Genesis 1:6-10 And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. 8 And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
9 And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.
This morning we’ll continue to work our way through the six days of creation by looking at days two and three (the first half). In these next two days we continue to see the omnipotent word of God going forth and bringing about its effect perfectly. “And God said…And it was so” continues to be the banner over the creation account. Likewise, God’s assessment of the goodness of his ongoing work continues to sound. God’s highest power—to name things—is still a central part of these days of creation. And the days of creation are, once again, about forming, filling, and illuminating the heavens and earth.
What’s new in our text for this morning is its emphasis on forming—giving shape to and establishing boundaries for—the waters on and above the earth. God determined (for reasons we’ll consider at the end of the sermon) that the formless waters need to be gathered and restrained.
My aims this morning are: 1) to try to continue to paint a clear picture of what exactly is going on in these verses, 2) to try to continue to explain how they fit in the larger story of the bible, and 3) to try to continue to explain how all of this relates to the Church (including our church) today. Please pray with me that these things would be so and that God would be glorified in them.
In the beginning God spoke and created a universe that was originally good, but formless, orderless, and dark. Immediately, on that first day of creation (which we considered last week), God created light to overcome the and divide the darkness. Again, this week’s text/sermon focuses on God’s forming work; particularly his forming of the waters (providing shape, structure, and meaning to them).
Let there Be an Expanse
It seems that originally, as we noted earlier, God made the universe as a watery formlessness. It’s seems as if water was everywhere and without restriction. (As we’re about to see) there was no dry land and no meaningful distinction between earth and sky. While it is somewhat hard to picture what this would have looked like had we been present at this point in creation (some have suggested that it may have been like a “dense fog,” completely surrounding an entirely flooded globe), what isn’t hard to picture is what God did in this passage to begin bringing form to that original condition: God created boundaries for the waters of his creation. The text—our passage for this morning—names two specific boundaries that God created and named. The first named boundary we find in v.6. The second we find in v.9.
God’s first forming act, his first water-boundary, was to create an expanse (or a firmament or a vault or a dome) between the waters on the earth and the waters above the earth.
And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so.
But what does that mean? For life to be able to exist on earth—especially human life, which (as I’ll mention later) is what all of this is moving toward—water needed to be confined to certain locations. Water needed to be given and held in a certain form. There were places water needed to be and not be according to God’s plan and so God created an expanse between the water on the earth and above the earth.
And so what does it mean, specifically, that God made “an expanse in the midst of the waters” and that God separated “the waters from the waters” and that God “separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse”? As strange as it might sound, it means that God pushed the waters above the surface of the earth (the dense fog?) back (the original language suggests that God hammered the waters back). God made a waterless space between the earth and the clouds. Or, as Calvin wrote, ” The work of the second day is to provide an empty space around the circumference of the earth, that heaven and earth may not be mixed together” (Calvin, Commentary on Genesis, 41).
Just imagine that, Grace. Imagine the wisdom, power, and might. Imagine the authority. Imagine being there to witness God’s voice echoing throughout the entire world and the waters obeying without hesitation. Amazing. But that’s not all.
God Called the Expanse Heaven
The text goes on to explain that God gave this expanse a name. We might call it “the sky” but the name assigned by God is “Heaven” (or, as we see in later verses, “the heavens”). This is not the spiritual dwelling place of God, but the physical space above the earth.
8 And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
As I mentioned in the introduction, this power to name is unique to God. And, once again, in doing so God was not only assigning a label, he was also designating purpose. To name something in this sense is to give it its meaning and significance.
The Israelites who first received this lived among (and were enslaved by) godless nations. These godless nations had created for themselves gods in the image of various aspects of the creation of the One True God. By creating this expanse and drawing these boundaries for water, the Israelites would have certainly understood this as an unmistakable declaration of the supremacy of God above all other gods. Just as God stood above fake gods of the pagans in that he created the very objects they were attached to (the sun, moon, fire, water, etc.), here we see God standing above the gods of the pagans in another way. While they had lower gods of earth and higher gods of the heavens, the God of Israel made and named and ruled over all of it—over everything in the heavens and on the earth and under the earth.
This then, in v.2, is the first named water-boundary. Interestingly, it is not yet called “good”. That comes only after God established the second water-boundary at the beginning of the next day.
