Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
- Section I - The Creation
- The Absolute Creation
ראשׁית rḕshı̂̂yt, the "head-part, beginning" of a thing, in point of time Gen 10:10, or value Pro 1:7. Its opposite is אחרית 'achărı̂̂yth Isa 46:10. בראשׁית rê'shı̂̂yth, "in the beginning," is always used in reference to time. Here only is it taken absolutely.
ברא bārā', "create, give being to something new." It always has God for its subject. Its object may be anything: matter Gen 1:1; animal life Gen 1:21; spiritual life Gen 1:27. Hence, creation is not confined to a single point of time. Whenever anything absolutely new - that is, not involved in anything previously extant - is called into existence, there is creation Num 16:30. Any thing or event may also be said to be created by Him, who created the whole system of nature to which it belongs Mal 2:10. The verb in its simple form occurs forty-eight times (of which eleven are in Genesis, fourteen in the whole Pentateuch, and twenty-one in Isaiah), and always in one sense.
אלהים 'ĕlohı̂̂ym, "God." The noun אלוה 'elôah or אלה 'eloah is found in the Hebrew scriptures fifty-seven times in the singular (of which two are in Deuteronomy, and forty-one in the book of Job), and about three thousand times in the plural, of which seventeen are in Job. The Chaldee form אלה 'elâh occurs about seventy-four times in the singular, and ten in the plural. The Hebrew letter ה (h) is proved to be radical, not only by bearing mappiq, but also by keeping its ground before a formative ending. The Arabic verb, with the same radicals, seems rather to borrow from it than to lend the meaning coluit, "worshipped," which it sometimes has. The root probably means to be "lasting, binding, firm, strong." Hence, the noun means the Everlasting, and in the plural, the Eternal Powers. It is correctly rendered God, the name of the Eternal and Supreme Being in our language, which perhaps originally meant lord or ruler. And, like this, it is a common or appellative noun. This is evinced by its direct use and indirect applications.
Its direct use is either proper or improper, according to the object to which it is applied. Every instance of its proper use manifestly determines its meaning to be the Eternal, the Almighty, who is Himself without beginning, and has within Himself the power of causing other things, personal and impersonal, to be, and on this event is the sole object of reverence and primary obedience to His intelligent creation.
Its improper use arose from the lapse of man into false notions of the object of worship. Many real or imaginary beings came to be regarded as possessed of the attributes, and therefore entitled to the reverence belonging to Deity, and were in consequence called gods by their mistaken votaries, and by others who had occasion to speak of them. This usage at once proves it to be a common noun, and corroborates its proper meaning. When thus employed, however, it immediately loses most of its inherent grandeur, and sometimes dwindles down to the bare notion of the supernatural or the extramundane. In this manner it seems to be applied by the witch of Endor to the unexpected apparition that presented itself to her Sa1 28:13.
Its indirect applications point with equal steadiness to this primary and fundamental meaning. Thus, it is employed in a relative and well-defined sense to denote one appointed of God to stand in a certain divine relation to another. This relation is that of authoritative revealer or administrator of the will of God. Thus, we are told Joh 10:34 that "he called them gods, to whom the word of God came." Thus, Moses became related to Aaron as God to His prophet Exo 4:16, and to Pharaoh as God to His creature Exo 7:1. Accordingly, in Psa 82:6, we find this principle generalized: "I had said, gods are ye, and sons of the Highest all of you." Here the divine authority vested in Moses is expressly recognized in those who sit in Moses' seat as judges for God. They exercised a function of God among the people, and so were in God's stead to them. Man, indeed, was originally adapted for ruling, being made in the image of God, and commanded to have dominion over the inferior creatures. The parent also is instead of God in some respect to his children, and the sovereign holds the relation of patriarch to his subjects. Still, however, we are not fully warranted in translating אלהים 'ĕlohı̂ym, "judges" in Exo 21:6; Exo 22:7-8, Exo 22:27 (Hebrew versification: 8, 9, 28), because a more easy, exact, and impressive sense is obtained from the proper rendering.
The word מלאך mel'āk, "angel," as a relative or official term, is sometimes applied to a person of the Godhead; but the process is not reversed. The Septuagint indeed translates אלהים 'ĕlohı̂ym in several instances by ἄγγελοι angeloi Psa 8:6; Psa 97:7; Psa 138:1. The correctness of this is seemingly supported by the quotations in Heb 1:6. and Heb 2:7. These, however, do not imply that the renderings are absolutely correct, but only suffiently so for the purpose of the writer. And it is evident they are so, because the original is a highly imaginative figure, by which a class is conceived to exist, of which in reality only one of the kind is or can be. Now the Septuagint, either imagining, from the occasional application of the official term "angel" to God, that the angelic office somehow or sometimes involved the divine nature, or viewing some of the false gods of the pagan as really angels, and therefore seemingly wishing to give a literal turn to the figure, substituted the word ἄγγελοι angeloi as an interpretation for אלהים 'ĕlohı̂ym. This free translation was sufficient for the purpose of the inspired author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, inasmuch as the worship of all angels Heb 1:6 in the Septuagintal sense of the term was that of the highest rank of dignitaries under God; and the argument in the latter passage Heb 2:7 turns not on the words, "thou madest him a little lower than the angels," but upon the sentence, "thou hast put all things under his feet." Moreover, the Septuagint is by no means consistent in this rendering of the word in Similar passages (see Psa 82:1; Psa 97:1; Sa1 28:13).
With regard to the use of the word, it is to be observed that the plural of the Chaldee form is uniformly plural in sense. The English version of בר־אלהין bar-'elâhı̂yn, "the Son of God" Dan 3:25 is the only exception to this. But since it is the phrase of a pagan, the real meaning may be, "a son of the gods." On the contrary, the plural of the Hebrew form is generally employed to denote the one God. The singular form, when applied to the true God, is naturally suggested by the prominent thought of his being the only one. The plural, when so applied, is generally accompanied with singular conjuncts, and conveys the predominant conception of a plurality in the one God - a plurality which must be perfectly consistent with his being the only possible one of his kind. The explanations of this use of the plural - namely, that it is a relic of polytheism, that it indicates the association of the angels with the one God in a common or collective appellation, and that it expresses the multiplicity of attributes subsisting in him - are not satisfactory. All we can say is, that it indicates such a plurality in the only one God as makes his nature complete and creation possible. Such a plurality in unity must have dawned upon the mind of Adam. It is afterward, we conceive, definitely revealed in the doctrine of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
שׁמים shāmayı̂m, "skies, heavens," being the "high" (shamay, "be high," Arabic) or the "airy" region; the overarching dome of space, with all its revolving orbs.
ארץ 'erets, "land, earth, the low or the hard." The underlying surface of land.
The verb is in the perfect form, denoting a completed act. The adverbial note of time, "in the beginning," determines it to belong to the past. To suit our idiom it may, therefore, be strictly rendered "had created." The skies and the land are the universe divided into its two natural parts by an earthly spectator. The absolute beginning of time, and the creation of all things, mutually determine each other.
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" Gen 1:1. This great introductory sentence of the book of God is equal in weight to the whole of its subsequent communications concerning the kingdom of nature.
Gen 1:1 assumes the existence of God, for it is He who in the beginning creates. It assumes His eternity, for He is before all things: and since nothing comes from nothing, He Himself must have always been. It implies His omnipotence, for He creates the universe of things. It implies His absolute freedom, for He begins a new course of action. It implies His infinite wisdom, for a κόσμος kosmos, "an order of matter and mind," can only come from a being of absolute intelligence. It implies His essential goodness, for the Sole, Eternal, Almighty, All-wise, and All-sufficient Being has no reason, no motive, and no capacity for evil. It presumes Him to be beyond all limit of time and place, since He is before all time and place.
It asserts the creation of the heavens and the earth; that is, of the universe of mind and matter. This creating is the omnipotent act of giving existence to things which before had no existence. This is the first great mystery of things; as the end is the second. Natural science observes things as they are, when they have already laid hold of existence. It ascends into the past as far as observation will reach, and penetrates into the future as far as experience will guide. But it does not touch the beginning or the end. This first sentence of revelation, however, records the beginning. At the same time it involves the progressive development of what is begun, and so contains within its bosom the whole of what is revealed in the Book of God. It is thus historical of the beginning, and prophetical of the whole of time. It is, therefore, equivalent to all the rest of revelation taken together, which merely records the evolutions of one sphere of creation, and nearly and more nearly anticipates the end of present things.
This sentence Gen 1:1 assumes the being of God, and asserts the beginning of things. Hence, it intimates that the existence of God is more immediately patent to the reason of man than the creation of the universe. And this is agreeable to the philosophy of things, for the existence of God is a necessary and eternal truth, more and more self-evident to the intellect as it rises to maturity. But the beginning of things is, by its very nature, a contingent event, which once was not and then came to be contingent on the free will of the Eternal, and, therefore, not evident to reason itself, but made known to the understanding by testimony and the reality of things. This sentence is the testimony, and the actual world in us and around us is the reality. Faith takes account of the one, observation of the other.
It bears on the very face of it the indication that it was written by man, and for man, for it divides all things into the heavens and the earth. Such a division evidently suits those only who are inhabitants of the earth. Accordingly, this sentence Gen 1:1 is the foundation-stone of the history, not of the universe at large, of the sun, of any other planet, but of the earth, and of man its rational inhabitant. The primeval event which it records may be far distant, in point of time, from the next event in such a history; as the earth may have existed myriads of ages, and undergone many vicissitudes in its condition, before it became the home of the human race. And, for ought we know, the history of other planets, even of the solar system, may yet be unwritten, because there has been as yet no rational inhabitant to compose or peruse the record. We have no intimation of the interval of time that elapsed between the beginning of things narrated in this prefatory sentence and that state of things which is announced in the following verse, Gen 1:2.
With no less clearness, however, does it show that it was dictated by superhuman knowledge. For it records the beginning of things of which natural science can take no cognizance. Man observes certain laws of nature, and, guided by these, may trace the current of physical events backward and forward, but without being able to fix any limit to the course of nature in either direction. And not only this sentence, but the main part of this and the following chapter communicates events that occurred before man made his appearance on the stage of things; and therefore before he could either witness or record them. And in harmony with all this, the whole volume is proved by the topics chosen, the revelations made, the views entertained, the ends contemplated, and the means of information possessed, to be derived from a higher source than man.
