Brothers and sisters, Genesis 1:1-5 is our Old Testament reading for today. 2 Corinthians 4:1-6 is our New Testament reading. We will come to focus upon verse 2 of Genesis 1 in the sermon today. Hear now the word of God.
Old Testament Reading: Genesis 1:1-5
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over 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 that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” (Genesis 1:1–5, ESV)
New Testament Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:1–6
“Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light 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.” (2 Corinthians 4:1–6, ESV)
Genesis 1:2 describes to us the condition of the earthly realm as it was immediately following God’s act of absolute creation which was described in Genesis 1:1 and prior to God’s forming of that realm in the world as we know it as described in verses 3 and following.
Verse 1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Verse 2: The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” Verse 3: “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.’” Verse 6: “And God said, ‘Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’” Verse 9: “And God said, ‘Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’” Etc., etc.
So God did at first call into existence the heavenly invisible realm, along with the earthly physical realm, and the earthly physical realm was at first without form and void, darkness was over the face of the deep, andthe Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And after this God did shape, form and fashion the earthly realm into the world as we know it – a place suitable for the maintenance of life and a habitation suitable for man.
In The Beginning God Created Heaven
Remember that the “heavens” of verse 1 refers, not to the place where the birds fly, nor to the place where the stars reside, but to, what Paul refers to as, the third heaven. It is the realm where God’s glory is now manifest, where the elect angels stand before the throne of God to sing him praise, along with the souls of the saints who, having departed from this world, do now enjoy the presence of the Lord as they await the consummation of all things.
I realize that this is a repeat of what was said in the sermon I preached three weeks ago on Genesis 1:1, but it is worth repeating. In the beginning God created two realms: the spiritual realm, which is typically invisible to us, is called heaven. And the material world which we encounter with our senses is called earth. This acknowledgment of and distinction between heaven and earth is so fundamental to a Christian worldview, it would be foolish to rush through the establishment of it.
That the scriptures teach the existence of a spiritual realm, which is typically invisible to us, is undeniable. Many examples could be presented from the scriptures where God gives some person, or group of people, a glimpse of this heavenly realm. For now it will suffice to remind you of our recent study of the book of Revelation. Remember how the visions shown to John shifted continuously between the earthly realm and the heavenly realm. In one moment he would say, “And I saw a beast rising out of the sea…” (Revelation 13:1, ESV), or “I saw another beast rising out of the earth…” (Revelation 13:11, ESV). And in the next moment we would hear him say, “Then I saw heaven opened” (Revelation 19:11, ESV), or “I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne” (Revelation 6:9, ESV). John was one of those who was shown something of the heavenly realities which typically lie beyond our sense perception.
These two realms – the heavenly, and the earthly – are mentioned continuously throughout the pages of Holy Scripture. “Thus says the Lord: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool…” (Isaiah 66:1, ESV). Friends, our worldview is not biblical – certainly it is not mature – if we are not continuously mindful of the heavenly realm that God made in the beginning. In the beginning God created the heavensand the earth. The heavensand the earth remain. And at the end of timeheaven and earth will become one when God makes all things new. The Christian is to live being ever mindful, not only of the earth (which we see with our natural eyes), but also of heaven (which we can see only with eyes of faith). Therefore, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19–21, ESV).
That the scriptures teach that there is a heavenly, spiritual and invisible realm (invisible to us) cannot be denied.
But when was this realm made? It was created by God in the beginning.
When were the angels made who reside there? They were created by God in the beginning.
“In the beginning, God created the heavensand the earth.” (Genesis 1:1, ESV)
This is confirmed by the Apostle Paul. When he wrote concerning the creation he said, “For by him [that is Christ, the eternal Word of God come in the flesh] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible,whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16–17, ESV). Paul interprets heaven as the spiritual realm that is invisible to us, and earth as the physical realm that does correspond to our natural senses.
Consider also how God’s creation of heaven and earth are spoken of in Nehemiah 9:6. There the people give praise to God, saying, “You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you” (Nehemiah 9:6, ESV). Do you hear it? Clearly Nehemiah 9:6 interprets “heaven” of Genesis 1:1 as being the “heaven of heavens”. It is the place where the host, or army, of heaven dwells. That is to say, the angels. They are the ones who worship and serve God forever and ever.
And also consider that Job 38 teaches that the angles of God were present to witness the creation of the world from their heavenly vantage point. It is here in this passage that God questions Job, saying, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4–7, ESV). God is here speaking of the creation, or formation of the earth. And he asks Job, “Where were you” when I did all of this? God was reminding Job that he was God the Creator, and that Job was but a creature. Job was not there to witness the formation of the earth. Indeed, no man was there. Man would not be created until the sixth day, as we will see. But who was there to see? Of course God was there! But so too were there angels. “The morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy”, when they witness God’s act of creation.