Thus, after two days God had created the heavens and the earth, light (and day and night), and now a dry space (“expanse”) between the surface of the earth and the clouds (“Heaven” or “the heavens”). And yet, there was more forming work to be done.
Once again, although there was now a dry space above the earth, the earth itself remained completely covered in water. And so we see in v.9 that God worked to bring more form to creation by bringing about dry ground.
9 And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so.
God drew another boundary which water was not to cross. Or, as God said to Job, God “prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, 11 and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed'” (Job 38:10-11).
The text doesn’t tell us precisely what happened here (did some of the waters dry up in order to reveal land that was beneath, did God cause land that had been previously under the water to rise above it, or something else entirely). The specifics, apparently, do not matter. What matters is that God further relegated the waters he’d made to particular places. God further established boundaries for water such that dry space would exist above the earth and dry ground would exist upon the earth.
The text says that the waters were gathered “together into one place,” but this does not mean (as the next verse makes clear) that God made one big ocean. It simply means that God contained bodies of water in specific places.
There’s something here that I don’t want you to miss, Grace. Just as v.1 tells of God’s creating the heavens and the earth before quickly focusing in on the earth in v.2, so here there is mention of God’s separation of waters in the sky before quickly focusing back on the waters on the earth. Once again, this is a clue that God is moving creation to a particular condition on earth for a particular purpose.
Earth and Sea
That’s not all, however. There’s still a bit more to God’s forming of the waters; to their separation from the earth and on the earth. God determined once again to name this new distinction. Look at v.10.
10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.
God’s naming here completed the separation of the waters; thus, his blessing follows: “It was good.” Interestingly, while God will continue to declare the goodness of each stage of creation, this is the last of God’s naming before delegating that task to man in chapter 2.
To this point, then, God has brought light and form to the world he made. God’s next work (which we’ll get to after mission’s week) was to begin to fill the earth. Make no mistake, as remarkable as all of this is, God was not done; there’s much more to come.
CONCLUSION: WHAT DOES ALL OF THIS MEAN?
I want to close this sermon by inviting you to consider four ways for us to see, savor, and respond to what we saw in this text. That is, I want to close by answering the question of what we are to do with this knowledge—that God made the sky and the seas. We respond well to this text when…
…we understand and appreciate why God was drawing these boundaries.
As I mentioned earlier, there have been a number of clues already suggesting that God was going somewhere in particular with all of this. These acts of God in creation aren’t random events taking place in a random order. God was illuminating, forming, and (soon) filling the world on purpose and in a particular sequence on His way to a specific goal.
The physical creation (the earth), not the spiritual one (heaven) is in focus. God’s sees all under any conditions (dark or light), so clearly the light wasn’t for God’s benefit. The dry land (the earth), not the sky above (the heavens) or the gathered waters below (the seas) are the main subject of the creation account. Again, each of these are clues to help us see that God is creating certain, specific conditions on the earth.
Grace, as we’ll see toward the end of this chapter, God was creating a world suitable for mankind. God was working to make the world into a place in which he might dwell with man. Mankind was to be the pinnacle of God’s creation and Genesis 1 is about making an environment habitable by his image bearers. In this sense, as I will explain more as we continue on, God was establishing his temple on earth.
What an amazing reality. What a humbling recognition. What an exciting story. What a convicting message. What a direct contradiction to all the secular philosophies swirling around which suggest that man has no unique place or purpose on earth. Again, we read this text well, then, when we understand and appreciate both what God was doing, but also why he was doing it and what it means for us.
…we understand and appreciate how it fits in the whole story of the bible.
The second way in which we respond well to this text is when we allow it to point our eyes even further forward and upward—marveling at God’s awesome and unfailing purposes for his creation. In this passage, as we just saw, God gathered the waters of his creation together for a particular, immediate purpose (to make a place where man could dwell). Even grander, however, is that God had much, much more in store for the gathered waters. God was, in our passage, establishing just the right conditions for even greater works.
For instance, just a few chapters later in Genesis God would undo the boundaries he’d set for the waters (both in the heavens and on earth). In the Great Flood God would execute his judgment upon the wickedness of mankind in such a way that we cannot miss its parallels with our passage. In Genesis 7 we find language almost exactly like the language of our passage for this morning (but in reverse).
