Genesis 1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
Welcome to the text of Genesis. The more I have studied Genesis, the more overwhelmed and amazed I’ve become. My hope is that I’ll be able to do most of the heavy lifting for you so that you’ll be able to spend more time in the amazement. Before getting to the amazement, I do want to say a quick word about some of the cause for the overwhelmedness.
When I began to study Genesis over the summer, the number of translation, grammatical, exegetical, literary, historical, and theological questions surrounding the first two verses of Genesis alone really caught me off guard. What seems so simple at first is swirling with necessary and difficult decisions just below the surface.
Is v.1 a summary statement of what’s to follow (no) or God’s actual act of creation ex nihilo (yes)?
Does the plural form of “God” used in the original language refer to God in his majesty (probably) or in his Trinity (probably not)?
Does “created” here mean ordered (no) or originally made (yes)?
Does “heavens and … earth” refer (as a figure of speech) to everything that was made (maybe) or to the two specific realms of created space (maybe)?
Does v.2 refer to matter that had been previously created (no) or the original state of creation (yes)?
Do the terms “without form,” void,” and “darkness” have any negative connotations (no) or do they simply refer to a lack of population and order (yes)?
Are “deep” and “waters” two separate things (no) or one (yes)?
Is “Spirit of God” the best translation of the original (yes) or is “wind” (no)?
These are just some of the questions that scholars have been debating for the past several generations. We may never finally know the answers to these questions on this side of heaven. However, once again, one thing is certain: the point of this passage is to highlight the sovereign, unique, and amazing work of God to bring about the creation of all things outside of himself. And for that we ought to stand in awe and wonder and submission. Consequently, please pray that above all we’d leave this sermon with a greater appreciation of the greatness of God and its implications for our understanding of every aspect of our lives (for the story we live out of)!
THE DECLARATIONS OF GENESIS 1:1
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1 is certainly one of the most famous opening lines of any piece of literature ever. Though famous, however, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that most people now and throughout history have considered it nothing more than a clever beginning, an inspiring fairytale, an interesting perspective, one religions’ tradition, or another of the many creation myths. In contrast, we (those of us who have placed our hope in Jesus) know it to be something infinitely greater than any of those things. It is for us, in simplest possible terms, a declaration of four primary, inescapable and all-encompassing realities and the beginning of the story that gives meaning and significance and direction to our lives. Let’s consider four great declarations of Genesis 1:1.
God Alone is Eternal
First, Genesis 1:1 is a declaration of God’s eternality; a declaration that God alone was before all other things. This is embedded in the very first four words of the bible, “In the beginning, God…”. As one commentator put it, “What is so striking…is that God is introduced simply as the one who existed before anything in our universe” (Ross, CB, 105). The universe did not always exist, but God did. The universe had a beginning, but God did not. God alone is without beginning and end.
What is implied in Genesis 1:1 becomes increasingly explicit from the beginning to the end of the bible.
At a time of great joy Abraham “called…on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God [El Olam] (Gen. 21:33).
Isaiah (57:15) calls God the one who “… inhabits eternity…”.
At the beginning of the book of Revelation (1:8) God identifies himself as “the Alpha and the Omega…who is and who was and who is to come…”. And later (10:6) as “him who lives forever and ever…”.
God is eternal. This is a fact of his nature. But Grace, may we not think of this merely in factual terms. It is never less than that, but for the people of God it is always more. It must also be a source of great joy and celebration and worship. Right now, take 5 seconds to stop, pray for the Spirit’s help, and think of what this is really saying about God. He has always been and will always be!
Having stopped and considered this Moses cried out in worship! “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:2).
After celebrating the mercy and grace of God in his life, Paul broke into a doxology for the everlasting God, “To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever” (1 Tim. 1:17).
What if God were really good, really powerful, really rich, really generous, really wise, etc.; what if he set those things upon you in kindness and grace, promising to bless and save you and your children and their children; what if he was and did all of that but only lived for 5 years or 50 or 500 or 5000 years? In spite his best efforts and intentions, his promises would eventually come to an end. God’s eternality is not a mere fact of his nature. It is at the heart of his ability to deliver on his promises to his people. Let’s praise him for that. Let’s trust him in that. And let’s not be quick to move on from that.
Is this the God you’ve built your life upon? Is this God the center of your story? Do you live each day in light of the reality of God’s eternality? Genesis presents this God to you and offers you an opportunity to do just that.