What did God do in the beginning? He created the heavenly realm, and also the earthly realm. This is why in Isaiah 37:16 God is called the “Lord of hosts [and the] God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth” (Isaiah 37:16, ESV).
Friends, I know that I have been repetitive, but it is needed. This interpretation that I have given you of Genesis 1:1 is uncommon today. The older commentators tend to say what I have just said, and the better of the more modern commentators agree, but not many. And I am afraid that Christians today often go on unaware of the heavenly realm. We are often times worldly minded, fixated upon this things of this earth, consumed with the visible, the physical and the tangible. But the Holy Scriptures begin by establishing that in the beginning God created the heavensand the earth.
In The Beginning God Created The Earth
Notice how quickly the text comes to focus upon the earthly realm. No detail at all is provided concerning the creation of the heavenly realm. We are simply told that God created it in the beginning. But some detail will be given concerning the formation of the earth.
In verse 2 we read, “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2, ESV). What follows will be a description of God bringing the earth (the universe) into the form that it has today. There is light and there is darkness. There is land and there is sea. There is an atmosphere for us to breath. These realms are all governed by rulers: the sun, moon and stars; fish and birds; land animals with man as supreme. This is the world as we know it.
But do you see that in verse 2 it is revealed to us that earth was “without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2, ESV). In other words when God created the earthly realm he did not at first create it complete and fully formed, suitable for the sustenance of life. It was incomplete, unformed, and uninhabitable.
A question we might ask is, how long did the world exist in this incomplete, unformed, and uninhabitable state?
Some very good commentators say that it is impossible to know.
But in order to hold this position – the position that the earth may have existed for a long time in this formless, void, and dark state – one must separate verse 2 from verses 3 through 5, which say, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day” (Genesis 1:3–5, ESV).
Put differently, if we are to believe that the earth existed for a long time, “without form and void, [with] darkness… over the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God… hovering over the face of the waters”, then day one of creation must begin verse 3 and the words, “And God said, ‘Let there be light’” (Genesis 1:3, ESV).
In others words, in order to hold the view that the stuff of the universe might be very, very old, but that the earth as we know it in it’s present form is relatively young, one must separate the act of absolute creation that is described in verse 1 from the act of formative creation that is described in verses 3 and following. Only then can we hold to the belief that the stuff of the universe is old, whereas the form of it is relatively young.
I’ve agonized a bit over this question. And it is my opinion that there is no reason at all to separate verse 3 through 5 from verses 1 and 2. Put differently, the text gives us no reason to separate the act of absolute creation that is described in verse 1 from the act of formative creation that is described in verses 3 and following. In fact, the scriptures give us good reason to believe that God did in fact begin his creative work and finish his creative work in the space of six days, and all very good.
I’ve mentioned that Genesis 1:1 through 2:3 make up the first section of the book of Genesis. It is the introduction, or prologue, to the book of Genesis. And notice how this section concludes. It does not leave off verses 1 and 2 and treat them as separate, but comes back to them to wrap everything up. The conclusion includes verses 1 and 2 in the days of creation when it is says, “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation” (Genesis 2:1–3, ESV). Genesis 2:1-3 certainly gives the impression that God did all of his creative work in six days. This also includes the absolute, primary, and out-of-nothing (ex-nihilo) creation of Genesis 1:1.
Notice that this is also the way the subsequent revelation speaks of the days of creation. Later biblical passages look back upon creation and say that God made the heavens and the earth in six days. In Exodus 31:16 we read, “Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed’” (Exodus 31:16–17, ESV).
It is my view that all of Genesis 1:1-5 should be viewed as having been accomplished on the first day of creation. God, on the first day, spoke the heavenly realm and the earthly into to existence out of nothing. The earthly realm was at first incomplete and uninhabitable. And then God began the process of bringing it into its present form by calling light into existence, and separating the light from the darkness. The first day.
I am well aware of the fact this is not the popular view today. There are many other interpretations of Genesis 1:1-3 that are put forth. All of them seem to have this in common: they are eager to make room for the belief in an earth that is very, very old.
I was tempted to say a lot about modern science and my view of it, but I decided to keep my remarks very brief. While I appreciate science, and while I do believe that we can learn a great deal through our observation of the natural world, I wonder if we have not conceded too much to science when it comes to its claims concerning origins.