Genesis 7:11-22 …on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. 12 And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights… 19 And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. 21 And all flesh died that moved on the earth…
In Genesis 1:6-10 God displayed his sovereignty over the waters by binding them up. In Genesis 7:11-22 God showed his sovereignty over the waters by loosening his bindings (returning the earth to its condition before his work in days 2 and 3). The Genesis 1 boundaries were an act of God’s grace. Genesis 7’s undoing of them was an act of his judgment. Grace, hear this: it is God’s good pleasure alone that holds back the waters even now. The only reason we’re not now entirely engulfed in water is because God is still performing this work of the second and third days by the power of his word.
That’s not all. God had more in store for his gathered water. God would again establish water-boundaries as an act of grace before removing them as an act of judgment. He did so for the waters of the Red Sea in order to lead his people away from the Egyptians before causing them to crash back down upon the Egyptians (Ex. 14). God’s sovereignty over the water was not restricted to the days of Genesis.
There’s more still to God’s design. God would later gather water again in baptism. God uses the gathered waters of the these two days of creation to make baptism possible. Do you see that, Grace? Do you see that the boundaries set up in Genesis 1:6-10 held until the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ; in part in order that the gathered water could be used in baptism? Do you see that baptism symbolizes the great and glorious mystery of our union with Jesus in his death and resurrection? Do you see that there is a straight line from our passage this morning to the sign of our union with Jesus? What amazing wisdom and grace. What a story we’re in. What a God who authors it.
Finally, God will gather water for the healing of his people in the new heavens and the new earth.
Revelation 22:1-2 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
Grace, God’s water-boundaries will hold for eternity! But not only will they hold, God will use them to fill us with awe and wonder and worship and healing and sustenance and life!
We read and respond to this passage well when we understand and appreciate where God was going with it in the immediate context (creating a place for God to dwell with man) and in the larger context of our redemption (flood, Exodus, baptism, and the new heavens and earth). Awesome!
…it causes us to rightly fear God alone.
A third thing this text ought to drive us toward, as we see clearly in Jeremiah and Job, is the fear of the LORD. The One with the power to create, separate, and name is not One to be trifled with. Again, that’s exactly what God himself pointed out through the prophet Jeremiah as he recounted (many years later) the great and mighty acts of Genesis 1:6-10.
Jeremiah 5:22 Do you not fear me? declares the LORD; Do you not tremble before me? I placed the sand as the boundary for the sea, a perpetual barrier that it cannot pass; though the waves toss, they cannot prevail; though they roar, they cannot pass over it.
Likewise, in Job (a portion of which we read earlier) the second and third days of creation, the separating the waters from the earth and on the earth, are recalled by God to Job to teach him to fear God.
Job 38:4-11 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding… 8 “Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, 9 when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, 10 and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, 11 and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?
Grace to respond rightly to this text is to grow in holy fear of the one whose nature and work it describes. He is the LORD of heaven and earth, the sky and the sea, the dry land and all that is on and under it. He speaks and waters separate, gain meaning and purpose, mark grace and judgment, provide a symbol of salvation, and shape the place we will spend eternity with God. Fear this God and him alone. Let this knowledge cause your trust to rise, your obedience to grow, and your fear of man to die. Who can bear the weight of our trust but this God alone? Who would consider disobeying the one who commands the waters? And what can anyone do to you that our God does not rule over?
…overflow in praise to God.
Finally, to have rightly heard and responded to this text, also means praising God. We simply aren’t reading this passage rightly if it doesn’t fill us with awe and wonder and gratitude and gladness; if it doesn’t fill us with worship. There are a number of Psalms that direct the people of God to do just that in response to God’s marvelous water-boundary-making work.
Psalm 33:6-9 By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host. 7 He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap; he puts the deeps in storehouses. 8 Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! 9 For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.
Psalm 148:4-5 Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! 5 Let them praise the name of the LORD! For he commanded and they were created.
Look ahead to where God’s water-boundaries are going, Grace (to the creation of man and God’s dwelling with him)…and then look further (even to the new heavens and earth). And as you consider the sovereign power of God to tell the water where it can and cannot go, join the saints of old in fearing and praising God with all your might. The good news of God is that all of this is possible for all who would place their hope in Jesus. Look to Jesus, therefore, as you look to this text and find who and what you were made for. Amen.