Our Very Good God

Sermon preached on Genesis 1:1-2:3 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 01/29/2023 in Petaluma, CA.

Sermon Manuscript

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.

We begin our new sermon series through the book of Genesis. It is the first volume of a five-book series of Genesis through Deuteronomy recorded by Moses, also called the Torah. Thus, the historical context for when Moses recorded and delivered this book is that time in history when God used Moses to lead Israel out of Egyptian slavery in the Exodus and then into the wilderness where he made a covenant with them at Mt. Sinai. There, God gave them the law and promised to give them the Promised Land of Canaan and to have his Spirit be among them especially in the Tabernacle. So, the Torah ends with God’s people on the eve of entering the Promised Land, but it begins here with this grand account of creation. This context for Genesis situates it as the historical background to what God’s people had been experiencing in the Exodus and at Sinai.

Well, if Genesis is a prologue to what God was doing in the life of Israel, today’s passage serves as a prologue to that prologue. Genesis, as a historical narrative about the early days of human history, has a clearly defined structure as a book. It contains ten occurrences of the phrase, “These are the generations”, each marking a new section in the book. But the first does not occur until Genesis 2:4. That means our passage today is sets apart from the rest of Genesis as a prologue. By analogy, the gospel of John mimics this. John opens with the same words, “In the beginning,” with its first 18 verses clearly being a highly stylized prologue to the rest of John’s historical narrative. So too, our passage from Genesis is an artistically beautiful record of creation that stands as a majestic prologue to the whole book.

So then, as we study this prologue, we will learn much about God and his work as creator. We will also think about this in light of God’s later work of redemption for Israel at the Exodus. By extension, we will also expand the application to God’s work of redemption for us in Christ Jesus.

Let us begin then by considering those opening words in verse 1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” This explains the origin of the universe while at the same time telling us so much about God. For the children’s sake, let me teach you a big word: cosmogony. A cosmogony is a story or explanation of the origin of the universe. In the ancient Near East, when Genesis was recorded, the heathen peoples had their cosmogonies. What stands out here in Genesis is that this account of the origin of the universe doesn’t fit the mold of the typical ancient cosmogonies. Those heathen cosmogonies typically involved gods that originated from some primordial chaos and preexisting matter who they or their offspring ultimately subdue to create some order out of the chaos. But you see that is not what we have here. Genesis 1 does not give us any explanation for the origin of God. So then, it is not that God originates out of some primordial matter, but rather God is the origin for all matter that exists today. God created all that there is ex nihilo, meaning, from nothing.

So, this account would have served as a polemic against the false religions of the world, even as it still serves today as a polemic against the false religion of atheism. Atheism has its own cosmogeny that does not differ that much from many of these ancient pagan ones. Atheism would also have us to believe in the preexistence of matter and that somehow from great chaos and through evolution came the ordered world we have today.

But, instead, Genesis reveals a self-existent God who is before all things. God has been, is, and always will be. He is eternally existing and not depending on anything else. In the beginning of all things, God already always existed. Matter didn’t always exist, but God has.

This also teaches what we refer to as the creator-creature distinction. God as the creator is distinct from his creation. As much as we humans are made in his image, we are still his finite creatures and he is always the infinite and eternal creator that transcendently stands above and apart from his creation.

Note that this does not preclude his immanence among his creation. While his transcendence reminds of the distance and uniqueness of God, his immanence reminds us how he is nonetheless present and involved with his creation. We begin to see that here when we realize that what God is making here is essentially a sort of royal palace or temple for himself as the Creator-King over all the universe. That is how God describes things, for example, in Isaiah 66:1, saying that heaven is his throne and the earth is his footstool. God made the heavens and earth here, in a certain sense, to inhabit them with his divine presence. Unlike the false idea of the deists who treat God like a watchmaker who made a watch and then left it to run on its own, the Bible shows a God who is not only transcendent but also intimately engaged with his creation.

Let’s now dig into the details of God’s work of creation. Verse 1 records God’s initial creative act, that in the beginning he created the heavens and the earth. God then further develops that initial creation through the six days with their several divine fiats. Verse 2 confirms this interpretation when it then describes how the earth was without form and void, implying more work was needed for creation to be complete. To be without form, describes how the earth was just water and darkness at first. To be void, describes how it was empty, not having any inhabitants yet. God addresses these issues in the days of creation. The formlessness of the earth is addressed on days one through three, with the formation of the different environments. The emptiness of the earth is addressed on days four through six when he created inhabitants for each of the environments.

