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Friday, September 29th, 2023
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 1

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

In the beginning God. The Hebrew word [ 'Elohiym (H430)], from its derivation and use, signifies 'strong,' 'mighty;' and hence, though other names are applied in the Pentateuch to the Supreme Being, this appellation is used exclusively in the narrative of the first chapter, as expressive of the powers displayed in the work of creation. It is equivalent to the English word, Deity, the great object of awe and reverence "whom no man hath seen at any time;" and its adoption in this opening portion of Scripture was peculiarly appropriate, as infolding all the august attributes of God as the Creator of the universe. A remarkable peculiarity, however, distinguishes this word, because it is a plural noun accompanied with a singular verb, which is the construction maintained for the most part throughout the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament, though it is also found in various passages associated with plural adjuncts, and in such a connection it irresistibly suggests the idea of more objects than one. This interchange of singular and plural forms, as well as the frequent combination of both in the same sentence, constitutes a peculiar idiom unparalleled in any other language, and it demands particular attention from the occurrence of the term in the latter state in the first verse of the Bible. The use of it originated in no imperative necessity. It arose from no grammatical defect, because the word existed in the singular form, though it occurs but rarely, and that only in the poetical parts of Scripture, and in later Hebrew. Nor was it occasioned by any poverty of language, because the Hebrew vocabulary is richer and more copious in names for the Deity than any other cultivated language, whether in ancient or modern times.

And even had none of these various appellations been sufficiently descriptive of the Divine Majesty as manifested in the stupendous work of creation, the Spirit of inspiration could, as on another occasion (Exodus 3:14), have invented a new name which would have exactly corresponded with the tenor and circumstances of this narrative. The choice of 'Elohiym (H430), therefore, in preference to all other names for the Divine Being, must have been dictated by some special reason of great utility and importance. Applied as it commonly was to false deities, and liable, from that constant and familiar use, to suggest or foster polytheistic ideas, the introduction of such a term as the designation of the true God into a book which was designed to give a death-blow to idolatry, and written primarily for the instruction of a people who were not only called into national existence to preserve a knowledge of the Divine Unity in the world, but whose laws, institutions, and minutest observances were framed with jealous care to prevent their departure from that faith, seems altogether unaccountable except upon the ground that it was conducive to the promotion of the same high end; and therefore we are led to conclude that by its use here in the plural form is obscurely taught, at the opening of the Bible, a doctrine clearly revealed in the later portions of it-namely, that though God is one, there is a plurality of persons in the Godhead, who were engaged in the creative work (Proverbs 8:27; John 1:3-10; Ephesians 3:9; Hebrews 1:2; Job 28:13).

Created. The Hebrew word baaraa' (H1254), which signifies 'to carve,' 'plane,' or 'polish,' is used in the Qal in the sense of 'to create;' and, though it sometimes denotes merely restoration in another and improved form (Isaiah 43:1-15; Isaiah 65:18), yet it always conveys the idea of something new (Numbers 16:30; Isaiah 43:19; Isaiah 65:17; Jeremiah 31:22).

That a production entirely new, a really creative act, is related in this verse, and not merely a renovation or reconstruction of old and previously existing materials, is evident, not only from the whole of the subsequent context, but from the summary of the processes described in the subsequent portions of this narrative, where a different word is used, denoting 'made,' 'reconstituted,' 'arranged' (cf. Genesis 2:3 with Exodus 20:11). The first term signifies to bring into being, the other points only to a new collocation of matter already in existence. [Moreover, baaraa' (H1254) differs from two other synonymous words, `aasaah (H6213) and yaatsar (H3334), which also occur in this narrative, (Genesis 1:26; Genesis 2:7; Genesis 2:19); while the latter are frequently used with reference to the labours of men, the former is exclusively applied to the works of God.] On these grounds we are warranted in considering the sacred historian to have selected the term he has employed for the special purpose of intimating an actual creation; and since he has contented himself with a declaration of the simple fact, without saying anything as to the mode in which the Divine Will and Energy operated, he obviously meant the conclusion to be drawn that the creation was effected out of nothing. This is an inference in accordance with the soundest principles of philosophy, and one which we cannot resist without doing violence to the fundamental principles of human belief. For since we are led by the natural constitution of our minds to trace every effect to an adequate cause, the existence of the material universe necessarily implies a previous state of nothingness from which it was called into being.

The heaven and the earth, [ 'eet (H853) hashaamayim (H8064) wª'eet (H853) haa'aarets (H776)] denote, from an Arabic derivation, the upper and lower regions. There being no single word in the Hebrew language capable of expressing what we understand by the word 'universe,' the phrase "heaven and earth" is here used as an equivalent for that term, and denotes the whole material system in germ, no less than in subsequent development-not only the sun and his planets, but the fixed stars with their attendant satellites; nay, it must include also the various orders of celestial intelligences, because the Hebrews possessed a knowledge of the existence and agency of angels. The phrase, in short, comprehends all the living inhabitants as well as inanimate objects which the universe contains, wherever scattered through immensity, or whatever else exists in the boundless regions of space. So the Jewish commentators, Aben Ezra, Kimchi, and Maimonides, interpret it as denoting 'the heavens with all they contain, and the earth with all that belongs to it.' In this extended view of the phrase a satisfactory refutation is found of the contemptuous cavil of Voltaire, who sneeringly asserted that no writer, who was well-informed on the subject which he undertook to expound, would conjoin things so utterly disproportionate as "the heaven and the earth."