This simple sentence Gen 1:1 denies atheism, for it assumes the being of God. It denies polytheism, and, among its various forms, the doctrine of two eternal principles, the one good and the other evil, for it confesses the one Eternal Creator. It denies materialism, for it asserts the creation of matter. It denies pantheism, for it assumes the existence of God before all things, and apart from them. It denies fatalism, for it involves the freedom of the Eternal Being.
It indicates the relative superiority, in point of magnitude, of the heavens to the earth, by giving the former the first place in the order of words. It is thus in accordance with the first elements of astronomical science.
It is therefore pregnant with physical and metaphysical, with ethical and theological instruction for the first man, for the predecessors and contemporaries of Moses, and for all the succeeding generations of mankind.
This verse forms an integral part of the narrative, and not a mere heading as some have imagined. This is abundantly evident from the following reasons: 1. It has the form of a narrative, not of a superscription. 2. The conjunctive particle connects the second verse with it; which could not be if it were a heading. 3. The very next sentence speaks of the earth as already in existence, and therefore its creation must be recorded in the first verse. 4. In the first verse the heavens take precedence of the earth; but in the following verses all things, even the sun, moon, and stars seem to be but appendages to the earth. Thus, if it were a heading, it would not correspond with the narrative. 5. If the first verse belongs to the narrative, order pervades the whole recital; whereas; if it is a heading, the most hopeless confusion enters. Light is called into being before the sun, moon, and stars. The earth takes precedence of the heavenly luminaries. The stars, which are coordinate with the sun, and preordinate to the moon, occupy the third place in the narrative of their manifestation. For any or all of these reasons it is obvious that the first verse forms a part of the narrative.
As soon as it is settled that the narrative begins in the first verse, another question comes up for determination; namely, whether the heavens here mean the heavenly bodies that circle in their courses through the realms of space, or the mere space itself which they occupy with their perambulations. It is manifest that the heavens here denote the heavenly orbs themselves - the celestial mansions with their existing inhabitants - for the following cogent reasons:
1. Creation implies something created, and not mere space, which is nothing, and cannot be said to be created.
2. Since "the earth" here obviously means the substance of the planet we inhabit, so, by parity of reason, the heavens must mean the substance of the celestial luminaries, the heavenly hosts of stars and spirits.
3. "The heavens" are placed before "the earth," and therefore must mean that reality which is greater than the earth, for if they meant "space," and nothing real, they ought not to be before the earth.
4. "The heavens" are actually mentioned in the verse, and therefore must mean a real thing, for if they meant nothing at all, they ought not to be mentioned.
5. The heavens must denote the heavenly realities, because this imparts a rational order to the whole chapter; whereas an unaccountable derangement appears if the sun, moon, and stars do not come into existence till the fourth day, though the sun is the center of light and the measurer of the daily period.
For any or all of these reasons, it is undeniable that the heavens in the first verse mean the fixed and planetary orbs of space; and, consequently, that these uncounted tenants of the skies, along with our own planet, are all declared to be in existence before the commencement of the six days' creation.
Hence, it appears that the first verse records an event antecedent to those described in the subsequent verses. This is the absolute and aboriginal creation of the heavens and all that in them is, and of the earth in its primeval state. The former includes all those resplendent spheres which are spread before the wondering eye of man, as well as those hosts of planets and of spiritual and angelic beings which are beyond the range of his natural vision. This brings a simple, unforced meaning out of the whole chapter, and discloses a beauty and a harmony in the narrative which no other interpretation can afford. In this way the subsequent verses reveal a new effort of creative power, by which the pre-Adamic earth, in the condition in which it appears in the second verse, is prepared for the residence of a fresh animal creation, including the human race. The process is represented as it would appear to primeval man in his infantile simplicity, with whom his own position would naturally be the fixed point to which everything else was to be referred.
- II. The Land
היה hāyah, "be." It is to be noted, however, that the word has three meanings, two of which now scarcely belong to our English "be."
1. "Be, as an event, start into being, begin to be, come to pass." This may be understood of a thing beginning to be, אור יהי yehiy 'ôr, "be light" Gen 1:3; or of an event taking place, ימים מקץ ויהי vayehı̂y mı̂qēts yāmı̂ym, "and it came to pass from the end of days."
2. "Be," as a change of state, "become." This is applied to what had a previous existence, but undergoes some change in its properties or relations; as מלח גציב ותהי vatehı̂y netsı̂yb melach, "and she became" a pillar of salt Gen 19:26.
3. "Be," as a state. This is the ultimate meaning to which the verb tends in all languages. In all its meanings, especially in the first and second, the Hebrew speaker presumes an onlooker, to whom the object in question appears coming into being, becoming or being, as the case may be. Hence, it means to be manifestly, so that eye-witnesses may observe the signs of existence.
ובהוּ תהוּ tohû vābohû, "a waste and a void." The two terms denote kindred ideas, and their combination marks emphasis. Besides the present passage בהוּ bohû occurs in only two others Isa 34:11; Jer 4:23, and always in conjunction with תהוּ tohû. If we may distinguish the two words, בהוּ bohû refers to the matter, and תהוּ tohû refers to the form, and therefore the phrase combining the two denotes a state of utter confusion and desolation, an absence of all that can furnish or people the land.
השׁך choshek, "darkness, the absence of light."
פגים pānı̂ym, "face, surface." פנה panah, "face, look, turn toward."
תהום tehôm, "roaring deep, billow." הוּם hûm, "hum, roar, fret."
רוּח rûach, "breath, wind, soul, spirit."
רחף rāchaph, "be soft, tremble." Piel, "brood, flutter."
והארץ vehā'ārets, "and the earth." Here the conjunction attaches the noun, and not the verb, to the preceding statement. This is therefore a connection of objects in space, and not of events in time. The present sentence, accordingly, may not stand closely conjoined in point of time with the preceding one. To intimate sequence in time the conjunction would have been prefixed to the verb in the form ותהי vatehı̂y, "then was."
ארץ 'erets means not only "earth," but "country, land," a portion of the earth's surface defined by natural, national, or civil boundaries; as, "the land of" Egypt, "thy land" Exo 23:9-10.
Before proceeding to translate this verse, it is to be observed that the state of an event may be described either definitely or indefinitely. It is described definitely by the three states of the Hebrew verb - the perfect, the current, and the imperfect. The latter two may be designated in common the imperfect state. A completed event is expressed by the former of the two states, or, as they are commonly called, tenses of the Hebrew verb; a current event, by the imperfect participle; an incipient event, by the second state or tense. An event is described indefinitely when there is neither verb nor participle in the sentence to determine its state. The first sentence of this verse is an example of the perfect state of an event, the second of the indefinite, and the third of the imperfect or continuous state.
After the undefined lapse of time from the first grand act of creation, the present verse describes the state of things on the land immediately antecedent to the creation of a new system of vegetable and animal life, and, in particular, of man, the intelligent inhabitant, for whom this fair scene was now to be prepared and replenished.
Here "the earth" is put first in the order of words, and therefore, according to the genius of the Hebrew language, set forth prominently as the subject of the sentence; whence we conclude that the subsequent narrative refers to the land - the skies from this time forward coming in only incidentally, as they bear upon its history. The disorder and desolation, we are to remember, are limited in their range to the land, and do not extend to the skies; and the scene of the creation now remaining to be described is confined to the land, and its superincumbent matter in point of space, and to its present geological condition in point of time.
We have further to bear in mind that the land among the antediluvians, and down far below the time of Moses, meant so much of the surface of our globe as was known by observation, along with an unknown and undetermined region beyond; and observation was not then so extensive as to enable people to ascertain its spherical form or even the curvature of its surface. To their eye it presented merely an irregular surface bounded by the horizon. Hence, it appears that, so far as the current significance of this leading term is concerned, the scene of the six days' creation cannot be affirmed on scriptural authority alone to have extended beyond the surface known to man. Nothing can be inferred from the mere words of Scripture concerning America, Australia, the islands of the Pacific, or even the remote parts of Asia, Africa, or Europe, that were yet unexplored by the race of man. We are going beyond the warrant of the sacred narrative, on a flight of imagination, whenever we advance a single step beyond the sober limits of the usage of the day in which it was written.
Along with the sky and its conspicuous objects the land then known to the primeval man formed the sum total of the observable universe. It was as competent to him with his limited information, as it is to us with our more extensive but still limited knowledge, to express the all by a periphrasis consisting of two terms that have not even yet arrived at their full complement of meaning: and it was not the object or the effect of divine revelation to anticipate science on these points.
Passing now from the subject to the verb in this sentence, we observe it is in the perfect state, and therefore denotes that the condition of confusion and emptiness was not in progress, but had run its course and become a settled thing, at least at the time of the next recorded event. If the verb had been absent in Hebrew, the sentence would have been still complete, and the meaning as follows: "And the land was waste and void." With the verb present, therefore, it must denote something more. The verb היה hāyâh "be" has here, we conceive, the meaning "become;" and the import of the sentence is this: "And the land had become waste and void." This affords the presumption that the part at least of the surface of our globe which fell within the cognizance of primeval man, and first received the name of land, may not have been always a scene of desolation or a sea of turbid waters, but may have met with some catastrophe by which its order and fruitfulness had been marred or prevented.
This sentence, therefore, does not necessarily describe the state of the land when first created, but merely intimates a change that may have taken place since it was called into existence. What its previous condition was, or what interval of time elapsed, between the absolute creation and the present state of things, is not revealed. How many transformations it may have undergone, and what purpose it may have heretofore served, are questions that did not essentially concern the moral well-being of man, and are therefore to be asked of some other interpreter of nature than the written word.
This state of things is finished in reference to the event about to be narrated. Hence, the settled condition of the land, expressed by the predicates "a waste and a void," is in studied contrast with the order and fullness which are about to be introduced. The present verse is therefore to be regarded as a statement of the needs that have to be supplied in order to render the land a region of beauty and life.
The second clause of the verse points out another striking characteristic of the scene. "And darkness was upon the face of the deep": Here again the conjunction is connected with the noun. The time is the indefinite past, and the circumstance recorded is merely appended to that contained in the previous clause. The darkness, therefore, is connected with the disorder and solitude which then prevailed on the land. It forms a part of the physical derangement which had taken place on this part at least of the surface of our globe.
