Bible Studies > BibleJourney > Genesis
> Issue 6
Only One God. Genesis 1.3-2.4a
by Winn Griffin,
We have substitutes
for almost everything today. Substitute sugar and substitute fat are two that
come to mind. We are a generation not unlike any other generation; we love to
substitute something lesser for something more. We are no different that the
ancient world in this manner. Their biggest substitute was other gods for
Yahweh. This was just as true of the Jews as any other nation in their infancy
as well as in their maturity.
We live in the Western world today with a delusion
that our world is somehow "Christian" or somehow natural when it comes to other
gods. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our society is as thoroughly
pagan as the ancient world was pagan. There are
galore. But, we think that because we don't have some molded image sitting on
our mantel that we bow down and worship that we don't have any idols to be rid
of. When we begin to worship anything that God has created instead of the God
who created, we are in jeopardy of worshipping an idol.
The point of
1.1-2.4a is that there is only one God to be worshipped. He is it! As a new
nation, just delivered from the land of
], they were in great need to understand that the God of their
forefathers who had delivered them was, in fact, the only God that they should
These thoughts are not usually in our mind when we
open Scripture to its first pages and begin to read the story of Creation in
1.1-2.4a. We are more apt to think that we are to discover how God created
the earth. This was not the driving question among the Hebrews as it is in our
The Scopes Trial in a previous generation, century,
and millennium for that matter, turned twentieth-century Christians into a war
with science. Darwin became its chief dialogical partner. So against what
Darwin taught, Christians reached out into the Bible to combat it. Making
1.1-2.4a an argument against Darwinism and teaching it as a scientific fact
was not and is not the focus of this first story of Scripture. The first
storyteller, Moses, and the hearers of the story, Israel in the wilderness, did
not have privy to Darwin's theory. His theory was not part of their
A Thought about the god of
Modern science and the first chapter of Genesis are
answering different questions. Science wants to know the answer to one
question: "How did this happen?" The story in Genesis is interested in
answering the question: "Who created the world?' Science has become a god of
the modern world that tempts us to believe that "how" is the only valid
question to be asked. The beginning stories in Genesis were not written to
handle the issues that were raised by twentieth and twenty-first century
science. It was told and written by an ancient to handle the issues of his day.
As an example: the ancient worldview believed that mankind was just simply an
afterthought that the gods were not happy about. In contrast to this ancient
belief, the storyteller of the creation narrative asserts that humankind (man),
male and female, was the goal of God's creation. The ancient author goes about
deconstructing the polytheistic belief system and replacing it with a
monotheistic one. It is our task as modern readers to concentrate on the scene
into which this bit of storytelling came and not waste time trying to solve
some scientific issue that is foreign to the purpose of the story.
A Present Quandary
We get caught
in a quagmire between our need to have meaning and what it meant to the first
teller of the story and his listeners. Since science and especially Darwin was
not a part of the original storytellers or listener's mindset, we must look
elsewhere for the meaning of the story.
With a plurality of gods to worship, God's intention
through Moses was to let his children know that he was the creator of the world
in which they lived and the gods that they would be called on to worship were
not really gods at all. The idea that there was only one God and it was he who
created the world is what separates the Old Testament faith from its ancient
Near Eastern counterparts.
In a time far, far,
away, much different from ours, the children of God (Israel) were surrounded
with a lifestyle of polytheism. Polytheism was a belief system in the ancient
world that there were many gods to be worshipped. The ancient world believed
that there was a pantheon of gods who were responsible for the creation of the
world. Israel lived among these ancient beliefs.
God had recently delivered Israel from a land with
plentiful gods, including the belief that the Pharaoh was himself a god. The
Hebrews sat at the foot of
Sinai, a newly redeemed people of God. At Mt Sinai, God, through his
servant Moses, gave them instructions that would turn their heads toward him
and away from polytheism.