Our culture, and even the Christian church today, seems to view science in a way similar to how a Roman Catholic views the Pope. If the scientific community says it then it must be true! I know that I’m beginning to wade out into deep and dangerous waters here, and I do not intend to go much further. For now I wonder I could draw your attention to three things. One, I hope you would agree that our observation of the natural world can only take us so far. There are some things that science will never be able to answer. There are certain questions that science is ill equipped to answer. Two, have you considered that the scientific consensus is ever changing. As it is with the Pope of Rome, so it is with science. When someone claims that one or the other speaks infallibly and authoritatively one only has to point out how quickly and how frequently the declarations that come from these institutions, be it the Papacy or the scientific community, have changed. Neither of these institutions should be trusted as our final authority in matters of faith, and their fickleness proves it. Three, would you please acknowledge that even scientists bring presuppositions to their work. Scientists, like Christians, have a worldview of their own. They are not as free from baggage as they might lead you to believe, but come to the task of interpretation with presuppositions.
I will say no more about science for our task here is the exposition of Holy Scripture, which is the Christian’s authority for truth. For a much more thorough discussion concerning science, its benefits and limits, I can think of no greater resource than volume one of Herman Bavink’s Reformed Dogmatics, called Prolegomena.
Brothers and sisters, when I come to the text of Genesis 1:1-2:3, and when I read it in light of the rest of scripture I am content to say what our confession says, that “In the beginning it pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for the manifestation of the glory of his eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, to create or make the world, and all things therein, whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days, and all very good” (2LBC 4.1).
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:1–2, ESV).
The Earth Was At First Uninhabitable
Notice that in verse 2 we are told that the earth was at first uninhabitable. There we find three descriptors of the earthly realm as it was originally. One, the earth was without form and void. Two, darkness was over the face of the deep. And three, the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. What do these things mean?
What does it mean that the earth was “without form and void”?
In the Hebrew the phrase is תֹ֨הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ. The word תֹ֨הוּ֙ means emptiness, wilderness or wasteland. The word תֹ֨הוּ֙ carries a similar meaning. Together the words communicate that the earth was at first desolate and uninhabitable.
Isaiah 45:18 confirms this interpretation when it says, “For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!): ‘I am the Lord, and there is no other’ (Isaiah 45:18, ESV). This verses is saying that though the earth was at first תֹ֨הוּ֙ (empty), this was not God’s purpose for it, so “he formed it to be inhabited.”
What does it mean that “darkness was over the face of the deep”?
It means that there was no light at all, but only darkness covering the primeval waters.
The scene is rather terrifying, isn’t it? Far from warm and homey, the world was at first dark, cold and threatening. I agree with E.J. Young who, in his book, “Studies in Genesis One”, says that it is not appropriate to refer to this condition as a chaos. Chaos implies that something was out of control. That idea is found nowhere in the text. Everything is, in fact, portrayed as being perfectly under God’s control. This world, even as it is described in Genesis 1:2, came from the hand of the Almighty. It was under his care and direction. So the world was not chaotic at this stage, but certainly it was no place for life. It was not yet formed into a home suitable for man.
What does it mean that the “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters”?
The image is that of a bird fluttering or brooding over her nest to protect her young so as to bring forth life. I appreciate the words of Geerhardus Vos who, in his “Reformed Dogmatics” says, “The Spirit here is not a ‘wind from God…’” The word for Spirit and wind are the same in the Hebrew, and so some have proposed that this should be translated as “wind” –the wind of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Vos rightly says no.
The Spirit here is not a “wind from God”, sent out to dry what was created… it is the personal spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity… The word translated by “hovering”… is used elsewhere of a bird that hovers protectively over her young (Deut. 33:11). Already in the first instance where the Holy Spirit is mentioned in Scripture His activity is portrayed for us in an image borrowed from the kingdom of the birds, just as elsewhere he appears as a dove. Here “hovering”, “brooding”, has in view the stirring of live within lifeless material. The brooding of birds brings out very aptly that life originates from outside by fructification. In the world there is at first no life. The Spirit of God must hover above the roaring flood, for its roaring is a dead noise. But the Spirit of God hovers on and above the waters. He does not mingle with them. Even where God’s immanence comes to the fore, God and the world still remain unmixed.
And so here is how God created. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over 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”, etc., etc. (Genesis 1:1–3, ESV).
A question that we must ask is, why the process of creation? Why didn’t God simply create a fully formed earth in the beginning? Certainly he could have done it! God could have very easily spoken the world in its present form into existence, for we agree with Jeremiah the Prophet when he says, “‘Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you” (Jeremiah 32:17, ESV). Without a doubt God had the power to speak a fully formed and finished universe into existence from the start. Why the process? Why was the earth made formless and void with darkness over the face of the deep? Why the days of creation wherein God did progressively shape the earth into its present form? To put it differently,it did not take God six days to make the world, but God took six days to make it. Why did God take his time? Why the process?