It is further to be noted that the darkness is described to be on the face of the deep. Nothing is said about any other region throughout the bounds of existing things. The presumption is, so far as this clause determines, that it is a local darkness confined to the face of the deep. And the clause itself stands between two others which refer to the land, and not to any other part of occupied space. It cannot therefore be intended to describe anything beyond this definite region.
The deep, the roaring abyss, is another feature in the pre-Adamic scene. It is not now a region of land and water, but a chaotic mass of turbid waters, floating over, it may be, and partly laden with, the ruins of a past order of things; at all events not at present possessing the order of vegetable and animal life.
The last clause introduces a new and unexpected clement into scene of desolation. The sentence is, as heretofore, coupled to preceding one by the noun or subject. This indicates still a conjunction of things, and not a series of events. The phrase אלהים רוּח rûach 'ĕlohı̂ym means "the spirit of God," as it is elsewhere uniformly applied to spirit, and as רחף rı̂chēp, "brooded," does not describe the action of wind. The verbal form employed is the imperfect participle, and therefore denotes a work in the actual process of accomplishment. The brooding of the spirit of God is evidently the originating cause of the reorganization of things on the land, by the creative work which is successively described in the following passage.
It is here intimated that God is a spirit. For "the spirit of God" is equivalent to "God who is a spirit." This is that essential characteristic of the Everlasting which makes creation possible. Many philosophers, ancient and modern, have felt the difficulty of proceeding from the one to the many; in other words, of evolving the actual multiplicity of things out of the absolutely one. And no wonder. For the absolutely one, the pure monad that has no internal relation, no complexity of quality or faculty, is barren, and must remain alone. It is, in fact, nothing; not merely no "thing," but absolutely naught. The simplest possible existent must have being, and text to which this being belongs, and, moreover, some specific or definite character by which it is what it is. This character seldom consists of one quality; usually, if not universally, of more than one. Hence, in the Eternal One may and must be that character which is the concentration of all the causative antecedents of a universe of things. The first of these is will. Without free choice there can be no beginning of things. Hence, matter cannot be a creator. But will needs, cannot be without, wisdom to plan and power to execute what is to be willed. These are the three essential attributes of spirit. The manifold wisdom of the Eternal Spirit, combined with His equally manifold power, is adequate to the creation of a manifold system of things. Let the free behest be given, and the universe starts into being.
It would be rash and out of place to speculate on the nature of the brooding here mentioned further than it is explained by the event. We could not see any use of a mere wind blowing over the water, as it would be productive of none of the subsequent effects. At the same time, we may conceive the spirit of God to manifest its energy in some outward effect, which may bear a fair analogy to the natural figure by which it is represented. Chemical forces, as the prime agents, are not to be thought of here, as they are totally inadequate to the production of the results in question. Nothing but a creative or absolutely initiative power could give rise to a change so great and fundamental as the construction of an Adamic abode out of the luminous, aerial, aqueous, and terrene materials of the preexistent earth, and the production of the new vegetable and animal species with which it was now to be replenished.
Such is the intimation that we gather from the text, when it declares that "the spirit of God was brooding upon the face of the waters." It means something more than the ordinary power put forth by the Great Being for the natural sustenance and development of the universe which he has called into existence. It indicates a new and special display of omnipotence for the present exigencies of this part of the realm of creation. Such an occasional, and, for ought we know, ordinary though supernatural interposition, is quite in harmony with the perfect freedom of the Most High in the changing conditions of a particular region, while the absolute impossibility of its occurrence would be totally at variance with this essential attribute of a spiritual nature.
In addition to this, we cannot see how a universe of moral beings can be governed on any other principle; while, on the other hand, the principle itself is perfectly compatible with the administration of the whole according to a predetermined plan, and does not involve any vacillation of purpose on the part of the Great Designer.
We observe, also, that this creative power is put forth on the face of the waters, and is therefore confined to the land mentioned in the previous part of the verse and its superincumbent atmosphere.
Thus, this primeval document proceeds, in an orderly way, to portray to us in a single verse the state of the land antecedent to its being prepared anew as a meet dwelling-place for man.
- III. The First Day
3. אמר 'āmar, "say, bid." After this verb comes the thing said in the words of the speaker, or an equivalent expression. In this respect it corresponds with our English "say."
אור 'ôr, "light." Light is simply what makes a sensible impression on the organs of vision. It belongs to a class of things which occasionally produce the same effect.
ויאמר vayo'mer "then said." Here we have come to the narrative or the record of a series of events. The conjunction is prefixed to the verb, to indicate the connection of the event it records with what precedes. There is here, therefore, a sequence in the order of time. In a chain of events, the narrative follows the order of occurrence. Collateral chains of events must of necessity be recorded in successive paragraphs. The first paragraph carries on one line of incidents to a fit resting-place. The next may go back to take up the record of another line. Hence, a new paragraph beginning with a conjoined verb is to be connected in time, not with the last sentence of the preceding one, but with some sentence in the preceding narrative more or less distant from its terminating point (see on Gen 1:5, and Gen 2:3). Even a single verse may be a paragraph in itself referring to a point of time antecedent to the preceding sentence.
A verb so conjoined in narrative is in Hebrew put in the incipient or imperfect form, as the narrator conceives the events to grow each out of that already past. He himself follows the incidents step by step down the pathway of time, and hence the initial aspect of each event is toward him, as it actually comes upon the stage of existence.
Since the event now before us belongs to past time, this verb is well enough rendered by the past tense of our English verb. This tense in English is at present indefinite, as it does not determine the state of the event as either beginning, continuing, or concluded. It is not improbable, however, that it originally designated the first of these states, and came by degrees to be indefinite. The English present also may have denoted an incipient, and then an imperfect or indefinite.
3. ראה rā'âh, "see" ὁράω horaō, אור 'ôr, "emit light," ראה rā'âh, "see by light."
טיב ṭôb, "good." Opposite is: רע rā‛.
4. קרא qārā', "cry, call."
ערב ‛ereb, "evening, sunset." A space of time before and after sunset. ערבים ‛arebayı̂m, "two evenings," a certain time before sunset, and the time between sunset and the end of twilight. הערבים בין bēyn hā‛arbayı̂m "the interval between the two evenings, from sunset to the end of twilight," according to the Karaites and Samaritans; "from sun declining to sunset," according to the Pharisees and Rabbinists. It might be the time from the beginning of the one to the beginning of the other, from the end of the one to the end of the other, or from the beginning of the one to the end of the other. The last is the most suitable for all the passages in which it occurs. These are ten in number, all in the law Exo 12:6; Exo 16:12; Exo 29:31, Exo 29:41; Exo 30:8; Lev 23:5; Num 9:3, Num 9:5,Num 9:8; Num 28:4. The slaying of the evening lamb and of the passover lamb, the eating of the latter and the lighting of the lamps, took place in the interval so designated.
At the end of this portion of the sacred text we have the first פ (p). This is explained in the Introduction, Section VII.
The first day's work is the calling of light into being. Here the design is evidently to remove one of the defects mentioned in the preceding verse, - "and darkness was upon the face of the deep." The scene of this creative act is therefore coincident with that of the darkness it is intended to displace. The interference of supernatural power to cause the presence of light in this region, intimates that the powers of nature were inadequate to this effect. But it does not determine whether or not light had already existed elsewhere, and had even at one time penetrated into this now darkened region, and was still prevailing in the other realms of space beyond the face of the deep. Nor does it determine whether by a change of the polar axis, by the rarefaction of the gaseous medium above, or by what other means, light was made to visit this region of the globe with its agreeable and quickening influences. We only read that it did not then illuminate the deep of waters, and that by the potent word of God it was then summoned into being. This is an act of creative power, for it is a calling into existence what had previously no existence in that place, and was not owing to the mere development of nature. Hence, the act of omnipotence here recorded is not at variance with the existence of light among the elements of that universe of nature, the absolute creation of which is affirmed in the first verse.
Then said God. - In Gen 1:3, God speaks. From this we learn that He not only is, but is such that He can express His will and commune with His intelligent creatures. He is manifest not only by His creation, but by Himself. If light had come into existence without a perceptible cause, we should still have inferred a first Causer by an intuitive principle which demands an adequate cause for anything making its appearance which was not before. But when God says, "Be light," in the audience of His intelligent creatures, and light forthwith comes into view, they perceive God commanding, as well as light appearing.
Speech is the proper mode of spiritual manifestation. Thinking, willing, acting are the movements of spirit, and speech is the index of what is thought, willed, and done. Now, as the essence of God is the spirit which thinks and acts, so the form of God is that in which the spirit speaks, and otherwise meets the observations of intelligent beings. In these three verses, then, we have God, the spirit of God, and the word of God. And as the term "spirit" is transferred from an inanimate thing to signify an intelligent agent, so the term "word" is capable of receiving a similar change of application.
Inadvertent critics of the Bible object to God being described as "speaking," or performing any other act that is proper only to the human frame or spirit. They say it is anthropomorphic or anthropopathic, implies a gross, material, or human idea of God, and is therefore unworthy of Him and of His Word. But they forget that great law of thought and speech by which we apprehend analogies, and with a wise economy call the analogues by the same name. Almost all the words we apply to mental things were originally borrowed from our vocabulary for the material world, and therefore really figurative, until by long habit the metaphor was forgotten, and they became to all intents and purposes literal. And philosophers never have and never will have devised a more excellent way of husbanding words, marking analogies, and fitly expressing spiritual things. Our phraseology for mental ideas, though lifted up from a lower sphere, has not landed us in spiritualism, but enabled us to converse about the metaphysical with the utmost purity and propriety.
And, since this holds true of human thoughts and actions, so does it apply with equal truth to the divine ways and works. Let there be in our minds proper notions of God, and the tropical language we must and ought to employ in speaking of divine things will derive no taint of error from its original application to their human analogues. Scripture communicates those adequate notions of the most High God which are the fit corrective of its necessarily metaphorical language concerning the things of God. Accordingly, the intelligent perusal of the Bible has never produced idolatry; but, on the other hand, has communicated even to its critics the just conceptions they have acquired of the spiritual nature of the one true God.
