November 18, 2006

Genesis 1:2-5 Sermon Notes

Category: Bible - OT - Genesis :: Permalink

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
Now the earth was unstructured and empty and darkness was on the face of the deep.
And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light.”
And there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good.
And God separated between the light and the darkness.
And God called the light “Day” and the darkness he called “Night.”
And it was dusk and it was dawn: one day (Genesis 1:1-5).

The Bible is all about development and maturation and progress. God created the heavens and the earth and from then on the heavens serve as the blueprint for earth as God works progressively, through history, so that His name is hallowed, His kingdom comes, and His will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

The first day started with God creating heaven first and then earth. But it continues as God takes hold of the world by His Word and Spirit and begins to work with it to make it more like heaven. The first day starts with the brightness of heaven and the darkness of earth. But it moves from darkness to light.

And that first day is foundational for all the other days. It sets the pattern of what a day is. And this day sheds light on our days and the meaning of the constant cycle of day and night, night and day, in which we live.These verses are foundational, not just for this chapter but for the whole of history, for the whole of our lives. They’re foundational for our understanding of the world and of God’s work in it. What is God doing in history? He’s doing what He did on this first day. He’s moving things from darkness to light by His Word and Spirit.


“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” That’s where Genesis 1 starts and that’s almost all we’re told about heaven here. Heaven doesn’t need developing.

But the earth does. Verse 2 tells us what the earth was like when God first created it: “Now the earth “was unstructured and empty and darkness was on the face of the deep.”

That’s not how God intended the world to be forever. But that’s exactly how He wanted it at the beginning. God created the world as a fixer-upper.

Now we have to understand something about the shape the earth was in. Sometimes people say that the world was in chaos and then God worked to bring order out of chaos. But that isn’t really what Genesis is saying. It’s not as if the earth was completely unstructured, as if it was a bunch of elements all jumbled up or as if it was just a shapeless blob of atoms. The world had some structure. From the rest of the story, we learn that there was water — the deep — all over the surface of the earth, covering everything, and there was solid ground underneath it.

We hear the same thing in Psalm 104:5-6:

You who laid the foundations of the earth,
So that it should not be moved forever,
You covered it with the deep as with a garment;
The waters stood above the mountains.

There were already “foundations of the earth” which wouldn’t be destroyed in all the changes that would take place. This isn’t total chaos. But it also isn’t the finished product.Genesis uses two words here, two words that rhyme in Hebrew: tohu-wabohu. The first word, tohu, has to do with formlessness. It’s used for a trackless wilderness where there’s no path or for whirling smoke that just goes all over the place. There’s no set structure to it. The second word, bohu, has to do with emptiness, with a lack of people and animals.

The world has some structure but it isn’t the finished structure that God wants. The world is empty: there are no people, no animals. And the world is dark. The deep is dark and there’s darkness on the face of it.

Now why did God create the world like that? Because He intends to work on it, to mature it, to develop it. He starts with this beginning in order to work toward the ending.

And that’s important for us to understand, not only when we look at Genesis 1 but when we look at our lives and the history of the world around us. The beginning isn’t the finished product. Whatever we’re going through right now, our current situation isn’t the way it‘s always going to be. God is working. He’s developing things. He’s moving things forward toward His goal.

And He does it by His Spirit. He created the world in this unfinished way, verse 2 says, “but the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” Creation doesn’t exist for a moment apart from God’s Spirit. Already at the beginning, the Spirit was there, proceeding from God the Father into the world. And what’s He doing there? He’s hovering.

That word that shows up later on in the Bible to describe how God cared for His people Israel in the wilderness. Deuteronomy 32:10-12:

He found him in a desert land,
And in the wasteland, a howling wilderness;
He encircled him, He instructed him,
He kept him as the apple of His eye.
As an eagle stirs up its nest,
Hovers over its young,
Spreading out its wings, taking them up,
Carrying them on its wings,
So Yahweh alone led him,
And there was no foreign god with him.

