 10-11. Since none of these plans works for God’s redemption of his creation, he will begin again with a person instead of a nation, Abraham, and build a nation for himself, Israel, beginning with him.