It ought to be remembered, also, that the very principle of all language is the use of signs for things, that the trope is only a special application of this principle according to the law of parsimony, and that the East is especially addicted to the use of tropical language. Let not western metaphysics misjudge, lest it be found to misunderstand eastern aesthetics.
It is interesting to observe in the self-manifesting God, the great archetypes of which the semblances are found in man. Here we have the sign-making or signifying faculty in exercise. Whether there were created witnesses present at the issue of this divine command, we are not here informed. Their presence, however, was not necessary to give significance to the act of speech, any more than to that of self-manifestation. God may manifest Himself and speak, though there be none to see and hear.
We see, too, here the name in existence before the thing, because it primarily refers to the thing as contemplated in thought.
The self-manifesting God and the self-manifesting act of speaking are here antecedent to the act of creation, or the coming of the thing into existence. This teaches us that creation is a different thing from self-manifestation or emanation. God is; He manifests Himself; He speaks; and lastly He puts forth the power, and the thing is done.
Let there be light. - The word "be" simply denotes the "existence" of the light, by whatever means or from whatever quarter it comes into the given locality. It might have been by an absolute act of pure creation or making out of nothing. But it may equally well be effected by any supernatural operation which removes an otherwise insurmountable hinderance, and opens the way for the already existing light to penetrate into the hitherto darkened region. This phrase is therefore in perfect harmony with preexistence of light among the other elementary parts of the universe from the very beginning of things. And it is no less consonant with the fact that heat, of which light is a species or form, is, and has from the beginning been, present in all those chemical changes by which the process of universal nature is carried on through all its innumerable cycles.
Then saw God the light that it was good. - God contemplates his work, and derives the feeling of complacence from the perception of its excellence. Here we have two other archetypal faculties displayed in God, which subsequently make their appearance in the nature of man, the understanding, and the judgment.
The perception of things external to Himself is an important fact in the relation between the Creator and the creature. It implies that the created thing is distinct from the creating Being, and external to Him. It therefore contradicts pantheism in all its forms.
The judgment is merely another branch of the apprehensive or cognitive faculty, by which we note physical and ethical relations and distinctions of things. It comes immediately into view on observing the object now called into existence. God saw "that it was good." That is good in general which fulfills the end of its being. The relation of good and evil has a place and an application in the physical world, but it ascends through all the grades of the intellectual and the moral. That form of the judgement which takes cognizance of moral distinctions is of so much importance as to have received a distinct name, - the conscience, or moral sense.
Here the moral rectitude of God is vindicated, inasmuch as the work of His power is manifestly good. This refutes the doctrine of the two principles, the one good and the other evil, which the Persian sages have devised in order to account for the presence of moral and physical evil along with the good in the present condition of our world.
Divided between the light and between the darkness. - God then separates light and darkness, by assigning to each its relative position in time and space. This no doubt refers to the vicissitudes of day and night, as we learn from the following verse:
Called to the light, day, ... - After separating the light and the darkness, he gives them the new names of day and night, according to the limitations under which they were now placed. Before this epoch in the history of the earth there was no rational inhabitant, and therefore no use of naming. The assigning of names, therefore, is an indication that we have arrived at that stage in which names for things will be necessary, because a rational creature is about to appear on the scene.
Naming seems to be designating according to the specific mode in which the general notion is realized in the thing named. This is illustrated by several instances which occur in the following part of the chapter. It is the right of the maker, owner, or other superior to give a name; and hence, the receiving of a name indicates the subordination of the thing named to the namer. Name and thing correspond: the former is the sign of the latter; hence, in the concrete matter-of-fact style of Scripture the name is often put for the thing, quality, person, or authority it represents.
The designations of day and night explain to us what is the meaning of dividing the light from the darkness. It is the separation of the one from the other, and the orderly distribution of each over the different parts of the earth's surface in the course of a night and a day. This could only be effected in the space of a diurnal revolution of the earth on its axis. Accordingly, if light were radiated from a particular region in the sky, and thus separated from darkness at a certain meridian, while the earth performed its daily round, the successive changes of evening, night, morning, day, would naturally present themselves in slow and stately progress during that first great act of creation.
Thus, we have evidence that the diurnal revolution of the earth took place on the first day of the last creation. We are not told whether it occurred before that time. If there ever was a time when the earth did not revolve, or revolved on a different axis or according to a different law from the present, the first revolution or change of revolution must have produced a vast change in the face of things, the marks of which would remain to this day, whether the impulse was communicated to the solid mass alone, or simultaneously to all the loose matter resting on its surface. But the text gives no intimation of such a change.
At present, however, let us recollect we have only to do with the land known to antediluvian man, and the coming of light into existence over that region, according to the existing arrangement of day and night. How far the breaking forth of the light may have extended beyond the land known to the writer, the present narrative does not enable us to determine.
We are now prepared to conclude that the entrance of light into this darkened region was effected by such a change in its position or in its superincumbent atmosphere as allowed the interchange of night and day to become discernible, while at the same time so much obscurity still remained as to exclude the heavenly bodies from view. We have learned from the first verse that these heavenly orbs were already created. The luminous element that plays so conspicuous and essential a part in the process of nature, must have formed a part of that original creation. The removal of darkness, therefore, from the locality mentioned, is merely owing to a new adjustment by which the pre-existent light was made to visit the surface of the abyss with its cheering and enlivening beams.
In this case, indeed, the real change is effected, not in the light itself, but in the intervening medium which was impervious to its rays. But it is to be remembered, on the other hand, that the actual result of the divine interposition is still the diffusion of light over the face of the watery deep, and that the actual phenomena of the change, as they would strike an onlooker, and not the invisible springs of the six days' creation, are described in the chapter before us.
Then was evening, then was morning, day one. - The last clause of the verse is a resumption of the whole process of time during this first work of creation. This is accordingly a simple and striking example of two lines of narrative parallel to each other and exactly coinciding in respect of time. In general we find the one line overlapping only a part of the other.
The day is described, according to the Hebrew mode of narrative, by its starting-point, "the evening." The first half of its course is run out during the night. The next half in like manner commences with "the morning," and goes through its round in the proper day. Then the whole period is described as "one day." The point of termination for the day is thus the evening again, which agrees with the Hebrew division of time Lev 23:32.
To make "the evening" here the end of the first day, and so "the morning" the end of the first night, as is done by some interpreters, is therefore equally inconsistent with the grammar of the Hebrews and with their mode of reckoning time. It also defines the diurnal period, by noting first its middle point and then its termination, which does not seem to be natural. It further defines the period of sunshine, or the day proper, by "the evening," and the night by the morning; a proceeding equally unnatural. It has not even the advantage of making the event of the latter clause subsequent to that of the former. For the day of twenty-four hours is wholly spent in dividing the light from the darkness; and the self-same day is described again in this clause, take it how we will. This interpretation of the clause is therefore to be rejected.
The days of this creation are natural days of twenty-four hours each. We may not depart from the ordinary meaning of the word without a sufficient warrant either in the text of Scripture or in the law of nature. But we have not yet found any such warrant. Only necessity can force us to such an expedient. Scripture, on the other hand, warrants us in retaining the common meaning by yielding no hint of another, and by introducing "evening, night, morning, day," as its ordinary divisions. Nature favors the same interpretation. All geological changes are of course subsequent to the great event recorded in the first verse, which is the beginning of things. All such changes, except the one recorded in the six days' creation, are with equal certainty antecedent to the state of things described in the second verse. Hence, no lengthened period is required for this last creative interposition.
Day one - is used here for the first day, the cardinal one being not usually employed for the ordinal in Hebrew Gen 8:13; Exo 10:1-2. It cannot indicate any emphasis or singularity in the day, as it is in no respect different from the other days of creation. It implies that the two parts before mentioned make up one day. But this is equally implied by all the ordinals on the other days.
This day is in many ways interesting to us. It is the first day of the last creation; it is the first day of the week; it is the day of the resurrection of the Messiah; and it has become the Christian Sabbath.
The first five verses form the first parashah (פרשׁ pārāsh) or "section" of the Hebrew text. If this division come from the author, it indicates that he regarded the first day's work as the body of the narrative, and the creation of the universe, in the first verse, and the condition of the earth, in the second, as mere preliminaries to introduce and elucidate his main statement. If, on the contrary, it proceeds from some transcriber of a subsequent period, it may indicate that he considered the creative work of the first day to consist of two parts, - first, an absolute creation; and, second, a supplementary act, by which the primary universe was first enlightened.
- IV. The Second Day
6. רקיע rāqı̂ya‛, "expanse;" στερέωμα stereōma, רקע rāqa‛, "spread out by beating, as leaf gold." This expanse was not understood to be solid, as the fowl is said to fly on the face of it Gen 1:21. It is also described as luminous Dan 12:3, and as a monument of divine power Psa 150:1.
7. עשׂה ‛āśâh "work on," "make out of already existing materials."
The second act of creative power bears upon the deep of waters, over which the darkness had prevailed, and by which the solid crust was still overlaid. This mass of turbid and noisy water must be reduced to order, and confined within certain limits, before the land can be reached. According to the laws of material nature, light or heat must be an essential factor in all physical changes, especially in the production of gases and vapors. Hence, its presence and activity are the first thing required in instituting a new process of nature. Air naturally takes the next place, as it is equally essential to the maintenance of vegetable and animal life. Hence, its adjustment is the second step in this latest effort of creation.
Let there be an expanse in the midst of the water. - For this purpose God now calls into existence the expanse. This is that interval of space between the earth on the one side and the birds on the wing, the clouds and the heavenly bodies on the other, the lower part of which we know to be occupied by the air. This will appear more clearly from a comparison of other passages in this chapter (Gen 1:14, Gen 1:20).
And let it be dividing between water and water. - It appears that the water in a liquid state was in contact with another mass of water, in the shape of dense fogs and vapors; not merely overhanging, but actually resting on the waters beneath. The object of the expanse is to divide the waters which are under it from those which are above it. Hence, it appears that the thing really done is, not to create the space that extends indefinitely above our heads (which, being in itself no thing, but only room for things, requires no creating), but to establish in it the intended disposition of the waters in two separate masses, the one above, and the other below the intervening expanse. This we know is effected by means of the atmosphere, which receives a large body of water in the state of vapor, and bears up a visible portion of it in the form of clouds. These ever-returning and ever-varying piles of mist strike the eye of the unsophisticated spectator; and when the dew is observed on the grass, or the showers of rain, hail, and snow are seen falling on the ground, the conclusion is obvious - that above the expanse, be the distance small or great, is laid up an unseen and inexhaustible treasury of water, by which the earth may be perpetually bedewed and irrigated.