Notice how verse 2 references the Spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters. That is what precedes God’s divine fiats where he speaks forth the power of his Word over the six days in order to address the areas needing completion. The idea is that after God’s initial creative activity, the Holy Spirit is present observing the creation and what is still needed for everything to be complete. God is presented here as an architect with a vision for producing a wonderful world. By the way, here we get a subtle glimpse into the Trinity. John’s gospel tells us that the Son of God is the Word that was the agency of creation. So when God is described here as speaking these things into existence, we should recognize the Son of God as the spoken Word that creates. And since we also see God the Holy Spirit hovering over these waters, we have a small glimpse into the Trinitarian nature of creation.

Notice next the repeated refrain here of “and God saw that it was good.” The idea is that verse 2 presents some things that were “not good” after the initial creation of the heavens and the earth. This repeated refrain signals that God is addressing what was noted in verse 2, making this creation better and better. There are six occurrences of this refrain, that God makes something, then looks at what he made, and sees that it was good. Then you get to verse 31 at the end of all the creation, and God looks at everything, and sees that it is all very good. God’s goodness is seen in how he works act by act over the six days to make a final product that is very good.

Delve with me deeper into each day so we can appreciate God’s handiwork. I mentioned that days one through three create the different environments of creation, and that days four through six then create the inhabitants who govern each realm. Note there is a parallelism going on here, where there is a correlation for each of the days, so that days one and four are connected, days two and five, and likewise days three and six.

So then, on day one you have light made to distinguish from the dark. Then in day four you have the sun, moon, and stars placed in outer space to separate the day and the night. God says that these will be used to track time and seasons, and that the sun would govern the day and the moon the night. As a side note, this has caused lots of questions how there could be light on day one without the light sources being created until day four. Some have wondered if this is a clue that this account is ordered more logically than historically at this point. While it is an interesting question, we could also note that in Revelation, the new creation is said to not have a sun because God will be its light source. Something similar might be going on here on day one, but I digress.

So then, on day two, God spoke the sky into the existence, translated here as heaven. In Hebrew, the word for sky and heaven were one and the same. At this point, there was no dry land yet, so God made a separation of the waters so that there was sky or atmosphere that separated what then was the waters on the earth and that water up in the air, think like the clouds. So, this means that on day two he effectively makes not only the sky but also the seas on earth, because it is here where their forms are first distinguished separately. So then on the corresponding day five, we see God make the inhabitants for these two realms, making birds for the sky and sea creatures for the sea.

So then, on day three, God created dry land, calling it earth. On this day is also when God makes all the vegetation on the dry land. Some have thought this breaks the pattern of God making the realms in the first three days and the inhabitants in the last three days, because they think of vegetation as an inhabitant. But I think that shows they are thinking more in terms of biology, but God here instead is classifying the plants and trees as part of his landscaping of the realm of the dry land. So then the corresponding day six is when God makes all the land creatures, with all the livestock, and creeping things, and beasts of the earth. Presumably that includes dinosaurs here too.

But then we see starting in verse 26 that man is created, and that in the image of God. While his realm is this same dry land, he is set out as different than the rest of the land creatures. He is given rule to govern not just the creatures in his realm of dry land, but also of creatures in the seas and sky. I’ll intend to preach more next week on the creation of man and woman in the image of God and the cultural mandate God gives them here. But mankind is presented as the pinnacle of God’s creation here as image-bearers of God.

So then, this then brings us through God’s work of creation and now to the seventh day. In our final point for today, I’d like us to consider God’s rest from his “very good” work. Look at chapter 2, verse 1. There, it concludes that the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them, “hosts” being a reference to the inhabitants. So God completed all of his work of creation, both the realms and their inhabitants. What we see here then as we compare the end of today’s passage with the beginning of today’s passage, is that God is both the author and the finisher of the creation. He began the work of creation in the opening verses. He perfects the work in these closing verses.

And that perfection of creation then results in God resting in that finished product. Chapter 2, verse 2, “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.” It is such a signal event that then in 2:3, God makes the seventh day of the week the first holiday. God makes holy that seventh day, and we begin for the first time in Scripture to learn about the idea of the holiness of God and the things of God. This capstone of the week is an opportunity to recognize God and his exalted place as the creator of it all. While just shortly before, man was highlighted as the pinnacle of creation and given dominion, this sabbath observance then immediately reminds humanity that we are but vassal-kings. God is the supreme sovereign that we serve, the High King of Heaven, who made all things.

And so, 2:2 tells us that God rested on that seventh day. What does that mean for the God who is always at work (John 5:17) to so rest? Well, if I can speak in terms of analogy, I think it means he moves into the finished palace he created and begins to enjoy it. He settles himself into the house he created for himself and begins to enjoy his creation, so to speak. We already described how Scripture speaks of heaven and earth as a divine palace. And we see similar language used later with King David in 2 Samuel 7:1. There, after David had constructed his palace, he is said to move into it and enjoy it because God had given him rest from all his enemies. In other words, David as King, by God’s help, had completed his work as king to secure the land in peace and was able then to build his house and finally move in and enjoy his royal palace in rest. That is a Scriptural analogy of what is surely going on here with God after he completed his work of creation.

