Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Firsts on Day Five (Genesis 1:20-23)

In a chapter of firsts, this little section on day 5 has a lot of firsts.

The first of these may be more of a curiosity. Living creatures. All of the sea animals and later on the animals on dry land are described with this general term. The word in Hebrew is Nephesh and is usually translated as “soul.” It really means throat and references the breath of life. It will regularly be used for both animals and humans. So, while people have souls, animals do too. Spirits, no, but souls yes.

For the first time since verse 1—the prologue of this creation story that declares that God created everything—we have God creating something. Up until now He has made, divided, and declared stuff into existence. There is no need to read too much into this choice of words. God making or creating amounts to the same thing. The word “create” does not distinguish some special category of “creation out of nothing” compared to making from something else. The concept of “creation ex nihilo” is implied in the passage, not conveyed in the vocabulary. Creation is an activity reserved for God alone in Scripture, however. All that said, the use of the word “to create” is interesting here for two reasons.

First, the WHAT God is creating here. Amidst all the other “living creatures” verse 21 mentions the “Tannim.” Tannim can mean great snake of crocodile, but here it is best rendered “sea monster.” This is not the serpent of chapter 3 (another word is used there.) However it is a creature that appears as a scary opponent to mankind as well as gods in other writings of the day. Here the scary “sea monster” from the chaos of the oceans is merely another creation. God is not opposed by the Tannim, He is its maker.

The other interesting thing about this day saying God created is the appearance of another important verb for the first time: Bless.

God blesses the creatures He makes on day 5. Bless and Create are similar sounding words in Hebrew. Create is Bara’ and Bless is Barak. God’s blessing of His creation, peoples, and individuals will be a hugely important theological issue going forward. It has a lot to do with prosperity and success in life. And here in Genesis 1 it is also tied into another important first: multiplication.

An important part of life as God designed it—for all living things—is this idea of Multiplication. Living things reproduce.

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