No matter what you believe about Genesis 1-3, the author is telling a story. It is your story. It tells the reason you were born, the meaning of your life, and the purpose behind planets and people. It reveals who you are. It reveals why you are. Most of the time, the meaning of the story is missed.
Part of the reason we miss the story is because God later describes it as a mystery. In Biblical language, a mystery is something once hidden now revealed. In other words, there are clues to its meaning, not always recognized as clues, their answer revealed over time. You and I live in the revelation of the story but not the resolution of the story. We know what the clues mean. The problem is, we approach Genesis without honoring the clues for what they are, points along the way that solve a mystery.
The joy of a good mystery novel is that, in the end, when the detective reveals clues and their ultimate meaning, we are amazed and think “I should have seen that coming.” (Which is exactly how God’s people were supposed to react at the coming of Jesus, but that’s a later section). A mystery is never about one clue; a mystery is about the revelation of the clues.
You, and what God intends for you, is that revelation.
Who you are, and why you are who you are, has been made known.
You are part of a grand story. Your story is very much important in it. But you will not understand your story, or realize the full genius of your story, if you miss the greater story.
Genesis 1:1-2:3 is a beautifully constructed, poetically structured account of how God created and brought order to the cosmos.
It is a chiastic structure in which the final phrases of 2:3 reverse the order of the same phrases of 1:1. In addition, the first paragraph of 1:1-2 and 2:1-3 both contain Hebrew words in multiples of 7. The number 7 and its multiples dominate the opening section: God is mentioned 35 times (7x5), earth 21 times (7x3), heaven 21 times, and the phrases “God made,” “it was so,” and “God saw that it was good” 7 times. The days correspond to each other: 1 and 4, 2 and 5, 3 and 6. Days 3 and 6 both contain double uses of “God said” and “God saw.” There is more, but you get the picture. The author is trying to tell us something. And he does so quite artistically. The Poet is at work.
Days 1-3 account for God’s formation of time, weather and food. He creates the environment in which we can live. In days 4-6, God makes living things; he furnishes the cosmos. This is how God orders things: First create the sustainable environment, then create living things. I’ve been known to reverse the order and start stuff before it was sustainable. That never worked out well.
The first words of Genesis, “In the beginning” speak of our beginning, the world as we know it. God is eternal, without beginning or end, and yet, humanly speaking, at some point, he decided to bring about what was not.
Why? Was he bored? Did he need a good laugh? Did his ego need feeding? Did he want someone to boss around (in love)? Get the why wrong, and all sorts of stuff go wrong.
Here is what we know so far.
In Hebrew, the number seven is God’s number, representing divine completion. God, complete within himself, fixed a time and place for something to happen in.
This is a clue.
2:1-3 tells of the seventh day. In these verses, the seventh day is mentioned three times, each in a sentence of seven Hebrew words, drawing special attention to the meaning of the day. On the seventh day, God rests.
This is a clue.
The word rest is rooted in the concept of something being settled. Though rest encompasses relaxation, as in ceasing from something, it assumes the continuance of normal activity. When God rests, it means he now reigns. In Psalm 132, God declares “This is my resting place forever; here I will sit enthroned.” Creation language is used in the Bible more for God’s ongoing work than it is his original work. “This continuing activity is not the same as the activity of the six days, but it is the reason the six days took place (John H. Walton).”
When you move into a house, you have a period of time in which the house is being furnished and things are given their place. But then you begin to live in what is now your home. The reason you moved into the house begins. That is rest. When God told Israel he would give them rest from their enemies, it wasn’t to provide them an endless vacation. He gave them peace so that they could live out their identity, capacity and destiny.
Deity only rests in a temple. Genesis 1 is teaching about the creation of the temple in which God takes residence in order to rule (the reason he moved in begins). Creation as temple is often paralleled: The later tabernacle and temple of Israel housed items that represented the universe and contained images of the Garden of Eden. In the ancient east, gardens adjoined sacred space. Waters flowing from the presence of deity, as is found in the Garden of Eden, were common imagery (see Ezekiel 47 and Revelation 22). God declares in Isaiah 66:1-2, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?”
The world is ordered to be sacred space, God’s special place.
Most of Scripture is best understood starting from the end (Next time you want to read through the Bible in a year, try going backwards). In Revelation 21, there is no physical temple on the renewed earth, for God himself is the temple: “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God (Rev.21:3).” In the New Testament, the church and the individual Christian is described as a temple: He indwells us, his new creation. In the Gospels, Jesus came to dwell among us, and dwell is the same word used to describe the Old Testament temple and the tabernacle before it.
God fixed a time and place in which to dwell.
In six days, God constructed the house. On day seven, he moved in, and made it his home.
But he didn’t move in alone.
Ancient religions taught that man was created to relieve the gods of work and to provide them with food. In contrast, Genesis declares that God made man as the goal of creation, that God provides for man, and that God created an environment and living things in order for man to thrive.
It’s our home, too.
With cool pets. And beautiful scenery.
This is a clue. The clues are stacking up.
In the ancient world, an image was a representation in physical form that carried the essence of what it represented. In mythology, the deity’s work was believed to be accomplished through an idol. In the political realm, kings set up an image to represent their authority in that land. Whether in mythology or royal history, an image was a physical representative. The ancient world taught about gods building a temple in seven days. Placement of the image was the final piece before the deity took up residence. It was day six work.
The writer of Genesis declares that, contrary to the stories of other religions, there is only one God. This God rests in his temple, the one true temple. This God, on the sixth day, said “Let us make man in our image.”
You are God’s physical representative. You reflect his attributes. You are day-six work.
The next time you hold a baby in your arms, snuggle her against you and rock her gently, you cradle divine image. You coo to heaven’s child.
(To be continued)