That word “wasteland” is the word tohu, the same word we’ve translated “unstructured” or “formless” here. And once again we hear about Yahweh hovering, the way an eagle hovers over its young. God works in patterns. Just as He formed the world by having His Spirit hover over it, He also formed and nurtured and cared for Israel by having His Spirit hover over His people.What did that look like? It looked like a pillar of smoke and fire.

That’s the image we ought to have when we think of the Spirit’s presence with Israel. That pillar of smoke and fire moved into the tabernacle when Moses made it. It filled the Temple that Solomon built. It’s the cloud of glory that Ezekiel would later see, the cloud in which Yahweh Himself was enthroned, a replica of heaven revealed in the midst of our earth.

Here in verse 2, there’s no fire, no glory, no light. But the same Spirit was there, hovering like a bird, as He was at the Exodus to bring God’s new creation to its destination. He was there, sent to impress heaven’s pattern on the earth. He was there to overcome the “problems” God built into earth from the beginning, to give light, to structure the world, and to fill it.

There are people who talk about the Spirit as if the Spirit had everything to do with spontaneity, as if the Spirit is somehow stifled by organization or by a carefully prepared service. The Spirit is the opposite of “organized religion.”

But that isn’t what we find here. It’s true that the Spirit doesn’t fit into the boxes we might create for Him. He’s mysterious and He works in ways we can’t figure out. But when He works, He works to create order. He isn’t a random, spontaneous bunch of explosions. He’s a Person who fashions things in beauty and glory.

That’s how the Spirit works in the Bible. When Moses brought down the pattern for the Tabernacle from heaven, the Spirit came upon Bezalel and empowered him to be the craftsman who would oversee the project and make a house for God.

And the Spirit is the original wise craftsman here, taking God’s unfinished creation and ordering it and structuring it and making it into a temple, a house in which God will live with us.

And so the Spirit is present all through these days of creation moving the earth from glory to glory. But that isn’t the end of His work. He hovers over Israel in the wilderness to guide them to the Promised Land. He fills prophets and craftsmen. He overshadows Mary so that she gives birth to God’s Son. He descends on Jesus as His baptism.

Listen to the way Matthew describes it. Matthew 3:16:

When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him.

Here we have the waters again and the Spirit of God, like a bird, hovering over the new creation, but not just hovering: landing. We think of Jesus as the Last Adam, and that’s correct. But here we see that Jesus is not just the last Adam. He is the new creation.And in Him, we are also that new creation. Just as He descended on the tabernacle and the Temple, the Spirit also descends on the church at Pentecost and hovers over His people in flames of fire, marking them as His new creation, His new temple.

And you are that church. You are God’s new creation in Christ. You are the temple of the Spirit. And as He was present at the beginning in power, He’s also at work in you to move you and to move your world from glory to glory until the work is done and the whole world — and you yourselves — are His temple, the house of God with man.


So what’s the first step of that transformation? Genesis tells us that the first thing God dealt with was the darkness. Verse 3: “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” God simply commands and it happens. He created the light simply by His Word.

That’s why the apostle John begins his Gospel by proclaiming the Word who was with God in the beginning, the Word who is God, the Word by whom all things were created, the Word who is the Light that shines in the darkness, the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus is the Word God spoke at the beginning when He called light out of darkness.

The light came about because God spoke the Word. But where did the light come from? Light implies transmission from some source. You can hold something in front of the light and make shadows with it. But where did the light come from?

Genesis doesn’t tell us explicitly, but in Psalm 104, the creation psalm, we sing that God covers Himself with light as a garment. And that’s what He’s doing here. Just as He covered Himself with His Glory-Cloud in the wilderness, the cloud that represents the Spirit, so here the Spirit is hovering over the waters and God’s light, the light of the Word, is shining from Him.

This is a glimpse of heaven’s light, a glimpse of God’s own light. Already now, the Word and Spirit together are making the earth more and more like heaven. Which means they’re making the world more and more a reflection of who God is.