It is true that Moses and the Hebrew people did not view "the heavens" in the wide range and amplitude of meaning which that term bears in modern times. But still they had exalted impressions of the 'heavens, as known in that early age;' and though "the earth," speaking absolutely, is a mere speck, an atom in the universe, yet, viewed relatively to us-and in this light it is evidently mentioned in this passage-it surpasses all parts of material nature in importance. Analogous language is used in the daily and familiar conversation of life. A man talks of what the world will say of him, although he is only a unit among its millions of inhabitants.

Even philosophically viewed, the earth is to us of principal consequence. 'Besides the stars,' says Sir J. Herschel, and other celestial bodies, the earth itself, regarded as an individual body, is one principal object of the astronomers consideration, and indeed the chief of all.' (King). [ Bªree'shiyt (H7225), not "in the beginning," which suggests the idea of the commencement of time, or some definite period, but, since the word is without the article, 'in beginning' - i:e., it signifies some remote era in past duration, hid in the depths of an unknown and incalculable antiquity. Knobel renders it 'at first,' 'first of all.'] The expression is very vague and indefinite: no specific period is here stated. Had Moses expressly told us that this period, when the "heavens and the earth" were brought into existence, was about 2,500 years before the time in which he wrote, then there would have been an almost insuperable difficulty in reconciling the discoveries of science with such a statement. But no such assertion, either directly or by implication, is made.

On the contrary, because anything that the inspired narrative says, ten thousands of years, nay, millions of ages, may have elapsed since the first portions of matter were created in various parts of the universe. No limit is set to the time which may have intervened between the period when the elementary materials of our world were created and the time when it begin to be reduced to that state of order and beauty in which we behold it. We are left to consider the period referred to in this verse to be as remote as science may lead us to interpret the evidence furnished by the book of nature; and thus the Word of God will be found concurring, with beautiful harmony, with the works of God in bearing one and the same testimony.

That the view here taken of the expression "in the beginning" is the correct and true one, appears from the expressions employed in various passages of Scripture: "Of OLD hast thou laid the foundations of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hand" (Psalms 102:25); "Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundations of the earth" (Hebrews 1:10). But especially is it supported by the high authority of the Evangelist John, who, in obvious reference to the verse before us, commences his Gospel thus: - "In the beginning, [ en (G1722) archee (G746)], 'in beginning, also without the article. Those who believe in the divinity of Christ never imagine that the expression, "in the beginning was the Word," refers merely to a limited period of 6,000 years; but that it must be taken to denote that the Word was in existence at the point of time alluded to-the period when "the heaven and the earth" were created.

In neither the one verse nor the other is it stated WHEN "THE BEGINNING" was; and, however far back we may carry our imaginations along the line of past duration, that "beginning" may be concealed in the depths of an eternity compared to which a million of years may dwindle into a moment. Only admit the truth and correctness of this exposition-and we cannot conceive any valid objection can be brought against it-the way is paved for bringing this statement of Moses into perfect harmony with the doctrines of modern philosophy on the antiquity of the earth. It may be, as science tells us, that this globe existed millions of ages ago; that it has been the habitation of numerous and varied races of animated beings; and that it has undergone many great revolutions before it was brought into its present state: none of these views are in the least discordant with the statement of the inspired historian, that "in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." This first verse is a general introduction to the inspired volume, declaring the great and important truth that all things had a beginning; that nothing throughout the wide extent of nature existed from eternity, originated by chance, or, according to the pantheistic doctrine, was developed by powers inherent in matter; but that the whole universe owed its being to the creative power of God (Acts 17:24; Romans 11:36).

Some, indeed, have considered this opening verse as only a heading or general summary of the contents of the chapter. But such an interpretation is totally inadmissible, not only because the copulative conjunction "and" intimates a continuation of the context in Genesis 1:2, but because, on this view, "the earth" is abruptly introduced into the narrative without any account of its creation. The light in which the first verse is generally regarded by modern scholars is as a general preface respecting the derivative origin of all things, and then the narrative is confined exclusively to the earth.

Verse 2

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

And the earth was without form, and void. The relation of this to the preceding verse has been the subject of much discussion; some considering that there is but a very loose and remote connection between them, while others maintain that the two verses cannot be separated, because they both refer to the pre-Adamite earth-the former asserting that it owed its origin, in common with all things else in the universe, to the fiat of Almighty power, and the latter declaring what was its condition prior to the establishment of the present terrestrial order of things. But, whether the connection between the two first verses be immediate and close, or loose and remote-whether the statements contained in the second verse refer to events directly continuous, or that did not take place until a period long subsequent to those described in the preceding one-it is allowed on all hands that the two sentences are merely introductory to the narrative which follows; and this view is corroborated by the fact that the division of the text into verses is a modern arrangement, unknown in ancient MSS. and versions. Moreover, in many Hebrew MSS. there is the usual mark of a pause. In some old editions of the English Bible, where there is no division into verses, a break is actually found at what is now the second verse; and in Luther's Bible (Wittemburg, 1557) there is, in addition, the figure 1 placed against the third verse, as being the beginning of the account of the first day's creative work (Buckland's 'Bridge. Treat.')

