2 - When Time Began (Genesis 1:1–25)
The first verses of the book of Genesis may be the most important verses in all the Bible. They provide simple, yet profound answers to the questions every person must address. They are the only true, satisfying, and comforting answers, and they come from God Himself
I once read that President Teddy Roosevelt would often take guests out on the White House lawn after dark to look up at the stars. Sometimes he would even lie down on the grass to gaze at the night sky and invite his guests to do the same thing. After a little while, he would get up, brush himself off, and say, “Well, I believe we are small enough now. Let’s retire for the evening.”
He was on to something! When we believe the biblical record of creation and we stare out at the starry sky, God becomes really big, and we become really small.
We’re introduced to our creator God in the Book of Beginnings, which is what the word Genesis means. And chapter 1 literally opens with the very beginning of time.
The apostle Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:16 that all Scripture is “breathed out by God”—that is, literally “God-breathed,” or inspired. The Bible is God speaking.
And in verse 3 of Genesis 1 are the very first spoken words recorded in human history: “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”
This light isn’t the result of the sun or stars being created—that will come later. This is the revelation of God’s glory, seen throughout the heavens and the earth as creation begins.
By the way, we often miss the obvious fact that God also created a vocabulary that everyone still uses. In chapter 1 we read words that God created. In verse 5, “God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.” And verse 10 says, “God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas.”
To this day we refer to Day and Night and Earth and Seas. What’s more, God actually created the ability to communicate with sentences and grammar.
Genesis 1 follows consistent grammatical rules that are observed throughout the Old Testament. Without these guidelines, we’d never be able to grasp what God actually did in Genesis 1—and how long it took Him to do it.
Let me illustrate what I’m getting at. There’s an old poem you probably memorized as a kid that says:
Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water;
Jack fell down and broke his crown,
And Jill came tumbling after.
Now that poem tells us that Jack and Jill went up the hill together to fetch some water. And several things happened, one right after the other. Jack fell down and got a headache; and Jill came tumbling down the hill after him.
The poem describes consecutive events. In other words, one event takes place on the heels of another. Now we could read into this poem that Jack and Jill took three thousand years to climb this hill, and then three million years later, the two came tumbling down the hill. But from reading this poem, at face value, you would never—in a million years—think that’s what happened.
This is precisely what the Hebrew grammar presents to us in Genesis chapter 1.
These events took place one after another; so, you read the phrase, “And then God said . . . and then God said . . . and then God said.” These are what Hebrew grammarians call waw-consecutive clauses. Waw is the Hebrew for “and” . . . “And then this happened next.” God is describing a sequence of events that occurred one after the other. There’s absolutely nothing here to suggest that millions of years transpired between these events.
But couldn’t each of the days of creation in Genesis 1 be a poetic metaphor for millions of years, not simply a twenty-four-hour day? Possibly. But not if the days of creation are clearly presented here as twenty-four-hour days. And this is exactly what you read.
The God-inspired text describes each day as having an evening and a morning: “There was evening and there was morning, the first day,” verse 5 tells us. And then this expression is repeated: “There was evening and there was morning, the second day (verse 8). It’s repeated with each day, all the way to verse 31: “There was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” This is the normal language for a literal twenty-four-hour cycle.
But God makes it even clearer by adding numbers to each day, referring to the first day, the second day, the fifth day and so on. Here’s a grammatical rule for you to understand: whenever the Hebrew Bible uses the word day attached to a numerical adjective (like fifth day or fortieth day), it always means a literal, twenty-four-hour period of time.
Listen, there isn’t any other way God could tell us any plainer that it all happened in six literal days.
It’s as if God knew we’d get so smart one day we would somehow assume that God needed billions of years to pull this off.
But God tells us instead that He created out of nothing—in one event following the other—the heavens and the earth.
God certainly knew that Genesis 1 would be one of the most contested chapters in all the Bible. I’ve had people tell me over the years, “You actually believe that God created everything in six literal days? That would be a staggering miracle!”
Let me tell you something: the miracle isn’t so much that He did it in six days; the miracle is that He took six days to do it, when He could have done it all in a moment of time.
Now you’ve been told all your life that the earth has to be millions of years old. Scientists tell us that it takes 300 million years for coal to form, so we’ve got to be at least 300 million years old. Geologists estimate that it took around 6 million years for the Grand Canyon to be carved out. Well, if you believe the book of Genesis literally, then the universe and the human race are around 6,000 years old.
We’ll talk more in the future about how the global flood in Noah’s day gave the earth the appearance of age, but for now, let me encourage you with one illustration. In the early 1980s Mount St. Helens erupted twice in Washington State. Millions of trees were uprooted in the initial volcanic eruption, and they ended up in nearby Spirit Lake. The log mat and all the sediment and heat and water mixed together suddenly—and guess what? The beginning stages of coal development was discovered, not millions of years after the eruption, but five years later. And the lava, rock, and ice flow that followed the second eruption carved out a miniature Grand Canyon—and it didn’t take millions of years but just a few months.
If you choose to believe God’s Word, according to Genesis 1, God created a mature universe instantly. The light of the sun and the stars immediately and miraculously reached earth. God didn’t create little embryos but a fully grown male and female named Adam and Eve on Day 6. And God created trees already bearing fruit three days earlier on Day 3 so Adam and Eve and the animals could have something to eat.
Sounds like pretty good timing to me.
Genesis 1 makes God really big, and it makes you and me really small. But let me tell you, a big creator God is the kind of God in whom you can find strength and meaning and hope for your life.
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