Light reflects God’s character . In 1 John 1:5 we read, “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” God Himself is light, and this light here is a created revelation of Him.

All the way through the Bible, we’re going to hear about light. There are two things in the Bible that are particularly associated with glory. One is weight. The word for “glory” is a word that means “heaviness.” Part of the glory of gold is that it’s heavier than most other metals. But the other thing about gold, the other thing about glory, is that glory involves light.

Hold up a rock to the sun and what happens. A little bit of light reflects from it. But now hold up a gem and look at it and you’ll see the way it catches the light. A gem is glorified rock.

That’s how the Bible wants us to look at things. Water catches the light, but it doesn’t hold it quite the way that wine does. Wine is glorified water. You can see the light shining out in a glorious way from the midst of it.

It’s the same with clothes. Dark drab clothes hold in the light. But bright clothes are glorious and they make us shine.

Glory involves light and light is a revelation of God. Every time you see light, you see something of the glory of God. You’re seeing a creaturely reflection of His glory. And God’s goal is to fill this world with His glory, with His light. He starts here on the first day by calling out and His voice vibrates into the earth to command light to appear in the darkness.

And when the day comes, when light dawns, it’s the time for judgment. God sees the light and He judges it . Seeing the Bible is associated with judgment. Eyes are associated with judgment. Seven times God is going see that things are good here in Genesis 1 and that may be why Revelation speaks about God’s seven eyes which are the seven Spirits of God. God’s Spirit hovers over creation and His eyes go through all of creation and they evaluate what they see.

And here God evaluates the light and pronounces it good. What does it mean that light is good? For God, the light and the darkness are both alike. He doesn’t need to turn on the light in order to see. But we do. And when God pronounces light good here, He’s speaking in terms of His plan for us. Even before we was created, God was working to make the world good for us.

But God doesn’t pronounce the darkness good. He doesn’t evaluate the darkness at all. It’s not that the darkness itself is evil. God created it and everything He made was very good. But the light is better.

That’s the primary contrast here between darkness and light. It’s the contrast between old and new, between what was once good and what is now better. It’s only later on, when sin comes into the world, that darkness gets associated with sin because sin is our old situation, our basic condition. Sin is the darkness into which we need God’s light to shine.

In 1 Peter 2, Peter says that God “called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” Paul talks in 2 Corinthians 4 about how God “who commanded the light to shine out of darkness … has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

And that salvation, that move from darkness to light, changes us so that we become light ourselves. In 1 Thessalonians 5 Paul contrasts us as the sons of the light with others who are of the night and of darkness and walk in darkness.

In Ephesians 5:8, Paul says to the Ephesians and to us, “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light … and have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness.” John says the same thing: “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” and therefore we are to “walk in the light as He is in the light” (1 John 1:5-7).

God is Light. Jesus is the light of the world. His Spirit gives light. And He has given light to us, drawn us into His light, restored us so that we also now in Christ reflect God’s light in the midst of darkness.


God creates light as a revelation of Himself. He pronounces it good. And then it’s light all the time, right? No. Why not? Because God has a plan for the darkness.

That’s what it means when it says that after creating the light and calling it good, God separated the light from the darkness. It means that God structures things so that both darkness and light have their place. We see that in the next verse, verse 5, where God names the light and the darkness: “And God called the light Day and the darkness He called Night.”

Naming in the Bible implies authority. Adam has dominion over the animals and that’s demonstrated when he names the animals. But God’s dominion comes first. God names things first and Adam only imitates God as God’s image and follower.

Naming implies authority. But naming also implies mission for the person named. Whenever God names someone in the Bible, He’s appointing that person to a special task or describing something of that person’s calling. That’s true when God changes Abram’s name to Abraham. It’s true when Jesus calls Simon “Peter,” meaning Rock. And it’s true here.

God names the light and the darkness. By separating them, He isn’t simply tearing them apart. He’s distinguishing them and giving each of them a role to play.