Opinions as to the import of this second verse are no less diverse than in regard to the degree of relation which it bears to the first, because, according to one class of expositors, it describes the primordial state of the earth when newly emanating from the hands of the Creator; while another class consider it as pointing to a great physical catastrophe which at some subsequent period befell the earth, and from the extensive derangements occasioned by which it gradually emerged when the present mundane system began to be introduced. Since these different conclusions are supported on grounds of philology as well as geology, it is necessary in our exposition to follow a similar course; and, therefore, we shall endeavour first to ascertain by a minute exegesis the precise meaning of the terms employed, after which we shall compare the Mosaic cosmogony with the ascertained facts or prevailing theories of science.

The Hebrew particle [ - ] "and," which is used to combine the successive links in the chain of this narrative, does not indicate any necessary connection between the sentences it unites. 'It discharges,' as Granville Penn has observed, 'the functions of all the conjunctions, both copulative and disjunctive, its sense being determinable in every particular case only by the tenor of the context.' Accordingly, it is rendered in various ways; and while its common signification is 'and,' intimating a continuity of thought, it is sometimes used in an adversative sense for 'but' (Genesis 2:17; Genesis 17:21; Zephaniah 1:13; and 'yet,' Psalms 44:17). Besides, so far is it from implying that the parts of a narrative where it occurs are connected by immediate sequence in point of time, a statement which it introduces may be separated by a considerable and even protracted interval from the course of events narrated in the preceding sentence, without any notice being taken of there being such a chasm. The following instances may be adduced: Exodus 2:1-2, eight years; Deuteronomy 10:5-6, thirty-eight years; 1 Chronicles 10:14; 1 Chronicles 11:1, seven years; Ezra 6:22; Ezra 7:1, fifty-eight years, etc. The earth, [ haa'aarets (H776)], while it generally signifies the world we inhabit, does not in every instance refer to the whole planet, but only to limited portions of it, and it is translated "land", Isaiah 7:24; Jeremiah 1:18, etc., where it denotes Palestine; and Jeremiah 51:7; Jeremiah 51:25; Jeremiah 51:49, where it is applied to the Babylonian empire.

Without form and void, [ tohuw (H8414) waabohuw (H922)]. The first of these words denotes wasteness, emptiness, a desert (Deuteronomy 32:10; Job 12:24; Psalms 107:40), a desolate city (Isaiah 24:10, etc.) [ bohuw (H922) is found only in connection with the former]; and, in passages where they occur conjointly (Isaiah 34:11, and Jeremiah 4:23) they are used to describe the desolations which were to overspread Idumaea and Palestine respectively, and by which those countries would be reduced from the settled and flourishing condition which they exhibited at the time of the predictions into universal disorder and ruin.

The analogous use, therefore, of this rare and peculiar phraseology in the verse before us may imply, according to the first sense of the term, that the world at its creation had neither received its proper shape nor was fit to be tenanted; and accordingly it is rendered in the Septuagint version 'invisible and unfurnished.' Or it may signify, according to the second acceptation in which the words are used, that the world, which had formerly been a scene of material beauty and order, was by some great convulsion plunged into a state of chaos or widespread disorder and desolation. Hence, some eminent critics, who take this view, render the clause thus: 'But (or afterward) the earth became waste and desolate.' This translation is declared by Kurtz to be inadmissible, as being contrary to the rules of grammatical construction; but Dr. McCaul has shown that the verb [ haayªtaah (H1961)] 'was,' is, in some twenty places, in this chapter, used as equivalent to 'became,' and that elsewhere it has the same signification without a following - (preposition) (Isaiah 64:5; Isaiah 64:9). That the earth was not originally desolate seems also to be implied in Isaiah 45:18 - "He created not the earth in vain" - Hebrew, 'a desolation.'

Darkness, [ wªchoshek (H2822)] - either a state of natural darkness or merely a temporary privation of light. In this sense the term is used in Exodus 10:21-22, to describe the judicial "darkness" that was brought upon the land of Egypt; also in Exodus 14:20, the cloudy pillar was "a cloud and darkness" to the Egyptians at the Red Sea, while it gave light to the Israelites; and, as in both these instances there was light previous to the "darkness," which was superinduced from special causes, analogy would lead us to infer that this was the case also in the demiurgic darkness (cf. Job 38:9).

The deep, [ tªhowm (H8415)] must be the watery abyss that overspread the earth. The word frequently occurs in the Hebrew Scriptures bearing this signification; and it evidently refers here to the waters which are said to have been afterward divided (Genesis 1:6-7), and gathered into one place (Genesis 1:9).

Now, three leading schemes have been proposed for reconciling this passage with science. The first we mention is that of Dr. Pye Smith, who supposes that the scenes described in this second verse were confined to a limited section of the earth-a region in Asia which was about to be fitted up for the habitation of man; but which, 'by atmospheric and geological causes, of previous operation under the will of the Almighty, was brought into a condition of superficial ruin, or some kind of general disorder. This state was produced by the subsidence of the region, of which the immediate cause might be the same that we know has often worked a similar effect in various districts upon the earth's surface-namely, that which is probably the cause of earthquakes, a movement of the igneous fluid mass below. Extreme darkness has been often known to accompany such phenomena. The district was overflowed with water, and its atmosphere so impure that extreme gloominess prevailed. Both this deluge, from the flowing in of a sea or rivers, and "the darkness," would be the effect of an extensive subsidence.'

This hypothesis, though it solves many of the difficulties in the Mosaic narrative, creates as many others in turn; and principally because it is applicable only to a portion of "the earth," whereas that word must be evidently taken as bearing the same sense in the second verse that it does in the first, the theory never met with general approval.

