I have spent nearly two weeks looking at the first three sentences of Genesis chapter one, and as I write this, I feel as if I know less than what I knew before. Like every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, the never-ending depth of his message (even the seemingly simpler passages) is such an identifiable quality of God’s word. In this article, we’ll begin looking closely into the first day of creation.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1
Most people are familiar with the statement “Let there be light”, and how this is the first creative statement made by God, and that it is the start of God’s creative work, but all of this is untrue. God indeed said “let there be light” on day one of creation, however, God was already halfway through the day before making this statement and He had already created a lot (which is an understatement). Time had begun approximately 12 hours before light first shined on the created work of God. Consider the details given in verse five: “God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day.” The morning light did not start time and begin the first day, rather there was darkness before the light came. Thus, as God recorded, “the evening and the morning were the first day”. The Jews continued to view time this way, with each day beginning in the evening (around 6 pm). Unfortunately, we don’t look at time this way, which causes us unnecessary confusion when considering certain texts of the Bible, such as the days of creation, or even into the New Testament when most believe that Jesus was crucified on a Friday (often called “Good Friday”) when He was really crucified on a Thursday.
So then, day one of creation began hours before “let there be light”, but what was created before there was light? The heavens and the earth. The details of Genesis one specifically point out that God created the heavens and the earth under the darkness of night, followed by light which began the first morning. That’s a lot of creating that took place on the first day, and all of it was spoken by God into existence. Indeed, “let there be light” was not the first statement made that day, it is only the first recorded statement. The scriptures teach that the heavens and the earth were created through the word of God (Hebrews 11:3; 2 Peter 3:5; Psalm 33:6). Now, some have said that only light was created on day one and that the heavens and the earth were already in existence before that, but the Genesis record does not teach that, nor do the rest of the scriptures. Genesis says that the heavens and earth were created “in the beginning”, and then light was created, and this was day one; you can’t get any further back to the beginning than day one. Consider also what God said in the commandment to remember the Sabbath: “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day” (Exodus 20:11). God specifies that both the heavens and the earth, and everything else was in fact created within the six days detailed in Genesis 1.
In the Hebrew text of Genesis 1:1, there is an untranslatable particle that occurs twice in the sentence; once before the word “heavens” and once before the word “earth”. The particle is composed of the first and the last letters of the Hebrew alphabet. In English, it would be similar to saying: In the beginning God created the earth from A to Z and the heavens from A to Z. That is, on day one, God created the whole sum and substance of all matter, though yet still unformed.
When God said that, on day one, He “created the heavens”, this refers to the atmosphere all around us and beyond. The Hebrew word is translated “air” 21 times in the Old Testament. In Genesis chapter one alone, the Hebrew word is used 10 times, but in the English translation, it is written as “heaven” 7 times and “air” 3 times. This same word is used to identify the space where birds fly (1:26), as well as where the sun, moon, and stars reside (1:14). This word “heaven” in Hebrew originates from the idea of breath and wind.
The word “earth” is used in a very general sense in Genesis 1:1, for the “earth” at that time was unformed. However, in 1:10, on day 3, once dry land appeared, God officially called the dry land “Earth”, while the newly collected mass of waters God called “Seas”.
“The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” – 1:2
The state of the earth on day one is quite intriguing, “without form, and void”. The definitions of these words communicate one or two (or both) ideas. “Without form” means a waste, a desolation, an empty space. And “void” means emptiness, waste, or undistinguishable ruin. The words are very similar in definition, and they either refer to the literal state of the earth’s materials, like a soupy liquid containing all the materials needed to form and design the earth and all that is in it; or the words refer simply to the emptiness of a place without an inhabitable soul, or conditions yet suitable for life. Maybe both views are true, for they do not deny one another. Peter may have given us a hint about the conditions of the earth as it was on day one. In 2 Peter 3:5, Peter is certainly speaking of day one, and speaks of “the earth standing out of water and in the water”. Now, your bible may have a note on the word “standing” stating that it could be translated as “consisting of”. The word is defined as ”to place together, to set in the same place, to band together, to combine, constitute, or consist.” What exactly does Peter mean by such a word? I don’t know. But it appears that he is relating to the idea that the earth was not a formed rock with a mass of clear water covering it, but that all the materials were placed together in a suspension of water. This would fall in line with the literal meaning of “without form, and void”, but I cannot be certain.
I do not believe that the detail about the Spirit of God hovering over the waters was given to us merely for the benefit of visualizing the scene, I believe the statement holds a much greater purpose than that. The word “hovering” means to grow soft and relax; the word carries the Hebrew idea of a bird brooding over its eggs during incubation (just as the same word is used in Deuteronomy 32:11). It is an intimate and personal figure of speech. A figure of birth, a new creation born of God’s power.
Day one may be difficult to picture, for it is not the world as we see it today, and we weren’t there to see it, nor could we be. What is most evident is that God alone was there, and with power beyond comprehension, He began His six-day work of creating all things through Him and for Him (Colossians 1:16).
Article by Tanner Campbell.