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.” 21 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. 22 And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
Having originally created the heavens and earth in darkness, formlessness, and emptiness, we’ve already been able to consider four days of God’s work to illuminate, form, and fill. On the first day he created light. On the second day he created the sky. On the third day he created dry land, bodies of water, and two types of vegetation. And on the fourth day God created the sun, moon, and stars. To each of these things God assigned a name and a purpose. And God pronounced each of them “good”.
This morning, then, we’ll consider the fifth day where God continues to fill the heavens and earth with his glory. In particular we’ll consider his glorious filing of the seas and the sky. Insodoing I mean to draw your attention to eight quick snapshots of this passage. And a result of all of this I hope you are filled with a fresh sense of awe and wonder as we consider the creativity of God. I hope you’re filled with a renewed desire to share that wonder with the whole world. I hope that you are filled with an increased desire to order your life according to the world as God has made it. And I hope that you are filled with joy in God’s immeasurable blessings for his people in Jesus. Let’s pray that all of this would be so.
In reading and praying and thinking and studying carefully through this day, once again, I often sat in awe at the creative work of God. And once again my biggest challenge was in deciding how best to help you understand and appreciate the glory that is in this text. As I mentioned in the introduction, I settled on an approach that I mean to do just that. Instead of diving really deeply into any one aspect of the passage, I want to give you eight quick snapshots of glory. The first is a familiar one.
And God Said
God’s creative work on day one began with the phrase, “and God said” (1:3). God’s creative work on day two began with the phrase, “And God said” (1:6). Twice in the course of day three God’s creative work began with the phrase “and God said” (1:9, 11). God’s creative work on day four began with the phrase, “and God said” (1:14). And now, for the fifth consecutive day of creation, God’s creative work begins with the phrase,
20 And God said…
There is no other way by which God is said to have created. What’s more, the unmistakable point of this repetition is to highlight the simple fact that while some gods are said to create by spells and magic and sacrifices and rituals, the God of the Israelites, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, creates merely by his word. Our God needs only to say the word and his will is done.
This awesome reality serves as a backdrop for the rest of the biblical story as well. That’s the reason I’ve chosen to highlight a different aspect of it in every sermon. The entire bible is a testimony to the fact that when God speaks, nothing can stop or even slow his plans.
Proverbs 30:5 Every word of God proves true
Isaiah 55:10-11 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
2 Timothy 2:9 …the word of God is not bound!
Hebrews 4:12 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.
Grace, because this is the nature of God’s word, let us never be so haughty as to put ourselves up against it. Let us never think we know better or that we can improve upon God’s word. Let us never be embarrassed by it. Let us never allow ourselves to become indifferent to it. And let us not long tolerate ignorance of it. Instead, let us know the mighty and terrifying power of God’s word and humbly bring ourselves under it according to the promises of it.
That’s the first snapshot. The second flows from it. Following this initial phrase (“and God said”), we’re left once again with the question of “What did God say”?
Let the Waters Swarm
Look at vs.20 and 21.
20 And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures…21 So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm …
On this day, as the text makes plain, God filled the waters he’d made with many fish, great and small. Where did the living creatures that we find in the water come from? God made them by his word on the fifth day of creation.
There’s something else to see here though. (In v.21) Moses makes special mention of “the great sea creatures”. There really isn’t anything else like that in the rest of the creation account. What does this mean?
It can be easy to forget that Genesis was written in a certain context. Remember, most likely Moses gave Genesis – Deuteronomy to the Israelites just before they entered the Promised Land. Collectively these five books of the bible were meant to answer a few questions. Most notably: 1) Who are we? 2) How’d we get here? And 3) Who is our God?
The answer to the last question (“who is our God?) was particularly critical since it was God who made the Israelites into a people and led them to the Promised Land. Beyond revealing those two things about God, Moses had much more to say about Him. One of the most significant truths that Moses highlighted, however, was that God was entirely unique from all other gods. Israel was surrounded by nations who believed in different gods who also claimed to have dominion over the earth. Moses wanted to help the Israelites to understand that they were all imposters, fake, counterfeit, false, myths. There is One True God and he alone made the heavens and earth and he alone sovereignly rules them.