Another scheme of reconciliation is, that the second verse describes the state of the earth at the period of the original creation. Geologists say that it was at first a mass of molten incandescence or igneous fusion, enveloped by a dense atmosphere. So that, 'after the external surface had fallen below the temperature which maintains water in a state of vapour, the atmospheric moisture, being condensed, would fall in rain, and the terrestrial spheroid would then be covered with an ocean of uniform depth, and consequently be totally destitute of land' (Lardner's 'Pre-Adamite Earth'). The third scheme of reconciliation supposes the intercalation of a long and indefinite period between the original creation and the state of things to which the second verse refers. An immense interval, of which no record has been preserved, succeeded, during which the earth passed through the various changes which geology has traced, accumulating the successive strata, with their entombed inhabitants, which its bowels contain; and then, at some undescribed period in duration, it became the subject of a superficial catastrophe, by which it was thrown into general dislocation and disorder, overrun by an inundation of waters, and darkened by an accumulation of thick, vapory mists.

Such are the leading views of the most eminent geologists; and it is marvelous how fully the language of the sacred record accords with all of them, so far as they rest on a basis of truth and nature. Whether the earth at its creation was only a mass of nebulous matter, the heavier parts of which, by the law of gravitation, were collected into a ball, and being launched into its orbit in a soft and impressible state, gradually acquired, from being whirled round on its axis, the form of a solid spheroid, while the vapory particles continued still to hover around;-whether a state of aqueous submersion and desolation had been the primitive condition of the earth, or was only superinduced at a subsequent period, after it had subsisted for ages in material order and beauty;-whether the Neptunian or the Plutonian speculatists are in the right, or, as appears most probable, the combined agencies of fire and water were enlisted in the early catastrophes which our world underwent-Moses described this superficial disorder three thousand years BEFORE modern scientific explorers had made an observation, or formed a theory as to its causes and its influence.

And the spirit of God. The Hebrew word [ ruwach (H7307)] frequently signifies 'breath,' 'wind;' and in this sense the phrase would, according to Scripture analogy, denote a 'great wind,' as 'the cedars of God' (Psalms 80:10) mean lofty cedars, 'the mountains of God' (Psalms 36:6), high mountains, and Nineveh is termed a great city of God - i:e., an exceeding great city. Some maintain that the word is to be taken in the sense of 'wind' here, from the analogy of that physical agent being employed to assuage the diluvial waters in the time of Noah (Genesis 8:1). But since the separation of the waters from the land did not take place until the second day (Genesis 1:9), the circumstances are not similar; and it is evident that a personal agent, of divine power, is spoken of in this passage, from the effect described to have been produced.

Moved on, [ mªrachepet (H7363)]. Our English version does not give the meaning correctly, because this word does not convey the idea of progressive motion, but that of brooding over-cherishing the set of incubation which a fowl performs when hatching its eggs; and the participial form of the verb implies a continuance of this action. (Compare Deuteronomy 32:11, where the word is rendered "fluttereth"). It was not the self-development of powers inherent in matter. The creative movement was made by the will of God; and, as if to refute the doctrine of Pantheism, it is expressly stated that the action was not in, but upon the face of the waters. Throughout the whole of the Old Testament "the Spirit of God" is represented as the great agent in imparting vital energy and action (cf. Psalms 104:3) both to animals and plants; and thus, since He is represented to have brought His immediate influences to bear upon 'the void and formless' world, by working on the dead or discordant elements, the action must be considered as having consisted in combining, arranging, and ripening them into a state adapted for being the scene of a new creation, as well as in endowing it with the power of producing and sustaining new orders of plants and animals. The account of this new creation properly begins at the end of this second verse; and the details of the process are described in terms such as would naturally be employed by a spectator who beheld the changes as they successively took place.

Verse 3

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

Let there be light, [ Yªhiy (H1961) 'owr (H216)]. It is deserving of particular notice that the substantive verb is used here, and not either [ baaraa' (H1254)] 'created' or [ `aasaah (H6213)] 'made.' It was manifestation of what had been previously in existence-`Let light be,' or rather, 'Light shall be;' not the formation of an element or matter which had no being at all until this divine command was issued. The effect, which immediately followed, is described in the name DAY, which in Hebrew signifies warmth, heat; while the name NIGHT signifies a rolling up, as night wraps all things in a shady mantle.

Divided the light from the darkness - literally, 'divided between the light and between the darkness' - i:e., where all had been involved in darkness, there was an alternation of light; and since unbroken gloom had reigned previous to this happy change, so, in describing the physical arrangement that was now established, this natural sequence is preserved, and the "evening" is reckoned before the "morning," These two words are not to be considered here in precisely the sense in which we use them, but as meaning only periods of darkness and of light. "The first day," [ yowm (H3117) 'echaad (H259)], 'day one,' for the cardinal number is used, not the ordinal, "first;" and the clause literally translated should stand thus:-`And the evening was and the morning was, one day.' In the account of all the successive creations, the days are mentioned by the ordinal numbers, as 'second, third,' etc. But here there is a singularity in the language; and it has been shrewdly conjectured that the use of the cardinal for the first day may have been adopted to show that the existence of a day then was not an occurrence out of the course of nature, but only that one was singled out and particularized as a starting-point for the rest (Crofton).

Verses 4-5

And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verses 6-8

And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.