Their destination, the land of promise, was also
overrunning with polytheism. So there they sat having been delivered from a
land filled with polytheism, headed to a land filled with a belief in many
It was during this period of time that Moses first
revealed the creation account that we read in
1.1-2.4a. Thus, to understand Genesis the way these first people would have
heard it is to hear it against a backdrop of polytheism. God was strongly
urging his newly redeemed children to understand that there was really only one
God that they were to serve. He had even given them a covenant stipulation to
that effect (Exodus
If there had been public schools among the ancient
Hebrews in the wilderness, the burning question of debate would have surrounded
monotheism (one God) and polytheism (many
gods). Questions surely would not have been around creation and evolution,
which is an issue that certain Americans, who now live thousands of years later
in the midst of a scientific worldview, might imagine it to be.
We discussed the first two verses in our previous
issue. Let's begin by seeing the overall structure of
To convey meaning to an audience, Biblical storytellers and writers used
certain structural schemes that help them communicate the message they were
delivering. In the creation story is given such a structure. The storyteller
constructed his story in seven parts that correspond to the six containers of
creation and one container of rest. In the first six time periods, God orders
his world out of chaos. The structure is as follows:
Light (and darkness)
(sun and moon)
Sky and Sea
Fish and Birds
Earth and Vegetation
Animals and Man
(male and female)
God's creation on the first three creative containers
accommodated what was to be created on the last three days.
Each of the first six creative containers has the same
internal structural design. Each container is like a creative chant.
- And God said (an introduction to each container of
- Let there be (the creative word)
- And it was so (the fulfillment of the creative
- God called (Name giving)
- And God saw that it was good (a divine
- And there was evening, and there was morning-
(Conclusion of container)
It is not difficult to see that this story by its
structure would tell Israel that their God was a God who brought perceivable
order out of chaos. Of course, God's order was in contrast to the gods of the
ancient mind, who did things haphazardly or as an afterthought.
The Six Acts of
1.3-5. And God said destroyed the primeval cosmic silence and
signaled the birth of a new order. God said means that God thought or willed
and signified that he is wholly independent of his creation. In each of the
creative containers, God dismissed two gods within polytheism. The intent of
the storyteller of this little story is to demonstrate that God is the creator
even of those things that their society may have thought to be gods. So, on
this first day, the gods of light and darkness are dismissed. God called placed
him in the position of power over the object that was named. In the ancient
world the one who gave a name had power over the object named. What about time?
Should the twenty-four hour days of creation be taken literally? One might ask
how there could be a day of twenty-four hours before the sun and moon were
present to determine days, which did not occur until Day Four.
1.6-8. In the second container of creation, God dismissed two more
gods of the ancient world, the gods of sky and sea. Remember that the intent of
the author is to present his material to be recited for ease of remembrance, as
well as training the Israelites that monotheism, not polytheism, was their
1.9-13. In the third creation container, the earth gods and gods
of vegetation were booted. Hesiod was a contemporary writer with Homer. In his
Theogony, he writes about the generation of the gods. The family tree of the
gods was: In the beginning was Chaos, and from Chaos came Earth (Gaia) and
Heaven. In the 1960s James Lovelock, a British Chemist specializing in the
atmospheric sciences, revived the old primeval goddess Gaia, suggesting that
the earth is alive, a living organism. They suggest that the earth is able to
to self-regulate essential characteristics of its environment, such as the
average temperature, the salinity of the oceans, and the mixture of gases (such
as oxygen and carbon dioxide) in the atmosphere.
Pantheism is an ancient religion. In today's world
those who practice Taoism and Universalism are pantheists. Pantheists accept
and embrace life, the body, and the earth, but do not believe in any
supernatural deity. Being a pantheist was not an option for the ancient Hebrew
(and I might say for the Christian either).
1.14-19. The sun, moon, and star gods are now dismissed. We should
take note that the author did not call these gods by their names, but referred
to them as the greater and lesser lights. By doing so, he removed their
divinity. To speak the name of the god was to give it its divine authority.
1.20-23. The fifth day of creation brought the dismissal of the
fish and foul gods.
1.24-31. The last repository of creation disposed of human male
and female gods such as pharaohs, kings, and heroes who were believed to be
gods. God created man (adam) male and female. God created man in his image.
This phrase may indicate that God created humankind to be a community. While
our culture places a high value on individualism, the ancient Hebrew culture
was being trained to place a high value on community. This theme certainly
continues in the New Testament with the many metaphors for the Church, like the
Body of Christ. Even after the fall, Scripture can still say that man is in
God's image (Gen.