The aqueous vapor is itself, as well as the element with which it is mingled, invisible and impalpable; but when condensed by cold it becomes apparent to the eye in the form of mists and clouds, and, at a certain point of coolness, begins to deposit itself in the palpable form of dew, rain, hail, or snow. As soon as it becomes obvious to the sense it receives distinguishing names, according to its varying forms. But the air being invisible, is unnoticed by the primitive observer until it is put in motion, when it receives the name of wind. The space it occupies is merely denominated the expanse; that is, the interval between us and the various bodies that float above and hang upon nothing, or nothing perceptible to the eye.
The state of things before this creative movement may be called one of disturbance and disorder, in comparison with the present condition of the atmosphere. This disturbance in the relations of air and water was so great that it could not be reduced to the present order without a supernatural cause. Whether any other gases, noxious or innocuous, entered into the constitution of the previous atmosphere, or whether any other ingredients were once held in solution by the watery deep, we are not informed. Whether any volcanic or plutonic violence had disturbed the scene, and raised a dense mass of gaseous damp and fuliginous matter into the airy region, is not stated. How far the disorder extended we cannot tell. We are merely certain that it reached over all the land known to man during the interval between this creation and the deluge. Whether this disorder was temporary or of long standing, and whether the change was effected by altering the axis of the earth's rotation, and thereby the climate of the land of primeval man, or by a less extensive movement confined to the region under consideration, are questions on which we receive no instruction, because the solution does not concern our well-being. As soon as human welfare comes to be in any way connected with such knowledge, it will by some means be made attainable.
The introduction of the expanse produced a vast change for the better on the surface of the earth. The heavy mass of murky damp and aqueous steam commingling with the abyss of waters beneath is cleared away. The fogs are lifted up to the higher regions of the sky, or attenuated into an invisible vapor. A leaden mass of clouds still overshadows the heavens. But a breathing space of pure pellucid air now intervenes between the upper and lower waters, enveloping the surface of the earth, and suited for the respiration of the flora and fauna of a new world.
Let it be noted that the word "be" is here again employed to denote the commencement of a new adjustment of the atmosphere. This, accordingly, does not imply the absolute creation on the second day of our present atmosphere: it merely indicates the constitution of it out of the materials already at hand, - the selecting and due apportionment of the proper elements; the relegation of all now foreign elements to their own places; the dissipation of the lazy, deadening damps, and the establishment of a clear and pure air fit for the use of the future man. Any or all of these alterations will satisfy the form of expression here adopted.
Then made God the expanse. - Here the distinction between command and execution is made still more prominent than in the third verse. For the word of command stands in one verse, and the effect realized is related in the next. Nay, we have the doing of the thing and the thing done separately expressed. For, after stating that God made the expanse, it is added, "and it was so." The work accomplished took a permanent form, in which it remained a standing monument of divine wisdom and power.
Then called God to the expanse, heaven. - This expanse is, then, the proper and original skies. We have here an interesting and instructive example of the way in which words expand in their significance from the near, the simple, the obvious, to the far and wide, the complex and the inferential: The heaven, in the first instance, meant the open space above the surface in which we breathe and move, in which the birds fly and the clouds float. This is the atmosphere. Then it stretches away into the seemingly boundless regions of space, in which the countless orbs of luminous and of opaque surfaces circumambulate. Then the heavens come to signify the contents of this indefinitely augmented expanse, - the celestial luminaries themselves. Then, by a still further enlargement of its meaning, we rise to the heaven of heavens, the inexpressibly grand and august presence-chamber of the Most High, where the cherubim and seraphim, the innumerable company of angels, the myriads of saints, move in their several grades and spheres, keeping the charge of their Maker, and realizing the joy of their being. This is the third heaven Co2 12:2 to the conception of which the imaginative capacity of the human mind rises by an easy gradation. Having once attained to this majestic conception, man is so far prepared to conceive and compose that sublime sentence with which the book of God opens, - "In the beginning God created 'the heavens' and the earth."
The expanse, or aerial space, in which this arrangement of things has been effected, having received its appropriate name, is recognized as an accomplished fact, and the second day is closed.
- V. The Third Day
9. קוה qāvâh "turn, bind, gather, expect."
יבשׁה yabāshâh "the dry, the ground." יבשׁ yabēsh, "be dry." בושׁ bôsh, "be abashed."
11. דשׁא deshe', "green thing, grass."
עשׂב ‛ēśāb, "herb."
זרע zēra‛, "seed." זרע zāra‛, "sow," sero.
פרי perı̂y, "fruit." ברה pārâh, "bear"; φέρω pherō.
The work of creation on this day is evidently twofold, - the distribution of land and water, and the creation of plants. The former part of it is completed, named, reviewed, and approved before the latter is commenced. All that has been done before this, indeed, is preparatory to the introduction of the vegetable kingdom. This may be regarded as the first stage of the present creative process.
Let the water be gathered to one place; let the ground appear. - This refers to the yet overflowing deep of waters Gen 1:2 under "the expanse." They must be confined within certain limits. For this purpose the order is issued, that they be gathered into one place; that is, evidently, into a place apart from that designed for the land.
Then called God to the ground, land. - We use the word "ground" to denote the dry surface left after the retreat of the waters. To this the Creator applies the term ארץ 'erets, "land, earth." Hence, we find that the primitive meaning of this term was land, the dry solid surface of matter on which we stand. This meaning it still retains in all its various applications (see note on Gen 1:2). As it was soon learned by experience that the solid ground was continuous at the bottom of the water-masses, and that these were a mere superficial deposit gathering into the hollows, the term was, by an easy extension of its meaning, applied to the whole surface, as it was diversified by land and water. Our word "earth" is the term to express it in this more extended sense. In this sense it was the meet counterpart of the heavens in that complex phrase by which the universe of things is expressed.
And to the gathering of the waters called he seas. - In contradistinction to the land, the gathered waters are called seas; a term applied in Scripture to any large collection of water, even though seen to be surrounded by land; as, the salt sea, the sea of Kinnereth, the sea of the plain or valley, the fore sea, the hinder sea Gen 14:3; Num 34:11; Deu 4:49; Joe 2:20; Deu 11:24. The plural form "seas" shows that the "one place" consists of several basins, all of which taken together are called the place of the waters.
The Scripture, according to its manner, notices only the palpable result; namely, a diversified scene of "land" and "seas." The sacred singer possibly hints at the process in Psa 104:6-8 : "The deep as a garment thou didst spread over it; above the mountains stood the waters. At thy rebuke they fled; at the voice of thy thunder they hasted away. They go up the mountains; they go down the valleys; unto the place that thou hast founded for them." This description is highly poetical, and therefore true to nature. The hills are to rise out of the waters above them. The agitated waters dash up the stirring mountains, but, as these ascend, at length sink into the valleys, and take the place allotted for them. Plainly the result was accomplished by lowering some and elevating other parts of the solid ground. Over this inequality of surface, the waters, which before overspread the whole ground, flowed into the hollows, and the elevated regions became dry land. This is a kind of geological change which has been long known to the students of nature. Such changes have often been sudden and violent. Alterations of level, of a gradual character, are known to be going on at all times.
This disposition of land and water prepares for the second step, which is the main work of this day; namely, the creation of plants. We are now come to the removal of another defect in the state of the earth, mentioned in the second verse, - its deformity, or rude and uncouth appearance.
Let the land grow. - The plants are said to be products of the land, because they spring from the dry ground, and a margin round it where the water is so shallow as to permit the light and heat to reach the bottom. The land is said to grow or bring forth plants; not because it is endowed with any inherent power to generate plants, but because it is the element in which they are to take root, and from which they are to spring forth.
Grass, herb yielding seed, fruit tree bearing fruit. - The plants now created are divided into three classes - grass, herb, and tree. In the first, the seed is not noticed, as not obvious to the eye; in the second, the seed is the striking characteristic; in the third, the fruit, "in which is its seed," in which the seed is enclosed, forms the distinguishing mark. This division is simple and natural. It proceeds upon two concurrent marks - the structure and the seed. In the first, the green leaf or blade is prominent; in the second, the stalk; in the third, the woody texture. In the first, the seed is not conspicuous; in the second, it is conspicuous; in the third, it is enclosed in a fruit which is conspicuous. This division corresponds with certain classes in our present systems of botany. But it is much less complex than any of them, and is founded upon obvious characteristics. The plants that are on the margin of these great divisions may be arranged conveniently enough under one or another of them, according to their several orders or species.
After its kind. - This phrase intimates that like produces like, and therefore that the "kinds" or species are fixed, and do not run into one another. In this little phrase the theory of one species being developed from another is denied.
Here the fulfillment of the divine command is detailed, after being summed up in the words "it was so," at the close of the previous verse. This seems to arise from the nature of growth, which has a commencement, indeed, but goes on without ceasing in a progressive development. It appears from the text that the full plants, and not the seeds, germs, or roots, were created. The land sent forth grass, herb, tree, each in its fully developed form. This was absolutely necessary, if man and the land animals were to be sustained by grasses, seeds, and fruits.
Thus, the land begins to assume the form of beauty and fertility. Its bare and rough soil is set with the germs of an incipient verdure. It has already ceased to be "a waste." And now, at the end of this third day, let us pause to review the natural order in which everything has been thus far done. It was necessary to produce light in the first place, because without this potent element water could not pass into vapor, and rise on the wings of the buoyant air into the region above the expanse. The atmosphere must in the next place be reduced to order, and charged with its treasures of vapor, before the plants could commence the process of growth, even though stimulated by the influence of light and heat. Again, the waters must be withdrawn from a portion of the solid surface before the plants could be placed in the ground, so as to have the full benefit of the light, air, and vapor in enabling them to draw from the soil the sap by which they are to be nourished. When all these conditions are fulfilled, then the plants themselves are called into existence, and the first cycle of the new creation is completed.
