Creation and Covenant (Gen. 1)

Because the opening chapters of Genesis set the paradigm for the covenantal framework that binds together all Scripture, in this and the next few posts my intention is to provide notes that will help the reader to see that more clearly.

When people typically read Genesis 1, the focus tends to be on the six-day creation framework and how that meshes with modern scientific perspectives.  Although that certainly is an important issue to grapple with, that debate obscures what would have been the more salient issue for Moses’s original audience regarding the chapter, namely, that the LORD God who saved Israel in the Exodus, the God with whom Israel was in covenant, is the God over all creation; He stands alone.  Israel’s king is the Creator of the heavens and the earth.

The covenantal nature of Genesis 1 can be more clearly seen if one remembers three essential aspects of kingship, namely that a king—must have a realm over which to rule, the power to rule that realm, and legitimacy in exercising that rule, typically manifested in the majesty and glory that accompanies his reign. We see all of those things in Genesis 1:1-2:3, even though God is not explicitly called a king.

First, the realm of God’s rule is creation (“the heaven and the earth”) as noted in Gen. 1:1 and 2:1. This is not a preexisting realm, but one that God creates out of nothing.  Also note that this realm is bifurcated between heaven and earth.  As modern people, our default mode is to assume that heaven simply means the cosmos and that is not incorrect as far as it goes.  But heaven also is the unseen realm of God’s dwelling place in glory, whereas the earth is the visible realm.  As the Nicene Creed states, “God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.”  In the Book of Revelation, we will see a coming together of heaven and earth, where the glory of God will illuminate the earth (Rev. 21:23).  The overarching narrative of Scripture is God bringing His people into communion with Himself.

Second, Like a king who issues who issues commands and actions ensue, the exercise of God’s power is shown by the fact that He by His Word speaks and things are brought into being. God’s exercise of power is not arbitrary or self-centered, but establishes order to creation. In the first three days of creation, God forms the rudiments of the realms of existence, and in the second three days He fills those realms with life, culminating with the creation of His vice regent, man. Moreover, the order God creates is not just a material order of the cosmos, of light and darkness, land and seas, plants, animals, and people, but it is a moral order as well. This can be seen in that throughout creation week, God repeatedly identifies what He has created as good, and at the end of the week He pronounces it all to be very good. The material order and the moral order are intertwined.

Lastly, the fact that God created it out of nothing both shows His absolute power and establishes the basis of His authority over it. He possesses legitimacy in reigning over creation because He made it; He is indebted to nothing and to no one. The legitimacy of God’s rule, moreover, is manifest not only in the beauty and diversity of His creation, but also in the glory and enthronement that accompanies His reign. One can see this in several ways. God’s glory and goodness are established at the outset of creation. In creating light on Day 1 (1:3-5), for example, the source of that light must be God Himself, since other sources had not yet been created and since the light is described as good, that goodness must also emanate from God. Glory and goodness accompany God’s mere presence. On Day 2 (1:6-8) God creates a realm—Heaven—in which His presence and glory are manifest; this precedes any creation of the earthly realm. God is holding court. That is reinforced on Day 6 of creation (1:26), when God gives a plural self-reference in His declaration “Let us make.” This royal use of “we,” (i.e., using a collective pronoun to describe Himself) may well refer to the heavenly host looking on God’s acts of creation—which would have been the most likely understanding of Moses’ original readers—as well as to the Trinity within the Godhead, which we can now better see in light of New Testament revelation.

More than just His mere presence and His holding court, however, God’s glory is secured by the culminating act of His enthronement at the end of the week of creation. For ancient kings, it was not just the accoutrements of power that secured their glory, but the accomplishment of great deeds. After a decisive victory in war or the completion of a great building project, the king would have a major celebration where people could see His glory on display. In the Genesis account, God rests from His work (2:1-3). Such a rest is not a rest from weariness since God does not tire, but a rest of coming into a culmination of enjoying what He has accomplished, of coming onto His throne. This pattern of work and then coming into a consummating rest is one that exists throughout Scripture, and will reach its climax at the end of time. God’s people are continually looking to that consummating rest of God.

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