What does all of this have to do with the “great sea creatures”? To many of the surrounding nations (especially the Canaanites and Babylonians), large sea creatures were seen as rivals to their gods. The great beasts of the sea were to be feared and placated. “To the Canaanites…Baal’s adversaries [like the sea monsters] were gods like himself, or demons to be propitiated; and to the Babylonians the chaos-monster [of the sea] Tiamat pre-existed the gods” (Kidner, TOTC, 54).
Moses’ point then, was to remind the Israelites of the superiority of Yahweh over and above all other gods, and certainly above all of his creation. Thus, as one commentator put it, “no doubt is left by this chapter that the most fearsome of creatures were from God’s good hand. There may be rebels in his kingdom, but no rivals” (Kidner, TOTC, 54).
Submission and worship. Those are the only two responses that make any sense when we encounter this God. They were the only things that made sense back then and they are the only things that make sense now. Where are you holding back and what has a higher place in your heart? What aspects of your life are not in submission to God and what things in your life are above God? Rightly understanding this passage means, by the power of the Spirit, fighting for submission and worship to God alone.
Let the Birds Fly
But that’s not all. The third snapshot lets us know that God spoke even further.
And God said, “Let … birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” 21 So God created … every winged bird according to its kind.
God not only filled the seas he had made, he also filled his skies. Where do the birds we see in the sky come from? They come from God. He spoke them into existence on the fifth day of creation.
Kids, who created the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky? Who, then, is king of the fish and the birds—who has the authority to tell the fish and the birds what they are and what they are for? God is the answer to all of these questions; and therefore as we contemplate the beauty and creativity and wisdom and power and splendor that God has put in every single fish and bird, we simply must give glory to God as we stand in awe of his handiwork. We cannot look at a fish or a bird without remembering this passage, learning something new about our God, and turning all of that back into praise. We cannot rightly encounter these products of the very words of God and not be moved to worship and submission.
According to their Kinds
That brings us to the fourth snapshot. This one is found near the end of v.21.
21 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.
God created the beginning of the earth’s vegetation “according to its kind.” Likewise, here we see that he also created the fish and birds “according to their kinds.” It would be a mistake to believe that Moses was writing with the kind of scientific precision that we would expect today. That is, it is important to avoid reading meaning into the text that would have been entirely foreign to Moses and his readers. And yet it is equally important to guard against missing the clear point and implications of what he is saying. There are important distinctions between the things God has made and within the things God has made. God is the creator of both the creatures and their distinctions; and therefore God is the King of both the creatures and their distinctions. We must not ignore—or worse yet, seek to alter—the relationships God made within and between the different aspects of his creation. They are there for God’s good purposes and we mess with them only to our own detriment and destruction. As I mentioned last week, the world around us is attempting to do so with increasing brazenness. May we pray for them and then share in love the better, truer, and more beautiful story.
Again, that leads directly to the next, the fifth, snapshot.
It Was Good
God continued to illuminate, form, and fill the earth. He continued to create new things (fish and birds here) and new distinctions between those things. And all of that leaves us with another familiar question: Were those things good? The very end of v.21 gives us the answer.
21 … And God saw that it was good.
This is another steady theme of the creation week. Even more so, it is a steady theme of the entire bible. Much like the power of the Word of God is not limited to this first chapter of the bible, neither is the goodness of God and his work. It is often difficult to see the goodness of God in many of the things we experience in life. And yet God’s word helps us to see that they are…all of them.
Psalm 31:19 Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!
Jeremiah 31:11-12,14 For the LORD has ransomed Jacob and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him. 12 They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD…I will feast the soul of the priests with abundance, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, declares the LORD.”
Zechariah 9:17 For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty!
Titus 3:3-5 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit…
Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
God’s works are all and only good. Let us live by faith in this promise. Where do you doubt this? Where is it difficult for you to see and believe? Confess those things to God and recommit to walking by faith and not sight. When you do the Holy Spirit of God, who dwells in you, will bless you and help you to see with the eyes of your heart that which the eyes in your head often miss.
God Blessed Them
The sixth snapshot is new and very important for us to see. It is the first time God is said to have blessed his creation. This is critical both because it’s new, but even more so because his desire to bless forms the basis for God’s interaction with his creation for the rest of eternity.
