In the beginning…
What is the beginning?
Genesis is the book of beginnings and the beginning of the book of Genesis begins with these words about the beginning. But what is the beginning referenced here? Is it the beginning of the natural universe perhaps? Is it the beginning of space and time and matter maybe? Or perhaps, Moses simply means the beginning of God’s work of creation or that this is the beginning of history. After all, all history begins in the first moment God created.
Note carefully the way the opening of the book of John reads:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
Note that the ‘Word’ is Jesus Christ (John 1:14). Jesus was ‘with’ God and He ‘was’ God. He (already) was ‘in the beginning’.
In the beginning, God…
The Existance of God
It is interesting that the Bible does not begin by defining God or by proving his existence. He is just assumed. The following is from AW Pink on God’s existance:
No argument is entered into to prove the existence of God: instead, His existence is affirmed as a fact to be believed. And yet, sufficient is expressed in this one brief sentence to expose every fallacy which man has invented concerning the Deity. This opening sentence of the Bible repudiates atheism, for it postulates the existence of God. It refutes materialism, for it distinguishes between God and His material creation. It abolishes pantheism, for it predicates that which necessitates a personal God. “In the beginning God created,” tells us that He was Himself before the beginning, and hence, Eternal…
Perhaps Moses doesn’t prove God’s existence because the people for whom Moses composed this work were already in covenant relationship with Jehovah and needed no formal introduction. Perhaps it is because at this point in the narrative, it is enough to simply state that He is and that He is the Creator of all things. It may also be that as man was made in the image of God, His existence and attributes are so undeniably certain that the Creator cannot be denied by any rational/reasonable creature. Or, perhaps it may be that God only makes himself known to His own and they only can know and love him:
But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know [them], because they are spiritually discerned.
1 Cor 2:10-14
According to the Baptist Catechism, there is no excuse not to believe in God, but only His Word and Works reveal Him to our souls –
Q3. How do we know there is a God?
A. The light of nature in man, and the works of God, plainly declare that there is a God; but His Word and Spirit only, do effectually reveal Him unto us for our salvation.
(Rom. 1:18-20; Psalm 19:1,2; 2 Tim. 3:15; 1 Cor. 1:21-24; 1 Cor. 2:9,10)
The Trinity and Ex Nihilo
The Hebrew word used here for God is Elohim. According to Gill:
The word used is “Elohim” …which signifies power, creation being an act of almighty power: but it is rather to be derived from the root in the Arabic language, which signifies to worship, God being the object of all religious worship and adoration; and very properly does Moses make use of this appellation here, to teach us, that he who is the Creator of the heavens and the earth is the sole object of worship
According to the Scofield Reference Bible:
It is explicitly stated here that ‘God’ created the heaven and the earth. Looking back at John 1:3, we see that all things were made by the ‘Word’ (i.e. Christ, cf. Heb 1:2) – an explicit and stunning proclamation of the deity of Christ in the opening of John’s gospel.
It is here that we recognize that all God created was out of nothing (ex nihilo). Before the beginning there was nothing, or the beginning wouldn’t be the beginning. See Hebrews 11:3 – Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.
Gill sums up this section in this way:
From hence we learn, that the world was not eternal, either as to the matter or form of it, as Aristotle, and some other philosophers, have asserted, but had a beginning; and that its being is not owing to the fortuitous motion and conjunction of atoms, but to the power and wisdom of God, the first cause and sole author of all things; and that there was not any thing created before the heaven and the earth were…
See also Worldview Implications of Creation Ex Nihilo for 15 implications of ‘creation out of nothing.’
…the heaven and the earth…
The Land and Sky
The beginning of the Bible begins with the story of the creation of the ‘land’ (אֶרֶץ in Hebrew, γῆν in Greek) and the ‘sky’. Land is a key recurring theme in the Pentateuch – God’s Chosen People in God’s Chosen Land. As the Pentateuch was composed for the children of Israel by Moses as they were about to debark on their journey into the promised land, what greater comfort could Moses provide than to remind them here that God is the Creator of ‘all’ the land and as Creator it is in his purview and power to decide who occupies it. It was not Canaanite land, but God’s Land and He decides who occupies it. However, according to John Gill the ‘Earth’ signified here is not ‘the dry land’ but the ‘whole mass of earth and water before their separation, and when in their unformed and unadorned state …the terraqueous globe, in their chaotic state, as they were first brought into being by almighty power.’
As Gill comments, we are here told that the land God created was in its original composition ‘without form’ (shapeless?) and ‘void’ (empty). Does this mean that God created the materials of the universe before he shaped them into their present form in the six days?
…And the Spirit of God moved…
It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word used for God (Elohim) here is plural. Is this a ‘royal’ plurality or an early hint at the Trinity? Does this name, Elohim, represent God’s revelation of Himself as Creator and Lord over his creation? Gill states:
It (Elohim) is in the plural number, and …is thought by many to be designed to point unto us the mystery of a plurality, or trinity of persons in the unity of the divine essence: but whether or no this is sufficient to support that doctrine, which is to be established without it; yet there is no doubt to be made, that all the three Persons in the Godhead were concerned in the creation of all things…
In this verse we find a reference to the ‘Spirit of God’ moving upon the waters. This is not a clear definition of the Trinity, but even in the first two verses of the Bible, the nature of God is hinted at. We see in these first two verses the working of God The Father (Gen 1:1), The Son (John 1:3), and the Holy Spirit (Gen 1:2) in the Creation of the Wold.
The New Creation
God’s work of creation here is a reminder of God’s greater work of creation yet to take place. Isaiah prophecies:
For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying. There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed. And they shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them. They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth for trouble; for they are the seed of the blessed of the LORD, and their offspring with them. And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the LORD.
This passage is often erroneously applied to the Millennium, but we see in verse 17 above, that the Lord is describing His work of creation – His creation of a ‘new’ sky and a ‘new’ land – the old will pass away from memory. In that land will be joy and peace and it will be inhabited by God’s ‘elect’, those that are the true Jerusalemites – ‘the seed of the blessed of the LORD’.
Compare the passage above with the following from John:
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new.