Let there be a firmament, [ raaqiya` (H7549)] - expansion. Our version, following the Septuagint and Vulgate, uses the word "firmament," which gives an erroneous view of the meaning of the Hebrew term, which comes from a root that signifies to 'beat,' to 'spread out.' If the Hebrew word, in the primary sense of 'a thing beat out,' did point, as many allege, to a metallic plate, it was, like the Greek stereooma (G4733), or the Latin firmamentum, to express the idea of stability and of splendour, not at all of a solid arch, and was used to designate the blue ethereal vault above us, corresponding with a common, familiar use of the word 'heaven.' Any expressions that are found in Scripture conveying the idea of a solid, permanent dome are used only in the poetical books (Job 26:11; Job 37:18; Ps. 28:23 ), or in the language of daily life (Genesis 7:11), the lively imagination of the Hebrews comparing the heaven above us-according to the aspect in which they viewed it-sometimes to a curtain or tent spread out (Psalms 104:2; Isaiah 40:22), and at other times to a molten looking-glass. But such figurative terms no more expressed their real conceptions of the visible heavens than modern travelers in Palestine, who often describe it as 'molten lead,' or ourselves, who speak of is as a canopy, thereby indicate our views of its true nature.

God made the firmament. The verb [ `aasaah (H6213)] being used here which means to make, prepare, arrange, etc. (Proverbs 8:27-29), shows that the atmosphere was not now for the first time brought into existence by the will of God; but that it was cleared of the dense mists which, previous to the second day, had surrounded the globe.

Divided the waters under the firmament from the waters above the firmament. "The waters under the Divided the waters under the firmament from the waters above the firmament. "The waters under the firmament" are understood to be those mentioned in Genesis 1:10, and by "the waters above the firmament," a reference must be made to those which, in the form of clouds and vapour, are known to lodge in the atmosphere (Judges 5:4; Job 26:8; Job 38:34; Psalms 18:11; Psalms 104:3; Jeremiah 10:13), and were then formed. There is a remarkable precision in the language employed, when it is borne in mind that the command, "Let it divide the waters from the waters," was given previous to the appearance of dry land. The expansion by heat of a dark and turbid atmosphere would produce the effect, that while the larger and heavier mass of the vast deep which covered the surface of the earth would remain below, the more volatile portion of the waters would fly off into the upper regions, and thus "divide the waters from the waters." That the Hebrews were acquainted with the natural process of evaporation by which "the waters above the firmament" were supplied, is abundantly evident from Genesis 11:6; 1 Kings 18:44; so that there is not a shadow of reason for the cavil about their gross ignorance in conceiving the existence of a celestial ocean which was supported on the solid vault of heaven.

Previous to the dawn of this day (the atmosphere being saturated with an excess of humidity), the watery vapours fell so low as to press upon or come in contact with the surface of the earth. There was no boundary line; the one appeared to merge into the other. Now God "made," i:e., 'prepared,' the firmament by the expansive influence of heat, so that it carried up the lighter parts of the waters which overspread the earth's surface, and kept them suspended in the visible heavens. The command was, "Let it divide" - literally, 'Let it be dividing,' or continue to divide. The separation between the waters on the earth, and the clouds, which are the bearers of moisture in the sky, was to be a complete and permanent one.

Called the firmament Heaven. In the highest sense of the term this word denotes the place of the divine residence; but it is frequently and familiarly applied to designate that aerial canopy that surmounts the earth.

Verses 9-13

And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.

Let the waters under the heaven ... i:e., which extended far and wide under the whole heavens.

Unto one place, [ maaqowm (H4725)] - position, station, receptacle. The import of the clause is, not that the terrestrial waters were to form one vast unbroken expanse of ocean-for they were to be gathered together in such a manner as to form many "seas," - but that the sea should occupy one place, and the dry land another; each should have its respective domain assigned to it.

And let the dry land appear - literally, be seen. The world was to be rendered a terraqueous globe. A comparison of this passage with Job 38:8, which seems to contain a poetical allusion to the separation of the waters from the dry land, conveys an impression that the change was effected, not by a slow and gradual process, but with the violent impetuosity of an overwhelming torrent; in fact, done rapidly, and in a manner poetically described by the forcible shutting of a door. How this was effected, according to the views of modern science, will be shown afterward; but in the meantime it may be remarked that the language of the Palmist (Psalms 104:6-9) seems to point to a volcanic convulsion by which great changes were worked on the earth's surface;-the upheaving of some parts, the depression of others, and the consequent formation of vast hollows, into which the waters impetuously rushed. Called he seas. God, it appears, called the light "day," the darkness "night," the firmament "heaven," the dry land, "earth," and the mass of terrestrial waters "seas." Since man was not yet created, the inspired historian must be considered as speaking proleptically, or by way of anticipation, in the mention of those names. But the very prominent place which the bestowment of such names occupies in a narrative so brief and general-especially the circumstance of God himself assigning them, while the work of originating appropriate names to things after his creation was devolved upon Adam-affords a strong presumptive argument in favour of the opinion that God gave these names among the elementary lessons taught to man, who, instead of being left to invent language by the slow and unaided exercise of his natural powers, had the important gift imparted to him from the start, and was thus enabled to hold communion with his Maker.