God Alone is Omnipotent
The second primary declaration of Genesis 1:1 is one of God’s staggering power; indeed his omnipotence. He alone could and did bring the created realm into existence. The universe has not always existed. And there is nothing random in the world in which we live—God wonderfully and purposefully designed single piece of it. God in his infinite power (as we will soon learn) spoke the world into existence (Hebrews 11:3) and even now upholds it (Hebrews 1:3) by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3).
God created the heavens and the earth
God himself declares, “I am the LORD, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself…” ( Isaiah 44:24).
What’s more, another of God’s chosen names for himself (El Shaddai) cuts right to the heart of this. We see this name many, many times throughout the bible. We see it in Genesis 17:1 (Exodus, Numbers, Ruth, Job, Psalms, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Joel), “I am God Almighty”. The word means what it seems to mean. God is the God of all might; all strength; all power.
Further, the name God has given himself in this verse (Elohim) testifies to this. The word translated “God” here is a “plural form of the word, a specialized use of the plural to signify his majestic potentialities…[and] add to the emphasis on his sovereign power” (Ross, CB, 105).
Again, “The verb used for create (bara) is used in Scripture exclusively for the activity of God. Humans may make, form, or build; to the Hebrew, however, God [alone] creates” (Ross, CB, 106).
Of God’s omnipotence A.W. Tozer wrote, “Since He has at His command all the power in the universe, the Lord God omnipotent can do anything as easily as anything else. All His acts are done without effort. He expends no energy that must be replenished. His self-sufficiency makes it unnecessary for Him to look outside of Himself for a renewal of strength. All the power required to do all that He wills to do lies in undiminished fullness in His own infinite being” (The Knowledge of the Holy, 67).
In a moment God spoke time and space into existence and wasn’t depleted in the least by doing so!
Is this the God you’ve built your life upon? Is this God of all might at the center of your story? Do you live each day in light of the reality of God’s omnipotence? Genesis presents this God to you and offers you an opportunity to do just that.
God Alone is God
Third, Genesis 1:1 is a declaration of God’s uniqueness among all other “gods.” The Israelites, the ones for whom this book was originally written, were entirely surrounded (and enslaved) by pagan nations who claimed to follow other gods. One of the primary lessons the Israelites needed to learn concerned the nature of the God who had chosen them to be his people. How was he like the “gods” of their pagan neighbors and how was he different?
Most of the bible tells the story of the people of God, along with the rest of humanity, failing to live as if there was anything unique about the God of Genesis. Fake god after fake god was chosen for allegiance and help before the One True God. Perhaps the clearest and most ridiculous example of this is found in Isa. 44:13-17:
The carpenter…14 cuts down cedars… 16 Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” 17 And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”
The unmistakable message of Genesis 1:1 is that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is utterly unique; for he alone created the heavens and the earth. He alone is sovereign over the world. The world belongs to him alone. I love how one commentator expresses the glory of this reality. In contrast with the “gods” of their neighbors who “were identified with the sun, moon, stars, animals, rivers, and a host of other things” was the One True God. In other words, “Everything that the pagans worshiped God had made” (Ross, CB, 102).
Genesis 1:1 is a declaration of the unquestionable supremacy of God over all other gods. In Isaiah 45:5(, 18) God himself echoes this sentiment, “I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God…I am the LORD, and there is no other.”
And in my quiet time just yesterday I read Hezekiah’s prayer, “O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, who is enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth” (Isaiah 37:16).
Genesis 1:1 introduces us to the God of gods and therein forces us to ask, are there things in our lives that are in competition for our allegiance? Is the God of Genesis 1:1 the God you’ve built your life upon? Is this God at the center of the story you’re living out of? Do you live each day in light of the reality of God’s uniqueness? Once again, our passage for this morning presents this God to you and offers you an opportunity to do just that.
All Creation is Subordinate to God
Finally, fourth, Genesis 1:1 is a declaration in no uncertain terms of the subordinate place of all things (people, animals, plants, mountains, oceans, angels and everything else that has been made) under God.
The same God who made the world we live in—with all its physical features, creatures, institutions, etc.—also made you and me. This leads to an inescapable and inevitable implication: we belong to God. We are his. He alone has the authority to tell us who we are, what we are for, and how we are to relate to him and all other things. He alone determines the spheres of the earth and their purpose and authority. God alone is creator and therefore God alone is King of creation. We live otherwise only to our own peril and death.
The bottom line here is that God, the One True God, the sovereign creator of all that has been made, has a unique, divine and unrecusable right to rule over his creation. “To acknowledge the Creator naturally leads to submission to him” (Ross, CB, 106).