1.28 makes it clear that God intended Adam and Eve to have children in
their sinless state. He commanded them to be fruitful and increase. God
invented human sexuality within the framework of marriage (see
2) for both procreation and enjoyment. Sexual expression is a joyful
affirmation of a married couple's intimacy. What God had created and said was
very good, pleased him. We could substitute the words exceedingly good as an
appropriate picture for the evaluation of humankind. On each day of creation
another set of gods was smashed and in their place was a pronounced creation of
the one and only God.
1.26. The Creation of Mankind (male and female)
Four things could be
noted about the passage in which the creation of humankind is told.
- Man is made in the image of God. In the ancient
world an image was believed to carry the essence of that which it represented.
An idol image of a deity was used in the worship of that deity because it
contained the deity's essence, not because it looked the same as the deity. The
deity's work was believed to be accomplished through the idol. It is through
the image of God (his community) that he intends to accomplish his work in the
world. Also, in this passage the word us refers to the angels in the heavenly
that made up the community in which God was the creator.
- Traditionally, New Testament believers have thought
the us of this passage to refer to the Trinity. While this is a possible fuller
interpretation with New Testament in hand, it was not the primary meaning of
the words from the mouth of Moses. It seems his intent was to declare that
Israel, like God, needed to be concerned about being in community, because that
was the purpose of God for creating male and female as a community, to bear his
essence and to do his work in the world he had created.
- The community that God created was to be his
representatives on earth to "rule
over all the earth." The concept of
"rule" may be a command to become the agent of God's Kingdom in the world for
the sake of the world.
- The male and female creation created by God as a
community would produce community. They were to be "fruitful and increase in
number." Sexual intimacy plays an important part in God's created plan. In the
ancient world there was worry about the population growth. The ancients told of
their gods preparing plagues, famines, floods, miscarriages, etc., to curb
human growth. The God of Israel, however, wanted them to understand that growth
was to be seen as a blessing, not something to be blotted out. Sex is to be
seen as an important part of God's good creation (Gen
While food was primarily plants and fruit, the intent
is not to teach that in creation God intended everyone to be vegetarian. Its
only meaning is that God provided them with food. In Mesopotamian mythology the
gods created mankind to provide them with food, while the creation story
demonstrates that, in fact, it is the other way around. It is God who feeds
The Day of Rest
2.1-4a. On this day, God rested. Surely, we do not think that the
God of the universe grew tired and needed a day off. In the culture of the day
the people would often act out what they wanted the gods to do. God simply
reverses this action and models for his children what he would like them to do.
Day Seven is another blast against polytheism and a victory for monotheism.
Numbers in Scripture are
often quality instead of quantity. In this story against polytheism this is
true. There are two sets of gods disposed of each day, which totals twelve, a
number of completion for the ancient Hebrew. The story has seven parts. Seven
is another number of completion and perfection. What did this mean for them?
The creation of God is perfect and complete. He and only he was the creator. It
certainly has the same meaning for us all these thousands of years
It is always important to apply what you have learned.
Pause at this point and ask for the help of the Holy Spirit to meditate on and
put into practice some or all of the following.
- How many of the twelve polytheistic gods do you
- Create something that helps you explain visually
one of the creative acts of God.
Read the following Dictionary Articles from
Easton's Bible Dictionary, or the International Standard Bible
Encyclopedia. Easton's is about a century old, therefore, some of
the information is not current with newer Bible Dictionaries. ISBE is
about seventy-five years old. You might read the articles off-line in a number
of different Bible Dictionaries. If you do not own a Bible Dictionary, I would
Bible Dictionary 3rd Edition. If you like lots of color pictures, try
The Revell Bible Dictionary now out of print but still
can be ordered from amazon.com. One of these should suit your personal
Copyright © 2002, Winn Griffin.
All rights reserved. BibleJourney: An Almost Weekly Bible Study is a service of
SBL Ministries. Unless otherwise stated, scripture quotations are from the
International Standard Version (ISV) of the Bible®. Copyright
© 2001 by The ISV Foundation, 2200 N. Grand Ave., Santa Ana, CA
92705-7016. Used by permission of
Press, Inc. All rights reserved internationally.