Let the earth bring forth grass. "The earth," or "the dry land," which had been separated from the waters, was as yet only bare soil, but it was about to be stocked with vegetable life; and it is noticeable that the trees, plants, and grasses-the three great divisions of the vegetable kingdom here mentioned-were not called into existence in the same way as the light and the air: they were made to grow, and they grew, as they do still, out of the ground; not, however, by the self-developing powers of the earth, but through the energy of creative power, without rain, dew, or any process of labour or cultivation. But nothing further is said and whether they were created in full maturity or the seeds were deposited in the soil, the quickening virtue was imparted to them by the command, 'Let the earth bring forth, young tenderness, grass, deshe' (H1877)' the blade of which is the choice food of beasts (Job 6:5). [ `eeseb (H6212), an herb growing up and setting, such as the cereals and pulse, the seed of which is the valuable part.]

And the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself. [ 'ªsher (H834) zar`ow (H2233) bow (H871a)]. This peculiar feature distinguishes the fruit tree from the herb previously mentioned; for it is neither the fresh herbage nor the seed, but it is in the fruit which encloses the seed as a kernel that its value principally consists.

Upon the earth. These words refer particularly to the fruit tree, whose esculent properties have just been described; and they were intended most probably to indicate its durability, compared with the ephemeral existence of the inferior tribes of the vegetable kingdom.

After his kind, [ lªmiynow (H4327)] - after its species. It was applied to the herb, noticed previously, as it is mentioned afterward in connection with the lower animals as well as man; and it is particularly worthy of notice that this mark of distinction is made and repeated in all the successive parts of the narrative relating to the creation of organic life, thereby clearly announcing it to be a universal law, established both in the vegetable and animal world, that distinctions of species entered into the original plan of the Creator.

Verses 14-19

And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:

Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven, [ mª'orot (H3974)] - luminaries, light-bearers, an entirely different word from that used in Genesis 1:3. The atmosphere being completely purified, the heavenly bodies were now unveiled in all their glory in the spacious sky; and they are described as "in the firmament," which to the eye of a spectator they appear to be, though we know they are really at vast distances from it.

And let them be for signs, and for seasons, ..., [ lª'otot (H226) uwlmow`ªdiym (H4150)]. This is considered by Gesenius and others as used, by the figure hendiadys, 'for signs of seasons:' Tuch renders it, 'for signs both of seasons and days and years;' not according to the Hebrew usage to translate [wª-] by 'both:' while others regard "signs" as referring to the rare and extraordinary phenomena of eclipses, comets, etc.; but it is more in accordance with the general tenor of the narrative to consider this word as denoting ordinary and oft-recurring changes of the natural world.

In a popular sense, the heavenly bodies have been useful in performing all the offices of directing lights to man-affording signs to the mariner to aid his navigation of the ocean; to the farmer to guide him with reference to the proper seasons of sowing and reaping; and to all they serve as the grand regulators, the standard measurers of our time, alluding it into days and months and years.

And God made two great lights. Gabler and others maintain that this passage describes an actual creation, implying the calling into existence, or the formation in their present form and relative order, of the whole planetary system; and certainly, if the grammatical construction alone is looked at, these writers are correct in their interpretation, because the clause "He made the stars also" stands in the original in the accusative case, being governed by the immediately preceding verb "and He made;" so that if the sun and moon were created on the fourth day, the same thing must be affirmed of "the stars also." This, however, is a view so much at variance with the general analogy of God's operations in the natural world, that it cannot be accepted without the strongest evidence of its truth. But the argument by which it is supported, drawn from Psalms 148:3-5, which contains a call to the objects of universal nature to join in a concert of praise to their Maker, and in which the sun, moon, and stars are specially addressed, "for he commanded, and they were created," is unsatisfactory, inasmuch as the word "created" is used there in a loose sense, because the same call is there given to the waters, which, we know, covered the earth before the first day's operation was commenced.

Besides, it has been shown on Genesis 1:1 that the sun, moon, and stars existed previously to the fourth day, being included in the original creation of the heavens, of which they are uniformly declared in the Scripture style, to be integral parts (cf. Deuteronomy 4:19; Deuteronomy 17:3, with Job 38:4-7); and, therefore, since the statement of the inspired historian cannot mean "creation" here, either in the sense of bringing out of nothing, or of forming from pre-existent matter, the verb [ `aasaah (H6213)] "made" must be interpreted as synonymous with 'constituted,' 'appointed,' 'ordained' these lights to their proper uses in the heavens. This word, which occurs in a variety of senses (see Genesis 1:11-12, where it is rendered "yield"), is frequently used in the sense of 'ordaining' or 'appointing' (cf. Numbers 28:26; 1 Samuel 12:6; 1 Kings 12:31-33; 2 Kings 17:32; 2 Chronicles 13:9; Esther 9:22; Job 14:5; Job 28:26; Psalms 8:4; Psalms 104:19; Psalms 136:7; Psalms 136:9; Proverbs 22:28; Jeremiah 31:35; Jeremiah 37:15).

That it must be taken in the same acceptation in this passage is obvious from two circumstances-namely, that the subject of the announcement is not the creation of any new material objects, but the adaptation of some to be 'luminaries,' 'light-bearers;' and that the word does not stand in an isolated position (as in Genesis 1:7), but is in immediate connection with the following verb, 'made to rule.'

