Have you ever wondered what type of book Genesis is?
Well, yes. It is a book of the Bible, for sure – God-breathed, truthful, and trustworthy. But I mean what type of book Genesis is?
Well, unlike notions floating around today, Genesis is not a dry history textbook nor is it a stoic science textbook. It is not fantastical myth, not ancient legend, not even purely a poem. It is certainly not a love letter nor even the beginning of one. Genesis, rather, is a narrative.
But Genesis is not just any narrative. It is a theological narrative, communicating something great about God and something crucial to His plan of redemption. More, Genesis is poetic at times. It is not a poem, but it is a beautifully written narrative with portions of great pattern, repetition, and imagery. And Genesis, while no textbook, does lay the necessary foundation of science and history. But encapsulating all of these, we can say that Genesis is, basically, a narrative.
So, I’d like to take us to the very beginning of the Genesis narrative – let’s see if we can better understand what the narrative of the rest of Scripture says, and better understand the rest of Genesis itself, and better understand reality and the world around us, by studying and knowing what happens at the beginning of the story. Really good books have good beginnings; they also have very important beginnings. Imagine how good and important is the beginning of the greatest narrative in existence! Let us behold a glimpse of the glory of the Author in the opening of Genesis.
When we read of God creating the world in Genesis 1, we are reading a very beautiful and poetic portion of Scripture. I want to be clear on something: just because this is poetic does not mean this is not true. A lot of people, for some reason, decide that Genesis 1 is poetry and therefore not an accurate description of how the world came to be. This is sad, because one of the profound beauties of Genesis 1 is that it is poetic, theological, and historically true all at once! We need not jettison any of these aspects of God’s word here. In fact, the poetry of Genesis 1 helps us better see some of its theology and better remember its history.
When God creates the world, there are two “parts” of His creating: Days 1-3 and Days 4-6. We might lay out the days of creation in two columns and begin recalling what God created each day:
Day 1: Day and night Day 4: Sun, moon, and stars
Day 2: Sky and sea Day 5
Day 3: Land and plants Day 6
We stop at day 4 because, once we get here, we notice something interesting. What was the sun supposed to do? Rule the day. And the moon? Rule the night. Where have we seen day and night before? In our chart above, we just move our finger directly left and voila! On day 1, God created day and night! We see that on day 4, God is filling the realms of day and night with created heavenly bodies. With that in mind, we wonder if God is going to fill the sky, the sea, and the land with creation now:
Day 1: Day and night Day 4: Sun, moon, and stars
Day 2: Sky and sea Day 5: Birds and water creatures
Day 3: Land and plants Day 6: Land creatures and man
And that’s exactly what happens! On day 5, which corresponds to day 2, God fills the sky with birds and the sea with water creatures. On day 6, the counterpart to day 3, God fill the land with creeping animals and man himself. God is filling the realms of His creation with life!
This pattern is quite easy to remember. Really, all you have to remember is what God made on days 1, 2, and 3, and then remember that days 4, 5, and 6 fill those first days. The sun doesn’t live in the ocean and cows don’t live in the sky! Thus, by process of elimination, we’re left with birds (which do live in the sky) and water creatures (which do live in the ocean) being created on day 5, since the sky and the ocean were made on day 2. In this way, the pattern helps us recall the historical truth of Genesis 1 with what God created each day.
This pattern, I would also argue to you, is quite poetic. It is beautiful. Add to it the way Scripture talks about creation – there is the repetition of “And God said” and “There was evening and there was morning, the _____ day” and “God saw that it was good.” There is the imagery waters being separated from one another, a burst of plant life erupting from the ground, bright gaseous balls flaming into existence, swarming and teeming things with wings or fins, herds of livestock and stampedes of wild animals… And then there’s the imagery of light and darkness, waters and separated waters, land and trees, all of which will resurface in the Old Testament poetry, prophets, and New Testament writings!
But part of the beauty of this poetic text is how the repetition, imagery, and pattern help us better know God.
Let’s just think, for a moment, on how Genesis 1 introduces God Himself to us. We learn, first of all, that God is the eternal Creator. That God existed “in the beginning” and that He created the “heavens and the earth” clearly indicates this. But there’s more.
God is orderly. Ask yourself this: “Would a chaotic or messy God create the world in such a patterned way?” No! Even in His creation of the world, God not only puts order into the world, but fashions it so that Days 4-6 match Days 1-3. This is satisfying symmetry. Let us not be deceived into thinking God understands disorder or promotes unruliness. Based on what we learn in Genesis 1, we now expect that Scripture itself will be logical and orderly and we anticipate that God’s expectations of us will be that we conduct ourselves in an orderly fashion!
God is good. This is far deeper than saying it’s a “good day” with “good feelings” – this is true goodness and beauty that originate and find definition in God Himself! Anything “good” and “beautiful” comes from Him (in Hebrew, the word for “good” can also be translated “beautiful”). In the unfolding text of Scripture, we can never ascribe evil, bad, or even “not-good” actions to God – He is always good and always does good. We believe, then, that no matter how rocky or difficult things will get in the story, God will be good and work everything according to His own good will.
God is life. Just as good fruit cannot come from a bad tree, so also living branches do not grow on dead trees. We see that God does not just create space and realm (day, night, sky, sea, land) in the world; He must fill these spaces with life, because He Himself is life! From God comes all life and from Him must come all life. Reading this, we now expect that anything living, in Scripture and history, is going to be given its life from God. This is true of trees, animals, babies, and dead, sinful hearts. Life only comes from God, and apart from Him, there is no life at all.
God is Sovereign. Sovereign is capitalized because I don’t just mean that God is very powerful (although He is all-powerful). I mean that God is the Sovereign, the autonomous Ruler of the cosmos. He is King and Lord and Possessor of everything – He made it, after all! This is important because this tells us that God makes the rules. God defines how His creation must operate. Trees do not choose which fruit they can bear; God defines that they bear according to their kind. Animals do not choose where they live; God defines which animal fills which aspect of creation. Man does not choose how he conducts himself; God defines what is good and evil, what is right and wrong, what is leading to life and what is leading to death. Even though man is made in God’s image, man doesn’t even share this right to define good and evil. God alone has this authority as the Sovereign! If we do not fully believe this, we will not fully understand why man’s disobedience in Genesis 3 is so monstrous.
If we don’t fully grasp God’s orderliness, goodness, life, or Sovereign authority from Genesis 1, we will have a big piece of the story missing. Imagine reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and not fully understanding that Lucy is a human or that Aslan is a lion. Or think about trying to grasp Pinocchio if you thought Pinocchio was a little boy from the very beginning and not a puppet. These stories wouldn’t make much sense. How much more will Scripture make little sense if we don’t fully understand what the very first part of the story communicates about the main character, the Divine Author, the great Cause and Mover!
The poetic beauty of Genesis 1 lays the theological foundation for understanding for the rest of Scripture. It is historically true, symmetrically patterned, and spiritually profound. But there is more! We have yet to consider what Genesis 1-2 say about man and creation.