Have you ever travelled to a place that is quite unlike where you live? Maybe you have gone somewhere that does not speak the same language and has different customs? When I was 18 I went through a huge culture shock when I moved to west Texas in Abilene. The south, specifically west Texas, was unlike anything I had experienced. People wore shorts with cowboy boots, and that was just the normal fashion, they call all pop “coke,” strangers talk to you like you are long lost best friends, and people’s blood is made out of Dr. Pepper. Ok, maybe that last one is a slight exaggeration, but barely! I have a vivid memory of being asked to go out dancing at a “two-step club” and I had no idea what that was! Side note: I quickly found out that it is NOT my cup of tea as someone who is the absolute opposite of country. Over my 5 years there, I started to understand the culture and what people meant when they said things like, “fixin’ to.” While I learned, I was able to appreciate and accurately interpret what was happening around me. This is quite normal no matter where we travel. We do not go to Paris looking for a McDonalds and Tacos. There is an understanding that we all have that we should learn and embrace the culture we are visiting. However, we almost behave the exact opposite when we approach the Bible. Let’s take a quick look at the first chapter of the Bible to see how we can put our own culture assumptions aside and see what we learn.
As a quick example before we dive into the heart of what I want to point out let’s look at verses 1 and 2, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 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.” You might assume that heavens and earth mean what we think of as heaven and a globe. The author of Genesis would not have had that in mind because that was not their view of the world. In our modern language, we would communicate this as, “In the beginning, God created what is up there (the sky) and what is down here (the land).” On top of that, the “earth” in their mind was not a sphere but was flat. This is not incredibly consequential since it is true that God made the spherical earth, but it does help us understand various parts of the Bible that seem to allude to a flat earth (like the four corners in Isaiah 11:12). The second thing that you might notice is that it seems to suggest that the earth existed at the beginning of creation. This is simply because they had no concept of “nothing.” In their mind, pre-creation meant chaos, which meant covered in darkness and the sea. Genesis 1 is, first and foremost, meant to show that where there is chaos, God comes in and creates order.
How can we see order in Genesis 1? By looking at the order of the days and seeing how they parallel each other. In our western minds we are quite literal and scientific. This causes us to read this and have debates on 7 literal days versus metaphorical days. As a side note: I am not saying those conversations are wrong, as I have multiple books on my shelf about this subject. What I am saying is that we need to be careful about what we are making the priority of the text and what the authors (both God and human) intended. Let’s look at more of this order that God created and see how this creation story is deeper and more incredible than many of us initially thought. In this table below I outline the first 6 days of creation and put them side by side with the parallel day.
If you look at the column on the left, you will find environments. Again, we run into a problem in our western minds because we know that light is not an “environment” or source but a result of something (particle or wave). But the ancient eastern people had no clue about that. Instead, they saw light as the environment for what God made on day 4. Day 2 has God creating the sky and seas and day 5 fills those environments with fish and birds. It is this beautiful picture of order and God pushing back the chaos.
On top of cultural meanings, there are also wider theological meanings and allusions that we often miss. This building of structures and then filling those structures with inhabitants in the span of 7 days is supposed to bring to mind a temple. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, or the Old Testament, Israel’s sacred spaces are all dedicated with ceremonies that last 7 days. This is seen in the tabernacle (Leviticus 8:33-35), Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 8:2, 65), and Ezekiel’s new temple (Ezekiel 43:25-27). The whole of Genesis chapter 1 is actually God creating a cosmic temple for Him to be worshipped in. This week even ends with God resting, which Psalm 132:13-16 shows us that to rest somewhere is to exercise dominion over that place and its inhabitants. When we go about our day, we should be aware that we are living in a cosmic temple that God Himself built. And if you build a temple in worship of a deity, the last thing you would put in it is the statue that images said deity. The idea of the statue is to portray the deity in a physical way so that when people saw the statue they would be made to worship the deity represented. The same is true in God’s cosmic temple. He built statues, or images, that should cause us to worship Him whenever we see them. Those statues are us! This is a big reason that God commands in Exodus 20:4 that we will not make any idols, or images. He has already created the statues that should cause us to worship.
The Bible is an amazing book. The more we dive into it the more we will learn about our God, ourselves, and our world.
While all of this can be nerdy and theological, it is immensely practical for many reasons, but here I will point out 6 takeaways; 3 general and 3 from Genesis 1:
- We will be more diligent when we read our Bibles to understand the intended meaning of the words. We also will protect ourselves from taking verses out of context.
- We will learn more about God. This will cause us to worship and fear Him rightly.
- Our questions will be more aligned to what the authors are trying to teach us. This will help us not find things that are not there as we read and study.
- In terms of Genesis 1, we will be able to rest in the comfort that when our lives or things around us are chaos that God creates order. We also will trust that God ordered the world so He knows how it is best for us to live within it.
- This will also lead us to rightly see each other as images of God that will lead us to worship Him as we care for His temple where He has placed us.
- Finally, we will take our role as images of God to reign over the earth as He reigns over us.
The Bible is an amazing book. The more we dive into it the more we will learn about our God, ourselves, and our world. It is a book that we will never reach its depths. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12