If you have not watched my previous video refuting the solid firmament view please do so before reading this or it will not make as much sense. In that video I explained how Genesis 1 is a theological and cosmological polemic against the competing religious worldviews in the ancient near east. After watching that you may be asking yourself...
"But if Genesis 1 is just theological and cosmogonic polemics against the competing views it seems like a bunch of wasted information on creation. If the point being made is that only the true God of the Hebrews is the one who made all things in Genesis 1 why all the detailed information on how creation happened after verse one? It certainly does seem like a whole lot of needless information if that is all God wanted to convey. So what kind of creation is this?"
Most conservative OT scholars believe this creation account was given to the Israelites in the wilderness, after the Exodus from Egypt but before the conquest of Canaan. It was probably given while camped on the plains of Moab. Having been in bondage to Pharaoh for more than four hundred years the Hebrews had languished in Egypt far from the land promised to Abraham. They had imbibed all sorts of false concepts of God and Creation from Egypt and were now an ethnically mixed multitude (Exodus 12:38) that found themselves in a land on the way to a promised land looking for a paradise. They were totally dependent on the provision and reliability of God and Moses. With this historical backdrop in mind we are now in a good position to analyze the text to draw out the author's intended meaning and figure out what kind of creation account this is.
Before we do that we must keep in mind that we are dealing with an ancient text and culture. These people did not have rockets or satellites. At best they had local maps which most of them would not even be able to read. They were an agrarian, pre-scientific, and pre-enlightenment people in a desert looking for a stretch of land to call their home that God had allegedly promised for them and their ancestors. They had no conception of planets or a cosmic earth. As Dr. Michael Heiser notes in his book Unseen Realm "The biblical writers knew nothing of nations in another hemisphere (the Americas) or places like India, China, or Australia.". We should not allow our contemporary presuppositions to be read into the text and should point out when that is done. The later Greek idea of a cosmic primeval chaos with primordial elements of water, land, and air are one example of this kind of eisegesis we should avoid to do proper exegesis.
In the first seven Hebrew words of Genesis we find a complete statement expressed in a Merism that Elohim created everything in contrast to any other Gods. Since the Hebrews had no "cosmic perspective" the way they would express the totality of everything would be in a Merism. This would be how they would express what we would call the "universe" or "all that exists". If they wanted to refer to this whole "planet" they would usually use the Hebrew word tebel particularly with the word erets (Psalm 24:1). If it were not for the later genealogies in this book we could even include mankind here. The Hebrew term reshith , translated "beginning" refers to a time before a time. It is used of the earlier period of Job's life before his misfortunes overtook him (Job 8:7; 42:12). Within the Book of Genesis itself, the author uses the term reshith to refer to the early part of Nimrod’s kingdom (Genesis 10:10). It is used of the earlier portion of a kings life before he takes the throne and his reign began to be counted (Jeremiah 27:1; 28:1). The traditional view is illustrated here and what I am saying is illustrated here. This indeterminate period of time before the official reckoning of a king’s reign was called “the beginning [reshit] of his reign.” It was in this indefinite time before a time that everything was materially created.
While verse one is a full statement it is not an independent title evident in the conjunction in the beginning of verse two. If the Hebrews wanted this to be a title or summary of the whole chapter they would use a toledot form like in Genesis 2:4; 5:1. There is no gap theory to be found between verse one and two but the scope shifts from "cosmic" to local. This land is apparently covered with water. The Hebrew word erets rendered "Earth" here usually means land, dry land, or local geography like in Genesis 15:18 and Jeremiah 4:27. The erets is said to be tohu wabohu, translated "formless and void". The phrase is used in Jeremiah 4:23 which closely parallels the events in Genesis 1 to describe the ruined or uninhabitable condition of a portion of desert waste land. It is used of the wilderness where the Israelites wandered for forty years, waiting to enter the land (Deuteronomy 32:10). In this case the promised land.
Day one starts with a conjunction showing that Verses 1-3 are all one linear sequence of text. This is where God begins his acts by commanding light to come forth which is expressed in jussives. Commands make no sense unless there is something already existing to be commanded. The light and darkness already exist and light is commanded to come forth rather than being created since that already occurred in the reshith period of verse 1. The word ore, translated "light" is used to refer to morning sunrise (Gen. 44:3), lighting a region of land (Exo. 10:23), and it's shining through clouds (Job 37:15). It was nighttime so God begins his work by bringing about a sunrise on this land and closes the day out returning it to night. There is absolutely no indication of material creation of light or dark in verses 3-5.
Day two begins with two jussives indicating once again a divine command as opposed to material creation. The Hebrew word asah translated "made" doesn't mean material or ex-nihilo creation. It means "to do" or "make" as in if I told you to "make your bed". It is used of preparing meals (Gen 19:3), making the image of God (Gen 1:26), and of obeying commands (Gen. 6:22). Raqia translated, "Expanse/Firmament" can mean solid, non-solid, both, or something in between. It is where birds fly (Genesis 1:20), and starts at the surface of the water and land (Genesis 1:6-7). Because the material already exists in verse 1 God simply prepared the sky by spreading out clouds to contain water above and provide weather for the land. Raqia in just about all occurrences is associated with clouds, lightning, and storms. This water would then prepare the land for producing wild vegetation on the next day. Although the ancients were pre-scientific they knew water came from the clouds (Prov. 8:28; Job 26:8; 37:11).