Could not the Eternal One have accomplished all this in one day? Doubtless, He might. He might have effected it all in an instant of time. And He might have compressed the growth and development of centuries into a moment. He might even by possibility have constructed the stratifications of the earth's crust with all their slips, elevations, depressions, unconformities, and organic formations in a day. And, lastly, He might have carried on to completion all the evolutions of universal nature that have since taken place or will hereafter take place until the last hour has struck on the clock of time. But what then? What purpose would have been served by all this speed? It is obvious that the above and such like questions are not wisely put. The very nature of the eternal shows the futility of such speculations. Is the commodity of time so scarce with him that he must or should for any good reason sum up the course of a universe of things in an infinitesimal portion of its duration? May we not, rather, must we not, soberly conclude that there is a due proportion between the action and the time of the action, the creation to be developed and the time of development. Both the beginning and the process of this latest creation are to a nicety adjusted to the preexistent and concurrent state of things. And the development of what is created not only displays a mutual harmony and exact coincidence in the progress of all its other parts, but is at the same time finely adapted to the constitution of man, and the natural, safe, and healthy ratio of his physical and metaphysical movements.
- VI. The Fourth Day
14. מאור mā'ôr, "a light, a luminary, a center of radiant light."
מועה mô‛ēd, "set time, season."
Words beginning with a formative מ musually signify that in which the simple quality resides or is realized. Hence, they often denote place.
17. נתן nāthan "give, hold out, show, stretch, hold out." Latin: tendo, teneo; τείνω teinō.
The darkness has been removed from the face of the deep, its waters have been distributed in due proportions above and below the expanse; the lower waters have retired and given place to the emerging land, and the wasteness of the land thus exposed to view has begun to be adorned with the living forms of a new vegetation. It only remains to remove the "void" by peopling this now fair and fertile world with the animal kingdom. For this purpose the Great Designer begins a new cycle of supernatural operations.
Gen 1:14, Gen 1:15
Lights. - The work of the fourth day has much in common with that of the first day, which, indeed it continues and completes. Both deal with light, and with dividing between light and darkness, or day and night. "Let there be." They agree also in choosing the word "be," to express the nature of the operation which is here performed. But the fourth day advances on the first day. It brings into view the luminaries, the light radiators, the source, while the first only indicated the stream. It contemplates the far expanse, while the first regards only the near.
For signs and for seasons, and for days and years. - While the first day refers only to the day and its twofold division, the fourth refers to signs, seasons, days, and years. These lights are for "signs." They are to serve as the great natural chronometer of man, having its three units, - the day, the month, and the year - and marking the divisions of time, not only for agricultural and social purposes, but also for meeting out the eras of human history and the cycles of natural science. They are signs of place as well as of time - topometers, if we may use the term. By them the mariner has learned to mark the latitude and longitude of his ship, and the astronomer to determine with any assignable degree of precision the place as well as the time of the planetary orbs of heaven. The "seasons" are the natural seasons of the year, and the set times for civil and sacred purposes which man has attached to special days and years in the revolution of time.
Since the word "day" is a key to the explanation of the first day's work, so is the word "year" to the interpretation of that of the fourth. Since the cause of the distinction of day and night is the diurnal rotation of the earth on its axis in conjunction with a fixed source of light, which streamed in on the scene of creation as soon as the natural hinderance was removed, so the vicissitudes of the year are owing, along with these two conditions, to the annual revolution of the earth in its orbit round the sun, together with the obliquity of the ecliptic. To the phenomena so occasioned are to be added incidental variations arising from the revolution of the moon round the earth, and the small modifications caused by the various other bodies of the solar system. All these celestial phenomena come out from the artless simplicity of the sacred narrative as observable facts on the fourth day of that new creation. From the beginning of the solar system the earth must, from the nature of things, have revolved around the sun. But whether the rate of velocity was ever changed, or the obliquity of the ecliptic was now commenced or altered, we do not learn from this record.
To shine upon the earth. - The first day spreads the shaded gleam of light over the face of the deep. The fourth day unfolds to the eye the lamps of heaven, hanging in the expanse of the skies, and assigns to them the office of "shining upon the earth." A threefold function is thus attributed to the celestial orbs - to divide day from night, to define time and place, and to shine on the earth. The word of command is here very full, running over two verses, with the exception of the little clause, "and it was so," stating the result.
This result is fully particularized in the next three verses. This word, "made," corresponds to the word "be" in the command, and indicates the disposition and adjustment to a special purpose of things previously existing.
The two great lights. - The well-known ones, great in relation to the stars, as seen from the earth.
The great light, - in comparison with the little light. The stars, from man's point of view, are insignificant, except in regard to number Gen 15:5.
God gave them. - The absolute giving of the heavenly bodies in their places was performed at the time of their actual creation. The relative giving here spoken of is what would appear to an earthly spectator, when the intervening veil of clouds would be dissolved by the divine agency, and the celestial luminaries would stand forth in all their dazzling splendor.
To rule. - From their lofty eminence they regulate the duration and the business of each period. The whole is inspected and approved as before.
Now let it be remembered that the heavens were created at the absolute beginning of things recorded in the first verse, and that they included all other things except the earth. Hence, according to this document, the sun, moon, and stars were in existence simultaneously with our planet. This gives simplicity and order to the whole narrative. Light comes before us on the first and on the fourth day. Now, as two distinct causes of a common effect would be unphilosophical and unnecessary, we must hold the one cause to have been in existence on these two days. But we have seen that the one cause of the day and of the year is a fixed source of radiating light in the sky, combined with the diurnal and annual motions of the earth. Thus, the recorded preexistence of the celestial orbs is consonant with the presumptions of reason. The making or reconstitution of the atmosphere admits their light so far that the alternations of day and night can be discerned. The making of the lights of heaven, or the display of them in a serene sky by the withdrawal of that opaque canopy of clouds that still enveloped the dome above, is then the work of the fourth day.
All is now plain and intelligible. The heavenly bodies become the lights of the earth, and the distinguishers not only of day and night, but of seasons and years, of times and places. They shed forth their unveiled glories and salutary potencies on the budding, waiting land. How the higher grade of transparency in the aerial region was effected, we cannot tell; and, therefore, we are not prepared to explain why it is accomplished on the fourth day, and not sooner. But from its very position in time, we are led to conclude that the constitution of the expanse, the elevation of a portion of the waters of the deep in the form of vapor, the collection of the sub-aerial water into seas, and the creation of plants out of the reeking soil, must all have had an essential part, both in retarding until the fourth day, and in then bringing about the dispersion of the clouds and the clearing of the atmosphere. Whatever remained of hinderance to the outshining of the sun, moon, and stars on the land in all their native splendor, was on this day removed by the word of divine power.
Now is the approximate cause of day and night made palpable to the observation. Now are the heavenly bodies made to be signs of time and place to the intelligent spectator on the earth, to regulate seasons, days, months, and years, and to be the luminaries of the world. Now, manifestly, the greater light rules the day, as the lesser does the night. The Creator has withdrawn the curtain, and set forth the hitherto undistinguishable brilliants of space for the illumination of the land and the regulation of the changes which diversify its surface. This bright display, even if it could have been effected on the first day with due regard to the forces of nature already in operation, was unnecessary to the unseeing and unmoving world of vegetation, while it was plainly requisite for the seeing, choosing, and moving world of animated nature which was about to be called into existence on the following days.
The terms employed for the objects here brought forward - "lights, the great light, the little light, the stars;" for the mode of their manifestation, "be, make, give;" and for the offices they discharge, "divide, rule, shine, be for signs, seasons, days, years" - exemplify the admirable simplicity of Scripture, and the exact adaptation of its style to the unsophisticated mind of primeval man. We have no longer, indeed, the naming of the various objects, as on the former days; probably because it would no longer be an important source of information for the elucidation of the narrative. But we have more than an equivalent for this in variety of phrase. The several words have been already noticed: it only remains to make some general remarks.
(1) The sacred writer notes only obvious results, such as come before the eye of the observer, and leaves the secondary causes, their modes of operation, and their less obtrusive effects, to scientific inquiry. The progress of observation is from the foreground to the background of nature, from the physical to the metaphysical, and from the objective to the subjective. Among the senses, too, the eye is the most prominent observer in the scenes of the six days. Hence, the "lights," they "shine," they are for "signs" and "days," which are in the first instance objects of vision. They are "given," held or shown forth in the heavens. Even "rule" has probably the primitive meaning to be over. Starting thus with the visible and the tangible, the Scripture in its successive communications advance with us to the inferential, the intuitive, the moral, the spiritual, the divine.
(2) The sacred writer also touches merely the heads of things in these scenes of creation, without condescending to minute particulars or intending to be exhaustive. Hence, many actual incidents and intricacies of these days are left to the well-regulated imagination and sober judgment of the reader. To instance such omissions, the moon is as much of her time above the horizon during the day as during the night. But she is not then the conspicuous object in the scene, or the full-orbed reflector of the solar beams, as she is during the night. Here the better part is used to mark the whole. The tidal influence of the great lights, in which the moon plays the chief part, is also unnoticed. Hence, we are to expect very many phenomena to be altogether omitted, though interesting and important in themselves, because they do not come within the present scope of the narrative.
(3) The point from which the writer views the scene is never to be forgotten, if we would understand these ancient records. He stands on earth. He uses his eyes as the organ of observation. He knows nothing of the visual angle, of visible as distinguishable from tangible magnitude, of relative in comparison with absolute motion on the grand scale: he speaks the simple language of the eye. Hence, his earth is the meet counterpart of the heavens. His sun and moon are great, and all the stars are a very little thing. Light comes to be, to him, when it reaches the eye. The luminaries are held forth in the heavens, when the mist between them and the eye is dissolved.
(4) Yet, though not trained to scientific thought or speech, this author has the eye of reason open as well as that of sense. It is not with him the science of the tangible, but the philosophy of the intuitive, that reduces things to their proper dimensions. He traces not the secondary cause, but ascends at one glance to the great first cause, the manifest act and audible behest of the Eternal Spirit. This imparts a sacred dignity to his style, and a transcendent grandeur to his conceptions. In the presence of the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, all things terrestrial and celestial are reduced to a common level. Man in intelligent relation with God comes forth as the chief figure on the scene of terrestrial creation. The narrative takes its commanding position as the history of the ways of God with man. The commonest primary facts of ordinary observation, when recorded in this book, assume a supreme interest as the monuments of eternal wisdom and the heralds of the finest and broadest generalizations of a consecrated science. The very words are instinct with a germinant philosophy, and prove themselves adequate to the expression of the loftiest speculations of the eloquent mind.