Two great lights, [ shªneey (H8147) ham'orot (H3974) hagªdoliym (H1419)] - the great lights. In consequence of the day being reckoned as commencing at even, the moon, which would be seen first in the horizon, would appear 'a great light' compared with the little twinkling stars; while its pale benign radiance would be eclipsed by the dazzling splendour of the sun: when his resplendent orb rose in the morning, and gradually attained its meridian blaze of glory, it would, appear the greater light that 'ruled the day.' And this ruling of the day and night does not imply the endowing of these heavenly bodies with any astrological influences, but simply that they were now appointed to the important and necessary office of serving as luminaries to the world, and regulating by their motions and their light the alternations of day and night, as well as the progress and divisions of time. The description bears plainly a phenomenal, not a scientific form: it is given from the position of an observer on the face of the earth, who records his observations according to the appearance of things, and to whom those heavenly bodies would seem to be "made" when they became objects perceptible in the skies. It is remarked by Tuch that Moses does not name the sun or the moon; and he conceives that this silence was purposely maintained in accordance with the general plan of this narrative, in which all things are noticed only in a very brief and general way.

This passage, then, consists of three successive acts: the first, the appearance or manifestation of the heavenly bodies in the clarified atmosphere (Genesis 1:14); secondly, the useful offices they were destined to perform to this world (Genesis 1:15-16); and the actual commencement of their destined uses. The notice of the sun, moon, and stars is more minute and specific than any other part of this narrative, and the reason of this greater fullness of details, which is most probably traceable to the extensive prevalence of the Sabian idolatry (Deuteronomy 4:16; Deuteronomy 4:19; Deuteronomy 17:2-3; Job 31:26-28), was to show that the celestial luminaries, like all other things in the universe, were the creatures of God, occupying the places He assigned them, and performing their functions in subserviency to His will.

Verse 20

And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.

Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, [ Yishrªtsuw (H8317) hamayim (H4325) sherets (H8318)] - creep (teem) - i:e., abound with creeping things. [According to Gesenius, sherets (H8318) denotes the small aquatic animals. But Jarchi more properly considers it as used to signify generally every living thing that does not rise far above the ground, and therefore as including, besides the smaller species of marine creatures, fish, shellfish, etc.-ants, beetles, worms, snails, lizards, bats, grasshoppers, etc., and in this sense it occurs in Scripture (Leviticus 11:9-10; Leviticus 11:20-23; Leviticus 11:29-30).]

That hath life - literally, living creatures; and accordingly some render it, 'Let the waters produce swarms of living things that creep.'

Verse 21

And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

Every living thing that moveth. [ Remes (H7431) is applied to all small animals that crawl, or appear to crawl, the ground, whether without feet they glide or drag themselves along, as reptiles, or with short legs and claws, like mice and crabs. Sherets (H8318) is applied generally to aquatic or amphibious animals; while remes (H7431) is limited in its use to a particular class that move on the ground (Genesis 6:7; Genesis 7:14; Genesis 9:2; Lev. 9:44 ), although in one instance it denotes all orders of land animals (Genesis 9:3).] And fowl that may fly. The marginal reading, 'and let fowl fly,' is more in accordance with the original, and at the same time removes the apparent discrepancy between this passage and Genesis 2:19.

The Hebrew `owp (H5775) denotes every description of flying animals, from fowls to birds (Deuteronomy 4:17; Job 5:7; Proverbs 23:5), bats, locusts (Nahum 3:16), and even seraphim (Isaiah 6:6).

And God created great whales, [ hataniynim (H8577) hagªdoliym (H1419)] - the great whales. The word is applied to serpents (Exodus 7:9-10; Exodus 7:12), as well as to the crocodile (Exodus 29:3); but here to monsters indiscriminately, both of the land (Ps. 16:13 ) and of the sea (Isaiah 27:1), in both passages termed "dragons;" and whether whales properly so called were meant, or, as some maintain, the great Saurians which inhabited marshes, the use of the article distinguishes them as well-known objects. The order followed on the fifth day, then, was the creation of water animals first, next amphibious and other animals, and then birds. From the countless shoals of small fry to the great sea monsters, from the tiny insect to the king of the feathered tribes, the waters and the air were made to swarm with creatures formed to live and sport in these respective elements.

Verses 22-23

And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verses 24-25

And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.

Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind. On the sixth day a further advance was made by the creation of terrestrial animals, all the various species which are, according to the Hebrew style, comprehended in three classes-namely, cattle, the herbivorous kind capable of labour or domestication; the creeping thing, the serpents and different genre of reptiles, and smaller mammalia; and beasts of the earth-wild beasts. They are all terrigenous-sprung from the earth; they pass their lives upon its surface, and are maintained by its produce. No information is given as to the mode by which the Creator brought them into being; and although the phrase "bring forth" is now applied to describe the ordinary way in which, according to the natural laws of animal production, the various orders of creatures have ever since entered the world, it must not be considered as giving any indication as to the particular mode in which the first animals were formed. The living creature. The singular is used collectively, to embrace the entire order, and the passage may properly be rendered, 'Let the earth bring forth all living creatures after their kind.

Verses 26-29

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

Let us make man. The last stage in the progress of creation being now reached, God said, "Let us make man" [ na`ªseh (H6213)]. The word is here used in the sense of "create," as it is also Genesis 1:25 - an ordinary use of the word when it is employed to express the origination of species, both vegetable and animal; besides which anything possessing a soul as man-or even organic life, as vegetables and animals-may in these respects be the subjects of a proper creation, as well as of, and in addition to, formation from pre-existent matter (cf. Genesis 2:7; Isaiah 43:7). (Crofton). [ 'aadaam (H120), "man."] The word is used here collectively for 'the human race,' as is evident from the plural verb [ wªyirduw (H7287)], "let them have dominion."