There‘s a kind of separation we need in a world full of sin. We need the sort of separation that happened when God sent darkness as a plague to Egypt but gave light to His people, Israel. We need God to call people out of darkness and make them distinct. That separation goes on through history until God finally casts the wicked into darkness forever.

That’s what’s going to happen with this separation symbolism later on in the Bible because of the presence of sin. But the separation of light and darkness isn’t simply or even basically a picture of the separation of sin and righteousness, of the wicked and God’s people.

We touched on this earlier and now we need to think about it some more. The distinction between darkness and light is first of all the distinction between earlier and later, between the present inferior situation and the better situation that God is bringing about by His Word and Spirit. That includes the progress from sin to salvation, but it’s bigger than that.

God creates the world dark and then calls forth light. He separates the light and the darkness, giving them each their appointed place. He names the light Day. So the first meaning of the word “Day” is Light-time. Day is the 12 hours or so that’s light. But then we hear that there was evening and morning, one day. And here, “day” means the whole 24-hour period.

Do you see what’s happened? The name for light-time gets applied to the whole thing, including the 12 hours or so of dark-time, the time called “Night.” Why?

Because light-time is going to be man’s primary time of activity. Because by calling the whole day by the name of the Light that reveals God‘s glory, the whole day is identified as a revelation of God’s glory. But more than that, it’s because the whole package — dark-time and light-time, night and day — is heading in a certain direction, in the direction of light.

There’s darkness and then there’s light. There’s evening and then there’s morning. That is history in a nutshell. History moves from glory to glory, from what’s relatively dark to what’s relatively light until the full light dawns.

That’s how the Bible portrays things. In a sense, the whole Old Covenant was a time of darkness compared to the light of the New Covenant.

When Malachi calls Jesus the “Sun of righteousness” who “shall arise with healing in His wings,” he’s saying that everything before His coming was night. He doesn’t mean that everything was sinful. But it was dark compared to the way it is now that Christ has come.

History is moving from darkness to light. And that’s still true in spite of sin. Sin makes things dark, but God keeps working to bring His salvation, to call people out of darkness, to spread His light until the whole earth is full of His glory.

That’s our hope. That’s God’s promise, the promise tucked into these verses in Genesis 1 as they reveal God’s purpose in history. That’s what Christ is accomplishing. His coming, His death in darkness, His resurrection in glory mark the beginning of the light-time, the time when God’s glory fills the earth.

For now, night still follows day. There’s light for a while and then darkness comes again. That’s the pattern God established here in Genesis 1: about 12 hours of light and then darkness when we can rest, knowing that He rules the day and He’ll bring about light again.

But that’s also our comfort when other forms of darkness come. You face the darkness of suffering, the long dark night of the soul when you’re crying out to God and He doesn’t seem to be answering and your suffering just goes on and on. His promise is that night time leads to day, darkness is followed by light for those who trust Him.

There are periods in history where things are dark, where people fight against the work of the Spirit and try to turn back His work to go back to darkness again. But your comfort is that Jesus is the Light who cannot be overpowered and His light will shine out again.

How do you know that? Because on the cross He bore the curse of darkness, the removal of God’s very first gift, so that you could have God’s light forever.

Already now God’s light is shining in our hearts, giving us the knowledge of Jesus Christ, the Light of the world. The Spirit who hovered over creation has come to us and He’s working in us and in our world to bring us to our destination. And that destination is unending light.

That’s how John describes the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21.23-27: “The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light … [and] there shall be no night there.”

In the end, the darkness of sin will be gone. The relative darkness of the past glories will be swallowed up in the full light of God’s glory. And we will walk in that light. That’s where history is heading. That’s where Christ, by His Spirit, is leading us, as darkness is followed by glorious light, day after day.

[Thanks to Jim Jordan and Tim Gallant for their insights into this passage.]



Posted by John Barach @ 2:08 pm | Discuss (0)

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