22 And God blessed them…
As we’ll see in just a minute God’s blessing took a particular form in this passage (a form that would be very common going forward), but let’s pause for just a moment and remind ourselves of something that might be easy to forget: God loves to bless his people. His disposition to those who are in Jesus is one of blessing. Do you believe that? Do you think like that? Does you feel that day in and day out? Is that conviction the basis of your prayers? Is that conviction the basis of your disposition throughout the day? Is that conviction the first thing that comes to your mind when both comfort and hardship come your way?
God is many things. He is righteous. He is holy. He is wrathful. He is judge. He is just. He is powerful. He is many things. And yet the good news of the gospel is that all of these things are directed at the blessing of his faithful people. Again, is this the primary way in which you think of God? Consider Jesus’ words.
Matthew 7:9-11 …which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
Again, Christian—and this promise is only for Christians—do you constantly think of God as disappointed in you or upset with you or annoyed with your failures, or do you believe that God is constantly at work to bless you, and only to bless you? The first explicit blessing of God upon his creation is seen in this simple phrase on the fifth day of creation. And yet the explicit blessing of God would continue as the only work of God from here into eternity for all who would put their hope in him. He gives nothing but blessing to his people (even if that blessing might take many, and unexpected forms). How would your life be different if you really believed that?
Be Fruitful and Multiply
There are two more brief snapshots of this passage that I want to draw your attention to. The first (seventh) is the specific form that God’s blessing took in this passage. Speaking over his newly created fish and birds…
22 … God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.”
The gift (or blessing) here is reproduction; the ability to multiply. Again, “the blessing of God is one of the great unifying themes of Genesis. God blesses animals (1:22), mankind (1:28), the Sabbath (2:3), Adam (5:2), Noah (9:1), and frequently the patriarchs (12:3, 17:16, 20, etc.). God blessing is most obviously visible in the gift of children, as this is often coupled with ‘being fruitful and multiplying’” (Wenham, WBC, 24). Truly, every good thing that creation receives is rightly understood as a blessing from God. Most often, however, this blessing is in the form of fruitfulness.
The significance of this is evidenced not only by the fact that this is the first time God’s blessing is explicitly named. It is also evidenced by the fact that the content of this blessing is revealed in the first recorded words of God. It was by the word of God that all creation came into being, but this pronouncement of blessing is the first time we’re told what those words were.
There are two critical take-aways from this. First, Grace, do not miss the fact that the very first words of God that are revealed to his people are words of blessing. God is a god of blessing. Second, the content of this blessing tells us a lot about how we are to understand life. This point will become even more clear once we get to the creation of mankind (and so I’ll only mention it here), but we simply cannot miss the perspective-shaping reality this is. Life, and the ability to sustain life, is a gift of God; the first gift of God, delivered by the first recorded words of God. For that reason, we cannot be caviler or indifferent (much less hostile) towards God’s gift of life; in any of its forms.
Finally, and most briefly, then, in the ninth snapshot I want to remind you of the structure of this passage and how it enhances our ability to recognize the divine fingerprint upon it. Once again, on the second day God formed the sky and on the beginning of the third day he formed the dry land and the seas. Paralleling those acts of creation we have seen God fill that which he had formed. God created the habitat for these creatures earlier on in creation and here he placed them in their divinely-prepared homes. He formed and now he filled. Again, the structure of the passage is meant to highlight the divine origin and goodness of the world as we now encounter it.
Eight snapshots of the glory of this passage: 1) And God said, 2) let the waters swarm, 3) let the birds fly, 4) according to their kinds, 5) it was good, 6) God blessed them, 7) be fruitful and multiply, and 8) all of this parallels days 2 and 3.
Grace, God’s plans are becoming increasingly clear. He is making a world suitable for mankind; the unique image bearer of God, and the pinnacle of his creation. There is only one day left in creation. As you consider the amazing truths taught in the first 23 verses of the bible, would you ask God to help you experience the kind of awe and wonder and humility that the text demands? To be trapped in a burning building is to experience fear. To be embraced in the arms of your mother is to experience peace. To watch your team capture the championship is to experience joy. To hold the hand of your lover is to experience oneness. And to understand Genesis 1 is to experience awe and wonder and humility of the most profound kinds.
As we will see once we get to chapter 3, all of this was ripped from us in the sin of the first man, Adam. And yet, as we see plainly in the person and work of Jesus, all of this is re-offered to everyone who would turn to Jesus in belief and repentance. Turn to Jesus today and know only the good blessing of God.