Day three also begins with two jussives expressing divine commands translated as "Let the". Instead of material creation God uses normative providence here and works with what already exists (Genesis 1:1). The waters below the sky are gathered into one place then yabbashah, translated "dry" is made to appear. In Hebrew any body or pool of water is referred to as a "sea". The passage itself makes it clear that we shouldn’t have oceans in mind when it describes the waters being gathered together “into one place.” The waters didn’t gather into “many places,” but only “one place.” Only uncultivated herbs and fruit trees are then brought forth from the land along with seeds to self replicate. The whole function of wild and uncultivated plant fecundity is now prepared for the future inhabitants of the land, and all of the essential needs of the land are prepared and waiting to be filled and used.
Day four begins with two jussives expressing yet more divine commands. The Hebrew word asah, translated "made" is used which does not mean creation ex-nihilo. The lights were already materially created in Genesis 1:1 so there is no contradiction between days one and four and that should be our starting point for understanding this passage. In the Hebrew text of verse 14, God does not say, “Let there be lights in the expanse”. It actually says “Let the lights in the expanse be for separating the day and night...”. This difference can be seen when compared to Genesis 1:6. Moses explains to us that these lights are for us to keep track of time rather than the various sky gods. This can be seen in the deliberate use of the word "lights" in place of the words "sun" and "moon" to avoid association with astral deities like shamash.
Day five contains jussive commands in verses 20 and 22. The waters and sky which were previously prepared in the land are now to be filled with aquatic and avian animals. The word bara, translated "created" here does not necessarily mean creation ex-nihilo. It does mean something only God can do. Because the word tannin, translated "sea monster" is used in verse 21 bara is used to emphasize Elohim's power over such creatures (Exodus 7:9-12; Psalm 74:13). Bara is used to turn our attention back to verse 1 to show God does not struggle with such beings, instead he created them all in the beginning and they obey him. The same terminology used here is found in the plague accounts in the land of Egypt and the Nile (Exodus 8:3-6). Similarly God spoke, and frogs, fish, and birds came from somewhere and filled the skies and waters of the land.
Day six has more jussive commands in verses 24 and 26. Verses 25 and 26 use asah which is not creation ex-nihilo but verse 27 uses bara. Again these terms do not inherently mean creation out of nothing but bara means something only God can do and probably points us back to verse one to highlight that Elohim created mankind in contrast to other Gods. The animals which already existed are brought to this land which was previously prepared by God. All that awaits is the arrival of mankind. Mankind is created in the image of God which should be understood as our being his imagers or priestly representatives. The plants prepared earlier are now given to man along with the animals for food. The blessing in these verses is primarily the gift of children. God said, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the land” (Genesis 1:28). So already the fulfillment of the blessing is tied to man’s “seed” and “life” which are two themes along with "land" and "promise" that will later dominate the narratives of Genesis. The commands in the creation mandate for mankind to kabash, translated "subdue" and to radah, translated "rule" over the earth and animals are harsh terms. Kabash is used for war conquest (Numbers 32:22; 29) and enslavement (Jeremiah 34:11;16). Radah is used for oppressive domination and trampling underfoot. This suggests that mankind was to rigorously rule a harsh environment and that this would include the death and service of animals as resources.
On day seven God sanctifies or "sets apart" this day and he does not speak or do any work but he simply blesses and rests. We are not given much more information here but I believe this comes after day six to further explain the "image of God" theme. As Dr. John Sailhamer notes:
"If the purpose of pointing to the “likeness” between man and his Creator was to call upon the reader to be more like God (see Leviticus 11:45), then it is significant that the seventh day stresses what the writer elsewhere so ardently calls upon the reader to do: “rest” on the seventh day (cf. Exodus 20:8–11). This is another case in which the author points to the past as a picture of the future. At important points along the way, the author returns to the theme of God’s “rest” as a reminder of the blessing that lies ahead (Genesis 2:15; 5:29; 8:4; 19:16; Exodus 20:11; Deuteronomy 5:14; 12:10; 25:19). Later biblical writers continued to see a parallel between God’s “rest” in creation and the future “rest” that awaits the faithful (Psalm 95:11; Hebrews 3:11)."
While Genesis 1:1 began with a simple bara or creation of everything expressed in merism, the promised land had not yet been prepared or asah'ed for Elohim's people (Genesis 2:3). Now that the promised land has been prepared for his people the conclusion of chapter 1 is given in Genesis 2:1 again expressed in a merism. In case you haven't noticed I have been arguing that this creation account is the preparation of the promised land in six literal 24 hour days. That is where God had promised to bless his people, Israel and, through them, the rest of humanity. The sequence of the 7 days served as a weekly pattern for the people (Exodus 20:11; Exodus 31:17) and has strong parallels with temple language found in the rest of the Pentateuch. The tabernacle was constructed in seven stages (Exodus 40:19, 21, 23, 25, 27, 29, 32), priests were ordained in seven days (Leviticus 8:33-35) and given an obligation to "work and keep" the Garden (Num. 7-8; 8:25-26). There are also linguistic parallels between Genesis 2:2 and Exodus 40:33, as well as Genesis 2:3 and Exodus 39:43.
Simultaneously refuting and correcting the false notions of God and creation imbibed by his people when in bondage, Moses wanted to remind them and us that it is God alone who created everything, prepares the way, and gives us our plot. This message was necessary for the people with Moses to understand where they came from and why as they are going to take their promised land back from the Canaanites, a group of people with their own competing religious worldviews.
In the next section I will go over chapter two but until then God bless.