I had a debate with myself about what the first post should be about for Planted by the Stream. I decided I might as well start where the bible starts and what I think is one of the most important chapters in the Bible.
Genesis chapter 1 has been a subject of debate for as long as I can remember. However, amidst all the debate between creation vs evolution I think we have missed the point of Genesis 1 altogether.
I remember learning in my high school history class how the creation story in Genesis was borrowed from the surrounding nations. I though this was impossible because Genesis 1 goes all the way back to creation and there couldn’t be anything older than that.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve had the opportunity to study Genesis 1 in much greater depth and have started to realize that there might some truth to what my old history teacher taught me. Now before people start leaving comments let me explain and in order to do that I need to go back to the Moses.
Moses has traditionally been the one associated with writing Genesis. If we take that as a starting point then we have to ask ourselves why he would write it. Was he trying to tell people how the world began or did he perhaps have another purpose in mind? It’s important for us to consider this in order to understand his purpose for writing. Moses has just led the Israelites out of Egypt where they were slaves for hundreds of years. God mightily delivered them but they don’t really know about this God. There is no bible for them to read. So I think Moses’ aim is to teach his people who this God is that has saved them and how he is different than the other gods they have heard in Egypt. So Moses does this by taking familiar stories that the people know and changing them at key points in order to stress the uniqueness and greatness of God. This is similar to how Jesus used parables. The parables worked because they were familiar stories that everyone knew but then Jesus changed the ending shocking his hearers and forcing them to rethink their assumptions.
I think a similar thing is happening in Genesis. Creation stories in that time and area shared similar plot lines. Like Genesis, there was some sort of chaos and creation involving an ordering of the chaos. Usually there was also some sort of primordial water and a mountain or land rising out of it. What’s more important than the similarities though are the differences that would have been shocking to the people hearing these stories. For instance, it was common in creation stories to create people and the purpose for creating them was that the gods were kind of lazy and wanted people to work the land and provide food for them. But what do we find in Genesis? We find God creating people but not for the purpose of providing food for him. Instead it is God who provides a garden of food for the people. Why is this an important distinction? It shows the character of the Israelite God toward his people. God is not there to be served by his people, rather he is a God that provides for his people. This is a big change from what people normally thought of the gods around them. Moses is telling the people that the God who brought them out of Egypt didn’t do so for selfish reasons. He’s not a God who is only interested in what you can do for him, rather, he is a God who is actually concerned about you and will be there to provide and take care of you. This is only one example of what we can learn from the Genesis story when we start contrasting it to other creation texts at that time.
While there are many other examples we could look at I only want to look at one more and it has to do with the “adam”, or the earthling which is a more literal translation. If we take a look at Genesis 1 as a whole there is an interesting pattern that emerges. There is a parallel between the first 3 days of creation and the next 3 days of creation. The first three days of creation create a framework. There is the separating of light and dark, earth from sky, and water from land. The next three days then describe the filling of that framework. So day 1 you have the separating of light and dark and on day 4 you have the creation of the greater and lesser light. Day two was the separating of the seas and the sky and day five is the creation of fish and birds. The point is that it is setup like the building of a temple. When you build a temple you build all the structures and then you fill the temple. In fact, the word used for the lights in Genesis 1 is the same word used for the lights of Israel’s temple. Creation should be viewed as God’s temple. Now when the nations build a temple the last thing that they would place in the temple was the idol, the image of the god. The idol was the presence of the god in that temple. You would take care of the idol just as you would take care of the god because the god dwelt in the idol. Now what do we find is the last thing placed in God’s creation which represents his temple? It is none other than the earthling, created in the image of God. The earthling is the representation of God in his temple. And who is this earthling? It is all of us, both males and females, all of us are created in God’s image, all of us represent him. In other creation stories you may get the king or the pharaoh who was created in the image of the god but only in the creation story of Genesis do you find everyone created in his image, including women. This would have been unheard in the ancient world. Women are to be thought of as created in God’s image just as equally as men.
So what do we make of all this. Looking at Genesis 1, especially in comparison to other creation type stories at the time, we learn just how different the God of Israel is from the gods of all the other nations. There is no other god like him. There is no other god who cares and takes care of his creation like he does, treating them all equally, both male and female.
We also learn how important we are to God. We are not just chattel, disposable or made to serve king. We have been made in God’s image, here to take care of his creation which is his temple. We are also all created equal. No one is more important than another because we are all created in his image.
So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. — Genesis 1:27