The answer is that the act of creation was itself revelatory. By this I mean that when God made the heavens and the earth in the way that he did he communicated something to his creatures in the process. He revealed something to his creatures when he created as he did. In the act of creation God revealed important things – things concerning himself – things concerning this world in which we live – things concerning ourselves and his purpose for us. And so it is true that God could have made made the world as we know it in an instant. He could of accomplished this without breaking a sweat! And if he did – if God created the world in an instant – then the only thing that could truly be said of creation is what is said in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” But more than that is said. The earth was at first uninhabitable and dark and then God did shape the world into its present form in six days time. It did not take God six days to make the world, but God took six days to make it. This he did in order to reveal truths concerning his person, his work and his purposes to his creatures. Remember that the angels witnessed the formation of the world in six days time. Something was revealed to them in the process. And though man was not there to see it as the angels were, God revealed to man all that he did in creation. Remember that Adam and Eve were to work six days in the garden and rest on the seventh to, among other things, mimic God’s creative activities which had been communicated to them by their Maker.
The act of creation was itself revelatory. God communicated something to his creatures by what he did and how he did it. While it is true that God communicates to us by his word we should remember that he does first communicate to us by his action. God did at first do something – he created the heavens and the earth in a particular way – and then he gave his word to his creatures. His word tells of his action. His word interprets his action. His word applies the implications of his action to the lives of his creatures. The act of creation was itself revelatory. The act itself said something about God, his world and man who was placed in it!
This same principle applies to all of God’s creative or redemptive actions and the word revelation that does proceed from them.
Take for example the Exodus. God delivered his people out bondage to the Egyptians and he brought them safely into the land that was promised to them. But he did not do it in an instant. Instead there was a process. There were tenplagues that were poured out upon the Egyptians, the last one was the death of the first born (those who had the blood of the lamb on their door posts were not effected, but the LORD covered them, as bird shelters her young, so that the destroyer would not destroy them (Exodus 12:23)). And it was only after the tenth plague that the people were set free. Why ten plagues? Why the process? Was God having a hard time with Pharaoh? Did God break a sweat? No, it did not take God ten plagues to deliver Israel from Egypt, but God took ten plagues to accomplish this act of new creation. And we might say the same thing about the process of passing through the sea, the wilderness wanderings, and the eventual conquest. The exodus event was itself revelatory. God’s people learned something about their God and his purposes for them, not by his word alone, but by his act. And once the act of redemption or new creation was finished, then his word was given as a record of the act, an interpretation, and an application of it.
The same can be said concerning the redemption or the new creation that is in Christ Jesus. Did Christ accomplish our redemption? Did he atone for the sins of his people? Did he say, “it is finished?” Did he sit down at the Fathers right hand to enter into his rest having accomplished all that the Father gave him to do? Yes, he did! But he did it in a particular way. There was a process. And the process did also communicate something of the significance of his person and his work. The act of redemption was itself revelatory.
Listen to what Romans 3:23-25 says, for example. The first part is familiar to you: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to showGod’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to showhis righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:23–26, ESV).
The idea here is not complicated. It is that God reveals himself, not just through his word (as if he lowered his Bible down from heaven on a rope one day) but by his activities. His historical acts – the act of creation, and the way in which he choose to accomplish it – revealed something. His acts of redemption are also revelatory. The wayin which God rescued Israel out of Egypt, and the wayin which Christ accomplished our redemption, reveled something concerning our God, this world and ourselves.
What then do we learn from God’s creative act? We learn many things that are foundational.
We learn that there is but one God.
This one God created all things seen and unseen.
We learn that all that is not the Creator is the creation.
We learn that there is plurality in the Godhead. In the beginning it was God who created the heavens and the earth, but he did so by his Word and his Spirit.
We learn that the Triune God, Father, Word and Spirit, created the world to be inhabited. In his goodness he did form and fashion the world to make it a place suitable for man – a temple where man could dwell and enjoy communion with the God who made him.
We learn that the Triune God, Father, Word and Spirit, is able to make something out of nothing, to bring form to that which is empty and void, life out of death, light out of darkness.
This our God did at creation. He formed the earth to be inhabited.
And this our God does in our redemption.
Israel was as good as dead in Egypt, but God gave them life.
Israel was as good as dead in that wilderness place, that wasteland not suitable for human habitation. And Israel complained to Moses, saying, “Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink” (Numbers 20:4–5, ESV). But God gave them water from the rock to drink. He gave them manna to eat. And he brought them safely in to the land that he prepared for them, a land suitable for habitation, a land flowing with milk and honey.
And what shall we say of the redemption that we have in Christ Jesus? “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” (Colossians 2:13–15, ESV)
In Christ, we who were dead, have been made alive. In Christ, we who walked in darkness, have seen the light. In Christ, we who were once without form and void, not suitable for communion of God, have been made into a temple by and of the Holy Spirit. “For God, who said, ‘Let light 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” (2 Corinthians 4:6, ESV).