- VII. The Fifth Day
20. שׁרץ shārats, "crawl, teem, swarm, abound." An intransitive verb, admitting, however, an objective noun of its own or a like signification.
נפשׁ nephesh, "breath, soul, self." This noun is derived from a root signifying to breathe. Its concrete meaning is, therefore, "that which breathes," and consequently has a body, without which there can be no breathing; hence, "a breathing body," and even a body that once had breath Num 6:6. As breath is the accompaniment and sign of life, it comes to denote "life," and hence, a living body, "an animal." And as life properly signifies animal life, and is therefore essentially connected with feeling, appetite, thought, נפשׁ nephesh, denotes also these qualities, and what possesses them. It is obvious that it denotes the vital principle not only in man but in the brute. It is therefore a more comprehensive word than our soul, as commonly understood.
21. תנין tannı̂yn, "long creature," a comprehensive genus, including vast fishes, serpents, dragons, crocodiles; "stretch."
22. ברך bārak "break, kneel; bless."
The solitude בהוּ bohû, the last and greatest defect in the state of the earth, is now to be removed by the creation of the various animals that are to inhabit it and partake of its vegetable productions.
On the second day the Creator was occupied with the task of reducing the air and water to a habitable state. And now on the corresponding day of the second three he calls into existence the inhabitants of these two elements. Accordingly, the animal kingdom is divided into three parts in reference to the regions to be inhabited - fishes, birds, and land animals. The fishes and birds are created on this day. The fishes seem to be regarded as the lowest type of living creatures.
They are here subdivided only into the monsters of the deep and the smaller species that swarm in the waters.
The crawler - שׁרץ sherets apparently includes all animals that have short legs or no legs, and are therefore unable to raise themselves above the soil. The aquatic and most amphibious animals come under this class. "The crawler of living breath," having breath, motion, and sensation, the ordinary indications of animal life. "Abound with." As in Gen 1:11 we have, "Let the earth grow grass," (דשׁא תדשׁע tadshē‛ deshe', so here we have, "Let the waters crawl with the crawler," שׁרץ ישׁרצוּ yı̂shretsû sherets; the verb and noun having the same root. The waters are here not the cause but the element of the fish, as the air of the fowl. Fowl, everything that has wings. "The face of the expanse." The expanse is here proved to be aerial or spatial; not solid, as the fowl can fly on it.
Created. - Here the author uses this word for the second time. In the selection of different words to express the divine operation, two considerations seem to have guided the author's pen - variety and propriety of diction. The diversity of words appears to indicate a diversity in the mode of exercising the divine power. On the first day Gen 1:3 a new admission of light into a darkened region, by the partial rarefaction of the intervening medium, is expressed by the word "be." This may denote what already existed, but not in that place. On the second day Gen 1:6-7 a new disposition of the air and the water is described by the verbs "be" and "make." These indicate a modification of what already existed. On the third day Gen 1:9, Gen 1:11 no verb is directly applied to the act of divine power. This agency is thus understood, while the natural changes following are expressly noticed. In the fourth Gen 1:14, Gen 1:16-17 the words "be," "make," and "give" occur, where the matter in hand is the manifestation of the heavenly bodies and their adaptation to the use of man. In these cases it is evident that the word "create" would have been only improperly or indirectly applicable to the action of the Eternal Being. Here it is employed with propriety; as the animal world is something new and distinct summoned into existence. It is manifest from this review that variety of expression has resulted from attention to propriety.
Great fishes. - Monstrous crawlers that wriggle through the water or scud along the banks.
Every living, breathing thing that creeps. - The smaller animals of the water and its banks.
Bird of wing. - Here the wing is made characteristic of the class, which extends beyond what we call birds. The Maker inspects and approves His work.
Blessed them. - We are brought into a new sphere of creation on this day, and we meet with a new act of the Almighty. To bless is to wish, and, in the case of God, to will some good to the object of the blessing. The blessing here pronounced upon the fish and the fowl is that of abundant increase.
Bear. - This refers to the propagation of the species.
Multiply. - This notifies the abundance of the offspring.
Fill the waters. - Let them be fully stocked.
In the seas. - The "sea" of Scripture includes the lake, and, by parity of reason, the rivers, which are the feeders of both. This blessing seems to indicate that, whereas in the case of some plants many individuals of the same species were simultaneously created, so as to produce a universal covering of verdure for the land and an abundant supply of aliment for the animals about to be created - in regard to these animals a single pair only, at all events of the larger kinds, was at first called into being, from which, by the potent blessing of the Creator, was propagated the multitude by which the waters and the air were peopled.
- VIII. The Sixth Day
24. בהמה behēmâh, "cattle; dumb, tame beasts."
רמשׂ remeś, "creeping (small or low) animals."
חוּה chayâh, "living thing; animal."
חוּת־חארץ chayatô-chā'ārets, "wild beast."
26. אדם 'ādām, "man, mankind;" "be red." A collective noun, having no plural number, and therefore denoting either an individual of the kind, or the kind or race itself. It is connected in etymology with אדמה 'ădāmâh, "the red soil," from which the human body was formed Gen 2:7. It therefore marks the earthly aspect of man.
צלם tselem, "shade, image," in visible outline.
דמוּת demût, "likeness," in any quality.
רדה rādâh "tread, rule."
This day corresponds with the third. In both the land is the sphere of operation. In both are performed two acts of creative power. In the third the land was clothed with vegetation: in the sixth it is peopled with the animal kingdom. First, the lower animals are called into being, and then, to crown all, man.
Gen 1:24, Gen 1:25
This branch of the animal world is divided into three parts. "Living breathing thing" is the general head under which all these are comprised. "Cattle" denotes the animals that dwell with man, especially those that bear burdens. The same term in the original, when there is no contrast, when in the plural number or with the specification of "the land," the "field," is used of wild beasts. "Creeping things" evidently denote the smaller animals, from which the cattle are distinguished as the large. The quality of creeping is, however, applied sometimes to denote the motion of the lower animals with the body in a prostrate posture, in opposition to the erect posture of man Psa 104:20. The "beast of the land" or the field signifies the wild rapacious animal that lives apart from man. The word חוּה chayâh, "beast or animal," is the general term employed in these verses for the whole animal kind. It signifies wild animal with certainty only when it is accompanied by the qualifying term "land" or "field," or the epithet "evil" רעה rā‛âh. From this division it appears that animals that prey on others were included in this latest creation. This is an extension of that law by which the organic living substances of the vegetable kingdom form the sustenance of the animal species. The execution of the divine mandate is then recorded, and the result inspected and approved.
Gen 1:26, Gen 1:27
Here we evidently enter upon a higher scale of being. This is indicated by the counsel or common resolve to create, which is now for the first time introduced into the narrative. When the Creator says, "Let us make man," he calls attention to the work as one of pre-eminent importance. At the same time he sets it before himself as a thing undertaken with deliberate purpose. Moreover, in the former mandates of creation his words had regard to the thing itself that was summoned into being; as, "Let there be light;" or to some preexistent object that was physically connected with the new creature; as, "Let the land bring forth grass." But now the language of the fiat of creation ascends to the Creator himself: Let us make man. This intimates that the new being in its higher nature is associated not so much with any part of creation as with the Eternal Uncreated himself.
The plural form of the sentence raises the question, With whom took he counsel on this occasion? Was it with himself, and does he here simply use the plural of majesty? Such was not the usual style of monarchs in the ancient East. Pharaoh says, "I have dreamed a dream" Gen 41:15. Nebuchadnezzar, "I have dreamed" Dan 2:3. Darius the Mede, "I make a decree" Dan 6:26. Cyrus, "The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth" Ezr 1:2. Darius, "I make a decree" Ezr 5:8. We have no ground, therefore, for transferring it to the style of the heavenly King. Was it with certain other intelligent beings in existence before man that he took counsel? This supposition cannot be admitted; because the expression "let us make" is an invitation to create, which is an incommunicable attribute of the Eternal One, and because the phrases, "our image, our likeness," when transferred into the third person of narrative, become "his image, the image of God," and thus limit the pronouns to God himself. Does the plurality, then, point to a plurality of attributes in the divine nature? This cannot be, because a plurality of qualities exists in everything, without at all leading to the application of the plural number to the individual, and because such a plurality does not warrant the expression, "let us make." Only a plurality of persons can justify the phrase. Hence, we are forced to conclude that the plural pronoun indicates a plurality of persons or hypostases in the Divine Being.
Man. - Man is a new species, essentially different from all other kinds on earth. "In our image, after our likeness." He is to be allied to heaven as no other creature on earth is. He is to be related to the Eternal Being himself. This relation, however, is to be not in matter, but in form; not in essence, but in semblance. This precludes all pantheistic notions of the origin of man. "Image" is a word taken from sensible things, and denotes likeness in outward form, while the material may be different. "Likeness" is a more general term, indicating resemblance in any quality, external or internal. It is here explanatory of image, and seems to show that this term is to be taken in a figurative sense, to denote not a material but a spiritual conformity to God. The Eternal Being is essentially self-manifesting. The appearance he presents to an eye suited to contemplate him is his image. The union of attributes which constitute his spiritual nature is his character or likeness.
We gather from the present chapter that God is a spirit Gen 1:2, that he thinks, speaks, wills, and acts (Gen 1:3-4, etc.). Here, then, are the great points of conformity to God in man, namely, reason, speech, will, and power. By reason we apprehend concrete things in perception and consciousness, and cognize abstract truth, both metaphysical and moral. By speech we make certain easy and sensible acts of our own the signs of the various objects of our contemplative faculties to ourselves and others. By will we choose, determine, and resolve upon what is to be done. By power we act, either in giving expression to our concepts in words, or effect to our determinations in deeds. In the reason is evolved the distinction of good and evil Gen 1:4, Gen 1:31, which is in itself the approval of the former and the disapproval of the latter. In the will is unfolded that freedom of action which chooses the good and refuses the evil. In the spiritual being that exercises reason and will resides the power to act, which presupposes both these faculties - the reason as informing the will, and the will as directing the power. This is that form of God in which he has created man, and condescends to communicate with him.