In our image, after our likeness. This was a peculiar distinction, the value attached to which appears in the repetition of the idea by a different but synonymous expression. And in what did this "image of God" consist? Not in the erect form or features of man; not in his intellect, because the Devil and his angels are in this respect far superior; not in his immortality, because he does not have, like God, a past as well as a future eternity of being; but in the moral dispositions of his soul, commonly called original righteousness (Ecclesiastes 7:29). Since the new creation is only a restoration of this image, the history of the one throws light on the other; and we are informed that it is renewed after the image of God, in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10).

And let them have dominion ... This delegated supremacy over all the creatures in this world was bestowed upon the human race in consequence of their being made in the image of God; and since they are consequently capable of exercising authority and control over the irrational animals, they have had all things committed to their guidance, and put under their feet (cf. Psalms 8:6-8), as the exclusive prerogative of the race.

Every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. The introduction of this clause after "over all the earth" is a proof that it does not here denote a particular class of animals, as it did in Genesis 1:24-25, but was added to show that all orders of living creatures were placed in subjection to mankind: none, even the most obscure and most insignificant, were exempted.

Accordingly, in the narrative of this last act of the Creator's work, when completed, the word [ chayaah (H2416)] "living thing" is the general term employed, which comprehends the whole extent of the animal creation. The manner in which this narrative is introduced shows the peculiar importance of the work to be done-the formation of a creature who was to be God's representative, invested with authority and rule as visible head and monarch of the world. In the previous acts of His creative power God had put forth the mere fiat of His will, "Let there be light," "Let the earth bring forth," etc.; but on this last occasion He said, "Let us make man." This form of expression, which seems to indicate deliberation, as well as mutual consultation, is not to be explained either by the peculiarity of the idiom referred to on [ 'Elohiym (H430)] Genesis 1:1 - for "us" is joined here to a plural verb; or by the use of the pluralis majestatis, because this lofty style, in which earthly potentates commonly speak of themselves, was as yet unknown.

Nor is the difficulty removed by supposing that God was addressing himself to the angelic hosts, because the hypothesis that they accompanied Him as counselors, or that their agency was employed, is contrary to the whole tenor of Scripture. Still less admissible is the method of solution proposed by Tuch, that the words are a soliloquy, as if, after one consideration and formation of his purpose, the Creator spoke out His thoughts! The only proper and consistent explanation is, that this passage, which stands at the very commencement of revelation, contains an obscure intimation of the great mystery of the Godhead, which was clearly made known by the subsequent and sublime discoveries of the Gospel.

So God created man. The word is used again in a collective sense, as is proved by the pronoun [ 'otaam (H853)] "them."

Male and female - literally, a male and a female, as our Lord himself interpreted it, [ arsen (G730) kai (G2532) theelu (G2338)] (Matthew 19:4; Mark 10:6).

Of course, a sexual distinction is implied in the creation of all the lower animals; but in the case of mankind it is expressly mentioned, on account of the higher relations the race was to sustain, and the moral purposes to which the union of the sexes was to be subservient.

And God blesses them. In the sense in which that blessing was given to the inferior animals (Genesis 1:22), it is simply implied that the properties and powers which were to characterize each species were fully conferred on them. The same thing was implied in the case of man-namely, that they were actually endowed with the power of propagating their species, and with the right of dominion over the earth and the creatures. But the words bore a higher signification when first applied, inasmuch as the newly-created human creatures were possessed of a sinless moral nature, and consequently were objects on whom the mind of the Creator would, with divine complacency, pour the fullness of blessing.

Verse 30

And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.

I have given you every herb ... and every tree ... for meat. They were to be sustained on the products of the ground alone, because not the slightest hint is given of a grant of animal food: on the contrary, it seems to be expressly excluded by the terms of this passage; and vegetables and fruit-bearing trees are specified, to distinguish "for meat" to man from "every green herb" [ kaal (H3605) yereq (H3418) `eeseb (H6212)] - all the greenness of vegetation - i:e., the various kinds of herbage. The "beasts of the earth" is a Scripture name for wild beasts, which we know had been created (Genesis 1:25); and since these are by nature carnivorous creatures, the peculiar form of their teeth and of their stomach unfitting them for living upon grass, there does seem some ground for the opinion of Dr. Pye Smith, who says, 'I venture to think that the Mosaic description in this part extends not to all animal and vegetable species, but to those only which would be suitable to the region under its various conditions, would have a beneficial connection with man, and would, by their forms, habits, and instincts, be subject to his dominion' ('Scripture and Geology').

Verse 31

And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

Saw that it was very good. In the simple anthromorphic style of this history, the Creator is represented as an artist, and in all the successive stages of the creative work as pausing to survey its progress, which He pronounced to be "good." But on the completion of it by the creation of man, he declared it to be "very good;" not only each separate part, but as a whole, adapted to be the habitation of a race of intelligent and moral creatures, the scene of all the various plans and operations which were to be developed under that economy of providence which he was about to commence.

The sixth day, [ yowm (H3117) hashishiy (H8345)]. This is the only one of all the numerals used in this chapter which has the article prefixed; and the insertion of it was evidently intended to stamp special honour on the sixth day, as the day on which the creative work was brought to a completion.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Genesis 1". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/genesis-1.html. 1871-8.
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