But the fact that God made the world for us and us for the world and both for him means something else as well. It means that we are perfectly suited for both God and his world. God’s laws and commands and designs then are merely instructions on how to best live in the world as God has made it. They are not fences to keep us away from the good stuff, but fences to keep us from leaving the good stuff!
Is this the perspective of yourself that you’ve built your life upon? Is this the story that you live out of? Do you live each day in light of the reality of your subordination to God? Genesis presents this understanding of yourself to you and offers you an opportunity to do just that.
Before moving on to the final part of this sermon, would you take another few seconds to consider these four staggering realities (and this is to say nothing of the omniscience, freedom, independence, etc. implied in this single verse)? Would you pause for just a minute in order to recognize that they are so massive and their implications are so far-reaching that it ought to take our breath away? They ought to immediately destroy every ounce of pride in this room. They ought to fill us with fear and awe and wonder. They ought to cause us to consider every event of our entire lives and tremble at the fact that many of them were in direct rebellion to these things. They ought to smash every too-small understanding of God in our minds. And they ought to make us desperate to be in right standing with God.
GENESIS 1:1 AND THE REST OF THE BIBLE
I hope to have helped you begin to see the absolutely profound nature of these few (10) words at the beginning of our bibles. The creator God of Genesis 1:1 is everlasting, powerful beyond measure, unique among all other Gods, and ruler of our lives. As profound as those things are they point to a much bigger story still.
Genesis 1:1 introduces us to certain realities that will not find fullness of meaning for hundreds and thousands of years later…long after the first recipients of this book walked the earth. I want to close, then, by briefly mentioning two of the glorious realities that find their roots in their passage for this morning.
In Genesis 1:1 we find God and his creation of the heavens and the earth. As profound as that is, once again, it points to something even greater. God’s very good creation, as we will soon see, quickly fell into sin and rebellion. Within a few chapters in Genesis we’ll read of mankind’s fall and the death it brought. The whole world would experience curse and decay as a result of this. But that’s not the end of the story.
In Isaiah 65:17 we read of God’s promise that one day he would bring about a new creation, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” Though sin brought disease, destruction, and death into the world, God promised to recreate it in health, beauty, and life. Peter longed for that day, “according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). And in Revelation we read of this in greater detail,
Revelation 21:1-5 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more… 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God… 5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
Reading Genesis 1:1 well means understanding it as its first audience did. But it also means understanding it in light of the rest of God’s revelation. Creation will eventually give way to an even greater new/recreation. Genesis is filled with this type of foreshadowing. Let’s consider one more, and the greatest of all.
The famous words of Genesis 1:1 really are remarkable. They represent a reality that is truly staggering and all-encompassing which might, at first, seem to find their fullness in 2:3. “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day… 3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” Creation begun and creation completed.
And yet John’s gospel tells that this is only the pale beginning.
John 1:1-5 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
What this means is that the Genesis beginning provided a mere shadow of what was to come. The climax of Genesis 1:1, then, is not Genesis 2:3, but John 1:1, Jesus Christ! He is the creator and the giver of new life, full life, everlasting life. Again, the point I’m trying to make here is that as remarkable as Genesis is, it’s just the beginning of a much, much bigger story. I’ll do my best to point this out along the way.
Once again, Grace, in Genesis 1:1 we find the nature of God and the foundation of the world as he made it. Our lives will have meaning and significance and satisfaction insofar as we, by the grace of God, order them accordingly. If we live as if there is no God, as if he is not eternal and omnipotent, as if he is not supreme above all other gods, as if we are not his subjects, more so, if we refuse to live life in light of the story that Genesis begins (in light of the glorious reality of recreation in Jesus Christ) we will know only frustration, difficulty, and death.
In other words, Genesis doesn’t simply tell us facts about God and the world. It also begins to tell us the story that we all live in, our place in it, the means to true satisfaction, and the only way the things of God can look as they really are: good, beautiful, and true. Grace, it is not an exaggeration to say did all of us live all of our lives out of a story. Further, I don’t think it’s possible to over overstate the necessity of getting the story right. For us and for all mankind that story begins in Genesis 1:1.
Have you realized that the biggest question on most people’s minds today isn’t as much “what is good and true,” as much as it is “what is satisfying”? As Christians we know that those three things can’t be separated (something is either all three or it is none). Nevertheless separating them is among the many errors of our culture. In that realization, however, is great help for engaging the non-believer with the hope of the gospel. Understanding, for instance, that the world around us isn’t particularly interested in what’s good and true about sexuality, and that the truth looks bad and ugly within the story they live out of, Genesis helps us to tell a fuller story inside which the biblical understanding of sexuality really is as good and beautiful as it is true. The same goes for every other aspect of our lives.