And let them rule. - The relation of man to the creature is now stated. It is that of sovereignty. Those capacities of right thinking, right willing, and right acting, or of knowledge, holiness, and righteousness, in which man resembles God, qualify him for dominion, and constitute him lord of all creatures that are destitute of intellectual and moral endowments. Hence, wherever man enters he makes his sway to be felt. He contemplates the objects around him, marks their qualities and relations, conceives and resolves upon the end to be attained, and endeavors to make all things within his reach work together for its accomplishment. This is to rule on a limited scale. The field of his dominion is "the fish of the sea, the fowl of the skies, the cattle, the whole land, and everything that creepeth on the land." The order here is from the lowest to the highest. The fish, the fowl, are beneath the domestic cattle. These again are of less importance than the land, which man tills and renders fruitful in all that can gratify his appetite or his taste. The last and greatest victory of all is over the wild animals, which are included under the class of creepers that are prone in their posture, and move in a creeping attitude over the land. The primeval and prominent objects of human sway are here brought forward after the manner of Scripture. But there is not an object within the ken of man which he does not aim at making subservient to his purposes. He has made the sea his highway to the ends of the earth, the stars his pilots on the pathless ocean, the sun his bleacher and painter, the bowels of the earth the treasury from which he draws his precious and useful metals and much of his fuel, the steam his motive power, and the lightning his messenger. These are proofs of the evergrowing sway of man.
Created. - Man in his essential part, the image of God in him, was entirely a new creation. We discern here two stages in his creation. The general fact is stated in the first clause of the verse, and then the two particulars. "In the image of God created he him." This is the primary act, in which his relation to his Maker is made prominent. In this his original state he is actually one, as God in whose image he is made is one. "Male and female created he them." This is the second act or step in his formation. He is now no longer one, but two, - the male and the female. His adaptation to be the head of a race is hereby completed. This second stage in the existence of man is more circumstantially described hereafter Gen 2:21-25.
The divine blessing is now pronounced upon man. It differs from that of the lower animals chiefly in the element of supremacy. Power is presumed to belong to man's nature, according to the counsel of the Maker's will Gen 1:26. But without a special permission he cannot exercise any lawful authority. For the other creatures are as independent of him as he is of them. As creatures he and they are on an equal footing, and have no natural fight either over the other. Hence, it is necessary that he should receive from high heaven a formal charter of right over the things that were made for man. He is therefore authorized, by the word of the Creator, to exercise his power in subduing the earth and ruling over the animal kingdom. This is the meet sequel of his being created in the image of God. Being formed for dominion, the earth and its various products and inhabitants are assigned to him for the display of his powers. The subduing and ruling refer not to the mere supply of his natural needs, for which provision is made in the following verse, but to the accomplishment of his various purposes of science and beneficence, whether towards the inferior animals or his own race. It is the part of intellectual and moral reason to employ power for the ends of general no less than personal good. The sway of man ought to be beneficent.
Gen 1:29, Gen 1:30
Every herb bearing seed and tree bearing fruit is granted to man for his sustenance. With our habits it may seem a matter of course that each should at once appropriate what he needs of things at his hand. But in the beginning of existence it could not be so. Of two things proceeding from the same creative hand neither has any original or inherent right to interfere in any way whatever with the other. The absolute right to each lies in the Creator alone. The one, it is true, may need the other to support its life, as fruit is needful to man. And therefore the just Creator cannot make one creature dependent for subsistence on another without granting to it the use of that other. But this is a matter between Creator and creature, not by any means between creature and creature. Hence, it was necessary to the rightful adjustment of things, whenever a rational creature was ushered into the world, that the Creator should give an express permission to that creature to partake of the fruits of the earth. And in harmony with this view we shall hereafter find an exception made to this general grant Gen 2:17. Thus, we perceive, the necessity of this formal grant of the use of certain creatures to moral and responsible man lies deep in the nature of things. And the sacred writer here hands down to us from the mists of a hoary antiquity the primitive deed of conveyance, which lies at the foundation of the the common property of man in the earth, and all that it contains.
The whole vegetable world is assigned to the animals for food. In the terms of the original grant the herb bearing seed and the tree bearing fruit are especially allotted to man, because the grain and the fruit were edible by man without much preparation. As usual in Scripture the chief parts are put for the whole, and accordingly this specification of the ordinary and the obvious covers the general principle that whatever part of the vegetable kingdom is convertible into food by the ingenuity of man is free for his use. It is plain that a vegetable diet alone is expressly conceded to man in this original conveyance, and it is probable that this alone was designed for him in the state in which he was created. But we must bear in mind that he was constituted master of the animal as well as of the vegetable world; and we cannot positively affirm that his dominion did not involve the use of them for food.
The whole of the grasses and the green parts or leaves of the herbage are distributed among the inferior animals for food. Here, again, the common and prominent kind of sustenance only is specified. There are some animals that greedily devour the fruits of trees and the grain produced by the various herbs; and there are others that derive the most of their subsistence from preying on the smaller and weaker kinds of animals. Still, the main substance of the means of animal life, and the ultimate supply of the whole of it, are derived from the plant. Even this general statement is not to be received without exception, as there are certain lower descriptions of animals that derive sustenance even from the mineral world. But this brief narrative of things notes only the few palpable facts, leaving the details to the experience and judgment of the reader.
Here we have the general review and approval of everything God had made, at the close of the six days' work of creation. Man, as well as other things, was very good when he came from his Maker's hand; but good as yet untried, and therefore good in capacity rather than in victory over temptation. It remains yet to be seen whether he will be good in act and habit.
This completes, then, the restoration of that order and fullness the absence of which is described in the second verse. The account of the six days' work, therefore, is the counterpart of that verse. The six days fall into two threes, corresponding to each other in the course of events. The first and fourth days refer principally to the darkness on the face of the deep; the second and fifth to the disorder and emptiness of the aerial and aqueous elements; and the third and sixth to the similar condition of the land. Again, the first three days refer to a lower, the second three to a higher order of things. On the first the darkness on the face of the earth is removed; on the fourth that on the face of the sky. On the second the water is distributed above and below the expanse; on the fifth the living natives of these regions are called into being. On the third the plants rooted in the soil are made; on the sixth the animals that move freely over it are brought into existence.
This chapter shows the folly and sin of the worship of light, of sun, moon, or star, of air or water, of plant, of fish or fowl, of earth, of cattle, creeping thing or wild beast, or, finally, of man himself; as all these are but the creatures of the one Eternal Spirit, who, as the Creator of all, is alone to be worshipped by his intelligent creatures.
This chapter is also to be read with wonder and adoration by man; as he finds himself to be constituted lord of the earth, next in rank under the Creator of all, formed in the image of his Maker, and therefore capable not only of studying the works of nature, but of contemplating and reverently communing with the Author of nature.
In closing the interpretation of this chapter, it is proper to refer to certain first principles of hermeneutical science. First, that interpretation only is valid which is true to the meaning of the author. The very first rule on which the interpreter is bound to proceed is to assign to each word the meaning it commonly bore in the time of the writer. This is the prime key to the works of every ancient author, if we can only discover it. The next is to give a consistent meaning to the whole of that which was composed at one time or in one place by the author. The presumption is that there was a reasonable consistency of thought in his mind during one effort of composition. A third rule is to employ faithfully and discreetly whatever we can learn concerning the time, place, and other circumstances of the author to the elucidation of his meaning.
And, in the second place, the interpretation now given claims acceptance on the ground of its internal and external consistency with truth. First, It exhibits the consistency of the whole narrative in itself. It acknowledges the narrative character of the first verse. It assigns an essential significance to the words, "the heavens," in that verse. It attributes to the second verse a prominent place and function in the arrangement of the record. It places the special creative work of the six days in due subordination to the absolute creation recorded in the first verse. It gathers information from the primitive meanings of the names that are given to certain objects, and notices the subsequent development of these meanings. It accounts for the manifestation of light on the first day, and of the luminaries of heaven on the fourth, and traces the orderly steps of a majestic climax throughout the narrative. It is in harmony with the usage of speech as far as it can be known to us at the present day. It assigns to the words "heavens," "earth," "expanse," "day," no greater latitude of meaning than was then customary. It allows for the diversity of phraseology employed in describing the acts of creative power. It sedulously refrains from importing modern notions into the narrative.
Second, the narrative thus interpreted is in striking harmony with the dictates of reason and the axioms of philosophy concerning the essence of God and the nature of man. On this it is unnecessary to dwell.
Third, it is equally consistent with human science. It substantially accords with the present state of astronomical science. It recognizes, as far as can be expected, the relative importance of the heavens and the earth, the existence of the heavenly bodies from the beginning of time, the total and then the partial absence of light from the face of the deep, as the local result of physical causes. It allows, also, if it were necessary, between the original creation, recorded in the first verse, and the state of things described in the second, the interval of time required for the light of the most distant discoverable star to reach the earth. No such interval, however, could be absolutely necessary, as the Creator could as easily establish the luminous connection of the different orbs of heaven as summon into being the element of light itself.
Fourth, it is also in harmony with the elementary facts of geological knowledge. The land, as understood by the ancient author, may be limited to that portion of the earth's surface which was known to antediluvian man. The elevation of an extensive tract of land, the subsidence of the overlying waters into the comparative hollows, the clarifying of the atmosphere, the creation of a fresh supply of plants and animals on the newly-formed continent, compose a series of changes which meet the geologist again and again in prosecuting his researches into the bowels of the earth. What part of the land was submerged when the new soil emerged from the waters, how far the shock of the plutonic or volcanic forces may have been felt, whether the alteration of level extended to the whole solid crust of the earth, or only to a certain region surrounding the cradle of mankind, the record before us does not determine. It merely describes in a few graphic touches, that are strikingly true to nature, the last of those geologic changes which our globe has undergone.
Fifth, it is in keeping, as far as it goes, with the facts of botany, zoology, and ethnology.
Sixth, it agrees with the cosmogonies of all nations, so far as these are founded upon a genuine tradition and not upon the mere conjectures of a lively fancy.
Finally, it has the singular and superlative merit of drawing the diurnal scenes of that creation to which our race owes its origin in the simple language of common life, and presenting each transcendent change as it would appear to an ordinary spectator standing on the earth. It was thus sufficiently intelligible to primeval man, and remains to this day intelligible to us, as soon as we divest ourselves of the narrowing preconceptions of our modern civilization.