So, if creation narratives in the ancient Near East were all about the world being put into functional order (as opposed to being about how material came to exist), what purpose did the God of Genesis give the creation? What is Genesis 1 trying to tell us about (1) creation and (2) people?
It is worth taking the creation narrative in Genesis 1 day by day and notice what might be going on in each.
Day 1 (Gen. 1:3-5): Yes, we can say that God created light from nothing (Gen. 1:3), but the point of the first day is not to marvel at how God made light where there was none before. Rather, the focus is on two other elements. First, that the light is displacing a purposeless and chaotic darkness, and second, that the day concludes with God separating the two and giving them names: day and night. The purpose of day one is the establishment of ordered time.
Day 2 (Gen. 1:6-8): Notice here that what God is actually doing is separating things, putting them in their proper place. Where once there was (already) masses of water—the water above and the water below—now God has split them in twain. What’s the point? He is establishing a livable atmosphere between the two waters.
Day 3 (Gen. 1:9-13): This is similar to day two, in a way. Again, God is separating and naming things—this time land and seas. The purpose? Habitable land masses.
We should pause here and recognize a structural element to the text first articulated (as far as I know) by the late Meredith G. Kline. (This structural observation is called the Framework Hypothesis, and it makes loads of sense. You can get the actual seminal study right here. Cool, right? And then there’s more in Kline’s Kingdom Prologue.) Days 1-3 each describe the ordering, specifically, of habitat. Hmmmm. Perhaps we should keep our eyes open to whether days 4-6 have anything to do with those habitats.
Day 4 (Gen. 1:14-19): Among many folks’ objections to a strict chronological reading of Genesis 1 comes right here. How can we have had day and night, light and dark, for three days already, and God is just now getting around to shaping a sun, moon and stars? Many other folks have replied: God can do whatever he wants. Fair enough, but if day one was the establishment of night and day realms, it is interesting that here functionaries are set in those realms. Further, the main point of this section, as with the other days, is purpose. The sun, moon and stars are placed in their appropriate habitats in order to govern those spaces (Gen. 1:16).
Day 5 (Gen. 1:20-23): Day two was all about the separation of waters, above and below. Now, just as functionaries had been designated for the night and day realms, birds and fish are given to occupy and the waters above and below—inhabitants for the specific habitats.
Day 6 (Gen. 1:24-31): Day three saw the establishment of dry ground. If the pattern holds true, we ought to expect something to occupy that space. Enter land animals. And then the coup de gras: humanity. And here we find the ultimate statement of purpose, which is what the creation narrative has been all about. Humanity is commissioned to govern all other living things on the earth (Gen. 1:26-28).
Let’s set it out in chart form to make it easier.
|Day 1: Day & Night||Day 4: Sun, Moon & Stars|
|Day 2: Sea & Sky||Day 5: Fish & Birds|
|Day 3: Land with Fruit-bearing Plants||Day 6: Land Animals who Eat Fruit
The whole narrative has been, primarily, not about where everything physically came from, but with the function everything in creation has, especially humans. This makes sense, if you’re an ancient Israelite. Your main question about the world is why you are there on the earth. What is your purpose? And the very first page of the Bible tells you just what you really need to know: you are a governor over the creation.
Heady stuff. But what of Day 7? There’s still one last pesky day to go, but we’ll have to save it for another post. Until then, go out and rule. It’s what you were made to do.