As we have observed here God as the author and finisher of his creation, I’d like see this now in comparison with Israel’s redemption from Egypt. At the time of Moses recording Genesis, that was a redemption God had authored but not yet finished for Israel. To begin to think about this, I draw your attention to how we see the Spirt and the Sabbath bookend creation. At the start of creation, we see the Spirit. And the completion of creation, we see the Sabbath (c.f. Meredith Kline in Kingdom Prologue). So too, with Israel’s redemption, we can think of the beginning of that redemption with the exodus and arrival at Sinai, where God’s Spirit and presence attending them is highlighted. And we can think of the completion of that redemption should be their receiving the Promised Land and finding rest, where God would dwell with them in blessing and peace. So, Israel’s story ought to be one where Spirit and Sabbath can also be seen at the bookends of their redemption.

Moses hints at this in his last book in his famous Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32. There, Moses sings about God’s saving work in Israel’s history, both what has already happened, and prophetically what will yet happen. At one point, in Deuteronomy 32:10-11 it references how God found Israel in a formless place and hovered over him. The words there are usually translated as “wilderness” instead of “formless” and “flutters” instead of “hovers”, but they are the same two words used in Gen 1:2 to describe the Spirit, and those are rare words only used in the Torah in these two places. There, poetically, Moses sings about the beginning of God’s redemptive work to bring his people out of Egypt. His song goes on to sing about how God would bring them into the Promised Land and give them rest there.
So Moses paints an analogy between creation and the redemption from Egypt. God’s Spirit was there at the start of creation to see that creation was ultimately completed properly leading to rest. So too, as Israel is redeemed from Egypt, we see the Spirit in the wilderness to guide them unto the Promised Land. By the time the Torah comes to an end, the people are still not yet out of the wilderness. Their redemption is not yet fully complete. But the God who is the Author and the Finisher would indeed bring them to that finished state of rest. In other words, the creation account of Genesis 1 helps us to think of Israel’s redemption from Egypt as a sort of new creation, one that had not yet been fully complete.

I would note that Moses also drew out this connection between creation and redemption in his two accounts of the Ten Commandments. When dealing with the Sabbath commandment, his first account in Exodus says the reason for this Sabbath observance is because God created in six days and rested on the seventh. But on the second account in Deuteronomy of the Sabbath commandment, he says they should observe the Sabbath because God redeemed the people out of Egypt. This shows that Moses saw a connection to be made between creation and Israel’s redemption from Egypt and finding rest in the Promised Land.

And since that is true, then we are right to find an even greater application to our redemption from sin in Christ Jesus. For as Hebrews 4 teaches us, when God did bring Israel into the Promised Land, we learned that it wasn’t the ultimate rest for God’s people. It turned out to be just a bigger beginning of a greater plan of redemption God was authoring, for which it itself was only a type and a shadow. And that greater redemption can also be understood in terms of a new creation being made. Indeed, our redemption is not yet fully complete. And it won’t be until Christ comes back to usher in the final new creation. In the meantime, the Spirit of God “hovers” over us as the work is continued and ultimately finished. If you need any further proof that Genesis 1 looks ahead to a new creation in Christ Jesus, I would remind you that John 1 also draws out that connection for us.

In conclusion, let me ask this question. Why did God do his work of creation in the space of six days, instead of completely it instantaneously? Surely, he could have done it instantly, but since he didn’t, it must be for good reason. I’ll give you two things we can learn from God creating things this way.

First, God sets for us here a pattern of work and rest for us to follow here in this creation. Don’t miss that this is even on a daily basis, because when we look at his work that he does each day, it is during the day, but then it says, “And there was evening and there was morning.” In other words, God’s pattern included daily rest from his work, which is a reminder that we need not only to work hard each normal day, but also take time to rest and sleep each day too. And then of course, God’s pattern of work and rest especially includes a one-day-in-seven holy resting. Each week we are called to enjoy time with our creator in our public and private worship in a day set apart for him, which is a pattern he laid out for us since the beginning, a literal creation-ordinance.

Second, by analogy this reminds us that our complete redemption in Christ Jesus is not instantaneous. God could have fully saved us in Jesus in an instant, even the moment we turn in faith to him. But that is only the beginning of his work to redeem us. Let us trust that he who began a good work in us will surely bring it to completion at the day of Christ. Then, he will usher us into an eternal sabbath rest when we move in with our God into an eternal palace in the new, re-finished, creation. Indeed, the work he is doing right now in us to prepare us for that is good. And when it is finally all finished, and we are there with him in glory, it will all be very good. We will then rest and enjoy our very good God for all eternity.


Copyright © 2022 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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